Girl Scout Cookies and Wine: Into the Heart of Darkness
The horror! The horror!
Hi, I got your voicemail. We've been inundated with calls about pairing Girl Scout cookies with wine. We can't send you samples.
That was the word from the Girl Scouts of Greater New York. I'd called hoping to score some cookies, which hadn't yet gone on sale in NYC. I had to test a theory.
"We paired Girl Scout cookies with wine and the results are amazing," proclaimed one of several articles that had been bouncing around Twitter. With the blessing of a trained sommelier, this piece suggested that Samoas would taste wonderful with a glass of aged Rioja. The wine's coconutty flavors, from years of rest in toasted oak barrels, would create beautiful synergy with the cookie's flaked coconut coating.
My theory: This advice amounted to oenological malpractice, and the somm who suggested it should be carried off to wine jail.
Why? Nearly every recommended wine was dry, meaning it contained little or no sugar. And in my experience, desserts make dry wines taste sharp and harsh and completely terrible. This effect is well documented, and it's not exactly hard to notice. You don't need a trained palate, just a tongue.
Or so I'd always thought, but maybe there were exceptions. Did Girl Scout cookies have magical pairing powers? I sat down with executive wine editor Ray Isle and wine intern Shadia Alame to test the following combinations, all of which were suggested on other websites.
Trefoils with Champagne
An inauspicious start. The Champagne itself was terrific—brioche-y and bright in a way I could imagine working with a buttery shortbread cookie. But a bite of Trefoil changed the game, turning the wine alarmingly sour. "It's like sucking on a lemon," said Ray. I felt I'd done violence to my palate.
The pairing might not have been so disastrous if our source material hadn't specified that the cookies be eaten alongside a Champagne made with no added sugar. This type of wine, called brut nature or brut zero, is known for a sharp attack. Food usually softens that hard edge, but a sugary cookie, we discovered, amplifies it.
Score one for classical pairing theory. Score none for our mouths.
Savannah Smiles with Sancerre
This pairing actually hurt. Sancerre is citrusy, which was the rationale behind pairing it with a lemony cookie, but it's also bone-dry and extremely acidic. And here was a cookie with its own puckery acid. The result: double-insane acidity. Pure pain.
Here, we paused and decided that these pairings couldn't possibly have been tested. As Shadia put it, "I don't believe anyone could have tried these and said, mmm, that's good."
Do-Si-Dos with Zweigelt
A Do-Si-Do is a delightful peanut butter sandwich cookie, and a Zweigelt is a pleasant, lightweight Austrian red that tastes like fresh berries and spice. Why put them together? A site that will not be named suggested that doing so would produce "the ultimate, adult-ified peanut butter and jelly treat." It did not. Mercifully, because the wine was lower in acid than the whites, its effect wasn't quite so unsettling—just unpleasant. "It's not as bad of a pairing as the first two, but the wine is gone," said Shadia.
Samoas with Red Rioja
A shared coconut note couldn't save this pairing. The wine and cookie matched aromatically, but I don't know anyone who sits around sniffing Samoas. In our mouths, the caramel and chocolate erased the wine's fruit flavors, leaving only abrasive bitterness. Discomfort levels were back on the rise.
Thin Mints With Brunello di Montalcino
"That sucks too," said Ray. "That sucks more than the Rioja." Indeed, we'd made an interesting discovery: Tannic reds are especially unpleasant with chocolate. Add mint, which created an unfortunate toothpaste-and-orange-juice effect, and we had our most disgusting combo yet.
Tagalongs with Amarone della Valpolicella
"I'm doing it again, just to remember for the rest of my life," said Shadia, once the dust had settled on what we agreed was the real worst pairing of the day. I wasn't up for tasting this awful combination a second time, and Ray felt he didn't need to: "It just goes on and on," he said. "It's bad and it just keeps going, being bad."
There it was, empirical proof that these pairings were moronic. Why were they so consistently terrible? Sweetness is powerful. When you eat sugar, your palate adjusts. Suddenly, a wine that might have tasted like ripe fruit tastes like hell.
Sugar is the problem, but it is also the antidote—so long as it's present in the wine itself. After giving our palates a moment to recover, we opened a lineup of sweet wines in hopes of discovering something that didn't taste completely revolting with Girl Scout cookies. Our findings:
Semisweet Relief: Savannah Smiles with Off-Dry Riesling
Even a little sugar gives wine a fighting chance, we found. Though our Kabinett Riesling (a 2012 from Schloss Saarstein) had just more than a hint of sweetness, that was enough to make a lemony wine work with a lemony cookie. Not brilliant, but not bad.
Actual Deliciousness: Trefoils with Moscato d'Asti
Moscato d'Asti is no stranger to cookies: In Italy, it's common to drink with biscotti. So it wasn't a surprise when this sweet, fizzy wine delivered our first unmistakably enjoyable pairing. Trefoils are all butter and vanilla, which turned out to be the ideal plain, bass-note flavors to accentuate the wine's bright peachiness. Bonus: This was a terrific Moscato, the fresh, vibrant 2014 La Serra from Marchesi di Gresy.
Surprise: Samoas with Sauternes
Sauternes owes its fame to botrytis cinerea, an ugly fungus that attacks grapes in a misty little pocket of southern Bordeaux. The result is a sweet wine with deep, marmaladey flavors. It's no obvious match for chocolate, but it turned out to be very good with the Samoa. Because our Sauternes (a 2010 from Château Coutet) was aged in new oak barrels, it had the coconut-highlighting effect that had been promised with the Rioja. And because it contained 154 grams of sugar per liter (an especially high level for Sauternes), it refused to be bossed around by a cookie.
Versatility Award: Do-Si-Dos and Tagalongs with Madeira
We'd suspected the peanut butter cookies would mesh with Tawny port. And they might have, had our Tawny not been a dud. We swapped in 5-year Malmsey Madeira by Blandy's and found the fortified wine's nutty, toffy-ish flavors to be delightful with both the Do-Si-Dos and the Tagalongs. (It was also terrific with lemony Savannah Smiles. If you're going to pair just one wine with cookies, make it Madeira.)
If You Must: Thin Mints with PX Sherry
No cookie presented a greater pairing challenge than the Thin Mint. It was bad with Madeira, bad with Sauternes and really bad with the lighter dessert wines. My hopes had lay on funky, herbal Barolo Chinato, but the cookie just boosted its bitterness.
Table-sugar sweetness, dark chocolate and mint turned out to be a perfect storm of problematic components. No wine could play well with these flavors. The only thing to do was blow them up, so we called in the nuclear option: Pedro Ximenez Sherry, which is among the sweetest things you can put a glass. It did its job, obliterating any hint of Thin Mint from our palates. This was a kind of success.
However: PX smells like prunes, and as mentioned, it is punishingly sweet. If you don't enjoy drinking it, what's the point?
The truth is that Thin Mints taste good with coffee. Crazy as this might sound, some Girl Scout cookies aren't meant to pair with wine.
To find Girl Scouts selling cookies near you, visit girlscoutcookies.org.