Editor's Note: Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein joins us again with wine recommendations for our favorite Serious Eats recipes. Evan is the author of two fantastic wine books: Perfect Pairings and Daring Pairings. Looking for wine recommendations for your favorite recipe? Leave Evan a note in the comments.
I trained in the kitchens of Paris in the late 1970s. Since then, I've had a soft spot for the French comfort food so omnipresent in bistros and cafes—the food I could afford back then. After work, my colleagues and I gathered around a pichet of vin rouge and the heartiest, most gratifying, and traditional bistro cuisine that we could find. From coq au vin to French onion soup, it all hit the spot.
As the weather cools, my craving for French onion soup always resurfaces. This dish is so simple, but so good, especially if you use a rich and flavorful stock, the sweetest of slow cooked onions, a thick piece of crusty bread, and good-quality nutty Gruyere. Pairing soup with wine can be a bit tricky and it's a bit counterintuitive to match liquid with liquid, but believe me, a good glass of wine makes this meal even better.
Food For Thought
Here are a few basic guidelines for pairing soup with wine:
1. A more viscous wine will cling to a brothy soup nicely; don't go too light-bodied.
2. Think beyond the broth: consider the toppings and other elements in a soup. In this case, we'll focus on the nutty note of the cheese, the implied sweetness and texture of the onions, and the richness of the broth which is amplified by both the cheese and the bread as it breaks down and integrates into the broth.
3. If you're looking for a wine for a pureed and or cream based soup, select a textured and creamy wine that mirrors the soup's mouthfeel.
A red wine can work here, especially if you substitute the chicken stock with beef or veal stock. Classic Beaujolais (cru level) or another well-made Gamay wine is a good call. The bright cherry/raspberry/strawberry fruit picks up on the onion's sweetness while the soft granitic element of the terroir works beautifully with the soup's rustic nature. Gamay's inherent acidity cuts beautifully against the richness of this dish.
If you can't access good Cru Beaujolais, an Italian Dolcetto or a more rustic Pinot Noir would suffice.
While it's fine to drink red wine with French onion soup, the dish really speaks to me in a rich white voice. My top pick is a textured Pinot Gris from Alsace, Oregon, or California. These wines have an implicit waxy consistency with hints of dusty pear, candied ginger, green tea, and Meyer lemon that accent the soup nicely. Pinot Gris has enough acidity to not be flabby. You can even select one that has a little oak (but not too much) to mirror the cheese-topped crouton's buttery, toasty flavor.
Other choices: a balanced Roussanne or Roussanne blend will make a nice stunt double for the Pinot Gris. A Viognier or Gewürztraminer will bring out the sweetness of the onions: make sure you caramelize them thoroughly and slowly.
Evan's Wine Picks
2009 Julienas, Henry Fessy: This Beaujolais has a smooth texture with ripe cherry/berry notes and soft smoke. (About $15, find this wine)
2009 Elk Cove Oregon Pinot Gris: Easy-drinking with nice texture and pretty ripe citrus notes. (About $15, find this wine)
King Estate 2008 Signature Collection Oregon Pinot Gris: A touch of age broadens the palate, sweet citrus notes prevail. (About $17, find this wine)
Adelaida 2008 Pavanne: This blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier from Paso Robles is full bodied with rich hints of pear. ($23-27, find this wine)
Domaine Weinbach Pinot Gris Alsace "Cuvee Ste. Catherine" 2008: The added weight of this wine is perfect for the soup. I love the sweet spice and beeswax notes; this wine is worth the splurge, and turns a cozy dinner into a special occasion. (About $45, find this wine)