By Laina Carter of McGrail Vineyards
With a global pandemic and a shelter-in-place order came economic recession and unprecedented job loss in the United States. As a result, what became a necessity for American people was comfort and frugality. Said need for comfort and frugality can be satiated in many forms, but food usually tends to be the most favorable for many Americans, myself included. The reality that many people living in the United States have lost their jobs as the result of a global pandemic was our team’s inspiration for this series of fast food/takeout pairings that are as delightfully delicious as they are inexpensive.
The idea that good wine has to be paired with fancy food is, quite frankly, crap. Even the cheapest, greasiest fast food can be perfectly complemented by a great glass of vino. Please allow me to walk you through one of my favorite projects yet.
Did you eat all this fast food on your own?
I can imagine how someone might be concerned with my health after this project, as this is clearly a lot of fast food for one person to consume. Please rest assured this project took place over several weeks and I did not consume a single item featured here on my own, nor do I eat fast food regularly. I almost always brought the remaining bites to the winery to hear our team’s take on the pairings.
Did all the pairings work?
For transparency, I’ve included some pairings at the end that just didn’t work. Expecting a food item to pair with a wine is like playing an educated guessing game. You can use the rules of pairing to make your choices, but not all pairings will work out the way you might hope. Even when you’ve encountered a pairing failure, you’re left with a bottle of delicious wine and something greasy to eat. Things could be a lot worse.
Now for the Pairings…
Patriot Cabernet Sauvignon & Wendy’s Baconator
Like I mentioned before, I don’t eat fast food all that much, so when I asked for the Western bacon cheeseburger at the Wendy’s drive-thru, I could tell there was some confusion surrounding my order. I suppose I meant to pair this wine with Carl’s Jr.’s ~famous~ Western Bacon Cheeseburger, but luckily, Wendy’s Baconator barbecue cheeseburger stepped in and filled its shoes. This BBQ bacon cheeseburger-Cabernet combo is quite the catch. The burger has enough fat and flavor to not be overtaken by the tannins of this smooth, but bold wine. It doesn’t get more patriotic than this duo. I mean, seriously, what’s more American than a BBQ bacon cheeseburger from a fast food joint?
McGrail Family Chardonnay & KFC’s Famous Bowl
You’re probably wondering what the heck a Famous Bowl is comprised of. That’s fair. I didn’t know either. A Famous Bowl is a few scoops of KFC’s mashed potatoes, a spoonful of gravy, a healthy amount of corn, some shredded cheese, and little crispy pieces of chicken. The Chardonnay meshes well with both the seasonings in the chicken breading and the chicken itself, as well as with the buttery corn and the cheesiness on top. I was surprised at how effortlessly the Chardonnay and the Famous Bowl worked together.
Gracie Sparkling Brut & Jack in the Box Curly Fries
For some reason I feel like food from Jack in the Box is always just slightly greasier and crispier than food from other fast food places, not that it’s a bad thing. What I love about these curly fries is that the shape is super fun, but they’re also coated in some kind of magical seasoning that makes them tastier than the average fry. It’s not difficult to get behind this magically flavorful pairing.
McGrail Merlot, Picazo Vineyard & Wienerschnitzel’s Chili Beef Dog on a Pretzel Bun
The meatiness of the combination of the all-beef frank and delicious Wienerschnitzel chili stands up to the boldness of this big, Cabernet lover’s Merlot. Everything is better on a pretzel bun and a chili beef dog is no exception. Somehow the complete amalgamation of this fast and easy take on an American classic complements the acidity and tannins in this French-oak-aged wine. The combo is smooth and just friggin’ tasty.
A Jó Élet, “the Good Life,” Cabernet Sauvignon -OR- Sláinte Red Blend & McDonald’s Big Mac
There were two things that really surprised me about McDonald’s Big Mac. First, I couldn’t actually believe how perfectly fluffy the bun was with the little sesame seeds so neatly sprinkled on top. It was like something from a commercial. Secondly, I couldn’t believe that people actually willingly eat these things. It was the world’s okay-est hamburger. Nevertheless, it’s still a hamburger, which means it will probably pair well with a nice red wine. Luckily, our Good Life Cab and Sláinte Red Blend took care of the job and actually enhance the burger. If you’re a fan of the Big Mac, I’m sorry. Still, check this pairing out for yourself.
