How To Pair Fast Food And Wine Like A Sophisticated Sommelier

In fashion, we have dressy casual, that mix of wardrobe staples that bridges the gap between New York Fashion Week runway fashion and, well, an afternoon shopping experience at the local Gap. In the food world, we have fast-food chic — we just totally made that term up — but the idea behind it is solid. What high fashion sensibilities did for casual clothes, wine can do for fast food. Just as there was once a time when women probably wouldn't have thrown together a pair of Christian Louboutin high heels with 501 jeans, so, too, is it the case that the home sommelier probably wouldn't have broken out the Ghost Horse Vineyard 'Spectre' Cabernet Sauvignon to drink with a Big Mac. 

But why not? We live in an age where identifying as a foodie means letting things slide across our taste buds in combinations never yet tasted. Exploring a food or beverage on its own doesn't quite offer us the contrast required for us to know the food or drink fully, and to know a thing fully, we must have a taste contrast. Granted, it doesn't take a $4,000 bottle of wine for you to appreciate a good burger, but a $30 bottle of wine and a burger? That's a combo that's tasty and easy on the wallet. So, if you haven't yet paired the best wine cellar stock with the most decadent fast food offering, might we suggest starting with these 11 fast food and wine combos?

McDonald's Big Mac and Cabernet Sauvignon

For millions of people around the world, the McDonald's Big Mac equals a budget filet mignon. Bites of it conjure up memories of afternoons spent at Playland, taking big mouthfuls between trips down the slide and high fives with the guy playing Ronald McDonald for the day. While most of us have exchanged our burgers for a prime cut of steak, it's probably also accurate to say that, even as adults, we still have nostalgic longings for the Big Macs of our youth. However, things have changed since we went from our school uniform of ties and short pants to our business uniform of ties and work pants. In short, we've spent many cocktail hours offering libations to appease the local wine deity.

Fortunately, there's a wine that is both loved by Bacchus himself, and that tastes great with the Big Mac: Cabernet Sauvignon. It takes McDonald's best version of chopped steak — the Big Mac — and gussies it up. The cab's infusion of black cherry, currant, chocolate, and mint overtones adds extra hints of flavor to the burger's fatty character. Better yet, the wine's acidic content "cuts through" the meat, making it easier for your stomach to digest. You can pick up a bottle of Freelander 2021 District One Cabernet Sauvignon and pair it with your Mac for a cheap but tasty lunch. At nearly $60, the Rocca delle Macìe 2019 Roccato Cabernet Sauvignon turns a childhood favorite into an adult meal.

Domino's Chocolate Lava Crunch Cakes and Red Merlot

Merlot wine is a study in contrasts. Hints of clove, black cherry, berries, vanilla, and mocha suggest that it tastes sweet as candy, with just a hint of savory, and while that flavor description matches Merlot, sweet, it's not. Its abundant infusion of tannins turns this would-be sweet wine into a satisfying medium-bodied, dry wine. The red Merlot grape grows in grape orchards around the globe, with France and Italy being the largest growers, followed by the US, Australia, and Chile. 

For non-adventurous types, Merlot pairs nicely with red meat, as well as with pasta and savory Italian pies — aka, pizza! While there isn't anything wrong with that, for us adventurous types, who count chocolate cake among the major food groups, the Merlot/chocolate-cake combo is the best thing since sliced bread — err — since sliced cake. The fast food cake in question comes to us from one of our favorite pizza makers, Dominoes. The sweetness of its Chocolate Lava Crunch takes on a bolder flavor when combined with this red wine's medium-bodied flavor. Like the wine itself, this flavor combination offers so much contrast. 

Additionally, the wine's overtones of cherry and mocha make it a natural to pair with chocolate desserts. In fact, these two flavors pair so well together that some crafty bakers have even skipped the pairing and have gone straight to putting the wine right into the cake recipe — definitely an argument for eating dessert first.

Tom & Chee's Grilled Cheese and Pinot Noir

Wine and cheese pairings have become the go-to appetizer option for parties because they're so delish and so easy to put together. But there's no need to wait until your next party to try what's bound to be your new favorite wine and cheese combo, comfort food edition. For this, we head straight to our favorite grilled cheese maker this side of your grandma's house, Tom & Chee. Tom & Chee's basic grilled cheese features white cheddar and mozzarella cheese, but if you want to try something decadent, treat yourself to the restaurant's Bacon Mac & Cheese. Both sandwiches pair nicely with the wine we're about to mention, but the bacon and mac and cheese sammie? Well, it's just a naughtier indulgence, and since we're indulging on this list, why not?

In any case, a good Pinot Noir, with its hints of apple and pear overtones, recalls the flavors of the standard fruit and cheese plate but with a more sophisticated twist. If you order the bacon mac and cheese number, this red's medium-bodied nutty and earthy flavor infusion is a farm-fresh seasonal symphony of flavors in every bite. And if you still feel a bit peckish after the sandwich is gone, order Tom & Chee's Grilled Donut Chee. This grilled donut, topped with more of the restaurant's signature white cheddar cheese, gives you a savory sweet kick to go with the last drops of the Pinot Noir in your glass.

