Pairing Off: PB&J

Peanut butter and jelly seemed so easy--a kind of sandwich slam dunk; just slap it together and mission accomplished, right?


Ah, but this holdover from grade school lunch is really a problematical beast. Before I even reached Kroger to pick up the necessities, several people had already brought up the question of jelly. Then an acquaintance chided me for choosing chunky peanut butter over the more traditional smooth. Brand names were tossed around, assailed and defended by various parties. And when I mentioned Mrs. Baird's bread to Barbara Werley, wine director at Pappas Bros., the response was none too supportive.


"Nobody does it with white bread," she said. "Ewww."


And all this before I even broached the wine pairing topic. How did we ever make it out of childhood emotionally intact?

Finding the right bottle for a chunked up but otherwise old-fashioned PB&J proved almost as daunting, though not for lack of options. Paul Pinnell of Dali Wine Bar believes it depends on the time of day. As a late night snack, pair the sandwich up with a Ruby Port "sporting generous sweet notes" and "lush grape flavors," he says. But in the afternoon--assuming you drink in the afternoon--"the dark horse bet would be a well balanced and fruit focused Montepulciano D' Abruzzo Rose." Inspired by the season, Werley recommends Beaujolais Nouveau. "It's very grapey," she explains. "It's simple and easy to drink."


Eventually, the focus turns toward dinner and 'jammy' reds. "Whether we're talkin' grape jelly or raspberry preserves, I think a luscious Zinfandel will work well with the fruit flavors in the sandwich," says Lisa Petty, food blogger and author of an upcoming book on Texas wines. "You'll also want to choose one with a good acidity level to cut through the rich peanut butter."


She suggests Times Ten Cellars 2005 Sierra Foothills Zinfandel ($14 from Times Ten Cellars, of course) or Folie a Deux's 2007 Menage a Trois--a blend including plenty of Zin and widely available for around $12. While the adolescent in us wanted to spring for the latter, we ended up with Waterstone's 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel ($11.99 at Goody Goody) because it was on sale and earned silver from the Dallas Morning News' august panel.


The wine prickles a bit when first opened and needs some time to warm into its full fruit forward potential. But it seems to be made for PB&J: blending easily into the Welch's grape jelly, turning sandwich and wine into one continuous flow of juice. The peanut butter fades into a supporting role, adding a mellow, creamy background note.


Other pairing options include Grenache or an Austrian Zweigelt. "We tried to come up with a white to marry beautifully with PB&J," Pinnell adds, "and came up empty handed."


So there it is--a school lunch staple coaxed to adulthood by red wine. One can argue over Skippy or Jif or natural organic, smooth, chunky, jelly, jam, preserves, whole grain--doesn't much matter.


"Fruity Zin," Petty says, "is the star of the show."

--Dave Faries

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