Pairing Off: Chef Boyardee

Let's avoid the usual harsh commentary regarding canned meals and substitute, say, "moist" for "barely recognizable as a foodstuff, much less as pasta." And how about "seasoning" in place of "past-its-prime dust from spice rack jars." Finally, why not "hearty" instead of "cheap dog food."

With that said, Chef Boyardee's beef ravioli features hearty meat enhanced by robust seasoning inside moist shells. How could any one bottle of vino hope to contend with such a vile beast?

"I'm assuming if they're eating Chef Boyardee they don't give a shit about wine," says Scott Turner of Sigel's Elite on Fitzhugh. "That ravioli doesn't have a lot of pairing flavors," adds The Wine Market & More's Dave Edmondson. "It's really bland."

Not necessarily--there are hints of garlic powder and an off-putting, brownish flavor, a little tartness quelled by salt and the constant sogginess, all warranting the wine guys' concerns. Because it's ostensibly a pasta, Chianti would seem the obvious choice. But few experts I spoke with wanted to risk a good Italian bottle on canned goods...although Turner believes Colosi, a Sicilian producer using Nero D'Avola grapes, might work. Essentially, he says, "you want to keep it simple."

Some wine representative I bumped into at Hector's on Henderson one evening advised in favor of a Petit Syrah. Edmondson offered an Australian Granache called The Bitch, a $10 bottle, on the light side without sacrificing body. "It's something real simple," he points out, clearly agreeing with his Sigel's counterpart. But I opted for a more expensive bottle, merely because the logic proved irresistible.

"For something as authentically Italian as Chef Boyardee, I think you need an authentic Sangiovese from Lubbock," says Brooks Anderson of Veritas wine bar, pointing to McPherson's 2006 vintage (about $18).

Nothing against the choice, mind you. The McPherson countered sodden pasta with a pleasantly tacky mouth feel, kicked in with a little spice and struggled to wash away the Alpo-ish meat filling with a subtle character similar to burnished rose petals. It's a well balanced Sangiovese. But any of the suggested wines would probably fight as well against the Chef.

Considering the diabolical flavors arrayed by Chef Boyardee and his canned ravioli, it's just a hard battle to win.
--Dave Faries

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