The Only Style of Wine You Need for Weeknight Meals

March 20, 2015

We may have food down cold, but wine? This is where we'll conquer it. Join us; we don't want to drink alone. 

Today: A style of white wine to go with whatever you want to eat right now.

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There is a winery in South Africa named Meerlust, where the same woman -- her name is Betty -- has been cooking for some 40 years. Betty is perhaps best known for her roast chicken dish, which my friend Erica describes like this: “Chicken with potato in unglazed cast iron, with a little water. I will walk over hot coals for that any day.”

I don’t know about you, but Betty’s roast chicken would hit the spot on my dinner table right about now. And so would the wine that she serves with it -- the Chardonnay that comes from the same Meerlust estate. The two go together -- like twins, or a rhyming couplet, or a matching pair of woolen gloves.

It’s because the food and the wine are from the same place, and from the same people -- which is always a helpful rule of thumb when thinking about what wines to drink with the food you’ve prepared.

But here’s the second reason the pairing works well: citrus. As in lemon and grapefruit. Tropical fruits, too.  

Citrus flavors or aromas in a wine -- the kind you’ll find in the Meerlust Chardonnay -- do exactly the same thing that citrus flavors and aromas do for foods. They lift it. They brighten it. They cut through heavy textures, so that both your palate and your mood feel lighter, and less burdened.

Those are very good reasons why, while we're waiting for spring to show up, citrus season comes as such a popular relief. Citrus are mood enhancers, when the nights are long and our memories of sunny warmth are still distant. And it’s something we can look for in the wine store: When you're looking for a winning wine that goes with no-frills weeknight cooking, look to the citrusy whites. 

Finding wines with the lift of citrus won't be hard, because it's a characteristic that’s common to a number of wines. Chardonnay, as we mentioned, plus Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling, are some of the more popular options; try them on to see what you like. Yes, they’re similar, but it’s the subtle details -- like texture and shade -- that will drive your personal preference. 

At this moment, my go-to weeknight white wine is Gewürztraminer from the Alsace region of France. It’s one of the most aromatic grapes and yes, citrus helps to define its personality. But what I love most about Gewürztraminer at this time of year is its range. Depending on the producer and their style, the range of aromas in Gewürztraminer runs the gamut from crisp grapefruit to exotic spice. Its texture also ranges all the way from lean and dry to luscious and sweet. The depth and potential of the grape, especially as it’s grown in Alsace, lends itself well to a range of hearty foods. For me, that makes it the perfect go-to choice for a just-thawing March night. 

Over time, as you experiment, you’ll learn which specific bottles work best for your palate and the different dishes you bring to the table. Maybe you’ll find that the Duck à l'Orange, with its navel oranges and orange peel, complements more citrus-forward options like the Albrecht Tradition. Or maybe you’ll notice that the tropical fruit and spicy notes of a bottle like Anne de K Vogelgarten Vieilles Vignes are highlighted alongside Spicy Orange-Ginger Chicken. Or, for a change of pace, try a sweeter option like the André Blanck et ses fils Altenburg Gewürztraminer with dessert. 

What is your go-to wine for a winter weeknight dinner? Tell us in the Comments!

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Cathy Huyghe

Written by: Cathy Huyghe

Best advice I've ever heard regarding wine? "Just drink the stuff."


Chuck May 8, 2015


Dennis May 8, 2015
jack B. May 4, 2015

Mark B. May 2, 2015
Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc or Simonsig Syrah, both south african and affordable. Also Gerard Bertrand Syrah/grenache from Languedoc and "Hugel" resiling.