Old rule: For each food, there is only one wine.
New Rule: Suit yourself and drink any wine with any food.
In the game of food and wine, Washington enthusiasts don't always play on the same court. Wine connoisseurs brood briefly over a dish to complement a wine they have already selected.Food people, on the other hand, tend to worry with the menu alone, leaving the wine to a last-minute white-or-red decision.
Hence we decided to pose a challenge: the First Open Food-versus-Wine Mismatch Cup, conducted last month at the Nathan residence. The point of the competition was not to declare a winner but to see if wine and food supposedly unsuited to it can even play together.
The Venue: Luncheon, on one of Washington's better spring days.
The Game: The best of three sets.
The umpire and linesmen were chosen for their professional expertise and match preparedness. Robert Finigan, the umpire, nationally recognized wine and food connoisseur and publisher of Finigan's Private Guide to Wine, a San Francisco newsletter; Mark Caraluzzi, coowner, star chef and wine buyer of the American Cafe; William R. MacKaye, associate editor of The Washington Post Magazine and father-confessor to food and father-confessor to food and wine writers; Deirdre Pierce, fine cook and freelance food writer; Elizabeth Siber, internationally trained Swiss-born restaurant consultant and former president of Restaurant Corporation of America, Watergate Restaurants; and James Zurer, enthusiastic amateur wine connoisseur.
Unware of the sporting challenge to be posed at the luncheon, Washington guests thought they had been invited simply to meet Californian Finigan.The light white muscadet was served during the introductions, and predictable light-hearted wine-and-food gossip began.
But then a platter of cold whole artichokes, surrounded by three vinaigrette sauces, and a basket of crusty Bread Oven bread were quietly placed on a nearby coffee table. Guests were asked to help themselves to the first course. Conversations slowed. Eyes dropped to the table and then back to the glasses. Not a hand moved towards the artichoke leaves. White wine and artichokes!
"Was there a breakdown in communication between the hosts?" wondered Pierce to herself. Caraluzzi, taking a more kindly attitude, concluded, "Artichokes are in season -- therefore to hell with the rulebooks." And Zurer discreetly dipped his bread into one of the vinaigrettes, politely avoiding the artichokes.
The wine was warming. So was the next food course, and the hosts were forced to confess their purposes. Learning the true promise on which the luncheon was based, the guests entered into the spirit of the game, which Pierce laughingly dubbed "Mismatch." SET ONE
Wine Team: 1979 Muscadet, Chateau la Noe, $5.99; a lightweight, with a crisp, dry finish; at its best against seafood.
1979 Fume Blanc, Dry Creek, $7.49; fresh, medium-bodied; versatile with fish and light white meats.
Food Team: Cold Artichoke, a deceptively mild, palate-filling vegetable, requiring the energetic participation of all oral and tactile faculties.
Triple Vinaigrette Sauces of rose, of basil, and tarragon vinegars, each a classic clash with wine.
The results of the play: Muscadet, too light to receive the acid return spin of the Triple Vinaigrettes, lost the first point, ;ruled the judges. Fume blanc, being a little fruitier, did manage to return the ball. "It's a detente situation," Caraluzzi pronounced. But the ultimate consensus was that the artichoke overwhelmed the liquid contenders to the point that the play of Set One could not continue. SET TWO
Wine team: 1978 Gewurztraminer, Clos St. Landelin, Mure, $9.95; a spicy, medium-dry white entry from Alsace; plays well against rich, creamy dishes and mildly spicy ones.
1978 Chenas, Domaine de Chassignol, Jacques Depagneux, $6.99; fruity red representative from a Grand Cru Beaujolais village; when lightly chilled, delightful with summery meals.
1977 Zinfandel, Paso Robles, Ridge, $7.99; California's own medium-bodied, deep-colored red offering with full fruit style; accustomed to handling barbecues and strong cheeses, and will overpower a delicate starter.
Food Team: Marinated Scallops and Tomatoes en Brochette, served on a bed of saffron pilaf, sprinkled with toasted pistachio and pine nuts; a suitably delicate fish, known to dislike copetition from red wines; the fresh ripe tomato, with its high acidity, selected to outwit wine.
Stir-fried Oriental Asparagus. Asparagus may be in harmony with wine if fresh and served with a creamy sauce, but for this game, complications were supplied by fortification with ginger, garlic and a wine-teasing mushroom soy sauce.
