Wine Country Chili (Food and Wine Pairing)


I'm a Texan, at least that's what my birth certificate says. If Texas ever truly secedes, only my husband will need a green card to stay put, the rest of my family are born and raised Texans. But that's about where it ends for me. My Wine Country Chili is about as far from Texan as I feel. You'll see why soon enough.

Why Wine Country Chili?

When we moved to Northern California, we finally found our place and our people. Now, Southern Cal, that's a totally different story. It's like Dallas with a beach. But the area we lived in, wine country basically, was full of living beauty. Grapevines, gardens, groves of fruit trees. Everywhere you looked things were growing...thriving even. Besides the beauty there was all the things to do that didn't have to be dictated by weather or even finances. We made a leap of faith and lost everything financially in the process, but on our poorest day, we could throw together a simple picnic (one time it was just deviled eggs and crackers) and go to a local winery or park and enjoy the beauty. The people there were more into hanging out, eating and drinking together than watching whatever sporting event was happening. Being was much more important than doing. They were kindred spirits and the place felt like...well...home.

In 2013, we decided to move back to Texas to be by my parents and give our almost teenagers a chance to hang with them before going out on their own. That part of our move has been awesome, but the realization that Texas does not, and probably will not ever, feel like home hit me like a brick.

That said, I have such great memories of living of our 6 years in California and experienced so much that it is now simply a part of me. Most recipes I create came from living off of the CSA box I got each week from Riverdog Farm - we absolutely had to live by the seasons, not by what was readily available in the produce department. I learned about gardening from going to farms and seeing what organic gardening actually looks like and the hardships that come with stewarding the land. I learned about how wine goes with food by living in a place where we would wake up from mid-August to late October to the smell of grapes fermenting during crush. The whole idea of terroir actually made sense when I could taste the wine coming practically from my backyard.

This chili recipe came directly from this terroir thing. It was developed to go with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and specifically for those from Rutherford, a tiny blink-and-you'll-miss-it town on the drag through Napa Valley. Chili is traditionally a beer pairing, definitely not wine but Kyle worked in a local winery that made dark, rich Cabs. A perk of working as a poorly-paid server at a winery is bringing home a backpack full (he rode a bike to and from work) of partial bottles of wine left at the end of the day. One weekend, I had planned to make chili and he had brough home a a Cab made from Rutherford grapes.

How to Pair Chili with Wine

Rutherford's terroir speaks of "Rutherford dust" which is a term given to the chocolate notes that can be perceived in the wine made from this area's Cab grapes. With this knowledge, I decided to make the chili I had planned for that night to pair perfectly with this wine.

There are two main ways to pair wine with food. You can complement the food or you can contrast with it. For instance if you are eating something super spicy like Thai food, a very chilled, sweet wine is the perfect partner. That's obviously a contrast, but for this chili, I wanted to pair it with the red wine that isn't chilled so I had to go with the complementing method. Wanting to mirror the "Rutherford dust" or chocolate flavor, I decided that I would add a little cocoa powder to my chili when I added the spices. What happened was I suddenly had this very rich, dark and thick chili that tasted in no way like chocolate, but like it was made for this wine.

How to Make Wine Country Chili

Besides the cocoa powder, (seriously you've got to try it before you knock it) I also add a few other things that most Texans would balk at. The first and most major sin against Texas chili is that I add black beans for bulk. Texas chili is made with a billion pounds of meat, a bunch of spices and time. I created this recipe while I was living on almost nothing in Napa Valley so I had to stretch it with beans. I also add a little wine with the meat or a little apple cider vinegar near the end to punch up all the flavors. Definitely not traditional, but it's one of those things that if you don't add it, you will feel like something is missing, so don't leave it out.

Now here it is. Get your chili on and let me know what you think about it!

Wine Country Chili (Food and Wine Pairing)
Author: Christi Flaherty
  • 1 lb ground beef, chicken or turkey (I used ground chicken)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 4 tbsp ancho chile powder (or regular chili powder)
  • 2 tbsp cumin
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 14 oz can whole tomatoes, blended
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • To serve:
  • Avocado, chopped
  • Serranos or jalapenos
  • Grated cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Sliced green onion
  • Cooked Rice
  • Organic corn chips
  1. Brown the ground meat with the onions and garlic. Add the cocoa powder and all the spices. Stir to toast the spices a bit then add the water and scrape the bottom of the pan to gather up all the spices and and remnants of meat on the bottom. Add the tomatoes and black beans.
  2. Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes or until thick. Add the apple cider vinegar then stir well. Taste and add more salt or other seasonings until it taste perfect for your palate.
  3. Serve with any or all of the toppings listed.
!If you can find single chile powders (notice I spelled it chile not chili) in the Mexican aisle of you grocery store, look for Ancho chile or Pasilla chile. [br][br]!I don't know why, but we've always had chili with rice and corn chips. Feel free to do the same or have neither.