Kylie Ryan Rosé & KFC’s Popcorn Chicken with Finger Lickin’ Good Sauce
I know what you’re thinking. Any restaurant that dares use the phrase “finger lickin’ good” is majorly cringey. This pairing worked and it worked best with the unfortunately named sauce (not pictured), as it offered a bit of creaminess, a bit of spice, and a bit of acidity that balanced out those same flavors in this delicious wine. When I had our team try this pairing, they had a hard time figuring out just what the sauce was all about. Cris said it was like a honey mustard sauce and Joy said it was reminiscent of a thousand island dressing. With no description for the sauce on KFC’s website, the true identity of the foul-named sauce remains a mystery. What we do know about it is that it pairs well with our Rosé and I guess that’s all that really matters.
C. Tarantino Cabernet Sauvignon & Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza
One of the things I love most about our C. Tarantino Cabernet is its gorgeous acidity. A wine that is as smooth and drinkable as this Cab deserves to be paired with a dish that is just as lovely. Taco Bell’s Mexican pizza really fit the bill for me. The fried tortillas, creamy refried beans, T. Bell’s mild sauce, the melted cheese, and those teeny, tiny tomatoes create a perfect pairing that simply balances the gorgeous acidity in the wine.
McGrail Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve -OR- James Vincent Cabernet Sauvignon & Foster’s Freeze’s Texas Toast Cheeseburger
Prior to this project, I think it had been a decade or so since the last time I had been to Foster’s Freeze. In all honesty, I didn’t even remember them having anything other than ice cream, so this sandwich was a surprise in itself. I was excited to try this burger because Texas toast is always good. The burger alone wasn’t as great as I had hoped, but I was surprised at how well it paired with these wines. The sandwich was big, buttery and toasty, which allowed it to work with these Cabs. I couldn’t pick a favorite between the Cab Reserve and the James Vincent with the burger, so I’m recommending both. Each wine does a great job of making the sandwich taste better.
McGrail Family Chardonnay & McDonald’s Apple Pie
Did you know McDonald’s has an apple pie? Not many people do. This warm, gooey, classic American pastry pairs effortlessly with our crisp, fruit-forward Chardonnay. The cinnamon, apple, and sweet vanilla in the pie matches each of those same notes in the wine. It’s a match made in apple heaven.
Colton’s Cabernet -OR- McGrail Malbec & In N Out Double-Double Cheeseburger with Grilled Onions
I wasn’t really sure what wine would work best with California’s favorite burger, so I tried more than one. The mixture of creaminess of the spread sauce and the cheese with the acid in the tomato and grilled onions made me think a big, bold Cab might not be the perfect match for this choice cheeseburger. It turns out our old-world-style Colton’s Cabernet and our Malbec are proper companions for the burger, so I’ve recommended both to go alongside it.
Austin James Cabernet Sauvignon & Taco Bell’s Beefy Fritos Burrito
As any of our staff will tell you, Taco Bell is a favorite at McGrail. It’s the cuisine we most commonly crave and are quick to devour on crazy Saturday afternoons at the winery. Like the regular bean and cheese burrito, a staple in the diet of most McGrailians, the Beefy Fritos Burrito also contains the creamy refried beans and cheese and yummy mild sauce. Unlike the regular burrito, this one contains salty, crunchy Fritos chips and the ever-tasty, but undistinguishable Taco Bell beef. The saltiness, boldness, and acid of this burrito tap into all the best parts of our Austin James Cabernet, making it a truly terrific Taco Bell pairing.
McGrail Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve & Habit Burger’s Garden Burger
I really wasn’t sure what wine would work with this burger, but I knew I wanted to include at least one vegan/vegetarian burger. The plant-based patty was surprisingly bold enough to stand up to our Cab Reserve. The burger was actually really good and I was glad to find that this pairing worked as well as it did.
Kylie Ryan Rosé & Popeyes Cajun Fries
Anyone who knows anything about Cajun food knows that it is generally well seasoned and sometimes a little bit spicy; these fries refuse to be left out of this generalization. Like Jack in the Box’s curly fries, these Cajun fries are seasoned to perfection. The flavorful crunch on the outside is met with soft, luscious potato goodness on the inside. The creamy vanilla and slight effervescence in the Rosé tame the bite from seasoning and complements the starch from the potato very nicely.
McGrail Family Chardonnay & KFC’s Mac & Cheese
I’m someone who really loves mac and cheese. It might actually be one of my favorite foods, so I had pretty high hopes for this stuff. By itself, KFC’s mac and cheese was just alright. I think my standards may be more heavily weighted on cheesiness than they are on creaminess, and this dish definitely had more of the latter. It could’ve even just had an off day. I don’t know. However, I’m glad to say it paired just right with our Charlie Rae Chardonnay, 100% of which goes through malolactic fermentation, making it super creamy and buttery. Each matches the other’s elite level of creaminess, which is why this works so well.
