We’re smack dab in the middle of fall and, with Daylight Savings soon coming to an end, nights will be longer. Time for cozy fires and pots of chili.
Chili with wine? Absolutely. In fact, while many reach for beer, the carbonation might actually amp up the pungency of chili’s famous spices. A few schools of thought for pairing this hearty dish with your favorite varietal are to consider the spice, the tomato base or the meat of choice.
Heat in a recipe calls for a wine with a lower alcohol content. Spice always increases the perception of alcohol so if you’re a cab lover, save that for steak night. Off-dry rieslings have several advantages here; the touch of sweetness plays nicely into the heart of chili, the rounded mouth feel coats and tames the spices (only slightly, don’t worry) and their fresh acidity holds up to the power of the dish.
By its very nature, chili has lots of tomatoes and acidity. This is where fruit forward can really play off those flavors. Sangiovese is known for its vibrant fruit characteristics and no wine should be pigeon-holed to just pasta (as good as that carb overload is). Zinfandel, with its ability to pair with spicier Latin cuisine is another strong contender here; just keep the lower alcohol content rule in mind. Argentinian Malbec—one of my favorites—is a winner with beef chili, in particular, and its delicate violet and cocoa notes bring a hint of sweetness to the party.
Chili has a multitude of variations. There are no beans for the chili purist and recipes that call for pork, beef, chicken or no meat at all. Considering the protein is another way to pick the right wine. Chicken chili with a pinot gris (it works for Thai food), viognier or unoaked chardonnay open up some more white options. A Spanish Rioja (blend of predominantly tempranillo and garnacha) or lightly chilled Beaujolais are excellent beef suggestions. To narrow down the selection for pork, remember that it has an element of sweetness which brings not only riesling to mind but gewürztraminer, as well. On the red side, pork chili with a glass of Beaujolais or zinfandel could be hog heaven.
Chicken chili with jalapeños
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 lb chicken breasts
3 Tbsp olive oil
7 jalapeños, seeded & chopped
1 onion, peeled & diced
3 celery stalks, chopped
1-28 oz can diced tomatoes
1-14.5 oz can stewed tomatoes
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa
¼ tsp cinnamon
2-15 oz cans kidney beans, drained
2-15 cans black beans, drained
1-12 oz can tomato paste
1 C water (or desired consistency)
3 Tbsp chili powder
3 Tbsp paprika
½ Tbsp salt (or, to taste)
Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in skillet. Cook chicken on medium-high for 5 minutes. With two forks, begin shredding chicken. Continue cooking, on medium heat, until cooked through. Take off heat and set aside.
In a large pot, sauté onions, diced chili and celery in olive oil over medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes. Add tomatoes and spices and stir together. Incorporate chicken, beans, tomato paste and water. Lower heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid scorching cocoa. Serves 6-8.