Why you should care
Because it’s OK to eat french fries instead of Brie with your vino.
Drinking wine used to be an upper-class thing: The high-and-mighty would sip Chablis whilst the commoners would make do with alcoholic vinaigrette. But now good wine is available to all, and it’s fortifying a strong interest in wine pairing, which traditionally matches your beverage with food to bring out the wine’s full flavors. But while there used to be certain rules — like white wine with fish — a great wine pairing can now involve a side of candy corn or a Big Mac.
Kevin McNamara, the tasting room manager at Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton, Virginia, has been running a wine and junk food pairing event every October for three years. He started doing it by request, but it kept selling out, with up to 20 people each paying $25 per session. “What’s really surprising is that there’s no demographic,” he tells OZY. He expected a younger crowd, but ages range from 25 to 65, with more men than women signing up. Some good pairings, according to McNamara: Salt and vinegar Pringles go well with a white wine, Tootsie Rolls enhance a rich port, and candy corn can bring out the different flavors in a good Sauvignon blanc.
Sydney Munteanu from Club W, a wine delivery company, suggests that good wine-and-junk-food marriages stick to two basic rules: pairing complementary flavors and pairing contrasting flavors. Instead of having Baileys with a doughnut, match creamy with crisp and spicy with sweet. A light Riesling would bring out the flavor of a sriracha burger, whereas a rich red would “react badly with bold, high alcohol wine, making them taste even hotter.”
Fun fact: Wine used to be so full of sediment in ye olden times that people used toast to absorb the acidity, and that’s where the expression “to toast” originated.
It sounds gimmicky, but many wine aficionados are in full support of junk pairings. “The rule is to drink what you like. … Wine doesn’t have to be stuffy or snobby,” says Jess Hagadorn, Young Winos of DC founder, during the Wine Pairing panel at MetroCooking DC’s Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show this November. She likes to pair sparkling white Riesling with french fries — “the crunchier the fries, the better!” She’s backed up by the pros. Wine author and correspondent Anthony Giglio ran a sold-out seminar called Junk Food and Killer Wines at the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival in August. His delicious advice: mixing cinnamon-dusted Dunkin Munchkins with tawny port, and popcorn with chardonnay.
But Alessandra Esteves, author of Wines of Italy, is not a supporter. “Junk food is not meant to be enjoyed with wine,” she says. Fast food is all about eating quickly. “Wine is a company to food, and when you drink it, it makes you eat slower and really enjoy the moment,” she says. Fast food is the antithesis of that experience.
But wine pairings don’t have to be such serious events. “Not everyone has to like everything you do,” says McNamara, who plans to keep his junk food pairings a seasonal event. But for many, the popularity of junk food and the love of wine is an excuse to clink those glasses and fatten those asses.
Photography by Shutterstock.