And why the wine world’s current narrative on food pairings needs a massive overhaul.
The concept of wine and food pairing is quite simple: find two things that taste good together and enhance your eating experience. Historically speaking, this practice was as natural as it was simple. If you live in Burgundy in the 19th century, you’re probably eating a lot of mushrooms, local cheeses, and stews – all of which tend to pair well with the region’s iconic Pinot Noir. If you’re living just outside of Nantes a hundred years later, oysters and buckwheat savory crêpes are sure to be everywhere – and they taste pretty fantastic with Muscadet. But as globalization advanced and wines began to be exported and traded across the globe, the idea got a little more complicated. Food, too, became an exercise in international creative fusion. And here in America, fast-food and quick snacks are more widespread than ever.
When we look at so many traditional books on wine and food pairing, then, it’s easy to feel a little disenchanted by them. Who exactly is making these elaborate recipes at home, and if you’re reading this, please tell me how you make time for it?! Who’s then able to not just make the Boeuf Bourguignon but pair it with a grand cru Bourgogne and stay in budget?! The standards are just unreal, and that’s precisely why Vanessa Lenore Price took on the category with her much needed book, Big Macs & Burgundy.
I read it voraciously and quickly discovered that there were a dozen or so pairings that matched some of my favorite foods with my favorite go-to wines. Over the course of the next four months, I tried the French wine pairings (at least – the ones that are vegetarian or pescatarian friendly) and posted my thoughts on my @FrenchWineTutor Instagram. People resonated with it far and wide – even though many of my followers had read the book, it inspired them to discover the world of food and wine pairings anew. I was blown away by the number of folks who reached out to me and shared their enthusiasm for not only the book but the idea it spoke for: re-examining wine pairings for people who live in America, circa early twenty-first century.
With that in mind, I’ve rounded up a few of my favorites below, and included links on where to purchase the wines I lined up with these newly modern and thoroughly delightful mets-accords. Read on below.
White Cheddar Popcorn + Louis Jadot’s Mâcon-Villages ($16, Wine.com)
You know that one snack you always buy when you’re feeling down or just finished a super hard workout and need an indulgence? That snack for me is SmartPop’s White Cheddar popcorn. I know, it’s pretty awful – extraordinarily processed and manufactured to satisfy a major salt craving. Yet in all my years of eating it, I’d never even considered what wine I was opening to pair with it on movie night or when my fiancé and I are indulging in it together. Vanessa recommended a fresh white Burgundy without oak interference to contrast those buttery, cheddar notes, so I went with a classic and picked Louis Jadot’s Mâcon-Villages. Jadot’s portfolio is widely available and consistently delicious. This pairing was as perfect as perfect could be. Going with a southern Burgundy white versus a Chablis in this instance made the pairing less contrasting and more enjoyable. It’s now a snack combination that I enjoy almost every month.
Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked + 1999 Domaine des Cazes Rivesaltes ($30, Wine Bid)
Wine pairing with ice cream – especially the flavors of the modern American classic makers Ben & Jerry’s – often causes quite a stir on wine Instagram. It’s like candy pairings on Halloween: let’s be honest, very few of them actually work. This pairing had me beyond skeptical but after the first bite I was hooked. The depth of flavor profiles to enjoy here was endless and an aged Rivesaltes brought out a savory quality in both the wine and the ice cream that had me going back for more small bites and sips throughout the evening. Rivesaltes for whatever reason can be hard to find stateside, but I stumbled upon a 1999 vintage on WineBid and didn’t look back. This is one that needs to be brought out for special occasions – or an extremely hard day.
Cheetos + Gérard Boulay Sancerre ($37, Flatiron Wines)
I personally ascribe to the belief that there is very little that can go wrong when you pair Sancerre. It is a magical appellation with a climate and producer roster that rarely goes wrong. And while it’s true that it’s getting more expensive, for the occasional elevated weeknight it’s always worth it. I’ll be honest, this is the first time I’d had any form of a Cheeto in years, but I certainly wasn’t upset about revisiting them here! Admittedly, all I could find at my local store were the puff variety, but the concept of the orange cheese dust and the way it tastes on your tongue is largely the same. In many ways, this pairing is somewhat like the first one I loved – White Cheddar Popcorn and Mâcon-Villages – but with a heavier fake-cheese taste and a fresher, more acidic wine choice. If Cheetos are to you what White Cheddar popcorn is to me, then this pairing will certainly become a favorite.
