By Nan McCreary
You’re sitting in the Champion Wine Garden enjoying a glass of your favorite wine, and you catch aromas of smoked meats, corn dogs, and pizza, mixed in with sweet scents of funnel cakes and popcorn, tempting your taste buds and enticing you to have a bite. But, hey, you’re in the wine garden, so of course you need a wine to go with whatever decadent option you choose. Not to worry. There IS a wine to pair with everything, no matter how outrageous the fare is.
Caveman food abounds at the rodeo: smoked turkey legs, sausage on a stick, corndogs, you name it. For turkey legs, think of that bird on your Thanksgiving table and pair accordingly. Maybe a Chardonnay or a Pinot Noir. Both will deliver high acidity and complimentary flavors to bring out the best of the beast. Hungry for sausage on a stick? Try a full-bodied Zinfandel or a Syrah. Even a bold Rosé can pair well with grilled meats. Now, about that American staple, the corndog. You can’t go wrong with a glass of sparkling wine, a Sauvignon Blanc or dry sparkling Rosé, which will pair nicely with the salty dog.
Cotton candy, funnel cakes, and deep friend everything — Oreos, Snicker Bars, Twinkies, cheesecake, pecan pie — have become staples at American carnivals, and the Rodeo is no exception. When selecting a wine to pair with one of these guilty pleasures, keep this thought in mind: match the sweetness level in wine to the sweetness of the food. If you adhere to this mantra, your options are limited, as there aren’t many wines that can match the decadence of a deep fried Oreo, unless it would be a Ruby or Tawny Port. But fear not. A sparkling wine, for example, can be a match made in heaven for fried and/or fat-laden foods, as the crisp acidity cuts right through the richness and the bubbles cleanse the palate to prepare for the next bite. (A sparkling wine is also great with French fries!) Other choices include a Moscato, a medium-acid wine that gives balance to the sweetness, or a dessert-style Riesling, with fruitful aromas that are a great match for many sugary dishes. Oh, and yes, cotton candy, which for many of us was a rite of passage into the world of carnival food: try it with a sparkling Rosé, and you’ll think you’re drinking a sweet champagne cocktail.
New Kids on the Block
Just when you think carnival food has reached the limit in weirdness, it seems there’s always more room for more gastronomic creativity. The new Bacon-Wrapped Pork Belly on a Stick is an over-the-top option for all carnivore-loving carnival goers. Pork belly is a very fatty dish. Toss some bacon around it and it’s even more fatty. Call it bacon-squared. For pairings, try a Sauvignon Blanc as a pleasant contrast, a rich red wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon, which can match the powerful flavor or, for a sure bet, try a sparkling wine, the goes-with-any-food option that never fails to please. For foodies who enjoy sweet ‘n savory combos, there’s the new Donut Chicken Sandwich, a deep-fried chicken filet served between two fresh glazed donuts. Since fried chicken and champagne — or any sparkling wine — is a classic pairing, go for a bubbly to drink with this new addition on the midway. Not only does the wine cut through the of oil, salt, and fat in fried chicken, but the touch of sugar complements the sweetness of the donut. If you’re a pickle fan, try the Pickle Pizza, a fresh baked pizza topped with cheese, spices and dill pickles, or a Crunchy Flamin’ Hot Pickle, a pickle chip, topped with hot melted cheddar cheese, and topped again with Crunchy Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. When selecting a wine for the pizza, remember that “pickles” is the operative word here. The salty, briny flavors of the pickles call for something light, crisp and fruity, such as sharply flavored Pinot Grigio, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or dry and slightly fruity rosé. If you opt for the Flamin’ Hot Pickles, you’ll scream for a wine that calms down the heat. That could be either a crisp white wine, a sparkler or a Rosé.
The choices here are not all-inclusive. With 120 different food vendors on the grounds, you could probably spend an entire week at the Rodeo and not try everything. Just remember, whatever your dining or snacking pleasures, there is a wine for each of them, and those wines are all available in the Champion Wine Garden.