My Fast Food & Wine Pairing Experience: Pancheros

After reading an article recently about pairing fast food options with wine, I decided to try my own version to see if it was even worth attempting to pair in my opinion.  I decided that I would like to try the concept of fast food pairing with some of my favorite carry-out options.  I want to test a spicy Chinese dish with a Rose, a local fried chicken joint with a barrel fermented Chardonnay, a local pizzeria pairing as well as a burger pairing from the local dive bar that dishes out some fabulous, juicy burgers and hand-cut fries.  My first experiment was with one of my go-to lunch/dinner on the run stops, Pancheros.

One evening I stopped at Pancheros Mexican Grill and bought a steak and carnita burrito with chips and salsa for dinner.  For those of you unfamiliar with Pancheros, it is similar to a Chipotle.  They make their own homemade tortillas and press them fresh when you order and load up the burrito with your choice of proteins and fresh vegetables (along with the typical rice and beans). In a word, delicious. On my drive home, I decided that I would try to pair it with a red wine that I had at home.  Upon finding a Tempranillo on my shelf, I decided to go for it. The Tempranillo was from Spain, the burrito derives from Mexico.  They speak Spanish in both countries.  That seemed like enough reason for me to pair them.  In all seriousness, I thought the flavors from this wine would compliment the pulled pork in my burrito.  This pairing did not fail me.  The particular wine I purchased was fairly weak in intensity, but the savory spice flavors in the wine married with the acidity of the pico de gallo and chips as well as the fresh veggies and meat in the burrito.  I would definitely put this combo together again!

Villa Antinori Toscana “Super Tuscan”

Villa Antinori

Toscana “Super Tuscan”

(Tuscany, Italy)

On Bottle/Website:

* 60% sangiovese, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 15% merlot, and 5% syrah

* ‘Villa Antinori’ have been made under the Chianti Classico DOCG till 2001

My Notes:

Appearance: clear, bright, garnet, rim variation, high concentration, medium viscosity

Nose: clean, medium minus intensity, pepper, dark berries, leather, tobacco

Palate: dry, medium bodied, young, licorice, smoky, leather, low acidity, low alcohol, low tannins

There is no law that regulates what grapes are used in a Super Tuscan.  In my mind, this can give the winemaker a bit more freedom in mixing different varietals to make something spectacular.  To my knowledge, the term “Super Tuscan” used to be used more infrequently to denote a high quality blended wine from the Tuscan region.  Now, it seems, that any blend of wine from the region slaps the label on as a marketing tactic.

After shopping for a baby gift for my cousin, the younger girls wanted to eat at The Olive Garden.  I am not a fan of chain restaurants in general, especially this one, but I can manage with the soup, salad and breadsticks.  I purchased a glass of this wine and was not impressed.  Maybe the ambiance skewed my perception, but I hardly thought this wine was worth the label “Super Tuscan” and I’m fairly certain the actual label does not even qualify it as such.

Folie a Deux Zinfandel

Folie a Deux



(Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California)

On Bottle/Website:

* Intense, juicy and jammy

* Bright raspberry and blackberry fruit with black pepper spice

* Lightly blended with of Petite Sirah to enhance color and mid-palate flavors

* 14.3% alcohol

My Notes:

Appearance: clear, bright, ruby/garnet, high concentration, rim variation, ruby on the edges, medium plus viscosity

Nose: clean, medium, medium minus intensity, younger dried fruit, black cherry, blackberries, cinnamon

Palate: dry, medium bodied, spicy, fruit confirms nose, medium alcohol, low acidity, medium tannins, short finish, low complexity

Chandon Brut Classic Sparkling Wine


Brut Classic Sparkling Wine


On Bottle/Website:

* Made using méthode traditionnelle, this wine goes through second fermentation in the bottle

* Made from the traditional Champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier

* Displays apple and pear flavors and aromas with a hint of spice that leads to a soft, dry finish

* Recommended to refresh the palate when eating salty, creamy, or nutty foods such as Caesar salad, fried calamari, oysters, or fresh sashimi and sushi

My Notes:

Appearance: clear, day bright, clear/light straw, low concentration

Nose: clean, medium intensity, pear, apple

Palate: Off dry, medium bodied, fruit confirms the nose, medium alcohol, medium minus acidity, medium plus finish, medium complexity

This sparkling wine tasted divine with the creamy, decadent crème brulee and strawberries that I paired it with for dessert.

