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Chips and Salsa Wine Pairing!

We all have those days where we just want to plop down on the couch, pop in a DVD or Netflix, and just inhale massive quantities of junk food for hours on end.  And yes, this includes me. If I actually ever had a day where I wasn’t out-of-control busy, I could re-watch the entire series of Breaking Bad or, being a Philadelphia Eagles fan, watch the entire last NFL season on DVR and grub like crazy. For those who have the time to relax, gather up your remote and your Snuggie, and let’s enjoy this edition of the $20 Couch Potato:  Chips and Salsa.

Chips and Salsa

We all know what chips and salsa taste like, right?!  The chips have a touch of greasiness that offsets the crisp texture and a scattering of seasoning from the salt and pepper or other flavorings used by your brand of choice.  Salsa can come in a variety of flavors and spices, too, ranging from mild versions to some that a fiery hot.  The texture can be thin or chunky, pureed tomatoes or full of diced onions or corn or mango or black beans or…. You get the idea.  For this particular pairing, we’ll narrow things down and stick to On the Border Tortilla Chips dipped in a thinner style of mildly spiced salsa.

The Approach:  Find the right wine to pair with the salty crunch of tortilla chips and the lingering heat of a mild salsa.

The primary ingredients of tortilla chips:

  • Tortilla chips
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • Frying oil

The main ingredients in basic salsa:

  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Jalapenos
  • Cilantro
  • Lime juice
  • Lemon juice
  • Garlic
  • Salt and Pepper (To Season)

Scanning the ingredients above, I’m looking at citrus (acid), salt, spice, and oily, crisp textures.  To find our perfect pairing, let’s consider all the possible varietals and see how they measure up:

Salt and Tannins (drying sensations) do not mesh.

When paired with a dish high in salt, the drying sensation of tannins will cause the pairing to be bitter, and a burning sensation occurs. This rules out high-tannin wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc.

The acidity from the salsa plus the saltiness from chips meshes best with wines with less alcoholic warmth.

The combination of vegetal acidity from the salsa and the saltiness of chips, if paired with very warm alcohol-feel wines, can cause the flavor to explode with burning sensations in your mouth. We now have to exclude a whole slew of high alcohol wines, including:

Reds:  Zinfandel, Malbec, Tempranillos

Whites:  Chardonnay, Marsanne, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio

Sparkling:  Cava, Champagne, Franciacorta (the Italian version of Champagne)

Here are the remaining possibilities:

Red:  Grenanche and Pinot Noir

White:  Gewurztraminer and Riesling

Sparkling:  Moscato and Prosecco

Residual sweetness is a good match for a dish’s spiciness.

Basically, combining sweet and spice makes everything nice. Two of our remaining wines lack that necessary sweetness: sorry Grenache and Pinot Noir, off you go.

The Final Clue: The right wine must have enough acidity to match the acidity of the chips and salsa.

Salsa’s acidity is relatively moderate, meaning it causes your mouth to lightly salivate without imparting too much burn, and it needs to be paired with a wine featuring similarly moderate acidity. Here are the acidity levels of our remaining wines:

Low Acidity: Moscato

Medium Acidity:  Riesling

High Acidity:  Prosecco

The winner…Riesling!! Riesling has the right amount of acidity, alcohol-based warmth, sweetness, and softness to match with both the tortilla chips and the thin, lightly spiced salsa.  The wine I picked is the Starling Castle Riesling from Mosel, Germany in the 2012 vintage.  It’s about $8 – add in the cost of chips and salsa and you’re still well under the $20 Couch Potato limit.  Enjoy!


Mario Luna

Certified Sommelier

“Wine Education for Real Life!” Starling Castle Riesling from Mosel, Germany 2012

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