Faux-pas flashback

Wine and Coke go well with ketchup on filet mignon

Photo Illustration by Carey Wilson

¡Que raro! The wine and Coca-Cola concoction is also popular in Spain and is known as Calimocho.

Over Christmas, I had a flashback to the spring of 1975. It was my parent’s 15th wedding anniversary. Instead of going out to dinner, my mother wanted to have a small party at home with family and a few close friends. She planned and prepared a dinner with the main attraction being filet mignon that she special ordered through The Butcher Shop at S&S Produce.

The table was set with china, cut crystal and, pewter relish trays with carrots, scallions, olives and bread sticks. On each end were bottles of 1968 Heitz Cellars cabernet sauvignon that my father had opened an hour earlier to breathe.

After the guests were summoned to the table, my noticeably proud mother came gliding from the kitchen placing a perfectly cooked filet on the plate of each guest. After all were served, apron off, my mother took her place at the head of the table to hold court. With heads down and hands folded, she had not yet even delegated my father to say the blessing when an adult guest asked, “Do you have any ketchup?”

Now, I was 9 at the time and unaware of most everything. However, the sound of this silent train wreck was deafening. My mother, civil-to-a-fault, furrowed brow and face flushed red, calmly said, “After we pray, I’ll see what I have.”

Once all the guests had left, my mother let it fly. Non-stop ranting about interrupting grace and how one should never put ketchup on filet mignon and never, ever season food without tasting it first. As she continued, I was able to surmise she was hurt more financially than sensibly. Treating an expensive piece of meat like a Big Mac left her feeling robbed and me with an irrational impression of food, money and personal taste.

The onset of this flashback occurred at a party two days before Christmas. I was selecting tasty hors d’oeuvres at an elegant buffet while the gentleman in front of me was pouring himself a half glass of the excellent 1999 Newton unfiltered Napa Valley cabernet. He continued, down-line, to fill the rest of his glass with Coca-Cola. This was not my party, yet I winced and felt a sting around my wallet just the same.

Being curious, as well as needing to comfort my scared inner-child from 1975, I put myself in a position to introduce myself, engage in small talk, comment on the party and ask him what he was drinking.

“Idz a Katemba,” he said in an accent that was a cross between Australian and German.

“A Katemba? I’ve never heard of it? What’s in it?” I asked, not wanting to let on that I already was witness to his egregious display of social and oenological oblivion.

“Red wine and kolah. Idz predy poabular where I em froam in South Africa. Want a try?” I took a sip and thought it tasted like burnt sangria.

Satisfied that I was witness to a cultural anomaly, I moved on to enjoy the evening when I over heard a conversation where a different guest was asked what he was drinking. His reply was, “Id iz a ved vine and coag.” His Dracul-ian dialect placed his origins far from South Africa—he turned out to be Romanian.

Never in my life have I seen, heard of, tasted or thought about mixing wine and cola. Yet, I encounter two unrelated people tossing down tinctures of $30 wine and caramelized, carbonated corn syrup on the same night! I immediately concluded there must be a connection to mixing wine and Coke with being foreign. But surely a Frenchman wouldn’t dare taint his first growth Chateau Margaux with “Le Cola.” Certainly Henri would disapprove. Perhaps the wines of South Africa and Romania, for years, were nothing more than low-grade furniture polish thus deserving such treatment. A practice that must be decades old as South Africa is now producing world-class, premium wines.

I must admit their folksy apathy was rather admirable; after all, wine is just fermented grape juice—and it was there for their enjoyment. On the social register, however, if this is how they want to treat wine, expensive or otherwise, they should arrive at parties with a personal stash of Carlo Rossi to avoid offending the sensibilities of the host. Although, I’m not sure how my mother would have fared if her ketchup-loving invitee showed up to her soiree wielding a Big Mac.