When Dinner Comes in a Long Bun

(By James M. Thresher For The Washington Post)
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By Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
Wednesday, August 6, 2008; Page F05

We never dreamed that our first taste of a 1961 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, a rare wine with a four-figure price tag, would occur with our first taste of a Spicy Redneck from Crif Dogs in New York. The hot dog was wrapped in bacon, deep-fried and topped with chili, coleslaw and jalapeño peppers.

Then again, we had never met a wine lover like Grae Verlin, the widow of renowned wine collector Steven Verlin. On Nov. 30, 2007, the night before Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. was to conduct auctions in Chicago and online for a portion of the Verlins' renowned wine cellar, Grae Verlin hosted a tasting of some of the wines, including Chateau Margaux and Chateau d'Yquem, in New York. (Auctions of other portions of the cellar had brought in $4.6 million from bidders in 29 states and 18 countries a month earlier and $7 million six months before that.) In Verlin's trademark fun-loving style, these haute wines were accompanied by hot dogs.

We have her to thank for opening our eyes to that fun pairing and for inspiring this summer column, for which we sought to discover the right wines for all kinds of tube steaks, from light to heavyweight:

· Boudin blanc, bratwurst: These light-as-a-feather puppies were a match made in heaven with the 2006 Albert Mann Riesling Cuvee Albert ($22), an Alsatian Riesling with ripe peach and mango fruit, light grapefruit acidity and a dry mineral finish with a hint of orange rind. Alsatian Riesling is stellar with the pork (and veal) that typically makes up bratwurst and (with veal and chicken) boudin blanc.

· Salmon sausage, tuna sausage: If the kids are still at camp, make your hot dog tasting a more "haute" occasion by opening a fantastic pinot noir with grilled or poached seafood sausage. The vines that create the 2006 Belle Glos Taylor Lane Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($60) are grown just six miles from the Pacific Ocean, which may help explain the wine's affinity for salmon and tuna. This light-bodied, brightly acidic wine that tasted of cherries (with the lightest mushroom finish) magically elevated the flavor of these sausages, with the acidity cutting through their richness and the fruit in the wine becoming their "sauce."

· Smoked wiener: Campo Viejo is one of the largest producers in Spain's Rioja region. Its 2005 Campo Viejo Rioja Crianza ($13) is a blend of 85 percent tempranillo, 10 percent garnacha and 5 percent mazuelo that is aged for a year in oak. This smooth-textured wine has a balance of tart cherry fruitiness and earthiness that is chameleon-like: Its smoky notes came out with the smoky wiener, its lightness with the boudin blanc and its spiciness with the chili dog we tried later.

· Italian sausage with fennel: The 2005 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva Chianti Rufina ($24) was the easiest pairing of the night, given the strong regional affinity of the pair. This elegant wine with aging potential, from a winery that has roots going back more than 1,000 years, is a good value. The wine's herbaceous and mushroomy notes enhanced the sausage and the roasted peppers that accompanied it.

· Hot dog with chili sauce: The aforementioned 2006 Albert Mann Riesling Cuvee Albert surprised us with how well it provided a refreshing contrast to our chili dog. But the two reds we paired with it delivered our picks for this week.

Andrew's pick is the 2006 Francis Ford Coppola Director's Cut Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($22), a big, jammy zin grounded with earthiness and enlivened with spice. Following the impressive 2005 debut vintage, the winemaker credits the caliber of the 2006 to a "leisurely harvest" throughout a rainless September and October that allowed the fruit to ripen to "perfection," as winemaker Corey Beck said. If it's not actual perfection, it's close enough for us.

Karen's pick is the 2006 Pillar Box Red ($12), a blend of 50 percent shiraz, 42 percent cabernet sauvignon and 8 percent merlot from Australia that results in a spicy, jammy and slightly tannic red that shined with all manner of beef dogs -- even our spicy chili dog.

As much fun as we had sipping 1961 Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion with a Crif dog, Karen admittedly pulled off the jalapeños to save the pairing, not to mention her palate. But if you're ready to go over the top with fun pairings, don't stop at dessert: At Grae Verlin's unforgettable wine tasting, Chateau d'Yquem was poured to accompany warm Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Sure, we love both. But together? We took a bite, then a sip. The doughnuts weren't the sugar bombs we'd remembered them to be, so the wine was easily sweeter and richer, enveloping their yeastiness. The flavors melded, and the combination soared. Sweet dreams are made of these.

Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, authors of "What to Drink With What You Eat" and the forthcoming "The Flavor Bible," can be reached through their Web site,, or at

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