Though it goes by its German name in the U.S., sauerkraut is common throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and similar fermented cabbage preparations are ubiquitous in Korea (kimchi) and China (suancai). The signature dish of Alsace is choucroute garnie, sauerkraut cooked with various meats, where it’s paired with Alsatian Riesling, Sylvaner or Gewürztraminer (next time you have a hot dog with sauerkraut, close your eyes and think of Strasbourg). The “sauer” in sauerkraut comes not from vinegar but from fermentation with lactic acid bacteria, much like a sourdough starter. When pairing wine with sauerkraut-heavy dishes, the main rule of thumb is acidity—crisp foods want crisp wines. Beyond that, there are myriad directions to pursue.
Think of the aromas of a winery in action; milk as it becomes yogurt; bread dough as it rises. These “funky” flavors of fermentation are part of sauerkraut’s appeal, and why it has so much more interest than quick-pickled cabbage. Muscadet with extended lees aging (at least two years) has complementary lager-like yeasty notes, like a traditional method sparkling wine but without the bubbles that would clash with the saurkraut’s sharp edges.
If sauerkraut’s sourness is stumping you, try a wine with rich texture and flavor in addition to acidity. Skin-contact Rkatsiteli is a favorite pairing from the cabbage-loving country of Georgia, whose sauerkraut usually includes beets for both color and sweetness. These wines are rippingly racy but have intense aromatics ranging from pineapple and stone fruit to leather and smoked meat. As you sip and eat, the tartness of each will recede and reveal more complex flavors.
In cooking, citrus or vinegar can help balance salty dishes, and a crisp wine can do the same with sauerkraut. Try Vernaccia (not to be confused with Verdicchio or Vermentino), especially those from San Gimignano in Tuscany. With wafts and notes of lemon, almond and flowers along with a faint salinity, it’s terrific with vegetables that are otherwise hard to pair. With sauerkraut, it balances both salt and bitterness, bringing out the cabbage’s natural sweetness.
Sauerkraut is usually prepared with spices such as caraway and juniper. Whether yours is heavily spiced or not, a wine with woody or spice notes pairs well. Palo Cortado or Oloroso Sherry, made from high-acid Palomino grapes, has nutty oxidative notes, plus aromas of dried fruit, fresh-cut oak and winter spices that can read sweet even though (by law) it’s a dry wine. It’s an unexpectedly tasty pairing with cooked or meaty sauerkraut dishes.
You May Also Like: Everything You Need to Know About Sherry Wine
Bring the World of Wine to Your Doorstep
Subscribe to Wine Enthusiast Magazine now and get 1 year for
Last Updated: September 13, 2023