Alamos Red Blend


Red Blend (Malbec, Bonarda and Tempranillo)


(Mendoza, Argentina)

On Bottle/Website:

* Displays deep, ripe flavors of blackberry and plum with layers of brown spice

* Vineyards lie in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, with intense sunlight and pure snowmelt water

* Embody the richness of this rugged, remote region

* 13.5% ABV

My Notes:

* Appearance:  clear, day bright, medium intensity, ruby/garnet, purple rim, medium plus viscosity

* Nose: sound, clean, medium intensity, aroma/youthful, dark berries, blackberry, brown baking spice

* Palate:  dry, medium bodied, confirms nose, medium plus alcohol, medium intensity, medium complexity, medium length

When I purchased this wine I was on my way to a friend’s house to enjoy a rigatoni dish filled with fresh garden vegetables.  I wanted to pick up a Malbec from Argentina to pair with this meal.  I recognized the Alamos bottle from a review I had recently read and struggled with the choice of the red blend or full Malbec.  Although I do not put a large amount of stock in wine ratings, as everyone’s tastes are subjective, the sign about this particular red blend getting a high rating from Wine Enthusiast did sway my decision.  It was a slightly older vintage than the Malbec, while also having Malbec as the primary grape varietal, so I thought I would take a risk.

I am glad that I purchased this bottle because we were both very pleased with the smooth, slightly spicy taste.  We had a difficult time pinpointing the actual spices, even after clearing out her spice cabinet and comparing the aroma in the wine with the smells of the different spices.  It was a great refresher in one of the tasting exercises I have completed about olfactory acuity.  Ringing in at just above ten dollars, I will certainly purchase this wine again in the near future.  It paired very well with the tomato, basil and other vegetables in our dish.

Wine & Food Pairing Tip: Aged & White Wine

I am a firm believer that everybody should eat and drink what tastes good to them.  That simple.  Every person has a different palate.  Every person finds different tastes pleasurable.  Find what makes your tastebuds sing and go with it! That being said, there are many wine and food pairing tips that work beautifully for the majority of the population.

When the wine is aged and white:

* Serve with dishes that feature similar flavors (nuts, sherry and dried fruits) to mirror the flavor profile.

* Compensate for the lost acidity in the mature wine with acidity in the dish (a squeeze of lemon or a splash of vinegar).

Toasted Head Chardonnay

Toasted Head



(Dunnighan Hills, California)

On Bottle/Website:

*Brilliant, gold straw color

* Pears, citrus, apple blossoms, lemon, toasty coconut, peach, pineapple and cinnamon

* Barrel fermentation and aging on the lees contribute a creamy mouth feel and toasty finish

* Tastes great with poultry, seafood in a lemon-butter sauce and creamy pasta

My Notes:

Appearance: clear, bright, gold, low concentration, no rim variation, low viscosity

Nose: clean, medium intensity, youthful, oak, white flowers, peach, nuts, honey, spices, mushroom

Palate: dry, medium bodied, peach, red apple, banana, honey, spices, mushroom, medium alcohol, medium acidity, medium plus finish, medium plus complexity

This is a solid wine that was smooth, mild and enjoyable.  It did not pair well with seared rare ahi tuna (which I assumed would be the case!), but I perceived a hint of honey and sweetness in the wine after eating.

Tasting Exercise: Alcohol Levels

My goal while learning about different wines is to become proficient in all of the aspects of tasting.  There are a plethora of tasting exercises that can be completed to help accomplish this goal.  This week I will be focusing on learning about alcohol levels in wine.


