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Bittersweet Symphony: How to Pair Bitter Chicories with Wine

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Endive, escarole, radicchio— lettuce enthusiasts know these as chicories, plants in the Cichorium genus whose leaves are used as both salad greens and cooked vegetables. With a characteristic bitter flavor and a peak U.S. season of late fall through early spring, they’re a blast of bracing freshness and color at a time of year when produce markets look lifeless and monochromatic. Even better, they make cozy winter entrées and side dishes when roasted or braised with soul warming ingredients like cheese, cream, nuts and, of course, wine. The wrong pairing can throw their powerful flavors out of balance, so zero in on your favorite aspect of chicories and pair accordingly.


There’s no getting around it: Chicories are bitter, which is what chicory lovers like most about them. It makes them one of the few vegetables that can go with red wine, even when raw; its ripe red fruit balances the pungency. Sangiovese, the star of chicory-loving Tuscany, has the tannins and acidity to stand up to the vegetable while still contributing complementary flavors like cherry, plum, dried herbs and roasted tomato.


When cooked, chicories release a latent sweetness that is uncommonly tasty alongside its edgier notes. Play this up with Quarts de Chaume, a sweet wine made from late-harvest and botrytized Chenin Blanc in the Loire Valley. It tastes of stone fruit jam balanced with mineral notes and Chenin’s trademark acidity, and almost works as a honeyed dressing with cooked chicories. Besides pairing, try braising heads of endive or radicchio in it.