Pairing Southern staples: Which wines pair with pumpkin?

Chef Jeffrey Gardner
Pumpkin Soup

Without question, pumpkin is one of the most popular flavors associated with fall. From sweet to savory applications, pumpkin dishes bring comfort and familiarity to the table, and they capture the essence of the cool weather to come. But what should we drink when we’re eating pumpkin for dinner? Pumpkin beer, we’re sorry to say, is rarely the answer.

Wines can actually be a fine match for any pumpkin dish, whether sweet or savory. To find the best pairings, it’s best to ask the following: At what point of the meal is the pumpkin dish served? Do you pair to the fruit or to other flavors in the dish? Is now-ubiquitous pumpkin pie spice a dominant flavor? We’ll answer all those questions, and offer plenty of ideas for wines to drink with popular pumpkin dishes, below.

Pumpkin Soup: Aromatic whites

When pumpkin simmers or roasts for a long period of time, its starchy snap breaks down into the creamy sweetness we all know and love, making soup the perfect vehicle for the vegetable. Sometimes the heat from hot chiles finds its way into the soup; other versions may have pure pumpkin flavor leading the charge. In both instances, an aromatic white wine, such as a dry chenin blanc, dry riesling or torrontés, matches up beautifully with pumpkin soup. These wines carry floral and citrus notes like kaffir lime and orange blossom, which help boost and balance the pumpkin’s natural sweetness. Also, most aromatic whites carry a trace of residual sugar, which is why we prefer those made in the dry style, where those sugars are gone. In addition, you’ll frequently be starting your meal with a soup, so drinking a wine with any perceived sweetness may cause your palate to fatigue early.

Suggested selections

2016 Santa Julia Torrontés, Mendoza, Argentina

2015 The Liberator, The Francophile Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa


Pumpkin Lasagna: Full-bodied whites or reds

With a creamy richness that evokes the coziness of being indoors on a brisk autumn day, pumpkin lasagna is a hearty entrée that demands full-bodied wine. Most recipes for pumpkin lasagna call for layers of pasta with fillings of cooked leafy greens, nutmeg-spiked béchamel sauce, pumpkin purée, and cheeses that are both creamy and sharp, such as ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella or even Gruyère. Fortunately, the variety of ingredients inside make it possible to pair the lasagna with both red and white wine.

If white is your preference, you could always reach for an oaky, buttery chardonnay; however, let’s explore a beyond the obvious. Produced in Italy’s Veneto region, Soave is a white blend that just screams “fall.” Garganega, along with trebbiano and chardonnay, is the primary grape in Soave, and, with flavors of melon and orange ziest, it’s very food-friendly. Another added bonus is that, because of its relative obscurity in the United States, you can find unbelievable Soave wines at great value. Or if you’d like to stay in the United States, some of the white Rhône-style blends found in California’s central coast also match up well with lasagna.

If red wine is more your speed, look for a syrah or nebbiolo. Bold, fruit-forward wines made from syrah grapes can stand toe-to-toe with complex dishes like lasagna, but are even more successful when pumpkin is inside, since richness and warm spice are found in both the dish and the wine. You could also go Old World and try a grippy, acidic wine made from nebbiolo grapes, which are particularly great if you’re a fan of pin,t noir and love wines with complexity. Some carry a bit of dank, musty aromas (a brilliant pairing if your lasagna contains mushrooms) and can even come at a bargain, provided you look for Langhe nebbiolo. These grapes produce some of the most treasured wines in the world — Barolo and Barbaresco — but come with a cheaper price tag than their legendary cousins. 

Suggested selections

2012 Herman Story Damn Good Wedding Wine, California

2014 G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo, Piemonte, Italy

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie (and other pumpkin desserts): Think fortified

Why do most of us only eat pumpkin pie once per year? Creamy and custard-like, this mildly sweet but spice-heavy pastry often comes at the end of a massive meal, where dessert wines fall below football and naptime on our list of priorities. The humble pumpkin pie not only deserves a more regular spotlight throughout the fall, but also begs to accompany a glass of killer juice at the end of the meal.

While most dessert wines could work, the caramel notes of an aged tawny port are pumpkin pie’s perfect foil. You’ll always want to look for a wine that is as sweet or sweeter than your dessert, and aged port satisfies this requirement. If you want a little more acidity in your wine to close out the meal, you could also opt for a dry sherry or Madeira. The brightness of dry sherry doesn’t overpower the pumpkin pie, and it almost acts as a palate refresher of sorts. Who couldn’t use that on Thanksgiving?

Suggested selections

Fonseca Ten Year Old Tawny Port, Portugal

Hidalgo Amontillado Napoleon Sherry, Jerez, Spain