Pairing Off: Chips And Salsa

Each week, Pairing Off attempts to find just the right bottle of wine to go with ordinary food.

Whoever first decided to shatter fried tortillas into wedge shapes and open a jar of salsa was some kind of improvisational genius. In one moment he--or she, but most likely he--gave the art of lounging around watching football all weekend a worthy culinary partner.

Oh, sure--potato chips and sour cream dip are fine...if you're the sort who thinks Truman might be too soft to deal with those pesky reds.

Chips and salsa is a healthier combination, full of tomatoes and stuff. You can pretend they reflect an appreciation of global cuisine, even when the salsa comes from New York City. The chips can be shaped into miniature bowls. Sheer genius.

There's only one thing this culinary mastermind overlooked. An overload of bold flavors--salt, jalapeno, onions--makes pairing with anything other than beer damn near impossible. Doesn't it?

Quite possibly.

A sparkling wine would be the most obvious foil. But the guy at PK's Fine Wines & Liquors decided to take a chance. Spanish reds, he surmised, might just work--considering the colonial heritage and all.

So I picked up a Martin Codax Rioja, 2005, featuring waves of fruit on the nose tarnished with wood and a quality akin to rubber. Sipped by itself, the wine presents an interesting character, like ripe dark fruit--plums and forest berries--circled by a swirling school of spice. This odd presence is filled out by balsamic and juice. An interesting wine.

Pitched against Tostitos tortilla chips, however, the richer aspects of this wine collapse, leaving you with a burst of sharp, sour spice. Adding salsa improves things considerably, though. That tart-bitter intensity softens into a black pepper sensation and some of the plum flavor reemerges.

In both cases, however, the wine loses its staying power, wrapping up instantly.

So--it was a risk worth taking, but one that didn't quite pan out. I appreciate experts who step beyond the obvious. Still, it's probably better to think crisp and bubbly...which starts to sound like beer.

Hey--beer and football! Got my weekend planned.

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