Wednesday, March 08, 2006

RANT: The New Wine Rules

While I realize that wine generally receives special treatment among life's many indulgences, the others of which are more demonized to a certain extent, it continually irks me to see this steady trend toward wine as a part of "gracious living" and a "part of a meal". I drink wine with meals, and wish more people would do so, but I'm tired of seeing wine writers put wine into a box - "goes with food" (good) or "doesn't go with food" (bad).

Wine tastes good in all its many forms and I'm going to drink it as I please (sometimes without food! Its true!) whether the newest incumbent of Living Like Martha Magazine's Food and Wine desk thinks California chardonnay is too oaky, buttery and low-acid to pair well with anything.

We drink wine for many reasons, but the inescapable fact is that wine brings a certain hedonistic pleasure because it contains alcohol. Disagree? When was the last time you (or anybody else for that matter) bought a bottle of
Fre? Alcohol-free wine sucks every bit as much as low-fat ice cream, the network-TV version of Pulp Fiction, and hearing "let's just be friends".

Fact - wine contains alcohol and that is an integral part of why we drink it. To denigrate a wine for not "pairing with food" is absurb as wine can be enjoyed as a hedonistic pleasure on its own. Is there no place for a good Port by itself, or do I need to have decadence waiting in the wings to go with it? A bit of Stilton blue...? Not that I don't mind a good chocolate decadence or Stilton, but I do enjoy a tawny by the fire with the wife, and just looking at her is my dessert.

How has it become politically incorrect to sit down with a good book/movie/friend and finish a bottle for the sake of finishing a bottle? Tell me, as a fellow wine lover, that you've never cracked a bottle of chilled Riesling on a hot afternoon and put away half the bottle before you had realized it and I'll call you into question as a true wine lover...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Short response: I couldn’t agree more.

Long response: I suspect that majority of wine consumed in this country, even the majority of “fine” wine, is not consumed as “part of a meal.” Furthermore, it is probably a safe wager that the majority of wine that is consumed as “part of a meal” is not done so in a thoughtful and deliberate fashion wherein the wine is carefully selected to offer the maximum compliment to the food being served.

Wine is an alcoholic beverage. With wine sans alcohol, we wouldn’t be here writing about it, reading about it, singing its praises in glowing terms. Wine is beer, wine is spirits, some well-made, some not so much. People drink wine for the alcohol and because they think it tastes good, whether consumed at a table with fine linens and an exquisite presentation of Lobster Thermador, on a tavern barstool with a not so exquisite presentation of salted peanuts, or in an old ratty bathrobe parked in a Barcalounger watching American Idol.

I drink wine because I like wine, alcohol and all. I think most of them taste good and I am more than content to drink it without carefully chosen cuisine. Some wines demand hearty accompaniment and are probably too austere and powerful for true enjoyment on their own, but these wines constitute only a tiny minority of the market. Furthermore, while it is rarely a mistake to drink wine with a meal (I do draw a firm line at Froot Loops), there are very few genuine pairing mistakes, certainly far fewer than the “Old Rules of Wine” led us to believe. Kudos should go to prominent voices like Andrea Immer-Robinson for leveraging their pulpit to drive this truth home to the masses.

Good wines are good wines. Pairing a good wine with good food or nothing at all is almost never a mistake. So whether it’s Beef Carpaccio with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and balsamic reduction, a Swanson’s “Hungry Man” Salisbury Steak in front of Emmanuelle VI on “Skinemax”, or a quiet night with nothing more than the latest Tom Clancy novel, pop a cork…and enjoy.

March 08, 2006 5:44 PM  
Anonymous Justin said...

Well, the above was not supposed to be anonymous...

March 08, 2006 5:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I commonly open a bottle without too much thought, other than is it about the right weight, intensity, color I want (tannic or not tannic)-etc.

That whole process takes about 2 minutes. I think wine's over analyzed in our culture already, it should never have been some laborious thought process in the first place.

March 09, 2006 6:45 AM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

Well said Justin. Its always been my mission to bring wine down from its pedestal and to lower the "snob-factor" so that people feel perfectly comfortable drinking wine at any time you might otherwise drink another alcoholic beverage. Here's to wine, in all its hedonistic glory!


March 09, 2006 10:41 AM  
Blogger Erwin Dink said...

This is the crux of the "old world" vs. "new world" arguments, if you ask me. I often drink wine as a cocktail and that may be why I favor hearty, bold, fruity and powerful wines. Many "old world" style wines may be better suited to food pairing but I love the experience of drinking wine all by itself for it's own sake.

March 09, 2006 3:28 PM  
Blogger caveman said...

I love it when you post stuff like this.

Good wine is good wine, and good food is good food. But, put the right wine with the right food and you have something which is even more enjoyable than the sum of it's parts. It is part of the art of gastronomy which I see as neither snobbish nor elitist.

And as someone whose job is to help people create this harmony, I can tell you that it is the single biggest mystery of wine appreciation for most. And the majority of people want to know more and understand how to create this harmony. But if someone insists on drinking their napa cab with oysters, hey go for it. The snobbishness comes from thinking yourself better because one has a percieved deeper understanding.

I too drink lots of wine without food but the reality is that the majority of wines show their true colors when matched with the appropriate grub.

And I agree, the best place for a tawney is with a pretty woman on a couch in front of a fireplace (I'll drink a Pacherenc du Vic Bilh with my Stilton).


March 10, 2006 11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's up with the "hedonistic" descriptor? I have always thought of it as Robert Parker's most hideously overused (and meaningless) term.

As far as wine and food, it is obvious that we can drink more wine on a full stomach; all booze is better with food, prolonging the buzz (and moderating hangovers) with even the cheapest beer. So I agree with your point that wine is being unfairly cornered here. Nobody talks about a particular beer brand as "especially good with salty nuts."

March 11, 2006 8:08 PM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

I've read the most recent anonymous comment (directly above this one) three times and I can't figure out why he says he agrees with me....

Caveman - Everybody enjoys a good pot stirring now and then, don't they? I'm not saying that some wines don't become something better with food, rather that I dislike reading reviews that generate lower scores for wines that "don't pair well with food". There's nothing intrinsically wrong with a wine not being food friendly, note that and move on.

I do think the whole wine and food pairing thing is grossly overdone, particularly when you see servers suggesting a single wine with a multi-course plate. Do they really think that Rhone is going to pair with both my lamb and my seasonal green veggies? But that's a whole 'nother post.....


March 13, 2006 2:25 PM  
Blogger caveman said...


I don't think they should recieve scores in the first place but that too is another post.

I think there is a certain cultural divide which shapes our perspective of wine. Where I come from it is drunk with food, and I have always looked at it as an ingredient within the context of a meal. I am not pushing it to replace Pabst at the table, or to push it in any of it's manipulated forms(ie.coolers etc..). In the states it is less a part of the day to day culture and that obviously affects the way we look at it's usage. But to each their own.

And what sauce is on your lamb and veggies?


March 15, 2006 8:58 AM  

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