Ed Anderson was beaming. As he accepted congratulations for winning Mac and Lil’s Greens Cook-off on Saturday in the Russian River Valley, a young couple filming the event for a documentary approached me to discuss how the entrées paired with the wines.
The Greens Cook-off is Mac and Lil McDonald’s annual affair, where friends and friends of friends get together and prepare greens entrées, which are then judged by professional chefs and other foodies. (The McDonalds own Vision Cellars, where some of California's best Pinot Noir is made, and the couple lives among the vineyards close to the Russian River.)
Anderson, a resident of Fremont, Calif., won this year’s event, with a fried cabbage dish, with potatoes, carrots and diced pork. He had competition from two of Sonoma’s top chefs: Josh Silvers of Syrah Restaurant and Jeff Mall of Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar. Mac’s entry, a mix of greens cooked with pig fat from North Carolina, was tasty but didn’t sway enough judges despite having the home-field advantage.
After the entrées were judged, they were all served in a buffet-style lunch, which allowed everyone to choose their favorites. The camera crew asked me, among other questions, whether these dishes paired well with any of the Vision Pinot Noirs, or the richly flavored Dry Creek Syrah I enjoyed from Running Tigers cellar.
Few experiences are as heavenly as the perfect food and wine match. But one of the most overrated and oft-repeated myths of wine is that certain foods and wines conflict, and bitter greens, such as chard or spinach, are thought to be one of the toughest dates for fine wine because they have a bitter edge.
I gave them my stand-pat answer, which I borrow from my colleague Harvey Steiman: Most foods and wines work just fine together, and most of the time it’s not worth worrying about whether the pairing is perfect. As Harvey says, you eat food and drink wine in separate acts. That is, you take a sip of wine and then a bite of food, or vice versa. You don’t take a bite of food and then a drink of wine and swirl them together in your mouth.
Everyone at Mac and Lil’s party seemed to doing just fine, washing down the greens with Pinot and Syrah, with nary a thought about whether or not the food and wine was the perfect marriage.