Odd Pair: Hot Dogs and Claret

Hot dogs and their preparation command a quasi-spiritual reverence in our home. Great -- even extreme -- care is taken in preparing the condiments: Heinz Ketchup, Grey Poupon Mustard, Best Maid Sweet Jalapeño Relish, celery salt, and sliced half-sour pickles, in this case requested especially from Kenny & Ziggy's by Tracie P. As you can see above, intense focus is applied to the proper charring of the dogs and buns and the table is meticulously set to allow for ideal conditions in dressing the wieners (in this case, Hebrew Nationals, of course).

In the light of our noble endeavor, it seemed only fitting to reach for a "Claret," the famous English moniker for the aristocratic red wines of Bordeaux, where stodgy 19th-century British bankers discovered the refinement of Left- and Right-Bank blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot and so on.

I recently remarked to a friend how "the word claret doesn't actually denote red wine. In fact, it denotes light-colored wine." When he responded to my declaration incredulously, I reached for my handy copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, online edition (to which I am an avid and enthusiastic subscriber). Here's what it reported: "A name originally given (like French vin clairet) to wines of yellowish or light red colour, as distinguished alike from 'red wine' and 'white wine'; the contrast with the former ceased about 1600, and it was apparently then used for red wines generally, in which sense it is still, or was recently, dialect. Now applied to the red wines imported from Bordeaux."

It goes without saying that our family budget hardly allows such high aspirations and so I reached not for first, second, or third growth Bordeaux (as they are called, according to the great classification of 1855), but rather a bottle of Donati family Claret from California, which I picked up at the Houston Wine Merchant for less than $20.

Although I would argue that the inclusion of Syrah in this blend runs contrary to the winemaker's claim that this is a "Bordeaux blend" (in fact, Syrah is grown most famously in the Rhône), I happily embrace the winery's use of the designation Claret in this instance, for an approachable quaffing wine, with good fruit, earnest acidity, and balanced alcohol.

P family hot dog night is a much variegated affair: Between the jalapeño relish, the spicy Poupon (I just love saying Poupon, don't you?), and the sweet ketchup, the enophile is presented with a veritable mine field of impossible pairing options. That's why this straight-forward, chewy, and affordable wine -- chilled for about 20 minutes in the fridge before service -- was perfect.

The only problem was that I gobbled down my two dogs with such celerity (how's that for a pun?), that I only had time to quaff down one glass. Not to worry! I popped this sturdy wine back in the fridge to enjoy another glass the next night with my All American hamburger.

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