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Pairing Off: Orange Chicken (From A Grocery Store)

When asking about dishes considered unsuitable--or at least unusual--for wine, the experts generally push me toward something fruity and acidic.

Makes sense, really: these are the two elements most capable of battling excess salt, wallowing fat and other banes of wine pairing. So when I approached the woman at Majestic on Oak Lawn looking for something to go with orange chicken from a bag picked out of a Tom Thumb frozen food aisle, she almost immediately (after the raised eyebrow and the "how much do you want to spend?" question) escorted me to a sale rack of Sauvignon Blanc.

Ventisquero Reserva 2008 Sauvignon Blanc is, clearly, a young Chilean product bottled for immediate consumption. The wine is clean and easy, with a lot of fresh pineapple up front and some whispers of mango--all of which disappears quickly. Orange chicken in a bag is, well, along with the pyramids, Apollo 11 and the '67-'68 St. Louis Cardinals, one of humankind's greatest inventions.

From a guy's point of view, anyway. I mean, just dump stuff from a bag into a pan, squeeze the diaper contents that become sauce over it, microwave some rice--it feels like cooking, without all the mess. And it's at least the equivalent, in quality, of most Chinese delivery.

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For pairing wine, however, one must keep in mind the dull, artificial nature of "orange" flavor and the impressive sodium content.

Hence the Sauvignon Blanc. Wine and 'stir-fried' orange chicken in this case co-exist as equals, interacting, but refusing to threaten each other's place in the world. The wine becomes juicier and the sensation of tropical fruit develops a little more, perhaps due to the diaper-brown sauce.

But there's not much else to report. The interplay between food and wine remains at this basic, separate but equal level. So I could this pairing as a success. There's no damage, either way. And for less than $20, you've had a full meal and drinkable bottle.

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