Pairing Off: Arby's Roast Beef

Years ago, it was considered--quite loosely--a more sophisticated antidote to the usual fast food fare.

Then Arby's sorta drifted into roadside obscurity, the butt of Seinfeld jokes...until rescued by some clever advertising. Not that the roast beef haven ever disappeared. Taco Bueno and all the other quick service joints overshadowed Arby's, at least in terms of presence.

But of all the fast foods out there, one would expect roast beef to be reasonably easy to match with wine.

Red meat. Bread. No problem, right?

Ah, but this stuff bears little if any resemblance to tender, dripping Sunday roasts of English lore. Instead of rich, claret-hued meat you find floppy, sickly gray wafers reeking of brine and giving off a dull, nitrate-ish flavor. The kids behind the counter keenly pile their beef-style product until it peaks about two inches high before topping it with a sesame seed bun.

It's the old, Yogi-esque adage: the food is terrible, but they sure give you a lot of it.

Despite initial reservations ("I don't know many people who drink wine with roast beef sandwiches" was a typical comment from the experts), James at Sigel's Quadrangle location stepped in with a nice pairing.

"You want a red, but you should go lighter in body--just to be safe," he explains.

Now this particular James sounded like James Whitley. But the dweebs from Sigel's corporate office are deeply afraid of what their wine experts might say to reporters--you know, they might direct someone writing a pairing story to just the perfect wine or something--so they apparently request that all media questions be directed to suited, corner officed dullards (for the pointless "we at Sigel's care about the customer" response). Well, we've all seen plenty of evidence for corporate genuis lately.

But enough of this. James points, without any direction from above, to an Annabella 2006 Merlot bottled by the Michael Pozzan winery--a damn good choice.

A few sips before pairing reveal deep cherry and dried fruit overtones, but with little tannic residue and a quick finish. But the wine is staunch, standing up to the Arby's product with the same fruity character--ripened, perhaps, but otherwise no different than that first taste.The soft mouth feel and rapid finish helps wash away the artificial, salty flavor of the meat, as well.

It's the right wine for a fast food roast beef sandwich. And when James finds a new job--making assumptions here--we will turn to him for advice again.

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