Wine Pairing: What To Drink with Chili

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Editor's Note: Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein joins us again with wine recommendations for our favorite eats. Evan is the author of two fantastic wine books: Perfect Pairings and Daring Pairings. Today he tackles a Super Bowl-sized challenge: The Food Lab's delicious red chili.

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

I frequently kick off my food and wine classes by stating that no wine goes with Texas Five-Alarm chili. There are many dishes that are simply not wine-friendly and that fiery interpretation of the hearty American classic leaves us craving a cold beer. That said, there are a plethora of chili recipes, and not all of them are of the tongue-scorching, hair-singeing genre.

Food for Thought

The Food Lab's Best Chili Ever is complex, piquant and bold, but it isn't going to numb your palate and send you running for the hills. It's a rib-sticking dish that it at once hearty and rustic. This recipe has pungent spice, and elements of savory sweetness, bittersweetness, and umami. We can't drink light or wimpy wines here; this dish would blast them out of the water.

So we're looking for full bodied, full flavored, and tasty (but not too elegant) wine. Nuanced Pinot Noir is out, as is aged and layered Cabernet Sauvignon. You might do white wine with a lighter vegetarian chili, but not this beefy one.


If you want to go 'all American", a full flavored Zinfandel will pair beautifully with its rustic structure, spicy brambly flavors and mouth coating yet unpretentious flavor. If you want to opt for something a bit edgier, look for a Negro Amaro or even a softer interpretation of a Petit Sirah, both of which have Zin's enjoyable rusticity but with more elements of prune, black fig, and black licorice. And finally, if you want to play up the herbal components of the dish (bay, oregano, any green chilies) don't overlook Chilean Carmenere as an intriguing choice, which balances smoky herbal elements with dark plummy fruit.

Get the Recipe

The Best Chili Ever »

Wine Picks

A Mano Primitivo (2007) Rustic and somewhat angular with jammy prune, fruitcake, gingerbread, oak, and black tar notes. (Around $10, find this wine)

Casa Lapostolle 'Casa' Carmenere (2007) Dark berry flavors framed with classic herbal and soft smoky/peppery notes. This approachable wine is fun to drink with chili. (Around $12, find this wine)

Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Zinfandel (2008) Ample black raspberry fruit drives this mouthfilling bottling, punctuated with pepper and anise. (Around $15, find this wine)

Bogle Vineyards Phantom (2007) A Petite Sirah blend with some Mourvèdre and Zinfandel, this wine is full of black cherry, plum, and earthy flavors with just enough coarse tannin to pair well with the chili (Around $15, find this wine)

Four Vines Maverick Zinfandel (2008) A perfect chili wine with dark fruit, spicy and smoky notes, and balanced but not obtrusive tannins. (Around $18, find this wine)