Pairing Off: Red Beans And Rice

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

This Creole staple is cooked slowly over low heat so vegetables, spices and beans melt into a richly flavored stew. Some people add andouille or ham before pouring it over plates of white rice.

On the other hand, some of us--me in this case--grab a box of Zatarain's and mix with water. Pretty easy, though not quite the same.

Still, we've long argued that most people are introduced to the world's varied cuisines through containers marked Zatarain's, Chef Boyardee, La Choy or whatever. Far too many choose not to progress beyond the box. Others (myself included) occasionally succumb to the convenience of processed foods.

Well, I succumb fairly frequently--but that's another matter. On those occasions when faced with a plate of gritty brown bouillon and rice, can wine salvage the meal?

Maybe--I mean, red beans and rice wouldn't be too far-fetched a partner for good wine...if it were homemade.

Zatarain's tastes like a mix, however. So Juan Pablo Taboada, wine director at Montecello Fine Wines hesitated for a moment when I posted the pairing question. "I would go with a Zin or...hmm..." There was another pause where he admitted "I haven't had that [Zatarain's] for awhile."

But at least he had tried it at one point in his life. Often in this column the experts are fuddled because they carry no certain memory of Spam or Wendy's spicy nuggets. After a few seconds, Taboada continued, advising me to buy a Shiraz.

"I would do the Layer Cake," he said, "or no--do Piping Schrike. Take that back, do Torbreck. That would be hot."

My 6th grade teacher, the much-feared Miss Hoing, hammered home--really, rulered home--the lesson that our first response is often the most honest. Although I think the context was a bit different, I decided to follow her advice for once and bought a 2008 Layer Cake Shiraz.

The wine hides itself from the nose, hinting at citrus, plum candy, cream and an odd tannic papaya. When put to the taste, however, it becomes lush and fruity, with a background of citrus, brambles and cocoa powder.

This last combination is probably what got Taboada all excited, for it would seem to bridge nicely into the earthy-mealy red bean flavor. Yet the wine at first douses Zatarain's product in fruit. Then a strong belt of pepper emerges and you begin to think the wine has been broken--until a funny thing happens. The next bite of red beans and rice finds your palate coated in musty plum and bitter fruit, a sensation strong enough to be sensed in the nasal passages. The wine had stuck its nose back...that's terrible, sorry...had fought its way back.

And it added some depth to the dish that did not come from bouillon--maybe not the most appropriate set of flavors, but a set of flavors nonetheless.

So, as pairings go, it's not bad. The Shiraz managed to hang in, though it didn't wow.

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Dave Faries
Contact: Dave Faries