Doritos and wine

Why? Just why do we even need to know the answer? 

It’s a fair question to ask. Even in a recreational use state, few stoners would ponder the right wine pairing for that bag of nacho cheese-dusted Doritos they suddenly crave.

But maybe this week’s Burning Question serves the common good. As Brandon Allen, wine club manager at Scheid Family Wines, points out, “Doritos are one of the most easily attainable junk foods on the market.” So the matter is bound to come up.

In fact, it has. A certain Matthew M. of Raleigh, North Carolina emailed Wine Spectator begging for recommendations to go along with the chips, adding that if columnist Dr. Vinny could help out, “you will be my hero.” The folks at Vinepair also addressed the Doritos conundrum.

And guess what? Scheid recently held a junk food pairing course which included classic nacho cheese Doritos. So the question should be an easy one to settle...not that “easy” factored into the decision on which topic we should take up, mind you.

On July 10 of this year, Scheid roped 26 people with a taste for fine wine and cheap-ass junk food into a room. They munched and crunched, swirled and sipped (and probably surreptitiously wiped their hands against their jeans a few times). Sixty percent of participants preferred the winery’s Isabelle sparkling wine with the chips.

“The addition of salt to food tends to neutralize the acidity of wine, and most sparkling wine is usually high in acidity,” explains Marta Kraftzeck, a Scheid winemaker, taking the matter quite seriously in a set of tasting notes. “Doritos are also high in fat and high acid wines, as well as wine with bubbles, can cut through this fat.”

“When in doubt, always go with Champagne,” confirms wine educator Kerry Winslow, who works with Windy Oaks Estate and Big Sur Vineyards.

Easy peasy. Pick a nice sparkler and…Damn it. There's more.

“For nacho cheese flavors you can veer toward lighter reds, like those Pinot Noir or Grenache.” That was Dr. Vinny’s response to Matthew M. Vinepair settled on a Grenache-based blend. And even someone as expert as Winslow began to hedge, adding both Grenache and Zinfandel.

“They’re fruity enough and have soft tannins,” he points out. And there’s just something gauche about treating a nice bubbly so badly.

“Can you imagine a Champagne flute with all that orange dust all over it?” Winslow adds.

Ah, yes. Doritos is so famed for leaving traces everywhere, as well as for all those crumbs piled at the bottom of the bag—so much so that the brand’s creator, Arch West, requested that the stuff be tossed on his ashes.

Yes, you read that right. Or, as The Washington Post reported in West’s 2011 obituary: “Ashes to ashes, crunch to crunch.”

Naturally there is some controversy over just where and how he came up with the idea that became Doritos.

Gustavo Arellano went all in on a juicy tale involving Disneyland, stale tortillas and a clever sales rep with a pencil thin mustache and black cape working right under corporate giant Frito-Lay’s omnipresent glare. 

Scrap the mustache and cape, and you have an anonymous salesperson with no real character or pizzaz, with nothing better to do than spend his lunch hour watching cooks at the Fritos-sponsored Casa de Fritos at Disneyland toss out stale tortillas.

Hey, this was the early ’60s and disposable everything—plastics, paper, coal mining waste—was the all-American way.

Supposedly the salesman with no name urged the cooks to fry up the inedible tortillas and pawn them off on Disneyland crowds. A year later, West—some have it as just nameless Frito-Lay executives—watched diners munch away and decided he could package and sell the things nationally.

That (give or take) is the story Arellano told in his book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.

Of course, it seems a bit contrived.

You see, Rebecca Webb Carranza had a family-run tortilleria in Los Angeles that predates Disneyland. Both the L.A. Times and the LA Weekly credit her for first mass-producing tortilla chips, all the way back in the ’40s. And the amusement park plays no role in stories told by West’s family when it came time to write West’s obituary and dust his remains.

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In those stories, West was on a family vacation in Southern California when he pulled into a “roadside shack” and bought a “grease-smeared” bag of toasted tortilla chips. West’s daughter told the New York Times the trip wound through San Diego, where they ate at “a little shack restaurant where these people were making a fried corn chip.” 

Probably more like it. But Huffington Post went to the source for a definitive answer.

“It’s difficult for us today to say where inspiration did and did not come from,” Frito-Lay’s Joan Cetera told HuffPost reporter Susie Strutner. “We don’t credit any one individual for inventing our products.”

So there.

What we do know is this: The first chips were plain and then taco-flavored. The ever-popular nacho flavor came to be in 1972. The company has since foisted more than a hundred different flavors on us, from Cool Ranch to “All-Nighter Cheeseburger.” And things get weirder—more weird?—overseas.

You have to go to Japan for Tuna Mayonnaise Doritos. Sorry.

We also know that consumers shell out some $1.5 billion a year on the product, crushing the next most popular chip. Tostitos? Only worthy of $615 million...OK, Tostitos Scoops hauls in another $440 million, so the two brands are pretty close. But Santitos? Hah.

And Doritos are not just a hit with humans. Winslow had a cat who loved the chips. One day he came home to find him covered in orange dust and a crumpled, empty bag on the floor.

“Doritos are a guilty pleasure unto themselves,” Winslow says.

And really, they probably shouldn’t be paired with wine. But if you must—well, as Allen points out, “it’s personal preference.”

Yeah, we can play the non-answer answer game, too.

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