Pairing Off: Long John Silver's

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

I've commented already about the quick-service seafood chain's diabolical attempt to add a few years to my life, at least on paper. But the store I visited for this week's wine pairing also tries to break you down physically, overloading each piece with grease and sodium.

Sound good? They were also running an apparent contest to see how long they could hold out before changing the cooking oil.

As a result, the popcorn shrimp smacked of musty shellfish, salt and old oil. Fish fillet had a sandy, malty, salty, old oil-y flavor. And the butterflied shrimp (or maybe it was their "lobster," who can tell?) tasted more like gummy sodium and old oil.

Fortunately, matching wine to a vat of outdated grease and Morton's salt is easier than you would think.

After chuckling at the concept of a fast food fish dinner--or perhaps at me, I'm never sure--my old buddy Brooks Anderson of Veritas reached for a bottle of California sparkling wine.

On it's own, the Piper Sonoma blanc de blanc is nothing more than a serviceable, daily drinking bottle. The aroma flits through fruit and honey, both buried under a more prominent mulchy presence, and stops there. Sipping yields distinct fruity notes similar to apples just short of ripeness, but little else.

Yet there's nothing unpleasant about the wine. And when paired to an $8 sampler plate--box, rather--it appears to gear up and do battle.

Against the popcorn shrimp, sweet and fruity flavors fell to the rear, allowing more rustic impressions of chalk and reeds to come forward. The same wine found odd chicory and bubblegum notes as I shifted to the soggier butterflied shellfish. When tried with the fillet, a sour green apple taste strode to prominence, followed by hints of caramel.

Interesting. And in each case, the wine washed away dreadful remnants of oil and sodium.

The platter/box also included hushpuppies so sodden that 'steamed' would seem a more appropriate description than fried, although they clearly had been fried at some point in the past. With these, the wine developed an obvious toasty character.

Oh, and the fries? Nothing. After a series of victories, the Piper Sonoma fell flat.

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