All’s Pair

B movie actor...excuse us, Governor Schwarzenegger scored a respectable second in the coveted Foot in Mouth contest for his astute assessment of gay marriage. It "should be between a man and a woman," he said.

Wonder how the big guy explains Michael Jackson.

It's disturbing when those with an actual say in current events lack even a basic understanding of the issues. Consider, for example, this most important exchange between authorities: In the December GQ magazine, David Lynch, wine director for the New York hot spot Babbo, assures us that "no wine goes with ham." His only advice for holiday diners is a grudging suggestion to pick a light red--or avoid ham altogether. Yet Richard Nalley, writing in December's Food & Wine, praises Beaujolais (a light red) as "a natural with ham" for its generous fruit and light body. It will not trounce ham's delicate flavor, he points out.

Perhaps Ah-nold should grab his favorite hostess (sorry), ask her to pick out a nice light red and rethink the major social policy issues. Meanwhile, the Burning Question crew prefers to drop the topic and concentrate on questions of more immediate interest.

It's one thing when mediocre actors babble about same-sex marriage or the nutritional value of ketchup. But when wine experts can't find common ground, we snap into action. Despite the illogical ramblings of Babbo's sommelier, wine is an everyday drink. "One of the staples of France is pomme frites with wine," says Todd Lincicome, wine director at Al Biernat's. "That's french fries and wine."

And supersize it.

"Wine is supposed to be more pedestrian," agrees Wayne Cumins of Mercy, a wine bar in Addison. "Why shouldn't it go with common foods?"

People commonly characterize wine as a snooty affectation, suitable only for expensive meals or special occasions. In reality, however, it's the stuff of Hemingway's guerrilla fighters, Jerry Lee Lewis and the like. It's also common to match complex wines with intricate foods. But as Van Roberts, owner of Lola, points out, "If the food is powerful, the wine has to be more submissive. The less complex the food, the more complex the wine."

To answer this week's Burning Question, we sought advice on pairing bottles with everyday favorites: pizza, nachos, bratwurst, popcorn and such. Anyway, we've always wanted to chug a bottle of Lafitte Rothschild while munching a bag of Lay's.

Unfortunately, we could only afford a young Toad Hollow with the cash we "found" in our editor's desk drawer.

It wasn't bad, actually, and we escaped punishment for the theft by fingering a tour group of grade-schoolers.

Local experts reassured us of wine's versatility. Pizza, according to Lincicome, begs for a lighter red. "Pizza is bread and tomato and garlic and pepperoni," he says. "The most popular wine from the region where pizza originated is Chianti, a light red." With bratwurst, opt for a dry German wine. Hot dogs require something with strong fruit flavors, such as a zinfandel or Hawaiian Punch.

"Wine is all about complementing or contrasting the flavors dominant in the food," says Phil Natale of Sense. Thus wine experts--aside from those at Babbo--see few problems pairing wine with daily fare, from grilled cheese to Pop Tarts.

"If you can't match it, dress it up," advises Fabian Hernandez, cellar master at Nana. "Use wine as another spice--add a flavor that's not there in the food."

Even when we asked for a vintage bottle to accompany the bag of popcorn we smuggled into restaurants, local sommeliers flinched only a bit. "I tried a wine that smelled like popcorn," Cumins says, although he recommends a young, fruity wine to battle the salt. "A lot of white Burgundies come out with a popcorn taste profile," Roberts adds. Hernandez, meanwhile, prefers a dessert wine.

"I'd go with Royal Tokaji, a sweet Hungarian wine," he says. "It's like caramel."

For a plate of nachos, Hernandez suggests an Italian sparkling wine, "something light and crisp and beerlike." Yet he concedes that Mexican cuisine really demands a margarita or cold lager.

"There's a reason most Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants don't have extensive wine lists," Natale adds.

And that's enough evidence for the Burning Question crew. We visited a number of establishments, tested every pairing we dared and started some kids on the road to reform school. We're still recovering from the carnival stench of a vicious Royal Tokaji hangover, anyway.

"Almost everything can go with wine," Hernandez reminds us. "But should it?"


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