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This Week: Mexican

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La Cazuela

Platos Tipicos Mexicanos y Mariscos

6922 N. Clark 773-338-5425

Tostadas de Seviche 1

$2.75

Shrimp, Crabmeat, and Octopus Cocktail 2

$9.50

Mussels in Garlic and Wine Sauce 3,4

$5.00

Camarones (Shrimp) en Salsa Picante 5

$11.00

Snapper a la Veracruzana 2,6

$12.99

Sope al Pastor (Seasoned Pork Masa Boat)7

$2.95

Carne Asada Taco 8

$1.30

Flanked by bakeries and taquerias, this cheerful Clark Street storefront serves fresh seafood and Mexican standards like enchiladas, sopes (masa boats), fajitas, and tostadas. Garlic and tomatoes are key ingredients in many shrimp and fish preparations, creating a sweetness and acidity that makes wine matching a challenge. Elements such as chilies, achiote, and lime allow for full-flavored wines that might seem counterintuitive given the mild flavor of the fish; at the same time overly tannic wines can throw off the flavor balance in many Mexican dishes, accentuating only the heat. The selections here lean toward acidic white varieties and medium-bodied reds. The consulting expert on this trip was Jill Gubesch, wine director at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo.

1. 2000 Archery Summit Vireton (Oregon), $27.99. This white blend (mainly pinot gris, with small amounts of chardonnay and pinot blanc) has an oaky richness imparted by the chardonnay and a crispness on the finish from the pinot blanc. Its floral quality, along with the fullness of the fruit--hints of golden delicious apples and pears on the palate and litchi, kiwi, and tangerines on the nose--make it a nice match to the lime marinade in the seviche. The wine also has enough acidity to stand up to the citrus. (Fox & Obel)

2. 2000 Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand), $21.99. The sauvignon blanc grape helped put this nation on the world wine map. The grassy characteristics of this grape give way here to tropical notes (hints of passion fruit, melon, and pineapple), a touch of old oak, and a minerally acidic finish (made crisper by the addition of a small proportion of early harvested Semillon grapes) for a full yet refreshing wine. With the seafood cocktail, it complements the sweetness of the shrimp and the tomato as well as the green elements of cilantro and green peppers. It also stands up to the sauce on the snapper, brightening the acidity of the tomato and the brininess of the green olives. (Fox & Obel)

3. 2001 Loimer Gruner Veltliner "Lois" (Austria), $7.49-$9.99. This wine is made to be enjoyed very young, when the notes of lemon and lime are clean and forward. It's moderately minerally, with a finish that's almost effervescent. Not as peppery as other wines of this variety, which can finish spicy on the palate, the fruit and earth flavors nicely balance the earthy mussels with the garlicky sauce. (Wine Discount Center, Wine Crier)

4. Gruet Blanc de Noirs Brut (New Mexico), $14.95-$15.99. While sparkling wines can be overused with Mexican food due to their palate-cleansing properties, this mildly toasty variety is actually a fine flavor match, too. Produced in Albuquerque by members of the Gruet family of Champagne, France, this sparkling wine is made primarily from the powerful pinot noir grape (the two other varieties permitted in a true champagne are pinot meunier, for fruitiness, and chardonnay, for finesse). Only limited maceration (contact with the skin and seeds) is allowed, giving the wine a slight pink tinge. The acidity, mineral elements, and full body help cut the richness of the garlic and mussels. (Fine Wine Brokers, Wine Crier)

5. 2001 Villa Giada Barbera D'Asti "Suri Russ" (Piedmont, Italy), $9.99. This single-vineyard winery grows its Barbera grapes on a hilltop near the town of Asti. Like most Italian wines, this one is meant to be consumed with food; it has a sweet nose of strawberry and cherry jam, a hint of oak, and a dark ruby color. The snapper highlights its rich fruit notes, allowing the full body to come through. And where a heavier wine might make the flavors in the spicy shrimp dish muddy, this choice complements each component (sweet shrimp, savory garlic, spicy chili) without overpowering it. (Wine Crier)

6. 2000 J.L. Chave Saint-Joseph "Offerus" (Rhone Valley, France), $25.99. This northern Rhone Valley wine is not as weighty as other syrahs. Black pepper, leather, and green scents frame aromas of raspberry and cherry for a full, bright, tart flavor and a crisp, grassy finish. The wine's firm acidic structure stands up to the olives, onions, and tomatoes on the snapper. (Binny's, Sam's)

7. 1996 L.A. Cetto Estate-Bottled Nebbiolo (Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico), $14.79. This classic Italian grape variety, commonly used in Borolo and Barbaresco, now finds a home in Mexico, planted by Italian immigrants. The light, sandy soil and high temperatures in Baja yield a wine that's softer, lighter, and more elegant than its Italian counterpart. Softer tannins make this a versatile wine and a good match with the pungently flavored sopes al pastor; the pork, livened by raw onion and fresh cilantro, brings out the bright fruit flavors of the wine. (Sam's)

8. 1994 Marques de Caceres Rioja Reserva (Rioja, Spain), $19.99-$21.99. The 1994 vintage was considered one of the best since 1982 in this region of Spain. Where a typical reserva--a wine made only in the best seasons--ages for at least three years, this one sits for up to six. Though from a large producer and one of the most widely distributed Spanish wines, it still shows an attention to detail in its complexity, with layers of dried fruit and black currants and a deep, velvety finish. The spiced, marinated, and cured carne asada is a natural match with a wine as full-bodied as this, and the tannins are soft enough that they don't overpower the dish. (Binny's, Sam's)

Sam's Wines and Spirits 1720 N. Marcey, 312-664-4394

Binny's Beverage Depot 3000 N. Clark, 773-935-9400

Wine Discount Center 1826 N. Elston, 773-489-3454

Wine Crier 2070 N. Clybourn, 773-404-8684

Fine Wine Brokers 4621 N. Lincoln, 773-989-8166

Fox & Obel Food Market 401 E. Illinois, 312-379-0146

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