TV Dinner and Wine Pairing Guide


I once spent 48 hours making a sauce from scratch. It was a classic Sauce Robert that started with a tray full of bones and vegetables. The compound sauce required demi-glace, the rich reduction of beefy goodness that takes a lot of time and effort, and I was determined to use no pre-made ingredients. At the end, gallons of liquid and pounds of ingredients resulted in a pint of perfectly rich sauce poured over a medium rare pork tenderloin, part of a larger dinner party that took six hours to prepare. 
I do not have that much free time these days, nor do many of you. 
While I strive to cook at home from basic ingredients and keep healthy, there are times when the frozen dinner in the freezer is the solution to getting something to eat and still meeting a deadline. That extra hour stuck in traffic on the way home is not an hour that you can spend rolling out homemade pasta. More importantly, because of the nature of a frozen, fully-cooked meal, you can be prepared in advance for a night when you're busy or maybe just not feeling well. 
Related Imagery
Marie Callender's Chicken Pot Pie & Unoaked Chardonnay
Banquet Salisbury Steak & Petite Sirah
Amy's Cheese Enchilada & Organic Chardonnay
Healthy Choice Oven Roasted Chicken & Grüner Veltliner
Boston Market Swedish Meatballs & Rosé
But just because you're taking a shortcut with the microwave doesn't mean that you have to abandon civilization. Here are five wines to pair with frozen meals that can be found throughout the United States. Just be careful: bottles of wine and classic glasses do not balance well on top of those rickety fold out TV trays. I recommend the Riedel O series of stemless glasses for these occasions. 
Marie Callender's Chicken Pot Pie
I'm going to be honest, even when I'm not in a rush I get a craving for one of these every couple of months. Modern engineering has gotten to a point where the pastry crust actually cooks better in the microwave than it does in the oven. This is classic comfort food that's quite filling, and if you live alone, there's no reason to make a giant traditional pot pie in the oven. During the winter months people get burned out on poultry because of Thanksgiving and Christmas, but you can't deny the joy of holding a warm pot pie in your hands on a cold night.
Santa Barbara County
100% Chardonnay
13.9% abv.
Four Vines Winery celebrates California Zinfandel with an array of rebellious wine names like Maverick and Biker, though they've added a "naked" Chardonnay. There's no technical term for unoaked Chardonnay, and I've seen terms like virgin or unwooded used, but naked is kind of amusing. Big ripe peach flavors, firm acidity, big mouthfeel. The acidity and bright fruit flavors provide a nice contrast against the savory, buttery flavors in the pot pie. 
Banquet Salisbury Steak
This is the classic, 1950s style TV dinner. A chunk of ground beef, corn, mashed potatoes, and brown gravy. The aroma will take you back to the school cafeteria, and if you want you can purchase segmented plastic trays to eat from. Found frequently for a buck apiece, Banquet dinners are often the staple meal of struggling college students or single guys who never learned to cook. I see them a lot in the company break room where people are trying to make the most out of their thirty minute lunch. You probably shouldn't drink wine at the office, but at home this one should go along with a bargain wine. 
Petite Sirah
12.5% abv.
The Bronco Wine Company's Crane Lake lineup provides a surprising quality-price ratio. None of it is ageworthy, none of it will astound you, but there's really nothing better at the under $5 price level. I was particularly surprised by the Petite Sirah, which showed blackberry aromas with a matching, jammy flavor. Deep purple color, and well-rounded tannins. And yes, it stains your tongue dark blue if you have more than a glass. As with many wines in this style, a bit of decanting will smooth it out. 
Amy's Cheese Enchilada
Recent years have shown an increased interest in organic and healthy dining options, and that has been reflected in the freezer case as well. Amy's produces a line of organic and vegetarian frozen foods, including a quite decent Indian lineup. Often these are not stored in the regular freezer section but in a dedicated freezer near the other organic goods. A lot of people mistakingly think that vegetarian food is bland and boring, but the secret is in the seasoning and fresh ingredients. The cheese enchilada is filled with corn and tomatoes and topped with a mild tomato sauce. And when dining organic, it's a good opportunity to seek out an organic wine. 
Mendocino County, California
Chardonnay with a little Muscat and Viognier
13.6% abv.
Bonterra Organic Vineyards started out as an organic wine project at Fetzer Vineyards in the early 90s. The mix of 70% oak and 30% stainless steel makes for a pleasantly balanced structure. There's just a little hint of buttered popcorn on top, with rich tropical fruit flavors coming through on the palate. Mild acidity and a gentle finish. It's also enclosed with a screwcap for added convenience, so all you need for this entire meal is a fork. 
Healthy Choice Oven Roasted Chicken
I had a roommate for fifteen years who practically lived off of the Healthy Choice line. Her favorites were the roast chicken dinners, selected primarily on the basis of the little dessert. She'd eat the dessert first and lose her appetite, which meant that I ended up eating a bunch of these in leftover form. It wasn't bad as a little snack, and although high in sodium, you could at least fool yourself that you had, in fact, made a healthy choice. 
Kremstal, Austria
100% Grüner Veltliner
12% abv.
Grooner is an interesting attempt at marketing an Austrian wine to an American audience. German wine labels tend to be intimidating and confusing for people who don't speak the language or know a lot about Riesling. There's a lot of text and everything looks very serious. Austria is trying some different approaches with their flagship grape, and this one has a fun graphic with a phonetic pronunciation of the name. It's light with a lemon and green apple aroma. Crisp with tart acidity, but not too strong. It rounds out somewhat as it warms up. 
Boston Market Swedish Meatballs
Another bit of nostalgia with a flavor similar to Hamburger Helper Beef Stroganoff but without all of the er, hard work. Both involve ground beef, noodles, and a rich sour cream sauce that starts to congeal if you let it get cold. That tends to be a problem with most frozen dinners, but the portions are small enough that you can eat quickly. This dish is also an opportunity for creative pairing: it's a little heavy for a white but too mild for a red. The perfect compromise is a rosé.
Côtes du Rhône, France
Grenache & Syrah
13% abv.
People who are new to French wine are often surprised at how much simple table wine is consumed in the country. Not every meal can be paired with vintage Bordeaux, and although this pink wine from the south is not technically a vin de table, it's still affordable and tasty. Plus, a good rosé can pair with just about anything and provide a relaxing refreshment at the end of a long day. Light aromas of tart raspberry with flavors that follow, including a burst of lemony acidity. Round mouthfeel with a beautiful salmon color and a long, tart finish.

Photo Credit: Paul Watson

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