Humans have tried to harness the power of cheese in shelf-stable, bite-size form for more than a century. Case in point, Cheez-Its, which permanently altered the snack-space continuum when its makers merged cheese and cracker into a single entity back in the 1920s.
In the years that followed, the cheesy cracker category only continued to expand. And while actual cheese will always be wine’s ultimate bedfellow, it follows that these downright addictive, crunchy snacks are fertile ground for creative wine pairings by professionals.
“Admittedly there is a good amount of snack food rolling around,” says Alex Cuper, Wine Director for Chicago’s El Che Steakhouse and Bar. “At the end of the night, these snacks often come out and act as sustenance, and of course you need something to drink with it…”
With that in mind, we’ve enlisted a snob-free handful of cracker-loving wine and beverage pros to confess to their favorite wine and cheesy snack pairings.
Don’t sleep on a handful of classic Cheeze-Its. The iconic cheese cracker brand delivers some of the most complex flavors of any snack on this list. Toasty and buttery with a hint of horseradish tang and paprika, it demands a bold bottling that can stand up to its strong flavors.
“That’s where País comes in,” says Cuper. “Refreshing when served chilled, it has enough fruit character to play against Cheez-Its’ savory qualities, amping up their flavor by 10.”
Cheetos, which are corn-based, convey a cheesy sweetness akin to a nutty, aged gouda. Similar to gouda, Cheetos can also withstand pronounced tannins.
“Cheetos, oddly enough, pair well with Barossa Valley Shiraz,” says Matt Montrose, CMS Advanced Sommelier and CEO of wine marketing agency OMvino. “While Cheetos have a strong tangy quality, a Shiraz with voluptuous body, a rich mouthfeel, and deep, dark, concentrated fruit won’t clash with Cheetos’ unique flavor profile. It’s almost like a palate reset between bites and sips.”
“Goldfish Crackers are like Cheez-Itz that went to finishing school,” says Ray Fritz, Head Bartender of NYC barbecue joint Blue Smoke. Fritz is well versed in pairing wines with less obvious provisions. Light and slightly wheat-y on the palate with just a hint of celery (read the ingredient list, it’s there), Goldfish are a perfect match for Prosecco or a dry sparkling.
“This is the ultimate combo of light and crisp crunch with light and crisp bubbles,” Fritz says. “The Prosecco cuts through the saltiness of the Goldfish, and the Goldfish in turn brings out the crisp, yellow citrus and grassy finish of the wine. These light-as-a-feather favorites keep you going for another sip and another bite without leaving you feeling heavy and over-indulgent.”
Nacho Cheese Doritos
Unpacking the flavor nuances of Doritos is like unpacking a multi-varietal blend: deeply savory with a tang of green pepper, elote, black peppercorns and bright tomato with just a whiff of spice. But with so many flavor notes, pairings aren’t always straightforward. Never fear, we have the answer.
“A darker style Lambrusco such as salamino has juicy dark fruits, a touch of earthiness and soft frizzante bubbles, which really play nicely against the rich cheese and umami flavors of the Doritos.”
Flamin’ Hot Cheetos
Flamin’ Hot Cheetos aren’t just fiery snacks that zap your taste buds. Underneath that habanero burn is Cheetos’ familiar corn-based sweetness, a vegetal undertone on the midpalate, a buttermilk-y tang and soy sauce-like umami.
“French-style Grenache wines tend to be fruit-forward and lower in alcohol, and you want a wine that complements the spice, not intensifies it,” she says. “The ripe fruit in this style of Grenache will soften the spice, and the tannins allows it to stand up to the Cheetos’ fatty, cheesy components. Grenache-based reds can also be served with a bit of chill on them, which is always nice when having something spicy.”
Despite their malty, pretzel exterior and four-cheese blend, Combos’ prevailing flavor skews toward salty, toasted marshmallow more than anything. That doesn’t undermine its pair-ability, though. Fritz recommends a bold California Zinfandel with its structured, ripe fruit character to match the snack’s sweetness and tease out some nuance.
“The way these two complement each other is crazy,” he says. “The smokiness of the Zin actually brings out a sourdough flavor in the pretzel and balances the salty, creamy cheese. The dark cherry and plum flavors of the wine pop with every sip and bite.”
Last Updated: September 20, 2023