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Odd Pair: Carne Asada Tampiqueña and Nebbiolo

On paper, this pairing breaks every rule of Wine 101. The heat of this dish -- the spiciness of both the marinade for the beef and the mole -- would overwhelm nearly any fine wine. The classic match would be ice-cold, dry beer served in an iced pony glass (perhaps even with a twist of lemon).

Personally, my go-to accompaniment for this dish would be a michelada (cerveza preparada) made with Clamato, where the acidity of the tomato and the saltiness of the clam juice provide a counterpoint to the richness and savory character of the beef, cheese, and bitter chocoloate in the mole.

But those very same elements -- zinging acidity and umami flavors (read earth and mushrooms) in this wine -- are exactly what made this unlikely, super-sexy pairing work for me the other night.

Down-home Mexican food and noble Nebbiolo from Piedmont? Yes.

Situated in the village of Barbaresco (Piedmont, Northwest Italy) at the foot of the Alps, Produttori del Barbaresco (literally, Producers of Barbaresco) is one of Italy's last great cooperative winemakers, a study in late-nineteenth-century socialized winemaking -- a system that took profits away from rich land owners and gave them back to the farmers. Roughly 50 member growers deposit their harvest each year with the winemaking team, which oversees old-school vinification, bottling and marketing. Part of the winery's credo is keeping prices down, ensuring that they will sell all of the wine each year, and making the wines democratically accessible to folks like you and me.

The 2009 Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo is the winery's entry-level wine, made from 100 percent Nebbiolo grapes (the same variety used to make its classic Barbaresco and its coveted single-vineyard-designated Barbaresco).

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On the nose and in the mouth, this wine is bright and juicy, with red and wild berry fruit notes balanced by earth and dried mushroom. But it was its nervy acidity (as the Italians like to say) that made it work with the intense flavors of the Mexican classic.

At around $25 a bottle and easy to find in the Houston market, it pairs nicely with my pocketbook, too.


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