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Why wine?

Vital Information Nov 20, 2002 07:33 AM

(This was originally posted on the Chicago Board)

I've mentioned about a zillion times that I recently recieved the soft cover version of Parker's Sixth Buying Guide. So, I am trying to expand my wine geekness.

The question that I have, one that I assailed the fedora'd one [inside reference for Chicago people] with at lunch is, why?

Various foodies, like David Rosengarden, claim that wine plus food equals something greater. All the high end places offer wine options with their price fixe. A high falutin' review will always include wine notes. They all operate on the belief that the sum is greater than the parts (and who cares price).

Now, I am not saying I do not like wine, nor even appreciate wine (as I learn). Still, except for about two occasions, I can not think of situations where the wine made the whole thing better. If I want a bit of a buzz with dinner, can I just quaff some white zifandel or bud light? If it's to quench thirst, what's wrong with diet coke? On the other hand, is wine best enjoyed on its own.

Believe me this is not a rhetorical question. I have no firm opionion beyond the fact that I know wine adds to the cost of the meal.


Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

  1. k
    Karl S. Nov 20, 2002 07:52 AM

    I think wine well matched with food can frequently help make a whole more than the sum of its parts. But not invariably so. Many wines are really designed to be matched for food: the pinot noirs and chardonnays of Burgundy, for example, are partners in many happy marriages, humble and grand. Other wines do seem to put their best feet forward rather in solitude, like all those wearying, heavily oaked California chardonnays.

    1. h
      howler Nov 20, 2002 07:57 AM

      why not check it out for yourself?

      i can offer my own example: i thought the wine hype completely silly and obviously pretentious - till one day i had the luck to go to a course where several bottles were opened up to taste along with the food.

      man, what an eye opener that was! when the wine/food pairing matched, BOTH food and wine got better - the tastes just amplified in your mouth. thats when i realised that wine, in its own mysterious magical way, enhances the flavour of what you eat profoundly.

      but try it for yourself - plan a meal with four or five courses - say a grilled fish, a creamy chicken, risotto and some lamb - and then ask the board which wines they'd recommend. say you get four /five wine recommendations; i'd open all those bottles and try sips of each with every course. you'll quickly see that some work well, some extremely well, and some not at all. you'll also get to see what the fuss is all about. the buzz you get with wine is an added bonus - but its certainly nowhere near the reason wine holds its esteemed place at the table.

      1 Reply
      1. re: howler
        GG Mora Nov 20, 2002 08:08 AM

        Here's a simpler approach. Go to your local wine merchant and ask for a good, but not too expensive, Cotes du Rhone ($15 - $20). Cadoulet (sp?) de Beaucastel is one that comes to mind. Then go to a cheese monger and get a little button of aged goat cheese. Then find a good loaf of French (or some other crusty) bread. Let the cheese sit out until it's at room temperature. Pour a glass of the wine. Cut a small piece of cheese and put it on a small piece of bread, then take a small bite, chew it slowly, swallow it. Wait a few moments, then take a sip of the wine and wash it around in your mouth, then swallow. Now open your mouth and breath in. That's why wine.

      2. k
        Kirk Nov 20, 2002 08:03 AM

        Try this simple experiment:
        After a non-imbibing dinner, take a piece of cheese (a Stilton, let's say). Taste it without wine. Then pour yourself a glass of a really fine port. Taste the cheese again, and take a sip of the port. Repeat for as long as you would like.
        Then report back on your findings.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Kirk
          Karl S. Nov 20, 2002 08:10 AM

          You should have included a warning that this can become addictive.

          I have had the pleasure of introducing this addiction to people who dislike both cheese (esp. blue cheese) and wine; their opinions changed in one seating.

          This, of course, is my favorite way of ending Thanksgiving. For some reason, one feels less full after it.

          Miraculous on all counts.

