One day back in 2017, Huntington Beach entrepreneur Jonathan Strietzel was chomping on cheesy potato chips with a glass of pinot noir and realized that the snacks’ flavor couldn’t stand up to the wine. He envisioned a stronger-tasting chip, one that could indeed pair with wine, and founded Wine Chips to tackle the challenge, rallying the support of family and friends in the test kitchen.
The line, whose chief creative officer is Santa Barbara–based branding guru (and cannabis farmer) Sara Rotman, launched in 2020 with four primary flavors — Smoked Gouda, Asiago, Blue Cheese, and Manchego. But they also produce “private reserve” batches like Dry-Aged Ribeye and Spicy Calabrese, released each month to club members.
The lattice-cut chips, which come with suggested wine pairings listed on the informative labels, are substantial in both thickness and seasoning, almost creating a creamy mouthfeel into which the wines can settle. They’ve already tallied more than $1 million in online orders and are now starting to show up on the aisles of gourmet grocers.
I recently tasted the full lineup, and selected Santa Barbara County bottles to pair with each flavors.
Manchego x Scar of the Sea Rancho de Los Vinos Chardonnay 2019: The sheep’s milk cheese flavor is quite potent and stinky in good ways. Mikey Giugni’s briny Santa Maria Valley chardonnay cuts through that with a crushed-seashell minerality.
Spicy Calabrese x Melville Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2019: The kick on this charcuterie-flavored snack, one of the tastiest chips, is balanced by the juicy fruit and long-lingering herb qualities of Melville’s estate cuvée.
Smoked Gouda x Jaffurs Bien Nacido VIneyard Syrah 2018: Salty, smoky, and gamey all at once, this flavor needs a powerful counterpart, which this rich, peppery single-vineyard expression from the historic Santa Maria Valley vineyard provides.
Blue Cheese x A Tribute to Grace Thompson Vineyard Grenache 2019: The almost painful — though pleasant — funk of this flavor would work well with a crisp or viscous white wine, but Angela Osborne’s grenache from this well-known vineyard near Los Alamos works well too, putting up the bright fruit and zesty acidity to lift the salty character of the cheese.
Asiago x Story of Soil Martian Ranch Gamay Noir 2020: This flavor based on the traditional Italian cow’s milk cheese proves almost creamy on the palate. Jessica Gasca’s fresh and zippy gamay from the recently recognized Alisos Canyon appellation brings out a cracked-pepper flavor, and slices right into the creaminess like a lance.
Dry-Aged Ribeye x Crown Point Relevant 2018: While a meat-flavored chip may sound risky, this savory showcase is quite delicious. Like a seared steak, it requires a red wine with ripe impact, and this Happy Canyon estate blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petit verdot is lavish in jammy fruits, espresso, and milk chocolate flavors. —Matt Kettmann
Wine Chips cost $20 for three three-ounce bags of one flavor, but package deals also exist. See winechips.com.