What's the best wine for popcorn?
You've come to the right place. My middle name should be "Orville." And the answer is: chardonnay! But I'm too much of a popcorn devotee to reduce this important topic to a one-word answer. If you're talking about buttered popcorn, I'd suggest a ripe, heavily oaked style, the sort of profile associated with sunny New World regions, such as Australia, Chile and, in particular, California (coincidentally home to the popcorn-movie capital of the world).
Those wines come with smooth, vanilla-like richness as well as a good dose of something called lactic acid. In the winery, these full-bodied whites tend to go through a process known as malolactic fermentation, which converts crisp apple-like acidity into a lactic form. Lactic acid, as you might guess from the etymology, is creamier. It's the stuff that helps give fatty butter and cream their smooth mouthfeel.
That said, buttery chardonnays tend to work well with unadorned popcorn, too, acting as a sort of fat-free embellishment in place of the butter, which is a bonus to those of us concerned with adding fat to our food.
If you like your movie snack particularly salty, I'd alternatively recommend dry sparkling wine, arguably the best wine match for very salty foods. Many fine sparkling wines, including Champagne, coincidentally are made in whole or in part from chardonnay.
But here's the thing about popcorn: It's remarkably forgiving and friendly where wine is concerned, especially when there's little or no butter involved. I suspect that one of the last wines on Earth that many people would consider for popcorn is jammy, full-bodied Australian shiraz. Yet it works very well, especially if you love shiraz. Seriously, try it.
With popcorn, it's probably easier to keep in mind what doesn't work rather than what does. I'd suggest staying away from mouth-parching, aggressively tannic reds, chief among them young red Bordeaux – unless, of course, you're snacking in front of a French film.
The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol (HarperCollins) won top prize for best general English cookbook at the 2014 Taste Canada Food Writing Awards.