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When it comes to wine and food pairings, it shouldn’t take too much thought. While there are certain flavor profiles that will send a palate to the moon and others that could cause one to shake their head in disgust, it’s important to drink and eat what brings joy.
Ultimately, the goal of a wine pairing is to balance salt, cut through the fat, complement with acidity, or cool down the heat in a food dish. From pizza to Polishes, here are six classic Chicago foods and the wines that help take them to the next level.
Four-piece fried hard with salt and pepper and fries (mild sauce on the side) from Harold’s Chicken Shack and cava
Whether visiting Chicago for the first or thousandth time, grabbing some Harold’s Chicken is absolutely a rite of passage. Founded in 1950, Harold’s Chicken Shack is known for its crispy chicken and mild sauce — a tangy concoction of barbecue sauce, ketchup, hot sauce, and spices —perfect for dipping. Because of the saltiness of both the chicken and fries, a bottle of Spain’s beloved sparkling wine cava would be a great option to sip on with this combination. Bubbles and fried foods are always a match made in heaven, and cava’s flavor profile of green apple, citrus, and a touch of toasted honey will make this meal savory and satisfying.
The bottle: Segura Viudas Heredad Brut Reserva ($29.99 at Binny’s)
Barbecue Chicken Tavern Style Pizza from Candlelite Chicago and Chablis
So sorry to disappoint anyone who thought that deep dish was going to be included —but tavern-style pizza is the city’s official pie. The beautiful thing about this style of pizza is that you can dress it up however you like. The barbecue chicken pizza from Candlelite is balanced in flavor — tangy barbecue sauce, crunchy red onions, gooey cheese and generously seasoned chunks of chicken. And because of the fattiness from the cheese and chicken, one’s palate will be craving something zippy and refreshing. Chablis (aka Chardonnay from Burgundy, France) is a lean, aromatic white wine with flavors of melon and citrus (think lemon and lime) with fresh acidity.
The bottle: Jean Marc Brocard Chablis Domaine Sainte Claire 2020 ($17.99 at Binny’s)
Garrett Mix from Garrett’s Popcorn and riesling
There’s nothing like the sweet aroma of a bag of Garrett Mix (formerly known as Chicago Mix). The irresistible goodness of the CheeseCorn mixed with the CaramelCrisp is a quintessential snack for Chicagoans and non-Chicagoans alike, and is a flavor combination that needs a white wine to make the entire experience harmonious. Sipping on a dry riesling while snacking on handfuls of Garrett’s will be the ultimate achievement of balance, helping to elevate both the creaminess from the cheese and the sweetness of the caramel.
The bottle: Black Star Farms Arcturos Dry Riesling ($17.99 at Binny’s)
Italian Beef Sandwich (dry, sweet, and hot) and Bordeaux blend
This pairing was a bit tricky because everyone orders their Italian beef in a different way. But if you don’t necessarily go for the extra juicy version sandwich, a red Bordeaux blend will be the best partner for this Chicago classic. Red wine is always a great match for hearty beef, but because Italian beef sandwiches can be customized to suit your unique taste, a merlot-dominant blend with support from cabernet sauvignon won’t overwhelm your palate if you decide to get both sweet and hot peppers.
The bottle: Chateau Lilian Ladouys Saint Estephe 2016 ($25.99 at Binny’s)
Maxwell Street Polish (with everything) from and pinot noir
As fickle of a grape that pinot noir can be, it makes for the perfect wine to pair with all sorts of foods. The richness of the Polish sausage needs a medium bodied wine that’s fruit forward with flavors like dark red cherry and juicy pomegranate with a hint of baking spice. And don’t worry about additions — this Oregon pinot noir will pair wonderfully with whatever toppings.
The bottle: Maison Noir OPP Other People’s Pinot 2020 ($22.99 at Binny’s)
Beef Jibarito and zinfandel
Another beef sandwich calls for another red wine, but this time one with a bit more jamminess on the palate. The idea of a California zinfandel might give some people a bit of pause (mainly because of the era of white zinfandel in the 1980s) but trust me on this one. The sweet starchiness of the plantain “bun” with everything that comes between it — sliced steak, tomatoes, lettuce, and a smear of mayo — needs a red wine with structure and subtle sweetness, and zinfandel delivers on both.
The bottle: Seghesio Zinfandel Old Vine 2018 ($24.99 at Binny’s)