Pairing wine with… Pork Rinds? TastyKakes?

Wine paired with… Pork Rinds?  TastyKake?

It must be the Sommelier Smackdown at the Wine School of Philadelphia!

What is the Sommelier Smackdown?  Well, it is an ongoing event hosted by Keith Wallace and his Wine School.  The Wine School of Philadelphia has educational classes and entertainment-based events centered on all things libational:  in other words, wine, beer, and cocktails.  The “Smackdown” is both educational and entertaining.  In it, 2 wine professionals are tasked with pairing wines to a menu chosen and created by Keith.  These wines must come from a state-run liquor store (operated by our PLCB) and total $60 or less.  The night’s dinner guests taste the pairings and judge which of the wines goes better with the paired food.

This particular event paired two former winners: myself  and Henry Greenly.  Henry is the Wine and Beverage Director at Philadelphia’s Del Frisco’s, and was recently named one of Philly’s top Sommeliers.

As previous winners, we were, well, challenged.

Smackdown Menu

Here is the menu that we received:

  • Pork Rind and Crawdad Chowder
  • Chicago-Style Hot Dog
  • Duck Meatloaf with Tomato Jelly
  • TastyKake Krimpets

Yes, you read that right.  Ok, well, wine goes with everything so why not Pork Rinds?  Why not TastyKakes?

Onto the pairing.

Our wine choices

Course 1

I did need to prepare for this first course by seeking Pork Rinds to figure out how they tasted.  The closest convenience store didn’t have any, but my husband assured me we could find them at a gas station – and we did.

If you have never had pork rinds – not chiccarones, mind, but junk-food-in-the-bag-at-the-gas-station pork rinds – you may not know how they taste.  I will tell you; they taste like greasy air with a hint of something resembling “meat”.  The flavor is subtle, and the experience is really all about the texture, which is fairly light with a strong crunch.  These crunchy bits of air were going to be served with crawdad chowder, which I assumed would have a heavy, creamy texture with bits of sweet, earthy crawfish.

Chateau Mukhrani Rkatsteli

So, we have earthy flavors with a bit of crunch over a creamy, fatty dish.  My first inclination was Txakolina.  I figured that its very bright, clean, mineral and zesty-citrus flavors, coupled with an austere body, would be the perfect foil to the heavy chowder without overpowering the pork rinds.  But, when I tasted the Ttxakolina with the pork rinds I realized that the wine was too austere. I needed the same flavors with a more lush body.  I knew exactly what I wanted:  Chateau Mukhrani Rkatsiteli.  I have written about this Georgian wine before, when I paired it with a Syrian meal.  I was certain that its floral aromatics, vibrant citrus, apple and tropical fruits, and creamy texture would work perfectly.

Henry chose a Tempranillo from Rioja.  Tempranillo is an excellent food wine, and this choice definitely would play up the earthiness of the dish.  It can also stand up to the strong, creamy texture of the chowder.

After having the dish, I preferred the way that the Rkatsiteli cut through the fattiness of the chowder, while adding some needed “brightness” of flavor to the dish.


Course 2

AlasiaI need no introduction to the Chicago-style hotdog.  I have eaten many in their smokey, spicey, sweet, sour, peppery goodness.  Nonetheless, it does pose a challenge for wine pairing!  My strategy here was to walk up and down the wine aisles until inspiration struck.  And strike it did, as I passed a bottle of Alasia Brachetto d’Acqui – Piemonte’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner wine.  This wine is effervescent, has light notes of strawberry, acid to cut the sweetness, and has pretty low alcohol at 5.5% ABV.  In other words, this is the wine equivalent of a strawberry soda.

Henry’s choice of Atlantis Assyrtiko from Estate Argyos or Santorini, Greece gets a big thumbs up from me.  I love the grape and I think Argyos makes fine drinking wines.   The crispness of this wine is a good choice with the hotdog, as is the brine-iness wrought from the vineyards proximity to the sea.

I think these were 2 excellent choices.  Leaving the food out of the equation, I prefer the Assyrtiko.  But, I enjoyed the feel of the Brachetto with the dog.

Want to hear more about the first 2 pairings?  Listen to my chat with Phillip Silverstone in this podcast.


Course 3

Ah, a take on classic meatloaf with ketchup!  This got me thinking about hot, savory, comfort food.  So, I went bold with Nederburg Pinotage from South Africa.  I love Pinotage’s smokey, funky, earthy, dark fruit flavors, its rusticity and its easy-drinking potential.

Nederburg PinotageDomaine de la BastideHenry chose the Domaine de la Bastide Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault.  I had just had a bottle of this myself, and knew it to be an excellent, elegant wine.  Also, I really like the label!

Henry and I were both in for a shock when Keith described the actual dish.  Rather than a hot meatloaf, the “meatloaf” was, in essence, a chilled terrine.  Henry’s Rhone wine worked well as the brighter fruits complemented the terrine and gave slight contrast to the tomato jelly.  My Pinotage was too smokey and heavy for the chilled terrine, and overpowered the subtle tomato jelly.


TastyKake Krimpets

Course 4

ChardonnayOur dessert course consisted of pre-packaged snack cakes: TastyKake Krimpets.  I think I struggled the most with this pairing.  If you are not familiar with the brand, think Hostess or Little Debbie.   Krimpets come in different flavors, but I guessed (correctly, as it were) that Keith would choose Butterscotch Krimpets.  Personally, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and I more often order French Fries for dessert than a sweet pastry.  So, I didn’t want a sweet wine.  Instead, I matched the butterscotch with the warm, baking notes of the lightly-oaked Foggy Oaks Chardonnay from Dry Creek Vineyard.  I was less worried about the slightly-heavy texture, which I thought would work just fine.  And, the wine was on sale!

Sandeman Tawny PortHenry went the opposite route and chose a port: Sandeman’s Tawny Port. On site,  I thought the sweetness would be overpowering, and the mouth too thick.

The port was the better pair.  The sweetness of the wine did complement the Krimpet, and it also had some light vanilla notes and a bit more complexity.  It was also not nearly as heavy in the mouth as I expected.  My Chardonnay just fell flat.  The vanilla and butterscotch flavors of the wine really complemented the Krimpet, but the texture was heavy and there wasn’t enough acid to offset it.

Listen to more about these last 2 pairings in this podcast chat with Phillip Silverstone.

And the winner is…

Henry.  And Jill.  A tie.  That’s right, we both won.

Now, neither Henry nor I got to see the individual sheets, but I suspect that I “won” the 1st two pairings, and that Henry “won” the 2nd two.  Or maybe not.  Who knows?

Thanks to Kylie for the Chardonnay pic and Alex for the Blackboard shot!