Pairing Off: Taco Bueno

So good, its bano--isn't that the slogan?

There's no shame in the occasional trip to Taco Bueno. Hard to resist the convenience and the colorful signage. Besides, if Dean Fearing can take guests to Primo's--only a few steps up--the rest of us are welcome to pick up fast food.

But (and there's always a 'but' in this column), Taco Bueno's beef creations are relentless, throwing vaguely Southwestern spices against your palate, supported by a heavy phalanx of salt. To make matters worse, the base seasoning dies off in the first assault, leaving just saline residue and the wounded remnants of cumin staggering to the rear. Any wine you put up against this must be some serious stuff.

"You don't want something too serious," says Bill Himes of Majestic Liquors on Greenville, pondering the problem. Fast food tacos consist of stale beef, bland tomatoes and iceberg lettuce that is more crunch than flavor. "White wine is kind out--and beer doesn't do anything for it, either."

Damn, a problem beer can't solve.

"You know, we could take a nice little Guadalupe Valley wine--Santa Tomas or House of Domec," suggests Vincent McGrath, wine director for Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse. Unfortunately, few if any shops carry decent and inexpensive examples from this region--a drawback, unless you happen to have time to drive around with your carryout Tex-Mex.

"I would do something pretty frivolous," advises the ever whimsical Neal Caldwell of Pogo's, "either a spice Italian rose or a slightly sweet Riesling."

Hmm...OK, we'll bite. He raves about Legeder, a northern Italian rose made from Legrein grapes, not very easy to find in Dallas but fitting the light bodied, spicy, slightly fruity combination most of the wine experts thought best for plebeian tacos. But it takes a, shall we say, special kind of guy to pick up rose.

"Yeah," Caldwell admits, "but this will prove they're real men." Besides, he adds, "it's a great little wine."

Sounds like the right option. Too bad they were out of the prescribed rose. So Pogo's pointed me toward a second option--Planeta rose from Italy, made from Syrah and, at $16.99 only a dollar more than Legeder (and ten bucks more than five tacos). Light, with an initial blast of spice and natural sweetness, the frilly pink wine finds an ally in the taco mixture, bringing in a complexity lacking in the meat, smoothing out some of the brackishness. Meanwhile the Taco Bueno salt washes out some of the wine's sugar. It's like the Italians signing a pact with, say, Germany...as if something like that would ever happen.

Don't get me wrong. It doesn't make Taco Bueno good. And the separate sauce proves almost too much for the rose to bear. But it does work as well as anything could work. It's the essence of pairing: complementary.

But there's more wine than taco, which left me with half a bottle of rose to finish. Not that anyone was around to see me do it, so let's just say I poured it down the drain--as any man would.

And the little I drank in the line of duty caused little or no harm. By the way, did you see that dramatic episode of Curb Appeal on HGTV Monday night? It...oh, shit. The game.
--Dave Faries

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