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The importance of wine?

  • s

This may seem a naive or unsophisticated question, but I'd like to get a consensus as to whether chowhounds consider wine to be a crucial component in fine dining.

I was asking my friend about the much-talked-about Union Square Cafe, about the atmosphere and what I can expect to spend on a dinner for two. My friend said the nice thing abous USC is the unpretentious service and added, "Of course, you'll have to buy a bottle of wine" and went on to explain that wine is necessary when enjoying fine foods.

Now, I'm not much an enthusiast when it comes to alcohol (only a couple years past legal drinking age, here, and truth be told, I much prefer fine herb as an intoxicant) and certainly don't know heads-or-tails about wine, so drink has played an almost non-existent part in my finer dining experience (to wit: I find that a can of Schweppes Ginger Ale complements my meal at DiFara's perfectly).

So what's the deal, Chowfolk--does fine wine automatically make a qualitatively richer experience where the food (as opposed to conversation, etc.) is concerned.

thanks, shaniac

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  1. For me, a nice bottle of wine goes very well with "fine" dining. Note the quotes. With French or Italian food, or American food based on either, I like red wine. OTOH, if I am eating Indian food, even the most "haute" Indian food, I like beer.

    But drink what you like with what you like.
    If you don't LIKE wine, it won't improve the meal.

    138 Replies
    1. re: peter

      "But drink what you like with what you like"

      i'd strongly disagree with that statement! at meal times, wine functions like a clever sauce - when paired correctly with what you are eating, both the wine and the food work together to amplify the taste of each other to a whole new level. it is this symbiosis that makes drinking wine without food seem like, er, a kind of onanism.

      the amplification of food by wine means its VERY important to get the pairing right. you wouldn't slap mayonnaise over your pasta bolognese, now would you? a little experimenting and you'll get the hang of things easily. try this one: get a bottle of fresh barbera and the latest cabernet sauvignon from your favourite merchant. open them both and try drinking them with a tomato sauce over pasta. the difference will be huge: the acidity of the barbera will easily handle the tomato sauce and the two will work very well; the cabernet sauvignon will taste like liquid sandpaper.

      theres a charming little book by a guy called willie gluckstern which goes into the whys and wherefores of all of this; it has a lot of very good food/wine pairing tips. for the $11 or so bucks that it'll set you back, you'll get a whole new world opened up to you. there's plenty of other vinous information in the book as well, and i earnestly recommend it.

      full disclosure: i know willie, i buy wine from willie, but i no affilliation &/or commercial interest with him.

      one more point: to drink wine just to get a buzz going is awfully expensive ... the 'harder' liquors will do that for you much more efficiently. wines noble destiny has ALWAYS been food.

      1. re: howler

        "it is this symbiosis that makes drinking wine without food seem like, er, a kind of onanism."

        While I agree that there is a symbiosis between what you drink and what you eat, I think a lot of people take it way too far. But then, de gustibus non est esputandum (sp?). I did note in my earlier post that I think different drinks go with different food.

        As for drinking wine without food, it can be a wonderful experience. For a really first-rate wine, I think food can even lessen the experience, even good food.

        1. re: peter

          "As for drinking wine without food, it can be a wonderful experience. For a really first-rate wine, I
          think food can even lessen the experience, even good food"

          as i said before, i couldn't disagree more strongly. appropriately chosen food ADDS to the taste of wine, so how could the experience be lessened? perhaos THE most important quality attribute of a wine is its finish. thats because it is the finish that is amplified to a truly unbelievable sensation in the presence of cleverly chosen food.

          there ARE some things in life that just work better in pairs.

          1. re: howler

            Howler! In your zeal to tear down Peter's agruments, you fumbled a bit yourself.

            Taste (for food) is not a purely mechanical thing. Taste buds may differ, but the perception of taste (along with the rest of our senses) are filtered through our mind and compared to other experiences. Food is like sex--- a lot of it is good, but different people like different things. Someone being raped is unlikely to enjoy the sex. Why?

            You might give me the tastiest jellyfish, chitlins, and fried genitalia there are, but i won't like them.
            PSYCHOLOGICALLY, i would be unable to enjoy these foods. Mechanically, by taste buds are objective, but
            they are processed in my brain, a brain that tells me to stay away from that stuff.

            Miles Davis said, "There are two kinds of music, Good and bad. I like the good kind." This sums it up
            perfectly. Everyone makes personal value judgments on anything they come across. I value wine much less
            than you do, have as little patience for assessing wine in a store than i do for stuffing mushrooms.

            The elitism you express is tiresome, Howler, as tiresome as a little girl listening to Britney Spears.
            Taste is an often intangible thing. Your elitist bent may have leaned you toward wine, not just the good
            taste.

            I, too, have watched the masses gobble down McD's burgers, swill Bud, and listen to monotonous drum
            machines. I strive to surround myself with more interesting things. That doesn't make me 'good' or
            'better,' just more interesting.

            That i find your missionary zeal a little distasteful doesn't make me better or you worse. It makes us
            both a little more interesting.

          2. re: peter

            >de gustibus non est esputandum (sp?).

            I believe de gustibus non est disputandum is closer, though it's been too long for me to vouch for the exact disputandum spelling. Like I care anyway. Key word is dispute. Roughly, "there's no disputing taste." As distinct from disagreeing with someone's taste.

            Disagreeing in this context is "you like that, I don't" and ideally followed by "try this instead, see if you like it."

            Disputing taste is "if you like that you are wrong, or a boob, or even a barbarian" and of course that implies I am not, thank you, oh great expert that I am.

            God forbid anybody should enjoy something by mistake.

            Which is what some folks would apparently have you think: you enjoyed that by mistake.

            And no semantic rebuttals about dispute and disagree please. In the context of this thread, if you've survived reading it this far, you know exactly what I mean.

            This "de gustibus" aphorism is thousands of years old, and it's survived - like classic wine pairings - because it is of great value to those mature enough to understand it. Maturity of taste is needed for the wine part. Maturity in relating to others is needed for the "de gustibus" part, meaning the human- interaction-and-dialogue-about-taste part.

            Some of us are mature wine wise but are adolescents human interaction wise, and vice versa. And a handful on this thread are mature in both, and they shine like gems, and make the rest of us look endarkened. No offense to anyone, just an observation.

            It seems to me one side of the conflict in this thread has not matured enough to understand our "de gustibus" aphorism, and the other half is ready to throw centuries of priceless wine experience out the window in order to defend "de gustibus."

            And I'll be the first to admit that it can be fun to violate the letter of this aphorism, in the right friendly, bantering, supportive circumstances, as I often do. But I think violating the spirit of it is non-productive in all circumstances, especially in a public forum. And to violate the spirit of it under the guise of teaching others is simply a travesty, and an insult to true teachers of anything.

            It also seems to me that both sides of the conflict here are defending half-truths. But the whole situation is beyond both positions.

            Understanding wine is just that - an understanding, a growth, a learning. In terms of wine and food, may I remind us all, every one of us here came out of the womb as an utter barbarian. So some of us have grown, probably by serendipity, faster than others. Gee, I am so impressed that I may yawn any second now.

            What I feel in what I read here is first: those of you who are far along - your intent is to truly to enlighten and share, or to cut off heads to make yourself taller? You know who you are. And if you don't, the rest of us do.

            Any offenders in this area aren't fooling anybody, one reason they arouse such storms. Not fooling ANYBODY, no matter what the smokescreen of words. Stick out like sore thumbs. Yeah, lots of food and wine barbarians out there. But not a few wine and food boors out there either, we see. Zzzz. So make your disparaging statements about the masses, but do you have any idea how dime a dozen you are too? I think not. I've been around the block a few times, and haven't heard an original thought yet from y'all. Not a one.

            Further, did most of us learn geometry, or Latin, or wine, or anything, from a teacher who subtly or overtly put us down for not already knowing what they are supposed to teach us?

            If you want to share and teach, that is great, so do it. Chowhound is a great platform for that.

            But if you want to pontificate, and/or ridicule others for not already having your understanding, that's another thing altogether. And worst of all, in several posts, I've noticed the offenders are not the experts they think they are.

            Teaching is not about serving yourself, nor, I'd like to think, is the Chowhound forum. If that describes you, post away...but you suck as a teacher, to speak as frankly some of you do. If you really cared about the subject, that might be something to consider. But it seems you don't really care about that as much as your own trip.

            On the other side, hey folks, you're right, sorta. if somebody wants to drink chard with steak they are not wrong and it is not bad. As if folks choose to eat things that strike them as "bad." Yeah, that's routine in human eating worldwide, ask any anthropologist - let's choose something bad for dinner. Oops for the "bad" argument.

            But there is also a considerable truth in saying chard and steak don't go, or whatever. With wine and food, we are talking centuries of humans working this stuff out and passing on the knowledge. Most of which, may I remind our experts, ahem, did not originate with them, though its sometimes hard to tell that from the tone of some posts.

            No, don't accept it as gospel because something is right or wrong to the wine folk. But do check it out and you'll probably find our wine mavens are offering excellent suggestions, indicating paths of great potential, not only worth following, but important to follow if YOU care about wine and food. Cuz this is the distilled knowledge of generations of wine and food people. All these layers of dead people under the ground figured something out over centuries, but you've only got a few decades. If you care about the subject, you can't afford to pass it up.

            In fact, as far the advice goes, there's little to argue about. Except the package some of the advice is arriving in, which sometimes has more to do with ego than the real subject. Incidentally, what wine do I choose to go with raw ego?

            And of course chard with steak is just awful. In fact it brings tears to my eyes, and causes millions of dead Burgundian chowhounds to roll in their graves.

            Done now. Don't even bother saying I've contradicted myself, cuz duh. Stop the mind stuff and consider both sides with the heart. One reason this is an interminable thread is endless mind spouting of attack and defense from both sides. Nothing will resolve that way. Neither position, left or right, is really tenable. Consider pulling a third position out of the two and the whole thing relaxes.

            Have enjoyed most posts here on this thread, and best wishes to all. This is not an attack on anyone,but a position on the subject, though I must say I am very very bored by attacks on people on a board about food. If you must attack people, you belong on a board about attacking people, not on a board about food, no matter what you think you know about food, cuz we are all students here. Check Usenet, there's bound to be something. rec.personal.attacks.wine.barbarians, or something. Go ahead, knock yourself out.

            I would just would like it to heal. Wouldn't you?

          3. re: howler
            j
            Josh Mittleman

            It is absolutely true that pairing a wine to your meal can enhance the experience; but that doesn't mean that you have to get hung up on it. There's no such thing as "the wrong wine" for a meal; just a less-than-optimal wine.

            Howler's analogy to a sauce is perfect: When I cook a meal at home, my sauce probably isn't the ideal choice that I'd expect from Jean-George Vongerichten. So what? I enjoy it anyway. If I want the perfect wine, I'll ask an expert for advice. But if I want to drink chardonnay with my steak, there ain't nothing wrong with it.

            Drink what you like. Feel free to experiment: That's how you learn what's good.

            1. re: Josh Mittleman

              "There's no such thing as "the wrong wine" for a meal; just a less-than-optimal wine."

              i beg to differ. you couldn't possibly pair a bordeaux with a predominantly tomato based dish - the acidity of the tomatoes will kill the wine.

              "if I want to drink chardonnay with my steak, there ain't nothing wrong with it."

              i'd say there was plenty wrong with it. oaky, massively alcoholic, buttery chardonnay is virtually undrinkable with ANY food. nothing exciting happens in your mouth when chardonnay and meat come together. indeed, its usually the opposite: the wine tastes like some hot alcoholic thing and the steak doesn't reverberate any better. try that same steak with a well chosen loire red wine and you'll be amazed at how well they work together.

              i'll tell you what: see if you can get olga raffault red wine (the appellation is chinon, say a '96 or '97) at your merchant. open it with a chardonnay the next time you have steak and compare them between different bites. if you don't agree that the chardonnay is completely inappropriate, i'll mail you a check for the olga. fair?

              1. re: howler
                j
                Josh Mittleman

                It seems you're replying to a conversation other than the one going on here, howler. Of course some wines go better with some foods than with others. But that doesn't mean that it is impossible to enjoy a wine if you pair it with a less-than-optimal meal. The ultimate test is enjoyment: If you like it, it's good. An expert may be able to help you find something you like even more, but that doesn't reduce your enjoyment. The more you learn, the more you'll be able to appreciate the nuances; but that also doesn't reduce your initial enjoyment. If you like it, it's good.

                1. re: Josh Mittleman

                  What balderdash! Millions and millions of people like McDonald's hamburgers, but that doesn't mean that they are better than the frog's legs at Jean-Georges, or even remotely acceptable. Budweiser is the most popular beer in America--is it ``good?'' My Uncle Manny sure liked to drink Pink Catawba with everything from stuffed derma to gefilte fish. Was that ``good?" Just because somebody whose palate is one step removed from Coca-Cola can drink box wine without gagging--or enjoys drinking chardonnay with roast lamb--does not make said wine ``good'' in any sense of the term. If it did, these message boards wouldn't exist and we'd all be eating at freaking Cosi every day.

