Cheap Food, Good Wine?

It’s been a long day. At work, your boss yelled at you, at home your spouse snapped about the overfilled laundry hamper, and the cat just expressed her opinion all over the carpet. Nothing will sooth you more than a great glass of wine. But dinner is planned, and it’s not exactly beef bourgogne. So what’s a food-conscious oenophile to do? Here are a few suggestions for pairing decent or even good wines with classic comfort foods to create a fun, relaxing evening.

Macaroni and Cheese
At its best, homemade baked macaroni and cheese is a gourmet dish worthy of a spectacular accompanying wine. At its worst, the macaroni comes from a box with cartoon characters on it and the “cheez” is neon-orange powder. But even if you’re working at the cheezy end of the spectrum, you can pair an enjoyable, tasty wine to macaroni and cheese.

The creaminess of the cheese sauce is best paired with an acidic white wine. Look at the crisp Sauvignon Blancs or even a light citrusy Fume Blanc. Avoid big buttery chardonnays, which will double on the cheese and create a too-creamy, almost slimy mouth feel.

(If you’re lucky enough to be eating from-scratch mac and cheese, go ahead and break out the good stuff—like a Grgich Hills Fume Blanc!)

Pizza
My friends have coined the term “a good pizza wine” to describe a tasty, uncomplicated red wine that’s well worth drinking but isn’t too big or fruity or subtle or expensive to sip with a greasy slice of pepperoni pizza.

Blended red table wines can be especially good with pizza. I like Menage a Trois Red (Folie a Deux) or Big House Red (Bonny Doon), both under $10 per bottle.

Spaghetti
I prefer my spaghetti sauce basically from scratch, using canned tomato sauce and my own combination of herbs and lots of fresh garlic. Most people go for canned or jarred sauces, most of which are quite sweet and can be bland, spicy, or in-between.

To match the sweetness of the tomato sauce, go for a big fruity Zinfandel. Or if you’ve got a garlic- or pepper-heavy sauce, look at the Cabernet Sauvignons. A nice moderately-priced full Cab (such as Big Yellow Cab) makes a surprisingly good marriage with spicy marinara sauces.

Hot Dogs
Some Americans might say that the only proper alcoholic beverage to consume with a hot dog is a beer. Whether they’re right or wrong, and whether you slather your dog with chili and cheese and onions or eat it with just a little mustard, you can drink wine too.

Look at moderately-priced, dry sparkling white wines with your hot dogs. It seems strange to pair champagne with, well, wieners, but the light bubbliness of the wine cuts the fat of the sausage perfectly. Don’t waste your vintage Dom on a grilled dog, but a backyard barbecue is actually a good time to break out that Korbel that didn’t get opened last New Year’s.

Meat Loaf
Meat loaf is hearty winter comfort food staple that recently got a gourmet makeover by top chefs in fancy restaurants. But at its core, meat loaf is ground beef mixed with ketchup.

Meat loaf’s big (if simple) flavors need a big wine. Pick a smooth Merlot or a bold Cabernet Sauvignon that is neither too complex nor too subtle. Midrange ($10-$20 per bottle) Cabs make good meat loaf pairings.

Tuna Casserole
There are almost as many different recipes for tuna casserole as there are cooks who make it. It may have onions and garlic, or bell peppers and carrots. However you make yours, it’s probably creamy and has noodles in it as well as canned tuna fish, with a thin crunchy crust to add texture.

Now is the time to break out the bigger Chardonnays. Try to avoid going too buttery, but even strong oak notes in the wine will stand up to the strength of the tuna. Another good choice is a blended white table wine like Menage a Trois White.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
Some nights, it’s just not worth turning on the stove. It’s not even appealing to mix tuna and mayonnaise, or open up a packet of lunch meat. For that kind of night, many adults turn to the oldest childhood favorite comfort food, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

If you’re a grape jelly purist, look for a matching jammy Zinfandel. If you prefer a nice strawberry jam, drink a decent rosé with your PB&J for a lighter touch.

view counter
For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.