* Pour one low alcohol (9.5% to 11%) white wine with no residual sugar (Mosel Kabinett Trocken, Muscadet) and one high alcohol (14% to 16%) white wine with no residual sugar (certain New World Viogniers or Chardonnays) side by side knowing what they are, then in a blind fashion five times.  There should be a low alcohol and a high alcohol level.  Repeat five days in a row.

* Repeat exercise with a Beaujolais Villages versus a Dry Creek Zinfandel or a Sancerre Rouge versus an Amarone della Valpolicella.

Ruffino Aziano Chianti Classico

Ruffino Aziano

Chianti Classico


(Tuscany, Italy)

On Bottle/Website:

* Ruby red, vibrant & inviting

* Sangiovese based wine from the Chianti Classico region

* Sweet violet, red berries and wild cherries with slightly spicy undertones with hints of rosemary and tobacco

* 13% alcohol

My Notes:

Appearance: clear, bright, ruby/garnet, high concentration, rim variation (ruby on the edges), medium/medium plus viscosity

Nose: clean, medium minus intensity, jammy fruits, raisin, blackberry, raspberries, black cherry, dark fruits

Palate: dry/off-dry (a bit of sweetness in the aftertaste), fruits confirm the nose, tobacco, leather, saddle/cowboy scents (no brett), medium alcohol, medium minus acidity, medium tannins, medium plus finish, medium complexity

I tried this Chianti with a mini-burger and it was too strong for the ground beef.  It would be more suited to a heavy pasta or an Italian dish with spices that can hold up to this wine.  It was also quite fruity without many spices to hold up on its own.

Stone Cliff Winery, Dubuque, Iowa

The atmosphere of Stone Cliff Winery, located in the Port of Dubuque, is more reminiscent of a bar than a wine tasting room.  They offer multiple beers on tap as well as bottled beer and their selection of wine.  I initially opted for a pint of local craft beer for my first drink, as I have already tried their wine and have established my opinion.  I decided later to do a tasting for research purposes and record my impressions.

Stone Cliff offers five wine samples for $5 and for an additional $2 you may purchase the tasting glass.  I prefer dry wines, so I sampled the one dry white and one dry red that they offered.  Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes do not grow in the climate we have in Iowa, so I am curious if they use these actual grape varietals or simply call their dry white a Chardonnay and their dry red a Cabernet Sauvignon because they are recognizable to the general population.

One of my friends that I was drinking with warned me that he and his wife had tried the Chardonnay a few weeks earlier and it was not dry, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the semi-sweet nature of this wine even with the heads up. There was a strong alcohol taste in the finish.

The Cabernet was certainly not what I would describe as full-bodied, as it was labeled on the tasting list. The wine had such a low concentration that I could read the tasting menu through while assessing the appearance of the wine.  It had a jammy, dark berry quality.

The Riesling was more on the sweet side with a hint of cooking spice flavors.  I tried to pinpoint it, but I am still not knowledgeable enough about spice scents to be proficient.  No one else at the table was able to nail down the spice flavor, either.

The Moscato was cloyingly sweet for my tastebuds.  There was a hint of cotton candy flavor to it.

The Red Fox was a semi-sweet that was a bright apple red in color.  It tasted of concord grapes and current berries.

The Strawberry Rhubarb was a sweet fruit wine that reminded my of a Jolly Rancher.  Although I don’t like rhubarb, I was told that the flavor of it wasn’t overpowering and it added a nice touch of tartness to the wine.  I surprisingly enjoyed it, although it was too sweet for me to drink much more than a few sips.

They also offer many other fruit wines, including appleberry, sweet cherry, sweet cranberry, spiced apple and a sweet concord wine.  The tasting menu is heavy on the sweet wines, very light on dry or semi-sweet offerings.

The location of Stone Cliff Winery is ideal, as it is situated right along the Mississippi River with an amphitheater area outdoors.  It is a good live music venue and offers nice outdoor seating for patrons.