Whether your idea of clam chowder is Boston’s bowl of creamy goodness, Manhattan’s tomatoey brine or Connecticut’s vibrant clear broth, team this classic dish with a glass of chilled white wine.
A white wine will give you the refreshing crispness to stand up to the full-throttled clam flavor, while a sense of fruitiness—a touch of sweetness, even—will flatter the chowder’s innate saltiness.
The one variable that may change is the wine’s weight or profile, as noted by Natalie Maclean, the Canadian wine writer who offers food and wine pairing suggestions on her Web site, nataliemaclean.com.
“Clam chowders in a clear base go swimmingly with crisp whites such as pinot grigio, chenin blanc and pinot blanc,” she said. “When it comes to richer chowders with milk or cream bases, go for a more full-bodied, opulent white such as an oaked chardonnay from California or Chile.”
“Another interesting twist is viognier from the Rhone Valley in France,” she added. “It’s also highly aromatic with a voluptuous texture and has a bit of sweetness to marry with such a robust dish.”
Dru Melton, general manager and chef for Soupbox restaurants, recommends chardonnays, especially those with “slight citrus hints” to offset the chowder.
Steve Tindle, wine and spirits director for Shaw’s Crab House restaurants, recommends an Alsatian pinot gris for its richness and hint of sweetness to match with creamy chowders.
As for a wine with Manhattan clam chowder, he’d look for an earthier tone alongside a crisp minerality. His pick? A Greek assyrtico from Domaine Sigalas.
“It’s great with raw oysters; it will work here,” he said.
Standing up to the chowder
Any wine paired with the simplest clam, broth, potato and onion soup still has to have character of its own. We tried six different bottles. As with all food and wine pairings, the Good Eating rating reflects how well the match was regarded by panelists.
2005 Rolly Gassmann Riesling: This Alsatian white had a clear sweet but spicy note and a citrusy tang on the finish. The chowder’s saltiness underscored the wine’s sweetness and complexity. $28
2007 River’s Edge Pinot Gris: From Oregon’s Umpqua Valley, this wine had a honeysuckle-like aroma with a touch of tropical fruit and flavors of flowers and minerals. The chowder gave depth to the wine. $15
2006 Pazo Senorans Albarino: Tied with the wine below, this Spanish white from Rias Baixas scored slightly higher on its own. The flavor was fresh, crisp, herbal with grapefruit in the finish. The wine’s tang accentuated the clammy flavor of the chowder. $25
2006 J.C. Chatelain Pouilly-Fume: This sauvignon blanc from the Loire had a creamy minerality with a richness that held up well to the robust chowder. $25
Simonnet Febrve Cremant de Bourgogne: This non-vintage rosé sparkler from France’s Chablis region had a liveliness, an assertive acidity, yeast notes and tart fruitiness, but it was a bit too delicate for the chowder, losing nuance. It tied with the following wine. $16
2006 Stuhlmuller Vineyards Chardonnay: This Alexander Valley wine was the favorite of the group on its own. The flavor was fruity yet tart with touches of herbal notes. But the wine made an unremarkable match with the chowder. $22