McDonald’s conducts regional test marketing all the time. There also are regional menu variations, although not as many as there used to be.
I can tell you this from personal experience — a lot of traveling around the country, and way too many meals under the golden arches.
Right now, as an example, you can’t get a regular chicken sandwich on the Value Menu in Las Vegas. That city’s McDonald’s restaurants have switched over to spicy chicken sandwiches — too spicy for my palate. Meanwhile, in Southern California (and perhaps the whole state), the iconic fried apple pie is back (for a limited time, according to signs in the windows).
No matter where one may visit a McDonald’s, the menu is vastly different than it was 75 years ago tomorrow when brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald opened the first restaurant to bear their name in San Bernardino, California. And thanks to the efforts of the late Ray Kroc and management teams that have followed, there are more than 35,000 places worldwide to chow down on McDonald’s food.
Unfortunately, for those of us who love wine, the beverage choices at McDonald’s (at least here in the States) are restricted to sodas, shakes, smoothies, tea, coffee and coffee drinks, and water. If you want to experiment with wine pairing and the Mickey D’s menu, you’ll have to do it at home.
As is the case with virtually all food-and-wine combinations, the key is to focus on the dominant flavor of the food. That’s why some of the suggestions that follow may surprise you — and why Chicken McNuggets may be enjoyed with either white wine or red wine, depending on the sauce.
- Cheeseburger, Double Cheeseburger, McDouble or Quarter Pounder With Cheese — Perhaps the easiest of all McDonald’s menu items to pair with wine, these are four burgers with the same basic ingredients, although the onions are chopped larger on the Quarter Pounder. Pinot Noir, known for its earthy tannins, is a solid wine choice as those tannins stand up nicely to the charred meat. Suggestion: Remove the pickles from the burgers and nosh on them separately, before or after eating the burger.
- Bacon Clubhouse Burger, Bacon McDouble or Premium Grilled Chicken Bacon Clubhouse Sandwich — Although the condiments vary on these sandwiches, each is defined by its bacon component. This calls for a wine with a similarly smoky quality, such as Syrah. Perhaps surprisingly, Riesling also can make an excellent pairing partner — not just with the chicken sandwich, but also with the burgers.
- McChicken — We’re talking about the “traditional” Value Menu rendition, not the spicy one. Ask them to go easy on the mayo (or scrape it off yourself), and eat it with Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio.
- Chicken McNuggets — Nobody (except perhaps my grandson, who is an extremely picky eater) eats McNuggets without some kind of sauce. So you’re not really pairing wine with chicken; you’re pairing it with the dipping sauce. With honey-mustard sauce, pour a glass of off-dry Riesling (because the sauce will make the wine seem drier than it is). Pair barbecue sauce with (red) Zinfandel. And with sweet-and-sour sauce, Riesling or Gewurztraminer are solid wine choices.
- Filet-O-Fish — This sandwich is all about the tartar sauce that’s slathered between the buns. The perfect pairing partner: a medium-bodied white blend.
- French Fries — McDonald’s gets a lot of grief from consumer groups, in part because of its menu and in part because of its size. Any company as big as McDonald’s is an easy target. But I think there’s one thing we all can agree on: It makes darn good fries. So even if you don’t care to purchase one of their sandwiches, pick up an order of fries, take it home, and open a bottle of sparkling wine — either Brut or Rosé. Sparkling wine is a solid choice with most salty, otherwise-challenging-to-pair food.
Happy Birthday, McDonald’s! You sure don’t look 75.