When I say Super Bowl, you think—what? Buffalo wings and pizza, nachos and chili, chips and dips like guacamole. Oh, and maybe football. The snacks served on game day are bold and vibrant, just like the team colors, and the flavors are salty, spicy, and meaty, with a creamy, cheesy layer to smooth them all out. Super Bowl food is comfort food on steroids.
Now when I say Super Bowl beverage, you probably think: beer. Beer's a natural match, playing against the meat of the chili, the salty heat of the wings, the crunch of chips and dip. Go for it!
But what's a wine lover to do?
The very qualities that make Super Bowl snacks a natural with beer make them tricky to pair with wine. Spicy food seems hotter when served with tannic red wines. Delicate whites wimp out in the face of flavorful, hearty titans like chili and nachos. And some wines just seem wrong for the occasion. Like—rosé? Sparkling wine? Sweet Riesling?
But ironically, fruity, slightly sweet, and fizzy wines are terrific mates for nearly all the food on your Super Bowl spread. So are youthful, juicy reds and crisp, fruit-driven whites. And since the food's easy-going, the wines should be, too, at prices that won't bust the budget if you're hosting a crowd.
Below are some favorite Super Bowl snacks along with wines guaranteed make them taste even better.
Let's tackle (sorry) the hardest pairing first. These oven-fried buffalo wings are delectable—not too rich, with a crisp skin and a nice kick of heat. But they're seriously tricky to match with wine. The hot sauce is vinegary, the skin is salty, the meat is savory, and when you serve them with blue cheese dressing, you get pungent and creamy flavors too. On one hand that dairy tames the heat, making the dish more wine-friendly. On the other hand—Wow! There's a lot going on here.
I recently tried a range of wines with this recipe and the best pairings, hands down, were fruity, off-dry whites. My favorite was a breezy $12 bottle from Southern France, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay, and Marsanne, with flavors of tropical fruits and melon. Its acidity was a match for the vinegary sauce, while the mild sweetness tamed the wings' sharp heat.
By the same token, white port (I like Fonseca Sirocco), mixed with a splash of tonic and twist of lime was also a terrific pairing. Sweet Riesling and off-dry sparkling wines work beautifully, too, along with un-oaked white blends from California.
Those who prefer red wine should look for fruitier styles with modest alcohol and low tannins. Zinfandel is a natural, if you can find one under 14% alcohol. Some reds can be chilled down to feel more cooling, too: fruity, supple wines like Beaujolais, Grenache (called Garnacha in Spain), and Austrian Zweigelt take a chill and still taste great.
- Best pairing: Fruity, just off-dry white blends
- Also try: Zinfandel, slightly chilled fruity red wines (Beaujolais, Grenache/Garnacha, or Zweigelt), Riesling (Spätlese or Auslese), off-dry sparkling wines (Champagne, Crémant, Cava, Método Classico, Lambrusco, Brachetto d'Acqui, or Moscato d'Asti)
- Or mix it up: White port with tonic and lime
This robust chili recipe incorporates lots of meaty, smoky flavors and calls for a structured red. If you like your chili only moderately spicy, reach for Monastrell. This robust red wine from southern Spain has an inherent smokiness that provides a bridge to the dish, plus ample tannins to take the meat head-on. Malbec and Petite Sirah play by the same rules.
If you like your chili souped-up with extra spice, go for a smoother, fruitier red with good acidity. You might be surprised, but sweeter white wines also work well with spicy chili.
- Best pairing: Monastrell
- Also try: Red Côtes du Rhône or Rhône-style blends, Syrah, Malbec, California Merlot, Petite Sirah; if very spicy, try Zinfandel, Barbera, or Beaujolais
- Feeling adventurous? Off-dry Riesling
Vegetarian chili is more, well, vegetal—more herbaceous because of its beans and aromatic vegetables. But the adobo in this recipe gives the body of the chili a smoky edge, and the heat makes it a good match with fruit-driven, non-tannic reds like Zinfandel. If you want to pick up the green notes of the chili peppers, reach for a Cabernet Franc from the Loire.
