Odd Pair: Turkey Chili, Fritos, French's, and Demi-Sec Vouvray

Labor Day weekend found us in Orange, Texas, visiting with Tracie P's parents and family. Following our nephew Brady's football game, Mrs. B -- my mother-in-law -- had a lot of hungry mouths to feed on a rainy East Texas evening, including her three grandchildren, a six-months pregnant daughter (Tracie P), daughter Misty, two sons-in-law, not to mention sister Ida Jean, and Rev. B. (Standing nearly seven feet tall, Rev. B can eat!)

A seasoned pro, Mrs. B polished up the Crock-Pot early Friday morning and set about making her turkey and bean chili. Can you think of a better dish for a healthy meal on the first rainy night in Texas since anyone can remember?

Like soup, chili -- whatever the ingredients -- poses a nearly insurmountable challenge for even the most experienced fine wine connoisseur. Not only is it served piping hot, it's also spicy. The intensity of heat -- whether temperature or seasoning -- eliminates the great majority of fine wines because any nuance in the wine would be inevitably overwhelmed by the extreme nature of the chili.

Luckily, Tracie P and I had come prepared. Have wine, will travel: Whenever we head out on a road trip, we always pack the cooler with some of our favorite wines and snacks.

And we had the perfect wine to pair with Mrs. B's turkey chili, topped with Fritos (de rigueur), French's mustard, and (for my second helping, right) shredded orange cheddar: 2009 Demi-Sec Vouvray, made from Chenin Blanc grapes by Château de Montfort in the Loire Valley of France. (You can pick it up at Spec's for less than $15.)

The gentle sweetness of this wine (demi-sec denotes semi-dry) was ideal for the spiciness of the chili (think of the sweetness of Sprite but halved). But the thing that really took it over the top was Chenin Blanc's natural tongue-splitting acidity combined with the wine's unctuous mouthfeel. A bite of soppy Fritos followed by the delicate viscosity of the Vouvray revealed flavors I never imagined beans, turkey, and bell peppers could have. The balance of sweetness, minerality, intense acidity, and texture gave the wine the right stuff to stand up to the bold chili.

Historically, Chenin Blanc was vinified in this style (whereby fermentation is arrested so that not all the grape's sugar turns to alcohol) because the sweetness acts as a natural preservative and helps to balance the bright acidity in the Chenin Blanc.

But who knew it would pair so well with Friday night lights? At $15 a pop, my only regret was that I hadn't brought a second bottle from my stash.

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