How low can you go? 

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The wine world is notorious for being a bit stuffy. Somms proudly spout vintage variance factoids tableside, and they do matter (a lot), even if you can’t stop your eyes from glazing over. But the trouble is in the translation. Taste is simply storytelling. And, as with life, it’s not better for its complexity, but for its balance. The best food is often simple food, and if you trace most bottles back to their roots you’d be hard pressed to find more humble origins.

The world of pairings has been left in a rarefied realm and ever-sprawling tasting menu prices that could double as mortgage financing aren’t the answer. So, let’s connect the dots. It’s time to embrace the understated indulgence of easy eats paired with badass bottles.

A brief interlude for some winesplaining, just so we’re speaking the same language:

Acid: The fresh, tart and sour taste that makes your mouth water.
Tannin: Makes your tongue feel “dry” and can be mouth-puckeringly bitter; mostly in red wines.
Body: How “weighty” a wine feels in your mouth - think skim milk, 1%, 2% and whole.
Dry: A wine that has no residual sugar or isn't sweet tasting. “Trocken” is German for “dry.”

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Lay’s Sour Cream & Onion Chips | Guiberteau Saumur Blanc 2022

Chips are universal. Flavors may vary across time zones, but everyone can relate to being elbow deep in a greasy sack of crisps. Despite the recurring disappointment of never being as full as you want, popping that bag is a nostalgic ritual with deep ties to every sense. Savoring the mushroom cloud of sweet carby fats and factory flavor fumes (polypropylene, for the nerds), you can almost hear the bell ring for lunch. But, you’re a grown-up now, which means you can have adult drinks to match. (Feel free to wipe the grease on your pants, still… we won’t tell mom.)

Enter chenin blanc (shen-in-blanc): specifically Guiberteau Saumur Blanc 2022, which tastes like you cracked open a beehive and found it filled with salty yellow apples, straw, dandelions and ocean rocks. This dry French chenin has stratospheric levels of minerality, always hits with roaring waves of acid, and has the benefit of yogi-level concentration.

Why it works: The chips and wine are mirrored in their salty, savory, herbaceous qualities. The acid from the wine sings a beautiful duet with the tang of the chip, washing down the bite and leaving your mouth watering for the next salty snack.

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Fish fry | Stein Palmberg Riesling Kabinett Trocken Alte Reben 2021

If you’ve lived in Rochester longer than half a second, you’ve likely enjoyed the local Friday delicacy that is a fish fry. Perhaps you’ve even found yourself in a heated debate of breaded versus beer battered (beer battered or kick rocks, in our opinion). As you walk into the greasy spoon of choice, those scents of seasoned flat top and fryer make you salivate. By the time you get that oily bag in hand, you’re weak in the knees. After applying a liberal spritz of lemon (and tartar sauce, duh), you dive in. With each bite, the crispy exterior yields a tender, flaky interior — savory and slippery, tinged with the faintest wisp of salt from the sea.

To borrow an expression from the kids, the Stein Palmberg Riesling Kabinett Trocken Alte Reben 2021 rips. It’s a dry Riesling with enough acid to make your teeth chatter, and sipping it feels like flying a kite in a lightning storm while cresting a 50-foot tidal wave. Except the wave is made of lemons, limes, and green apples, and your surfboard is a slab of smoky slate. (Pro tip: drink riesling with everything. It’s truly a pairing dream date.)

Why it works: The weight and texture of the wine are the perfect dance partner for the light, flaky fish. The electric acidity of this dry riesling cuts through the fried-fatty-greasy goodness like a Ginsu and cleans up the bite better than your favorite party guest. The fruit in the riesling, coupled with a fresh squeeze of lemon, is chef’s kiss.

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Zweigle’s red hot | Régnié Guy Breton Beaujolais 2021

The hot dog is a rite of passage at BBQs and ballparks nationwide. Catch a whiff of dogs blistering on a charcoal grill and the scent of crispy pork skin enters your skull like a homing device. The interplay of textures from the bun’s soft chew to the satisfying snap of sausage never gets old. Condiments, the very essential ensemble of flavor, are highly contested amongst enthusiasts. Haters will write off ketchup as a child’s condiment, but sweet and salty have enjoyed a long history of playing nicely together. Top it off with that perfect squiggle of tangy mustard and that little red ween is a trifecta of Americana delight.

If the wine is red and it says beaujolais (boh-jhoe-lay), the grape is gamay. This light-footed BoJo leaves you floating on a cloud of red raspberries, rambling roses and woodland mischief. So easy-drinking and fun that it practically evaporates, leaving you with a spicy, mineral laden aftertaste from a bottle that went down way too fast. Kick it up a notch by popping it in the fridge while the charcoal heats up.

Why it works: The fresh, bright, humming acid and red fruit flavor of the wine begs for the salty savory hot dog blanketed in sweet ketchup and zippy mustard. Gamay has low-ish tannin, but packs enough of a punch to go toe-to-toe with a dog.

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Smashburger | Scar of the Sea Syrah 2022

The smell of a sizzling burger is unrivaled in its seduction, and the practiced motion of flipping patties takes you back to simpler times. There’s some kind of magic about patties gleaming down to their crispy edges and blanketed in melty cheese. Sinking your teeth into a burger is a special kind of primal indulgence. The way you grip those buns (firm, yet gentle), juices dripping down your elbows, is pure serotonin. It’s a time capsule of nostalgia — the savory richness of beef, the velvety cascade of cheese, the creamy embrace of [insert condiments of choice] and, finally, that pop of pickle. Let yourself slip into bliss. You have arrived at flavortown.

This syrah flexes with food. It tastes like fertilizing a blackberry bush with brined olives, cracked black pepper, and fresh herbs while a guardian angel showers you with purple wildflowers. It’s grown less than a stone's throw from the ocean, so add a kick of salty sea breeze and ocean tar. Buyer beware; one bottle won’t be enough.

Why it works: The broad tannin, crisp acidity, and medium body of the wine clear away the charred, drippy, fatty power ballad known as charred meat and cheese. The peppery undertones add complimentary flavor while the tang of pickles and tomato enhance the wine's fruity autotune.

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Bugles | Red Tail Ridge Pinot Noir Rosé Pet Nat

In the clandestine corners of culinary exploration, where the avant-garde meet the unexpected, resides a humble-yet-intoxicating snack: Bugles. These conical corn snacks are seemingly born of a whimsical marriage between a corn nut, a Funyun and a wizard’s hat. The initial airy crackle gives way to a toasty cornchip crescendo. With its woven golden ridges, the Bugle embraces saltiness and the hollow core just begs to be filled with dip (or fingers).

This pet nat is all red fruit and flowers. One sip is a rocket ride to the moon, if that rocket is fueled by fresh raspberries, cranberries and roses. Your co-pilot feeds you strawberry candies that came from the bottom of Granny’s purse as you float on cloud nine. Spoiler: this style of wine is slightly bubbly, like champagne's kid cousin.

Why it works: Sometimes, opposites attract. The bright, red fruit in the wine is a perfect foil for the fake onion, corn nut flavor of the snack. The lush velvety feel of the body and bubbles roll over your palate and there’s just enough crisp acid to tie it all together. It just works.

When it comes to pairing wine and food, half the fun is trying different combos and seeing how they land for you. For each of the pairings above, we selected accessible, quality wines that can be purchased locally. Check out Pinnacle Wine & Liquor to snag some bottles for your own pairings (or parties).

Ian Criticos and Abby Quatro are freelance contributors to CITY. Feedback about this article can be directed to [email protected].
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