                  1. re: Pepper

                    I just don't agree. I believe there is no such thing as an objective sense of what's good and what's not. Quality only exists as it relates to the eater(for food, though it's true for everything). For the millions of McDonald's eaters and Budweiser drinkers, those products are truly good, and not because of ignorance.

                    Chowhound exists for those of us who have a different sense of what food is "good". Our tastes are no better, or worse, than that of Big Mac eaters. We're just a group of like-minded individuals.

                    1. re: Bilmo.

                      Bilmo:
                      You say:
                      "Chowhound exists for those of us who have a different sense of what food is 'good'." What would you think if we just dropped the last word? Would it still convey your meaning?
                      pat

                      1. re: pat hammond

                        Hmmm. That might work. But I'm reluctant to put down someone else's opinions of taste. I might find Chicken McNuggets to be one of the most awful foods on earth, but food it is, and delicious food to some, make that many, people.

                        1. re: Bilmo

                          Okay. I don't want to get into an epistemological discussion about this. Heck, I can barely spell it! pat

                          1. re: pat hammond

                            I have to confess that I don't know what epistemology is. But whenever I hear the word, I think of the old Woody Allen movies. Jejune does that to me too.

                            1. re: Bilmo

                              Do you have the temerity to accuse Pat of jejunosity?

                              (I just couldn't resist...)

                              1. re: Beth

                                To the contrary, I think Pat is one of the most june people I know.

                              2. re: Bilmo

                                Funny, but this thread began about wine, and here we are using long words, mildly insulting one another and talking about everything BUT wine. Such are the delights of Chowhound. Well, i'm not sure what the guy asking about wine got out of this, but if i were him, i think i'd be a little more intimidated than i already was! Wine makes people crazy!

                                1. re: andy huse

                                  I guess he learned that to get his answer, he may have to ask the question a few times. Actually, I think a read through the thread presents a pretty good cross section of the Chowhounders thinking on the importance of wine to a meal (granted, with a few tangents here and there). The issue of wine comes with a lot of baggage, which, for someone thinking about taking a serious interest in it, it wouldn't hurt to know.

                                  It's just food, after all, but I don't think you'd get the same passion in a discussion of the importance of bread, or salt, to a meal (though around here, who knows?).

                      2. re: Pepper

                        I have to disagree with you. Yes, there are some tried and true combinations of wine, food and spirits, but to say that there is one definitive set of guidelines is probably a bit myopic. Yes, red wine is a good match for red meat and spicy food because it stands up well to it and yes, delicate white wines are a good match for less assertive foods, but it is a bit elitist to suggest that the tastes of millions of people are wrong because they aren't the "right" ones. McDonalds is popular because it serves tasty, afordable food. Budweiser IS a good beer - not fancy, not dark enough for my taste, but just because it's blue-collar doesn't make it trash; I've seen Julia Child serve it. One of the great examples of eclectic food/drink/wine combinations is brunch. Cheap champagne and waffles should not be sneered at by anyone - follow that up with orange juice and a wedge of gorgonzola - wow! Tastes are so individual that even if it frustrates you that someone doesn't share your appreciation for a great wine/food combo, realize that they probably feel that way about your inability to appreciate pork rinds.

                        1. re: John Fladd

                          "but to say that there is one definitive set of guidelines is probably a bit myopic"

                          where is pepper saying that? i think his point, which is well taken, is that there are things that are 'right' and there are those that aren't - and cleaving to an ethic is infinitely preferable to drowning in a morass of political correctness. to pretend that anything goes is to negate the whole concept of these boards. mcdonalds burgers are uniformly nasty, and just because they've served over 20 trillion of them and there is otherwise intelligent life in this universe which professes to enjoy them doesn't for one minute alter their nastiness.

                          "Yes, there are some tried and true combinations of wine, food and spirits, but to say that there is one definitive set of guidelines is probably a bit myopic"

                          where has it ever been claimed there is a master book of wine/food pairings? long ago people discovered pleasing pairings for the more traditional foods from the western world, but nowadays we eat food thats radically different from just a few generations ago. so we really have to understand whats going on when wine and food are paired - learn the art for ourselves - instead of incanting that 'red with meat, white with fish'. you can just as easily pair a white with lean beef (a spatlese reisling with a typical szechuan beef dish, for eg) as you can a lighter red with fish - the color isn't the issue.

                          "Cheap champagne and waffles should not be sneered at by anyone"

                          whyever not? can't we disagree? i think lifes too short to drink cheap champagne, period. i'd rather have the orange juice with the waffles and have fortified wine with the gorgonzola.

                          "Tastes are so individual that even if it frustrates you that someone doesn't share your appreciation for a great wine/food combo, realize that they probably feel
                          that way about your inability to appreciate pork rinds."

                          ofcourse. but do i have the right to feel disgusted when somebody eats chocolate just before drinking some red wine?

                          1. re: howler

                            Sure, we all have different tastes, and heaven forbid we should discourage a free and open discussion on any subject. Disagree, argue your points. But to take the stand that you are somehow superior, you have reached a higher level of enlightenment in your food tastes, is pure, unadulterated BS. It's not refinement, it's training. I'll bet a monkey can be trained to pair wines with food.

                            In reference to another post on this subject, I love Ella, I can't stand Britney. Ella is no better than Britney.

                            1. re: Bilmo

                              "But to take the stand that you are somehow superior, you have reached a higher level of enlightenment in your food tastes, is pure, unadulterated BS."

                              whoa! where am i claiming that i'm superior, that i've reached a higher level of enlightenment? this is a bit like asking someone if they've stopped beating their wife, no? and as your argument is getting personal, i suspect you've run out of intelligent things to say. oh no, sorry, you still have this pearl to offer up:

                              "I love Ella, I can't stand Britney. Ella is no better than Britney."

                              how deep. let me sit here and stare at my navel while contemplating the profundity of that thought.

                              1. re: howler

                                ...and '89 Zind-Humbrecht Tokay Pinot Gris Vielles Vignes is better than a jug of Franzia Mountain White, especially if you happen to have a slab of foie gras in front of you. Nobody here is saying that Western food is superior to Eastern food, or that arepas are any less worthy than quenelles. What we are saying is that good wine is better than bad wine, and that there is a difference between the two. I should think that would be one of the least controversial opinions ever expressed on these boards.

                                1. re: Pepper

                                  "What we are saying is that good wine is better than bad wine, and that there is a difference between the two."

                                  What I hope you mean to say is that you like the "good" wine better than the "bad" wine because they are different. That Good and Bad refer to your preference should be implicit. That one thing can be distinguished from another is not in dispute. That a person can prefer one thing to another is not in dispute. That idea that one thing can be somehow fundamentally "better" than another is the one that is causing the problem. It's when personal taste/opinion is presented as "truth" that the snobbery alarms start going off.

                                  - VF

                                  1. re: VF

                                    Quibbling about semantics is bad. ;)

                                    1. re: MU

                                      I don't think this is semantics. I think this is attitude.

                                      1. re: Bilmo

                                        This has been one of the most enjoyable and literate threads I've read on these boards. And the whole thread followed by the post "Libbyland Dinners". I absolutely love it! pat

                                        1. re: pat hammond

                                          It was pretty far back in the thread that I wanted to respond, but it was a real page turner. In response to the denigration of "box wine", I attended a luncheon recently where the speaker was Frank Prial, wine critic of the New York Times. He actually said that some "very fine" wines were being produced for the "box" market. Nobody asked the "label", guess we didn't buy it. But the man was more than emphatic about the quality you can get from a spigot!

                                          1. re: ross

                                            I was recently told, by an Australian that knows his wine, that some very good wine indeed is available boxed in Australia. Haven't seen any of the Aussie product here, though. And I admit to scoffing at boxed wine since a couple of headache-inducing episodes years ago (and I'm not talking about a hangover-the stuff was so lousy that one glass produced epic headaches). But if the estimable Mr. Prial says there's good stuff available in boxes then I'm inclined to believe it. And I'd hate to miss out on something good and interesting because I was too much of a snob to get past the packaging. And on the subject of wine and elitism, I recently attended a vertical tasting of some of the very fine white and red burgundies produced by Joseph Drouin (where I sat next to an obnoxious know-it-all who epitomized "wine snob"). Frederic Drouin, who ran the tasting and was extraordinarily witty and informative, said that there is no reason for wineries not to use synthetic corks from a quality standpoint. But, he added, consumers are so resistant to what they perceive as something downmarket and tacky that the producers hesitate to use the synthetic material, even though it would eliminate the nastiness of having a corked wine (this discussion began because one of the bottles of a very expensive red was corked). It seems that, when shelling out such major bucks for wine, the majority of buyers want what they consider the "classiness" of a real cork.

                                            1. re: Martha Gehan

                                              Could someone tell me what exactly does it mean when one says a wine is "corked"? Without really knowing anything about it I assume it means a wine is "off",that it doesn't taste the way it should taste. Does it really have something to do with the actual cork?

                                              1. re: pam

                                                cork is the dried out bark of a portugese tree; when used as a stopper on ageworthy wines, it miraculously lets the right amount of air in to aid in the aging process. wines have been kept alive over a hundred years when stoppered with cork! this miracle comes at a cost - sometimes, the cork isn't completely sterile and then it reacts with the wine. the wine loses all its flavour and tastes musty - or 'corked'.

                                                as has been mentioned above, it'd be a nice to avoid all this in wines meant to be drunk young - which means 99.99% of all wines. plastic corks would be so much nicer in that you wouldn't lose a bottle in twenty to cork (thats my statistic with everyday wines.) on the other hand, nobody's really seen what plastic corks would do to the aging process over a long term, so i doubt we'll see lafite being shipped with plastic corks anytime soon.

                                                1. re: pam

                                                  Pam,

                                                  Check this URL out.

                                                  (note: this is the first time I have ever posted, but the link should appear somewhere...let me now.)

                                                  Link: http://www.wineweb.com/w3new24.html

                                            2. re: pat hammond

                                              I'm disturbed by the level of personal attack and hostility that has been shown on this particular thread. This topic has obviously hit some very strong emotional cords in the people who responded to it. I notice that several people have commented on how mature and intellectual we all are for expressing different opinions, but the level of meanness that many of us have shown makes my stomach hurt. I feel a lot like I did the first time I saw the artwork from the Nazi Party's famous Degenerate Art Exhibition - "This is Good; this is Bad". The fact that I found myself agreeing with the Nazis was one of the most disturbing aspects of the whole thing. I can only speak for myself, but black and white distinctions on matters of taste bother me - the world is a lot more grey than that. (And please don't tell me that that is why my food tastes so grey - you know that isn't what I meant.)
                                              To be honest, I don't really know what my point here is precisely - except that I'm sorry if I offended anybody and I hope that we can be nicer to each other in the future.

                                              1. re: John Fladd

                                                I don't think there was much in the way of personal attack here, but I take some responsibility, and I apologize. When I made the comment: "But to take the stand that you are somehow superior, you have reached a higher level of enlightenment in your food tastes, is pure, unadulterated BS", it followed howler's post, but was not directed at howler. Rather, I was responding to the sum total of the thread to that point. The "you"'s evidentally caused howler to feel I was making a personal attack. I was not (although there's no mistaking his response to me, but I can take it). I stand by the statement, however, as directed to those who feel their tastes are any better than anyone else's. It's worded a bit strongly, but I don't think offensively.

                                                1. re: John Fladd

                                                  So far I've been called a boob and been told that my posts are nonsense.

                                                  VERY poor taste, guys

                                                  1. re: Peter

                                                    Peter--my personal apologies. But two things:

                                                    1. this is as nasty as it EVER gets around here, and it's really not that bad (you weren't directly called a boob, and just one of your points earned--undeservedly!--an impassioned dismissal as "nonsense" by one respondent...it wasn't a blanket thing)

                                                    2. said respondent has apologized.

                                                    But we are generally a lot less heated and a lot more polite around here. So do stick around, ok?

                                                    ciao

                                                    1. re: Jim Leff

                                                      I missed the apology, but will take your word that it was given (this is a case where the hot posts after a DATE is good, but hot posts after a TIME would be better). I accept the apology.

                                                      I had no intention of leaving. I don't get offended easily. It's a fun board, mostly. I think people don't get nearly as heated about WHAT they like to eat as WHY they like to eat it.

                                                      1. re: Peter

                                                        "I think people don't get nearly as heated about WHAT they like to eat as WHY they like to eat it."

                                                        Heh! Interesting observation!

                                                      2. re: Jim Leff

                                                        Ahem... Jim, I sure hate to keep this going any longer, but...

                                                        I made an apology for inadvertantly insulting howler. Far as I can tell, that's the only apology here. Pepper and howler are those responsible for the "boob" and "nonsense" insults, among quite a few others, that Peter is referring to. I'm not asking for an apology, nor do I expect one. It was just an intense discussion. But, let's set the record straight.

                                            3. re: VF

                                              You express my thoughts better than I ever could.

                                              1. re: VF

                                                You express my thoughts better than I ever could.

                                            4. re: howler

                                              Oh boy, isn't this fun?!

