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Cheap Wine and Leftovers: A Match Made in Quarantine Heaven

Updated: Apr 29

We’re deep into one of the worst years in recent history. The simpler days of quarantine, when everyone was obsessed with making banana bread, seem like ages ago.

With restaurants either partially or completely shut down, Americans turned to cooking at home in lockdown. This approach is definitely healthier and saves a ton of money, but if you’re like me and you live alone, it can leave you with a lot of leftovers and random snacks.

Pairing a nice wine with food can seem like a foreign concept at first. But it’s a science that can be simplified and fun to experiment with. When you learn a few key elements of food and wine pairing, there’s really not much to it. And what they don’t tell you is that wine can be paired with anything lying around in your cupboard. Really. It doesn’t take a Michelin star chef to whip together a mind-blowing pairing. This brief list of versatile wines will get you started as you taste them alongside some common grocery store items.

Zinfandel and Barbecue chips

Zinfandel is known for its smoky finish, making this a perfect option for your sweet and salty chips. Zin is the barbecue king because the wine contains heavy notes of plums, blueberries, and cherries on the palate. This creates a nice, jammy taste, which pairs excellently with those hearty, meaty dishes that you would find at your neighbor’s barbecue. But, if you’re also just having a casual night in, pairing this with barbecue chips gets the job done and tastes delicious.

Riesling and Caramel Popcorn

If you’re pairing a sweeter wine with your dessert, proceed with caution. Although it may seem like a no brainer to pair a sweet vino with your chocolate indulgence, there is one key rule to making this pairing a success. The wine you pair your dessert with should be as sweet or sweeter than the food itself. With this rule in mind, a great place to start is with a dish that’s salty and sweet. The salt from the popcorn will ensure that the sweetness is balanced, creating an amazing combination with the wine. For an even easier snack, just buy some kernels and add sugar to the pot before popping for kettle corn!

Chianti and Frozen Pizza

Here’s a simple pairing rule that goes a long way: what grows together goes together. Chianti is a classic Italian red that’s high in acid, making it a perfect pairing for pizza. Pop on over to your local grocery store, buy whatever thin-crust pizza is on sale (personally, I’d go for the margarita), and devour it alongside this medium-bodied wine. I like to buy a basic, $5 pizza and jazz it up a little with onion, arugula, cilantro, goat cheese, or anything in my fridge that’s about to go bad. It’s hard to make a bad pizza, so don’t be shy; run wild with it.

Chardonnay and Pasta Salad

Chardonnay is quite a versatile drink. Much like our Zinfandel pal, this would be a great, easy thing to pick up and take to a barbecue. But unlike Zin, you’ll want to pair this with the barbecue’s side dish; a nice creamy pasta salad. A classic California Chardonnay is typically made using malolactic fermentation (a fancy scientific term that explains why your white wine tastes like butter). This makes it a perfect combination with a nice, white sauce pasta salad. The similar textures of the wine and food beautifully complement each other, creating a nice, smooth taste.

The key to pairing good wine and food can be pretty simple (and fun!) when broken down into a few straightforward tips. Your nice (and if you’re like me, often inexpensive) wine doesn’t need to be paired with a five-course meal, or even a home-cooked meal. Just remember: similar tastes may complement (or oppose) each other, where both the food and wine were from, or how both the food and wine feel in your mouth. And when in doubt, always opt for cheese pairing.

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