What wine should you drink with latkes? The classical answer is Champagne, and for a number of very good reasons. It has plenty of acid to cut through oil, the bubbles cleanse your palate and as star sommelier Rajat Parr notes in his book, Secrets of the Sommeliers, fried foods and sparkling wines echo each other in texture: The wine's abrasive bubbles feel similar to the crackly crispness of the food, creating a satisfying effect that's hard to beat. Our research (a.k.a. the F&W Digital Team's first annual Latke Pairing Party) for the most part bore this out. But we did discover the optimal sparklers for creamy versus sweet toppings, as well as an incredibly delicious, non-sparkling match for salty, fishy toppings like smoked salmon and caviar. Here, the best wines to pair with latkes according to your preferred accoutrements.
The wine that paired best with crème fraîche and sour cream was also the top performer overall. The 2009 Woodenhead Naturale from Sonoma's Russian River Valley is a fruity, high-acid sparkling wine whose crisp dryness made it delicious with the richest latke toppings. This is a tough bottle to find, but a similarly dry and delicious California sparkling wine to try would be Schramsberg's 2009 Blanc de Noirs. This might also be a good moment for a Champagne in the trendy, somewhat contentious non-dosé (no-sugar-added) style. Tarlant's Zero Brut Nature bottling is well-regarded.
When smoked salmon and sturgeon caviar were added, a still white did best: François Pinon's 2010 Vouvray Trois Argilles. This is a demi-sec (semi-dry) wine made from the Chenin Blanc grape in France's Loire Valley, and its rich, waxy texture and lemon-zest sweetness were spectacular with the salty, oily fish. Other good Vouvrays should perform similarly. Look for the 2011 Marc Brédif or 2011 Domaine Huet Le Mont Demi-Sec.
Applesauce changed the game. Sweet foods have a tendency to make dry wines taste sour, and while the very fruity Woodenhead didn't suffer much, most other bottles on our table did (including a variety of still whites, ciders and even the Vouvray, which wasn't sweet enough in this instance). One selection that held its own was Mionetto's ubiquitous, tasty NV Prosecco. It made a case for Prosecco, which typically has higher sugar levels than most sparkling wines, as the easiest, cheapest great match for latkes. Another good bottling to try is the NV Riondo Spago Nero.