                                              No personal offense intended - I don't know you, or anything about you other than what you write on these boards.

                                              Your tone does sound superior, to me, even if you never use those words. Even so, what do I care. I'm only arguing against the ideas you expressed, not you.

                                              1. re: Bilmo

                                                I'm cracking up...if, as I suspect, this is the nastiest "flame war" we've had on these boards in the last year or so, we're doing pretty darned good, no?!? (any of you ever check out discussions elsewhere on the Internet? Positively toxic, more than 50% of the time).

                                                In fact, one of the most notorious food flamers on the entire web has been hanging around here for a few months, and even HE has shown politeness and tolerance. You guys are the greatest!

                                                ciao

                                          2. re: howler

                                            "do i have the right to feel disgusted when somebody eats chocolate just before drinking some red wine?"

                                            You have the right to feel whatever you feel, but what other people put in their mouths should really not be of concern to you. Maybe they experience culinary bliss akin to nothing you have achieved in a lifetime of careful food and drink pairing. Maybe not. Why would you care? Is it somehow a moral issue? Eating (in the Chowhound context) is about pleasure, isn't it? People are responsible for their own pleasure. Let them take it where they find it.

                                        2. re: Pepper

                                          Pepper wrote
                                          Millions and millions of people like McDonald's hamburgers,but that doesn't mean that they are better than the frog's legs at Jean-Georges, or even remotely acceptable. Budweiser is the most popular beer in America--is it ``good?'' My Uncle Manny sure liked to drink Pink Catawba with everything from stuffed derma to gefilte fish. Was that ``good?" Just because somebody whose palate is one step removed from Coca-Cola can drink box wine without gagging--or enjoys drinking chardonnay with roast lamb--does not make said wine ``good'' in any sense of the term. If it did, these message boards wouldn't exist and we'd all be eating at freaking Cosi every day.

                                          (Excuse me for quoting such a long passage, but I don't want to misquote)

                                          I think we have to distinguish between "good" and "to your taste". I don't think there can be any objective standards of "good taste". If you like it, it is good to you. Pink Catawba tasted good to your Uncle.

                                          Further, we should remember that there are reasons besides taste for eating at a place: Cost, convenience, and time come immediately to mind, but more relevant here (and perhaps less obvious) is familiarity. Personally, I hate McDonalds. But one great advantage of it is familiarity: A McDonalds burger is a McDonalds burger. It will taste the same, look the same, be served in the same package anywhere. And while I (and, I think, most chowhounds) have an adventerous palate, there are times when I don't WANT to indulge that palate, but would prefer something simple, familiar, and fast. Even if I hit lotto tomorrow and retired, and had money to eat at Jean Georges and other elite places every night, I wouldn't. Some nights I'd want an omelette at home.

                                          The reason these boards exist is because there are enough people who share similar tastes in food. But even here, there are lots of disagreements.

                                          1. re: Peter

                                            Ella Fitzgerald is better than Britney Spears. Not just different: better--no matter how many times one's daughter may want to play a Britney CD in a given 24-hour period. The reason one's daughter might prefer Britney to Ella may be many, but surely foremost among them is immaturity of musical taste. In time, and with a proper education, said daughter may well find her way to the ``Ellington Songbook,'' and may well appreciate it for the monumental achievement it is. Or she may not. But it doesn't matter. Empirical standards of taste exist, and if you choose to ignore them, it doesn't make you enightened: it makes you a boob.

                                            1. re: Pepper

                                              No! NO! NO!!! But that's just my opinion.

                                              1. re: Pepper

                                                "Empirical standards of taste exist"

                                                Oh yeah? Where did they come from? Where can I find them written down? Why are you so sure you know them? Seems smug and condescending. Of course, maybe I'm laboring under a false consciousness.

                                                Taste is a social construct that is modified by personal experience. You make comparisons based on criteria that you have developed or internalized during a lifetime immersed in a specific culture (or through the interplay of several cultures!) and those criteria are fluid. That's why taste varies from person to person and can change within a person over the course of a lifetime.

                                                - VF

                                                1. re: Pepper

                                                  Pepper wrote

                                                  Empirical standards of taste exist, and if you choose to ignore them, it doesn't make you enightened: it makes you a boob.

                                                  My reply

                                                  They don't exist. For something to be have empirical standards, it must be measurable. Thus, height has strong empirical standards, intelligence has moderate empirical standards, and taste has none.

                                                  Or is everyone who disagrees with YOU a boob?

                                                  1. re: Peter

                                                    nonsense! when pepper writes about 'empirical standards', he is being perfectly accurate. the meaning of 'empirical' in the context used is that knowledge derived from experience and not from science.

                                                    its in the oed, look it up.

                                                    1. re: howler

                                                      "the meaning of 'empirical' in the context used is that knowledge derived from experience and not from science"

                                                      So standards of taste are determined by experience. That means, of course, that since everyone's experience differs to some degree, standards of taste differ and are equally valid.

                                                      If so, we agree. If not, please explain what you mean.

                                                      - VF

                                                      1. re: howler
                                                        r
                                                        rebeccahodgson

                                                        Okay - you sucked me in - although I think I may be in way over my head here.

                                                        My understanding is that empirical means experienced as opposed to theoretical - experienced has to be through the senses - as in the sense of taste - but all the senses posses a filter - our brain, our TASTE in the other meaning (or sense - HA!), which interprets taste according to all the cultural muckety muck, etc that VF (I believe) wrote about somewhere along the way. Tasting and "experimenting" food is quite differently empirical than the knowledge through experience of counting how many eggs a bird lays during nesting each year. Counting is unaffected by that filter - it is an absolute not (at least on the level of mathematics it takes to count a nest of eggs)subject to dispute or distortion by the filter. Even if you are testing food or wine against a recipe or rules of wine type, that filter of personal opinion/background/culture gets in the way - one person think it meets the criteria, another doesn't, in ways that things which don't involve taste as preference wouldn't. (i.e. a spoon of salt makes a human mouth wince)(even this may not be true for some salt lover out there we have yet to hear from)

                                                        I think that taste is theoretical because it can never be proven to be correct - at best it can rise to the level of an aesthetic when a lot of people agree - as in art. I think Chowhound exists for people who are looking to share and develop their aesthetic appreciation of food and wine. I also agree that aesthetic judgment can be covers for or come accompanied by snobbery.

                                                        One more thing - many many things have been done repeatedly throughout history - not just wine and food pairings - but it doesn't necessarily follow that their continued repetition makes them CORRECT (although I do agree that food and wine pairings are a good thing). Subordination of women for example is one practice I would not like to be repeated anymore and that is (hopefully) slowly (very slowly)being phased out of the world. Is it correct? (i guess that depends on your cultural background muckety muck etc. but I hope people on this board don't think so! since I like y'all currently)

                                                        you guys are certainly getting me ready for law school.

                                                        1. re: howler

                                                          I've pulled on the hip waders. The term "empirical" as used by howler is correct as that which is based upon experience and observation. It is also subjective in that all individual experience is based upon individual perception. The only objective observation that can be made about the sense of taste is that the tongue has certain receptors in certain areas that physically perceive certain "tastes" such as sour, bitter, salt and sweet. That being said, the strength of an empirical argument lies in the number of common observations and experiences that conclude the same thing. Based upon the empirical data in this string, I will not drink chardonnay with steak.

                                                      2. re: Pepper

                                                        More on this topic:

                                                        We started off talking about (I think) Wine vs. Ginger Ale as an accompainment to food. One cannot compare Wine and Ginger Ale in any sensible way.

                                                        We then talked about what drink goes with what food, with Howler arguing that certain things were "better" with other things in some absolute sense.

                                                        One CAN compare the taste of two different wines in a sensible way, but not really in an empirical basis (what do you measure the "goodness" of a wine in?). An INDIVIDUAL can rate wines, but what makes one person's judgement "better" than another's?

                                                        This comes down to a question of reliability and validity. Since I got my PhD in psychometrics (psychological measurement) and taste is, at least in large part, psychological, this is a topic I know a litle about.

                                                        Reliability may be briefly defined as "are we measuring whatever it is that we are measuring accurately?" and validity as "are we measuring what we think we are measuring?" We could determine which of a number of (say) raters of wine give more reliable ratings, but there is no "gold standard" with which to determine whose ratings are more valid, unless we revert to something like "majority opinion", but even then, majority of whom? All people on earth? All wine drinkers? Or only all wine drinkers who agree with Howler?

                                                        Similarly, while one can compare Mozart with Beethoven in a meaningful way, one cannot compare Mozart with Ella Fitzgerald with Britney Spears in a meaningful way (at least as regards their music.....)

                                                        1. re: Peter

                                                          man, i've seen some strange stuff on these boards but this is getting to be really weird. peter seems to be labouring under the impression that 'empirical knowledge' is something that can be measured. sorry - thats not the meaning of the word, and neither was it used by pepper in that context.

                                                          all that i tried to point out is that wine and food pairings aren't arbitrary, just as for example, one doesn't take a handful of spices, toss them with some meat and pronounce a recipe. some wine/food pairings work, some don't. hot tea and fiery red chilli peppers are an abominable pairing, as bad as chardonnay and steak.

                                                          setting up a straw dummy, you ask "but what makes one person's judgement "better" than another's?" you then helpfully go on to answer "This comes down to a question of reliability and validity. Since I got my PhD in psychometrics (psychological measurement) and taste is, at least in large part, psychological, this is a topic I know a litle about."

                                                          thanks for the afternoon laugh. i got my masters in nonsense detection, and so i know a LOT about measurement. and in an elective course along the way, i learnt that what we call 'taste' is derived from a) the tongue's measurment of the saltiness, acidity, bitterness and sweetness and b) the aromatic molecules captured by the olfactory epithelium. sorry - your describing taste as largely psychological is like describing a tanks function as 'mainly a mobile radio unit'.

                                                          1. re: howler

                                                            When Peter is speaking of "taste" as psychological, I believe he is, as I have been, speaking of aesthetic taste, not specifically the taste of food.

                                                            Charlie Tuna problems here. We're speaking of "good taste," you're speaking of "taste good." Two different, albeit related, things.

                                                            - VF

                                                            1. re: howler

                                                              Wine and food pairings aren't arbitrary, of course, and over time one may develop a number of pairings that work very well. For you. And maybe for some others that share your taste expectations.

                                                              In many tea drinking cultures, iced tea is an abomination. In Tokyo, it was (is still?) popular to eat lox and cream cheese on a raisin bagel. In some cuisines, fruit sweetness and meat are classic together, in others they are viewed as incompatible. There are places where Spam is a delicacy (besides my house).

                                                              If we can accept the differing food tastes of other cultures, why not accept as equally valid the differing food tastes within, say, the U.S.? If someone enjoys Tequiza with foie gras, is it a bad combo? Not for the person who enjoys it. Why, she may even sneer at those who haven't the palate to appreciate it!

                                                              1. re: howler

                                                                Howler! In your zeal to tear down Peter's agruments, you fumbled a bit yourself.

                                                                Taste (for food) is not a purely mechanical thing. Taste buds may differ, but the perception of taste (along with the rest of our senses) are filtered through our mind and compared to other experiences. Food is like sex--- a lot of it is good, but different people like different things. Someone being raped is unlikely to enjoy the sex. Why?

                                                                You might give me the tastiest jellyfish, chitlins, and fried genitalia there are, but i won't like them. PSYCHOLOGICALLY, i would be unable to enjoy these foods. Mechanically, by taste buds are objective, but they are processed in my brain, a brain that tells me to stay away from that stuff.

                                                                Miles Davis said, "There are two kinds of music, Good and bad. I like the good kind." This sums it up perfectly. Everyone makes personal value judgments on anything they come across. I value wine much less than you do, have as little patience for assessing wine in a store than i do for stuffing mushrooms.

                                                                The elitism you express is tiresome, Howler, as tiresome as a little girl listening to Britney Spears. Taste is an often intangible thing. Your elitist bent may have leaned you toward wine, not just the good taste.

                                                                I, too, have watched the masses gobble down McD's burgers, swill Bud, and listen to monotonous drum machines. I strive to surround myself with more interesting things. That doesn't make me 'good' or 'better,' just more interesting.

                                                                That i find your missionary zeal a little distasteful doesn't make me better or you worse. It makes us both a little more interesting.

                                                                1. re: andy huse

                                                                  According to Webster's, one definition of empirical is, as Howler and others pointed out, "derived from experience", however, another definition is "capable of being verified"

                                                                  No one is suggesting (certainly not I) that matters of taste are not empirical in the first sense. Indeed, taken that way, the statement is almost a tautology. Certainly matters of taste are not based on pure reason!

                                                                  Similarly, as I and others have pointed out, we all know that taste as sensation is based on the tongue and nose. Taste as aesthetics, however, is learned and is largely psychological.

                                                                  So, when I read "matters of taste do have empirical standards" (I think I have the quote exactly), I naturally assumed that what was meant was:
                                                                  1. Differences in what foods we find appealing are based on standards which are verifiable.

