This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES Germany.
Billy Wagner, the host and sommelier of Berlin's Michelin-starred restaurant Nobelhart & Schmutzig, is not a döner-every-day kind of guy. But when we asked him to meet us in the subway at 3am to figure out what to drink with a döner, he didn't even blink.
We set Wagner up with Per Meurling of Berlin Food Stories, an authority on where to find Berlin's best kebab. And so they met at 3 AM at the Kottbusser Tor train station—a station better known for other 3 AM pursuits—to eat döner and taste some very fancy wine.
MUNCHIES: How would you describe the taste of a döner? Billy Wagner: Greasy, juicy, salty, creamy, and possibly a bit tangy. It's not very complex, basically. It's geared towards simple needs. It's easy to understand, and it's at home in a flavour world that's also easy to understand.
What should you pay attention to whenever you're trying to pair a beverage with food? It's easy: [Put] food in your mouth, and chase it with wine. Really see if one fits the other or not. It's better with both in your mouth at the same time—if you swallow the food and wash it down with wine, the combination won't be as strong. Even if Mama used to say "first, swallow the food, then wipe your mouth, and only then should you drink something."
What works and what doesn't is generally a big topic—[people have] written whole books about it. In principle, however, one doesn't only have to combine wine with food, but also with beers or cocktails. The more characterless the drink is, the easier it is to pair that drink with food. The drink won't work against the food if it doesn't taste like anything anyway.
And what kind of wine is best-suited for a döner kebab?
Fruity wine—wine [with apple notes] and acidity, and sparkling wines. The connection between fruit—as you know from Riesling—and sparkling wines or Champagne goes quite well with creamy, salty, greasy döner.
Which other drinks that aren't as fancy would also pair well?
A slightly fruity pale ale, as long it's not totally overhopped, could go really nicely. And Ayran [Turkish salted yogurt drink], obviously.
What should you absolutely avoid when you're drinking with a kebab?
Any characterless beverage. The kebab gets eaten quickly, but the drink lasts a bit longer.
Translated by Meredith Balkus.