Popeye's Blueberry Lemon Cream Cheese Fried Pie and Riesling

While some wines, like sparkling wine, obviously fit the dessert wine moniker, other wines, like Riesling, taste so great with chicken and fish, it's difficult to see them as dessert wine possibilities. We mean to change your mind about that by suggesting you try a cool glass of Riesling the next time you go out for cheesecake. That's because Riesling is a wine made in both dry and sweet varieties, making it just as much a dessert wine as a dinner wine. Its light, fruity flavor does justice to the cheesy goodness of the world's best cheesecake recipes without overpowering them. It works well with plain cheesecake, though it complements berry toppings, too. 

And although restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory serve some amazing slices of heaven, you don't have to go that route to experience an excellent dessert plus wine pairing. Instead, head over to your local Popeye's Chicken and order the restaurant's Blueberry Lemon Cream Cheese Fried Pie. It's essentially a fried pie/cheesecake combo dessert with all the decadence you'd expect from such a combo.

However, this fast-food dessert can be a bit heavy. To offset this, order a few pies, chill a bottle of sweet Riesling, like the Pacific Rim 2020 Sweet Riesling, and get set to watch all of your binge-worthy foodie TV shows.

Krystal's Apple Turnover and Moscato d'Asti

In an alternate universe, all apple pies — and not just fast-food apple pies — would be portable, but until we figure out a way to shift out of this world and into a portable apple pie universe via Stonehenge (or some other appropriately impressive ancient monument), we'll have to settle for a pocket of fast food apple pie done to perfection by Krystal. Technically, Krystal serves apple turnovers, but as far as we're concerned, they're just a closed version of a slice of apple pie, making them both supremely portable and out-of-this-world tasty.

Truthfully, we don't need to wait for an ancient gate to open at Stonehenge to have an out-of-this-world pie and wine experience. We just need a couple of Krystal's hot apple turnovers and a bottle of bubbly Moscato d'Asti. Because of its fizzy character, many people would call this sparkling wine Champagne. However, Champagne technically only comes from the Champagne region of France, so in this world, we have to settle for drinking sparkling wine with our portable fast-food apple pie from Krystal. 

But don't be sad. This sparkling Italian wine is out of this world in its own way, bringing the same kind of class to dessert as its French counterpart. Like Champagne, Asti comes from its own special place, Italy's Asti region. To your warm apple pie, this chilled sparkling wine brings fruity notes of peach, orange blossoms, a hint of lemon, and honeysuckle for extra sweetness.

Chipotle Black Bean Burrito Bowl and Red Zinfandel

Dos Equis and a fresh black bean burrito bowl from Chipotle. It's the stuff that summers are made of. The cool bitterness of the beer is quite the whistle-wetter, and offers a sharp contrast to many of the burrito bowl's fresh ingredients, like salty tomatoes, sweet and fatty avocados, and of course, the smoky goodness of the black beans. It's so good that few would even think of messing with this tried-and-true lunch staple. Given that it's one of Chipotle's most-ordered items, other Mexi-food fans clearly agree.

Naturally, we'll shake things up by suggesting that you switch the beer for a glass of wine, a Zinfandel, to be more exact. Ingredients like tomatoes, beans, and peppers have bold flavor signatures. Medium-bodied red wines, like Zinfandel, hold their own with those strongly-flavored ingredients. The wine gets an additional nod for being an excellent wine to drink with beef, and while it's possible to order the burrito bowl without meat, it's nice to know that you don't need to find a different wine to pair it with. Finally, it's worth noting that many Zins have overtones of not only raspberry, black cherry, and currant, but they also pack a bold punch with flavors like black pepper and smoke, making them a nice drink to wash a big bite down with. If you're looking for ideas, the $20 Pedroncelli 'Mother Clone' Zinfandel brings on the pepper kick that this dish needs. 

Long John Silver's Hushpuppies and Chenin Blanc

Urban legend has it that cornbread hush puppies originated in the American South during the Civil War. While these golf-ball-sized bites of cornbread goodness probably hit the spot after a long day of traversing the backwoods, they had a grander purpose. Runaway soldiers and enslaved people tossed them to the hounds that ran behind them to get them to hush — hence, the name, hush puppies. Since then, they've been a staple on tables across the South (and in the rest of the US once word got out about how delectable they were). People who want to do their bodies good eat them with slices of garden-fresh tomatoes and cucumbers.

However, the naughty among us eat them as a meal with just a bit of ranch or tartar sauce on the side. Aside from the homemade ones that southern grannies used to make, the best ones we've tried come from Long John Silver's. And since we're making a meal out of them, we naturally reach for a cool glass of Chenin Blanc. This dry white wine is a logical choice, given how well it goes with many of the South's other favored dishes, like crayfish and jambalaya. (And who ever heard of crayfish and jambalaya without a sweet side of cornbread?) However, that's not why we love this wine so much. The best bottles of it taste a bit like buttered popcorn, making your hush puppy dinner decadent all around.

