What wines pair with junk food?

Doritos Cool RanchSome days, my well-worn couch becomes my temple. At this altar, I worship the TV god, Bacchus, and occasionally a family-size bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. These treats can weigh on the bod, but provide sheer comfort to the soul, especially the salty, fat-laden chips. But this retreat to earthly pleasures brings up a touchy question: What do you drink with the likes of potato chips, pretzels and chocolate chip cookies? There are no handy rules or tenets written by the wine snobs who wouldn’t dare drink a Pinot Noir with a handful of greasy, salty Cheetos. So we must experiment for ourselves and uncover the joys of drinking wine with our favorite couch snacks.

Normally, I’m not fond of suggesting food and wine pairings, because taste is an extremely subjective experience. I prefer to encourage wine enthusiasts to drink whatever they like with their favorite foods, doubling the enjoyment. But some types of wines tend to match better, and here is an experiment that will help you uncover your ideal junk food and wine combo.

To generate a wide variety of opinions, I assembled a group of hungry and willing guinea pigs. We opted for the two basic junk food groups — salty and sugary — and the usual suspects: potato chips, pretzels, Cheetos, corn chips, Cool Ranch Doritos, salted peanuts, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Oreo cookies, Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies, and Chips Ahoy. For the drink, we chose 10 different varietals: sparkling rosé, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet and Malbec. All we were missing was a Big Gulp cup. Armed with a paper towel festooned with our junk food assortment, we launched our exploration.

  • Potato chips: because of their delicate salty quality, lighter white wines tended to meld the best with potato chips. Try a Pinot Gris, a Sauvignon Blanc or a light Chardonnay.
  • Pretzels: This favorite has a stronger, nuttier flavor than potato chips, so they can stand up to a bigger wine. Try a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Cabernet Franc with pretzels.
  • Cheetos: Believe it or not, Pinot Noir paired very nicely with the salty, cheesy action of Cheetos. This was the shocker of the tasting.
  • Corn chips: The corn chips needed something to tone down the whopper flavor in it, and Pinot Gris did the trick.
  • Cool Ranch Doritos: This was a tough match, but Pinot Noir finally won this junk food over. The two competing flavors aren’t perfect, but will work in a pinch. Cabernet wasn’t too bad either.
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: This was difficult to pair up with anything because of the peanut butter and chocolate combination. The sparkling wine, ever the quintessential wine that matches everything, was the closest, but the Malbec wasn’t bad.
  • Oreo cookies: These guys practically loved every wine on the table. Malbec, Zinfandel, Gewurztraminer, and Merlot all were matches made in heaven.
  • Milano cookies: A more delicate flavor than the Oreo or chocolate chip cookies, Milano was harder to pair. The Gewurztraminer came close, as well as the Malbec.
  • Chips Ahoy: One of the few junk foods that matched with both whites and reds. Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel and the rosé sparkling were truly perfect with your childhood favorite.

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