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Pairing Pointers

The award-winning authors of Wine For Dummies give a lesson in matching.
Mary Ewing-Mulligan and her husband, Ed McCarthy, pulled into the driveway of a friend's house. "MaryEd is here!" shouted the friend's three-year-old son. "MaryEd is here!"

The authors of the delightfully commonsensical Wine For Dummies, White Wine For Dummies and Red Wine For Dummies (IDG Books) are used to hearing their names spoken in the same breath--and not just by toddlers. Take the audiences at the wine tastings they run and the classes they teach. "Whenever we express differing opinions about a wine, everyone laughs," says Mary. "But we each have our own opinions about wine and we don't always agree--or feel that we have to." 

They often do, though. And even their differences seem to be complementary. Ed is an incredible storehouse of information on vintages, producers and specific bottlings. Mary looks at the big picture: how wine is made, how to describe its taste, how to demystify it so that more people can enjoy it. 

"If you look at Wine For Dummies, it's pretty easy to tell who wrote what," says Ed. 

"Yeah, Ed did all the interesting stuff, and I did all the boring stuff," says Mary. She tends to downplay her expertise: she is a Master of Wine, having passed the arduous tests run by England's Institute of Masters of Wine. Only about one candidate in 10 succeeds. 

The two came to the grape by different routes. With a bachelor's degree in English ("which qualified me to do everything and nothing"), Mary took a job with the Italian Trade Commission in Philadelphia. "I discovered I had a real affinity for wine," she recalls. From there she tried her hand at sales ("that really wasn't me") and then public relations for the wine division of Pepsico ("that wasn't me, either"). Finally, in 1984, she became director of the International Wine Center in New York City, which offers wine classes at several levels. And that was her. She is now a co-owner of the center and one of the most respected teachers in the wine business. 

Ed, on the other hand, started out as a high-school English teacher. "The impulse to share knowledge was always there," he says. "But wine? All I knew at first were some jug wines I'd had at my first wife's parents' house." But he learned on the front lines, working weekends at local wine shops. "I was constantly exposed to new wines, and I had to make sure I knew about them so that I could sell them." He signed on at the International Wine Center and started writing for the wine press. 

He and Mary met at a wine tasting at a big dim sum palace in New York City's Chinatown. "We were at a huge round table," recalls Ed. "It was covered with glasses because we were tasting so many wines. The waiters couldn't figure out what we were doing. I'd seen Mary at wine tastings around town. We sat next to each other. We were both ready for someone new in our lives and, well, here we are, 15 years later." 

FOOD & WINE recently asked Ed and Mary to apply their combined talents to creating a wine dinner for eight that would illustrate some of their guidelines for matching food and wine. The result is the following four-course meal; for each course, Mary and Ed discuss their specific choices and the reasons behind them, the general lessons that can be derived from those pairings--and the most important lesson of all: there is no one right wine for any dish.

Published February 1997
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