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It had been a long time since I’d had Taco Bell, but ever since we began the VinePair Fast Food & Fine Wine segment, I knew it was only a matter of time before we ventured south of the border. Adam Chandler, our partner in crime for these segments and the fast food writer for The Atlantic, is one of the chain’s biggest fans, and he’s been advocating for us to create a pairing from the beginning. All it took was three segments for him to finally give in.
Taco Bell is one of the most inventive chains when it comes to new and crazy consumer offerings. At this point they’re pretty much willing to try anything and have seemed to fully embrace their place among fast food chains as the ultimate late night stoner and drunk food. It seems that every month, without fail, the chain releases a new concoction to the delight of their legion of fans, and most prominent among those current new offerings are the beef, chicken and BLT Crunchwraps – these would be what we’d be tasting.
Pairing a wine with Taco Bell can be tough, the flavors can either be one note – spice – or all over the place, so I met our resident wine geek Keith Beavers at one of the mega wine stores in lower Manhattan to select a wine we felt could live up to all Taco Bell had to offer. We scoured the shelves and finally wound up in a small, temperature controlled room, among bottles of aged Burgundy, Bordeaux and Barolo. While many of these bottles could work, we wanted something special, a wine that truly spoke to the history of the Bell – one of California’s greatest fast food achievements. We found that wine in a bottle of Chateau Montelena, perched high above the other shelves behind a case that required us to summon a employee with the proper key in order to retrieve it.
The pairing was perfect. We had a bottle of wine made by the winery that had helped put California wine on the map: a Montelena, the winery that had won the epic 1976 judgement of Paris, besting the wines made by its French counterparts. It would go perfectly with the Crunchwraps for the story alone, as Taco Bell is responsible for introducing Mexican food, particularly hard tacos, to most of America. We had two California products we thought were equal in auspiciousness. Now it was time to see how each tasted.
We met Adam Chandler outside of the Taco Bell in Union Square – a location he frequents often – and he took us through the nuances of ordering. As we ordered the Crunchwraps, he told us about how the chain started from very humble beginnings to become one of the most well known fast food chains in the world, all thanks to Glen Bell and his popularizing of the hard shell taco. With that, Adam had the employees add a few Doritos Locos tacos to the order – appetizers to the main event he said – and we headed off to taste our pairing.
Unwrapping the Crunchwraps with the Doritos Locos Tacos already in our bellies – they were, in fact, surprisingly delicious, though it seems we’re the last in America to realize that since they are huge sellers – the Crunchwraps eerily resembled French Galettes, an observation Adam said his girlfriend had made recently when encountering them as well. Unable to really determine which Crunchwrap was filled with which filling, we decided to simply open the Montelena and dig in.
Keith decanted the wine aggressively, as he said the wine’s youth allowed for more rapid air exposure. It smelled amazing. The Cabernet Sauvignon was ripe, with aromas of berries and dark chocolate and leather. We couldn’t wait to drink it. We each poured a glass and could hardly contain our glee as we took sips – it was beautiful. Smooth, delicious and easy to see why it is so highly regarded.
Then we dug into the Crunchwraps. The first one had pretty aggressive spicing which clashed horribly with the wine – when spice is overpowering it can often be all you can taste – but the second, the beef, went beautifully with the Montelena, allowing the wine to really shine through. Finally we tried the third Crunchwrap, the BLT. While we all admitted it was an oddity to have a BLT inside a warm tortilla, the flavors actually worked and it was by far the best pairing with the wine.
Finally, our stomachs full and our heads light from the Montelena, we sat back and reflected on our experience. While we probably wouldn’t be pairing Taco Bell with a $150 bottle of Montelena again anytime soon, we would be revisiting them with a good bottle of $20 dollar red the next time the hunger pangs for a 4th meal strike.