                                                                  and not

                                                                  2. The sensations I get from my tongue and nose are based on the sensations I get from my tongue and nose.

                                                                  or
                                                                  3. The sensations I get from my tongue and nose are based on standards which can be verified

                                                                  or

                                                                  4. Matters of aesthetics are based on experience

                                                                  Statement 1 is, in my opinion, nonsense. Statement 2 is a tautology. Statement 3 I can't speak about knowledgably, I don't know enough about the way the organs work, but I'm pretty sure it is not what was meant. Statement 4 I agree with, but it does not seem like that is what Howler et al. meant.

                                                                  1. re: andy huse

                                                                    Sorry, Andy, but I think in your zeal to be anti-elitist you're bending over backwards a tad. You remind me of men who are always telling women how fervently feminist they are. I think they say it to be cool and PC, and I never quite buy it. Howler is who he is and I for one don't think his postings, which are uniformly interesting and highly literate, are intended to be or should be perceived as elitist. I think he simply, like many of us, has strong opinions and convictions about his likes and dislikes. And he knows a hell of a lot about wine, a complicated and to some of us fascinating subject. One of the great things about this site is that people can have informed disagreements withpout too much incivility creeping in. Someone who has an almost knee-jerk negative reaction to anything they perceive as elitist is just exhibiting, IMHO, another stripe of prejudice. Let's face it, everyone is never going to agree on everything, and intelligent debates about what's "good" or "bad", i.e. personal tastes, can be most edifying and/or amusing. I think you're exhibiting a little missionary zeal yourself in your anti-elitism. Not saying you shouldn't, just saying that's my impression.

                                                                    1. re: Martha Gehan

                                                                      Hmmm, i don't know exactly what you're trying to say here. That one shouldn't be anti-elitist? That my anti-elitism is not in keeping with Chowhound? I thought that was part of the draw here: a grass-roots site where people can get away from the buzz of fads and elitism and get the real deal on food and restaurants. Am i wrong?

                                                                      I'm not willing to condemn the masses for the choices they make and assume that I'm superior just because. Howler may love his wine. I love my whiskey. Fine.

                                                                      But snobbishness only intimidates, the very reason why this thread got started anyway. Someone wanted to know about wine--- he wondered if his question was stupid. It wasn't, but the attitude which wine lovers (or is it mass haters?) show toward the uninitiated and uninterested is counter-productive.

                                                                      I may have gone to great lengths to make my point, but i think elitism can be the death of anything great--- academia, government, and food, too--- any outgrowth of culture depends upon fresh blood FROM BELOW.

                                                                      I have not gone to any greater length to make my point than anyone else has.

                                                                      My roommate has the taste of a peasant. His lack of adventure annoys me. Everything is too spicy for him. I used to look down on him. Now, i know that most of the world is uninterested in good anything--- food, music, culture, etc. Instead of bemoaning their misguided palates, i try to stay positive: make suggestions, urge others to explore. That is what Chowhound is all about. Why try to bring the rest of the world down? That's not what i come here for!

                                                                      1. re: andy huse

                                                                        The discussion on this string takes me back to my readings in epistemology, and, in particular, the distinction between facts and values. If I express an opinion about food and wine, the "fact" that I hold that opinion is usually not a subject for dispute (unless you have reason to think that I'm lying). The interesting discussions don't arise over whether or not I hold a certain opinion, or whether I am "entitled" to hold that opinion. The interesting discussions arise over whether you agree with my opinion. That is largely what Chowhound is all about, people agreeing and disagreeing over their opinions about food.

                                                                        All of us dismiss certain "opinions" as bunk, and give respect to other opinions even though we may disagree with them. We don't treat all opinions as equally worthy of respect. The process by which we decide to respect or disrespect another's opinion is complex and varies from individual to individual. Speaking for myself, I greatly respect the opinions of Pepper, Howler, and Jim Leff, to mention a few examples, even in those situations where I may not agree with them. That respect stems from the depth and breadth of their knowledge about food. There is something to be said for educated, versus uneducated, opinions. We may not always agree with a particular educated opinion, and may in fact find ourselves agreeing instead with an uneducated opinion. But educated opinions are almost always more interesting and have greater depth to them than uneducated opinions. I respect people who have invested the time and effort to become experts, more than those blowhards who express opinions without any particular expertise or knowledge of the subject matter. If this respect for knowledge is elitist, so be it. Regardless of what you may say about elitism, knowledge has value, and there is a difference between an educated palate and an uneducated palate. (By "educated" I'm not referring to formal education.) The fact that a person eats does not by itself make him or her "knowledgeable" about food, any more than the fact that a person listens to music or looks at art automatically makes him or her "knowledgeable" about music or art. What is so hard about giving the opinions of those with superior breadth and depth of knowledge the respect they deserve?

                                                                        An example: You go to a restaurant that is known for its extensive wine collection and which has one of the most knowledgeable sommeliers in the country. Would you pick your wine without asking for recommendations from the sommelier? If so, you are-in my opinion-an idiot.

                                                                        How many people with "educated palates" do you know that prefer to drink chardonnay with a steak, rather than, say, a good French burgundy or claret?

                                                                        Finally, in response to the question that started this string ("does fine wine automatically make a qualitatively richer experience where the food is concerned"), my opinion is, for most food, yes.

                                                                        1. re: Tom Armitage

                                                                          Exactly. Well put, Tom.

                                                                          1. re: Tom Armitage

                                                                            Not to drive the subject completely into the ground, but...

                                                                            It seems to me that the main argument in the importance of wine thread (that is, the argument that isn't actually about wine at all) has to do with the degree to which one privileges his or her own opinion. That is, when one person says, "This food is terrible" and another person says, "I don't care for this food at all" they probably intend to express the same idea. Unfortunately, the message sent and the message received are often two different things.

                                                                            When one says "this food is terrible," the words refer directly to the quality of the food. When one says "I don't care for this food," the words refer to a personal experience of the quality of the food. When experience is expressed as personal rather than something inherent in the object, the expression of that experience is less likely to be perceived by others as contemptuous of differing opinions/experience.

                                                                            To put it another way, it's very difficult to say "I am right" without saying to someone "You are wrong" at the same time.

                                                                            - VF

                                                                            1. re: VF

                                                                              Saying its how you say it is part of the answer, because some of us are more impassioned, forthright, diplomatic or prickly than others, but really, its hardly the end of the argument.

                                                                              I like to think there is something value higher than than personal taste or opinion - something more absolute - beauty, truth, excellence, etc. Can't we agree that that fresh-picked ear of corn really is "better" than frozen kernels from the supermarket or that the lunch I ate at 11 Madison Park on Wednesday was "better" than the Cheese Whopper I scarfed on Tuesday? I enjoyed both meals, but the care of preparation, creativity, ingredient quality, ambiance (and a delicious Sancerre) raised Wednesday's meal to a totally different level. It was "better" food by any objective standard other than the purely industrial, and not just because I thought it was or because it was more expensive (I would rather have been at DiFaras any day).

                                                                              Obviously, these arguments matter more in spheres other than food -morality, art, religion, etc. - but its interesting to see the same conflicting mindsets-relativism vs. absolutism- carry over so intensely into our talk about food.

                                                                              1. re: jen kalb

                                                                                The problem with absolutes (truth, bueaty, etc.) is that they really aren't absolute unless you're willing to discount the opinions of those who disagree with you. I don't think there is anything wrong with disagreement, but often, implicit in the claim that I am right and you are wrong is the idea that I am superior to you because I know the truth.

                                                                                Do you really think there is anything to be gained by declaring something to be "absolutely" good or bad? Isn't it better to offer a reasoned opinion why you have your personal preferences and leave it at that?

                                                                                - VF

                                                                                1. re: VF

                                                                                  One of the many things we lost in opting for a more socially mobile society was a cadre of people who, by both birth and training, were better able to make distinctions about matters of taste. Society was arranged in such a way that these people, among their other duties, had the time and the relaxation to train themselves in and arbitrate the subtler distinctions which differentiate, say, one first class wine from another. In such societies, those whose birth assigned them to more physically demanding duties were freed from the onerous necessity of having an "opinion" on matters for which they had no affinity, and in whose subtleties they had no training.

                                                                                  1. re: ed

                                                                                    And this isn't elitist?

                                                                                    I suggest you take a look at Against Nature by J.K. Huysmans, for a literary examination of the elite aesthete.

                                                                                    - VF

                                                                                    1. re: VF

                                                                                      The Barnes and Noble web site lists three translations in print. Do you have a recommendation? My instinct is to buy the Oxford University Press edition. Are there other out-of-print translations that are better?

                                                                                      1. re: Ed

                                                                                        I have the Penguin paperback, translated by Robert Baldick. It's a great, if weird book. It takes the idea of devotion to pure experience to the extreme.

                                                                                        In the translator's note, he quotes someone named Bloy on Huysmans' style:

                                                                                        "...continually dragging Mother Image by the hair or the feet down the worm-eaten staircase of terrified Syntax...."

                                                                                        That is to say, it's not an easy read, but very amusing nonetheless.
                                                                                        - VF

                                                                                    2. re: ed

                                                                                      The argument of trained, privileged cadres might hold a little water in Europe or asia, but here in America, what class you're a part of has little to with how MUCH class you have. Some rich slobs have no taste at all, and only buy what everyone else does.
                                                                                      We have the newly rich who are neither trained nor sensitive to good things. Diamond Jim Brady comes to mind, a legendary turn of the century eater who didn't drink wine at all, or any alcohol, just OJ--- try that with your steak. Charles Rector called him 'the best 20 custoimers i have (or something like that). He had no taste, but lavished money for all kinds of fancy stuff.

                                                                                      and we have families in the south who have little money, but make excellent food with often inferior ingredients. No privilege there, but they have good taste.

                                                                                      America's rich, especially in the 20th century have needed guidance on what luxuries to spend their riches on, like magazines. The rich like the poor, move in herds, just smaller ones.

                                                                                      Our leisure class is often decadent, nothing more. Mike Tyson, Bill Gates, come to mind. Money and even training does not equal taste. That is left to the province of personality. Besides, the professional leisure class often produces nothing--- they only consume.

                                                                                      1. re: andy huse

                                                                                        I am literally shaking my head in amazement that it would occur to someone to mention Mike Tyson and Bill Gates in the same breath.

                                                                                        Furthermore, to call either of these two men members of the "leisure class" seems to indicate a profound lack of understanding of what it takes to become rich and/or an aversion to the rich that impacts the ability to make distinctions among them.

                                                                                        1. re: Lisa Z

                                                                                          funny, too, since the leisure class wasn't even my idea. Wasn't it something about how America has a trained corps of professional tasters?

                                                                                          I simply wanted to point out that much of America's rich don't have a shred of class or training. Many of them are newly rich. Like Tyson and Gates, not the silver spoon types. In that context, they belong in the same breath.

                                                                                          You rightly point out that the rich aren't necessarily leisurely, but busy.

                                                                                          1. re: andy huse

                                                                                            This is getting silly, but...

                                                                                            "...Gates, not the silver spoon types"

                                                                                            Bill Gates was born a rich kid. Maybe not super-rich, but certainly one of the American elite.

                                                                                            Does he like wine?

                                                                                            - VF

                                                                                    3. re: VF

                                                                                      In one of Jen's posts above, she mentioned religion, which I thought was interesting, because it's a theme that I've been rolling around in my head since this thread started. A couple of days ago, I was listening to a few soundbites from the news story on the recent Baptist Convention, where a spokesman was blasting the forces of "rampant relativism". You could hear a very poignant strain of frustration in his voice; he has a sincere and deeply felt belief that there are some absolute values in this world and that it is pointless and probably sinful to deny that. It came to me eventually that that is very similar to the way Howler and Pepper feel about wine and food and that one reason for the heated discussion here is because their philosophy of food and wine is religious in intensity. After another day or so of thought I came to the realization that perhaps the reason I have had such a very strong emotional reaction to this whole discussion is that I have an equally deeply held belief in relativism - to me, everything IS negotiable. Maybe it's a case of sooner or later, the 4 major factors in life - food, sex, religion and the meaning of life - always end up intersecting, if not colliding.
                                                                                      Going to go ponder this for a while longer....

                                                                                    4. re: jen kalb

                                                                                      Case 1:

                                                                                      When I was six or seven, I had a taste of my mother's cheesecake at a fancy "Continental" restaurant. I hated it and did not have a bite of cheesecake until ten years later, where I was introduced to the wonders of Sara Lee frozen cheesecakes at college.

                                                                                      I fell in love with them. I often polished off a whole small one by myself or split a large one with a friend.

                                                                                      As you might guess, I enventually discovered that perhaps there were better cheesecakes to be found.
                                                                                      I can no longer enjoy the Sara Lee product as much as I did then, which raises some questions:

                                                                                      1. Is there any difference between my enjoyment or appreciation of a Junior's Cheesecake or an Aureole scallop sandwich than there was for my enjoyment or appreciation of the Sara Lee cheesecake?

                                                                                      2. Is it a loss that I can't enjoy the Sara Lee as much as I used to?

                                                                                      3. When I was in elementary school, I couldn't tolerate the smell or taste of Brussels sprouts, which were my mother's favorite vegetable. I couldn't believe that anyone could like this odious substance, so I assumed that we weren't tasting and smelling the same thing. Maybe we weren't.

