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Pick Wine for Fast Food

Sunday, September 4, 2005

In the interest of full disclosure, I eat fast food with guilt. I gravitate toward an assembly line meal's stronger flavors, despite knowing I'm often choosing the least healthy option on the menu. To compensate for the large number of deliciously greasy calories, I pass on the fries and the supersize soda. But the lack of a sweet cold liquid leaves me craving something more.

My second confession is easier to admit: I drink strong peppery red wines with just about everything.

Even though I'm an avid reader of wine magazines, a veteran of wine club tastings and known among my friends for my improper thoughts, it still took time for me to concoct the odd idea to combine my two vices: A wonderfully deep fruity zinfandel would be just about perfect with my new favorite mushroom Swiss burger (I'm a sucker for those "limited time" sandwiches, too). The wine's peppery plums, hints of herb and a strong currant nose fit so well with the rich mushroom reduction, subtle creamy Swiss paste and firm sesame bun that for a moment I could not remember the reason they weren't delivered through the window of my car as a packaged meal deal.

"Hi, could I have value meal No. 5? Yes, with the Sonoma zinfandel, unless the chef has a different suggestion. Okay, supersize please."

After a little experimentation, turns out my odd pairing isn't so odd. The current fast food fixation on lighter, fresher foods and spicier sauces is made for a stronger drink. More suggestions for fast-food favorites made to pair with wines that usually cost less than $15:

ARMAND'S PEPPERONI

PIZZA

Wine: 2002 Vina Alarba Old Vines Grenache

Why it works: Armand's uses a fresh tomato herb sauce that melds beautifully with the hot weather Spanish grapes in this fruity grenache.

BAJA FRESH BURRITO

ULTIMO CARNITAS

Wine: 2001 Jacob's Creek Shiraz Cabernet South Eastern Australia

Why it works: This wine is bit more expensive, but its big bold taste stands up well to the savory flavors of this pork burrito chock full of grilled vegetables, cheese, rice and more. If you can stand the kick, add the roja sauce.

CHIPOTLE BARBACOA

BURRITO

Wine: 2002 Wyndham Estate Shiraz, Bin 555

Why it works: This simple woody shiraz complements the jumbo serving of shredded beef, lightly garlicked black beans, wonderful lime-herb rice, cheese, salsa and more. I prefer to drink this with a burrito doused in the tomatillo-red chili sauce but would move to a petite syrah or even a Rioja with the fruity milder roasted chili-corn or tomato sauces.

ROY ROGERS ROAST

BEEF WITH CHEESE

Wine: 2004 Penfolds Merlot Rawson's Retreat

Why it works: A simple merlot for a simple sandwich. See if you can talk the cashier out of a little au jus to really make it a wine-worthy meal. This Penfolds is so versatile that it was a top pick to pair with many fast foods at a recent tasting with the neighbors.

HARDEE'S MUSHROOM

'N' SWISS BURGER

Wine: 2000 Ravenswood Zinfandel Vintners Blend

Why it works: This fruity wine is good at cutting through the fat and adding a little punch to the sandwich. Another option: A simple bordeaux, which would serve the same function with a bit more herb and a lot less fruit.

KENTUCKY FRIED

CHICKEN ORIGINAL RECIPE

Wine: 2003 Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir Yamhill County Cuvee

Why it works: A decent light red, like the simple, balanced Raptor Ridge, works well with the lighter seasoning used in this buttery batter. In fact, most burgundies probably would work well.

QUIZNOS TOASTED

TRADITIONAL SUB

Wine: 2004 Penfolds Merlot Rawson's Retreat

Why it works: Let this wine air out or you'll miss its fruity aromas that blend so well with the Thousand Island-esque dressing on this roast beef, turkey and ham sandwich. Quiznos has a good selection of meats that make most of their subs a great match with darker wines.

TACO BELL

BURRITO SUPREME

Wine: 2003 Vina MontGras Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Reserva

Why it works: This blend, which would go nicely with just about any food with a bit of kick, seems especially designed for the spicy grilled smack-in-the-taste-buds that this wrap's hot sauce provides.

WENDY'S SPICY

CHICKEN SANDWICH

Wine: 2003 Domaine Puech Cocut Merlot, Vin de Pays d'Oc

Why it works: The acerbic, earthy table wine is a perfect pair for the dry spice on the chicken. Most syrahs and some Italian wines would also partner well, but the Puech Cocut tends to be a better bargain.

Matt Hopkins

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