I'm not sure about you guys, but typically my taco bell consumption only happens AFTER wine consumption, not concurrently. But for Virginian Tarun Sinha, a typical Friday night involves pairing Taco Bell's Crispy Chicken Quesadilla with a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. And lo and behold he discovers that "the heat from this quesadilla is balanced by the plum, cherry and oak notes in the wine, resulting in a mellowed out spice full of flavor."
Sinha, the inquisitive mind behind an Instagram account called Taco Bell Sommelier, has tested out more than 30 taco bell and wine pairings since starting the account a year and a half ago. While the account may not have a cult following just yet, his 567 followers remain engaged with his content, with posts receiving an average 68 likes, and recent pairings receiving upwards of 100 likes and double digit comments.
We sat down with the budding Instagrammer, whose work was recently featured on Taco Bell's own Instagram account, to find out why the heck he's pairing his fav fast food with wine, what he has learned about wine in the process and what his best discovery has been so far.
Why did you decide to start an Instagram account for @tacobellsommelier?
I got the idea back in the fall of 2015. I was visiting my brother in Pittsburgh and we made a late night Taco Bell run. When we got home, we realized that we had did not have any beer left. He only had a bottle of Riesling, so we thought it would be fine with spicy Taco Bell, and it was really good. I had never had wine with any fast food before, but since this paired well, we realized that we had something unique.
What do you think makes the account unique in comparison to other dining/foodie accounts?
Before pairing wine with Taco Bell I assumed that wine was only paired with classier food options. From what I see on social media, wine is paired with dishes that look beautiful and most likely took some time to prepare. When I pair with Taco Bell, I see it as a quick and affordable option to enjoy wine with your dinner. Wine and food pairings do not have to have the notion of being fancy, anyone can do it with the foods that they love. For me that was Taco Bell.
What did you know about wine before starting the account?
I wouldn't say I knew a lot about it, but I knew the basics of pairing white with chicken/fish and reds with darker meats -- the fundamentals I would see on Food Network. But once I started pairing, I ignored that "rule" and just paired whatever wines I liked with Taco Bell meals I thought it would pair best with. I work in the reverse order. I usually try a new Taco Bell menu item, and think about what wine it would be best with rather than choosing the Taco Bell item based on the characteristics of a wine.
Would you say that has changed now?
It has changed a lot. I began to notice the subtler hints of oak, cherry, vanilla and plum in red wines after much wine tasting. I like to try the wine without reading any of the labels on it and guess what notes of flavor I can taste. This definitely helped me taste the differences between various types of red wines. The same process applies to white wines as well.
What has been your favorite pairing so far?
It was probably the Double Chalupa paired with a Pinot Grigio. The chalupa is typically very heavy, dense and creamy due to the combination of the fried tortilla shell, nacho cheese sauce and sour cream. The wine definitely helped balance this meal by having a punch of citrus, being very light, very crisp and cold.
Have any attempted pairings been absolute fails?
I feel bad saying this about anything from Taco Bell, but I was not a fan of the Beefy Nacho Griller. I tried this with both a red and white wine, but nothing helped mellow out the intense flavors. The combination of nacho cheese, lots of ground beef and hot fritos did not make for a good taste. I wouldn't say it was a failure, but it was not great.
What is your goal for the account?
To show everybody that you can pair wine with whatever food you love. It does not have to be fancy, it just has be something you like. As one friend says "it shows you how to ball on a budget."