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Sugar, Salt And Subtle Tannins: Pairing Wine And Junk Food

"Lovely bouquet ... it will go perfectly with my Tootsie Rolls."
Getty Images/Flickr RM/Ozy.com
"Lovely bouquet ... it will go perfectly with my Tootsie Rolls."

The classic rules for wine pairing work well for a nice night out: white wine with fish; red wine with steak. But what about nights you stay in — with a bag of candy, or chips, or takeout?

Well, if you're munching on salt and vinegar Pringles, reach for a white wine, says Kevin McNamara, the tasting room manager at Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton, Va. McNamara 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 says. He'd expected a younger crowd, but ages range from 25 to 65, with more men than women signing up.

In the mood for candy, not chips? McNamara says that 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, says the trick is to follow one of two basic rules: pair complementary flavors, or pair contrasting flavors. For example, a light riesling would bring out the flavor of a spicy burger.

More broadly, "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!"

On the other side of the nation, 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 advice: mix cinnamon-dusted Dunkin Donuts' munchkins with tawny port, and popcorn with chardonnay.

Of course, not everyone's a fan. "Junk food is not meant to be enjoyed with wine," says Alessandra Esteves, author of Wines of Italy. Wine is meant to be paired with food worth savoring, she says: "When you drink it, it makes you eat slower and really enjoy the moment."

And yes, we know, junk food is not nutritionally sound. If you're snacking on something more healthful, check out the Kitchen Window's tips on pairing wine with vegetables.

But if you happen to like savoring cheap snacks? Well, 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.

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Zara Stone