Tam's first report on some of the thousands of food and wine pairings volunteered by laid-off hospitality professionals when they took up our special offer of Purple Pages membership. Popcorn and potatoes dominate this instalment.
At first I thought it was someone just being light-hearted: we’re in lockdown, a pandemic sweeps the globe, I've lost my job, people are dying, we’re all a bit frightened and supermarket shelves are empty, so we may as well grab that ancient bag of microwave popcorn from the back of the cupboard (use-by date Aug 2018) and open the best bottle of champagne in the cellar... Yip, Krug will do.
But as the suggestions flooded in, popcorn and champagne (and then popcorn and Chardonnay) turned out to be A Serious Thing.
Ashleigh Forster, sommelier at SBA (Scotiabank Arena) in Toronto, explained in her entry, ‘Popcorn (‘cause its now a daily thing) and Chardonnay (‘cause it was always a daily thing)’. I looked it up in my bible, Victoria Moore’s The Wine Dine Dictionary. Nope, she missed a trick. No mention of popcorn at all. Let alone the buttered popcorn that Marta Pasierbiewicz from Poland insists should go with R de Ruinart Brut Champagne (‘Hippocrates said: desperate times require desperate measures ? we all need a bit of luxury and cheer up these days, while watching Netflix! ?’, she adds).
I start to think too much about popcorn. Is it because people are watching a lot of TV now? How are people making their popcorn? The old-fashioned way or microwave? Or are they buying ready-made? Salted or unsalted butter? What about vegans? How do you flavour popcorn with truffle? Shavings? Oil? Truffle dust (is there such a thing)? Or are we talking about ready-popped popcorn flavoured straight out of the bag?
Jacques Lacoste, sommelier from Il Terrazzo in BC, Canada, is another fan of buttered popcorn, but he prefers it with oaky Chardonnay (Chateau St Jean from California, if you must). Brian Duffy from Las Vegas agrees – Sonoma Chardonnay is his preference. Helen de Bos from the Netherlands just wants it lightly salted with blanc de noirs champagne and is also thinking along Magda's lines – that it is: ‘for all the binge watchers’. Kirsi Seppanen, who won top sommelier in Finland in 2018 and works for Restaurant Bertha in Tampere, wants blanc de blancs champagne with her buttered popcorn.
Veering off piste and into proper couch-potato territory is sommelier Jennifer Monago (pictured below, in her slippers, she tells me): ‘Just had the 2018 Walsh Family Wine Weatherlea Rosé with Angie's Boom Chicka Pop Cheddar cheese popcorn. Honestly, was blown away. Love to support local VA winemakers and this afternoon snack made my day.’ New York City server Theresa Lee is flying the flag for microwave popcorn and Chardonnay. (Can we sink any deeper into this couch?)
Lauren Yochum from Orlando, Florida, Wine Bar George, at least shakes us out of the Chardonnay rut, suggesting Verdejo (Nisia, Las Suertes Old Vines 2016, no less), but her suggestion of white cheddar popcorn makes me suspicious that this might be another straight-out-the-foil-packet variety as opposed to the pop-it-and-flavour-it-yourself variety. We’re still on the couch. I thought lockdown was supposed to involve some sort of daily exercise. Surely grating cheese would help?
Dan Siegelman (Golden Beach, USA) is clearly the chef among this Netflix-bingeing popcorn-crunching hospitality crowd. His entry read: ‘Far Niente 2007 Dolce with house popped popcorn, fresh shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, toasted cracked black pepper and fennel seed’. That’s a $350 late-harvest wine, if I looked it up correctly. I’d say that’s a lockdown fantasy. I bet the reality is that he’s eating a bag of ready-made fake-cheese-flavoured popcorn with California Chardonnay while watching Code 8 on Netflix right now.
My favourite suggestion was from Maria Lou, sommelier at Grand Cru Deli in Toronto: truffle popcorn and Roche dei Manzoni Langhe Nebbiolo. Perhaps Nebbiolo and truffles is a rather hackneyed theme, but truffle popcorn…? Now you’re talking modern fusion.