                                                                                      When Mr. X says that this cheesecake is too sweet, and Ms. Y dissents, how can we tell if they are tasting the same thing? A child has much more sensitive taste buds than an elderly person; what does "salty" or "well-balanced" mean in this context?

                                                                                      1. re: Dave Feldman

                                                                                        Folks,

                                                                                        I've really enjoyed this entire discussion. It's one of the things that I love about this site. Sometimes I've felt that the discussion was too technical or acerbic for me to participate, but then I read Dave's posting. I thought Dave's point was very true and illustrative, and it remended me of something that seemed similar to me.

                                                                                        A few nights ago, my friend Diane invited me to dinner with her husband Greg. She was cooking one of her favorites, lamb cous-cous. I knew from having eaten her cous-couses before (she lived for several years in North Africa) that it would be complex, flavorful, and spicey without being burning hot. I decided to bring over a bottle of 1986 TKC Vineyard Amador County Zinfandel to pair with the meal.

                                                                                        My reasons for selecting this wine were many. Being fourteen years old, the wine would have a complexity that would match that of the cous-cous while not overwhelming it. And being an Amador Zin, I figured that it would have enough heft to stand up against the spices and veggies and meat. The wine has been one that I have enjoyed in the past, and the bottles of it that I had drunk in past years had always been satisfying. I felt that it was a special enough wine for the occasion without being too magnificent.

                                                                                        As we enjoyed the dinner and discussed the wine, it became clear that the three of us had different responses to the wine. While we all thought the general heft and age of the wine appropriate, we each would have given the wine different scores if we had been grading.

                                                                                        I personally would have scored it about a 90. I thought it was very complex and rich. It still had some fruit, but it was very smooth for an Amador Zin.

                                                                                        Diane, on the other hand, detected a taste in the wine--she called it slightly medicinal--that she didn't like. She would have scored it maybe an 80.

                                                                                        Greg, diplomat that he is, was in between. He said he had noted a taste, when the wine was first opened, that someone else might perceive as medicinal, but that he had liked it. Nonetheless, he said that he likes Sonoma Zins in general better than Amador Zins and that he thought the TKC was not as full flavored as he would have liked, so he might have given it an 85.

                                                                                        Now, there can be many reasons for these differences. Since it was my wine, I had a psychological investment in liking it. Also, for many years I was a cigarette smoker, so maybe I have more destroyed taste buds, and perhaps I couldn't taste what Diane was noticing. On the other hand, Diane recently finished a round of chemotherapy, which may have altered her palate. Or she may have considered a particular flavor as "medicinal" since she has been taking so many medicines over the last few years. And I also remembered (after I had opened up the wine) that she often likes Zins in general less than Greg and I.

                                                                                        Some things to note here. If you believe in truly absolute standards than at least two of us were wrong and have poor taste. Who knows, maybe Howler would have given the wine a 65, and said we were all crazy. But these are people with whom I've tasted a fair amount of wine and whose tastes I usually respect. Therefore, I am willing to believe that three people with reasonably educated palates can disagree about taste to some extent at least. But it should also be noted that none of us thought the wine was poor or that it was the best that we had drunk all year.

                                                                                        I believe that tastes change and that tastes are a complex psychological and physiological phenomena.I believe that a person can allow for a wide variation in taste (in food or art or literature) without completely abandoning judgment. I think that is to some extent what this whole site is about.

                                                                                        1. re: Dave Feldman

                                                                                          I too hated cheesecake and brussel sprouts as a youngster. I still have a bias towards brussel sprouts, I can not find a liking to these vegetables. I did come to like, if not love cheesecakes and the Sara Lee product did it for me. I still have not found a better frozen cheesecake than the New York Style Chocolate Chip Cookie Crunch.
                                                                                          As far as taste buds evolving from childhood into adult stages of life I think they do evolve over time and tastes for items do change. It will be hard for me to be pulled away from Sara Lee, they have quality frozen desserts. These desserts fit into my realm of tastes.

                                                                                          Thanks

                                                                                    5. re: Tom Armitage

                                                                                      I, for one, do respect the opinions of experts more than those of non-experts, because they tend to match MY taste more often, and because, when they do NOT match my taste, they at least give reasons for their opinions which I may or may not agree with. Non-experts tend to have opinions, but not be able to back them up, or give reasons. So, I get more information out of reading one of Jim's reviews in his book than out of asking a friend what he thought of a place and having him tell me "I liked it, it was good". And, if I need advice on wine, I will ask a sommelier, or Howler, or another expert, because, while I like wine, I don't know that much about it.

                                                                                      There are cases where I disagree with Jim. That doesn't make me more expert than him, I'm not; he knows a LOT more about food than I do. But it doesn't make me WRONG either, because I like what I like.

                                                                                      There is no objective scale of "taste" which can be referred to. To further illustrate:

                                                                                      If I say, "the food at Jean Georges takes more time, more effort, and more money to prepare than the food at McDonalds" I am simply correct, and, given resources, I could prove it.

                                                                                      If I say "I like the food at Jean Georges more than I like the food at McDonalds" I am right, and you can't argue, because I am just stating an opinion.

                                                                                      But the "care and effort and skill" argument only goes so far.

                                                                                      A well-ripened, just-picked, freshly-shucked ear of corn takes LESS effort to prepare well than an ear of corn without those qualities, and it tastes (in my opinion) divine. (I wouldn't order corn-on-the-cob at a good restaurant, because there is nothing much that needs to be done to it to make it wonderful.....).

                                                                                      1. re: Peter

                                                                                        "If I say "I like the food at Jean Georges more than I like the food at McDonalds" I am right, and you can't argue, because I am just stating an opinion."

                                                                                        Likewise, if you say "I like the food at McDonalds more than the food at Jean Georges," there is no basis for argument, because you are making a FACTUAL statement about what is your opinion. But I can argue about the merits of that opinion itself. That is the fact/value distinction to which I was referring in my previous post. We all know that our reactions to tastes and textures is a subjective, individual experience. But we still make judgments, appropriately and interestingly so, about what people have to say regarding those experiences. And we don't give equal respect or value to everything that is said about these "personal" experiences.

                                                                                      2. re: Tom Armitage

                                                                                        Pepper and howler deserve respect for the depth of their knowledge (I haven't been around here long enough, but I'll assume you are correct). Just as we all do for our own areas of expertise. But I don't think the value of these message boards is as a vehicle for experts. Certainly not experts who call those who disagree boobs and idiots. It would help, I think, to have a more democratic attitude, to encourage anyone who feels they have something to say to post, without feeling that one has to pay tribute to a Culinary Mafia.

                                                                                        1. re: Bilmo

                                                                                          Basically, I agree with you, and don't see any inconsistency between your message and mine. Ad hominem attacks stifle discussions of honestly held differences of opinion. Interestingly, if I remember my Roberts Rules of Order correctly, those Rules provide for expulsion from a meeting of individuals engaging in ad hominem attacks, for this very reason. I enjoy the range and variety of individuals who post on these boards and certainly agree that these boards shouldn't be limited to professional restaurant reviewers. On the other hand, we shouldn't be overly sensitive to honest expressions of disagreement with our opinions. I have experienced lots of occasions where people whose opinions I highly respect have disagreed with opinions of mine that I've posted on the Chowhound boards, sometimes in very colorful, passionate terms. It's all part of the fun. I've never taken it too seriously.

                                                                                        2. re: Tom Armitage

                                                                                          "How many people with "educated palates" do you know that prefer to drink chardonnay with a steak, rather than, say, a good French burgundy or claret?"

                                                                                          No claims on my part to an educated palate, but again there are no absolutes. If the steak has been prepared with a foie gras sauce, a claret may make it taste like mud. Similarly, a roquefort butter adorning a steak will give a fine red burgundy an annoying bitter metallic clang. In both these cases, I'd opt for a weighty white wine (Pinot Gris, Riesling Auslese, Corton Charlie) if I didn't want to change the balance of the dish as presented by the chef. On the other hand, if one tinkers with a dish, adjusting the balance with addition of salt or lemon juice, it can become compatible with any wine--- Cabernet drinkers can happily quaff their favorite red with sushi.

                                                                                          1. re: melanie wong

                                                                                            Melanie's being modest about her palate. Even in the rarified world of wine experts in which she travels, she's known for having an especially keen and perceptive palate. When she makes her infrequent stops here, I'd strongly suggest everyone to hang on every word. There's nobody else on this site with her level of wine knowledge.

                                                                                            ciao

                                                                                            1. re: melanie wong

                                                                                              "On the other hand, if one tinkers with a dish, adjusting the balance with addition of salt or lemon juice, it can become compatible with any wine"

                                                                                              in my experience, only wines steely with acid can cut through lemon juice. i've NEVER found cabernet sauvignon, in either its international or its bordeaux version, equal to the task. heck, cabernet sauvignon is a disaster with tomato based sauces, never mind citrus juices. or am i missing something?

                                                                                              1. re: howler

                                                                                                I don't think you're missing something. I am loathe to get into this discussion with so many super knowledgeble people, and set myself up, (I know that Melanie, who said that, is an expert beyond me) but salt and lemon juice are entirely different equations. Sometimes the addition of salt in an acidic dish (such as salad dressing) can smooth out the acid in the wine and the dish and make them more compatable. I learned a trick from a winery chef. She puts a little soy sauce in some salad dressings to make them a little more compatable with an acidic wine. We're talking white wine here usually. Anyone have any tricks for matching acidic food with an acidic red wine?

                                                                                                1. re: Vanessa

                                                                                                  Thanks for jumping in, Vanessa. You've presented an excellent example of what can be done to bring a dish into balance to match with a particular wine. Soy sauce not only adds salt to affect acid equilibrium but also umami (glutamate flavor potentiator). Among the foods highest in umami are parmesan cheese and soy beans (mushrooms too). Both are used by their cuisines of origin as condiments to round out acidic foods and to reduce bitter flavors.

                                                                                                  Tim Hanni's rules for making any wine compatible with any food:

                                                                                                  >The concept is almost too simple. We, as
                                                                                                  humans, only have 5 basic tastes: sweet, salt, bitter, umami (protein)
                                                                                                  and sour. All you need to know are three general rules about how these
                                                                                                  tastes react with food and wine.

                                                                                                  Pairing Rule Number One: Sweet and umami flavors make wine taste
                                                                                                  stronger and harsher.
                                                                                                  Pairing Rule Number Two: Acid and salt makes wine taste milder and
                                                                                                  fruitier.
                                                                                                  Pairing Rule Number Three: If you balance sweet/umami and salt/acid, in
                                                                                                  any food,
                                                                                                  the dish will have little effect on wine flavors and you can drink
                                                                                                  anything you want.

                                                                                                  This concept opens up the possibility of experimenting with new types of
                                                                                                  wine and food without having to worry about "Correct" pairings.... In the
                                                                                                  end, the truth is simple: if your food is balanced, you will love your
                                                                                                  wine!>>

                                                                                                  1. re: melanie

                                                                                                    Melanie quoted Tim Hanni as saying

                                                                                                    The concept is almost too simple. We, as humans, only have 5 basic tastes: sweet, salt, bitter, umami (protein) and sour.

                                                                                                    I always heard, and read, that it was FOUR basic tastes on the tongue: Bitter, Sweet, Salty, and Spicy.

                                                                                                    Has the map of the tongue changed while I wasn't paying attention?

                                                                                                    1. re: peter

                                                                                                      Yes, that's precisely what's happened.

                                                                                                      Link: http://www.nature.com/neuro/press_rel...

                                                                                                      1. re: Steven

                                                                                                        Wow - thanks to all for an incredibly informative discussion!

                                                                                                        1. re: Steven

                                                                                                          thanks so much for adding that link, steven.

                                                                                                        2. re: peter

                                                                                                          Which Taste Bud is the most sensitive?

                                                                                                        3. re: melanie

                                                                                                          Melanie, thanks for that great information. My knowledge was sketchy and that makes it much clearer. So, I think what you are saying is that acid and salt are not two different equations, but different sides of the same equation? Also, on the soy sauce thing: I thought it was just another way to add salt to a dish. Didn't know about the unagi component. The soy sauce adds both, but if you merely added salt to the same salad dressing the dish wouldn't balance with the wine unless you also added some protein component? Is this the correct way of thinking about it? Thanks in advance.

                                                                                                          1. re: Vanessa

                                                                                                            "that acid and salt are not two different equations, but different sides of the same equation"

                                                                                                            That's a great way to put it - I may lift that sometime. If you added only salt, acid will still diminish. Sometimes this is all that's needed if you have a high umami dish.

                                                                                                            My interest in wine arose from my love of cooking. With experience in trying to prepare wine friendly meals, I'd developed my own tricks: beets, mushrooms, aged cheese, beans, fermented soy beans, wine vinegar, etc. So Tim's ideas resonated with me from the beginning.

                                                                                                            I also like the fact that these rules are so easy -- whatever makes the world of wine more accessible and less intimidating is a good thing in my book.