        2. g
          Geek Nov 20, 2002 08:07 AM

          Several reasons, but something that jumps out at me immediately, is that you have to open your senses beyond the buzz factor in order to appreciate what wine does for a meal. Now my reasons:
          1) Wine carries with it as much interest in terms of ingredients, origin, and characteristics as does food. You just have to be interested in these aspects of wine.
          2) Wine has attributes that mimic our deep analysis of food: color, texture, aroma, temperature, flavor, etc. They are there if you want to look for them
          3) Wine flavors play with food flavors in interesting ways, again if you let it happen and take a minute to sense what is going on on your palete.
          4) Wine has acidity, as do dressings and sauces and many other foodstuffs (both raw and prepared), and acids wake up your palette and accentuate flavors in your mouth. Again a good thing.
          5) Wine is pleasurable to drink. Your buzz.
          6) Understanding the rationale behind a food-wine pairing is just as interesting as understanding the rationale behind paired items on a plate, or the rationale behind ingredients in an item.
          Happy learning!

          15 Replies
          1. re: Geek
            Vital Information Nov 20, 2002 09:51 AM

            I appreciate all the responses so far. I'd like to respond to the points of Geek.

            Several reasons, but something that jumps out at me immediately, is that you have to open your senses beyond the buzz factor in order to appreciate what wine does for a meal. Now my reasons:

            >>1) Wine carries with it as much interest in terms of ingredients, origin, and characteristics as does food. You just have to be interested in these aspects of wine.>>

            I do not disagree with this, but this does not make something integral to a meal. Candy has interest in ingredients, origin, etc., but no one says candy has to be part of every meal.

            >>2) Wine has attributes that mimic our deep analysis of food: color, texture, aroma, temperature, flavor, etc. They are there if you want to look for them>>

            See above

            >>3) Wine flavors play with food flavors in interesting ways, again if you let it happen and take a minute to sense what is going on on your palete.>>

            This seems to be the magic. Can you all provide specific examples?

            >>4) Wine has acidity, as do dressings and sauces and many other foodstuffs (both raw and prepared), and acids wake up your palette and accentuate flavors in your mouth. Again a good thing. >>

            So does lemonade, sometimes I find wine distracting not palate quenching. Is this a mistake of ordering or just a factor of taste.


            1. re: Vital Information
              Eviter Nov 20, 2002 01:29 PM

              I agree with Vital Information and offer specific examples where wine enhances the food and vice-versa:

              Parrano Cheese and Merlot (specifically, Gundlach Bundschu's 1997 Merlot)
              Boucheron Cheese and Sauterne
              Raclette Cheese and Caymus Conundrum (specifically)
              Foie Gras and Sauterne
              Dark Chocolate, Bosc Pears and Port
              Raw, spicy Ahi with Gewurtzaminer

              These are only a few things that come immediately to mind but as I am making a great study of the pairings of food and wine, I feel the list to be endless.

              1. re: Eviter
                trojan Nov 20, 2002 03:28 PM

                May I continue?

                Raw Oysters and Chablis
                Roquefort and Sauternes
                Poached Lobster and White Burgundy
                Mushrooms Sauces and Red Burgundy
                Rabbit and German Riesling
                Chocolate and Banyuls
                and my favorite: toasted toothpicks and Cal.Chardonnay

                1. re: trojan
                  mdibiaso Nov 21, 2002 04:09 AM

                  Here is another. Goat cheese (preferable a harder dry one, but the normal round Chevre will also work, with fig marmelade and a French Sancerre. Can't find the Sancerre or is it too expensive, ask you wine store for a Sauvignon Blanc with grassy tones. You will notice that both the cheese and wine taste better together and the fig marmelade gives an extra umpff to everything.

                  1. re: mdibiaso
                    leek Nov 21, 2002 09:45 AM

                    Oh yes, we can find Sancerre in Chicago - white and red (I LUUUURVE red Loire wines :) Howard's wine shop on Belmont has a good selection.

                    Another good pairing is lightly cooked tomatoes and Southern French Rose' (a Rose from Provence, for example) I make a killer tomato tart in the summer when tomatoes are at their best, and with the right wine it just SINGS.

