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Pairing Off: Beef Jerky

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It's hard to square the popularity of beef jerky with our love of low-sodium foods and really thick steaks. But there it is, an ancient staple available in every gas station, convenience store and grocery in the U.S.

Who can resist the stuff, really? The flavors are dense and often quite spicy. It comes in resealable containers to preserve the freshness (which seems kind of strange). I've been known to down entire bags at my desk. Even our dainty little receptionist claims to love beef jerky.

Despite the appeal, it's really a utilitarian thing--not one generally suited for a sit down dinner with a decent bottle of wine.

Harris Polakoff of Pogo's laughed (as often happens) when I walked in and hit him with the pairing question. "I've never been asked that one before," he assured me. Yet he walked directly over to a rack of Zinfandels and said "this would go perfectly."

Unfortunately, it was $26--a bit more than I wanted to pay for a dinner of Jack Link's and Tillamook Country product. So he steered me to a second option: Velvet Devil Merlot, 2007, from the Columbia Valley in Washington, priced around the $13 mark.

For an inexpensive Merlot, it showed rather fresh, juicy aromas backed by a hint of fennel and chalk. The promise of this combination was more than fulfilled on the palate: it is soft, easy drinking, but with a enough complexity to maintain interest. Behind the fruit, there's subtle notes of cocoa, mango and pomace--a layering of richness, spice and even rusticity.

Against the sweet, peppery flavor of Tillamook Country's "Old Fashioned" jerky, the wine located and brought forward the missing beefiness. It tackled the brand's smack of brown sugar, exposed more pepper and held up nicely. Paired to Jack Link's Hickory Smoked jerky, the wine seemed more troubled. It turned spicier and lost some of that fresh, juicy fruit. Yet it also reshaped the prominent smoky flavors of the meat, rounding it out and making the jerky appear more natural.

Interesting.

Really, I'd do this wine again, with or without bags of dried meat.

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