Pop the Cork and Corn

(From left) Duck Fat and Truffle Salt, Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt, and Cinnamon Bun. Photo by Andrea Johnson/Location: Carlton Hill Vineyard.

By Chef Wendy Bennett

Popcorn and wine. Considering popcorn is crunchy, light and the perfect vehicle for flavor, it’s no surprise wine and popcorn is a real match.

For decades, popcorn lovers have devoured the simple snack with savory and sweet toppings, such as caramel and cheese — the combination is delicious — but today, new flavors are bursting onto the scene. Suddenly, popcorn has become a fashionable food. 

Hot dogs, beer, baked potato, creamsicle, egg nog … No, I am not describing the contents of my fridge and freezer; these are just are few of the popcorn variations now available. There’s even pregnancy popcorn flavored to taste like dill pickles and ice cream — not sure about that one.

While these corn-crazed concoctions are definitely a trend, one wonders if they will endure. According to the Popcorn Board, more than 16 billion quarts of popcorn are consumed annually, so the snack’s popularity — and likely its endless flavor possibilities — is not likely to cease anytime soon. 

With popcorn’s affinity to wine and wine’s incredible variety, suddenly pairing the two becomes a pleasurable pastime that I’ve recently found myself immersed in. 

The first step to any popcorn creation is, of course, to pop the corn. I prefer the old-fashioned stove method, but using a microwave is definitely convenient — no pot to clean — or an electrical popper is also an option for those with space for extra appliances. 

As for what kind of toppings and which wines, experimentation is the best — and most enjoyable — way to find the best match. 

So, pop the cork, pop the corn and savor the lip-smacking possibilities.



¼ cup oil (vegetable, canola or coconut)

1/3 cup popcorn kernels

1. Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add popcorn kernels and cover. 2. Shake often and remove from heat when popping slows. Yields about 5 cups.  


1/3 cup popcorn kernels

* brown paper lunch bag

1. Add kernels to bag and fold top, securing with a staple — this is not enough metal to spark in most microwaves. 2. Place bag upright in middle of microwave. Cook on high until popping slows to once every couple seconds. Remove immediately.


WINE PAIRING: Cabernet Franc


5 cups freshly popped popcorn

¼ cup butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated

½ teaspoon fine sea salt 


1. Preheat oven to 325°F. 2. Combine butter and garlic in a small saucepan; stir over medium heat until butter is melted and garlic is toasted. Add the rosemary and pepper, stirring until the mixture is well combined. Place popcorn in a large bowl and drizzle butter mixture over popcorn while stirring. 3. Spread popcorn on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and Parmesan. Bake for 5 minutes or until cheese melts on the popcorn. Serve.


WINE PAIRING: Sparkling 


¼ cup duck fat (find at fine meat markets)

½ cup popcorn kernels

1 tablespoon truffle salt


1. Heat duck fat and popcorn kernels over high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. After kernels begin to pop, shake pot vigorously until there are a couple seconds between popping sounds. Remove from heat and immediately pour popcorn into a large bowl and sprinkle with truffle salt. 


WINE PAIRING: Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling


5 cups freshly popped popcorn

¼ cup melted butter, salted

1 teaspoon lime zest, freshly grated

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon jalapeño, minced

2 teaspoons tequila

¾ teaspoon superfine sugar

½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground 

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1½ teaspoons salt, finely ground

¾ teaspoon cumin, ground


1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a small saucepan, combine butter, lime zest, lime juice, jalapeño, tequila and sugar until well blended. Keep slightly warm over low heat. 2. In a separate, small bowl, mix together black pepper, cayenne pepper, salt and cumin. Set aside. 3. Place popped popcorn in a large bowl and drizzle butter mixture on popcorn while stirring. Next, place popcorn in a brown paper lunch bag and add dry seasoning mix. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds to coat popcorn evenly — this is the best method to distribute the seasonings. 4. Pour popcorn onto a baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 5 minutes, or until you can smell the seasonings — this step dries the popcorn and toasts the spices; it is necessary. Remove from oven and serve warm. 


WINE PAIRING: Dessert wine


5 cups freshly popped popcorn

¼ cup butter

1/3 cup brown sugar

3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup pecans, toasted

1 cup white chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 325°F. 2. Combine butter, brown sugar and sweetened condensed milk over medium-high heat. Bring mixture to a boil, and boil for 3 minutes. Add vanilla and pecans — careful, mixture will bubble and splatter. 3. In a large bowl, combine popcorn and white chocolate chips. Stir popcorn mixture while drizzling sugar mixture over the top. Spread on a cookie sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.




5 cups freshly popped popcorn

1 cup dark chocolate chips

1 teaspoon smoked sea salt


1. Melt chocolate chips in a small bowl over a water bath or in the microwave. Place popcorn in a large bowl and drizzle chocolate over popcorn while stirring. 2. Once combined, continue stirring and sprinkle on the salt. Serve.


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