Hot link

It’s unlikely that anyone ordering a hot link from a New Orleans street vendor ever followed up with “may I see your wine list?”

From hot dogs to bratwurst, the sausage pantheon calls for a tall cold one to go alongside. It’s easy to imagine sitting on the patio, the grill still smoldering, with a hot link in one hand and a perspiring can of Jax in the other. Bringing out the fine stemware, on the other hand, seems a bit much.

Even go-to experts like Kerry Winslow at Windy Oaks in Carmel Valley can be taken aback. “That’s going to be a tough one,” he observes.

There is precedent for a wine and sausage pairing, however. Winslow explains that Riesling is a neat match for many of Germany’s varieties—there are something like 1,500 different styles, so he probably hasn’t tested the pairing with all—noting that an off-dry wine with low alcohol can temper the fat content.

But we’re dealing with a more feisty sausage, laced in this particular case with a healthy portion of paprika. 

Now, we’re not keen to wedge ourselves between Louisiana and Texas in the debate over the origin of hot links. East Texas is proud—an emotion Texans pretty much apply to anything, from the power grid to chicken-fried steak—of its version, said to have been introduced in the 1890s by a butcher from Germany.

In fact, sausage historians—yes, they exist—seem to be far more interested in discourses on the hot dog, followed by sausage in general. And there are some intriguing tidbits. Remember in Homer’s Odyssey when Odysseus is tossing in bed “rolling from side to side as a cook turns a sausage”? No? Some of us only got as far as “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending.”

For all their research, they haven’t settled such crucial matters as to whether the frankfurter was first created in Frankfurt or Coburg. Or why hot dogs go under so many guises? An 1884 story in the Louisville Courier-Journal observes the growing popularity of the hot dog. “The wienerwurst resembles a giant fishing worm,” the article notes rather disturbingly, adding that vendors of the dish call out “red hots!”

For clarity, the University of Chicago Library explains that frankfurters, wieners (and thus wienerwurst), red hots and hot dogs “are all interchangeable terms.”

Hot links are reportedly synonymous with hot sausage, and some people call them chaurice.

Louisiana’s version of hot links benefit from the mix of cultures and flavors introduced to the region by—oh, let’s call them historical cruelties: slavery, the forced migration of Acadian French, that sort of thing. European traditions mixed with Caribbean and African to bring us sausage with a fiery kick.

As food etymologist Dann Woellert wrote, “the story is in the spice—neither the Germans nor the French were known for their heavily spiced sausages. It was like all other Cajun and Creole cuisine. The former African slaves who were doing most of the cooking in the gulf added their hot African spices and the Cajuns embraced them.”

Of course, we still have the wine to sort out. And Winslow has an answer.

“Odonata Sangiovese would be great,” he says. “It’s got nice fruit and a little acid to cut the heat.”

The Sangiovese grape is a bit of an opportunist, taking cues more readily from terroir. The wines produced from Sangiovese can flow with juicy fruit or be rustic and earthy or somewhere in between.

Odonata’s 2018 vintage breathes cherry and cassis, with notions of fresh berries and weathered rose petals. A hint of bramble lends the bouquet an earthy undertone. 

Take a sip and bright fruits splash happily—strawberries joining cherries at play. Yet there’s a more serious tone that emerges mid-palate as tannins tighten their grip. Impressions of leather and clay, along with a dusting of toasted spice balance the fruit. But the cheerful note overcomes, and the finish is once again juicy.

“It’s delicious stuff,” Winslow observes.

Paired with hot links (tucked in a bun with a thin spread of mustard), the fruit calms and develops a sensation of milk chocolate and dried fig. Meanwhile the sausage’s mean streak sweetens, picking up a bell pepper savor—although the flickering heat never really subsides.

The combination of hot link and Odonata Sangiovese is nice. By itself, the wine had just enough earthiness for contemplation. Paired to the Louisiana link, it gained in depth and opulence, without losing the fruity tang.

So that’s it. We can…

“They also do a sparkling Grenache,” Winslow points out.

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