Pairing Wine With Soup
As the days grow shorter and the mercury begins to plummet in our thermometers, is there anything finer to eat at the end of a long, chilly day than a delicious, warming bowl of soup? It’s the ultimate versatile food – almost any ingredient can be cooked through and blended to produce a highly satisfying, hearty dinner that spreads through the body like your own interior central heating system. However, if you’re the kind of person who can’t imagine sitting down to dinner without a glass of wine by your side (and we imagine that you most certainly are such a person, being a reader of this blog), pairing wine with soup can be something of a challenge.
The Challenge of Pairing Wine with Soup
This difficulty doesn’t stem from any issue with flavour. Whether your soup is a chunky vegetable number, a creamy meat or mushroom example, a clear broth or one made of fish, there are wines aplenty more than capable of standing up to them. Rather, it’s an issue of texture and integrity; soups are liquid, and as such, it can be hard to imagine pairing them with another liquid. Despite this fact, wine with soup can be a wonderful combination, and one well worth exploring.
On top of this, at restaurants, dinner parties and family meals across the world, soups are featured as a first course on countless menus. As a result, selecting a wine to drink alongside your soup is often unavoidable – and therefore, choosing the right one requires a bit of inside knowledge and savoir faire in order to avoid an unpleasant clash of flavours and textures on the palate.
As ever, the Okanagan Wine Club is on hand to help guide you through this conundrum. We’ve wracked our brains and done the tastings to save you from disappointment, and are happy to present what we feel is a fairly comprehensive guide to wine and soup pairings. Now that the weather outside is bracing, and we’ve dug out our scarves and hats from the bottom of our wardrobes, we can think of nothing better. So, slip into your slippers, get the fire going, and enjoy!
Consomme and broth
Classic French Consomme is true delight to eat. An intensely savoury broth, it’s like penicillin for the soul, capable of putting a fire in your belly and setting you up for whatever the weather has to throw at you. For all its charms, however, it’s not a soup you can eat alongside a classic table wine – the thin texture of the dish will clash with almost any regular bottle of vino. Pair it with a glass of chilled glass of dry Sherry or Madeira, though, and it’s a match made in paradise. The sweetness and nuttiness of these fortified wines (along with their higher alcohol percentage) balances beautifully with the meatiness of the broth.
If you’re opting for a South-East Asian fish broth (something increasingly trendy on the street food and restaurant scene), it’s better to go for those classic cool climate white wines – Riesling and Gruner Veltliner – which have the bone-dryness and acidity that works so well with the flavours of chilli, coriander and fish sauce.
French Onion Soup
This soup is a Parisian bistro classic that some people struggle to pair with wine. The important thing to remember with French Onion Soup is, firstly, that the caramelised onions used have a distinct sweetness, and secondly, the other principle flavour of this soup comes from the melted Gruyere cheese melted on. You’re better off approaching this pairing in the same way as you would an Alpine fondue – and as such, it pairs perfectly with a sharp, Alpine white wine such as an Aligoté or a Chasselas, or an Orange wine from Jura. If you can’t get hold of either of these, a very dry apple-y Sauvignon Blanc will do the trick.
If you’re searching for a wine to pair with a creamy vegetable soup (exactly the kinds of soups we love on a cold winter’s day!), you’re going to need a white wine that can cut through that thick texture and heavy cream character. Most soups of this kind work well with the nuttier Italian white wines – Soave, for example, or a Pinot Grigio. Alsace Pinot Gris works particularly well with blended ‘farmhouse’ soups, too.
Of course, not all vegetable soups are alike, and many people love the earthy sweetness of root vegetable soups such as carrot and coriander, or butternut squash and sweet potato. The creamier, sweeter and heavier the soup, the more full-bodied your white wine needs to be, so don’t be afraid to bring out the Viognier or oaked Chardonnay if you’re serving a soup made from these ingredients.
Who could say no to a steaming bowl of deeply orange tomato soup, served with a dollop of cream and slices of sourdough toast? It’s a true family favourite, and yet one which many people wouldn’t dream of serving alongside a glass of wine. To eschew a bottle of vino with your tomato soup would be an error, however, as there are some pairings which make this hearty dinner even more satisfying. Lighter tomato soups go really well with Spanish Albarino (or Portuguese Alvarinho, for that matter), whereas denser, deeper examples made with a blend of tomatoes and red peppers pair spectacularly well with Rioja – there’s something wonderfully rustic and Spanish about that particular combo!
Again, mushroom soups come in a couple of different styles. If yours is closer to the tinned classic ‘cream of mushroom’ soup we know and love from childhood, it’s better to stick to the creamy characteristic of the dish, and go for an oaked Chardonnay. If, as is more commonly the case, your soup puts woody, earthy forest mushrooms at the forefront of your palate, then a Pinot Noir would be the obvious choice. This pairing will really make the most of that woodland-floor set of flavours which works so beautifully as autumn begins to turn to winter, and will put you in mind of a rural French retreat, complete with the scent of woodsmoke and late harvest fruits.
Is there anything more nourishing than a bowl of chicken soup? When you’re feeling a little under the weather, it’s one of the best restoratives out there… but can it be improved with a glass of wine? Jewish grandmothers everywhere will no doubt be horrified by the idea of drinking alcohol while supping on a classic chicken soup, and yet… we’d argue that a chilled glass of Madeira or Fino Sherry goes pretty darn well with those savoury, salty flavours.
Creamy chicken soups follow the same rules we’ve discussed above, although we’d suggest than a younger Chardonnay or Loire Valley Viognier would hit the spot slightly more effectively than a well-oaked and aged number. If your chicken soup is of the Asian persuasion and features a base of coconut milk, then Australian Riesling is your best bet for pairing perfection.
In central and eastern Europe, spicy fish soups are the order of the day when winter starts rolling around, and you can find versions of these classic dishes all over the New World where Hungarian, Romanian and Polish people have settled. Such soups pair fantastically with wine, especially Pinot Noir and Sangiovese, thanks to their paprika and tomato bases.
If you’re feeling opulent and are having a lobster or crab bisque – surely the kings of the entree soup world – then an equally luxuriant wine is called for. We feel that a well-rounded white Burgundy would be the best choice here, although a a top-quality Chardonnay would also be delicious. Chowders would go very nicely with Viognier, or New World Chardonnays.
So, there you have it – everything you need to know about pairing wine with soup. While we’ve done our best to be as comprehensive as possible, we know that you all have your own preferences and ideas when it comes to such matches. As such, we’d love to hear all about your ideas in the comments below!