The Play: The second set featured an exciting rally between spicy gewurz and fruity beaujolais on the one side, and scallops and asparagus on the other. The judges relaxed briefly on an outside deck, then enjoyed an instant replay as they returned to the buffet for seconds. Opinion differed on the outcome of the rally.
Classicists claim that fish makes red wine taste metallic. In this game, however, for Siber, beaujolais and scallops were in harmony. "Chilled beaujolais goes surprisingly well with scallops and this Mediterranean-flavored pilaf," she delcared.
Gewurz was a little too flavorful for the grilled scallops, but was a good match for Asparagus Oriental. "Fresh asparagus are delicate, with no aftertaste," said Caraluzzi. Finigan agreed: "It's the old canned or frozen asparagus that conflict with wine. It's not the asparagus that is ususally the problem but the type of accompanying sauce. People should make an egg yolk-based sauce if serving wine."
The best quality of the wines was the big red, zinfandel. "I give it a high grade as a wine, but it's too heavy for the scallops," claimed Caraluzzi. h"It could have been okay if the scallops had been grilled over charcoal or wood."
Zurer felt that play continued successfully through to the end of the set. "Both the zinfandel and the beaujolais went well with the scallops and the asparagus," he said, "because the dishes were fairly delicate and did not have an overpowering taste themselves." SET THREE
Wine Team: 1976, Ruster Trockenbeerenauslese, Julius Hafner, $14.95; an intriguing Austrian with apricot color fragrant bouquet and very smooth taste. A true dessert wine, but not cloyingly heavy.
Asti Spumante, Martini and Rossi, $7.99; sparkling crowd pleaser, a fruity muscat that enjoys playing with most desserts.
Food Team: Velours Glace au Marc (Chocolate Ice Cream with Marc de Bourgogne); the true heavyweight of the Food Team, a variation on cookbook author and French cooking school director Madeleine Kamman's sinfully rich symphony of egg yolks, heavy cream, imported dark chocolate, plus a garnish of grated Kron white chocolate, and a lacing of marc, the distilled brandy of Burgundy.
The Play: Could the Wine Team find an opponent capable of withstanding the overpowering sweetness of chocolate velours? First to receive was the trockenbeerenauslese, itself a velvet wine. "It's a real find!" crowed Zurer. "This wine is dessert in itself." No one disagreed. This Austrian dessert wine was a refreshing change from German wine or French.
Nevertheless, it was outplayed by the insidious alcohol in velours. Velours was a slow developer, whose unique style became apparent after each spoonful. Asti managed to force a change of pace, but again was not strong enough to dominate the chocolate. It was left to Umpire Finigan, who admitted a bias for velours, to suggest the best wine match -- a small glass of the Marc de Bourgogne that figured in the velours.
Match Summary: Honors were even. Not every wine was a good match for every food but by playing in different volleys some of the food could play well with some of the wine. All participants agreed that in the company of such sporting spirits, food and wine rules can be thrown out. The challenge had shown that every good wine and food player should master the basic strokes. But the achievement of lasting championship requires imagination, experimentation and, most of all, confidence in one's own taste buds. Velours GLACE AU MARC DE BOURGOGNE Chocolate Ice Cream with Marc Serves 10 to 12 18 large egg yolks 1/2 cup sugar 1/3 cup honey 1 quart heavy cream 1/8 teaspoon salt 6 ounces bittersweet imported chocolate 1/3 cup Marc de Bourgogne, any other marc or grappa Additional Marc de Bourgogne (optional) 3 ounces white chocolate, grated in long strands
Mix the egg yolks and sugar without making too much foam. Combine the honey and cream and bring to a boil to dissolve the honey. Add the salt and chocolate to the honey cream and let stand to let the chocolate soften. After five minutes, whisk well to dissolve the chocolate completely.
Combine the egg and chocolate. Thicken the mixture over medium high heat. Note that as soon as the foam disappears from the surface of the custard, you must remove it from the heat and whisk very heavily to stop the cooking. Let the custard cool. Add the marc and strain into a freezer container. When completely cold cover with plastic wrap and foil and freeze overnight.
The ice cream becomes solid as a rock; remove it to the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving it. To serve, place a scoop of the cream in an ice cream cup, add a splash of marc if you wish, and sprinkle with white chocolate.
To keep the white chocolate strands from melting it is best to freeze them on a small sheet or on a piece of foil.