- Best pairing: Zinfandel
- Also try: Barbera, Beaujolais, red Côtes du Rhône or Rhône-style wines, California Syrah
- For a more herbal approach: Loire Cabernet Franc
Phew! Pizza's easier. Make this foolproof pan pizza (or order delivery) and start with Italian reds, including Barbera, Chianti Classico (Sangiovese), Nero d'Avola, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, and Primitivo. You can fine-tune your selections according to the pizza's toppings. Pepperoni and sausage need a hefty red like Aglianico or Monastrell. Onions, peppers, and olives like peppery Grenache and Zweigelt. Ham and pineapple? Reach for an off-dry Riesling, which has tropical notes that complement the fruit and sweet ham, but enough acidity to tackle the tomato sauce.
- Best pairing (tie): Barbera, Chianti Classico
- Also try: Nero d'Avola, Monastrell, Aglianico, red Côtes du Rhône, Zweigelt, red blends, Grenache, off-dry Riesling
Nachos made with corn-based chips need a gutsy, grassy white wine like Sauvignon Blanc. Adding melted Cheddar or Jack cheeses lets them harmonize with easy-going reds, and sparkling wines are terrific with crispy fried foods (including chips).
- Best pairing: Sauvignon Blanc (try Sancerre or Fumé Blanc)
- Also try: Grenache/Garnacha, Zinfandel, Barbera, California red blends
- For fun, try: Sparkling wine
Definitely reach for a white here, especially one that's grassy or herbal, like Grüner Veltliner or Sauvignon Blanc. Don't even try to go red.
- Best pairing: Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)
- Also try: Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio, Off-dry Riesling
- Adventurous pairing: Sylvaner
Dry rosé's crispness and red fruit flavors make it my favorite pairing with fresh tomatoes. Herbaceous whites, meanwhile, mingle well with cilantro and lime. If the salsa's jalapeño-heavy, try off-dry Riesling or sparkling wines—red Lambrusco is a natural.
- Best pairing: Provençal rosé
- Also try: Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, off-dry Riesling
- Feeling adventurous? Lambrusco
This French Onion Dip is sweet, savory, salty, and tangy—all at once! You'll want a round, nutty white to meet the onion's sweetness. Dryer styles of sherry, most orange wines, and some white Rioja, in particular those from Lopez de Heredia, have nutty, oxidative notes. Pinot Gris has an inherent spiciness and full body that'll also pair beautifully.
- Best pairing: Fino or Oloroso sherry
- Also try: white Rioja, white Côtes du Rhône, Pinot Gris
- Up for an Adventure? Orange wine (often made of Pinot Gris)
Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Artichoke can play tricks on your tongue, making a wine seem sweeter than it is. That actually helps this Spinach and Artichoke Dip pair with a wider range of wines, since pungent garlic can be a tricky match. Try Sauvignon Blanc, which has an herbal side and great acidity. Avoid red wines, which can taste metallic with spinach.
- Best pairing: Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre or New Zealand)
- Also try: Sparkling wine, Grüner Veltliner, Sylvaner
A Wine Buffet
Planning to serve a range of snacks and want a range of wines? Below are five styles that work well with an assortment of game day foods. Pick one from each category—and may the best wine win!
- Sparkling Wine: Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Moscato d'Asti, Lambrusco
- Crisp white: Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, off-dry Riesling
- Rosé: Provençal or Côtes du Rhône rosé
- Fruity, not too tannic red: Zinfandel, Barbera, Beaujolais, Grenache/Garnacha
- Aperitif: Fino or Oloroso sherry, White Port
About the Author: Meg Houston Maker is a wine writer who contributes regularly to food, wine, and lifestyle publications. Find her musings about the pleasures of the table at Maker's Table and follow her on Twitter at @megmaker.