How to Pair Wine to Backpacking Food
Let’s daydream for a moment. You just finished setting up camp on a sandy bluff above a gorgeous pine-fringed meadow, the golden hour just beginning its sexy, Instagram-worthy glow. You’re here with that special dirt-caked someone and want to make a good impression, so you gently lay out your best bandanna, then line up your sporks, unscrew your bear canister lid, and begin to boil some water.
It’s time to get your backpacking grub on.
Stirring electrolyte packets into filtered glacial melt might do the job if you’re sitting down to a sad dinner of sun-warmed tuna and string cheese, but when partaking in more inspired backcountry cuisine, you might consider classing up your beverage game with a delightful glass of wine. Lucky for you, I engaged in a round of deliciously extensive research and worked my way through a full stomach, gentle buzz, and slight hangover to help you navigate the wild world of grapes on the go!
STEP 1: SELECT YOUR VINO
Since my oenophilic knowledge is firmly rooted in the esteemed schools of “Does it taste like wine?” and “Is it on sale?”, I figured it was best to turn to Good To-Go’s co-founder and chef Jennifer Scism for some expert suggestions. According to Jen, wine simply “tastes better with food than whiskey,” and that’s more than just her opinion – she’s actually a certified sommelier who earned accreditation with the American Sommelier Association (“one of the most difficult tests I’ve ever taken; my college finals were nothing compared to that test”) and spent a decade selecting bottles for the Greenwich Village restaurant she ran with former business partner Anita Lo. Says Jen, “The part I loved most was finding wines that would pair really well with the food. There were always the standards that you had to have on the list, but then there were the gems that tasted amazing – and with the food, it was like they were made for each other.” Here are her tasty suggestions for Good To-Go’s four flagship meals:
Classic Marinara With Penne
Jen suggests pairing this with a Chianti Classico, a Sangiovese-based wine that features a “good balance of high acidity and earthiness.” While the word “Chianti” might immediately conjure images of Anthony Hopkins and fava beans for some, this is actually one of the most Italian of Italian wines, and begs to be partnered up with savory, equally acidic tomato-based dishes, like this comfort food classic.
Smoked Three Bean Chili
Jen’s pick is a rosé from the Bandol region of Provence; the full-bodied fruit lends a balance to the smoky, warm, “just off the fire flavor” of this dish. The wine also provides a relaxing atmosphere that allows you to believably blame any resulting flatulence on the altitude.
Herbed Mushroom Risotto
Here, Jen prefers a Sonoma Pinot Noir. This may seem odd to wine nerds, considering “there’s a belief that since risotto traditionally is served as a first course it should be paired with a white wine,” but since this creamy, earthy dish will probably serve as your main, this smooth, rich pick is a heavenly match. This pairing felt especially dreamy to me…until I opened my eyes and realized that I still had fifteen miles of trail crusted underneath my fingernails. Yum.
Jen suggests uncorking a Riesling Kabinett, since this “slightly sweet wine” serves as the subtle yin to the spicy yang of this beautifully complex, aromatic dish. In my mind, it’s also a bit like having dessert with your dinner…although I’m an advocate of saving an extra glass for after dinner, too.
STEP 2: GATHER YOUR TOOLS
Most backpackers try to shed weight from their packs, not add to their loads, so carting around a bottle of wine often seems like an unnecessary (and heavy) luxury. However, all you have to do is think outside the bottle – sure, you can cart along a boxed wine, but companies like GSI and Platypus make lightweight bladders that up the portability factor even more. The containers can also be used as extra water reservoirs once they’re empty – important, since you don’t want to get dehydrated on your trip, especially if you’re hanging out in high altitude. Plus, if you want to earn real hardcore backpacking points, you can even inflate a reservoir and wrap it with a piece of clothing to use as a pillow while you slumber away in wine-soaked bliss. Note: I’ve never actually tried this, but it seems plausible.
While you’re welcome to wrap your paws around the box or reservoir of your choice and chug away, the more civilized thing to do is pour the goods into a drinking receptacle of sorts. Here, the options are limitless: you can pull double duty on your coffee mug or Nalgene, tote a fancy camping-specific wine “glass,” or even slurp out of your cooking pot if things get desperate. Speaking of desperation, I recently shared a campfire with a guy drinking wine out of an empty Pringles container. He seemed pretty happy.
STEP 3: LET THE MAGIC BEGIN
Now that you’re inspired and informed, it’s time to hit the trail! When packing your wine, keep the container close to the middle of your pack, near your back, to ensure the weight is centered. If you’re heading out on a hot day, you might also want to keep it chilled – my favorite method is to fill a Nalgene or Platypus container halfway with water (never more, or you’ll risk the whole thing bursting as it solidifies) and freezing it overnight; in the morning, I fill the rest with water, then place this next to or on top of my wine container. Whatever you do, just keep it out of the sun – hot wine isn’t nearly as exciting as hot chocolate. Trust me. Once at camp, I like to stake out my tent, start my water boiling, then settle in with a glass under the stars while my food rehydrates. My feet may be dirty, my shoulders may ache, but the feeling while sharing wine with friends under a canopy of stars is one of true happiness.
written by: Shawnté Salabert
photo credit: Shawnté Salabert