I’ve been an open fan of popcorn and wine—together—for a long time. Pour me a round, appley Chardonnay with buttery popcorn, and I’m a happy camper. Make it a zippy sparkling Chardonnay, a Blanc de Blancs, and I’m your slave for life. So no one can rightly call me a wine snob when it comes to toasty kernels. Still, the news that a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc producer—one I’ve been a fan of in the past—was touting its wine as the perfect partner for popcorn, gave me a bad case of the shudders. Even more, the wine company (Kim Crawford) had teamed up with a popcorn maker (Populence—really?!) to “infuse” kernels with Sauvignon Blanc for the ultimate match. Maybe it’s the intrigue of disaster, but that sort of vinous lunacy has to be tried at Sunset.
Cork pulled on the cold Sauv Blanc, assistant travel editor and stalwart tasting cohort Aislyn Greene pried the lid from the tin of popcorn. Wow, yellow! That’s going to need a Chardonnay, I thought. But this was no rich, butter yellow conjuring greasy-hand pleasure. It was fluorescent, shiny yellow, lemon Starburst yellow. Avoiding the yellow challenge for the moment, we tried the wine: Kim Crawford 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand; $16). Beautiful. Racy and refreshing citrus rounded by a touch of the tropical—kiwi, pineapple, passionfruit—and mouth-watering crushed rock. “An eye crinkler,” Aislyn called it; she meant it in a good way.
But to the challenge we rallied for. A bite of the popcorn isn’t reassuring. The Sauvignon Blanc “infusion” turns out to be more of a sweet glaze, with lemon flavor in spades but zero Sauv Blanc. A sip of the wine restores the shudders and confirms not so much a rule, but something that’s just true: Any time your food is sweeter than your wine, the wine goes sour and astringent. And this puckery, tart wine (perfect for any hot day this month) was trashed by the glazed corn.
To be fair, we tried the popcorn with two more great SBs: Roth 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (Alexander Valley; $15), with lovely aromatic lemon blossoms wrapped around pear, apple, and roasted pineapple (that last picked up by Aislyn’s perceptive palate), finishing with limestone minerality. And finally Merry Edwards 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (Russian River Valley; $32), a concentrated, complex, oak-kissed mix of litchi, lemon curd, and pear—for the white Bordeaux lover. Nothing doing. The popcorn was just too sweet for dry wines.
But to be even fairer, we tried all three with a couple of more promising snacks. “Sweetly” White Cheddar Kettle Corn was much better—its saltiness balancing the wines’ citrus (you want salt on the rim of your limey margarita, right?). But that “sweetly” part punched up a tiny sour note in all the wines. It was Sour Cream & Onion Pirate’s Booty that rescued this tasting—an herbal, tangy love fest all around. The wine that won? The Roth Sauvignon Blanc: a Goldilocks of a match.