Red Wine Style Clam Chowder

Red Wine Style Clam Chowder
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About This Recipe

Many have wrestled with the age-old debate: red wine with fish. The purists might cringe, but here in the wine-soaked hills of Napa and Sonoma, we embrace innovation. It's in this spirit that the Red Wine Style Clam Chowder was born—a delightful fusion of a Manhattan chowder and the vibrant notes of Napa's finest reds. As the fog rolls in from Bodega Bay and the evening chill sets, there’s nothing quite as heartwarming as a bowl of homemade clam chowder.

Let’s dive a little into the history. Traditional Manhattan clam chowder draws its radiant hue and zesty flavor from tomatoes. However, our wine country version takes it up a notch by incorporating a generous pour of local red wine, transforming it into a dish that truly sings of Northern California.

Now, any Napa local will tell you that when you're crafting a dish with wine, you also have to think about which wine you're going to sip alongside it. For our clam chowder, it's crucial. The mingling flavors of clams—briny treasures of the nearby Pacific—with the earthiness of red wine, create a unique profile that requires just the right vino to elevate every spoonful.

The golden rule in wine pairing has often been white wine for seafood. But rules, especially in the culinary world, are meant to be toyed with. A medium-bodied Pinot Noir, like the one from Robert Sinskey Vineyards, aligns harmoniously with the chowder's red wine base, proving that red wine with fish isn't just feasible—it's phenomenal. For those who lean towards tradition, a buttery Chardonnay, especially the renowned one from Far Niente Winery, complements the chowder’s creaminess while its acidity cuts through the richness, offering a refreshing contrast. But for the adventurous souls wandering the rolling vineyards of Napa, a GSM blend, with its dark fruit notes and hint of spice, brings a bold touch to the table. Although not from Napa or Sonoma, the GSM blend from Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles is worth the detour.

Wine pairing isn’t just about the wine; it's about the experience. Imagine savoring this chowder on a breezy patio overlooking rows upon rows of vineyards, or nestled in a cozy Sonoma cottage as the Pacific waves crash in the distance. Every bite becomes an ode to the region.

Integrating this chowder into a menu is a delightful journey through California’s bounty. Begin with a fresh salad of mixed greens from the local farmers market, adorned with candied walnuts and goat cheese. Post chowder, a main course of grilled sea bass or roast chicken would follow suit beautifully, before concluding with a lavender-infused crème brûlée.

To those visiting or simply dreaming of Napa and its neighboring regions, the Red Wine Style Clam Chowder isn't just a dish; it’s an experience, an embodiment of the spirit of innovation that flows through this wine country. As you wander through Napa, from the bustling Oxbow Market to the tranquil vineyards of St. Helena, remember to indulge in the flavors that bind us to this land. Whether it’s in the heart of Napa or the coastal stretches of Bodega Bay, this chowder is a taste of home, a culinary hug that beckons all to gather around the table.

To all my fellow wine and food lovers, here's to breaking the rules, to pushing boundaries, and to finding joy in every sip and bite that this beautiful valley offers. Cheers!

Hero Ingredient Spotlight: Napa Red Wine

Napa Valley is world-renowned for its incredible wines, and when it comes to our Red Wine Style Clam Chowder, the hero ingredient is unmistakably the Napa red wine. It provides an unparalleled depth of flavor, an aromatic profile, and a color that’s both appetizing and enticing. This wine embodies the lush landscapes, sunny days, and cool nights of the valley, imparting its unique terroir into every bite of the chowder.

How to Perfectly Cook Clams for Your Chowder

When it comes to clam chowder, the clams are undeniably the star of the show. Here's how to ensure they’re cooked to perfection:

  1. Clean the Clams: Before cooking, it's crucial to clean clams thoroughly to remove any sand or grit. Place clams in a bowl with cold water and a couple of tablespoons of salt for about 30 minutes. This process encourages the clams to spit out any sand. Rinse well afterward.
  2. Steam Them Right: In a large pot, add a touch of white wine or just water, and bring it to a simmer. Add clams and cover. They should open in 5-10 minutes. Any clams that do not open should be discarded.
  3. Chop or Serve Whole: Depending on your preference, you can either chop the clam meat or add them whole to your chowder.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can I store leftover chowder? Absolutely! Store any leftover clam chowder in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days. When reheating, do so slowly over low heat.
  2. I have a shellfish allergy; can I substitute another protein? For those with allergies or dietary preferences, chunks of firm white fish or even chicken can be a great alternative to clams. Adjust the cooking time accordingly.
  3. Can I use non-alcoholic wine or another substitute? Non-alcoholic wine can be used as a substitute. Alternatively, a mix of grape juice with a touch of vinegar can mimic the tangy depth of wine.
  4. What tools do I need to make this chowder? A large pot or Dutch oven is essential for making chowder. Additionally, a sharp knife for chopping and a wooden spoon for stirring will come in handy.
  5. Can I use canned clams? Yes, canned clams can be a time-saving alternative. Ensure to drain them well and add them later in the cooking process as they're already cooked.

Tips for Success

  1. Use Fresh Ingredients: Fresh clams and quality Napa red wine are key. Fresh clams should have a clean, salty scent, and their shells should be tightly closed.
  2. Don't Boil, Just Simmer: Once all the ingredients are added, ensure the chowder is simmered and not boiled. Boiling can make the clams tough and over-reduce the wine, making the flavor too intense.
  3. Serve with a Side: A crusty sourdough bread, popular in Northern California, is perfect for dipping and elevates the entire dining experience.

Recipe Overview

Red Wine Style Clam Chowder
Lily Anderson
4 servings
Calories Per Serving:
Prep Time:
Cook Time:
Total Time:

Ingredients List


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 ½ cups red Napa wine (preferably a medium-bodied variety like Pinot Noir or Merlot)
  • 1 lb fresh clams, cleaned and scrubbed
  • 2 large potatoes, diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped (for garnish)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Crusty bread (for serving)

Step-by-Step Directions

  1. In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute.
  3. Pour in the vegetable broth and red wine, then bring the mixture to a boil.
  4. Add the clams, potatoes, bay leaves, and thyme. Reduce heat and let simmer for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender and clams have opened.
  5. Discard any clams that didn't open. Remove the bay leaves.
  6. Stir in the heavy cream and heat through, making sure not to let it boil.
  7. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  8. Ladle the chowder into bowls, garnish with fresh parsley, and serve with crusty bread on the side.

Share Your Results

Was it everything you dreamed it could be? Let me know how it turned out for you and share a picture on social media with the hashtag #LilyCooksNapa

Hello and welcome to Napa Home Chef! We're thrilled you're joining us to explore the vibrant world of wine country cooking. Our team has crafted bold, creative recipes inspired by Napa Valley's lush landscapes, bountiful harvests, and world-renowned wines. We hope you enjoy the journey with us!

Get ready to experience the rich flavors and unique culinary delights that embody the essence of wine country living. Happy cooking!

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