Unlikely Companions? No! 8 Tips for Pairing Wine & Soup

published Oct 27, 2011
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

It is Soup Week at The Kitchn, so I am going to look at some great wine and soup pairings and debunk the myth that soup and wine are unhappy table companions.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Why are soup and wine considered difficult to pair?

The main reason that soup is considered difficult to pair with wine has to do with texture. Both are liquids. For some reason, conventional thinking does not find this an appealing combination.

I am all for debunking myths. So, I have come up with a few tips for enjoying a glass of wine with your bowl of soup.

1. Think about the texture beyond being liquid: Soup is a very broad and diverse category comprising clear soups, smooth and creamy soups, chunky stews and chowders that all have very different textures. As well as texture, consider the soup’s ingredients, much like you would with a pasta sauce for example.

2. Consider the weight of the soup: Pair the wine with the weight of the soup – hearty stews and chowders can handle more full-bodied, robust wines than delicate simple vegetable soups.

3. Sherry is always a great stand-by: Sherry remains an excellent staple and ‘all-rounder’ to consider with a wide range of smooth textured soups. Sherry, being a fortified wine, provides a contrast to the smoothness and ‘liquid-ness’ of the soup. Try a fino sherry with the more delicate flavored soups, and a dry amontillado or oloroso with soups that are more earthy and stronger flavored.

4. Tomatoes don’t like tannic wines: With tomato based soups I avoid tannic red wines. As tomatoes are naturally high in acid, I look for red wines with high acid and not too much tannin. Examples include Italian reds such as Valpolicella (Veneto) or Barbera d’Alba or d’Asti (Piedmont). These wines tend to be quite fruity, which enhances the tomato flavor of the soup.

5. Cream soups like acidity: With cream soups (such as pea, cauliflower etc.) I usually pick a medium to high acid white. Often the final choice comes down to the garnish (if using). A crisp village Chablis is a firm favorite. Other unoaked chardonnays are also good, as is Albariño from Rías Baixas (Spain) or a good Pinot Grigio from Collio or Alto Adige (Italy).

6. Protein based soups can be very versatile: With protein-based soups containing fish, meat or pulses, I tend to apply the same (broad) rules that I apply to pairing wine with any protein dish. The choice of wine varies greatly depending on the texture, spices and other ingredients in the soup. So think creatively.

7. Experiment – This is probably the most important tip. There is no ‘one’ perfect wine for any ‘one’ dish. So much will depend on your own (and your guests’) personal preferences, the occasion and of course your budget.

8. Don’t Panic – The chances are that whatever wine you choose will work fine with your soup. If not, just eat some bread between each spoon of soup and sip of wine. It is not a major crisis.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Two of my favorite soups, with wine pairing ideas

1. Cauliflower Soup and Salmon Roe
This is a soup that I make a lot. My friend Valerie, over at Nettle & Quince gave the recipe to me. I love so many things about this soup. It is so easy to make, and it is deliciously creamy (without adding cream or potatoes). Leeks and lots of butter are sweated until soft (not brown or caramelized). Cauliflower and water (not stock as the aim is to preserve the delicacy of the cauliflower) are added and the soup is cooked until soft. Then the soup is pureed until really smooth. To serve, top with a dessert spoonful of salmon roe.

Wine Pairings: With this soup I look for a wine that is equally pure, focused, and showing lots of minerality. Favorites are Chablis (again!), dry Riesling from the Wachau (Austria), Eden Valley (Australia) the Pfalz (Germany), Assyrtiko from Santorini (Greece) or a Godello from Valdeorras (Spain).

2. Chilled Asparagus Soup with a Warm, Soft Poached Egg
This is a recipe from Jenny Chandler’s book “The Food of Northern Spain”. You slowly sweat leeks, season and add one diced potato and cook 5 to 10 minutes. Add asparagus (chopped) for max five minutes. Puree and pass through a sieve. Chill. When ready to serve, soft poach one egg per person. Gently place the egg in the center of the soup in each bowl. Sprinkle lightly with black salt.

Wine Pairings: With this soup I look for a tangy, high acid white wine to both complement the asparagus and also cut through the richness of the runny egg. A zesty Sauvignon Blanc works well. Try New Zealand, South Africa or the Loire Valley, France (Sancerre, Quincy, Pouilly Fume). Alternatively a Mosel Riesling Spatlese, an Austrian Grüner Veltliner or a slightly spritzy Txakoli from Northern Spain.
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Some of Mary’s favorite wines to enjoy with soup

Albariño wines (Rías Biaxas, Spain)

2009 Albariño de Fefinanes, Rias Baixas, $23 – The minerality and focus are always marked on this wine and this 2009 is no different. Crisp, precise and packed with tangy citrus and stone fruit flavors. Long, persistent minerally finish. Try with Miso Soup with Rice and Poached Egg

• 2009 Martin Codax Albariño, D.O. Rías Baixas, Spain $13 — A medley of ripe citrus and peach aromas. Crisp, lively and easy drinking with lots of juicy fruit flavors and a touch of spice on the finish. Try with Sweet Potato Soup with Miso and Ginger.

