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Pairing Wine, Spirits and Beer with Comfort Food

Chef Guy Fieri on what to sip with burgers and wings

There’s no denying that Guy Fieri’s philosophy of food as an expression of carefree living resonates with millions of people. Whether it’s his wild persona or the “common man” food he’s espousing that appeals, consumers flock to Fieri’s bold bites. The question then becomes what to wash it down with?

We’re not talking pairing foie gras and Sauternes. And those who subscribe to the “eat what you like, drink what you want” school of pairing keep their own counsel. But for those of us seeking spirituous partners to make our comfort food sing, it’s worth giving some thought to our choices. Choosing the right libation can elevate an ordinary meal to an extraordinary experience.

While wines from Old World countries such as France and Italy are famed for being food friendly, when it comes to the boldly flavored foods found at restaurants such as Guy’s American Kitchen + Bar, and Tex Wasabi’s, intrinsic finesse can be overshadowed, relegating wine to a mere thirst quencher. Although often considered more difficult to pair with food due to higher alcohol content, lower acid, and assertive fruit flavors, many New World wines (fondly referred to as  “fruit bombs”) might lend themselves nicely to pairings with Fieri-style culinary concoctions.

If you prefer other quaffs to vinous creations, there’s good news—spirits continue to be one of the hottest trends out there. Whether it’s in a craft cocktail or a pure expression from an artisan producer, there’s bound to be a libation to mate with your meal.

Smoked meats and pulled pork cry out for playmates with muscle. A California zinfandel or Australian shiraz would shine with Fieri’s brand of zesty heat. Zinfandel’s Italian cousin, primitivo, would work equally well. The leathery, softly fruity, and somewhat chalky flavors of a tempranillo from Rioja provide the perfect pairing to smoked meats, especially if paprika is present. If you like to think outside the (smoker) box, try sipping an herbaceous mezcal with your smoked meat. You will not be disappointed. Worm optional, as is should be.

When it comes to pairing cheeseburgers—let’s throw some bacon on top—any of the aforementioned wines work, but you just can’t beat a malbec from Argentina. Unless you go with a carmenère from Chile. It’s good to have choices.

Rotisserie chicken lends itself to a panoply of potable potions. If the rub or sauce is piquant, avoid highly tannic wines; try something a little softer and fruitier, like an Austrian zweigelt. It works with chicken tenders, too. The dark berries and rusticity of a lighter-bodied South African pinotage are sure to please many palates. If those chicken wings you’re nibbling on are slathered in a sweet sauce (Fieri’s signature Bourbon Brown Sugar BBQ sauce comes to mind), go bold with a straight Kentucky bourbon or, better yet, commit to a corn whiskey.

White wine with a touch of residual sugar provides the perfect complement to spicy dishes. The go-to favorites are off-dry rieslings and gewürztraminers. But a fruity and slightly sweet torrontés from Argentina will get the job done quite nicely. Or go with a terribly trendy sweet moscato, if you must.

Don’t let the pretty presentation of a sparkling wine fool you into thinking it’s too delicate for Fieri’s fire. There’s a lot of brawn behind those bubbles, making sparkling wines a great choice for food pairing. Their high acidity and carbonation cut through rich, fatty foods like a buzz saw, continually cleansing your palate in anticipation of the next bite. If you enjoy a little extra heft, go with a sparkling shiraz from Australia.

Sparkling wine and sushi are a match made in heaven, and for Americanized sushi such as that found at Fieri’s chow houses (spicy peppers, sauces, meat), seek out a coarsely filtered sake. The creamy texture and sweet taste will tame even the hottest of jalapeños.

While the food you choose often dictates the beverage you drink, other factors such as time of year, the company you’re in, and the venue can all impact your decision.

When enjoying a nice meal at home with family, Chef Fieri often opts to unwind with a local Sonoma County wine. Fieri has recently joined the ranks of Sonoma County wine producers with his own Hunt & Ryde Winery, a project that showcases a more serious side, and his desire to create a legacy for his sons. His current offerings include a Bordeaux-style blend, a pinot noir, and a zinfandel.

Although acknowledging that what you eat plays a part in your choice of beverage, Fieri feels personal preference is key. His preference? “I’m definitely biased, but I think that my Hunt & Ryde wines go best with any style of food,” says Fieri. That said, when Fieri finds himself out at a bar with friends or tailgating before a big game, he prefers beer. According to Fieri, “beer is the only thing that stands up to the BBQ, wings, and rich food.”

He’s right: beer goes with all of the above. And there will be times when nothing else will do. But Guy Fieri didn’t get where he is by playing it safe. When it comes to gustatory hookups, neither should you. Go outside your comfort zone and have your comfort food, too. Your tastebuds will thank you.


Associated Links

  • Guy Fieri
  • Television personalities
  • Food and drink
  • Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

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