                                                                                                            1. re: melanie

                                                                                                              Melanie,
                                                                                                              Thanks for all the great information (especially in the last post to Howler). I just learned a whole lot. Or, at least I learned some new things to experiment with and taste. I like the way you think about rules and about the vagaries of trying to match one wine to many dishes, and I don't mind if you lift my line.

                                                                                                              1. re: Vanessa

                                                                                                                Thanks! I'm having a good time playing around with these ideas. Next time you hear a friend say he/she doesn't like red wine (too bitter/sour), add some salt to the food and see the difference on the next sip. Those who don't like full-bodied red wines are often looked down upon as having less discriminating palates. In fact, many have MORE sensitive palates than the avg. red wine drinker with greater sensitivity to the bitter of tannins or sour acidity. Women in general prefer sweeter wines, and this is consistent with the fact that many have more tastebuds than men (aka "super tasters") and can taste sour and bitter flavors at lower threshholds. The sugar in white zin, for example, helps mask over those elements that offend their more sensitive palates.

                                                                                                                1. re: melanie

                                                                                                                  Most of my friends are wine geeks, but I might try it on my family.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Vanessa

                                                                                                                    i'm a newcomer here, so it was fun for me to have a chance to talk about wine a bit. post away if you have more questions, i'll try to get back here from time to time.

                                                                                                                    1. re: melanie
                                                                                                                      r
                                                                                                                      rebeccahodgson

                                                                                                                      you certainly deflated this thread of all its hot air(mine included at one point)replacing the win-lose dynamic with information and fresh considerations. BEAUTIFUL.

                                                                                                                      1. re: rebeccahodgson

                                                                                                                        Thanks so much for making me feel welcome here, Rebecca!

                                                                                                                        At heart I still cling to tried and true wine and food pairings too. I'm up for it if anyone wants to talk about muscadet & oysters, pinot noir & grilled salmon, pinot gris & venison, etc.

                                                                                                                        1. re: melanie

                                                                                                                          Smoked oysters & Champagne - intoxicating!!

                                                                                                                          1. re: Tammy

                                                                                                                            Mmmmmm, yes, smoked oysters and champagne. Two of my favorite things - I can taste how the yeasty/toasty flavors of bubbly will amplify the smoky notes. Of course, I like champagne with just about anything.

                                                                                                                            1. re: melanie

                                                                                                                              Eager woofs on both counts Melanie! The smoke & the yeast are almost too much for my tastebuds to handle!
                                                                                                                              Yes, Champagne does work well with most anything you serve-versatile across the board. Ready to pop the cork & peel back the tin right now! Yum to the 10th power. Tammy

                                                                                                                              1. re: Tammy

                                                                                                                                Smoked oysters and champagne - I'm there. And a moveable feast, to boot, no cooking needed. You can transform your hotel room...oysters, bubbly, toothpicks, and a can opener. Ice water bath in the wastepaper basket, and even bubbles out of the suitcase are soon ready. And it doesn't hurt to have whatever fine crackers you fancy.

                                                                                                                                1. re: bill jr

                                                                                                                                  The voice of an experienced road warrior...

                                                                                                                                2. re: Tammy

                                                                                                                                  Go for it, Tammy!

                                                                                                                                  In some ways the Champagne producers have done themselves a disservice by positioning bubbly as a celebration wine. It really deserves a regular place at the table. Except for the millenium blip, sparkling wine prices are depressed for the quality delivered in the glass and are really good values.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: melanie

                                                                                                                                    F&N, the new (and not very good) hot dog 'n frites place on 23rd St. in Chelsea, offers Pop--little bottles of Pommery, straw attached--to go with its frankfurters: a decent pairing, based, I suppose, on the same principle.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Pepper

                                                                                                                                      Demi-bottles of Pommery with a straw...cool! I like the idea. Sparkling wine has many of the same food compatabilities as beer --- cleansing bubbles, good acidity --- with franks works for me. Yet, part of the charm of champagne is the tingle of the bubbles on the nose which you'd miss sipping through a straw.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: Tammy

                                                                                                                                    Last night I had a chance to try champagne along with a mild guacamole flecked with kernels of raw sweet white corn served with blue corn tortilla chips. Really nice together - there's something about corn that harmonizes so well with chard-based wines. This one was Agrapart Blanc de Blancs from magnum. I've revised my opinion upward of this champagne from my first taste of it about a year ago. A real deal for about $30/750ml, delicate and elegant, a light hand with the toast to let the sweet floral, mineral and zesty fruit shine through.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: melanie

                                                                                                                                      Hey Melanie, Thanks for the yummy info of Guac, blue corn chips & Bubbles--I adore making (and eating)the emerald dip & will eagerly await this new union. I like the way you think! Will have to check out the champagne on my new wine buying jaunt to Chicago.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Tammy

                                                                                                                                        Enjoy the hunt! I'll mention that the Agrapart B de B is Grand Cru, making it even more of a bargain. Don't know if this bottle was from the same batch as the last lot, or maybe the extra year of aging helped (which it often does with bubbles). My favorite all-round Champagne is Billecart-Salmon - buy it if you see it.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: melanie

                                                                                                                                          I too love love love the Billecart, especially the Rose. I think it is a great value too.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Vanessa

                                                                                                                                            Uh huh! Billecart rosé is simply lovely, can be a little hard to find. I broke my rule of not buying any champagne labeled millenium-something or other to stock up on the B-Salmon Cuvée 2000 Brut Reserve. K&L in SF has their own blend of this for $299/case, less than $25 per bottle! K&L's has just a little more Pinot Meunier which gives it an extra bit of depth and richness in my comparisons. I bought a case before Thanksgiving, and I'm down to my last bottle. Time to get more. A few bottles have been presents for couples getting married this year - the label will be a souvenir of their anniversary year.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: melanie

                                                                                                                                              Melanie-

                                                                                                                                              That is a fantastic gift idea! For newlyweds, births, and other milestones!

                                                                                                                                              Thanks.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Maria

                                                                                                                                                Your idea's even better! The front label is classic in style with "2000" overlaid in 2-inch high gold letters. It will make a nice momento.

                                                                                                                                                What other sparkling wines do you like?

                                                                                                                                                Let me add a couple more that I've enjoyed recently:

                                                                                                                                                SORELLE BRANCO Prosecco di Valdobbiadene VSQPRD Extra Dry (~$13) - Imported from Italy's Veneto region by my friend Oliver McCrum, I had the chance to try a prerelease sample (arriving this month). The fresh floral and lemon-lime zesty aroma is absolutely captivating -- in winespeak one would say "white flowers" but these are far more fragrant and haunting -- overflowing with tuberoses, gardenias, jasmine, and lilies. On first whiff I wanted to bathe in this bubbly! The big bubbles are frenetic and fire off quickly but they're fun while they last. Citrus and pear blossom dance on the front of the palate then lengthen with a touch of quinine and chalky minerals. Off-dry with just the right amount of sugar to hold the bitters in check and accent the vivid fruit/floral. Vibrant and exciting with cleansing acidity. Much as I'd still like to soak in it, I'll sip mine before dinner on a hot day.

                                                                                                                                                IRON HORSE "Russian Cuvee" - This is a rich, dessert style sparkling wine from Green Valley in Sonoma County that was absolutely perfect with bowls of tart/sweet Rainier cherries (the yellow ones). The aromas are toasted almonds and creme brulee. Instead of sizzling sharp bubbles the bead rises slowly, almost lackadaisical lending a creamy texture. Broad and mouthfilling with lots of depth and complex notes, a slight sweetness is balanced by bright acid and mineral nuances, ends with the lingering taste of honey. A wonderful finale to wind down from an overindulgent night of eating and drinking.

                                                                                                                              2. re: melanie

                                                                                                                                Classic - Fois Gras & Sauterne (or so I'm told)
                                                                                                                                Not classic but one of my personal favorites . . .
                                                                                                                                Spicy Crawfish Boil & Alsacian Gerwurstraminer

                                                                                                                                1. re: christina z

                                                                                                                                  I'd never say "no" to foie gras and a good sauternes. Better with warm foie gras than a cold terrine, maybe just seems more over the top. Even better though is a late harvest (SGN even) from Alsace, more acidity to contrast with the richness of the foie gras and not as alcoholic.

                                                                                                                                  I haven't tried cajun crawfish with Gewhiz yet. One of the best discoveries is how well Gewurztraminer goes with the Prawns with Candied Walnuts on chinese banquet menus. One of those rare perfect synergies.

                                                                                                                                  If you're a fan of Alsacian Gewurz, you might want to try Fetzer Calif. Gewurz. Really! It's released too young, but if you age it for about a year, you'll be very happy with the quality at under $10. This wine is a favorite ringer in blind tastings, and often comes out in the top quartile in an Alsatian flight.

                                                                                                                                2. re: melanie

                                                                                                                                  I thought you were a hound here from way back. I'm new too. About Pinot and Salmon. I always thought it was classic, but a winery chef I know (a different one than I mentioned before) sought to prove that it wasn't a good match unless you did certain things to the dish, so this person cooked the salmon like four different ways. Sounds like some of the "rules" were in play here, and I wish I could remember what the person did. One dish had mushroom reduction or something, which worked and made sense in that it matched earthy flavors
                                                                                                                                  in the wine and the dish. The protein component in the mushrooms would cut the acidity in the young pinot. Correct?
                                                                                                                                  I wish I could remember what he did that did not work. Somewhere in there I seem to remember star anise being used. What do you make of that? What would that do to a young acidic pinot? This is a lot more fun than beating the dead horse of taste. Thanks for all your knowledge. I love to talk about muscadet and oysters and muscadet and clams and muscadet and mussels. I love muscadet.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Vanessa

                                                                                                                                    I've known Jim Leff for a few years but I'm a newcomer these boards.

                                                                                                                                    With your great love of muscadet, I hope you caught the annual Oyster Bliss parking lot party last April at Kermit Lynch, Cafe Fanny and Acme Bakery in Berkeley. I admit to being tacky and carrying the epoisse I brought back from France to share with friend --- well-matured after 3 weeks in my wine cellar. I figured that anything they'd pour with oysters -- champagne, chablis, muscadet, vouvray--would be good with this stinky burgundian cheese too. Despite being outdoors and in a brisk breeze, a man two tables away caught a whiff of the distinctly pungent and powerful aroma. He came over to ask for a taste to remind him of the days when he used to live in France.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Vanessa

                                                                                                                                      Pinot Noir is my favorite with GRILLED salmon --- doesn't seem to work for me when the salmon is poached, roasted, smoked or raw. Pinot Noir is the most food friendly of reds in my book.

                                                                                                                    2. re: melanie

                                                                                                                      there's plenty in your posts i disagree with, melanie. but you seem to be under the impression that i'm some hidebound traditionalist, insisting on his bordeaux with his meat. not at all. but i do insist that there are 'correct' and 'incorrect' pairings, just as i think you do, in the sense that not any random wine works with any dish.

                                                                                                                      with that out of the way, here is my chief objection to your post:

                                                                                                                      "This concept opens up the possibility of experimenting with new types of wine and food without having to worry about "Correct" pairings.... In the end, the truth is simple: if your food is balanced, you will love your wine!"

                                                                                                                      so, if i understand you correctly, figuring out the wine to go with the food i'm having is irrelevant - i should order whatever wine i want, secure in the knowledge that its bound to marry with the food because i can cleverly 'balance' whatever i'm eating by judicious use of three simple rules.

                                                                                                                      isn't this putting the cart before the horse? i've always thought that wine was usually the bride in the wine/food marriage, not the suitor. if i'm eating pasta with tomato sauce, i find a barbera a natural match, and both wine and pasta benefit from the combination. on the other hand, if i've chosen chateau d'yquem instead, i don't wish to ruin my pasta by trying to 'balance' it to match my choice.

                                                                                                                      "Cabernet sauvignon is a disaster with tomato-based sauces because the firm tannins fight with the sweetness, seeming even harsher"

                                                                                                                      you can get rid of the tannic effect in the mouth by liberally spreading pepper over a tomato-based sauce. so its not because of the tannins that cabernet sauvignons won't work with a tomato-based sauce. its because those wines typically don't have enough acidity to cut through the acidity of the tomato. and thats true of the oldest, most unctuous bordeaux as well as the typical chardonnay. and adding lime juice to the dish (assuming i'm willing to compromise the taste of whatever i'm eating) will only worsen the problem, not cure it.

                                                                                                                      frankly, the three simple rules sound great - just the sort of thing that should be true, even if they aren't. but they couldn't possibly be. for nowhere is mentioned alcohol level, one of the KEY factors in a marriage (food and otherwise). a balanced, but higher alcoholic-in-content wine will have a MUCH tougher time marrying with spicier food than its lower alcoholic brethren. lower alcoholic wines are easily more versatile with the lighter foods we eat everyday and any theory that doesn't take into account for this simple fact is, to me, inadequate.

                                                                                                                      1. re: howler

                                                                                                                        Howler, getting such a rise out of you makes this even more fun! While these ideas have been kicking around for some time, I only really saw the light when I met Tim in February. Having this discussion with you has really helped crystallize my thinking on the wide applicability of his principles. Tim Hanni has been branded a heretic for questioning wine traditions. I better hold off on sharing more of his other ideas about wine with you.

