Wine-And-Puzzle Pairings To Get You Through Winter

“Drunk-puzzling” is your new favorite indoor activity.

Author by Paige Towers
Art credit: Megan Schaller

This is my first winter living in Milwaukee, and since it’s as terrible as all my neighbors warned me it would be, I’ve picked up a new indoor hobby: I call it “drunk-puzzling.” Drunk-puzzling is when I drink wine and put together 500- to 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzles of idyllic European villages and painted garden vistas. Actually, I’ll drunk-puzzle anything: I spent several Saturdays in a row working on a Paddington Bear-themed puzzle, comforted by the words “For Adults” printed on the box.

Drunk-puzzling, though, isn’t just a way to minimize extreme winter boredom. It’s also a year-round pastime for sophisticates, introverts, and board-game buffs. Whether you’re already an avid puzzler or “more of an outdoors person,” I think you’ll find wine and puzzles to be a winning combo — provided they’re paired properly. A 1,000-piece puzzle of the Golden Gate Bridge, for instance, calls for a California Zinfandel, while an under-the-sea puzzle comes alive with Vinho Verde. 

Here are six more wine-and-puzzle pairings to keep you busy, and buzzed, all winter long. Cheers!

Puzzle type: Impressionist paintings
Wine: Rosé
The Pairing: Puzzle enthusiasts sure love impressionism, the 19th-century French art movement characterized by colorful, unmixed blobs and swirlsWhen you’re assembling works by the likes of Van Gogh, Degas, Cézanne, and Renoir, you’ll want to sip on something that makes you feel effortlessly chic and a little judgmental, like you were born to frolic around Paris in the springtime (rather than kneel over a card table in Milwaukee in January). And that something is rosé. Refreshing, dry, and acidic, French rosé is often made from grapes grown in the southern, picturesque region of Provence, meaning it’s sourced from the same lavender fields and olive tree orchards that Monet once painted.

Puzzle type: Nature landscapes
Wine: Shiraz
The Pairing: In a sober state, you might curse yourself for having chosen a mountain scene that — surprise! — lacks any distinguishing features. But, with help from berry-flavored and easy-drinking Shiraz, an afternoon spent separating light shades of gray rock from lighter shades of gray rock will fly by. Barossa Shiraz, produced in the southern Barossa Valley, is the Aussiest varietal around. And it’s inexpensive (you can find decent bottles for under $13), which means you can throw back Shiraz until you’re done putting together nearly identical snippets of blue sky. Note: If you’re seeking extra authenticity, pick a puzzle of the Outback (the arid territory or the restaurant — puzzler’s choice).

Puzzle type: Italian anything
Wine: Chianti
The Pairing: If you can’t afford to visit Italy, just go puzzle-shopping instead. There seems to be a never-ending supply of Italy-themed puzzles — Tuscan vineyards, Florentine cityscapes, Venetian waterways, Roman cobblestone streets, Sicilian nonnas kneading dough. The list goes on. My preferred Italian puzzling-wine is Chianti. Produced in the (you guessed it) Chianti region of Tuscany, Chianti is the quintessential old-school Italian vino. It’s earthy, acidic, and high in tannins. And it usually smells of strawberries and cherries, meaning Chianti is strong enough to transport you from your drafty basement to the best pasticceria in Genoa. 

Puzzle type: Beach scenes
Wine: Sauvignon Blanc
The pairing: A beachy puzzle — featuring white sand in Tahiti or navy waves in New England or aquamarine inlets in the Mediterranean — is always a fun choice. Nothing beats the rush of successfully fitting together a few dozen pieces of cardboard that just look like water. And to help you channel the #beachvibes required to complete a warm-weather-themed puzzle, consider a light, citrusy, and aromatic wine like Sauvignon Blanc. Also, if you’re in desperate need of an escape, “I’ve heard” that Sauv Blanc pairs exceptionally well with coconut shrimp, fresh from the frozen section. 

Puzzle type: A highly detailed microcosm
Wine: Red Bordeaux
The Pairing: Once a puzzler has puzzled for long enough, they may opt to forego another “Sunset Over Lake” or “Bountiful Country Garden” for something a little stranger, a little more daring. Highly detailed puzzles tend to feature nooks, such as  bookshelves, cupboards, and man caves, and objects you’d find in a treasure hunt for Victorian children, such as antique tea kettles, ribbons, and other knick-knacks. Solving this type of puzzle feels like a delightful descent into a hoarder’s fantasy. Although I’m tempted to recommend absinthe, a dark, aged, and complex wine, such as a Red Bordeaux, also works well. This grape is full-bodied with bold notes — the longer a plummy bottle of Bordeaux sits around (under proper conditions), the more likely it is to develop an aroma of “black currants,” “wet dirt,” or “pencil lead.” (And that’s a good thing.)

Puzzle type: Discount Bin
Wine: Boxed
The Pairing: Clearance-sale puzzles might be slightly irregular, topically dated, or just a little bit off. But unless you have an unlimited puzzle budget, you, too, might lose your weekend searching for the final piece to whatever you rescued from the Island of Misfit Puzzles. Naturally, bargain puzzles pair best with bargain wine — red- or white flavor, straight from the box. Drink it chilled to kill the taste. The more you drink, the less you’ll care that your Paddington Bear puzzle is missing a nose.

Next: Board Games Will Save Us

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