Guide to pairing wine and takeout meals

Square Wine Co. helps match your favorite takeout meals with vino.
bottle and glass of wine with slice of pizza
Illustration by Emily Culp/Getty Images

In a time when we’ve been eating and drinking primarily at home, it only makes sense for wine and takeout to officially join forces. Andrea Hillsey, owner of Square Wine Co., believes the easiest way to start pairing is to have a well-stocked wine pantry. Similar to keeping staple spices or oils in your cabinets, Hillsey says you should have about six different bottles of wine on hand so you’ll always have something to couple with your meal. “The last thing you want to do is take an extra trip out when you don’t have to,” Hillsey says.

Hillsey suggests keeping an Italian red, a sparkling wine, a grüner veltliner or riesling, a pinot noir, a grenache or syrah, and a cabernet sauvignon or cabernet franc on your shelves. Square Wine Co. specifically curates wines from small, family growers who farm sustainably. To make it easier when you order in your next dinner, we asked Hillsey to help identify grape varietals that will pair well with these takeout dinners.

When eating a slice of ’za, Hillsey suggests a light-bodied Italian red or something sparkling. “My go-tos for pizza personally are sangiovese and barbera, which are both Italian reds that have really fresh acidity,” Hillsey says.


Sushi with cup of sake

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Depending on the sushi you order, your pairing may vary. For nigiri and sashimi, pick up a red Burgundy. Pinot noir can also complement fish. If your choice is a roll with several flavor dimensions, she suggests a grüner veltliner or riesling. “You’re essentially working with picking the wine that is really friendly with all the sort of flavors that [are] going on.” Regardless of the type of roll, sake is a safe bet. Hillsey says she loves any reason to drink the Japanese rice wine and, for her, sushi is that excuse.

Holding the stem of a wine glass might not be the easiest endeavor, as wing sauce coats your fingers. As Hillsey points out, most of the time you inhale wings as opposed to savoring each bite, so she suggests going with a “good old-fashioned beer.” Though if you’re wanting a wine, opt for bubbles. A sparkling wine will work well with the chicken and the sweet or savory sauces.

Chicken Tikka Masala, Pad Thai or Fried Rice

sparkling wine with container of takeout

Illustration by Emily Culp/Getty Images

Hillsey says dishes like these can be a bit more complicated to pair. “You need something that will essentially play with all those flavor profiles, but not compete with them and not sort of overtake them,” Hillsey says. Grüner veltliner or riesling may work well, especially if you enjoy dishes that bring the heat, as the sweetness in the wine will neutralize the spice. While it won’t eliminate the burn completely, it will accentuate the flavors in the food. “If you like your takeout … with all the fire emojis next to it, a riesling with a little bit of sweetness will probably be the best way to go,” Hillsey says.


Burger with a glass of red wine

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With burgers, essentially any red wine will do. Hillsey personally loves syrah. A savory syrah will give peppery, olive notes that lend well to the flavors of a burger. A cabernet franc or cabernet sauvignon will also match a burger’s flavor profile. Cabernet franc is friendly with vegetarian and vegan dishes, so it’s a good option for those who prefer a black bean patty.


Taco and wine

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If you’re eating tacos with meats like carnitas, chicken or carne asada, find a more savory, medium-bodied wine like a grenache or syrah. Fish calls for a crisp, bright, white wine — one that is high in acidity. “For me, the overarching idea [with pairings is] you just don’t want wines that are generally too high in alcohol or have too much oak on them, because they don’t lend themselves to food friendliness,” Hillsey says.


pel'meni with a glass of wine

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Madison-based delivery service EatStreet reports that pel’meni from Paul’s Pel’meni was one of the most popular orders in the area in 2020. For these heavenly dumplings filled with beef or potato, the recommended pairing is orange wine. “I just think Georgian orange wine with that would be delicious,” Hillsey says. You’ve likely heard of white, red and rosé, but orange wine is a white wine made by leaving in the grape skins during the winemaking process so it absorbs color and tannins. The Eurasian country of Georgia is one of the oldest winemaking countries and has its own dumplings, known as khinkali. Next time you order your pel’meni combo with the works, it could be an opportunity to try something outside of your wine comfort zone.

Find Them: Square Wine Co., 1 E. Main St., 819-6191

Maija Inveiss is an associate editor at Madison Magazine.