Assyrtiko wines (Santorini, Greece)

2009 Thalassitis Dry White Wine, Gaia Estate, Santorini, Greece, $24 – This is a favorite wine in our house. Absolute purity, taut and minerally – you can almost taste the sea air. Racy acidity, delicate lemony flavors, subtle spices – anise and fine herbs. Very long finish. Try with Roasted Apple & Winter Squash Soup.

2010 Domiane Sigalas, Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece, $21 – Crisp, juicy, minerally with well-defined flavors and structure. Lots of pear, citrus, apple with a tangy salty, spicy kick. Try with Potato and Leek Soup.

Chablis wines, France (made from the Chardonnay grape)

2009 Christian Moreau Père et Fils Chablis, $25 – Intense minerally, flinty nose. Crisp, racy acidity and ample bright green fruit flavors. Wonderful focus, definition and flavor concentration. Excellent mid-palate weight and breadth. Very long minerally finish. Try with Ham Bone, Greens and Bean Soup.

2009 Domaine de Chantemerle Chablis, $24 – Restrained nose opens up and minerality shines through. Intense flavor with lots of citrus and granny smith apple notes well balanced with the chalky minerality. Well-defined, taut structure. Persistent finish. Try with Vegan Cream of Mushroom Soup.

Grüner Veltliner, Austria

2009 Gobelsburger Grüner Veltliner, Kamptal, $16 – Classic savory, minerally Grüner aromas and flavor – green bean, lentil, salad, white pepper – all mixed with juicy stone and citrus fruit. A very versatile, delicious wine. Try with Early Fall Zucchini and Broccoli Soup.

2009 Nigl Gruner Veltliner Freiheit, Kremstal $16 – another firm household favorite. Taut, mineral nose. Racy and juicy on the palate with ample citrus and stone fruit flavor. Hints of white pepper, and savory notes of lima and wax beans. Long finish. Try with Roasted Broccoli and Cheddar Soup.

Riesling (around the world)

Pfalz (Germany) – 2009 Müller-Catoir (MC) Riesling Trocken, Pfalz $21 – Deliciously dry with lots of vibrant fruit. Totally refreshing with aromas and flavors of just picked orchard fruit. Nice earthy minerality. While not overly complex, it combines elegance with a juicy liveliness. Try with Roasted Red Kuri Pumpkin and Coconut Soup.

Rheingau (Germany) 2009 Carl Loewen Laurentiuslay Riesling Alte Reben Trocken, $25 – Made from 100 year old vines. Fantastically taut palate and very harmonious showing lots of steely minerality with great flavor intensity – ripe apricots, peach, guava and notes of spice. Very fresh. Try with Pumpkin Tortilla Soup.

Wachau (Austria) 2007 Domaine Wachau Federspiel Terrassen Riesling, $16 – Very minerally on the nose, with subtle apple blossoms, tangerine and peach. Taut, crisp, focused on the palate. Intense, tight flavors and long minerally finish. Try with a Cream of Celery and Bacon Soup.

Eden Valley (Australia) – 2010 Pewsey Vale Riesling, Eden Valley, $17 – Aromas of peach, apricot, grapefruit and lime. Dry, slightly austere, taut texture. Ample lively citrus fruit with notes of spice. Long length and finish. Try with one of these Creamy Chowders.

Sauvignon Blanc wines

Pouilly Fumé (Loire Valley, France) 2010 Domaine Roger Pabiot Pouilly Fumé Coteau des Girarmes, $22 – Subtle aromas, with appealing minerality alongside the grassy, citrusy character of Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp attack, with ample classic Sauvignon Blanc flavors that are fresh, well-defined and vibrant. Good length and minerality follows through. Try with Nettle Soup.

Marlborough (New Zealand) – 2010 Craggy Range “Te Muna Road” Sauvignon Blanc, $17 – A favorite New Zealand producer of mine for a long time. Classic Marlborough but more restrained, elegant and minerally than most. Aromas and flavors of passionfruit, exotic citrus, gooseberry, sage, laurel and hints of spicy minerality. Juicy, vibrant and well-defined. Try with Spinach & Lemon Soup with Orzo.

Now, I would love to hear from you on your favorite soup and wine pairings.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.

(Images: Faith Durand, Mary Gorman-McAdams)