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Movie Popcorn vs. Kettle Corn Dessert Pairing

Popcorn… this salty, tasty treat is my secret pleasure.  I can destroy a microwaved bag in ten minutes or devour a large bucket in the movie theater way before the credits start to roll.  While eating these soft, lightly salted and heavily buttered popcorn, I would look like a hot mess.  Anyway, I digress… This blog could be easily one of my $20 Couch Potato recordings because you could slay a bag with a wine pairing while binge watching Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones.  But for right now, I’d rather stay a little classy – at least for the duration of this experiment.

I picked up a bottle of Sauternes (pronounced Sau –tern), a lusciously honeyed dessert wine from Bordeaux, France, and want marry my sloppy and sophisticated sides by finding the best popcorn pairing.  This wine, a G. Chevalier Sauternes, is fairly easy to find – I got mine at Trader Joe’s.  To keep it consistent, I wanted to find two different flavors from the same brand, and after a shopping trip spent salivating over everything in the snack aisle, I settled on Trader Joe’s Brand Popcorn in Movie Popcorn and Kettle corn.  After purchasing all of the components necessary for this experiment, I began to dissect the Sauternes itself:

The color ranges from  gold to dark gold. The fruit aromas offer dry pear, lemon, and fresh apricots while the non-fruit aromas tend to have ginger and honey. Sauternes tend to finish full-bodied (slightly syrupy), medium alcohol, moderate warmth and salivation from the acidity.  There’s pronounced sweet ginger and lemon elements and honey on the finish.

The wine gets its syrupy texture from a natural phenomenon in Sauternes called Botrytis cinerea.  This fungus invades the grape and draws away the water, concentrating the grape’s sugars in the process (if you would like to learn more about this process, check out my Sommelier Mechanics blog called “Sauternes Dessert Wine Production”). This process creates a wine that plays well with the slightly burnt aroma, buttery richness, and light saltiness of popcorn, but which kind of popcorn pairs better?

Movie Popcorn


  • Popped popcorn kernels
  • Salt
  • Light butter
  • Oil prepared on a stove or in a microwave.

Flavor Profile:  Butter and salt dominate up front while the slightly burnt notes and soft texture round out the flavor.

Kettle Corn


  • Popped popcorn kernels
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Oil prepared in kettle iron cask

Flavor Profile:  The salt and sugar balance out beautifully, with the burnt edges and soft texture fading on the finish.

Do you have an idea yet which one wins?  Let’s find out using these four food and wine pairing principles:

  1. Like Attracts Like. Similar qualities work well together, so in this case the sweetness of the wine complements the sweetness of kettle corn. There is no sugar in movie popcorn, so the winner here is clear.  Advantage:  Kettle Corn
  1. Rich Food Needs a Rich Wine (and Vice Versa). Old World wines like Sauternes from France receives less amount of sunlight and cooler wine-growing environment than the long, warm growing season of New World (Outside of Europe) wines.  Sauternes wines offer a syrupy feel but it is not as rich as dessert wines from California, for example.  The rich coating of butter in movie popcorn requires a dessert wine that originates in the United States.  Advantage:  Kettle Corn
  1. Salt + Sweet = Awesome. Popcorn, whether from a bag or a bucket, is salty, a quality that meshes well with the sweetness of a Sauternes. This is true of both the movie popcorn and Kettle Corn, so…  Advantage:  Push
  1. The Proof is in the Plush. Many people judge a food and wine pairing based on the finish, before they even swallow.  This “plushness” happens when the mouth is treated to that umami savory element that makes you smile.  To get to that happy place, the wine requires a type of popcorn that matches its sweetness and richness without masking it with a fuller mouth feel or texture.  In movie popcorn, even though butter creates a richness that meshes with the Sauternes, that almost overbearing heaviness overwhelms more than it enhances while the softer, sweeter, lighter kettle corn does just the opposite.  Advantage:  Kettle Corn

The Winner:  Kettle Corn!! Enjoy your pairing!  Time to watch TV!


Mario Luna

Certified Sommelier

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