You've probably seen a million lists online about pairing wine with food or wine with music, hell, even wine with movies. But where are the wine pairings for video games? To address this absence, we talked with master sommelier Morgan Harris about what types of wines go best with which games.
Before we start, we should note that wine and game pairing isn't an exact science. Pairing wine with food often results in chemical interactions that enhance or alter flavors; this doesn't happen with game pairings, obviously. "Fundamentally, wine is a grocery which means it doesn't really have a lot of structural overlaps with gaming, which is a leisure activity," Harris says. "At their base, they're very different things, but there is certainly some overlap and both of them are designed to give pleasure … I would argue that much like games, a lot of the joy of wine is in the discovery. Like exploring a world as you would in an open-world game, the joy of wine is tasting the novel and trying new things. With that caveat, you can think about types of wine like genres of games to some degree."
Taking that into account, here are several wines you might want to pair with a game for a solid night in:
Riesling & Stardew Valley
"Classic German Riesling is really acidic, but it's also sweet. I think it's funny that we have a sort of bias against sweet wines – as Americans, we don't drink that, and yet we love soda, which is the exact same thing. It's really tart and kind of sweet. Sitting around drinking a glass of German Riesling is a lot like that. It's like playing something that's kind of mindless and fun, something like Stardew Valley or, in some ways, like Valheim, where you're just sitting around and relaxing and taking things at your own pace."
Barbaresco/Barolo & Darks Souls
"In northern Italy, a famous grape there is called Nebbiolo, and that goes into two wines: one called Barbaresco and one called Barolo. When they're young, the wines are really, really tannic, so that's the drying astringent sensation you get, and they're high in acid. They're great in the context of red meat, but they're not really a lot of fun to sit around and just drink when they're young because they're so grippy and astringent. But that's kind of like something like Dark Souls, right? It's really challenging, but if you spend some time with it, and you have the patience, and like something full-flavored and intense, it might be your thing."
Champagne & Story-based RPGs
"Champagne, in some ways, is like story-based RPGs in that you can get lost in it as its own little world. Again, with the caveat that wine is always kind of for sharing, for me, there's something very relaxing about drinking champagne and also playing story-based, single-player RPGs because you just do everything at your own pace. Okay, there's a bunch of quest icons everywhere, but if people don't want to do that side quest, you don't have to do that side quest. No one's hurrying you along. No one's rushing you. You just do the whole game at your own pace. No one else is depending on you to do anything else, and so champagne for me is very relaxing."
Sauvignon Blanc & Fighting Games
"Sauvignon blanc is kind of like fighting games in that they are very particular in their flavor. There's a certain greenness that's not going to be everybody's thing. Some people love it. They really love it. But for a lot of people, it's too strange. There's a certain sweaty up, up, down, down, a, b, a quality, or whatever we're gonna call it, that is appreciated by a particular set of people who find that sort of thing pleasurable. I think Sauvignon blanc is the same way. You either love it, or you hate it. Also, there's a lot of different expressions of it around the world. There's a lot of different like sub-genres of fighting games."
Chardonnay & Shooters
"Chardonnay doesn't have a lot of flavor itself and very much takes on the personality of the place where it comes from. So you have something like Chablis, which is from the northern portion of France, and it's very lean and low alcohol. It's grown in a cold place, and they don't really use any oak on it. On the flip side of the spectrum, you have something like California Chardonnay, which is very rich and oaky and buttery. They're both the same grape, but they're very much informed by the place they're grown. FPS, in some degree, is the same way. You have a looter shooter like Destiny, which is sort of bullet spongy. The FPS mechanics are there but it plays a little bit more like an RPG. And then you have stuff like the whole CoD series, which has its own particular set of flavors, which are some people's thing and not others. Then you have games like Valorant or Counter-Strike. They're all kind of interrelated to each other. There's a lot of different ways to look down a gunsight and shoot people. Even in one genre, there's a lot of different expressions.
Cabernet Sauvignon & World of Warcraft
"There's ubiquity to MMOs as a genre that I think go sort of hand in hand with something like Cabernet Sauvignon because it's an experience that almost everybody has had. There are very few people at this point who haven't played one or don't know what one is, so there's a lot of parallels there. I mean, the number of gamers who have not played MMOs – and certainly thinking of World of Warcraft as a principal part of the genre. It's dependable. It's reliable. Everybody can find something inside of it to love."
Pinot Noir & Hades
"Pinot Noir is kind of like a roguelike or roguelite. Pinot Noir is really, really hard to grow, but when you do it well, it is one of the most magical grapes out there. It very much has a highest highs, lowest low quality. Certainly, you could think about something like Spelunky or Hades in the same way. When you start on it, you know there's gonna be a lot of disappointment, but as you pick up more and more of what you like, when you do something, like beat Hades for the first time, you feel really accomplished. Pinot Noir is like that as well. You kind of got to slog through a lot of what could be mediocre wines to find one that's really exceptional because it's really hard to grow. And it's not for everybody. It takes a deft hand and fair amount of skill to produce."
The Ultimate Takeaway
Pairing wine with games is all about drawing structural similarities between genres and types of grapes, but there are no one-to-ones. Ultimately, if you pair a bottle of wine with a game, you're likely to have a good night.
"To some degree, games are a competition," says Harris. "Even if it's you versus yourself. Wine was never really intended to be a competitive thing. If you like drinking easygoing, white wines, it doesn't matter how many points a Napa Valley Cabernet gets; it's probably never really going to be your bag. But they're both leisure activities. You're meant to have fun with them. I would argue that, like with a lot of things, sharing with friends is one of the best ways to both game and drink wine. Go over to their house, buy a bottle of wine, and talk about it. Engage with it. Just have fun."
But, of course, please remember to drink responsibly!