Put down the pate and pass the popcorn


Hoity-toity treats may be what comes to mind when thinking up snacks to go with wine, but you really can enjoy vino with something other than artisan cheese, foie gras and chilled caviar.

Try nacho chips, Cheetos, pretzel twists, mixed nuts and microwave popcorn. These snacks and many others aren’t just for beer or soft drinks anymore.

Don’t believe it? Just consider these snack and wine recommendations from Chicago wine experts.

• Doritos with a “big, sloppy” zinfandel works for Tracy Lewis Liang, wine director of Treasure Island Foods.

n Animal crackers with Oregon pinot noir is a go for Larry Ellis of Antioch Fine Wines & Spirits.

n Snyder’s of Hanover pumpernickel and onion-pretzel sticks with a Carneros pinot noir makes for a happy Robert Owings of Arlington Height’s Vintages.

n Garrett’s buttered and cheese popcorn (heated in the oven and drizzled with truffle oil) with any sort of sparkling wine pleases Brian Duncan, wine director of Bin 36 restaurant.

And, for me, lightly salted Goldfish crackers swim winningly with everything from New Zealand sauvignon blanc to California syrah to Spanish Rioja.

What may horrify wine snobs the most is just how well champagne and other sparkling wines work with snack foods, including pizza.

“It cleanses the palate, so the last bit of pizza is as dynamic as the first,” Owings said. There is something about a sparkling wine’s mix of fruit, acidity and bubbles that helps cleanse the palate so the last nibble is as dynamic as the first, Owings said. He even likes sparkling wine with pizza.

So does Alixe Lischett of Cabernet & Co. in Glen Ellyn, Ill. He pairs Perrier Jouet champagne with barbecued chicken pizza.

“The yeastiness of the champagne really plays well with the slight sweetness of the barbecue sauce,” he said.

Anything fried is particularly well-suited to anything bubbly, according to Duncan. The bubbles enhance that butter sensation in the mouth, he said.

Of course, the shock value of sparkling wine paired with snack foods can’t be overlooked, especially when it comes to social situations. Something unexpected always livens things up.

“There’s this cultural bias, hard to overcome, that says wine, champagne in particular, needs something nice to go with it,” Owings said. “Snack food is a great angle, people should consider it.”

Not that lively is always a good thing. Ellis’ animal crackers idea did not sit well with the representative from Rex Hill, a winery known for pinot noir, at a tasting seminar.

“The winery rep felt they would make the pinot taste too bitter because they do have a lot of sugar to them and asked us not to serve them,” Ellis recalled. “But, I still feel it is a pretty nice match. They remind me of the cracker/cookie that is often served in tasting rooms in California.”

Liang thinks a wine that gets into the informal spirit of most snack foods is a good choice. “Something in a jug,” like Three Thieves zinfandel, would be “fun” with Cheetos, she said.

Schaefer’s routinely pairs wine with snacks at the Skokie, Ill., store’s weekly tastings, said wine consultant Barbara Rooks. The “snack” tends to be more along the lines of a store-made artichoke dip rather than junk food.

But Rooks admits to a weakness for salt and pepper flavored potato chips. These chips “pair up pretty darn well with a smooth Aussie shiraz, something along the lines of The Gatekeeper, which has great black fruits and hints of pepper and earth but comes off as smooth as can be,” she said. “Add a “chick flick,’ and I’ll be all set.”

Rooks’ experience underscores an important point. It’s vital to get into the spirit when serving wine with popular snacks. No need to go for pricey or extravagant wines, just look for fun wines to enhance your fun mood.