Pairing Off: Pork Rinds

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

There's gonna be a moment when you think "this is the low point--it can't get any worse." Of course, intellectually you know it can get much worse. But the little speech, however mistaken, helps you cope with the situation.

Some months ago I went through this process when pairing wine to pan seared Spam. "Can't get worse," I said to myself at the time. Yet this week I had to walk into the neighborhood Kroger, hunt up and down the chips aisle for two likely bags of pork rinds, then head over to a wine shop to ask--out loud in front of other customers--the 'which wine works best with' question.

Pretty low, indeed.

Yet somehow I was buoyed by the words of Brian Luscher, chef at The Grape. "I would get a Champagne," he said when I called about this week's pairing. "Not a California sparkling wine, but a real French Champagne--something earthy, mushroomy, yeasty, with real terroir."

Not that I took his advice, mind you.

I kind of know what he was thinking: the mineral character and effervescence would pop when set against the blandness of puffed pork skin. But Champagne is one of those fall back wines--good with just about everything and even better by itself. So instead I walked into Crush in the Knox-Henderson area and asked the question.

"I don't know that I've ever been asked that," the clerk responded. Come to think of it, this may be the first time the wine and pork rind question has been asked anywhere. Probably the last, as well.

The Crush guy directed me to Ten Mile, a California proprietary red from Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Barbera and Carignane grapes dated 2006. I know this label receives moderately positive reviews, but to me it resembles Welch's in the glass--an opaque, viscous-looking purple.

On the nose, however, the Ten Mile performs well. The aromas collect into one mass of crushed ripe fruit, tinged with a little rough leather and resin, all of which combine to suggest an easy drinking wine. Yet the flavor is lumbering and rather clumsy: a fruit blast heavy enough to knock you back, followed by a bucketload of spice. It's not a subtle wine...which, of course, means that it completely washed out the taste of pork rind.

Not necessarily a bad thing, depending upon one's perspective. I happen to love pork cracklings, though I'm not so fond of packaged rinds.

In this case the wine allows some of the husky pork residue to linger on the palate, while its spicy blast lends character to the lightly seasoned rinds. Paired to the "hot and spicy" style, however, this flares into an unpleasant burning sensation.

So let's never speak of this moment again...unless Champagne is involved.

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