A Guide to Pairing Good Wine with Crappy Leftovers
Just because all you have is the butt end of a chicken nugget in your fridge doesn't mean you can't have an elevated culinary experience. Just add the right wine!
The beauty of a scrappy supper
Raise your hand if you have ever made yourself a complete meal out of those weird little scraps that your kids left behind or flat-out refused to eat. That’s what I thought: All of you.
I need to preface this piece by stating that I have studied wine and culinary arts in Tuscany — pretty much the wine and culinary arts epicenter of the world. And yet, I was cursed with two of the pickiest eaters on the planet. I have actually watched my youngest, Luke, sniff an off-brand but identical-to-his-favorite-brand granola bar and hand it back to me, saying, “Me no like this one.”
The other night, I found myself sipping (read: gulping) my wine while trying not to take personally the revolving door of entrée items being sent back to the kitchen (accompanied by pieces of unsolicited feedback). Yes, I realize there are plenty of parenting hacks pertaining to picky eaters — I have tried the majority of them. But sometimes your desire to spend one night not in battle mode trumps your desire to be a good parent, and you need to just give the people what they want. By “the people”, I mean “tiny humans living in my house” — and by “what they want”, I mean “chicken nuggets every damn night.”
As the minutes crawled by, I calculated the estimated time until the moment my kids would be sleeping soundly so that I could finally feed the lowest person on the totem pole — myself — at approximately ALL ETERNITY. So, I did the obvious thing. I started eating the various items that were sent back to me. Half-eaten, ketchup-drenched nugget? Sure. Partially chewed apple pieces? Send ‘em my way. A completely untouched quesadilla? Don’t mind if I do. And, in that moment, I decided that a food and wine pairing guide for this very situation was in order.
Below, you will find a list of some of the best wine pairings I could come up with for your kid’s rejected and neglected meals. I’ve also tried to include a few specific, widely available bottlings of each suggestion at multiple price points. All can be found on wine.com.
Cold Grilled Cheese + Zinfandel
Zinfandel, also known as California’s Heritage Grape, is typically big and round and fruity. Pour a glass and savor the delightful saltiness of the cheese as it mingles with the fruitiness of the wine, like a cheddar scone with black currant preserves. Only you’re not sipping tea at a quaint bed and breakfast in London — You’re having a stand-off with a toddler-hole who is refusing to eat his grilled cheese because it’s not shaped like Antarctica like he asked for.
A few to try:
Chicken Nuggets + Ketchup + Sangiovese
I love this pairing, mostly because Sangiovese is my go-to grape — and chicken nuggets are my guilty pleasure (confession: I have totally ordered chicken fingers off the kids’ menu “for my son”). You could also go with a crisp white here (I happen to know for a fact that Albariño is a delight with nuggs because I enjoyed this exact pairing yesterday), but the ketchup sort of complicates things, and you’re going to want something that can hang with the sweet/salty/umami flavor of America’s favorite condiment. Thus, Sangiovese is your gal. Simpler is better here — While I generally don’t turn down a Brunello di Montalcino under any circumstance, a simple, light Chianti or Sangiovese blend will do just fine.
A few to try:
Hot dogs & sparkling wine
Need I say more? Probably not, but I will. Sparkling wine loves grease and salt like buns love wieners. In fact, sparkling wine loves pretty much anything, so if you’ve got a bottle on hand, it’s a winning choice for whatever you’re eating — be it surf & turf served on fancy china or Chef Boyardee eaten straight out of the can (with a side of lessons in empathy from Daniel Tiger).
Pro Tip: Nothing makes you feel like less of a schlub than sipping tiny bubbles out of a delicate Champagne flute. So, by all means, drink it out of a nice glass. You are forgiven for doing it in dirty clothes in your dirty kitchen while feeding your dirty children, but you will never be forgiven for having crappy stemware. Just keep it out of reach when you carry your flailing kid surfboard-style to the bathtub (I learned this one the hard way).
A few to try:
Cheerios + Chardonnay
Pick a slightly oaked version (“slightly” being the operative here — save the butter bomb for your aunt Peggy), perhaps from California. Or, if you can find/afford it, a good quality white Burgundy. The toasty oak will play off the toasty oats and you will feel happier than you did eating Cheerios for dinner sober.
A few to try:
I could go on for days about this exact topic because it is, at times, actually a big metaphor for my entire life. But for now, you no longer need to feel frustrated by the culinary and/or parenting situation in your home. Look at it as a fantastic opportunity to get creative with food and wine pairings. It will give you an excuse to open that second — and third — bottle.
All in the name of research, right?