The Ultimate Wine & Chip Pairing Showdown

26 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

The event was almost a year in the making:  a one-versus-all challenge for pairing supremacy, putting the food-matching skills of eight local wine enthusiasts to the test against a backdrop of one of the more ubiquitous (and delicious) foodstuffs to grace a pantry.  Through extensive research and experimentation, and more than a little trial and error, we sought to answer the question: what wines pair best with the most common flavours of potato chips?  And who could best elevate a chip flavour with a pairing match that ticked all the right boxes?

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Here’s how our game was played.  After some market research, we first agreed on the top chip flavours that would participate in the competition:  BBQ, Salt & Vinegar, All Dressed, Sour Cream & Onion, Dill Pickle, Ketchup, Jalapeño Cheddar, and Bacon.  (A couple notes on these flavours:  1. “Plain” is not a flavour.  It has to HAVE a flavour to BE a flavour.  2. Americans, I don’t want to hear any complaining about All Dressed – it is a pantheon chip and no chip-based contest is complete without it.)  We were then each randomly assigned a chip flavour as our pairing muse and were tasked with finding the perfect pairing for that chip.  When we gathered together, we tasted through each flavour one at a time (again in randomly drawn order) and graded each potato chip/wine duo out of 10 on the strength of the pairing only:  the individual merit of each wine and each chip were disregarded, and the only question was how well they meshed together.  The top average score out of 10 took home the prize (which was nothing, other than eternal bragging rights and a pervasive sense of wellbeing).

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I should add before diving into the results that potato chip and wine pairing is WAY harder than you might think (and that the bulk of the articles that you can Google on this point almost surely did not go as far as to actually taste their recommended pairings with their chips), as once you put glass to lips with a bowl of chips you realize it does not quite unfold as expected.  With very limited exceptions, potato chips are crammed full of bold, potent, concentrated flavours meant to pack a punch, which can lead to them overwhelming many a potential pairing match that might otherwise be complimentary from a flavour perspective.  Chips also contain an array of particularly exaggerated spicy, sour, sweet and/or salty notes that can pose pairing challenges on their own, let alone in combination (or, in the case of All Dressed, which features ALL of these flavours at once, in accumulation).  A successful chip pairing wine is either one that has the firepower to match the lab-tested amplitude of Old Dutch’s natural and artificial flavours, or one that can do enough to comfortably neutralize them and provide some palate relief without getting lost itself.  Neither are easy targets to hit.

Below I will set out (in the order that the tasting took place) each brave contestant in this inaugural PnP Wine & Chip Pairing Showdown (complete with Twitter handle), their assigned bag of fried potato destiny and their vinous gladiator.  Then I will include a brief explanation of basis for the pairing and the thought process behind it in each competitor’s own words, before assessing how it all worked out in practice.  Finally, I will reveal the outcome of the pairing in question, both on my personal ballot and in the overall official group tally.  You will see that my scores tend to be lower than the group’s across the board, which is more a personal reaffirmation of the difficulty of the mission on my end, a confirmation that a perfect processed potato pairing can be elusive.  Without further ado — let’s eat some chips. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tips & Tricks: Pairing Wine With Chocolate, Part 3

14 10 2011

In case you have scrupulously avoided this blog for the past couple weeks and missed it, Part 1 of this mammoth super-post talked about the general principles applicable to pairing wine with chocolate and made some guesses as to which wines might make winning choco-combos; Part 2 put three dry red wines to a taste test only to see all of them fail more or less miserably; and tonight’s Part 3 moves away from dinner wines and reveals whether dessert wines (and a beer, for good measure) fared any better with dark chocolate at the tasting night I held with wine friends Brian, Tyler and Farrell earlier this week.  In parallel with this PnP saga, Victoria Kaye, the chocolate distributor who put the wheels in motion on this train of thought by sending me a care package of free Xocai brand chocolates with instructions to wine-match as I saw fit, has been providing the chocolate’s perspective on this whole thing on her blog XoXoXocai — click here for her reaction on the first part of the Pop & Pour taste test, which includes some tasting notes on the various chocolates that gave themselves up for a good gastronomic cause.

Cork Ratings, Wines #1-5 (in order): 0.5/10, 2/10, 7/10, 4/10, 3/10. Not such a stellar lineup.

To refresh your memory, by the end of Part 2 of this post, Wines 1 through 3 were wishing that they had been passed over as candidates in this study:  the 2008 Alias Cabernet Sauvignon (Calfornia) was the worst of the bunch, netting a chocolate Compatibility Score of 25%; the 2005 Modern Wine Project Malbec (Washington) had fared (literally) twice as well but still barely scraped a passing grade at 51%; and the 2008 Colaneri Cabernet Franc (Niagara) proved to be the most polarizing wine of the night, attracting my fiery hatred and tasting like tomato soup but still (somehow) pulling out 50%.  Starting with Wine #4, we ditched the dry wines and moved to those sweeter reds that were initially predicted to be the best chocolate matchups.  It may have been that we were in a better mood after downing the three bottles of wine that preceded them, but the dessert wines did not disappoint. Read the rest of this entry »





Tips & Tricks: Pairing Wine With Chocolate, Part 2

12 10 2011

5 bottles of wine, 5 pounds of chocolate: let the extravagance begin!

