The nuance of flavor in wine is rarely a match to cuisine as gutsy as junk food. Most wines will end up sulking in the background and ruin the flavor with sourness and bitterness. One could say that wine is a finicky beverage. Fortunately, you can easily make some incredible junk food wine pairings, all you need to do is reach for the more unusual wines. Honestly, these wines are not that rarified, they’re just off the radar.
Here are 12 kickass junk food wine pairings and why they work so you can make your own.
12 Kickass Junk Food and Wine Pairings
Wash down each bite with a carbonated wine that will further kick up the flavors of raspberry and strawberry. This pairing works because cotton candy makes us need something refreshing and wet to wash the “sticky” off. Lambrusco also tastes great with a little bit of sweetness, so when you put the two together there will be a “pow!” in your mouth: the cotton candy will combine with the Lambrusco and make something like a boozy Italian soda. A full-red Lambrusco might work too, but keep in mind it will have bitterness from tannin so be sure you love bitter-sweet things. P.S. Your teeth may fall out.
As cheap and campy as smores are, they are one of the few sweets that often get a fine dining revamp because they’re so amazing. The key components to pair are cinnamon and chocolate, and for this you’ll need a wine that’s big enough for chocolate but won’t smoother the nuance of cinnamon. Madeira is a great choice, and more specifically Bual (aka Boal) Madeira. As it ages (the longer the better) it will develop black walnut flavors and this lovely sauce-like texture that will complement the dryness in the graham. Maybe spring for the fancy chocolate bar and make your own graham crackers–it’s easy!
Fries / Potato Chips
Brut Sparkling Wine
It doesn’t matter if it’s Champagne, American bubbles, Cap Classique, Cava or Crémant: as long as it’s made using the traditional method and has lots of tiny bubbles, then it will be perfect with any sort of salty-fried potato thing you throw at it. The reason why you want traditional method bubbles is that they have the highest carbonation of all the styles. The reason you want a Brut or the more dry “Brut Nature” is because you want the wine to be very dry and astringent so that it will properly cleanse your salty palate. In our humble opinion, sparkling wine beats any soda/chip pairing and has the benefit of slowing down your munching just from the sheer intensity of the pairing.
Peanut Butter Cup
There are two types of people: people who seek peanut butter flavored things and people who detest them. There is no middle ground. So, for those of you who are in the first grouping, this pairing works because it highlights the beautiful peanut-butteryness of a peanut butter cup. Amontillado is a style of Sherry wine that is further aged and oxidized after the flor (the special Sherry yeast) dies off. Because of the oxidation, Amontillado has a rich tawny color and tastes very nutty. When pairing with a super dark chocolate peanut butter cup, you might try the even darker version of Sherry: Oloroso. Oloroso Sherry can be aged 100 years and tastes quite nutty with a deep brown color. The longer it ages, the more dark, rich and nutty it becomes… kind of like a rock star.
Grilled Banana and Nutella Sandwich with Brie
This one is tricky because the Nutella begs for red wine, but the banana flavor begs for white wine. Thus, you’ll need to step outside of the usual varietals and go for something with serious character. For this, a Vendages Tardives (“Late Harvest”) Gewürztraminer or Lanzarote called Malvasia Semi-dulce are great options. The Gewürztraminer adds rose flavors to the scene which would be classy, but the Lanzarote Malvasia is probably the true winner because it’s so salty. Salt is definitely what this dish needs to get up to holy-junk food status. We did some research, and found one importer who brings this liquid gold into the states.
Chocolate Chip Fudge Brownies
The only thing better than brownies are chocolate chip fudge brownies. Nobody, not even me, wants to admit that they are deadly and addictive to most of humankind. We know they’re addictive because just thinking about them will have your lower brain sending you signals of desire. The perfect wine to this devilish food must have both the fortitude and flavor to complement the intensity. For this, Ruby Port is the clear option. Ruby Port is unlike other Ports in that it’s freshly made and, for this reason, it still has all the bold black and blue fruit flavors and tannin. The tannin in this wine will help scrape your palate, while the complementing sweetness (usually about 90 g/L RS or slightly less than a coke) will make sure that the wine doesn’t come across bitter. When you put the two together, it will taste something like a fresh chocolate covered cherry.
