wine Features
Wining about Soup
By Jim Clarke

  • Rozanne Gold’s Oyster Bisque

  • Domecq Amontillado 51-1A VORS

    Chilled soups:
  • Marco Moreira’s Young Garlic and Almond Gazpacho

  • Varnier-Fanniere Champagne Brut “Grand Cru” NV

  • Not just for Asian recipes: sake
  • E. Michael Reidt’s Avocado Vichyssoise

  • Pride of the Village Junmai Ginjo

  • Chowders and chunky soups:
  • Jeff Osaka and Christian Shaffer’s Black Pepper Salmon with Applewood Smoked Bacon Chowder

  • Bodegas Montecillo Crianza Rioja 1998

    Brothy soups:
  • S’ngao Moaun – Spicy Chicken Soup

  • Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese* Artist Label 2003

    Spice-rich and meaty soups:
  • Matthew Murphy’s Duck Gumbo

  • Paolo Scavino Barbera d’Alba “Carati” 2000


    Related Links:

  • Soup 2005
  • Serving Sherry
  • Sake Tips from Eric Swanson
  • Pasta and Wine
  • Two classic starter courses – soup and salad – create a lot of worry for people when it comes to wine pairings. Some people even suggest forgoing wine entirely, reserving it for the main course only. With salad, the problem is usually acidity; sharp vinaigrette dressings that clash with the wine. With soup, the difficulty cited most-often is texture: how to match a liquid with a liquid.

    I might – and will – suggest that this problem is exaggerated much of the time. Let’s tackle it head on.

    A smooth, light soup – say a brodo or a consommé – has traditionally been paired with a fortified wine, most notably Sherry or Madeira. The heavier alcohol creates a textural contrast that makes the pairing interesting. Both come in several dry styles that suit soup well; save your sweeter wines for fruit soups and the like. Creamy puréed soups also take well to fortified wines; whereas I might open a Fino Sherry with a consommé, a richer, nuttier Amontillado or Palo Cortado blends well with a bisque. Try Rozanne Gold’s Oyster Bisque with a glass of the Domecq Amontillado 51-1A VORS. A light briny note on the wine’s finish makes this a particularly harmonious pairing. Well-made Madeira and Sherry also has a refreshing acidity that belies their high-alcohol and keeps them friendly to food, especially seafood.

    A sparkling wine is the other way to address textural contrast head-on; those little bubbles do the trick. Chilled soups will especially profit from this pairing; with many, a fortified wine would be too heavy – contrasting, but imbalanced. Pop the cork on a bottle of Varnier-Fanniere Champagne Brut “Grand Cru” NV and serve it with Marco Moreira’s Young Garlic and Almond Gazpacho. In addition to the lively textures, there are definite almond and brioche notes on the Champagne that will heighten and broaden the flavors of the soup.

    One last thought on the texture front: sake. Its higher alcohol gives it a similar weight to fortified wines, and different bottlings offer a surprising variety of flavors. It’s not just for Asian recipes; try the Pride of the Village Junmai Ginjo with E. Michael Reidt’s Avocado Vichyssoise. This sake is quite full-bodied, with lots of floral notes that go very well with the avocado, backed by a heavy licorice note on the nose and some pineapple on the palate. More and more restaurants are adding sake to their winelists because of its ability to pair well with food, especially complicated dishes that might be difficult with wine.

    But let’s face it, relatively few of today’s soups have such simple, smooth textures. In a sense, chefs have taken care of that problem for us. So with many recipes we can turn the soup on its head: think of the broth or liquid portion as a sauce, and approach the main ingredient as the protein of the dish. Jeff Osaka and Christian Shaffer’s Black Pepper Salmon with Applewood Smoked Bacon Chowder is an extreme example; it even presents the ingredients separately, with the Salmon fillet resting on top of the chowder. The soup’s texture more than takes care of itself. Many Pinot Noirs will do a good job with the salmon and bacon, but if you want to emphasize the spice and smoke, there are other light-bodied reds you can turn to, most notably Sangioveses, Tempranillos, or some of the lighter Rhône Valley wines. The Bodegas Montecillo Crianza Rioja 1998 (100% Tempranillo) goes particularly well; it’s got all the right aromas – pepper, cloves, smoke – to complement the dish along with some cherry and black olive flavors. Oak-aging has added some creaminess, but the acidity and medium-body means there’s no danger of overwhelming the dish.

    For a less-rich soup – something brothy instead of creamy – it’s a good idea to tone down the body of the wine as well. If you take Nadsa de Monteiro-Perry’s recipe for S’ngao Moaun – Spicy Chicken Soup – you’ll also want to consider something off-dry and white; the touch of sweetness tames the spice. These factors make Asian cuisine a place where German Rieslings can shine; in this case, try the Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese* Artist Label 2003. It was a hot vintage in Germany (across Europe, actually), which brought this wine some riper, tropical fruits to accompany the apricot and peach notes usual to Riesling. The finish is long and focused. Don’t be intimidated by the long name: Kerpen is the producer; “Wehlener Sonnenuhr” (“Sundial of ‘Wehlen,’” a village) is the vineyard – one of the famous sites of the Mosel, a region known for the lightness and fruity aromas of its wines. It’s a Riesling, clearly, and “Spätlese” means the grapes were picked a bit later, giving them more sugar and therefore, a touch more body (not sweetness necessarily – the winemaker can let that sugar ferment into alcohol). The “*” and “Artist Label” are the producer’s own method for indicating the quality of wines within his portfolio; the label in this case looks like something cropped from an idyllic, pastoral Hieronymus Bosch.

    Spices with a richer meat might call for red wine, but be careful of tannins – they tend to exacerbate the heat. Zinfandels are often useful with American spice like cajun and barbecue; Pinot Noir as well as the Piedmontese varietals Dolcetto and Barbera also go well when done in a fruit-forward style. For a dish like Matthew Murphy’s Duck Gumbo, grab a bottle of the Paolo Scavino Barbera d’Alba “Carati” 2000; it layers a mix of cherry, raspberry, and spice over an undertone of earth that should take on the duck and its creole spices point-for-point. The wine’s medium body doesn’t overwhelm, and Barbera’s naturally high acidity keeps the wine fresh and clean. In addition, this wine is quite flexible with food more generally, so it may match well with other courses of the meal – very handy when you don’t want to invest in a different wine for each course.

    And, soup courses can often go by before you’ve finished your glass of wine, so wines that can work double duty come in handy. It’s no accident that the first three wines I’ve suggested – Sherry, Champagne, and Sake – make great aperitif wines. Serve them to your guests when they arrive; when the time comes to sit down at the table they’ll already have a glass in hand that suits their first course, giving you some extra time to handle any emergencies in the kitchen. Alternatively, serve a soup that provides its own textural interest and free up your options; then when you’re done cooking and settle in with your guests, you’ll only have to jump up to save that burning dessert – not to scramble for the next bottle.

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    ...Published: March 2005