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Pairing Southern staples: Which wines go well with game day dishes?

Christopher Craig/Flickr

Grilling sausages


Pairing Southern staples: Which wines go well with game day dishes?

When you hear college fight songs ring out and smell grills firing up in the parking lot, you know that tailgating season is in full swing. Most often, tailgating beverages of choice are limited to cold beer in a can, a bottle masked by your favorite team’s logo-ed koozie or a red Solo cup filled with something stronger. While all are delicious options, oenophiles (fancy talk for "wine-lovers") can sometimes feel left out of the festivities.

Whether you’re the one hosting the football party or just attending and anticipating the dishes that your hosts may serve, here are a few killer wines to pair with your favorite football fare. 

Smoked sausage: Bright riesling and pinot gris
No matter if the sausage comes hot off the grill or as part of a meat and cheese platter, you have a vast array of options when it comes to pairings. Keep in mind, though, some condiments and accompaniments will dictate the wine you want to drink. 

Given that many contemporary styles of sausage have roots from Alsace, it makes sense to choose a wine from that region, such as riesling or pinot gris. Both varietals offer high acidity, richness and a hint of residual sugar that can hold up to a bold, fatty sausage. If you’re grilling yours, you could even choose a riesling from Germany’s Mosel River, as the petrol (yes, petrol) notes in the wine complement the char from the grill. (Side note: This same logic allows you to pair riesling with grilled steak.) 

If you’d rather go with a New World wine, the Pacific Northwest produces some excellent rieslings and pinot gris with both crisp and cooked tropical fruit notes, which also pair nicely with cured pork. If you’re topping sausages with sauerkraut and mustard, look for a more savory white with good minerality. An Austrian grüner veltliner nicely bridges the tartness of the kraut, the sharpness of the mustard and the richness of the sausage. 

Suggested Selections
2015 Elk Cove Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley
2014 Max Ferd. Richter Zeppelin Riesling, Mosel 
2015 Laurenz V. und Sophie Singing Grüner Veltliner
RO*TEL or other queso dip: Dry, dry, dry
What would a large gathering of football fans be without a hot slow-cooker filled with molten, pepper-studded cheese dip? Some food and wine purists may shudder at the prospect of pairing shelf-stable processed cheese products with great wine, but we at Southern Kitchen relish such a challenge. Cheese of any kind tends to make your mouth water and Velveeta in particular is a total sodium bomb. You have several pairing options but need to stick to one category: dry, dry, dry. 

The sharp acidity of a dry Provençal rosé plays nicely with both the richness of the cheese and the piquancy of canned peppers. (Another benefit of dry rosé is that it is, by nature, a very food-friendly wine and pairs nicely with just about any food on a game-day spread.) Or, if corn chips are your preferred vehicle for cheese dip consumption, look toward grassy and acidic sauvignon blanc. You can find great sav blancs from many different regions — the Loire Valley, Columbia River, Sonoma, and South Africa, for example — but few will deliver the bang for your buck like those from New Zealand. For another fun pairing, try serving cheese dip with a dry Champagne. Proper Champagne carries many bready, yeasty notes that evoke sensations of cheese toast or cheese and crackers. If you’re using toasted bread or pita chips as a dipping vessel, even better.

Suggested Selections
2016 Domaine de Saint Pierre Rosé of Pinot Noir, Languedoc, France
2015 Echo Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
NV Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne
Chili: Light and fruity gamay
Let’s say you want to keep your menu simple and simmer up a hearty pot of chili. Provided that it isn’t so spicy that you begin hallucinating and quoting “I Am the Walrus,” (shout out to Homer Simpson), any fruity red wine with low tannins will be a great choice. Spicy foods paired with tannic wines bring out an unpleasant alcohol burn in the wine, so a young wine made from grapes like gamay, a light-bodied and fruity cousin to pinot noir, reacts well against the spice blends in a chili.

At least three-quarters of the gamay wines produced in the world come from Beaujolais, France; in their basic form, they may come labeled as “Beaujolais Nouveau,” but savvy wine buyers know that “villages” and “cru” levels are only slightly more expensive and have the potential to age incredibly well. For the purpose of pairing with food, especially when that first cold snap of autumn hits, Beaujolais in any form comes at great value and offers the versatility to pair with nearly any dish in your football feast.

Suggested Selections
2015 George Descombes Morgon Gamay, Beaujolais, France
2016 Daniel Bouland Schiste, Beaujolais, France

Photo Credit (Sausage): Christopher Craig/Flickr
Photo Credit (Redneck Queso from Local Three in Atlanta): Adrienne Harris for the AJC
Photo Credit (Chili): jeffreyw/Flickr

Author image

Chef Jeffrey Gardner is a native of Natchez, Miss., and a graduate of Millsaps College and Johnson & Wales University. He lives in Atlanta and has served as sous chef for popular restaurants South City Kitchen Midtown and Alma Cocina. In 2013 he became executive chef for East Cobb restaurant Common Quarter and was named one of ten “Next Generation of Chefs to Watch” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He has appeared on TV shows including Food Network’s Chopped and Cooking Channel’s How to Live to 100, and also filmed a series of healthy cooking videos with retired pro wrestler and fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife Wendy, watching game shows and “spending all his money on Bruce Springsteen concerts.”