                                                                                                                        "but i do insist that there are 'correct' and 'incorrect' pairings, just as i think you do, in the sense that not any random wine works with any dish."

                                                                                                                        While I’m as willing to chow down a slab of hot foie gras with a cool chaser of 67 Yquem as you might be, I’m trying very hard to abandon long-held ideas of correct and incorrect. I think there are traditional and nontraditional, and what tastes good vs. tastes bad to my own palate. We’re all individuals with different sensitivities and taste preferences and I’m unwilling brand anyone’s choice as "incorrect" if it tastes great to him. This would be almost as ludicrous as one individual who described a wine he’d had the night before then asked me whether HE liked it!

                                                                                                                        "figuring out the wine to go with the food I’m having is irrelevant - I should order whatever wine I want,…because i can cleverly 'balance' whatever i'm eating"

                                                                                                                        It’s up to each person to decide whether he wants to live a wine-centric life and devote energy to studying the diversity of wine features in order to be equipped to match any dish. Most don’t. Americans are somewhat unique in the world in drinking wine ahead of a meal without food, perhaps this comes from our bootlegger cocktail days, and like wines that stand alone rather than marrying with food. World-wide today’s taste trends are for more direct and riper flavors in wine, and people will tend to choose something from that genre Also, the familiar is comfortable. Cabernet sauvignon and Chardonnay are safety nets which, as you point out, can be hard to match with many foods as presented. Tim’s simple rules can help chefs make their food taste better with the wines that Americans like to drink.

                                                                                                                        In many cases the choice of wine for a meal is a compromise anyway. A restaurant doesn’t have much selection on the wine list, the scrumptious special of the day would be better with red wine but you only drink bubbly, a seafood joint has 75 Martha’s CS for a song but no hunks o’ cow on the menu, or the people at the table are ordering dishes from all over the board and can only afford a single bottle of wine. The beauty of these simple rules is that it can accommodate all these choices and make the best of these commonly occurring compromises. Maybe they won’t be "perfect" matches, but few things in life are. What a great tool for respecting and navigating our way through the individuality of wine styles, food styles and personal taste!

                                                                                                                        Even when we try to figure out the optimal pairing, there can be so much vintage variation, stylistic differences as traditional wine areas adopt new world tastes, bottle variation, and new culinary combos as cultures fuse that the average food server often makes boo-boos in recommendations, let alone the typical diner. Add on the complexity of individual taste acuity and preferences, and the upshot is that many patrons avoid ordering wine because they see it as a land mine best avoided. Using Tim’s three rules gives anyone the ability to compensate for less than ideal combinations that often result from even the best efforts to choose the "right" wine for the food at hand. Instead of being unhappy that the bottle of 93 Michel Lafarge Volnay we ordered turns out to have more unresolved tannins than expected, I can add more salt to my grilled salmon to help smooth over the combined effect to the betterment of both the wine and the dish.

                                                                                                                        "if i'm eating pasta with tomato sauce, i find a barbera a natural match, and both wine and pasta benefit from the combination. on the other hand, if i've chosen chateau d'yquem instead, i don't wish to ruin my pasta by trying to 'balance' it to match my choice."

                                                                                                                        Few foods and wines are singularly elemental, which tends to be the downfall of these sorts of statements, e.g., white wine with fish. The advocates of the anthocyan rules for wine/food pairings would want to know whether this was a red tomato or yellow tomato-based sauce… but that’s a digression…let me get back to the point.

                                                                                                                        Barbera is a natural for your tastebuds, but what about your dinner companion who has particularly acute sensitivity to acid and finds barbera too sour?

                                                                                                                        The 1998 vintage of Barbera d’Alba is extremely ripe and much lower in acid than usual, plus the Piemontese are less afraid to use new oak barrels. What happens when you find one of these new style barberas is very bitter from new wood in combination with your sweet tomato sauce? You could suffer in silence for inadvertently making a bad choice, order another bottle (if there’s another barbera on the wine list), or I’d ask for more parmesan cheese to adjust the balance of the sauce to match the wine at hand.

                                                                                                                        "you can get rid of the tannic effect in the mouth by liberally spreading pepper over a tomato-based sauce. so its not because of the tannins that cabernet sauvignons won't
                                                                                                                        work with a tomato-based sauce. "

                                                                                                                        If you were willing to experiment, I bet you’d find that salt is even better at sweetening up bitter tannins. And, it has the added effect of moderating the harsh acidity of the sauce.

                                                                                                                        "its because those wines typically don't have enough acidity to cut through the acidity of the tomato. and that’s true of the oldest, most unctuous bordeaux as well as the typical chardonnay."

                                                                                                                        Repeating this won’t make it so. J Any Tuscan traditionalist will tell you that Brunello (high acid, high tannin, Sangiovese family) is unsuitable for pairing with tomato-based foods. I submit that high acidity isn’t the answer --- moderate tannin is the key for tomatoes, plus neutralizing the sweetness of the tomatoes.

                                                                                                                        I note that you rely on "typical" to make your case. This helps reinforce my point that we live in a diverse world of wine and food and can’t count on typicity to make things taste good. As you know, Chablis from the chardonnay grape are among the highest acid wines in the world. There are exceptions all around us and Tim’s rules give us a way to enjoy these exceptions to the fullest.

                                                                                                                        "and adding lime juice to the dish (assuming i'm willing to compromise the taste of whatever i'm eating) will only worsen the problem, not cure it. "

                                                                                                                        I wouldn’t suggest adding lime juice, which has a stronger flavor note, or even lemon juice to balance a dish that is already highly acidic. However, if it were sweeter and less acidic sauce made of yellow tomatoes, it might be indicated. To balance an acidic/sweet tomato pasta sauce to pair with Cabernet Sauvignon, I’d give it a shellacking of parmesan cheese to neutralize the sweetness of the sauce with umami and to add salt to soften the wine’s tannins.

                                                                                                                        "frankly, the three simple rules sound great - just the sort of thing that should betrue, even if they aren't."

                                                                                                                        I hope I’ve convinced others that this taste physiology-based model works and maybe even opened your eyes a little to new possibilities.

                                                                                                                        "but they couldn't possibly be. for nowhere is mentioned alcohol level, one of the KEY factors in a marriage (food and otherwise). a balanced, but higher alcoholic-in-content wine will have a MUCH tougher time marrying with spicier food than its lower alcoholic brethren. lower alcoholic wines are easily more versatile with the lighter foods we eat everyday and any theory that doesn't take into account for this simple fact is, to me, inadequate."

                                                                                                                        I’m so glad you raised this for discussion. Keep in mind that high alcohol wines are usually lower in acid even though they appear to be "balanced" and lower alcohol wines are usually higher in acid. So what you’re observing is really the result of the difference in acid balance (rule #2) and not the effect of alcohol. Surely you wouldn’t deny that sugared nuts dusted with cayenne pepper (especially when they’re warm!) aren’t heavenly with old Malmsey Madeira or an off-dry sherry---both high alcohol, fortified wines, yet both have very high natural acidity too. The compatibility of high alcohol Zins tempered by high acidity can be easily demonstrated in a side-by-side tasting of a lower acid Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley vs. a higher acid but equally alcoholic Russian River Valley Zin with some hot barbecue sauce --- the RRV Zin will prevail in the combination with the spicy food, even if it’s higher in alcohol because of the natural acidity.

                                                                                                                        As far as I’m concerned the best match with take-out Thai highly spiced beef curry or Chinese beef with satay/black pepper sauce is a high alcohol/high acid/high tannin Petite Sirah from Mendocino County or Russian River Valley, like the Foppiano or Parducci that you can grab at the grocery store for $12 or so. The benefit of added acidity in matching with spicy foods hit home to me recently when I arrived at a friend’s place to find him grilling pork tenderloin marinated with jerk sauce. My first reaction when I saw that the wine for the evening was a delicate Chambolle-Musigny "Fuées" 1er cru from Freddy Mugnier was – oh my god! That’s a criminal combination! Why are you doing this to me? Later sitting at the table, when the pork was too spicy for my wine, a dash of wine vinegar brought it into balance and made it quite enjoyable with this fine burgundy and with a Rene Rostaing Cote Rotie.

                                                                                                                        Just a slight change in a recipe can throw off a traditional pairing. Every bottle of wine shows differently. I’m happy to have Tim’s rules in hand to help me find my way through the wine and food pairing maze and make the most of every combination that lands on my plate.

                                                                                                                  2. re: howler

                                                                                                                    Cabernet sauvignon is a disaster with tomato-based sauces because the firm tannins fight with the sweetness, seeming even harsher. Old bordeaux with velvety tannins will show much better. Barbera is a good match because it has very low tannins, likewise Cabernet Franc such as Chinon from the Loire Valley.

                                                                                                                    Like you, I love playing the wine and food pairing game, and have had some other worldly experiences. But after meeting the Swami of Umami, Tim Hanni MW, I've come to appreciate that it's just too much for the average person to keep traditional matches and pairing rules in mind. Even the best sommeliers don't always make the ideal recommendation as every bottle of a single wine will show differently. Typically, people will order a wine they like to drink and feel comfortable with, that's why we see so much Cab and chard on wine lists. Instead of sitting in judgement of them for making the wrong wine choice to go with their food, by following 3 simple rules (in my reply to Vanessa), any dish can be adjusted to match their wine choice.

                                                                                                                    You might want to try experimenting with it yourself. A light hand with the salt and lemon juice - no need to make the dish actually taste of lemons, just enough to enhance the fruitiness of the food. I sat up and applauded Lidia Bastianich while watching her PBS cooking show when I heard her say that contrary to conventional wisdom she follows her tradition of adding acid to make a dish MORE wine friendly. Brightening the balance of a dish with a dash of vinegar, wine or lemon juice is used in many of her recipes. Accentuating and defining the flavors make them more complementary with wine.

                                                                                                          2. re: andy huse

                                                                                                            "That doesn't make me 'good' or 'better,' just more
                                                                                                            interesting."

                                                                                                            Isn't "more interesting" "better" than less interesting?

                                                                                                            1. re: Tom Armitage

                                                                                                              Does being more interesting make someone better?

                                                                                                              Once again, it all depends on who you ask. If you ask an uninterested, uninteresting person--- NO. Ask an interested, interestsing person and the reply will be YES. Think about it.

                                                                                                              1. re: andy huse

                                                                                                                I know I'm beating this poor issue to death, so I'll try to make my point one more time, and then shut up. To say that someone who is "uninterested" doesn't value things that are interesting any more than he or she values things that are uninteresting is a statement of FACT. It's not a statement about which we can argue. But why should any of us be afraid to make a VALUE judgment about which is "better": interesting things or uninteresting things? And, if we make different value judgments, why can't we engage in a discussion of our differences? The example above seems pretty ridiculous, because it seems obvious that, as a matter of VALUE, interesting things have more value than uninteresting things, although what is interesting varies from individual to individual. If we're talking about the value of people, on the other hand, is a person who is interested in food "better" than a person who is not interested in food? Obviously not.

                                                                                                                A society in which there were no value judgments, and no differences in value judgments, and no opportunity to express and discuss those differences, would be a pretty boring one. In this country, that's what underlies the "free marketplace of ideas" protected by the First Amendment.

                                                                                                                Okay, okay, I'll shut up now.

                                                                                                                1. re: Tom Armitage

                                                                                                                  i think you bring up a good point, and this thread has brought up more of these than any other i've seen! I, too, think this thread is in danger of doing some of these issues to death, so i will try to be brief as well.

                                                                                                                  naturally, as humans, we value some things over other things. this makes perfect sense.

                                                                                                                  but to denounce others to make the point is ignorant. elevate! celebrate! love that which you love! I've just heard too many people denounce the world at large (or large segments of it) for not loving what they love. It seems to be a terminal feature of our society.

                                                                                                                  Instead of judging THINGS, we begin to judge people, simply by the THINGS they like or don't like. This is superficial, materialistic elitism--- whether it's about wine, cars, music or fashion. What do i care what the rest of the world drinks? hmmm?

                                                                                                                  while I understand that we will always value some things over others, i don't know what is sooo hard to understand about my point. You all may drink the very best wine in the world. so what? The value you place on wine does not make the rest of humanity worse, right?

                                                                                                                  okay, enough from me. enjoy!

                                                                                                            2. re: andy huse

                                                                                                              This is an interesting debate. It reminds me of an argument I had with a guy when I was around 19 -- I argued that Burger King wasn't inherently better or worse than a rarified meal at a three-star restaurant, it was only a matter of preference. He made a pretty good argument, though, because soon after, I questioned whether I'd been right, and the question stuck with me for a long time.

                                                                                                              His argument was that love and care and soul had gone into the haute cuisine, and the same was not true of Burger King, and therefore one was quantitatively better. Which makes a certain amount of sense. And it doesn't just boil down to an elitist argument over haute cuisine vs. peasant food -- you could apply the same reasoning to explain why, say, the arepa lady's food is "better" than what you'd get at some trendy, cynical fusion restaurant.

