When I landed in Napa seven years ago, what I noticed almost immediately was the preponderance of techno wine geek speak. Walk into any Wine Country gathering, and snotty wine phrases abound‑a point that has driven me to mock wine description one-liners on more than one occasion.
As my time in Napa Valley wears on, I’ve caught myself tossing around some hoity-toity wine talk of my own. I’ve also stooped to swirling and sniffing my glass with the best of them. Over Christmas I went as far as uttering the words “malolactic fermentation” in front of my parents, who laughed at me, then cornered my husband to see if he was to blame for my not-so- flattering-metamorphosis into a “wine snob.” Granted, these are the same folks who keep the boxed wine industry in business, but still. At the top of the year, as I plowed through yet another rank and file wine/food pairing experience that not surprisingly ended with the resident dark chocolate/Cabernet crescendo (which felt as staid and stuffy as the high-tech wine lingo that went with it), I realized I’ve had enough of fluffy wine talk and boring wine-and-food pairings. It was time to do something about it.
The next day, I discovered that my ability to conjure exciting wine and food combos may be limited, given the lack of gourmet food to be found in a house brimming with three-year-old toddlers and the people who feed them. One hokey pokey into our Friday night dance party weekend, I reach for a glass of Guenoc Sauvignon Blanc. After four rounds of dancing, I take a wine break. In the short moment that it took me to go to the fridge and pour, my twins managed to paint each other and part of a wall with Cheetos’ dust. But instead of whipping out the wipes as I so often do, I indulge in a pile of Cheetos of my own. As the twins move onto finger painting my shirt and our aging hound with the cheesy gooey mess, I drink more wine. It’s then that I realize I’m on to something: Cheetos and Sauvignon Blanc are the bomb. The lemon and citrus notes (I mean flavors) pair perfectly with the grainy cheese of the snack.
With more junk food at the ready, I grab a fistful of goldfish crackers, another crowd pleaser in our house, and search for a wine to go with them, and land on a Hagafen Cellars Riesling. The acidity of the wine makes the salty fish crackers sing like a songbird, and further enrich this already stellar sip.
As the dinner hour nears, my brood does a tribal dance and demands chicken fingers and Tater Tots. Since it’s a dance party weekend, I oblige. My husband enters and eyes the food and wine outlay. He starts to say something and thinks better of the idea. I pose the ultimate challenge, “What would you pair with Tater Tots?” He pulls out some day-old bubbly as if it’s the most obvious choice, and sure enough it is. The effervescence cuts right through the salt and grease of the tots, making them downright delectable. Or maybe it’s the fact that I am three wines into the ultimate low-brow wine/food pairing extravaganza. My toddlers seem to be wildly entertained by the speed at which I pop a tot and swirl my wine. As I revel in the success of my experiment, the children pillage the pantry and exit with a face full of gummy bears. While the champagne doesn’t taste bad with the bears, I suspect I can do better so I open a bottle of Miner Family Viognier. A bona fide score. By the time dessert time rolls around, I’ve hit my wine-pairing groove and mentally begin to plot the menu for the junk food wine and food pairing party I will most definitely host. When I dole out my tots’ dessert of choice—an old school ice cream sandwich, I barely blink before snagging what remains of a Vineyard 29 late harvest Zin. A winning wine and dessert rolled into one!
While nothing or no one can stop the stream of wine geek speak that flows as freely as, well, wine, at most Napa Valley gatherings, from this point forward, I’ll do my part to flip the switch when it comes to wine and food pairings. As I wipe away the remains of the Cheetos carnage, I can see how one woman’s junk food binge could easily become a wine wonk’s go-to goods.
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