Pairing Off: Wendy's Chili

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

Deriding fast foods is somewhat de rigueur on blogs such as this. We're supposed to appreciate the efforts of chefs and skilled short order cooks as opposed to the corporate ethic, right?

But I'm not going to do that (at least on this occasion). However placid in flavor and thin in texture, I've had chili stewed over a campfire that was quite similar--and very much appreciated.

Besides, you can't call Wendy's fast food, because it's way better--or so I'm told.

OK, so I believe too much of what I watch on TV. The chain does, at least, allow their chili to simmer for awhile--although because they season for common tastes, there's little for slow cooking to develop other than basic, hamburger flavors. Oh, there's a wobble of pepper and some vegetal bitterness, but not much depth.

Surprisingly, the timid nature of Wendy's chili makes wine pairing all the more difficult.

The wines one might select for a spicy stew--Spanish Rioja, for instance--would likely prove too assertive. Another problem is finding someone who can identify from memory flavors in the chili to hook a wine around.

"I have to tell you I've never had Wendy's chili," admits Denise Jones, wine director at Vino 100 in Uptown. "In most cases Rioja would stand up to a hearty chili," she adds. "How about a Chilean Cab?"

Trey Williamson at Farpointe Cellar in Southlake decided to approach the problem from another angle. Guessing the fast food--sorry--chain would curtail the seasoning, he looks to a domestic. "I'm thinking a jammy California Zin," he says. "They are still flavorful, regardless of the lack of spices."

Sounds reasonable enough, so I picked up a Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel of unknown vintage--a wine reeking of fruit, with a hint of resin lurking in the aroma. On the palate, this was expressed in even greater measure: a spoonful of fresh jam with a little white pepper, leading to a sweet and spicy finish.

Clearly it's not a complicated wine.

When paired to the equally guileless chili, the fruit washes out and that slight peppery taste tightens up--then explodes onto your tongue. It actually makes the chili appear hotter and more robust.

Now, in most cases you want to protect the wine when matching with food. But this is one of those easy drinking bottles--and an inexpensive one, at that. You're not out much when the wine falters. And it makes the chili taste just a little bit better.

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Dave Faries
Contact: Dave Faries