How to Pair Popcorn and Wine [Wine Recommendations]
Pairing wine with popcorn is no easy feat. There are so many flavors of popcorn these days, that you can be very specific with the flavor profiles you want to match or contrast.
The easiest way to pair wine and food is to harmonize similar flavor characteristics. Sweet food with sweet wine, is probably the simplest and most common pairing as it often works really well.
However, this method of matching similar flavor profiles breaks down when we have dominant flavors in the food that aren’t present in wine. Saltiness and fattiness are examples of flavor components common in food (saltiness in popcorn especially) that are missing from wine.
In this instance, we need to be a bit more creative and provide balanced contrasts in our wine and food pairings. To bring harmony and balance to our food and wine pairing we need to balance the dominant food flavor with an “opposing force” if you will.
Acidic wines, for example, counteract the greasy, fattiness of fried food and provide exactly the contrast that’s needed.
In this guide, I suggest some great wine pairings to try for sweet, salty, buttery, and cheese popcorn flavors. The rest is up to you to get creative with. I can't wait to hear your suggestions in the comments section!
Which Wines Pair Best with Sweet Popcorn?
In general, it's best to avoid pairing sweet foods with dry wines, as the sweetness of the food can make the wine taste bitter or sour by comparison. Instead, you may want to consider pairing sweet popcorn with a sweeter wine, such as a sweet sparkling wine.
If you like bubbles then I’d recommend going with something sweeter than Prosecco (though both Prosecco and Champagne work really well and provide a refreshing crispness to contrast to the sweetness of the popcorn). A Moscato d’Asti works really well, as does a sparkling Moscato rosé.
If you’re looking for a couple of easy drinking, affordable bottles that are widely available then go for the Stella Rosa Imperiale Moscato Rosé which is usually found for around $12, and the Bartenura Moscato D'Asti which is a great wine I always see in Walmart for about the same price.
If bubbles aren’t your thing then you might want to consider a still Moscato, Riesling, or even a Chenin Blanc. These wines tend to have a sweet, fruity flavor that can complement the sweetness of the popcorn beautifully.
One of my “go to” Rieslings is a German expression from Rehinhessen. At $15, the Weingut Winter Dittelsheim Riesling is on the drier end of the Riesling scale of sweetness. It’s fruity with a nice acidity that pairs well with sweet popcorn varieties. It’s available for around $15 from most good wine merchants.
Which Wines Pair Best with Salty Popcorn?
A wine that pairs well with salty popcorn is a wine with high acidity and moderate alcohol content. The acidity helps to balance out the saltiness of the popcorn, while the moderate alcohol content allows the wine to complement rather than overpower the flavor of the popcorn.
One wine variety that works well with salty popcorn is Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is known for its high acidity and refreshing citrus and green fruit flavors, which can help to cut through the saltiness of the popcorn. Other options include Vermentino or Verdelho, which are also high in acidity and have bright, citrusy flavors.
Ultimately, the best wine to pair with salty popcorn will depend on personal preference. Some people may prefer a crisp, light white wine, while others may prefer a slightly richer, fuller-bodied wine.
If you opt for the richer variety with more body then Chardonnay is a great match. Buttered popcorn goes particularly well with oaked Chardonnay which itself has rich buttery, vanilla notes that are a result of the oaking process. If you love buttered popcorn then keep reading as there's a dedicated section down below.
Which Wines Pair Best with Cheese Popcorn?
With cheese popcorn we buck the previous trend of choosing white wines for popcorn. White wines are definitely still an option but cheese and red wine are just made for each other!
Cheese popcorn (in my experience) tends to be made with cheddar cheese and if the cheddar has a decent enough depth of flavor then Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Malbec, and Merlot are all fine pairs.
An awesome, affordable Cabernet Sauvignon that’s easy to find is the Benziger Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon available at Costco for less than $15.
We've also got a new guide recommending great Cab for less than $20 that could be useful.
Cheddar cheese is definitely the most likely cheese to be used with popcorn, however, on occasion I’ve seen popcorn made with blue cheese and in this case you want a bold, full-bodied wine, strong in character.
Fortified wines like Port and Sherry work really well here, alongside the more classical Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.
If the cheese in your cheese popcorn is really on the light side then Prosecco is an option. Prosecco pairs very well with milder, more subtle cheeses and also sharper cheeses.
Which Wines Pair Best with Buttered Popcorn?
Buttered popcorn is my personal favourite. It's also the easiest variety of popcorn to pair with wine. There's no need to get fancy here. The toasty, rich popcorn just pairs perfectly with the oaky, buttery, nuttiness of a good Chardonnay.
Napa is a great place to start for the style of Chardonnay we require. Wine like the 2018 Hands of Time Chardonnay from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars works exceptionally well. If you can pick this up for just over $20 you're doing really well.
If you want to go a bit cheaper then you're better looking outside of Napa Valley. The 2020 Panamera Chardonnay from Story Ridge Vineyards is a great buy at $18. It's currently undervalued in my opinion!
The fun thing about pairing wine and food is that it’s an open experiment for everyone to try.
We all have different likes and dislikes and although we are usually in agreement on which wine varieties go with which foods, there’s always a debate to be had on which specific expressions provide the perfect pairing.
So always be open to new wine experiences and don’t stay in your comfort zone!
I can't wait to hear about your favorite popcorn and wine pairings down below. The wackier the better!