THE FOODS we eat and the wines we drink are going to be different in the near future, my informants tell me. As to wine, light--or, in its trendy spelling, "lite"--is in, meaning wines that are not as high in alcoholic content as the great majority of American, and especially California, wines, which normally run around 12 to 14 per cent by volume.
Part of what has happened is that American winemakers and wine writers have finally discovered that wine goes with food and in fact is food, rather than an esoteric beverage to be sipped with awe. At the same time, strong waters, even Scotch and vodka, are no longer as popular as they used to be ("Brown goods are in the dumps," a doleful liquor whosesaler
told me today; incidentally, what ever became of the all-American rye whiskey?). Hence the noticeable turning toward drinks with a 10 to 11 per cent alcoholic content. German wines, low in alcohol (usually hovering around 8 to 10 per cent), are becoming increasingly popular, and California and other American winemakers are zeroing in. Among the new wines, I have found the "soft" Doman San Martin California Chenin Blanc (1984), the Johannisberg Riesling, and the White Zinfandel, all with around 8 per cent alcohol by volume, very pleasing and potable; not great wines but nice wines, wines that don't zonk you as you sip them but are still honest-to-goodness wine.
Another new twist is provided by Caraffa d'Oro wines, imported from Italy by Monsieur Henry Wines Ltd. This is another offspring of Pepsico, which also gave us Stolichnaya vodka. (Although Stolichnaya is Russian, which is unfortunate, I still think it is the best vodka available in this country; but then, I am not a great spirits drinker.) Both the white Trebbiano and the red Sangiovese Caraffa d'Oro wines are simple, nice, and undistinguished--the most interesting thing about them being the packaging.
Caraffa d'Oro wines come, not in traditional bottles, but in one-liter cartons. Packaged wines are more compact and easier to store and carry than bottled wines. Above all, they are much cheaper, costing about 30 to 50 per cent less than the bottled stuff, which is as it should be for these everyday, every-meal wines.
Interestingly, the packaging, called Tetrasac Aseptic Packaging, was invented in Sweden, though other packaged and canned wines have been floating around Europe for some time. Tetrasac consists of a rectangular package measuring 6 1/2 by 3 3/4 by 2 1/2 inches and made of a six-layer laminate of polyethylene, paper, and aluminum foil. I think it the best of its kind that I have seen, including in Europe, where packaged wines are more popular than they are here. Italians are used to this way of packaging liquids, especially sterilized milk and cream, which does not have to be refrigerated as our fresh milk does. I am told--and I believe it--that regular wine drinkers are far more receptive to the packaging of their everyday, inexpensive tipples than most Americans, who consider wine to be a romantic beverage, for occasions.
HAVE YOU ever heard of imitation fish, called surimi, from Japan? I bet many of my readers have already eaten it without knowing it. Actually, imitation isn't quite the right word: It is fish, though not the fish it seems to be. Inexpensive white fish, like pollack, is cleaned, bleached (I believe), minced, seasoned, and emulsified into a paste, which in turn is frozen into blocks and shaped to resemble whatever fish or seafood you wish to present it as. Simulated crab flakes, scallops, shrimp, lobster, tuna, and fillets have been sold and eaten for the real thing for quite a while. I understand that a surimi hot dog is being considered and that surimi in many other forms looms large in our future.
ANOTHER TYPE of food with a future is the irradiated food that the astronauts eat when in space. Its predecessor, dried food, has long been familiar to mountain climbers and other voyagers who have to carry their food with them. In my mountainclimbing days in Switzerland, I subsisted on dried stews made edible with a little water; what I remember of them is that they sustained life but were repulsive and tasteless--not something you would eat for choice.
Irradiated food was first shown at MIT in 1943, and the army developed the process further during the last two years of the war. Irradiation consists of exposing the food to a set radiation dosage to kill the microorganisms that would otherwise spoil it. That way, meat, fruits, and vegetables can be kept for a long time without refrigeration, and can be easily transported. Pro-irradiationists point out that the food has no preservatives and saves energy costs connected with freezing foods and keeping them frozen--frozen foods being the nearest competitor. Anti-irradiationists claim that treating the foods is dangerous for the workers, and that although there is no radiation, there may be hazardous "radiolytic elements" in the stuff.
Suzanne Hamlin has taste-tested some of these foods, and has written about them in the New York Daily News ("Foods of the Future," June 5). Radiation Technology Inc. of New Jersey, the only company in this country that produces irradiated food for commercial purposes, presented her with an array of little plastic packets of food, each in its own vacuum-sealed pouch. According to Miss Hamlin, the unadorned items, such as steak, cocktail franks, pork loin, sausage, and ham, looked and tasted like food, albeit mess-hall rather than gourmet. But two dolled-up foods--sweet-and-sour pork, and chicken in wine sauce--were poor. To serve, slit open the plastic pouch and eat as is; or else slip the pouch into boiling water or a microwave oven for a short time.
About such phenomena as gourmet food in plastic pouches, more later: You may already have eaten it as some fancy chef's creation that had been made to your order, and paid for accordingly. I will write about this new gourmet touch when I have eaten some of the products; it has not yet been possible for me to do so, since the chief maker in New York has so far been unable to connect the packaging machine to electrical outlets.