In Part 1 of PnP’s review of potentially stellar wine and chocolate matches (click here to read it if you missed it), we went through the boring stuff:  general wine/food pairing rules, hand-wringing about how chocolate was going to be a difficult match for most wines, and intellectual guesstimating about what bottles actually might stand a chance at being a good pairing.  If you want to save yourself 1500 words or so, I thought a sweet intense red dessert wine seemed like the best choco-match but committed myself to testing out some dry reds too in the name of exploration; given the hypothesis that fruity, intense, not overly tannic reds would win the day, I decided to give Europe the cold shoulder and stick to the New World for dinner wines.  With all the hard academic stuff out of the way, last night I got to the fun part:  sitting down with some good friends, opening an insane amount of high-end chocolate, cracking 5 bottles of wine (and a bottle of beer for good measure) and doing 4+ hours of taste testing, just for you.  Huge thanks to the noses, palates, knowledge and intuition of my trusted friends Brian, Tyler and Farrell, whose impressions and conclusions are all over this post and without whom this exercise would have seemed much more lonely and pathetic.

Our official choco-pairing tasting lineup featured a California Cabernet Sauvignon, a Washington State Malbec, a Niagara Cabernet Franc, a dessert wine from Banyuls in Southern France, a vintage Port and a dark craft beer.  I’m going to write up our experiences with the 3 dry reds tonight and leave you in suspense about the dessert reds and the beer for a couple more days…like every moderately good movie idea, I’m stringing this out for at least two sequels.  The only unfortunate part about this approach is that you may be too depressed after reading the below to want to come back for Part 3, so I will foreshadow a bit and promise that the wine/chocolate matchups DO get better.  Just not tonight. Read the rest of this entry »





Tips & Tricks: Pairing Wine With Chocolate, Part 1

2 10 2011

How you know you’ve made it as an amateur blogger:  when somebody sends you free chocolate.  Me, as of this week?  Made it.

The (few) perks of writing a free blog.

One of this site’s dozens (OK, dozen) of loyal subscribers is Victoria Kaye, an Ontario-based marketing guru, freelance writer and distributor of the Xocai lineup of chocolate products.  Victoria is a blogger in her own right, regularly churning out insightful posts about her unique choco-wares at her site XoXoXocai.  I took particular notice of this site not only because it shares a platform affiliation with PnP (holla WordPress!) but also because it so happens that Victoria and I started up our respective blogs within a week of each other at the start of March 2011…as I’m continually reminded, it’s a small world full of strange coincidences.  Victoria actually first stumbled across Xocai chocolates as a guest at a wine tasting, and since then has been wanting to delve further into the intricacies of pairing wine with chocolate; the chocolate package I received was conditional on my attempting to respond to this very issue.  Well, chocolate received and mission accepted!

Wine and chocolate is a pairing that seems to have been universally sold as a match made in heaven (if Hallmark cards, romantic getaway packages and any Valentine’s Day episode of any TV show in history are effective barometers of these kinds of things).  In reality, however, I have a hard time envisioning there will be even a handful of wine styles that will truly form a mutually-enhancing match with most types of chocolate.  Even before I started looking into this in detail, I thought that chocolate had two key characteristics that would severely restrict the number of wines that would taste good with it:  it’s sweet and it’s distinctive.  Dry wines generally don’t match up well with sweeter foods, and foods with individual and assertive flavours automatically narrow their pairing options because they’re incapable of simply being a blank canvas that can be fleshed out by multiple different wine choices.  There are assuredly some truly symbiotic wine matches for chocolate out there, but my guess is that they’re few and far between.  Of course, that’s not going to stop me from trying to find them.  The goal of this post is to narrow down what to look for in a potential chocolate pairing, after which I’ll go buy a few likely candidates, recruit some willing volunteers, then take a bullet for all of my dear readers by eating a lot of chocolate and drinking a lot of wine to find out what tastes good with what.  The results of my strictly-for-science tasting night will be posted shortly after its completion (i.e. as soon as I come out of the sugar coma). Read the rest of this entry »





Tips & Tricks: What Wine Pairs With Spicy Food?

31 03 2011

There are a million and a half rules about food and wine pairing.  Some of them are good, common sense (i.e. match the body of the wine with the heaviness of the food); others are simply worn out dogma from times gone by (i.e. red with meat, white with fish).  I think there is a ton of flexibility built into putting the right bottle of wine with the right meal — there are a few clearly wrong choices in most situations (no Pinot Grigio with steak, unless you want the taste experience of drinking $23/bottle water with your T-bone) but multiple different routes to a successful food/wine match…in most cases, anyway.  When it comes to spicy foods, your options get a lot more limited. Read the rest of this entry »








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