The culinary customs and wine of a region often develop in tandem over generations of trial and error. The most successful of these wine and food pairings are what are now considered the classics: Tomato sauce and Chianti, Stilton and Port, foie gras and Sauternes. These are all magical time-tested pairings but, luckily, there is no need to be bound only to the classics.
1. Potato Chips and Champagne
Champagne is not just for special occasions. The bubbles cleanse the palate and the relatively high acidity is able to hold its own with many types of cuisine. That being said, the delicate simplicity of salty and crispy potato chips paired with the freshness of Champagne is unbeatable. Any Champagne that does not have the word “nature” on the bottle will contain a small amount of sweetness. While often imperceivable, this tempers the saltiness while the bubbles renew the palate, ensuring a fresh bite every time. Definitely cannot have just one – chip or glass!
Look for Champagne, the sparkling wines made only in the French region called Champagne, or another traditional method sparkling wine. A versatile classic selection is Champagne H. Billiot Fils Brut Reserve (SKU 525436, $65) or, for something closer to home, I like Benjamin Bridge Brut (SKU 760776, $50) traditional method sparkling wine made from grapes grown in the Gaspereau Valley in Nova Scotia.
2. Popcorn and Chardonnay
Chardonnay is the best grape on earth. The oft-encountered over-oaked, super-buttery examples are not good representations of what Chardonnay can do. It can be rich with great depth of flavour, and the examples with subtle oak influence and just a hint of of butter are the perfect match for buttery popcorn. The slightly toasty notes of the popped kernel compliment the restrained oak in quality Chardonnay, while the power of the wine is able to stand up to the buttery richness of the popcorn. Chardonnay from Australia is very exciting right now and does well balancing the oak without sacrificing structure or overpowering the grape itself.
Look for Flametree Chardonnay (SKU 778306, $25) from Margaret River in Western Australia, or Shaw and Smith M3 Chardonnay (SKU 711921, $45) from the Adelaide Hills in South Australia.
3. Cheeseburger and Merlot
Who doesn’t love juicy Alberta beef cheeseburgers? While they usually end up washed down with beer, there is another option. Wine can be a great match and a velvety Merlot can be the perfect foil for a cheesy burger. Merlot is not as austere as Cabernet Sauvignon. It is fruit-forward and approachable. With the structure and tannins to support the cheese and the fat of the burger, mild oak to highlight the spice of patty seasoning and a generous fruit-flavour profile to accompany the freshness of ketchup and relish and other condiments, Merlot is an ideal match.
Look for fruity, ripe and not over-oaked examples from California or the right bank of Bordeaux. Stags’ Leap Winery has a lovely example from Napa (SKU 515601, $50) or the quaffable Les Mireilles from grapes sourced across the Merlot dominant right bank of Bordeaux (SKU 128447, $20).
4. Chocolate Sundae and Pedro Ximinz
Hailing from Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda or El Puerto de Santa Maria – the sun-drenched towns of the Sherry triangle on the Andalucian coast – is Pedro Ximinz. The grape is dried and raisined in the sun before being pressed to make some of the most complex dessert wines in the world. Basking in the sun concentrates the sugars and evaporates the water in the grape, making for rich and luscious wines. Balanced with notes of coffee, spice, chocolate and even leather and tar, Pedro Ximinz wines are a perfect pairing with vanilla ice cream. The wine is sweeter than the ice cream, key for a successful dessert pairing, while the flavour profile is a match for the intense and hard-to-pair flavours found in chocolate. With the addition of some nuts, the sundae is even better as the saltiness further contrasts the sweetness in the wine.
For maximum intensity and complexity, the 30-plus-year-old Noe from Gonzalez Byass is hard to beat (SKU 711164, $45), while the slightly less sweet Barbadillo (SKU 783854, $30) is another option to enjoy.