11 award winning wines you should pair with your favorite fast food

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There’s joie de vivre in a highbrow/lowbrow mashup. Take it from someone who celebrated the completion of her Intro Sommelier course some years ago by smuggling a bottle of Krug into McDonald’s. Champagne can pair anything, of course, but fast food really showcases Champagne’s ability to elevate whatever it touches. The Big Mac may already have special sauce, but traditional method bubbly was the special sauce that transformed the humble sandwich into something much bigger than itself.

“I think wine is 100% appropriate to pair with fast food,” agrees Kate Bruce, owner/operator of Brooklyn’s The Buttery Bar. “Potato chips, French fries, salad, whatever…wine can go with anything.” Bruce is no stranger to the appeal of highbrow/lowbrow intersections. The menu at Buttery Bar features playful options like caviar tater tots and “fancy fries” — given the Big Mac treatment with special sauce, pickles, and sesame seeds — to enjoy alongside her expertly curated wine list that relies heavily on natural wines and oft-overlooked grapes. What’s more, Bruce believes that Champagne isn’t the only option when it comes to wines that are equal to whatever you want to pair them with, including all manner of fast food. “I’m finding lighter reds very versatile,” she says. “They’re lower in tannins and can hold up to some meatier things, but they also are delicate enough that they aren’t going to overpower fish or something a little more subtle.”

With responses ranging from classic to iconoclastic, I peppered Bruce with about a dozen of fast food’s all-star players for her hot takes on how she’d pair them.

1. French Fries and Champagne

When it comes to fried items, Champagne or bubbly always works wonderfully in an opposites- attract scenario, the crispy crunch and salt of the fries getting wiped clean and ready for the next bite by the wine’s effervescence and acidity. (Also definitely do this with fried chicken.) “It’s hard not to do something potato based and crispy with Champagne,” says Bruce, or other traditional method sparkling. “Bubbles are just so easy. I would pick something a little less yeasty and bready and a little lighter so you still get the full flavor of the french fry.”

One to try: FrerereJean Frères NV Blanc De Blancs Premier Cru

New York International Wine Competition 2023 Double Gold

2. Spicy Chicken Sandwich and Albariño

The spicy chicken sandwich is a relative newcomer in the fast food canon, but once it arrived it became an instant favorite. Spicy foods often see suggestions of juicy reds or off-dry whites to offset their fire, which Bruce co-signs on, but also offers another suggestion: “I like an Albariño or a crisp white from Spain,” she says, “something a little more fruit forward to balance out the tang.”

One to try: Caliche 2022 Albariño

New York International Wine Competition 2023 Silver

3. Regular Cheeseburger and Spanish Garnacha

In a fast food scenario, Bruce points out that sometimes it’s not the (literal) meat of the dish that you are pairing, but its condiments or accoutrements. There are special sauce type burgers, and then there’s a humble, regular cheeseburger, potentially the fast food staple we are also most likely to make at home. (“Does it still have a pickle on it?” Bruce asked me, and we proceeded into the pairing exercise in agreement about the necessity of the pickle.) “You could do a nice garnacha or a Spanish red,” she says, “something not super heavy but that’s maybe even lightly effervescent. Fast food cheeseburgers aren’t super beefy anyways, so what you’re getting is a lot of flavor of the cheese, ketchup, and all of those things.”

One to try: Bodegas Campo Viejo Garnacha 2020

(New York International Wine Competition 2022 Gold)

4. Pizza and Montepulciano

While chains such as McDonalds and Subway outrank any given pizza establishment in terms of America’s favorite fast food joints, pizza remains one of our top takeout and delivery items. Pizza is another instance where, depending on toppings, you have a lot of different flavors and textures to work with in terms of wine pairings. You could easily make a case for a number of different pizza wines of a variety of colors, but “you gotta go Italy,” says Bruce, who chooses Montepulciano or sangiovese as her top choice. “Something with some bitey tannins, but still a nice lighter body and very herbaceous.”