Ramen Take-Out + Albert Mann Pinot Gris ($28, CoolVines)
One of the greatest disconnects in the modern food pairing narrative is its generalization. How many times have we heard someone say “Pair a sweet Riesling with Asian food!” and thought, “But why? And why only sweet Riesling? And what type of Asian cuisine? And what dish from that type of cuisine?” Vanessa tackles this – and other over-generalizations about other food cultures – in her book, but the key takeaway is and will always be that one size definitely does not fit all. In this instance, she proves her point with Ramen and Alsatian Pinot Gris, which is quickly becoming a pairing I look forward to enjoying on a monthly basis – or whenever I’m ordering ramen from the Korean fusion restaurant around the corner from my apartment, Ahri’s Kitchen. Mann’s Pinot Gris is a bit more fruit forward, and fleshier than say a Riesling, so when combining it here with the slightly spicy and very complex veggie ramen, I’m not disappointed. I want to keep experimenting and try another Pinot Gris from a cooler vintage to see how it complements!
Krispy Kreme Donuts + Domaine de la Grande Côte Crémant de Bourgogne ($21, Astor Wines)
If there’s one pairing on this post that deserves to be called a new classic, it’s this one. I’m hardly a donut connoisseur but you can’t turn down a signature glazed from Krispy Kreme! There’s something about this combo that simply works. The crunchy sugar and the soft long bubbles maybe? The sweetness and the acid? The fact that they’re both equally indulgent, yet couldn’t be more different? No matter which of the above calls out to you, it’s a pairing that should be entered into the boozy brunch hall of fame. I dare you to bring this combo to the next one you’re hosting to see if anyone complains (and if they do – I’m happy to enlighten them myself).
Sweetgreen Harvest Bowl + Château La Garde Pessac-Léognan
The Sweetgreen Harvest bowl and I go way back. I’ve been eating it for – dare I say? – almost a decade now (sub the chicken for a hard boiled egg and we’ve got a vegetarian friendly ball game). As someone who does actually try to eat healthy most of the time, I was pleasantly surprised to find this one in the book, too. It’s easy to see why this pairing works: the baby kale in the harvest bowl is a perfect complement to the herbaceous notes in Sauvignon Blanc-leading white Bordeaux, and the nuttiness of the almonds has a nice interplay with the Sémillon in the wine, too. This is a pairing I am definitely going to return to a hundred more times – after all I basically grab a Sweetgreen salad once a week.
Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich + Château du Petit Thouars Chinon, L’Epée ($23, CoolVines)
Everyone loves to share Thanksgiving pairing advice but then forgets about the leftovers (and the way we eat them)! The truth is there’s a wide variety of wines that pair with Thanksgiving based on what you’re eating, but the Thanksgiving leftover sandwich has a clear recipe: toasted bread, roasted turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. It’s a hearty combo so it needs a wine that won’t tie it down but can match the complex array of flavors within it. Enter Chinon, a Loire Valley favorite that is as delicious as it is food-friendly, and elegant as it is down-to-earth. The bright red fruit notes here are a perfect match for the cranberry and the acidity and minerality lifts up even the heaviest stuffing. Save this one for your new favorite Thanksgiving pairing!
Jersey Swirl Bagel + 90+ Cellars Vouvray ($18, 90+ Cellars)
The original version of this pairing called for a rainbow swirl bagel, but in Jersey City, where I live, they’re affectionately called the Jersey Swirl. While the Krispy Kreme pairing gets all the sugary brunch glory, this one comes in at a close second. Let’s be brutally honest: there is really nothing special in the taste of a Jersey Swirl bagel – it is essentially a plain bagel with food coloring. Match that with plain cream cheese and it’s a salt bomb looking for something fresh, balanced, and acidic to back it up. That’s where Vouvray comes in. Whether you choose one that’s fully bone dry or a little bit off, whether you pick one with more fruit notes or more floral notes, Vouvray’s complexity is what this simple bagel needs for a fancier version of an East Coast brunch.
Grilled Cheese + Domaine de Fages Cahors ($18, Astor Wines)
The humble grilled cheese evokes two feelings for me: one of nostalgia, as my Dad always made one every Sunday after church, and the other of Franco-American friendship. Isn’t the Croque Madame or Croque Monsieur nothing but a gussied-up version of this classic?! The customization possibilities with a simple cheese and bread sandwich are truly endless and so too are the pairings. While the instinct might be to go with something like a Sancerre or a Pouilly-Fumé, I love that Vanessa’s recommendation here is for a French red: and not just any French red, but one from a lesser known appellation in the Southwest – Cahors. The one I chose from Domaine de Fages is a perfect match for grilled cheese. Not only is it organic, but 20% of the grapes used in vinification are carbonically macerated, a process that brings fresher, fruit-forward flavors to the final product. The result is a juicy, terroir-driven red that both matches the grilled cheese in body. Definitely one worth returning to!
In all, what Big Macs & Burgundy hit right on the head is that we need to have a little more fun with food pairings and stop taking ourselves so seriously. A winemaker makes wine to be enjoyed – how you enjoy it should be entirely up to you. Maybe that’s with Cheez-Its, or maybe it’s with a rosemary roast chicken and puréed potatoes you slaved over. Whatever the case may be, have fun, and don’t forget to toast every moment with a good old-fashioned French santé.