Pairing Wines With Fast Food

We all remember the famous last scene in Sideways when the film’s lead does down a first-growth Bordeaux in a plastic cup at a fast-food restaurant. For the record, McDonalds in France also serves beer: so there really is a case for creative pairings of wine with fast food.

So, when I came across the pairings that the London-based wine blogger Georgie Fenn I was interested in some of her suggested pairings on which she has been collaborating with Tastecard, a British diners’ club. I am always interested in what can make my chicken tikka or a great burger taste better. So, I sent a few questions across the pond and here’s what Fenn had to share. All responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Liza B. Zimmerman (L.B.Z.): What made you take on this project?

Georgie Fenn (G.F.): I love making wine more approachable and fun. Making decisions about wine pairings, or even choosing wine in a restaurant is still, for some, really intimidating. I’ve worked in bars and restaurants, I have witnessed so many people ask for ‘white wine’ no matter what they’re eating and if you hint at a more specific style or grape, up come the defenses and out comes ‘Pinot Grigio.’

L.B.Z.: Who created the pairings?

G.F.: Tastecard provided me with the food options of some of the U.K.’s favorite takeaway dishes and I provided the pairings, simply going off previous experience of what I know works and also what isn’t too hard to come by in shops or online.

L.B.Z.: Why have consumers found fast food/non-Western food pairings so challenging with the wine?

G.F.: I don’t know if it’s that they’re challenging or if it’s that people approach wine with the same headspace as fast food. They pick what’s easy and what they know they’re going to enjoy, because they want a straightforward evening at home. The thing is, looking at wine consumers on a whole, the vast majority of these people drink Sauvignon Blanc, which really isn’t going to taste all that great with a spicy curry.

L.B.Z.: Is this changing and if so, why?

G.F.: I definitely think people are exploring the world of wine more and getting braver. I think this has been helped by social media and people like influencers who make it more light-hearted. A lot has got to be said for supermarkets though, as their wine offerings are always growing in diversity. You can pop to your local now and find wine from Romania at under £6 (about $8) which is actually incredible. With this low price point its low risk and encourages people to be a bit more adventurous.

I also think that the pandemic really forced people to get comfortable at home and so the fast-food culture took on this whole new meaning and became pretty much a luxury. It only makes sense to add fine wine and some ambience to the scenario. 

L.B.Z.: Did you do taste tests to see what worked?

G.F.: Yes, a lot of them are already my go-to wine pairings. Especially the Gewürztraminer: everyone I have introduced that wine to with a curry has become a fan.  

L.B.Z.: Do you think those dishes are available in all countries: certainly some of them—like Chelow Kebab—aren’t common in the U.S.?

G.F.: Gosh I’m not sure – there will be some like Cookie Dough ice cream that is big-time now right? Takeaway food/fast-food in my experience are very much culture related and quite area specific so I can’t really speak for the U.S. at all because it is just so vast. Tastecard made sure that the options are very generic favorites like pizza and curry. I’ve tried to keep the descriptions open to lending themselves to other dishes as well.

L.B.Z.: Do people generally think that wines don’t work with these dishes?

G.F.: It’s not that wine doesn’t work with these dishes, it’s just perhaps that the marriage between the wine and the dish could be improved. You’re basically asking someone to risk their perfect night in with a strange wine, it’s a big ask, but I truly believe it will pay off if they take a leap of faith with some of these pairings.

L.B.Z.: Talk me through the chicken curry and orange wine pairing…

G.F.: In London particularly, natural wine is having a real moment. This chicken curry in this instance was coming from a Caribbean restaurant where the flavors are going to be huge. With wine you pair like with like a lot of the time, rather than opposites and orange wines are known for their boldness.

L.B.Z.: How is a pairing like hot wings with a Kabinett impacted by the sauce that might be on the wings?

G.F.: If anything can stand up to a hot sauce on some wings it’s a Riesling Kabinett. The sweetness of the wine will turn down the heat and make the whole experience more enjoyable for you and your tongue.

L.B.Z.: Who came up with cookie dough and demi-sec pairing? It is over the top…

G.F.: Guilty. I just think if you’re tucking into a tub of cookie dough ice cream the irony of having some demi-sec on the side will elevate the occasion and make you feel all fancy.

L.B.Z.: Do you think the folks in Champagne will be offended by the chicken burger and Champagne pairing? And why should they perhaps not be (as it might help their sales)?

G.F.: That’s a good question. Maybe, but it’s almost quite fun to annoy the folks over in Champagne occasionally isn’t it? I think they secretly enjoy the angst we give them, and Champagne just loves carbs so lends itself so well to all things fast-food really.

L.B.Z.: Have you come up with any standard rules about types of cuisine (Indian, Chinese) and food pairings? Or types of sauces?

G.F.: Yes, I think very much stick to the like for like rule. So, when it comes to Indian food where there’s lots of spice go for more off-dry styles. Same with Chinese, you’re looking to compliment the flavors rather than compete with them.  

L.B.Z.: Do you plan to do more of these?

G.F.: I have really enjoyed working with Tastecard and I absolutely love the chart they’ve put together; it was certainly well received on my blog. As a whole, I’m always championing lesser-known wines and encouraging people to be a bit braver. You know, there is no better feeling that getting a message from someone with a photo of a wine you’ve recommended saying they’ve really enjoyed it.

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