                    1. re: leek
                      Vital Information Nov 21, 2002 09:59 AM

                      Lee, now when I hear anything about red Loire wines, I think about the Calvin Trillin article about telling reds from whites. Did you see that in the New Yorker?

                      1. re: Vital Information
                        leek Nov 21, 2002 10:52 AM

                        Yes, and I read Wine Spectator's response (they had a bunch of people in their offices do it (not all wine writers, like they had the computer graphics person or something like that too) and that all but one got it right) - of course I can't find it on-line.

                        Here's a link to Calvin Trillin's article

                        Link: http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content...

                        1. re: leek
                          JohnC Nov 21, 2002 03:36 PM

                          Wine Spectator response to article

                          Link: http://www.winespectator.com/Wine/Mai...

                2. re: Eviter
                  danna Nov 21, 2002 09:55 AM

                  I LOVE Caymus Conumdrum. Have never had Raclette. Can you describe it? I need a remedial cheese course.

                  1. re: danna
                    Eviter Nov 21, 2002 10:20 AM

                    Hard to describe. It is a "stink" cheese in that it smells pretty awful by itself and raw. The trick with Raclette is that it MUST be eaten melted and warm. There are special raclette grill pans that are sold for several hundred dollars through Williams Sonoma and other cooking supply shops but I simply put a slice on a piece of baguette and grill it in my toaster oven. I have done that for many an impromptu gathering and all my friends have been blown away by how the Conundrum goes with it.

                    On one occasion, after we did the baguette thing, some friends and I discovered a local crepe shop that served a Raclette crepe. We brought in a bottle and told the owner to grill up some raclette and take a sip of the wine. He was amazed.

                    1. re: Eviter
                      Vital Information Nov 21, 2002 10:42 AM

                      Do not forget that besides being a forum for the Conundrum, Raclette is one of the few chow options meant to be eaten with pearl onions (and potatoes and little pickles). Actually, does that mean the more appropirate drink with Raclette is a Gibson?


                      1. re: Vital Information
                        Kirk Nov 24, 2002 09:17 AM

                        Actually, Vital, in Switzerland they will tell you the only things you can drink with raclette are white wine or "alcool" (an eau de vie that has the same round/fiery feeling as a martini or gibson). Purists insist that anything else makes the melted cheese congeal in your stomach. I'm sure that if you felt like trying a gibson with raclette no one would laugh at you ... until you had four or five to wash it all down!


                3. re: Vital Information
                  foodfirst Nov 20, 2002 08:09 PM

                  I would suggest that you pick up a copy of Joyce Goldstein's "Kitchen Coversations", even if you don't cook. Each recipe is followed by a clear, detailed (but not pedantic) discussion of which wines might go best, and why (which characteristic of the wine will match/pick up/echo which characteristic of the dish, etc.). The wine section at the beginning of the book is great too --- talks about wine characteristics and breaks various varietals down into identifiable traits. The whole book is very readable.
                  I think this is the perfect book for someone who loves food and is really curious (or dubious) about how and why wine enhances our enjoyment of food.
                  And if you're a cook you'll love the recipes.

                  1. re: Vital Information
                    zora Nov 20, 2002 08:48 PM

                    Don't look to wine as a thirst quencher during a meal. Wine should be sipped and savored with food. Plan to have water, sparkling or still, alongside the wine. Some kinds of foods work better with a beverage that can be guzzled, rather than sipped-- like a full-bodied beer with spicy Indian or Mexican food.

                    1. re: Vital Information
                      Lucy Gore Nov 20, 2002 09:26 PM

                      The concept in wine that relates to food, of all origins, can be translated in that grapes are the only fruit that can mimic flavors other than their own.

                      Your palette is also the bottom-line. If sweet is fine with you during a meal, so be it. Wine is a personal/social beast and needs education to tame it.