Shamus Patrick Red Blend -OR- Malbec & Jack in the Box Tacos
Other than the shredded lettuce and orange-colored oil that permeates through both the shell of the taco and the sleeve in which it comes, I don’t think anyone really knows what the heck is inside a Jack in the Box taco. I guess it doesn’t really matter what you’re eating when you’re devouring these greasy beasts at 2am after a night out. Perhaps this is the question that swiftly and steadily envelops my mind when I’m eating one of these beloved tacos sans four G&Ts. Anyway, it’s hard to hate on these tacos, even when you are stone-cold sober. Our Shamus Patrick Bordeaux style Red Blend is medium-bodied with beautiful acidity that complements whatever it is these tacos are made of. Our super drinkable Malbec works just as well, but is not pictured here. Yum.
Gracie Sparkling Brut & McDonald’s French Fries
McDonald’s has the best French fries. Don’t @ me. They’re crispy, crunchy, salty, and just perfectly greasy. The starch in the potatoes meshes well with the yeast in the method de champenoise Sparkling Brut. Though it’s simple and maybe boring to some, this pairing is easy, classic, and it just works.
Sláinte Red Blend -OR- A Jó Élet, “the Good Life,” Cabernet Sauvignon & Foster’s Freeze’s Chili Burger with Cheese
As I mentioned before, I don’t think I had been to Foster’s Freeze in ten years prior to this project, so I was excited to try try this burger. I chose this chili burger because I figured it would be a safe bet—I think it’s really difficult to make bad chili and because as long as a chili is mild, the acidity will always work with the acidity in a good red wine. And of course I had to add cheese, because you can’t have chili without cheese, or at least I can’t. Anyway, this burger was actually pretty darn tasty and it seemed to really pair best with both our Sláinte Red Blend and our A Jó Élet, “the Good Life,” Cabernet Sauvignon (not pictured).
Peyton Paige Sauvignon Blanc & Wienerschnitzel’s Jalapeño Poppers
One of the most common pairing rules says that crisp blush wines and white wines, like Sauvignon Blanc, can and should be paired with spicy foods. Ten percent of our Sauvignon Blanc was fermented in neutral oak barrels, which lends this wine a creamy mouthfeel; this helps to tone down the spiciness from the jalapeño and meets the creaminess of the mozzarella inside these fried poppers. This is just a really nice partnership.
James Vincent Cabernet Sauvignon -OR- McGrail Cabernet Sauvignon & Habit Burger’s Char Burger
I actually think this was the first time I’ve ever had a Habit Burger burger and I’ve got to say this flame-grilled burger was perfection. I think the fact the burger was charred gave it a certain toasty-ness that allowed it to stand up to our big, delicious Cabs. Again, I couldn’t choose which one worked better, so I’m going to suggest pairing it with either the James Vincent Cabernet or the McGrail Cabernet Reserve. This was a really just well-rounded, classic pairing.
Charlie Rae Chardonnay & Popeyes Spicy Chicken Sandwich
Remember a few months ago when these spicy chicken sandwiches were all the craze? Like, people would be queued up for hours just to get their hands on one of these babies. Honestly, it was probably worth it. These sandwiches are incredible. The buns are so soft, buttery, and toasty. The chicken is crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. The spicy mayonnaise and pickles tie the sandwich together and it all tastes even better with our delightfully buttery Charlie Rae Chardonnay. This might be one of my favorite pairings ever.
What Didn’t Work:
Sláinte Red Blend & a Wienerschnitzel Corn Dog
I chose to try this pairing because I had read somewhere that corn dogs can be paired with a Grenache or lighter-bodied red wine. Even though Sláinte is our most delicate red wine, the flavors ultimately just clashed. When I brought the leftovers to the winery, our Assistant Winemaker suggested pairing the corn dog with a Chardonnay, which was definitely a more suitable pairing. I can also imagine the corn dog being great with our Gracie Sparkling Brut.
McGrail Malbec & Habit Burger’s Tri Tip Sandwich
I really wanted this one to work, but for some reason it just didn’t. I think this was not a compatible pairing because there was a creamy sort of sauce on the sandwich and a semi-sweet teriyaki sauce on the meat that didn’t agree with the Malbec. We also tried it with the Sláinte Red Blend and it was slightly better than with the Malbec, but I think some foods just aren’t good for pairing with wine. Still, I will say this was my first time trying this sandwich and it was SO GOOD. The ciabatta bread was buttered and crispy, the meat was super tender and moist, and the flavors of the entire sandwich combined perfectly. And, of course, the Malbec will forever be one of my favorites.
That’s All, Folks!
As always, please let us know if you try any of these pairings, if you come up with your own McGrail wine and fast food pairings. We’d love to hear from you!
Cheers and enjoy!