How to Pair Wine with Potato Chips
So I went to the store the other day in my mask and gloves, and while they did not have any flour, ground meat, chicken thighs, milk, yogurt, or sugar, one thing they did have—and lots of—was potato chips. That works for me, because as far as I’m concerned, potato chips are the ultimate snack food. In general, America seems to agree, since we eat about 17 pounds per person per year, according to the USDA; right now that’s probably headed toward 50.
And—you may not realize this—potato chips actually go well with wine. So as a public service, because one other thing we’re all doing right now is drinking plenty of wine, here are some very valuable coronavirus era-appropriate suggestions for potato chip-and-wine pairings. It’s something you can enjoy even if you’re hiding in a closet with a bandanna over your face right now.
Classic Potato Chips
Friends, one word: Champagne. Salt and fat both love Champagne (and vice versa)—the wine’s high acidity and the prickle of those bubbles are the ideal preparation for the next chip, and the next, and the next, and so on. Want to splurge in your isolated state? Order in a bottle of the complex, toasty Champagne Delamotte Brut Non-Vintage ($60, technically, but you can find it for substantially less). Or, if you don’t feel like splurging for the real stuff, Cava from Spain works the same trick effortlessly. One of the best (even if owner Pepe Raventos no longer labels it as Cava) is the bright, lemony 2017 Raventos i Blanc Blanc de Blancs ($18).
Barbecue chips get their flavor from a weird range of ingredients—honey powder, onion powder, garlic powder, hickory smoke powder, barley malt powder, tomato powder, the list goes on. But one thing that’s common to a lot of them is sugar, believe it or not. Generally, for sweet food you’d pour a sweet wine, but who the heck wants sweet wine with barbecue chips? The better answer is something that’s ripely fruity and luscious; think wines like Napa Zinfandels or Spanish Priorats. Recently at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, back when we still had festivals, I paired Kettle Backyard BBQ chips with the 2016 Embruix de Vall Llach ($25) from Spain’s Priorat—a big, rich, dark red that went like a charm.
Sour Cream & Onion Chips
Whatever it is that chip companies use for the sour cream-ish dust they coat chips with, you’re still going to want a fairly substantial white for this species of chip. At the same time, a little acidity helps, too, otherwise you’ve just got a richness piled on top of richness (like drinking a big glass of half-and-half with your fettuccine alfredo). So try a cooler-climate Oregon Chardonnay that’s unoaked, like the 2018 Chehalem INOX ($23). Or splurge on a really good Chablis, such as the 2017 Laurent Tribut Chablis ($44).
Salt & Vinegar Chips
OK, personally I can’t stand salt and vinegar chips, but lots of people love them, and to those people I say, “We’re all freaked out, eat whatever the hell you want.” I’ll also say that tanginess loves tanginess when it comes to wine pairing (a vinaigrette on a salad will actually make a tart white like Sauvignon Blanc taste less sharp). That’s true for the chip as well. Go for a light, bright, zingy white like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Spanish Albariño. The 2018 Fillaboa Albariño ($18), with its grapefruit and mango notes, is ideal; so is the floral, citrusy 2018 Pazo de Señorans Albariño ($24).
Parmesan & Garlic Chips
Those wacky chip people, always out there developing new flavors. This one appeared from Kettle Chips in February, just in time for me to use it at the tasting I did in Charleston. We paired it with a rosé, because rosé just about goes with everything—it has the freshness of white wines with some of the berry fruit of reds, holding to the middle in a (best case) delightful way. (Worst case, boring and anemic, but let’s stay away from those.) The 2019 Cune Rosado ($12) from Spain is a bit darker than Provençal-style rosés—many Spanish rosés are—but no less perfect for Spring. Or for Parmesan & Garlic chips. Or for long-term social distancing. But really, just buy some rosé and some potato chips and pretend you’re at a picnic. Your spirits will soar. Trust me.
Hot A.F. Spicy Chips
Austin-based Krakatoa Hot Chips is at the forefront of a wave of chip makers taking people's fondness for spicy heat—lots of spicy heat—and turning it into chip form. In the video above, my colleague Hallie Tarpley and I tasted the brand's Mustard's Revenge (Dijon & Cayenne, hot, delicious) and Black Magic (Creole heat & ghost pepper, sorta flamethrower level) with a range of wines. The Mustard's Revenge proved to me that spicy capsicum heat at a fairly high but entirely delicious level is tough but not impossible to pair wine with—a rosé faltered in the face of it, but a fruit-forward, powerful red, like the 2017 William Chris Vineyard's Mourvèdre "Annie's" ($40) from Texas, has the intensity of flavor to work with the chips. The Karakatoa Black Magic chips—which are indeed hot a.f., but mighty damn tasty if you ask me—obliterated every single wine we tried them with. It was like throwing cupfuls of water on a burning building. The answer? Bailey's Irish Cream. Cream, sugar, and alcohol. That's the ticket.