When the chips are down
Next in line are crisps. Or are we talking about chips? Or hot chips? Or French fries? You need Google and a Twitter storm to sort all of this out. From what I can work out, what we call crisps in the UK are chips in American, Australian and, perhaps more surprisingly, French. And what we call chips in the UK are French fries in American, hot chips in Australian, frites in French and fritas in Spanish.
Whatever the nomenclature, they are clearly a popular lockdown choice by those laid off by the hospitality business, and mostly drunk with champagne. Are we seeing a pattern here?
But it still leaves us with many other important questions.
There is the question of whether these are thick-cut steak chips or skinny shoestring fries, the firm crispy type or what South Africans call ‘slap chips’ (pronounced slup, and means soft). Does this affect the wine choice?
No one mentioned whether their hot chips/French fries were dipped in mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, curry sauce, vinegar, HP sauce, bone marrow ... surely this would make a difference to the wine you choose? Does it make a difference if the hot chips are cooked in vegetable oil or lard or coconut oil or oven baked? Are cheesy chips better with sweet wines? Please let me know.
Here’s what I did find out – mostly from the American applicants for our complimentary membership offer…
When it comes to champagne pairing, Lays Classic, Ruffles and Kettle potato chips/crisps get special mention. In fact, Patrick Houghton from Mercantile in Denver believes that the match for Ruffles should be Bérêche & Fils, Le Cran Premier Cru 2008. Which flavour of Ruffles, please, Mr Houghton?
However, Astra Marchi, a sommelier from Toronto, has a different take on the chip/crisp pairing: ‘I've been drinking Chablis with Miss Vickie's potato chips all week. It's a perfect match for self-isolation!’ Jordan Mazzanti (again from Canada) is also not a champagne proponent: ‘Dry Riesling and salt and vinegar chips. Quarantine diet!’
Matthew Goodyear of Babbo in NYC believes in sparkling wine but eloquently moves us to volcanic soils. ‘Since we are in times of economic uncertainty, I went with a pairing that reflects such. Kettle brand potato chips with sea salt paired with the Benanti Noblesse Spumante Metodo Classico Brut NV. This sparkling Carricante coming from the slopes of Mount Etna has a bright minerality that pairs nicely with the salty chip while the elegant bubbles cleanse the palate.’
The crisp/chip prize, however, goes to Marcela Colonna, sommelier at The Modern in New York. ‘I love Ch d'Yquem – or any Sauternes – with creamy vanilla ice cream and salty, crispy, Kettle potato chips sandwiches. The acid on the wine matches the crisp on the potato chips (and compliments the salt as well), whilst cleansing the creamy ice cream on the palate. The flavours just continue to evolve... It's just heavenly!!!’ (See photo above. She is rocking those tiger-print shoes...)
Someone else, please try this and let me know!
The almost universal vote for what to drink with French fries (what we call chips in Britain) was champagne – although some less discerning voters would be happy with Cava or indeed any sparkling wine. Jillian Rily (of NoMI, Chicago) and Sander Kink (of Siigur restaurants, Estonia) both feel that fries call more specifically for a blanc de blancs champagne.
If you’re adding fish into the equation, for a classic British fish and chips, several people believe the proper accompaniment should be English sparkling wine (makes sense on more than one level), but Tim Handley, cellar manager of the London Royal Automobile Club, argues for an off-dry Chenin, suggesting Vincent Carême’s, and Mejken Thompson of The Anchor in St Paul, MN, wants Txakoli.
But things get a lot more serious when you’re talking duck-fat fries. Pablo Braida (Compline, Napa) recommends ‘our duck fat fries, served with aioli, and Champagne Michel Gonet Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2011’. Shannon Hill-Sanchez throws sparkling wine out the window. Barolo goes with her duck-fat and truffle fries. Of course. It’s truffle. Does anything else go with truffle?
But my vote goes to Geoffrey Boyd, server at Root 246 in California, who doesn’t even bother with crisps or chips or frites, let alone champagne. His entry was simply, ‘Cabernet Franc with my kid's goldfish crackers’.