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Field Notes from a Wine Life – Life is a Highway Edition

In 2005, before “extreme eating” became television fodder in Man v. Food on the Travel channel, or local joints developed hipness du jour via Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives on the Food Network, my brother, brother-in-law and I made a pilgrimage, as part of an annual trip, to eat the stuff of legend – Tennessean hot chicken.

Annually, we do an annual road trip to an NFL stadium to catch a game whilst seeking out unique, local food.  Think pierogies in Pittsburgh, barbecue in Kansas City, cheese curds in Green Bay – indigenous foodstuffs.

When we went to Nashville, TN, the unique local food we sought out was “Prince’s Hot Chicken” – secret recipe fried chicken so damned hot it’s like a stomach exorcism and 24-hour laxative wrapped in toe-curling endorphin-popping, stars ablaze orgasmic pleasure.  And, that’s the food.  The actual location and vibe is enough to induce social anxiety while adding tummy bubbles to your overall sensory experience.

If I had to hazard a wine grab, knocking my beer over to get to the wine chaser, an off-dry German Riesling might be a nice match to my fiery red-tinged fingers and sweaty brow.

I’ve been thinking about the unlikely pairing of down home American food and wine, because, let’s face it, despite our attempts to the contrary, most of our historical and comfort food traditions in the U.S. aren’t something that has an immediate and apparent wine match.  And, that’s a problem.

When I think of wine pairing with chicken, the immediate dish that comes to mind is a roasted chicken with haricot verts and a nice pan sauce.

Unfortunately, that’s not how most people eat, at least the majority of the time.

Two excellent recent books have explored our native food traditions and local institutions.  500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late: and the Very Best Places to Eat Them chronicles a region by region account of the unique, the quirky and the delicious – food items uniquely American and uniquely regional in a land of increasing homogenization.  In California, for example, taco trucks get the recommendation treatment (amongst many others) including the El Paisa Taco Truck in Oakland.


In my Mom’s hometown of Huntington, IN, the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich gets its just due with a mention of Nick’s Kitchen and their “world famous” version of the fried goodness that extends to 9 or ten inches in diameter on the plate, nestled in a five inch hamburger bun, adorned with some mustard, sliced pickles and onion.


Real. Good. Food.

The other book is, America Eats!: On the Road with the WPA - the Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chitlin Feasts That Define

Taking more of a survey and sociological approach, America Eats! updates original writing from Depression-era Works Progress Administration writings—the government-sponsored writing that was paid for during a funded preservation of the arts during the Depression.

What the author finds is a lively regional food culture that is transforming, but still vital.


Taken together, both of these books represent a fascinating peek at our American food traditions in the past, the present and the need for preservation in the future.

But, as alluded to, the irony of the situation for wine lovers is the very simple notion and near empirical fact that most of these traditional American foods are not thought of as companions to wine – not to say that they can’t be, just that they aren’t.

And, fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, that needs to change.

If wine lovers and enthusiasts are serious about the continuing expansion of wine at the table, in our thought process, as an accepted complement to a life well-lived, then there needs to be a continued expansion of information-sharing and embrace of wine pairing with all types of foods – that means that instead of wine pairing tools and the like matching up with food that is classically derivative of the French tradition, wine and food pairing needs to go to the goofy, absurd and the fried – the American regional food tradition.


Sure, wine enthusiasts humor this notion around wine pairing with pizza, BBQ and burgers, but I’m talking about a real intent to drink wine with what you’re eating. 

Does California Pinot Noir go with an Iowa loose meat sandwich? What pairs with that Pork Tenderloin sandwich – fried, with perhaps some mayo alongside the mustard and onion?  I don’t know, but we need to figure it out to ensure that wine growth occurs with a sensibility that is in alignment with an increasing pervasion and celebration of our down home roots and an aversion to the white table cloth.


Posted in, Free Run: Field Notes From a Wine Life. Permalink | Comments (7) |


On 08/30, Ann Miller wrote:

I don’t know about a California Pinot but I would pair a California Syrah with the sausages and sweetish sauerkraut that was the staple of Polish weddings in my hometown of South Bend, IN, and which I have not had since I left. In the old days we drank 7&7s; (Seagrams and 7 up) and and Drewery’s beer but I think the time has come for Polish sausages and Syrah.

On 08/30, Wine of Month Club wrote:

Nice job on the NFL trips we’ve talked about doing an MLB trip much the same way…never worked out though.  Let me know when you guys are coming out to San Diego, we’ll make sure you get some real fish tacos!

On 08/30, Jeff wrote:


That is fantastic!  I grew up in South Bend, too!  I know all about Polish sausage (we buy it from Dorbin’s in Mishawaka) and we still have it for Thanksgiving and Christmas along with our Turkey and Ham!

I can definitely get behind a spicy Syrah with some Polish sausage!

Mark, if I’m in SD to see the Bolts, I’ll treat you and we’ll hang out at my buddy’s house (he lives in Torrey Pines State Park as a state lifeguard) and we’ll have some of the lobster he catches from free driving!


On 08/31, Dylan wrote:

Of course I had to read this while I’m sitting in front of some oatmeal. Not even the honey I drizzled in can save the flavor of this now.

I like the notion you suggested about making pairings more accessible for all types of American cuisine in order to increase wine’s influence as a part of the dining table. What place does wine have in the average American’s life if it can’t be used with lunch or dinner? If one thing’s for sure, we certainly love our food.

On 01/18, Bridges To Recovery wrote:

An opened bottle of wine needs to be refrigerated and needs to be consumed within a few days for best quality. The color change you experienced is common with “over aged” wines. Had you actually had a glass of your wine it would have tasted more like red wine vinegar than anything else. It is actually a myth that wine gets better with age. Most wines are intended to be consumed within about a year of production. However, some red wines will last longer than that.

On 01/27, Interior Design Ideas wrote:

Hey wonderful this reminds me of the trip which we friends used to take on holidays, we went for long trips and had night outs, and without wine and sausages its all empty, the pics are quite revealing, hope you guys enjoyed the trip well.

On 08/14, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

To store your red wine, return any decanted wine to the bottle and tightly recook. Refrigeration is pretty normal, though not always. I normally drink red wines up to a week after i opened them assuming no special rules, like for Lambrusco.

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