Spring is picnic time, and picnicking often means burgers and fries or crisp chicken and paper cups full of fizzy, sticky drinks. Without getting into the hazards and companying it with wine rather than cola, coffee or American beer. Wine can complement the lowliest egg roll as well as slake the thirst, and it deserves its place in a firmament dominated by carbohydrates, processed carnage and sugar water.
Remember, even bad food tastes better with wine. I have a friend, a writer and enophile, who sometimes tastes wine in the back room of the establishment where he has invested much of his latest book advance in bordeaux futures. Sometimes the wine merchant sends out for hamburgers to clear his and his guests' palates. Burgers taste just fine, he says, with youthful Leoville and Lynch-Bages.
Maybe we can't all afford classed growths with second-class food, but then we don't have to. Thanks to an open market and a huge world supply, wine is nowadays so various and adaptable that we can match it with almost anything.
For starters, wine is now available in plastic and cardboard packaging. Most of it is industrial wine, second and third pressings that go into the proverbial jug, but some is of good quality. Monsieur Henri is presently marketing two Italian wines in liter containers, under the name Caraffa D'Oro, for about $2; both are fresh and appealing. The white is trebbiano, for fish and chips or Chicken McNuggets; the red sangiovese, for almost anything.
Here are some strictly personal recommendations, starting with the most difficult, Popeye's fried chicken. I like mine spicy; the heat of red pepper blows away most wines, with the possible exception of a cold gewurztraminer. The gewurz' spiciness stands up (almost) to the pepper and manages to refresh during the assault. Alsace gewurz is best with food, but our West Coast makes some good, cheap ones better suited to this fare.
Chinese takeout tastes just fine with riesling from anywhere. If the food is spicy, go to gewurz. If it's Peking duck, try an inexpensive chardonnay from Sonoma County or a Macon-Villages from France. And spring rolls and white zinfandel might have been made for each other.
Hamburgers present a problem because of the garnish. If you can do without the onion slice, then any robust red will pleasantly wash down a burger. (Not a Big Mac; its goppy sauce is downright unwineable.) Inexpensive chianti is great; so is Bull's Blood from Hungary. Other possibilities are Premiat's cheap Bulgarian cabernet, Australia's Hunter Valley red blends, Argentina's cabs and California's gamay beaujolais or an older petite sirah.
I like zinfandel with barbecued ribs. Caymus Vineyards and Conn Creek Winery both make great ones; they are not cheap and require some age, but they're a lot cheaper than some Napa cabernets and often more interesting. You can also drink a big zin with chili, although the breweries will deny it and most Texans will be outraged. Beer usually goes with the bean, but now that wine is being made in Texas, we will soon be seeing a new matching of Tex-Mex and the hallowed grape.