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Pairing Off: Taquitos

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

Without the existence of frozen supermarket taquitos, most guys wouldn't have survived their 20s. Hell, even after we've overcome all that Darwin throws at us over that particular decade--beer bongs, beer pong, the 7-Eleven beer run--we still rely on the occasional batch, pulled hot from the oven.

It's the beer run we drop as tastes evolve, not the taquitos.

The marriage of suds, tortillas and meat is a fine one, mind you. But spouses, girlfriends and the other things that frown upon our old ways eventually force most guys to ditch the frozen meal...unless they find a way to dress it up somewhat.

As we've learned, a bottle of wine makes everything from Triscuits to chicken-fried steak seem a little more sophisticated. But how does one salvage a box of taquitos?

With a bottle of Tempranillo, answers the guy at Crush on Knox Street.

Or any of his range of Spanish wines, for that matter. But Volver's 2005 Tempranillo is nice, with or without food on the table. On the nose it allows moments of dried fruit, rose petals, dark chocolate and the smell of country fields as perceived from a passing car--without the exhaust fumes. The flavor range shows fruit--overripe cherry and fresh melon--throughout, with chocolate on the finish, both measured by tannins and bitter grass.

The taquitos featured a warm beef filling, heavy on the cumin, inside relatively thick and mealy corn tortillas. Against this, the wine catches fire: a flare of pepper that subsides into bitter mole and, finally, a whiff of chalk. Taken to the wine, meanwhile, the Tex-Mex snack feels creamier on the palate but picks up an unfortunate (though not overpowering) salty character.

That whiff of chalk makes the pairing work. It finds the essence of malt and starch in the tortillas and brings both forward, perhaps lending each bite that creamy sensation.

You'll want salsa with the taquitos, of course--a cheaper brand (befitting the meal), but studded with corn and black beans. And with this, the wine calms a bit: the blast of pepper subsides, a rich sweetness like plum emerges and the flavors begin to pick on the corn and beans, calling them to the front.

Not bad--but it's funny how small a role the beef seems to play in all this.

Whatever. The key thing is this: no one is going to complain when they come home from errands on a Saturday to find you sprawled on the couch covered in tortilla crumbs (and perhaps splattered with salsa, the napkins being beyond easy reach) as long as you have a nice bottle of Tempranillo to share.

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