These four simple guidelines on how to pair wine and junk food are guaranteed to elevate your snack game.
We don’t like to admit it, but we all do it.
Get home from a long day, microwave a bag of popcorn, open a bottle of Cab and zone out on the couch until it’s time for bed. Especially in these lockdown, quarantined days of Covid-19, a steady stream of wine-and-junk-food seems to be the diet du jour.
Last Wednesday, I hosted a virtual tasting on The Wine Sisters Instagram in response to what followers and newsletter subscribers said they wanted: to learn how to pair wine and junk food. Today, I’m following up with this blog, just in case some weren’t taking notes.
Before we get into it, I want to say that the general rules for pairing food and wine still stand. Even when we’re dealing with the most hedonistic of snacks, there are some basic tenets that should be observed to maximize your gastronomic pleasure.
Your wine must be sweeter than your food. Period.
This is a cardinal rule. For the other tastes and senses there are hacks, but sorry chocolate lovers, there are no work arounds here. Ignore this, and you will find both your wine and your food will taste bitter and flat. So why even bother?
Think about your general game day fare: hot wings, nachos with jalapeños, that spicy pepperoni stick you like to gnaw on when things get particularly tense. If this fiery flavour profile is your jam, you need a slightly sweet, low(er) alcohol wine. And Zantac.
Ah, the F-word. Sorry gastronomes, but when you’r face down in a pile of poutine, you’re basically in the centre of a fat orgy. A delicious fat orgy, but not one that’s going to keep the arteries running like well-oiled machines. Health risks aside, lucky for you this is one of the easiest categories to pair and has plenty of room for improvisation. Just stick to higher acid wines – wines that make your mouth water or send a little pinch to the insides of your cheeks – and you’re golden.
Finally, you need to look at the main flavour of your junk food. Is this a plain, glazed doughnut (a seriously underrated pastry IMHO), or a chocolate ganache doughnut? Are we talking buttered popcorn or dill pickle flavoured? Milk chocolate or dark chocolate? (This is a touchy subject for me, but I offer some suggestions below). The main flavour of your junk food is another cue to your wine pairing.
I’ve listed a few popular junk foods below, but clearly this is not an exhaustive list. Also, I have a tendency to shy away from the one “perfect” wine pairing. Just like men and busses, there’s always another wine that’s just as good, and perhaps even better, depending on your mood. With that in mind, I’ve also offered a few good alternatives for your pairing pleasure.
Pairing: Full bodied Chardonnay (alternative: brut sparkling wine)
Reason: Here we are mirroring flavours in the wine and junk food pairing as well as textures. Both have butter and toasty flavours. There’s also an oily, slippery sensation of the melted butter that is echoed in the mouthfeel of the Chardonnay.
Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc (alternative: Pinot Grigio)
Reason: Sauvignon Blanc’s main characteristic is its herbaceous note. Depending on your palate you may pick it up as freshly cut grass, asparagus, green bell pepper, or even an herb like basil, cilantro or lemon grass. If you think about the flavours of your nachos – onion, bell pepper, jalapeño pepper, avocado – there’s a similar vegetal note that makes for a great pairing. Plus, Sauvignon Blanc is a highly acidic wine, which makes it a great palate cleanser for the greasy chips, as well as cutting through the fat of cheese or sour cream.
Pairing: Riesling (alternative: Chianti)
Reason: Fat, fat, and more fat. The neutrally flavoured, yet intriguingly gooey mozz is rich and fatty as is the carb coating that allows it to be fried in one compact container. You need a wine pairing to cut through that richness and racy Riesling’s your girl. The high acid and citrusy flavour both work to compliment this bar staple.
Pairing: Zinfandel (alternative: Rosé)
Reason: Wings are rich with dark meat, the sauce has a bit of vinegary tang along with the heat, and the fried, crispy skin of the chicken is salty. Zinfandels are bursting mix jammy field berry fruit flavours (almost like a sauce itself) and have enough body to stand up to the bold wing sauce.
Pairing: Brut sparkling wine (alternative: Gamay)
Reason: This one’s a bit tricky because it’s like saying, “what wine goes best with pizza?” or “what wine goes best with chicken?” Remember Rule #4 about pairing to the strongest flavour? Right. There are as many doughnut flavours as there are wines, so this is a huge umbrella statement. Lucky for us, when in doubt sparkling wine is a very fine lifeline. The acidity in the wine cuts through the heaviness of the fried pastry, and the yeasty, toasty flavour of the wine mirrors the pastry flavour.
Can you hear that? It’s me sighing. Loudly. I’m not the biggest fan of pairing wine and chocolate, because it’s not as easy as tearing open a box of Reese’s Pieces grabbing your favourite wine and calling it a night. Once again, we return to what’s the main flavour, and as well as the need to balance the sweetness quotient.
Pairing: Moscato d’Asti (alternative: Lambrusco)
Reason: Don’t. be. a. hater. White chocolate is a chocolate and if you take issue with it, then I reject your argument that dark chocolate is a chocolate, Susan. White chocolate is quite rich and sweet but still delicately flavoured, requiring a wine that is a) sweeter but b) not overpowering. This calls for a light, but slightly sweet, Moscato d’Asti – the fizzy sparkling wine from northern Italy. With its peachy, grapey flavours it’s sweeter than the chocolate, and also matches the body.
Pairing: LBV Port (alternative: sweet sherry, especially if the chocolate contains nuts)
Reason: Louder, for those in the back. This is a perfect example of Rule #1. Milk chocolate is sweet and requires the respect and support of a sweeter wine. Do this, and your wine and junk food pairing fantasies will come to life.
Pairing: Cabernet Icewine (alternative: Amarone)
Reason: Is dark chocolate even a chocolate? Here’s where I take issue: it’s considered healthy. You know in the new year when everyone’s trying to get in shape, and some obnoxious nutrition expert suggests that to curb cravings just treat yourself to an ounce of dark chocolate and presto! your cravings are gone? That expert is a liar. Dark chocolate is not a good alternative and my 3pm craving is still very much present. Anyway, if you are part of that group of weirdos who want to “indulge” in the bittersweet confectionary, you can prop it up with Cabernet Icewine. The fruit-forward raspberry and strawberry flavours will pair beautifully with the chocolate, and the sweetness factor of Rule #1 is definitely in check.