8 Unexpected Wine Pairings for Burgers, Sushi, Dumplings, and More

Dim sum | Photo Credit: Nicolas Balcazar / EyeEm

Beyond the basics, unexpected wine pairings are just fun. There’s no need to wait for a lavish tasting meal to enjoy exceptional wine — as savvy and budding wine lovers know, even everyday takeout is a good reason to pop a cork of something special.

But not everyone possesses an unlimited budget to splurge until they find the right match. And pairing low-key cuisine with great wine should be a fun, not hand-wringing experience. So we asked sommeliers from OpenTable restaurants across North America to share a few of their favorite unconventional pairings. Here’s what to try with everything from moo shu and burgers to ceviche and curry, with a few more surprises in between.

Dim sum

Wine recommendation: Sparkling

Why it works: “With so many plates and flavors in front of you at one time during dim sum, sparkling wine is the way to go. It can take you through an entire meal. Traditional-method sparkling wines that are dry with bright acidity would be my pick. I like the 2018 Bella Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay from British Columbia. Consistently, the most impressive traditional method sparkling wines in BC, this bottle is dry and bright with notes of baked apple and toasted hazelnuts. I also like Lelarge Pugeot Les Meuniers de Clémence Meunier from Champagne, France — it’s fuller bodied with earthy and red fruit notes, so it can stand up to richer dishes.”

— Christina Hartigan, wine director at Wildebeest in Vancouver.

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Greek salad in a white bowl

Greek salad | Photo Credit: Nerai

Greek eggplant dip

Wine recommendation: Malagouzia

Why it works: “My personal favorite wine for a Greek dinner comes from the lesser-known Malagouzia varietal, most widely planted on the mainland around Thessaly and Greek Macedonia. These wines are a lot more expressive and rewarding in their youth, showing intense aromas of ripe stonefruit and yellow flowers, and a palate that is usually softer and rounder than the more tense Santorini wines — think Viognier but with a leaner, less corpulent mouthfeel. The Malagouzia counterbalances tricky ingredients like garlic and capers, both ubiquitous in Greek seafood dishes, and weighty texture that stands up to yogurt-based tzatziki and melitzanosalata (eggplant dip). Look to the estate-bottled wines of Vangelis Gerovassiliou in Epanomi on the Aegean coast of northeastern Greece, whose work with the varietal over the last 30-plus years helped revive this grape from near-extinction.”

— Will Marengo, sommelier at Nerai in New York City.

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Wine recommendation: Albariño

Why it works: “In Puerto Vallarta they make excellent ceviche from local seafood and lay it over a crispy tortilla. That crunch is great with a crisp white like Albariño; the freshness of local seafood is echoed by the brine and saline flavors of a coastal Spanish Albariño.”

— Amy Racine, wine director at The Times Square Edition and The Loyal in New York City. 

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Thai curry

Wine recommendation: Riesling

Why it works: “Thai food uses vibrant, fresh ingredients to create bold flavors. Riesling produces a range of styles, from sweet to bone dry, that pair beautifully with Asian spice. Nose a glass of great Riesling and watch what happens: Your mouth immediately begins to water. What could be more perfect than a wine that is quenching and highly aromatic that not only matches the aromatics in Thai food but elevates both the food and wine to another level? I like the 2017 Franzen Bremmer Calmont Kabinett Riesling from Mosel, Germany that pairs beautifully with Asian spice.”

– Chris Farnum, sommelier and director of food & beverage at Shima and Mahogany House in the Bahamas. Make a reservation at Shima:


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Ten pieces of nigiri

Sushi | Photo Credit: Loren Hansen for Sushi Kosho


Wine recommendation: Sauvignon blanc

Why it works: “While sake remains a natural pairing for sushi, there are a handful of wines that shine with Japanese cuisine. A favorite of mine is Sauvignon Blanc, a varietal that can deliver citrus and herbal notes that make it an ideal wine for a range of dishes from sashimi to grilled vegetables.”

— Eduardo Dingler, consulting sommelier and sake ambassador for Sushi Koshō in Sebastopol, Ca.

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Guac and chips

Wine recommendation: Champagne

Why it works: “Who doesn’t love guacamole and chips? I tend to drink beer with this, but you can easily substitute dry Champagne like Roederer Brut NV, Agrapart 7 Crus NV, or Krug Grande Cuvee. The crisp, refreshing bubbles wash the fatness of the avocado down well and the toastiness of Champagne goes well with corn chips.”

— John Slover, sommelier at Dirty French in New York CIty and corporate beverage director of Major Food Group.

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Bacon, pancakes, and more on a plate

Moo shu bacon | Photo Credit: Willi’s Wine Bar

Moo shu pork

Wine recommendation: Pinot noir

Why it works: “With our moo shu bacon, a take on the classic Chinese American pork and pancake dish done with bacon, you need a wine with enough acid to cut the fat. Any Sonoma County Pinot Noir will do the trick. Each one highlights a different element of a dish with a wide-ranging flavor profile.”

— Elizabeth Taylor, wine buyer and general manager at Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa, Ca. 

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Wine recommendation: Lambrusco

Why it works: “For burgers, Lambrusco is the perfect option for a structured red wine with a fresh, sparkling twist. I like Paltrinieri ‘Piria’ Lambrusco di Sorbara from Emilia Romagna, Italy served cold. With notes of cranberry and fresh violets, it has the structure to cut through the richness of a good, juicy burger and is still refreshing.”

— Christina Hartigan, wine director at Wildebeest in Vancouver.

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Kelly Merritt is an author and freelance journalist specializing in culinary travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.