When it comes to wine and Chili ( Chilli, if you’re in the UK) pairings, there are tons of options. If the Chili is spicy hot, stick to low alcohol reds and whites, like Riesling, or Beaujolais. For Chili Con Carne (or Chili with Meat), fruit-forward red wines such as Côte du Rhone, Tempranillo, or Zinfandel are your best picks.
For Chili, we also recommend young wines, which haven’t been aged. Chili, for the most part, is comfort food and it is best paired with a more affordable wine. Should you run across a Chili that has been painstakingly simmered for days, and full of complex flavours, by all means, go after a pricier wine.
Zinfandel & Chili Pairing
Zinfandel is a juicy red that is high in acidity and low in tannin. As it is low in tannin, it tends to add a touch of sweetness to anything it is paired with. Think of it as the equivalent of Ketchup, but with alcohol. This low tannin and high acidity structure makes Zinfandel perfect with anything tomato based, such as Chili (which often contains tomatoes). Wines high in tannin tend to come off as flat when pitted against tomato.
With Chili, you need an acidic wine, as Chili has a lot of starchy bean and corn textures to cut through. Some people add cheese, and brown sugar to their Chili, and Zinfandel has no problem with lifting these heavy hitters away either.
American Pale Ale & Chili Con Carne
Chili Con Carne means any Chili with meat, and American Pale Ale is its best friend. American Pale Ale has bright, citric aromatics and hop flavours of lime and cilantro that cuts through any meaty and starch heavy beans. Should the Chili be firey hot, the carbonation has no issues with absorbing any of the heat.
Vibrant, clear, and snappy, an American Pale Ale will go with any type of Chili Con Carne, whether it includes beef, turkey, pork, or venison. It can also handle a wide variety of veggies that might be tossed into your Chili such as corn, mushrooms, bell peppers, or onion.
Beaujolais & Spicy Chili
Beaujolais is a light, fruity and low alcohol red that is wonderful with Chili, particularly at lunch. Chili is a dense food, with all the beans, corn, veggies, and meat you might toss in. A healthy spoonful of Chili will stick to your ribs all day.
Beaujolais lets you enjoy a glass of red wine with a cup of Spicy Chili without wanting to take a nap after. The low alcohol content also ensures your mouth won’t be on fire after sampling some of the spicy heat.
Tempranillo & Chili Con Carne
Young Tempranillo is fruity and fresh with cherry and dried fig flavours and peppery notes that make it go excellent with Chili Con Carne. The fruity notes amplify the meat flavours and the peppery notes adds an extra element of fun to the pairing.
While you can find expensive versions of Tempranillo, which have been aged (called Reserva or Gran Reserva), we recommend sticking to the younger version with Chili. Aged Tempranillo have more complex flavours, and the starchy bean component will won’t allow these flavours to be showcased. With a young Tempranillo, you’re getting a frisky dance partner that is better suited to partner up with Chili Con Carne.
Riesling and Spicy Chili
Riesling can range from bone dry to syrupy sweet, and we’d recommend a Riesling somewhere in between called Off-Dry with Spicy Chilli. Off-dry Riesling has a bit of residual sugar that makes it sweet, but retains lots of acidity which is perfect for cutting through the rich bean and tomato flavours found in Chili.
Riesling also has a lime citrus edge, which makes it a wonderful dance partner with Chili that might contain cilantro.
We give Riesling three and a half stars as it’s not fantastic with Chili that contains tomatoes. Instead, it’s better with pork based Chili that doesn’t have that tomato component. With tomato, you want a bit of an herbal bite, which white wines don’t offer. But with Pork, a citrus edge, which Riesling has in spades (think of how people love pineapple with Pork), is a marriage made in heaven.
For a complex chili that might have mushrooms, or layers upon layers of flavour, Pinot Noir will make an excellent pairing. Pinot Noir has a fresh and fruity acidity that will electrify the chili. Pinot Noir also has an earthy backdrop that lets it complement any bean or mushroom flavours found within the wine.
Malbec, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are three other wonderful red wine pairings that are perfect with Chili that isn’t tomato heavy. All three of these wines have a tannin punch that will love meaty chili con carne.
Côtes-du-Rhone is a Grenache based blend from the Southern Rhone region of France. Low in tannin and alcohol, it’s perfect for spicy chili that isn’t offensively hot. Côtes du Rhône is medium-bodied, and fruity, and will come across as refreshing and fun. The earthy quality of the wine also complements the earthy flavours of the beans found within.
Cabernet Franc is perfect for Vegetarian Chili featuring mushrooms and bell peppers. Cabernet Franc has a ‘greenish’ flavour that makes it wonderful with vegetarian dishes.