Pedro Ximinez (“Peh-dro Hem-min-nez”) is not a man, it is a grape that grows in southern Spain! It seems appropriate that a Spanish wine would match so wonderfully with a traditional Spanish sweet and here’s why: A deeply brown, aged P.X. will be rich and saucy almost like cinnamon and coffee-spiced chocolate sauce. In fact, one of the top pairings with a churro is hot chocolate sauce, so instead of having that, you can try P.X. instead. Just follow up a bit with a sip of the wine and you’ll be very pleased. Also, don’t be surprised if the current vintage of P.X. you find is 30 years old!
Bacon is meat candy because it tastes better when there’s some sweetness to accentuate it. For this, Marsala is a keen option because it not only brings sweetness, but it adds this fascinating nutty/smoky element that will take your bacon to the next level. Marsala ranges in style from dry to sweet and, although most are made simply for cooking, you can find a few producers that make very high quality Marsala. In fact, it’s one of the only fortified wines that requires the producer use brandy from the same indigenous Sicilian grapes that are in the wine. Be sure you get true Sicilian Marsala and not the cheap imitation stuff in the vinegar isle.
German Pradikat Riesling
Jalapeño poppers are a near-perfect junk food that combines fat, salt, cream and spice together to create a complex mouth-plosion of flavor. The only thing that Jalapeño poppers are missing is a touch of sweetness to balance the spice and for this we call upon German Riesling! The term “pradikat” is the classification system used to qualify a sweeter style of German Riesling. There are many levels, Kabinett being the basic model and Auslese being a much more serious and sweet version. A great Riesling with this food will not only add the sweetness needed to counteract spice but enough acidity to act as a palate cleanser. Riesling Sekt is another great choice because it’s sparkling.
Fried Mozzarella Sticks
Cabernet Franc or Carménère
What could be worse for you than fried cheese? For pairing this food, you can actually work with a wide range of both dry red or white wines. That said, here’s why wines like Carménère and Cabernet Franc are our top pick: These wines are famous for their higher acidity and peppery flavors ranging from green bell pepper to smoky sweet red pepper. This is the type of flavoring that would be awesome with fried cheese and might even remove the need for marinara.
Garnacha is a punchy but light wine that will happily gobble up your sweet cornmeal-fried meat stick. On the palate, you’ll get a lot of red fruit flavors and a finish with a touch of bitterness to the tune of grapefruit pith. You will hunger for more. So, with each bite and sip of Garnacha, you’ll immediately be inspired to take another bite and another sip. It’s a terrible cycle and you should be ashamed, but you started it the moment when you bought a corn dog. At least now you can be a combination of ashamed and classy.
Pinotage or Shiraz
You did it. You ordered a donut cheeseburger and maybe even added some bacon to it. You may die, but at least you will die having known what a junk food masterpiece tastes like. And, now that you’ve taken one bite, your mouth is desperately thirsty. Don’t cheapen this experience with a coke. You need something that is sweetly rich in aromas and flavors, but dry on the palate. You need Pinotage. Pinotage is a South African hybrid grape that is the awkward child of Pinot Noir and Carignan. Despite the elegance of its parents, this grape produces massive wines that will even make an Australian Shiraz feel not worthy. With intense smokiness and equally ample fruit, this wine might be enough to complement your bad decision. We only hope.
More Food & Wine Pairing
For more magical pairings, you can learn the concepts behind food pairing theory and practice them with this awesome chart. Food and wine pairing is meant to accentuate your experience and even if you’re trying it for the first time, you deserve to know how to do it right.