Why Chardonnay Pairs Perfectly With Trader Joe's Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

The right wine can make any meal taste better. It can complement and contrast the unique flavors of a dish, inspiring every bite to be even more enjoyable than the last. However, finding the perfect wine pairing is easier said than done. Naturally, this is why we've turned to the experts when it comes to figuring out which bottle is a match for an autumnal classic like Trader Joe's Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

Tasting Table consulted the team at Bright Cellars, a wine club that selects bottles for you based on your personal tastes, and a perfect pairing was quickly found. According to Catherine Fallis, Master Sommelier and pairing genius at Bright Cellars, the varietal that reigns supreme is Chardonnay. But, she specifies that it should be one made in an unoaked style. Fallis explains that Trader Joe's cheesy and buttery baked pasta dish finds balance with a Chardonnay that falls on the crisper end of the spectrum. 

In particular, Fallis recommends the 2021 Meet Cute Chardonnay from Lodi, California. Bursting with fresh notes of tangerine and yellow apple, the medium-bodied wine has mild undertones of caramel and bread dough that give it a gentle touch of richness. That said, any unoaked Chard will do the trick, as she explains, "A creamy but delicately flavored wine is the pashmina over a fabulous outfit — which, in this case, is a trio of Gouda, Parmesan, and Cheddar cheeses blended with butternut squash, macaroni, and nutmeg-scented bechamel sauce."

An unoaked Chardonnay tames the dish's creamy qualities

Chardonnay can be aged in either oak barrels or stainless steel tanks: The different techniques produce varying characteristics. Though the grape will almost always display notes of lemon and apple, oaked versions are likely to feel silkier and showcase nuances of warm spices and butter, in contrast to fresher, fruitier, and more mineral, unoaked Chards.

Don't get us wrong, an oaked Chardonnay is still a willing companion for Trader Joe's Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese. However, its warmth and richness may prove overwhelming since the dish boasts many of the same toasty and nutty features. Not to mention that an oaked Chardonnay's luxurious texture can also battle with the decadent mix of cheeses and squash. Instead, a fresher and more vibrant unoaked Chardonnay will do the opposite. 

Rather than contribute any more richness to the mac & cheese, the tangy acidity of an unoaked Chardonnay gives much-needed balance. Creating a well-rounded bite, a clean and crunchy Chardonnay (or even a mineral Chablis) can compliment subtly earthy squash, savory spices, and funky cheeses in a way that allows you to enjoy the flavorful dish more fully. In the words of Fallis, the bottom line is this: "A lighter, unoaked style is the key here."