Pairing Soup, Wine & your Favorite Winter Activities: A Guide to Maximum Comfort All Season Long

I have what they call “cold intolerance”. Thankfully, it’s not something I have to warn my waiter about, but it does make winter my least favorite season. The things I tend to enjoy during the cooler months, should I have to bear them, are the ones that keep my temperature in a comfortable range – big sweaters and socks, snuggling up next to fires (or heat lamps) and great wine.

Another go-to that warms my core without fail and within minutes is a piping hot bowl of soup. Hailing from the most winterous state of them all (Alaska), I do still cherish outdoor activities, I just require a double-dose of warming when it’s time to come in.  If I can maximize my coze by combining heating elements, I consider it a win. Understandably, soup can be notoriously hard to pair with wine. For one thing, there is no actual parameter for what a soup should be – creamy, spicy, sweet, light. These could be descriptors for four different recipes, or one great bowl. It can also be difficult to know which element of the soup to focus on when pairing. I’m here to tell you, as with all dishes, it’s intensity of flavor and body are most important. 

There is a special joy in pairing that soup alone allows and that it a great contrast of temperatures. When done with care, this can enhance your experience in fun ways. With all of the components to consider and (likely) without a sommelier at home, I’ve put together a pairing guide for winter activities and the best style of soup for recovery. And since you shouldn’t have to think when you’re wearing a snuggie, the best glass of wine to go along. It’s a three-way “pairing” if you will.

Making Snow Things – Men, Angels, and Forts

Creating art out of the cold requires a degree of focus, and gloves only slow you down. It’s easy to get carried away and stay in the cold far too long, unaware that your extremities are losing their senses. The playful scenes and strong nostalgia beg for simple, sweet and classic soups. My two favorites are Butternut Squash and French Onion.

Pair it with: To match the earthy sweetness of the squash and help carry some of those baking spices, go for an Alsatian Pinot Gris. The silky texture of the wine will be a perfect mate to the pureed vegetable. If you go the onion route – with its requite cap of melted gruyere –  you’ll need something with stronger aromatics. You’ll also want a wine that will enhance the hidden (under cheese) perfume of caramelized onions. A layered and dry Viognier will do the trick.

Downhill Sports – Sledding, Skiing and Snowboarding

The very particular combination of adrenaline and wind in your face is a thrill indeed. Plus, you get to feel the tiny muscles you forget you own throughout the rest of the year. If your home, cabin or chalet lacks a soaking tub, the next best thing for recovery is a hearty stew. After a day of internal screaming and chapping cheeks your aching body will thank you. Depending on how long I would like to sit down afterwards, I’ll choose between a husky Beef Stew and a rich, herby Cassoulet.

Pair it with: To play with the dark, earthy flavors of stewed beef and vegetables call on a great bottle of Brunello. Equally haunting in complexity and weight, the Tuscan king stands tall.  For a rustic complement to the very substantial dish of beans, pork and duck in the cassoulet, aim for a blend from the south of France, like a high-quality Cotes du Rhone.

Snowball Fight

This one falls somewhere between the nostalgia and strategy of constructing snowmen and the adrenaline of deliberately hurtling yourself down a mountain, but has the added complexity of a resulting winner and a loser, even if no one agrees who is who. Whether you are celebrating victory or soothing welts, a hot bowl of creamy indulgence will serve as aid. I alternate between two veggie styles, Cream of Broccoli and Cream of Mushroom. You can play with the herbs to add complexity, but at their best these simple meals do a great job of taking one ingredient and letting it shine.

Pair it with: Broccoli and all of its cruciferous crew are notoriously tricky to pair with wine. Consider the texture and weight of cream and you’re going to want something with brightness and its own vegetal nature. Enter Gruner Veltliner. For Cream of Mushroom, it’s fun to tease out the nuttiness of the fungi and amplify  the butter and cream with an oaked Chardonnay.

Ice Fishing

Pretty much the antithesis of an adrenaline-driven activity: there’s very little actual action here. The thrill is mostly about connecting to survival mode. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, it involves drilling a hole in a frozen lake and then sitting in a chair near your hole waiting for fish to swim by. The plus: fish are usually hungry, so catching them takes a bit less effort than in the summer. The minus: temperatures, literally. I enjoyed ice fishing as a kid and would have loved it more if we turned our catch into bowls of warmth when we came home. You can go one of two delicious ways with fish in soup – a nice light Fish Soup with Ginger Broth, or a Seafood Bisque.

Pair it with: To play on the light herbs and briny minerality of a freshly caught trout in broth, try a clean and ready Muscadet. If your toes are colder still, a nice hearty bisque begs for the bright and grassy minerality of a Sancerre.

Shopping

Potentially more competitive than a snowball fight with absolutely no clear winner, shopping during the holidays can take everything from you. If you still prefer to do your shopping in the world of brick and mortar instead of letting a courier do the dirty work, you’ll definitely need to defrost and de-frazzle when you return home. A homey Lentil Soup will help restore. Hey, maybe leave a thermos for your mail carrier while you’re at it.

Pair it with: If you’re a fan of the cured sweetness of ham with your green lentils, there is no better option than a smoky, fruity, earthy Pinot Noir. But don’t worry, I’ll keep looking, just in case. If you prefer (like me) the more international influence of coconut and curry with red lentils, you can take those flavors to their peak with a great Riesling.

Indoor Activities – Crafting/Baking/Puzzles/Reading/Etc.

I like this one the best! On a day like this, the wine and soup are not requirements for revival so much as they are merely increasing the calm of the day. If you’re lucky and don’t have anywhere to be, this is the safest time to bring tomato-based soups to the table. Worst case scenario, you have to put on a new pair of pajamas. Tomato can express itself two ways in soups and stews. In something like a straight Tomato Soup, or Chicken Tortilla you’ll be focusing on the bright, almost floral, nature of the fruit. On the other hand, when stewed or slow cooked with hearty ingredients, like Chili, the tomato becomes an unctuous carrier of umami and heft. Yum!

Pair it with: For bright tomato soups, I love to sip on a tropical-yet-savory Albarino. That hint of salinity in the wine is like an extra dash of flavor enhancement. With bigger recipes, I’ll rely on the meaty and noble, but still bright, fruit of a Tempranillo. Adored for its leather and dried fruit aromas it’s the perfect partner to a beefy chili.

Traveling South

I lied. I really like this winter activity the best, but it doesn’t really belong in this guide. Personally, I love soup so much that I will eat steaming bowls all year long, but if you’re at the beach you should forgo the soup-wine math and order a cocktail instead. See you in the spring!

An Alaskan-New Yorker, Raven Adrian is an adult with a propensity to play. She is driven by all things that inspire laughter and curiosity which brings her very naturally to a career in wine and hospitality. She is a Certified Sommelier (CMS) and has spent 18 years knee-deep in the restaurant industry of NYC. Raven is a currently part of the sales team at Golden Ram Imports. You can follow her on instagram @grapenutter.