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Wine Pairing Ideas for Hungarian Goulash

Wine Pairing Ideas for Hungarian Goulash

Wine Pairing Ideas for Hungarian Goulash

Goulash is the dish of Hungary and a staple in homes across the country. A rich, spiced casserole or soup traditionally made with beef (but also pork or mutton), its roots can be traced back to the Magyar shepherds of the Hungarian Great Plains way back in the 9th century. 

The beauty of goulash lies in its simplicity. Simple ingredients are combined and elevated into a delicious dish with a wonderfully intense depth of flavour, which is why it’s still so relevant and as popular as ever after over 1,000 years.

A good goulash is rich, spicy, and savoury, with a slight sweetness from root vegetables like carrots and the key ingredient, paprika. Hungarian goulash differs from other varieties with its use of Hungarian paprika, which was first added to the recipe in the 18th century and has become essential since then. Sun-dried instead of wood-smoked, the Hungarian version is spicy, rich, and a little sweeter than what you probably have in your kitchen.

However, there is one way to improve goulash. That’s by pairing it with the perfect wine! When wine and food harmonize, they bring out the best in each other and make those flavours sing.

Wine pairing can be done in one of two ways. Either through complementary pairing, where we choose a contrasting component in the wine to achieve balance with the food or with congruent pairing, where we match a wine with similar flavour profile characteristics as the food.

Congruent pairing enhances a flavour component we like and provides a bond between food and wine, while complementary pairing is more of a balancing act.

In this guide, I will recommend some of my favourite wine pairings for Hungarian goulash. They need to be robust enough not to get lost in the intense flavours of goulash but, at the same time, well-balanced with acidity, fruit, and a little spiciness that suits the flavour profile of our dish.

1: Egri Bikavér

One of the first rules with pairing wine and food is to stay close to home. I mean, it just makes so much sense. The local wines were made to drink while eating the local foods. For example, acidic Italian wines blend perfectly with rich Italian food. It’s how they were designed.

The same goes for Hungarian Goulash. 

Egri Bikavér (also known as Bull’s Blood) is a traditional red Hungarian cuvée. Hungary has a highly respected wine industry that outdates that of most countries. The Romans were thought to have brought vines to what we now know as Hungary way back in the 5th century AD.

Sadly, Hungarian wine is still not as fully established on the international scene as it should be, but it is becoming more accessible.

Egri Bikavér is a blended wine based on the Kékfankos grape. It’s a dry wine known for its fruitiness and acidic backbone. Despite being a dry wine, the lively fruitiness hints at sweetness, which marries well with the light sweetness of our goulash. Some lively acidity is just what we need for a rich stew too.

An example of an excellent Egri Bikavér fit for our goulash is the 2020 vintage from the Bolyki Winery. With 18 months in oak, it has a depth of character that stands up well to our flavourful goulash.

2: Rioja

Hungarian wine isn’t always the easiest to source, so I’ve made sure that my next recommendation is widely available.

Rioja pairs well with traditional goulash as it’s fruity, earthy, and robust. The paprika in goulash gives it a spicy and savoury punch that needs to be stood up to, and Rioja does just that!

Rioja Crianza is usually the best type of Rioja to go for with goulash. With just a minimum of 1 year in oak, it still has the acidity we require and lacks the more complex flavours (like leather) that more extended ageing in oak brings. I tend not to like the more complex notes (that oaking brings) competing with the flavourful goulash.

3: Petite Sirah

Goulash is a full-flavoured dish that needs a wine that can stick up for itself and not become overpowered. Enter Petite Sirah!

Petite Sirah is a cross of the Syrah and Peloursin grapes. It’s bold, fruity, and peppery, with the medium acidity we need. The spiciness of goulash brings out the spicy pepperiness common to the wine. If the wine has been aged in oak, expect some sweet spiciness like cinnamon and clove. These are flavour components that do well with goulash too.

Petite Sirah can be quite tannic, and we don’t want to overdo it with the tannin here. Look for a bottle with a bit of age to round off the tannin. It’s also a wine that does very well from being decanted for an hour or two before serving. Letting it breathe has the same ‘rounding’ effect.

Notable Mentions

Zinfandel - known for its fruit-forward nature that packs a bit of a spicy kick. It’s big and bold with exotic spice notes. It does really well with full-flavoured, spicy food.

Syrah - bold, fruity, dry, and a bit savoury and peppery; Syrah stands up well to flavorful food. 

Riesling - if you don’t want to drink red wine for whatever reason, then an off-dry Riesling could be a great option. It’s not going to marry with any of the flavours, but if your goulash is particularly spicy, then the refreshing citrus and slightly sweet nature of a Riesling will be delightful.

Written by Tim Edison at wineturtle.com

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