Pairing Off: Chicken Fried Steak

Texas should be ashamed of itself.

In the old days this state produced larger than life heroes--men like James Fannin, Clyde Barrow and "Hollywood" Henderson. But now, after two from the Bush clan (three if you count Neil), a Rove and the guys at Enron, all we can cling to is our national dish.

And chicken fried steak creates another larger than life problem. Assuming the figure of 800,000 plus portions consumed per day by residents is correct, this 800 calorie mass of abused red meat adds some 183,000 pounds of extra love handle to our waistlines every single day.

Even worse, the hallmarks of good chicken fried steak--beef, a grease-soaked crust, and the usually bland gravy--is confounding enough that even the most seasoned wine veterans stammer like Sarah Palin at a press conference when confronted with one.

"Wow...uh..." says Paul Burrough of Sacred Cellars.

"That's a tough one," grimmaces Dawn Nealon at the Centennial in Addison, considering pairing options. "A good beer?"

Yes, even the folks at Perry's, which serves a chicken fried prime ribeye, recommend beer as a first choice. But this is a wine column and thus..."there's a wide range of stuff" to contend with, Burrough explains. Red meat generally calls for a full-bodied red. Yet the fried shell demands something crisp. And the gravy stand ready to defeat both.

"You need a lighter red with high acidity to cut the creaminess and fat," says Vincent Havard of the wine bar Mercy in Addison.

"You know," Burrough adds after some thought, "I'd probably lean toward a Granache or lighter bodied Pinot." Havard agreed--and both threw in the possibility of a classic Cotes du Rhone, such as the 2006 Domaine La Milliere (around $20). Nealon leans more toward Pinot Noir. "It's not as strong as a Cab," she says, pointing to Smoking Loon (on sale at $8.99), Mark West (also on sale for $10.99) or the more appropriately named Wine by Joe (about $21).

No way I'm spending $21 on a wine to go with Grandy's chicken fried steak.

You know, I've tried many versions of CFS in my time and, I must say, this was one of them. Resonating with salt, a backwash of pepper and a faint, tinny taste from the meat, the crisp helping sat there, unrepentant and likely unbreachable. Hell, even the green beans and mashed potatoes picked up the same flavors.

But the Mark West worked. Sharp and aggressive at first, it lacks any sort of follow-through. The overt salt and pepper character of Grandy's chicken fried steak retreated in front of the fruity burst. And the quick finish seemed to wash away the nauseating, heavy aftertaste usually left by fried dough in combination with gravy...assuming, of course, you take big gulps of wine.

Two-thirds of a bottle later, I was satisfied.
--Dave Faries