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Pairing Off: Bacon

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Ah, bacon. Nature's most perfect food.

If only--and I don't mean this to sound like a prayer--some higher being could improve on the flavor of pork belly, cut into rashers and fried in an old pan. Yeah, I know all about the chocolate covered stuff. But that's more of a television-age lark (thank you, Homer Simpson) than a combination for the ages. And there's no alcohol involved.

So I rushed north to Vin Classic in Plano to consult with one of my favorite experts, someone who--when presented with offbeat questions--wanders the aisles, stopping here and there to consider the pros and cons of a particular bottle. Unfortunately, she had taken the day off and I was left with a disinterested clerk for wine pairing guidance.

Serves me right for not calling ahead, I know. Bacon deserves more respect.

The Dona Paula Los Cardos Malbec, a 2008 vintage from Argentina, he pulled from the rack seemed like a surprising choice. I had expected an oaky Chardonnay or one of those 'food friendly' pinot gris, the varietals people generally turn to when faced with food bearing distinct flavors and a decent amount of fat. But Malbec?

Decant it and allow it to breathe for an hour, he told me.

Great. I don't own a decanter. Used to, mind you, but that was a couple moves ago. Besides, who wants to let a $9 bottle sit for an hour?

So I dove right in to a wine smelling of skin and bark, tasting like contagious grape juice. Swirling furiously for a few minutes (then allowing to sit for a few minutes more while I mopped spilled wine from the cat) brought some pepper to the nose and yielded a smoother sip, edged by plum and basil. Wait some more and forest fruits come out.

But the wine stopped developing after that. Well, I'm pretty sure, anyway, and I had a half-pound of bacon to get through.

Wright Brand bacon is a relatively common cure--more sodium than smoke over a mildly tart meat. Against this, the wine softens dramatically. Watery citrus appears at the finish. Fruit rich enough to tarry with nature's perfect food strikes first. Yet none of this interferes with the crispy fried strips themselves. If anything, the wine brings more of the meat flavor forward while calming the sodium burn.

You know, I thought it would be a ghastly mismatch--and there are, quite likely, much better pairings. But there's nothing really wrong with wine fading into the background. Not when bacon is involved.

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