One to try: Cougar 2018 Montepulciano

(New York International Wine Competition 2023 Bronze)

5. Fried Fish and Funky Pet-Nat

Whether you take your fried fish in sandwich form, or just purely with chips, (or if we’re being honest, both ways,) the distinct flavor of fish calls for something equally distinctive. “I don’t like to go too overboard with funky, natural wines because it can sometimes overpower food,” Bruce says. In the case with fish, however, it is equal to the challenge. “A lot of pet-nats have fun natural yeasts going on in them and they’ll almost have a beer flavor to them,” she says. “And I think the highbrow/lowbrow thing hits there with the beer taste in a delicate wine. Then you’re not necessarily going all the way to the bready end of the spectrum like with a champagne, but you’re still having something light and bubbly, which always goes really great with fish.”

One to try: Casal de Ventozela Pseudónimo

6. Burrito and Unoaked Chardonnay

Acknowledging that fast food burritos in the U.S. are more Tex than Mex, and not necessarily all that spicy but more salty and savory, Bruce offers an inspired, terroir-based pairing: There’s a lot of cool wines coming out of Texas right now,” she says. “And I would say if we’re having Chipotle, for example, let’s go with something American and easy like an unoaked chardonnay,” which offers refreshment and contrast to a burrito’s many layers.

One to try: Frey 2021 Organic Chardonnay

(New York International Wine Competition 2023 Double Gold)

7. Buffalo Wings and New World Pinot Noir

Buffalo wings are a more “pure” version of the spicy chicken sandwich above, insofar as you don’t have a bun and other condiments to even out the spiciness. “You could go a little sweeter or a little more fruit forward because the spice is going to take over,” says Bruce. “I would say Oregon Pinot; something fruit-forward and Burgundian style but not so old world that it loses a bunch of the fruit.” It also doesn’t hurt that a fruity red such as new world pinot noir also happens to pair Buffalo wings’ other partner in crime: blue cheese.

One to try: Sonoma Cutrer Vineyards 2020 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

(New York International Wine Competition 2023 Double Gold)

8. Curly Fries and South African Chenin Blanc

Curly fries (which are always seasoned fries, if you were robbed of a proper childhood) are how I knew that my palate was more sophisticated than that of my siblings from an early age. “It’s hard for me not to go to Spain with spice,” says Bruce, but who nonetheless singles out South African Chenin Blanc as being a comparable alternative. “There’s a lot of cool Chenins coming from there,” she says. “Something crisp and bright,” that provides contrast and a hint of fruit for curly fries’ deeply umami and lightly spice vibe.

One to try: One Woman 2020 Chenin Blanc

(New York International Wine Competition 2023 Gold)

9. Rotisserie Chicken and Barbera

A friend once expressed her disdain for the fare at Boston Market by describing it as “leftovers,” but for those of us who love it, that’s precisely its appeal. A feast you can pull out of the fridge and enjoy either hot or cold. The chicken itself will always be the star of the show, but you want a wine that can go the distance for the spectrum of sides, and Bruce again leans on the herbal note that underscores many elements in the spread: “I don’t always like to stick to the role of white wine with chicken,” she says, “and herbs and stuff like that always go well with other herby wines, so I would again go back to Italian reds like Barbera,” she says, for that herbal complement, and looking for wines that are light in color and without too much age. (Like the feast itself, also pleasant with a bit of chill.)

One to try: New Clairvaux Vineyard Barbera

(New York International Wine Competition 2023 Gold)

10. Fried Rice and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Asian-inspired or even just Chinese fast food arguably warrants its own roundup, but for the sake of efficiency, fried rice is one of the safest orders at something like Panda Express, and one that leads with a common flavor element: soy sauce. “Soy sauce is so salty. so I would say something very refreshing, and a little higher in acid,” says Bruce. “New Zealand sav blanc or something like that with pronounced fruitiness could go really well.”

One to try: Brancott Estate 2022 Brancott Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

(New York International Wine Competition 2023 Double Gold)

11. Donuts and Ice Wine

Lest we forget that fast food often means breakfast, and that we sometimes deserve a wine pairing at any time of day, feel free to uncork a bottle of dessert wine with your Krispy Cremes. “With dessert or sweet pairings you do want the wine to be sweeter than the thing it’s pairing,” says Bruce. “So an iced wine or a sweet sherry, or a sweet, sparkling Bugey that’s going to hold up to the sweetness of the donut.”

One to try: Boathouse Vineyards 2021 Icebreaker

New York International Wine Competition 2023 Silver

This article originally appeared on Alcohol Professor and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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