How to pair beans and wine
At Primary Beans, we believe beans belong at the forefront of meals shared with loved ones. As we prepare for the season of gathering, we wanted to share a new way to think about and celebrate beans. In an attempt to expand and enrich your bean palate, we reached out to Layla Schlack, a fellow bean enthusiast and wine writer, to identify the types of wine that would best complement the bean varieties in your pantry. She draws on all her experience at Wine Enthusiast to build the perfect bean and wine pairing guide that you can reference this season and beyond.
I didn't grow up with beans as a staple, and instead found my way to them as a very broke twentysomething. Cooking a big pot on the weekend became such a peaceful practice for me that I dove into legumes headfirst, learning about their agricultural benefits and exploring more and better varieties. Very few things in this world are perfect, but the bean, with its myriad benefits and delicious versatility, is. As I made my way through editorial jobs at Hemispheres, Fine Cooking, and Wine Enthusiast, agricultural practices around what we consume came into even sharper focus for me. These two things– wine and beans– became intertwined in symbolizing the importance of good land stewardship, as well as a frequent meal for me.
By Layla Schlack
Wine tasting 101
Wine pairing tends to focus on flavors, but it’s just as important to think about the texture of your food and how it will match with the structure of the wine you’re drinking.
Structure, in the world of wine, refers to several different components:
- Acidity, the tartness that makes your mouth water
- Tannins, the phenolic compounds that dry your mouth and can feel sort of grippy on your tongue and inside of your cheeks
- Residual sugar, the sugar left after the fermentation process that can range from barely perceptible to syrupy
- Body, or how heavy the wine feels in your mouth
- Alcohol level, which relates closely to body
To see this in action, think of a classic pairing: steak and Cabernet Sauvignon. The steak is dense and fatty. The wine has tannins and relatively high alcohol, which combine to make it feel big-bodied and chewy. A Pinot Grigio, on the other hand, is much lighter on the tongue and without any tannins– it would recede and almost have a watery effect in comparison. Similarly, if you were to pair that Cabernet Sauvignon with, say, hummus, the wine’s dense richness would overpower the food.
The difference in texture between a steak and hummus is more pronounced than, say, between Mayocoba and Cranberry beans, but the principle is the same: You want to find a wine that will have a similar feel in your mouth to the food that you’re eating. The ideal wine pairing is greater than the sum of its parts, so if two components are battling it out, you’ll never achieve harmony.
Of course flavor is still an important consideration. The accepted wisdom is to pair like with like:
- Tangy with tangy, like a dry Riesling from Alsace or the Finger Lakes
- Salty with salty, like an Albariño from Rías Baixas
- Funky with funky, like a pét-nat
- Fruity with fruity, like Beaujolais
- Greasy with oily and waxy, like some Chenin Blancs
- Spicy foods with wines that have jalapeño notes, like Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc
The other, and somewhat contradictory, conventional wisdom is to look for contrast: If your dish is greasy, look for something light-bodied and high-acidity to cleanse your palate between bites, like a sparkling wine or a Pinot Noir. If it’s spicy, reach for a sweet wine to tame the heat.
Bean tasting considerations
So when it comes to beans, there are two main things to consider: the texture of the variety you’re using and the flavors you’re incorporating. The texture of beans mostly comes down to two factors: density (think: firm and meaty vs light and melty) and smoothness (think: grainy and starchy vs creamy and silky). The beans themselves bring distinct flavors, and the ways in which you serve them (added ingredients and format) is entirely up to you.
As with all things wine-pairing, including these guidelines, the key is to understand the textural and flavor components and use them to select the wine you want with your meal. I’ve broken Primary Beans’ lineup into four categories based on texture, and provided pairing guidance for each one. The best pairing of all is the one you love.
Bean and wine pairing guide
Layla Schlack is the editorial director of Whetstone and a writer for (and a former editor of) Wine Enthusiast. As she dove into food journalism, agricultural practices became of high interest and two things in particular became intertwined in symbolizing the importance of good land stewardship: wine and beans.