                      You won't miss out either way. (p.s. try the Solo-Rosa)

                  2. d
                    DW Nov 20, 2002 10:29 AM

                    I used to think the same thing about wine until I had a degustation with wine parings at Tru in Chicago and became a believer.

                    I think the main problem is that you are treating wine as simply a beverage, comparable to miller lite and diet coke. In some cases that is right, and that is fine. But used properly, wine becomes much more of a food than a drink, and that is why it makes other foods better. It acts in the same manner than sauces and seasonings do, hightening the flavor of other foods. In fairness, beers and liquors and even soda can do the same thing. But there are so many more types of wine with such varying characteristics that it can work well with the flavors and nuances of almost any food.

                    Granted, a lot of this is your outlook and attitude towards wine. But the same is true for food. I know several people who will look down at a piece of perfectly seared foie gras and think "what's the big deal." And when they eat it, it becomes not a big deal. The same is probably true for you and wine.

                    Try not drinking white zinfandel, it usually tastes like kool-aid, not wine. Learn a little bit about what wine is supposed to taste like, it makes the experience so much better just like learning what food is supposed to taste like.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: DW
                      ironmom Nov 20, 2002 01:23 PM

                      In my mind, it is very astute to observe that white zinfandel is the oenological equivalent of bud light. I, too cannot imagine a culinary experience that would be enhanced by it.

                      1. re: ironmom
                        GG Mora Nov 20, 2002 04:31 PM

                        Um...a dinner where the food is awful and the company worse and the only wine available is...WHITE ZIN. It's drink (copious amounts of) the white zin or feign illness and leave. Course, if you drink enough of the white zin, you might not have to *feign* illness.

                        1. re: GG Mora
                          ironmom Nov 20, 2002 07:05 PM

                          I was at that dinner, too! The "wine" served was the one that comes in the frosted glass bottle with the flowers on it...

                          1. re: ironmom
                            GG Mora Nov 20, 2002 07:47 PM

                            Lucky you it wasn't wine-in-a-box.

                            1. re: GG Mora
                              ironmom Nov 20, 2002 08:14 PM

                              Speaking of wine-in-a-box, I had some in Spain for .66 euros/liter that was lots better.

                    2. b
                      Bobfrmia Nov 20, 2002 10:33 AM

                      It can work both ways. I don't think I would enjoy retsina by itself, but I love it when eating taramosalata. (sp?)

                      1. m
                        mc michael Nov 20, 2002 12:10 PM

                        I think the wonderful and the infuriating thing about wine is that it's like that proverbial box of chocolates--you never know what you are going to get. That said, a presumably good bottle in the right setting with the right food and the right companion definitely elevates the event.

                        1. j
                          Jeff Morgan Nov 20, 2002 08:18 PM

                          Why not diet coke? Or any soda? Cause most interesting food can't stand up to the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar in a glass. Sweet of that intensity is too damn powerful for savory.

                          Then there's the political repercussions of drinking a product made to dumb down our palates and fleece our pockebooks. You know what it costs to make a can of soda? We're paying for their advertising budget!

                          That said, I don't drink wine to get a buzz (usually). I always drink it with meals cause it tastes good with food. If it doesn't "work" with something I'm eating, I don't drink it....Sometimes I actually don't feel like drinking wine--but not often. It kind of slows me down at mealtime....makes me less of a CHOWHOUND....and it helps me enjoy the moment. Yeah, yeah , yeah...there's all that stuff about the acidity in wine balancing the oils and fats in foods....Somehting to it I suppose (read my book!).

                          But I dunno, mealtime's more enjoyable with a glass of good, unpretentious vino. Try it on a regular basis......Works for me.


                          Jeff Morgan

                          Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASI...

                          1. k
                            kc girl Nov 21, 2002 09:33 AM

                            What about the "help with the digestion" properties of wine? After all, science does have some reason for why we fuel the body. Why acquire a taste for wine with a meal? IMHO, because its integral. Thank goodness "fueling" the body can be so interesting.

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