We were underwhelmed, too, by the malbec and the pinot noir; they were pleasant wines but just didn't click with the hot dogs. The rosé, on the other hand, paired nicely with them: it had a fairly neutral taste that was a good foil for the franks. The zinfandel and the Beaujolais showed well, too. They are polar opposite wines—zinfandels tend to be dark, rich, and high in alcohol, while Beaujolais is typically pale, crisp, and low-octane—but both proved very compatible with the dogs. Nathan's wieners have a smoky edge that found a nice echo in the smokiness of the Zinfandel, while the Beaujolais, which I served lightly chilled, had a thirst-quenching quality that was the perfect antidote to all that seasoning and fat.
However, it was the Riesling and the Champagne that fared best. I'd assumed the hot dog/Riesling thing was just more propaganda from Riesling evangelists (no grape attracts as many true believers), but that wasn't the case. The Schaefer Kabinett was great with the dogs; its gentle sweetness, set against their spiciness, made for a terrific yin-yang effect. Sean thought the Riesling handled the mustard particularly well. "It has a citric tang that mellows the mustard, tames its flavor," he said, a display of tasting acuity so impressive that I immediately offered him my job. (He declined.) The Champagne was the big winner; it not only parried the spiciness of the franks, its brisk acidity soaked up the salt and fat and left my palate feeling thoroughly refreshed after each bite. It occurred to me we'd found Sean a magic bullet: If he used Champagne as a lubricant instead of fruit punch, he might even hit 40 hot dogs. But he quickly nixed the idea: "You can't do anything that might compromise your motor skills. As it is, you get lots of injuries in these competitions—bite wounds to the thumbs and lips, stuff like that."
After we'd finished sampling the wines, I asked Sean if he'd mind demonstrating his technique. He was happy to oblige, and per his instructions, I ordered one more plain dog and a cup of water, no ice. As soon as I placed the food and drink in front of him, he stood up, flipped his baseball cap around, and removed the dog from the bun (also a standard tactic). The girls working the counter all broke out their camera phones, and one of them came scurrying outside to videotape the moment. James stood on a chair to snap a photo.
I counted down from three, whereupon Sean split the dog in half, dipped the bun in the water, shoved the meat in his mouth and crammed the bread in there, too. The whole thing was over in six, maybe seven seconds. I heard several bystanders gasp. James looked awestruck. Nicki cast her husband an indulgent smile, shook her head, and said, "I had no idea what I'd be getting into when he asked me to the senior prom." I told Sean that at that rate, he could put away10 franks in a minute. He pointed out that the alimentary canal get a little clogged after the first few dogs, and the pace inevitably slows. Fair enough, but judging by the speed with which he consumed that hot dog and his relaxed, confident demeanor, I suspect he's going to have a big day on the Fourth. I'll be pulling for him, nervously chewing through a pack of Tums as an expression of solidarity.