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Wine-and-Junk-Food Pairing Challenge

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Mike Pierce, the wine director and part-owner of San Francisco’s hip restaurant Maverick, has Bay Area wine geeks buzzing over his atypical Wednesday-night wine seminars. Of particular hype are the wine-and-junk-food pairing challenges. The first class was so popular that he recently started offering them on a monthly basis (the next is July 9). I don’t foresee myself reaching for a glass of Madeira (Pierce suggests the 5-year-aged Cossart Gordon Madeira Bual) the next time I crave a Snickers bar, but my inner wine geek was intrigued by the added challenge of matching a wine to the complex, largely chemically-enhanced flavors of junk food.

Pierce says he has yet to find an unpairable snack (He was nearly defeated when a student dared him to try and match nacho-cheese Doritos. Pinot Gris turned out to be a perfect complement to the glowing orange chips). He asked me to throw out my favorite trashy snacks to see if I couldn’t stump him. He had 24-hours to turn around stellar pairings. Here’s what he came up with:

Classic Cheetos: Verdicchio Di Metallica
why it works: Enough acidity to clean up the cheddar, and a mid-palate weight that married the intensity of the Cheetos. Ultimately, it was the only one of about 12 wines that did not taste awful, in that chemical way, after it chased the Cheetos.
alternate pairing: unoaked California Grenache Blanc
 
Slim Jim:
Lambrusco
why it works: Duh. Lambrusco from Emilia Romagna goes great with all salty cured meats, including Slim Jim.
alternate pairing: Sciava, a light, bitter red from Alto Adigo or indigenous Austrian red varietals like Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch.
 
Red Skittles (strawberry): A lightly macerated Rhone varietal-based rosé like the 2007 Verdad Grenache/Mourvèdre rosé from Santa Barbara.
why it works:  The light strawberry-watermelon Jolly Rancher quality of this wine and the tart acidity match perfectly with red Skittles.
 
Green, Yellow and Orange Skittles (lime, lemon and orange): A 2006 dry Muscat or  Muscadelle
why it works: The orange blossom and Meyer lemon aromas and flavors of this wine match nicely with the Skittles' citrusy flavors.

Purple Skittles (grape): A light red like the 2006 Grignolino Del Monferrato Casalese
why it works: The subtle fruit flavors of this wine matched up well with the chemical grape flavor.
 
Cracker Jacks: 10 year or older St-Joseph Blanc (Marsanne and Rosanne)
why it works: The waxy walnut quality of the older San Joseph matches nicely with the caramel peanut and the piquant sweetness of the kernels. Well-made San Joseph Blancs will carry their acidity throughout their life to cut through the snack's sweetness.
 
Ben and Jerry’s Everything But The… ice cream: 15-to 30-year old Madeira
why it works: It was nice to have a warm dessert wine to contrast the cold ice cream. This flavor has so much going on but the Madeira matched up well with the Heath Bar, chocolate, peanut butter and almonds. An older Madeira works better because you want a lower-alcohol wine with ice cream and the alcohol levels are much more tempered in older Madeiras.

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