Pairing Off: Bratwurst and Sauerkraut

When Charles de Gaulle famously moaned "how can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese," the Frenchman who best defined national vainglory hoped to excuse political chaos in his country.

Geez, the Germans manage orderly governance (and the occasional foray into France) with more than 1,200 different kinds of sausage.

That's right, 1,200--baurwurst, braunschweiger, bockwurst, knockwurst, frankfurter, weisswurst...In the age before refrigeration, making sausage not only helped preserve meat for storage, but also allowed locals to use the, um, lesser cuts of an animal. Some, such as liverwurst, are similar to pate and served as a spread. Others contain cured pork or beef.

Bratwurst, however, is raw sausage that must be cooked--making it a backyard grill favorite...although, like many other German "delicacies," it seems to work best with spicy sauces, sauerkraut and, of course, beer.

I expected the wine experts to escort me from the store when I asked about this week's pairing.

To my surprise, they didn't see the fatty, hearty flavors and shrill side--I bought a jar of Vlasic sauerkraut to go along with the brats--as problems. "You could go a couple different directions," says Giacome Yaquinto of Goody Goody on Oak Lawn. "I would try to pair it with a German wine, of course. My only concern would be overpowering the dish."

Overpowering brats stewed in beer, grilled and served with pickled cabbage? What's this German wine called, Panzerbock?

Rochelle Bose of Vin Classic Wines in Plano's Legacy development shares his concerns. "I would do an Alsatian wine--maybe a Pinot Gris," she explains. Not only does the region straddle France--implying a more languid wine, I guess--but it produces drier styles carrying enough acidity to disperse fat.

"They work really well, surprisingly," she adds.

Bradley Anderson of Veritas on Henderson also suggests Pinot Gris--and he did so just before actually nudging me toward the door (because the good folks from WFAA-TV were due to arrive and he had a 'no riff-raff' directive).

So I ended up with a Domaines Schlumberger 2005 Pinot Gris ($15.99 from Goody Goody)--a rather astonishing thing in relation to the dish.

The wine instantly squeezes the spicy, meaty warmth of bratwurst with a clean, bright sensation similar to a clarified peach-pineapple juice, trailed quickly by sparks of pepper. This compelling combination of flavors renews itself with every bite--not overly complex, but extremely rewarding.

Against sauerkraut, the Pinot Gris sets to work layering in softer counterpoints to the harsh preserve--akin to candied citrus peel over peppercorns, turning a one note side into something actually worthwhile.

Now, Yaquinto had said something about 'two directions.' What's the second? "If you could locate a German red, that might be interesting," he says. "But they're tough to come by."

I did find one, however--a cheap bottle with "red wine" listed as the varietal. Just as the experts warned, it proved far too powerful for the sausage, a Tiger amongst Shermans...for non-history buffs, that's a WWII reference...brutally shoving the meat aside in a headlong plunge across the palate. But when sampled next to the sauerkraut, this brash character turned out to be an advantage, finding the sugars used in pickling and bringing them into the foreground until a fascinating sugar plums and pepper flavor emerges.

Clearly the Germans--and the Green Bay tailgating crowd--have it all wrong. It's Pinot Gris, not beer, with brats.

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Dave Faries
Contact: Dave Faries