The following article was first published as “One Winedrinker’s Opinion” in Volume V, #3 of The Underground Wine Letter in October 1983.
Marrying wine with food is the ultimate. Most people enjoy good food. A very small percentage of the population even enjoys fine wine. And, an even smaller percentage has the ability to match great food and great wine. It is an art. Someday we will write on our favorite wine and food combinations. For now, something more suited to every day fare. When tasting, if the food is too powerful for a particular wine, it’s best to taste that wine and then seek another wine better matched to the food. In this way just the right combination can be found. And when planning a meal, the selection of wine should come first. That is, decide what to drink and then seek out the most complimentary food.
But as serious as these efforts might be there are those times when you want to spend only a minimum of time and effort. Nothing too complicated. But it must be good. A nice bottle of wine, but what to eat with it? Well, we have found an answer. In fact, it is an addiction. What is this substance? Frozen entrees from Girardet to be popped into the microwave and ready in a matter of minutes? Nope. As far as we know they don’t exist. And, if they did, somehow they just couldn’t meet our expectations. Besides what kind of wine would you have? Frozen microwave food might be best suited to packaged wine powder to be mixed with water. Hardly our style. Well, how about a full kitchen staff who have available on a 24 hour basis every concoction known to mankind. Wonderful pigeon roasted slightly to rare perfection. Marvelous fresh truffle ravioli. Souffle potatoes. Geez, this could go on and on. But it isn’t practical. Too expensive for all except sheiks, kings and a handful of other megabucks types. That’s not us either. So what’s left? Nothing, but several thousand items available at the supermarket. Items like canned goods, dairy products, packaged goods, etc. Ah yes, but there’s only one of these things that tastes good with all wines. What is it? Well, first of all it hardly qualifies for most gourmet lists. It’s very cheap. Secondly, not scarce and this goes hand in hand with it being cheap. Recently some great marketing minds have introduced “gourmet” versions at premium prices, but they don’t seem to be any better than the plain garden variety. They do have some “snob” appeal, however. This food is described in the dictionary as a variety of Indian corn with small ears and hard grains, which pop open into a white, puffy mass when heated. White, puffy mass? Geez, if you didn’t know what it was you probably wouldn’t want to eat the stuff after reading this description. But the fact is that humble, unpretentious popcorn is a perfect combination for wine. Just plain. Air popped or, if popped in a pan, with safflower oil. A drizzle of hot melted sweet butter and a very light sprinkling of salt mixed well in a large bowl. Occasionally adding a bit of fresh, grated parmesan cheese to the butter for variety. We can’t get into the exotic popcorn fad that sweeping the country. Too traditional I suppose. But who wants chocolate popcorn? Everyone knows chocolate is lousy with wine!
Keep it simple. This is not stuff for Sunday dinner. You wouldn’t invite the boss over for popcorn. But how about Tuesday night? You want some wine, but don’t want to go to the trouble of preparing a meal. Or maybe you want a snack, but would also like some wine. Aha! Here’s where popcorn comes in. And we have yet to find a wine that it doesn’t go with. In warm weather a light, fruity Riesling is nice or even better; Champagne. Champagne and popcorn is wonderful. In colder weather vintage Port or an Oloroso Sherry is delicious. But, we’ve also enjoyed nearly everything in between. Chardonnay, Cabernet, Zinfandel, Bordeaux and Burgundy. All types of Sherries, Ports and fortified wines. Dry wines and sweet wines. Red wines and white wines. In short, anything that’s good. Remembering that even popcorn won’t save bad wine.
So there you have it. It’s an addiction. Popcorn and wine. But before you dismiss this as a product of demented minds, give it a try. You too could become a popcorn junky. Maybe not everyone’s aspiration but certainly enjoyable, easy on the wallet and unique.
This was my revelation of popcorn as something we’ve often enjoyed with wine. I find it still as valid today as it was way back then.
But, now I would add just a few things. First, over the years popcorn has been marketed just about every way imaginable — microwave popcorn, flavored popcorn, premium-branded popcorn, different varieties of popcorn, etc. In fact, the thing that has now become difficult to find is the plain, yellow popcorn kernels. These have now been “branded” at a huge price premium over the unbranded variety. In my experience, there is no difference. So seek out the unbranded variety, but it may be quite a search. (In our area, try Smart & Final, where it is sold as a house brand at a substantial price discount). Second, microwave popcorn just isn’t as good as freshly made popcorn. And, making the fresh popped variety is very simple and a lot better. In this original article, I talked about air-popped popcorn or popcorn popped with safflower oil. Since then, I have refined the recipe and it is a definite improvement. (See my popcorn recipe in the article, “Movies, Wine, Food and Drink.”)
The wines to have with popcorn are almost endless. Virtually any wine you like is good, but, I would say Vintage Port, Beaujolais, Zinfandel, Champagne, Rose and lighter white wines (think Albarino, Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, etc.) are among my favorites.
And, yes I still don’t like chocolate popcorn. Taken another step further, I also don’t like chocolate with red wine. I know red wine and chocolate has become very fashionable. But, I prefer savory flavors rather than sweet and I do like an occasional bite of chocolate, but I like it on its’ own.
So there you have it. We have offered some ideas for food and wine combinations and will have many more as time goes by. But, always remember there is one great standby that never fails – popcorn and wine!