Pairing Off: Cheez Its

One thing that becomes clear, as we move through this series, is that pairings can be a bit fussy.

The nonchalant approach of discarding a specific recommendation in favor of something easier to find within the same style doesn't always work--at least not when you're dealing with beasts such as processed food. And people who truly understand wine aren't always thoroughly familiar with, say, Spam. Or with this week's subject: Cheez It crackers.

Notwithstanding that Cheez Its, to me, represent one of the four food groups (with coffee, alcohol and Thin Mints filling out the nutritional guidelines), I agreed with Wine Therapist's Keri Oldham that salt would be the biggest factor in matching cracker to wine.

Cheez Its mimic the taste of basic supermarket sharp Cheddar. When I think of Cheddar, wines ranging from Cabernet to Chardonnay--perhaps even Sauvignon Blanc--come to mind. But, as Oldham points out, "since Cheez Its are so salty in nature, you want a wine that's not too dry, not too tannic."

She suggests a dry Riesling--specifically Airlie, from Oregon's Willamette Valley. "I like the idea of contrast on the palate," she says. "This Riesling is nice because it is not too sweet."

Indeed, it offers an earthier, more bitter form of sweetness, similar to honey backed by floral notes and several tiers of fruit. But because the Goody Goody location convenient to my route home doesn't carry this particular label, I ended up with Pacific Rim Dry Riesling--a simpler wine notable for crisp pineapple and some floral touches.

Matched to Cheez Its, the wine tones down one octave. The pineapple taste so pronounced before picks up a sour taint and wraps up a lot quicker than before. On the plus side, the clean, thin mouth feel fills out quite a bit, becoming almost creamy. If anything, the Pacific Rim developed more character.

Of course, whether that's good or bad is another question.

I guess it's not bad. The crackers themselves withstood the test. But the salt that we so carefully planned for is actually more muted than we thought--mostly hidden as sodium amongst the enriched flour, vegetable oil, preservatives and color. Tangy and strangely sweet, with a background of paprika-like earthiness, Cheez Its could handle a bolder long as one remains mindful of the tannins.

But the Airlie would have been a great choice, as well. Damn it.

Of course, I still crossed off two of the four food groups in one sitting. No reason to complain.

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Dave Faries
Contact: Dave Faries