Aldo Sohm is arguably one of the world's finest sommeliers. He holds numerous prestigious wine recognitions, none perhaps as impressive as his being crowned Best Sommelier in the World in 2008 by the World Sommelier Association. Since 2007 he's been the talent behind the near-perfect wine and food pairings at Manhanttan's Le Bernardin, where I, a green chef in training, once stole 15 minutes of his time.
I'm quite certain Sohm would have no recollection of talking to me. But I'll never forget our interaction, where he gave me a glimpse into his exhaustive approach to pairing wines with chef Eric Ripert's impeccable cuisine.
The heart of his process? Assume nothing and tasting everything. Sohm would sit down on multiple occasions with a new fish dish and dozens and dozens of wines, covering every imaginable style—from tart Sauvignon Blanc to meaty Cabernet Sauvignon. His inclusive method allowing him to uncover truly complementary, often surprising, combinations, ones that normally hide outside of the narrow scope of classic wine pairing. Case in point: He's widely recognized for his ability to pair red wine with fish (!).
Kudos to Sohm, but let's be honest, if you're reading this post you're probably just trying to get chip-faced, and what you really need to know is which soda is going to make your Cool Ranch Doritos (CRD) taste best. Last week I ripped a page from Sohm's playbook, grabbed excellent taster and dependable friend Rebeccah Marsters, and set about discovering just that.
First, we needed to Identify the key attributes of CRD, those which would ideally be highlighted and complemented by the soda. Easy. CRD feature a balance of sweet cornmeal, subtle spice, cheesy buttermilk tang, and some background alliums like onion and garlic. Some particularly sophisticated chipsters (you know, the ones with mustaches and cut-off jeans) will also pick up on a little tomato and a big hit of umami (CRD feature the same umami-rich arsenal as their Nacho Cheese BFFs).
Coke Classic, Pepsi, RC, and Malta Goya.
What I'm calling Root & Fruit Colas because it's cute:
Dr. Brown's Root Beer, Dr. Pepper, Jones Root Beer, A&W Root Beer, Cherry Coke, Polar Birch Beer.
Goya Lemon-Lime, 7UP, Sierra Mist, Sprite, Goya Grapefruit (yes, this could have probably gone in the next category), Ginger Ale (it had no home; a vagabond), and Mountain Dew
Sunkist, Grape Crush, Jones Green Apple, Orange Fanta, Jarritos Mango, and Goya Tamarind.
We then tasted each soda a few times with a bite of chip. We noted flavor interactions, how well the soda cleansed the palate, and any flavors that lingered. If you're anything like me, you want bad news before good and that's exactly what I'm going to give you.
The Worst Offenders
Not all interactions are good and a couple of sodas made normally sublime Cool Ranch Doritos a questionable foodstuff at best.
On its own Goya Grapfruit offers surprisingly decent white grapefruit flavor. Unfortunately, when it collides in your mouth with a CRD you get an acidity bordering on stomach bile. Think vitamin C tablet meets buttermilk. And it actually makes sense considering that CRD contain lactose, malic acid, and dried buttermilk, while Goya Grapefruit packs a citric acid wallop.
By our self-imposed standards this pairing was an epic failure, but it was fascinating nonetheless. The combination of sweet lemon-lime and tart CRD somehow transformed into the flavor of Fruit Loops. To be fair, the effect was fleeting and followed by a grounding blast of funky cheese, but for a brief moment in time we felt like scientists creating new elements in the superconductors of our mouths.
Jones Root Beer
I'm a fan of kettle corn, I get sweet-salty, but this went too far. Think caramel candy meets emmental cheese, in a sweaty back alley in Detroit during that summer the garbage men went on strike.
The Best in Class
The Colas: To Frito-Lay's shock and horror, the Coke Classic took the win for not treading on the chip. It let the tang shine through, bumped up the savory qualities a bit, but in the end (rightly) took a backseat to the Doritos.
The Root & Fruit Colas: We found a sleeper hit in Polar Birch Beer. Its colorless pour belied a minty, piney profile that really brought the buttermilk to the foreground.
The Lemon-Limes: In this troublesome group, we were happy to find that Sierra Mist didn't make us wish we'd never started this endeavor. Its manageable sweetness and mild acidity brought out of the chip's corn flavor and kindly retreated to a pleasant garlic spice on the finish.
And the Very Best Pairing of All?
By far the best in its category, Fanta also topped all other entrants in the competition. This old-world soda was the only offering that actually made the chip more complex. It highlighted the corn flavor, let the tang do its thing, and even enhanced cheesiness.
Good carbonation meant our palates were cleansed and ready for another bite. Had we not already tasted our way through two bags of chips and a couple liters of soda, we may have sat there all night enjoying this lovely combination. We'd finally achieved what the wine world refers to as a great white buffalo*, a perfect pairing.
*No one in the wine world actually calls it that, but just imagine.
I haven't provided all of my tasting notes, so if anyone is curious about how a contender stacked up, let me know in the comments and I'll spell it out.