Pairing wines with food is an important intermediate skill for any budding oenophile to learn. After understanding how to taste wine, the next step is learning how to use the newfound knowledge to enhance meals. Readers all know the basic rules: White with fish; red with meat. Chardonnay is a classic pairing with sea bass. Pinot noir goes with salmon. Champagne goes with everything.
Today we’re going to talk about some pairing options not seen everyday—the ones Gloria Vanderbuilt never wrote about. Today, I’ll be writing about outlandish pairings that our favorite sommeliers never suggested but nevertheless work.
Some suggestions readers may never have occasion to try. Some may seem so outlandish, it’s a wonder why anyone thought to try them. But they do give some interesting ideas for anyone tired of reaching for a cabernet sauvignon and a ribeye every Friday night. Do something innovative and impress friends with newfound daring and wine-pairing acumen.
FRIED CHICKEN AND CHAMPAGNE
The first pairing on my list is admittedly a bit of a cop out, as I’ve already written that champagne goes with everything. In previous columns I’ve drawn an analogy to fashion, comparing champagne to the “little black dress.” But it doesn’t mean bubbles can’t be objectively better with some dishes than with others.
The rich, oily nature of fried chicken can be cut by the acidity and carbonation. I find the pairing works better with a more peppery fried chicken recipe. The spiciness is balanced by the acid and the bubbles have a cleansing quality on the palate. Try this one with prosecco if champagne isn’t on hand. The effect is similar in spite of the differences in the winemaking.
PB&J AND SPICY WHITES
“Spicy white” is a bit of a misnomer here: We’re not looking for a white wine with jalapeño notes. Think dry gewürztraminer. The dryness of the wine is what provides contrast to the jelly’s sweetness.
It may seem counterintuitive, but red jellies, like strawberry and raspberry, work better than grape when sneaking wine into this lunchtime classic. It’s a little outlandish, and some people will never move beyond a glass of milk with their PB&Js, but for the daring, it’s a fun one to try.
BACON AND CHARDONNAY
OK, so what can make bacon more delicious? Chardonnay. Pick a big, bold chardonnay. One of those California oak bombs, which can be tough to pair, fits the bill. Much like with fried chicken and champagne, we’re looking to counter fat content with acidity. We’re looking for balance because it’s the one thing bacon lacks. It is an overpowering flavor (why do we only put two strips of it on a half pound burger?). A big, buttery chardonnay can mute some of the richness of bacon while enhancing the flavor.
CHILI AND SHIRAZ
In all our earlier pairings, we talked about balancing flavors against one another. This one is the opposite; it’s about turning into the skid. The peppery wine enhances the spiciness of the chili, and brings out the cumin and peppers, which make up classic chili recipes. In this case, the spicier the dish the better. It works for all types of chili, whether adding or subtracting beans, or adding beef chunks rather than ground beef.
TACOS AND RIESLING
Fruity and sweet wines are well-known as great pairings with spicier foods. But for some reason, tacos are often overlooked for wine pairings. Beer has simply claimed some dishes for its own. But don’t ignore spicy Mexican dishes when there’s a sweet German riesling to pair. It’s not just for Thai food anymore.
FRENCH FRIES AND MERLOT
OK, folks will probably never have the opportunity to try this as a pure pairing—since we rarely have an all-pomme frites course. However, the subtle sweetness of merlot can be a welcome complement to the salty, fatty flavor of beloved French fries.
I want to emphasize the word “fries.” This doesn’t work for oven-roasted potato wedges we all try in order to reduce the fat in our diets. Merlot can still be a nice beverage in that case, but it won’t have the effect that pairing it with fried potatoes will.
POPCORN AND CHARDONNAY
I learned this one about 10 Halloweens ago, but it really does work. Not surprisingly, it takes a buttery chardonnay. I’m not breaking any new ground by suggesting butter with popcorn, but very few people ever thought to find the butter in their glasses rather than their bucketsful. Keep this one in mind for the next Netflix night spent under a blanket.