A guide to pairing wine and jerky

Wine has a bad reputation of being complex and unapproachable and that's unfortunate. For me though, wine is fun and made to be enjoyed. That's why when I had the chance to combine two of my favorite things in life, I jumped at the opportunity. So today, I've taken five affordable wines and paired them with five different flavors from Jack Link's Jerky.

When researching this article my first thought was to reach out to some of my favorite wine partners for samples and suggestions. While everyone I spoke with understood what my intention was, few were really a perfect fit for the article. While you could take any wine and pair it with any jerky, I feel like it needs to match the brand too. That's not saying that a $50 or even a $100 bottle of wine can't pair great with some Teriyaki Jack Link's Jerky. However, Jack Link's Jerky is meant to be enjoyed whenever you are and whatever you are doing. It's about fun in the sun on a beach in Mexico, around a campfire in Michigan, or simply stored in your desk for that late afternoon snack.

This isn't going to be some high-end foodie experiment. This is just about having fun. So really ... there is no wrong answer. The only rule is the one I try to follow that was given to me by some of the world's top winemakers, brewers, distillers ... "If you like it, drink it!" The key here is never to let dollars or packaging get in the way of a sensory experience. A $10 bottle of wine can be your favorite, while a $200 bottle might have a superior flavor profile but do you enjoy it more? That's a personal decision that only you can answer. The same is true for jerky.

I happen to enjoy Jack Link's because it doesn't present itself to be anything more than it is. It's just a fun snack that tastes good and the brand is a fun one to be a part of.

So, with that in mind, I wanted to select 5 different wines that were all under $25. We're blessed today that there are so many options out there in this price range to be enjoyed.

wine and jerky pairing guide

Gather a Variety of Tastes and Textures To Explore

While some look at a pairing experience as an absolute exercise, I see a tasting and pairing experience as one that is personal and individual. To do this, you should gather items with a variety of flavors and textures to go together ... potentially even including contrasts. For instance, with our selection, we're including Original Flavor as well as Teriyaki Flavor Jack Links, Turkey, Bacon, and Spicy Red Pepper Smoked Beef Sausages. On the wine side, we're including California wines including an un-oaked Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc (similar to a Sauvignon Blanc), Cabernet Sauvignon, a Zinfandel blend, and a Malbec (Argentina). This spans the spectrum from no tannins to high tannins, dry to more sweet, and high acid to low.  By doing this, we'll have the opportunity to taste different combinations and explore the flavors.

We're keeping things simple here but you might also want to include olives, cheese, and crackers or crusty French bread to go along with it too.

jack links jerky tasting plate

Try The Items Individually To Create a Flavor Memory

The first step in your tasting experience is to try the items individually. Take a look at the jerky, feel the texture in your mouth, and smell it too. What sensations do you get from the meat individually? Do the same with the wines. This will help you compare and contrast once you try them together.

jack links bacon jerky

Try The Flavors Together in Your Mouth

There are some classic pairings that you know are going to go better than others. However, it's important to try things that might surprise you as well. For instance, Jack Link's Turkey Jerky paired well with the Cabernet Sauvignon since it had a smoky and salty flavor that stood up to the wine. You'll find this is true with food in general since "Turkey" for instance can be salted, fried, spiced, or just simply enjoyed plain. Similarly, one wine is not the same as the next - even if it is the same type of grape.

By taking a piece of jerky into your mouth, having a few bites to soften it up and release some flavor, then taking a sip of the wine you can allow the flavors to meld together. Sometimes this works better than others and that's when you find magic.

red pepper smoked beef sausage with malbec

Our Wine and Jerky Pairings Favorites

Right off the bat, I'm going to challenge some preconceptions. Red and White wines can go with any type of meat though certain varietals do go better than others. For instance, we're pairing Cabernet Sauvignon with Jack Link's Turkey Jerky and Chenin Black (similar to Cabernet Sauvignon) with Original Flavor Jack Link's Jerky. There's no right answer here and what we found generally was that while individual jerky items have their own unique flavor profiles, generally Jack Link's Jerky has a salty, smoky flavor that should be taken into consideration as much as the type of meat or wine being paired.

With that being said, here's where we landed on our pairing recommendations for wine and jerky!

Zinfandel - Jack Link's Bacon Jerky: Zinfandel is a great wine for pairing with pretty much any meat that is nice and fatty. While it's generally lighter than a merlot or cabernet sauvignon, the moderate tannins pair well with the fat and hickory smoke flavor here.

Malbec - Jack Link's Spicy Red Pepper Beef Smoked Sausages: Malbec as well goes with pretty much any meat and would have been a great choice for any of the jerky flavors. However, I feel that it goes particularly well with moderately spicy foods since it has a big bold flavor and moderate tannins with a bold fruity flavor. 

Chenin Blanc - Jack Link's Original Beef Jerky: While generally, a wine like this (unoaked) would pair better with salads, fish, oysters, or chicken with heavy cream sauces, I felt like this one does well against the slightly tangy smoky flavor of the jerky. 

Cabernet Sauvignon - Jack Link's Original Turkey Jerky: This again is a headscratcher for some because Cabernet Sauvignon is a big heavy wine and this one is no different. However, for some reason, I felt that it paired surprisingly well with the turkey jerky in this tasting. 

Chardonnay - Jack Link's  Teriyaki Beef Jerky: Teriyaki goes well with a variety of different wines but we picked an unoaked chardonnay since the sweet flavors from the Teriyaki seemed to play well with the relatively high acidity here.

The reality is that everyone is going to have a slightly different take on everything they try.

That's not to say that my picks are wrong ... they will simply be different for each person who samples something. That's why I advise guys who are new to wine to get something that they like and to take opportunities like visiting a winery or tasting experience to try new things. 

This is also why I especially enjoy opportunities to put together a tasting platter with different flavors and textures. It's a fun way to explore your pallet and have a great conversation with friends or just you and your partner on a romantic night at home.