                                                                                                              You can carry the same questions about the purity of intention behind a product over into the Ella vs. Britney debate -- first and foremost, Spears is a packaged product, whose music and image is calculated for maximum market impact. This certainly isn't true of Ella Fitzgerald.

                                                                                                              Even then, though, it's not that simple. A whole lot of great music has been made in the name of commerce. Chuck Berry, for example, has rarely played a note that wasn't motivated by money-hunger, and he wasn't a whole lot less calculating in his efforts to sell records to teenagers than Spears's people are.

                                                                                                              Still, is there really no such thing as recognizing artistry and saying that it's "better" than something that's crass and banal? Is there really no differnce between Hamlet and a Who's the Boss script beyond a matter of preference?

                                                                                                              Like I said, it's an interesting debate...

                                                                                                              1. re: Chris E.

                                                                                                                Yes indeed, an interesting debate.

                                                                                                                Chris, your discussion about love and food hits home a lot harder than any previous angle on this subject. That is what it's all about--- intent. What a great way to bring this discussion back to the ground!

                                                                                                                One thing to keep in mind, though, is that virtually anyone willing to put in the time and LOVE can achieve great results: whether its the way Ma makes spoonbread and fried chicken, Trang makes spring rolls, or a great vineyard makes good wine.

                                                                                                                In doing research on restaurants, i've found many intangible factors floating around those places. More than anything, it is love that keeps a restaurant alive and its customers coming back. If anything has been lost in the translation from mom and pop places and chains is that love. Yes, Britney Spears and Taco Bell are packaged products out for the bottom line. But the way Trang picks the fresh herbs from his garden and puts them in his Autumn rolls is something pretty special.

                                                                                                                I don't condemn the rest of the world for not buying Trang's Autumn rolls. Let them have their McD's and Britney Spears--- I laugh, not sneer.

                                                                                            2. re: howler

                                                                                              Thanks for the taste test and book recommendation. I've never been too discriminating when it comes to wine -- a side-by-side comparison is a great idea.

                                                                                              1. re: Lisa Z

                                                                                                come back and post when you do! you might convince the 'anythings fine with anything' crowd that this wine/food pairing isn't just pretentious folderol thought up by commie pinko francophiles, that there is actually some merit to it.

                                                                                                the single best thing you can do is find a decent store - one that doesn't try to sell you wines by the points robert parker gives them. if you live in the tri-state area, i'll e-mail you some that i think you'll be happy with.

                                                                                                1. re: howler

                                                                                                  Can you post your preferred wine stores to the NY board? Also, I'd appreciate any specific recommendations for the big taste test!

                                                                                                  Thanks.

                                                                                                  1. re: Lisa Z

                                                                                                    lisa - nancy's on columbus ave between 74th and 75th is perhaps the best wine store in town in the sense that you'll find plenty of very good wines for everyday drinking priced between $10 and $20. the staff is knowledgeable, completely unpretentious and will gladly assist you. its not where you go to buy that '85 cheval blanc, but where you go when you are serving sausage and wondering what wine to marry with it.

                                                                                                    if you care, e-mail me at

                                                                                                    eklavya1@netscape.net

                                                                                                    i've got a few suggestions that you might find useful.

                                                                                                    1. re: howler
                                                                                                      r
                                                                                                      rebeccahodgson

                                                                                                      Howler - As the resident vinoculture guru, would you like to add anything to my general topics request for champagne suggestions? I'd appreciate it! Thanks

                                                                                                      1. re: rebeccahodgson

                                                                                                        "Howler - As the resident vinoculture guru"

                                                                                                        gee, i do wish i deserved that. but theres plenty of people on this board who probably will forget a lot less than i'll ever learn, so i hope thats a joke.

                                                                                                        "would you like to add anything to my general topics request for champagne suggestions"

                                                                                                        unfortunately, champagne is THE biggest con game going on in the world of wine: it is very, very hard to sniff out the decent stuff. one problem is the price point - it is almost impossible to make decent champagne for less than $30 a bottle. the stuff that sells for a $10 to $15 a bottle is made from a blend of VERY inferior grapes and is really worth avoiding .. it is, to be perfectly blunt, execrable. what do i mean by that? heres what: at the tasting, take a sip of the champagne, swallow, and wait for about 10 seconds. do nothing, just wait! a disgusting saccharine-like oily taste will start enveloping your mouth - it will be so nasty you'll want to rinse your mouth out with water. bad champagne MUST be one of the nastiest wines ever - i'd avoid it.

                                                                                                        on the other hand you've recieved some good suggestions for other sparkling wine. my personal favourite is sparkling reisling - you can actually find delicious renditions at your price point. but they are tough to find, especially in quantity.

                                                                                                      2. re: howler

                                                                                                        I heartily second the Nancy's recommendation. I discovered the place by chance a few years back and having been going ever since. They only sell wines that they like, each wine has a little description of what it tastes like and what it might be good with, and they have the wines organized by type and price. They are passionate about their recommendations and are happy to sell wine in any price range as long as they think it will go with your meal. The full name of the shop is Nancy's Wine for Food, which describes their mission perfectly.

                                                                                                        1. re: howler

                                                                                                          Howler, do you know Willie Gluckstern? He's the guy who wrote The Wine Avenger and is the primary buyer for nancy's. He's also a freak on Germanic wines like Reislings.

                                                                                                          I bought a few bottles of Reisling Sekts from him, awesome stuff.

                                                                                                          I greatly encourage people to go to his wine tastings, you really learn an awful lot, and you taste a LOT of wine for the 60 or so bucks he charges.

                                                                                                          Link: http://www.wineavenger.com

                                                                                                  2. re: howler

                                                                                                    Nothing wrong with getting a good buzz going. And if this guy likes his weed then he should be aware that really good wine/champange can be just as intoxicating as the green stuff. Both which can enhance almost any meal. I agree that wine is meant to be paired with food but it's also quite good on it's on - in it's place - at it's time. (Shades of Orson Welles).

                                                                                                2. Wine only enhances as much as you perceive it to. If you find wine a "bleh" experience, I'd argue that it'd be disrespectful to a really good restaurant for you to order it and thus "bring down" your meal.

                                                                                                  But no matter what your aesthetic, if you're going to a good restaurant, and ARE gonna order wine, don't skimp. Good food and bad wine makes no sense at all. And fortunately it's not necessarily a price thing; there are expensive bad wines and cheap good ones.

                                                                                                  If you're going to a great restaurant (and, again, if you will order wine), bust out. Don't hold back on the wine budget. Even if wine's not your fave drink, I'm pretty sure a good Bordeaux would have you raising your eyebrows and saying "oh...ok...THIS is what it's about!"

                                                                                                  In any case, ditch the ginger ale (except for pizza and burgers). No chef cooks with the expectation of that flavor (or that of root beer) mingling with his creations.

                                                                                                  ciao

                                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: Jim Leff

                                                                                                    "In any case, ditch the ginger ale (except for pizza and burgers). No chef cooks with the expectation of that flavor (or that of root beer) mingling with his creations."

                                                                                                    I like ginger ale with food for its lack of overwhelming flavor. Could you suggest a worthy non-alcholic beverage (water, maybe?) that, in your opinion, mingles well with the good food's overall intention?

                                                                                                    In any case, this hearty discussion has certainly got me curious to expand my horizons and seek out some wines I might like, or at least, figure out if it's worth getting into at all.

                                                                                                    thanks

                                                                                                    1. re: shaniac

                                                                                                      Look on the menu for non-alchoholic drinks which seem specific to that cuisine. In Asian restaurants you may find salty lemonade or soybean drink. Indian restaurants have mango lassi (sometimes sticky sweet, sometimes much much better). Or some wierd kind of tea. Whatever - ask what's homemade. For Texas barbecue don't underestimate, as once did I, Big Red, sparkling with a bubblegum nose.

                                                                                                      Unless you're an alchoholic drink Singha beer in Thai restaurants because you can't get it anywhere else and its really good.

                                                                                                      With food, water with bubbles satisfies more than the gasless kind unless you're extremely thirsty. I used to drink Pellegrino but now find it has an unpleasant chemically taste because a) my tastes have developed or b) Marcella Hazan dissed it (in which case shame on me).

                                                                                                      As for wine, sure it can be essential - but remember that when someone experiences something that changes their lives for the better they can't imagine how they ever lived before. I bet you eat very well with your kind bud and ginger ale.

                                                                                                      Now maybe, following Howler's recommendation, order that book by Gluckstern ("The Wine Avenger") and ease on in to the world of wine.

                                                                                                        1. re: John Fladd

                                                                                                          Much as I enjoy a refreshing tonic w/ or w/o gin, I can't agree that it's a good alternative to wine as an accompaniment to food. It has such a distinctive taste - doesn't it overshadow the taste of the food? I vote for water.

                                                                                                          1. re: Helen

                                                                                                            More distincive than WINE?

                                                                                                    2. j
                                                                                                      Josh Mittleman

                                                                                                      I consider a good wine or beer to be a proper part of any special meal, but I agree with Jim's advice: If you don't enjoy alcohol, drink something neutral that won't get in the way of the food. Iced tea is my usual choice when I don't want alcohol.

                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                      1. re: Josh Mittleman

                                                                                                        "Iced tea is my usual choice when I don't want alcohol"

                                                                                                        .and you're still getting your tannins!

                                                                                                      2. I've considered this wine debate before. As a lover of good food, i thought i might be missing out on something. i've come to the conclusion that wine is indeed optional, and wine elitists are often so much like foodies. I worked in a liquor store many moons ago and watched people take an hour and a half to choose their bottle of wine.

                                                                                                        I tried to learn, but frankly, i just wasn't interested. Liquor (like bourbon and scotch) and beer both interest me. Wine doesn't. I don't buy it for drinking at home or when i'm out.

                                                                                                        as for buying wine when eating out: i rarely do it. The last time i remember buying a bottle was at a very special feast in new orleans. otherwise, i really can't afford it.

                                                                                                        Many fine restaurants depend upon wine to survive. Bern's in Tampa (reportedly over-rated) loses hundreds of thousands of dollars every year on their food--- it is only their voluminous (and high-priced) wine list that makes that money back for them--- and perhaps their desserts. Hence, Prohibition wiped out most of America's fine dining.

                                                                                                        Winophiles are a bit much for me to take. perhaps this is a result of 2 years in the liquor store dealing with those anal, snobbish and (wanna-be)rich people. I admit, it is a value judgement--- beer is down-to-earth. Wine is often elitist, as is conjac, and i don't drink that either.

                                                                                                        I'll be the first to admit that the pairing of certain wines with certain foods can be orgasmic--- but i'm not the one to study it all, the way my brother studies sports statistics. Life is too short to stuff a mushroom, someone said, and it's too short to spend a few hours shopping for a bottle of wine. For those of you who like it, enjoy it, as for me, i'll take a good beer with my steak, and take all the mystery and pretense out of it. I just want good food. and afterward, some herb souds like a good idea.

                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                        1. re: andy huse

                                                                                                          Its a shame to let the attitude of some pretentios wine freaks get you down. wine is essentially a food, and for most of the wine drinking world, very little thought goes into which wine to drink, and relatively little money is spent on the wine that is drunk, and yet it enhances life enormously. So for non oenophiles, the best answer is finding a few moderately priced wines you like and that taste good with the food you eat, and sticking with them. As Howler says, find a wine merchant you trust and get his advice.
                                                                                                          Drink the house wine in a restaurant or get the sommelier's advice on a moderately priced item. Or skip it if it ups the price to much.
                                                                                                          But, ultimately, hey, to each his own. Enjoy!

                                                                                                        2. getting back to your original inquiry, I'd say good wine does make for a qualitatively better eating experience, because, as so many have said, wine and food have been consumed together in a convivial way for a long time, and each enhances the experience of the other. And some wines, and some wine and food combos, are positively exciting and mindblowing. Not to mention the relaxed atmosphere which wine consumption promotes.

                                                                                                          That being said, one has to get into wine. Not everybody likes it at first, and not everybody tries the right wines when they are beginning. I well remember choking down various disgusting items (mateus, giocobazzi, almaden mountain burgundy etc.) during my college years. Rather than giving up on the experience, I would start with something light and accessible - the first wines I came to love were the german rieslings - a bit sweet and a fascinating fragrance/taste , followed by the burgundies, red and white (unfortunately the prices of these have moved out of range for casual drinking, but there are good pinot noirs and some chardonnays, not the oaky ones available at reasonable prices). These, and other fragrant,fruity non-acidic white wines, as well as some of the lighter, more fragrant reds (I think more people are turned off by rough, tannic consumed-to-young reds than anything else) are good starter wines. Get your feet wet by ordering a relatively inexpensive wine by the glass, and don't be shy; tell the sommelier (Wine Waiter) that you are inexperienced and ask his recommendation of a reasonably-priced wine that would go well with your dinner. If you get a little interested, you might want to find an inexpensive wine course. Its a good, social way to learn about the range of tastes and types and find what you like, and get a little bit tiddly in the process.

                                                                                                          Good luck and enjoy!