Basics: Clove at First Sight: How to Pair Wine with Garlic | Wine Enthusiast
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Clove at First Sight: How to Pair Wine with Garlic

It might ward off vampires, but it attracted millions of to tiny Gilroy, California, over the 30 years that the town celebrated its annual Garlic Festival (until its COVID-related cancellation in 2020). Besides being known for wine (Gilroy sits at the southern tip of the Santa Clara Valley AVA), Gilroy is the undisputed garlic capital of the U.S., growing 50%—and processing 90%—of the nation’s garlic harvest. It’s worth a visit year-round for the many garlic-infused products for sale (ice cream, jelly, popcorn) and the subtle but pervasive scent of garlic that led Will Rogers to say, “Gilroy is the only town I know where you can marinate a steak by hanging it on the clothesline.” When pairing with garlic-heavy dishes, take into account which of its flavors are taking center stage.

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When cut, raw garlic releases sulfurous compounds that create its characteristically complex pungency. A high-acid white wine can cut the bite of garlic in much the same way that citrus does in a salad dressing. Dry Furmint (the primary grape in sweet Tokaji Aszú wines) brims with sharp citrus, boasts a saline streak and hints at garlic’s best pal, ginger. Grab it when you can find it.


Garlic doesn’t contain capsaicin, the source of tongue-searing heat in chili peppers, but if you chew a clove of raw garlic, your mouth will hardly know the difference. However, while capsaicin is difficult to pair with red wine, garlic welcomes wines with complementary spicy flavors. With its charcuterie and pepper notes, cool-climate Syrahnorthern Rhône, Adelaide Hills, Central Coast California—is a natural choice.


As it cooks, garlic— especially whole cloves—releases a deep sweetness, which is why roasted and braised dishes can absorb quantities of garlic that would overwhelm uncooked dressing or dips. Oloroso Sherry is usually a dry wine, but its rich texture and intensely nutty, oxidized flavors give it a mouth-filling roundness that plays well with dishes that straddle sweet and savory.


This fifth flavor is deeply savory (think dry-aged meat, blue cheese, mushrooms), and roasted and black garlic, in particular, are full of it. Garlic’s umami quality is why it adds such depth to so many dishes around the world. Tannins can clash with umami, so try a crisp and low-tannin red like those from Austria’s Zweigelt grape. It makes easy-drinking wines full of red fruit and a whiff of garlic-friendly black pepper.

Recipe: Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

Generously salt and pepper 8 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs and place, skin side down, in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until deep golden brown. Remove to a plate. Add ½ cup dry white wine, scrape up brown bits until liquid almost evaporates, then add chicken, 40 garlic cloves, and ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil. Cover and place in a 400°F oven for an hour. Roughly mash garlic cloves into pan juices when serving. Serves 4.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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