Subway's Spicy Italian and Chardonnay

According to a 2023 Kroger food trend report, the American love affair with cured meats, assorted cheeses, pickled vegetables, bread chunks, and a chilled glass of Chardonnay to is expected to continue throughout this year. If anything, this concoction — more commonly called charcuterie — is the most popular it has ever been in its 500-plus-year history. Originally, it gave people living in the days before General Electric refrigerators a way to preserve their meats and cheeses. 

Of course, charcuterie has become the foodie darling of social media, partly because a well-planned platter looks so great and partly because it's so dang delicious. The challenge for many lovers of this cured meat dish is price, with the largest boards costing upwards of $250 or more. It's also not necessarily a dish you eat by yourself on the fly, even though it's a tempting thought.

Enter the Subway Spicy Italian sub. Its mixture of cured meats, like spicy pepperoni and salami, pickled veggies of choice, and cheese on fresh-baked bread, is like a portable version of the best charcuterie platters you've ever eaten. It's also something you can eat on your own without guilt. There's no sharing required. Best of all, like the charcuterie platters you love so much, it tastes so good with a glass of chilled Chardonnay. Keep your personal portable charcuterie meal budget by opting for a wine like Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Chardonnay, which costs less than 20 bucks.

Culver's Onion Rings and French Bordeaux

Go to any carnival, and somewhere on the midway, you'll find deep-friend battered onions. More commonly called onion rings, they epitomize fast food. But historically, onion rings catered to a very different crowd than fair-goers. In the 19th century, a version of onion rings, which included Parmesan cheese in the batter, was loved by the upper crust. As it turns out, another well-known onion dish, French onion soup, shares not only a similar flavor profile as onion rings in many ways but also a history of being a dish for nobility. It is said that King Louis XV himself created French onion soup on a hunting trip, where he turned some onions, Champagne, and butter into a midnight snack. Over the years, French onion soup evolved to also include croutons and cheese on top.

Today, people drink French Bourdeaux wine with King Louie's midnight snack. Given the similarities in the ingredients for these two noble dishes — the savory onions, bread (or breading), cheese (occasionally), and possibly, butter — it isn't too much of a stretch to think that a nice serving of Culver's onion rings — our favorite fast-food rings — might also be best served with a bottle of French Bourdeaux wine. If you can't imagine this combination, consider this. French Bourdeaux wine is always a mix, usually of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It isn't too much of a stretch to imagine that this blend of grapes would blend well with onion rings, too.

Round Table's Gourmet Veggie Pizza and Regaleali Rosato

It might be fair to say that no single dish epitomizes farm-to-table eating quite like a good gourmet veggie pizza. Most, if not all, of the most important fruits of your backyard summer garden, find a place on a 10-inch pie — onions, artichokes, olives, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, and more. You can almost taste every ray of sunshine and drop of water that went into producing this feast. Although the pizza dough adds some bulk to the meal, it is, for the most part, a meal that's as light and refreshing as summer itself. While many fast food chains make an arguably amazing vegetable pizza, Round Table's Gourmet Veggie Pizza offers a particularly satisfying version of this summer hit.

The best wine for this cornucopia of flavor is one that won't overpower the taste of the oven-roasted vegetables. That said, it must also complement the bread component of the meal. That is, it should taste good with the crust, as well as any bread sticks that you'll serve with the dish. One wine in particular checks off both boxes: Rosato (or Rosé). At $23 a bottle, the Torre Mora 2019 Scalunera Nerello Mascalese Rosato makes a nice complement to a gourmet veggie pizza. Its blend of flavors, like blood orange, spice, and berry, is like bringing the orchard into the garden for dinner. It's also inexpensive enough to sit well with a fast-food budget without tasting cheap. 

Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich and Muscadet

Wine drinking is a whole culture unto itself, and with industry-specific terms like "sommelier," "demi-sec," "astringent," and "cork taint," it can feel like you've taken up learning a foreign language when you start to become a wine connoisseur. Fortunately, there are some basic rules in the wine world that the novice wine drinker can keep in mind when wine shopping gets too overwhelming and foreign-language-y. One of the best and easiest rules to remember is white wine with white meat. (Think chicken or fish.) And as it turns out, there is a second rule that's also particularly helpful to the novice wine drinker: chicken tastes great with white or red wine. When in doubt, refer to the first rule. When in further doubt, refer to the second rule.

However, we'd like to simplify things further for you. With chicken being the universal meat of the wine world, kind of like type-O blood is the universal blood type, it stands to reason, then, that if you're going to eat something as classic as, say, a Chick-Fil-A fried chicken sandwich, and you know that chicken pretty much goes with every wine, then you should just pick a great wine. To that end, we suggest Muscadet wine to drink with your Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich. It's a floral-and-apple-overtoned dry white wine that makes eat bite taste better with each palate-clearing sip, which is a bonus, given how tasty this chicken sandwich is to begin with.