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Photograph by Michael Amsler

Dirty Dozen

What goes best with Krispy Kreme donuts? Wine pairings for the real world

By Bob Johnson

AS THE PACE of life continues to accelerate, and we seek to strike a balance between our professional and personal endeavors, we find ourselves shopping on the fly and eating on the run. We have become less concerned with what we put in our bodies than in getting the meal over with and moving on to our next computing class, conference call, or soccer practice. We have become a nation of junk-food junkies. As tech stocks nose-dive, Krispy Kreme skyrockets.

Yet even as we sacrifice quality for convenience, we still seek to embrace elements of the "good life." We want it all, but getting it is restricted by the ticking clock and the deduction-decimated paycheck. Which brings us to the burning culinary question of the day: Is it possible to match junk food with wine? The short answer: Yes. And to prove it, we've put together a Dirty Dozen list of palate-pleasing, time-conserving pairings--a smorgasbord of name-brand and generic junk-food dishes, each accompanied by an appropriate wine selection. We present this list countdown style, with apologies to David Letterman, Casey Kasem, and NASA (not to mention anyone who ever has appeared on the Food Network). . . .

  • McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese Tell 'em to hold the cheese, and you'll not get not only a look of confusion and mild panic as your order taker searches for the appropriate button on his cash register keypad, but a burger that actually tastes more like beef than assorted condiments. Wine match: cabernet sauvignon. Dependable (and affordable) brands: Estancia, Markham, Huntington.

  • McDonald's Filet-o-Fish As the world's leading purveyor of junk food, Mickey D's merits two spots on our "Dirty Dozen" list. Even though the "filet" is smothered in tartar sauce and topped with a slice of cheese (must McDonald's put cheese on everything?), a mild white fish flavor manages to emerge. Wine match: sauvignon blanc. Brands: Dry Creek, Meridian, Firestone.

  • Starbucks Maple-Oat Scone Not only does the McDonald's of coffeehouses have the market cornered on brewed beverages; it also is a leading purveyor of pastries. And even though the Maple-Oat Scone is normally consumed with a Caramel Macchiato or decaf Sumatra, this calorie-intensive snack also can be vino friendly. Wine match: muscat canelli. Brands: Benziger, Callaway, Lava Cap.

  • Jack in the Box Apple Turnover Often overlooked on Jack's dessert menu, this flaky pastry actually tastes like apples. Wine match: fruit-forward chardonnay. Brands: Alice White, Santa Julia, Chateau Souverain.

  • Popcorn Specifically, the kind you purchase in movie theaters for about $49 an ounce, soaked in melted butter or facsimile. Wine match: "California" chardonnay. Brands: almost anything you'd care/dare to pull off the supermarket shelf. Purchasing tip: look for the words "malolactic fermentation" on the back label.

  • Arby's Original Roast Beef Sandwich (Plain) Please hold the Arby's and Horsey sauces. Although still many moons away, this sandwich is about as close as you can get to prime rib in a fast-food establishment. Wine match: pinot noir. Brands: Armida, Saintsbury, Schug.

  • Sweet-and-sour chicken (or pork or shrimp) Regardless of what it smothers, a sweet-and-sour sauce dominates the flavor of the dish. This calls for a slightly sweet (off-dry) liquid companion. Wine match: chenin blanc. Brands: Pine Ridge, Milat, Barton & Guestier (Vouvray).

  • Mrs. Field's milk chocolate chip cookie Soft and gooey when just out of the oven, the milk chocolate morsels melt in your hands--the antithesis of M&M's. That leaves plenty of room in your mouth for an accompanying liquid elixir. Wine match: port. Brands: Prager, Ficklin, J. Filippi.

  • KFC Original Recipe Chicken Has anyone ever figured out exactly which 11 herbs and spices the Colonel concocted for the crust of his fried chicken? No matter. When spices dominate the flavor of the fowl, there is an absolutely perfect wine for which to reach. Wine match: Gewürztraminer. Brands: Husch, Navarro, Mill Creek.

  • Carl's Jr. Western bacon cheeseburger Its zesty sauce and pair of onion rings make this the fast-food version of a backyard barbecue. Both the sauce and the way the beef is cooked--charbroiled--call for a wine with lots of fruit and spice. Wine match: zinfandel. Brands: Sausal, Mayo, Quivira. (Note: When you add mayonnaise to the Western bacon cheeseburger, you create perhaps the greatest menu item in fast-food history. The mayo mellows out the barbecue sauce, and that calls for a wine with a similarly mellow profile: merlot. Brands: Ferrari-Carano, Blackstone, Niebaum-Coppola.)

  • Pepperoni pizza Here is the fast-food choice that has become the last-minute dinner staple of countless families, not to mention a worthy substitute for popcorn on a stay-at-home Blockbuster night. While it matches nicely with "real" zinfandel (the red stuff), we've found it to be even more enjoyable next to a chilled glass. Wine match: white zinfandel. Brands: Shenandoah, DeLoach, Sutter Home.

  • Rice cakes Man, it would have been a hoot to sit in on the concept meeting that produced this suddenly red-hot, and just as suddenly ice-cold, snack. "Let's create a new product: no calories, no fat, no flavor!" It was like selling air. P. T. Barnum would have been proud. Wine match: you name it! Because rice cakes possess no flavor, you can pop the cork on any wine you want, red or white, dry or sweet, still or sparkling. Anything goes. And in the world of wine and food matching, that makes the rice cake the ultimate junk food.

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  • From the July 26-August 1, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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