Fall is my favorite season. I love it when the leaves change, when the weather gets brisker, and when pumpkin spice everything is everywhere. Most of all, I love fall foods, especially squashes and sweet potatoes. While the autumnal equinox has officially come and gone on the calendar, Mother Nature has decided not to comply. Football, pumpkin, and cute fall boots are everywhere, but how can we enjoy it when the temperatures last week reached the 90s? Luckily, today’s high was only 75, so sweatpants and sweet potato black bean chili were on my radar. Sweet potatoes were on sale at the grocery store, and I always keep cans of some kind of bean stocked in the cupboards, so dinner was going to be a piece of cake. More time to plan for a wine!
Since having bought my new wine pairing book, What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea – Even Water – Based on Expert Advice from America’s Best Sommeliers by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, I have been wanting to use it to help me make a wine pairing choice. Knowing that I was going to make chili, I went to Chapter 5, “What to drink with what you eat” (page 69), hoping that they had some recommendations. I have found since my book review that not all foods are listed in this chapter, just like not all wines are mentioned in the next. Luckily, chili had a few wine recommendations under it. Following the key of a recommended pairing, a highly recommended pairing, or a “HOLY GRAIL” pairing,: “Chili: Beaujolais; BEER, ESP. LAGER, PILSNER, OR WHEAT; Cabernet Sauvignon; Côtes du Rhône; Malbec; red wine, full-bodied; Riesling; rosé, esp. dry; Shiraz/Syrah; sparkling wine; ZINFANDEL, ESP FRUITY AND/OR LIGHT BODIED” (page 105).
I wasn’t in the mood for rosé, I had some Cabernet recently, and all of the whites that I had were Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, and Italian blends. Hmm…what was I going to pair? I did have a Natura Carménère that I’d been wanting to try. Unfortunately, Carménère was one of the wines not mentioned in my wine pairing book, but I really wanted to try it. Would it work? Let’s see…Carménère is generally a fruit-forward wine, such as the Zinfandel that was highly recommended by Dornenburg and Page. According to another wine writer that I follow, Wine Folly, Carménère does pair well with black beans, which was the bean that would be in the chili. Also, the wine was from Chile, so chili and Chile would have to go together…right?
I found the Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili recipe from EatingWell. One of the ingredients was chipotle chile powder, so I was looking forward to the dish having some kick. At first, this worried me. Would the wine pair well? I stuck to my gut, remembering Dornenburg and Page’s pairing rule of, “If it grows together, it goes together.” Many Chilean dishes are spicy, and this bottle of Carménère comes from Chile, so to me, it grew together and should go together!
Finally, after simmering on the stove for what seemed like forever, dinner was ready. First, the wine. Ever so juicy, this wine is filled with tons of raspberry, cherry, and oaky spice on the nose. At the end of the luscious taste is a tiny karate-chop of minerality and spice. This is the perfect beginning of fall wine. It’s not too heavy, but just heavy enough to enjoy when the weather is just beginning to cool down. Natura Carménère is easy to drink on its own as you wear your favorite sweatpants and t-shirt.
However, I was not drinking Natura Carménère on its own. I was drinking it with chili, and my oh my, was it good. It had enough spice to to let you know that it was there, but not so much that you needed a gallon of milk to cool your mouth down. The beans provided earthy flavor and tons of texture. The sweet potato provided just enough sweetness to balance out the chipotle chile powder in the meal. Cilantro added a nice herbaceous touch to round it all off. And the pairing?
Eyebrow-raisingly good! I was still somewhat cautious going into it, but it went rather well together! The wine did not get lost in the spiciness of the dish at all, rather, the berry notes were enhanced even further than when drinking it on its own. The sweet potatoes’ taste was made sweeter by the wine as well. The Carménère didn’t make the dish even spicier, as I had also feared, but instead smoothed everything out. At least in this case, chili with Chile works! 4 grapes!
Wine: Natura Carménère (Whole Foods) $11
Recipe: Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili (EatingWell.com)
Book:What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea – Even Water – Based on Expert Advice from America’s Best Sommeliers by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page