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How important is wine?

I ask this because I'm not a fan of the way alcohol tastes. I'm definitely not a fan of hard liquors, but when I drink champagne or wine, the alcohol smell is so strong that I find it difficult to enjoy any other aspects of the drink.

However, restaurants are always pairing wines with certain dishes and books I read on the culinary world (Anthony Bourdain, Jeffrey Steingarten, Ruth Reichel) always talk about the importance of wine.

Is it really that important? Or is it more of a personal taste issue?

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  1. I'm not a huge fan of the way alcohol tastes either. i would probably consider myself as a emotional drinker. when i'm depressed, i want something to drink. i know, it's bad. anyway, my drink of choice is usually some type of wine or hard liquor. i'm not a huge fan of beer. i just want something that i'll feel the effects and won't have to drink a lot.

    1. I am not much of wine drinker myself, however I always like to try wine/food pairings because wine interacts with the food in unique ways and it changes the flavor, often enhancing it.

      It is mostly my curiosity that winds up overruling my personal tastes. It's one of the reasons why I'm fascinated by Molecular Gastronomy. But that's another topic.

      1. it's not a meal unless there is wine. of course, i'm a sommelier, so i'm biased.

        1. Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine.

          2 Replies
          1. re: byrd

            Now if only Jesus could make a return trip, not for that silly "Second Coming" stuff, but to turn my tap into a source for some fine Burgundy Premier Cru!

            1. re: 280 Ninth

              280 Ninth, There are some long standing rumors about Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck and a second coming.

          2. I enjoy wine but as with anything else...it's personal taste. No need to feel guilty about it.

            1. Try a lower alcohol wine variety (Riesling for example). You will taste the fruit elements much more than any alcohol "burn".

              1. It's always personal taste/choice.
                I did not enjoy wine for years and then three friends took me to a vineyard and several wine tastings (coordinated by a wonderful wine shop owner) and I was a convert. Learning what to expect, how to pair your own palette to wine, how to buy, how to serve...boy, it really became an interesting self-education...with no end to it.

                If you want to take a closer look at wines, find a wine buddy who can help you.

                1. To me, wine is one of the ultimate chowhound experiences. The flavors are varied, complex, and subtle. Each grape, each producer, each location, each vintage is unique.

                  But having a taste for wine is not automatic. In my family we occasionally had white wines at holidays etc, but it took a while for me to learn to love red wines - though now they are probably my favorites.

                  I'm not saying that one must love wines, but for some of us, it can be one of the highlights of tasting. As others have suggested, try wine tastings, remember what you like, sample similar wines later, and also note what doesn't please you.

                  If ultimately, you just don't like it, well that's OK too. There are good hounds who have all sorts of different food aversions.


                  1. If you don't like the taste of wine, please drink something else. You'll have a better time and there'll be more for the rest of us ;-)

                    Seriously, I've suffered acutely at the hands of people who neither liked nor understood wine, but felt compelled to serve it anyway. We spent a night with a non-winedrinking cousin and his wife, and he told us beforehand (by phone) that they were going to serve spaghetti, and would we like wine with that? As I just barely knew them I was happy he'd asked, so I said Yes, that would be nice. When he asked, "White or red?" the alarm bells should have clanged a lot louder... so when we arrived at their house the following evening, we were served from a large bowl of their favorite family-recipe spaghetti, noodles cooked to dollrags and swimming in a sticky-sweet sauce, and the wine was some kind of pitiful sweetish varietal from a winery near Chattanooga. They poured themselves tiny glasses and left the rest to us...next time we visited we took'em out to dinner.

                    1. For years I did not enjoy wine with dinner; the alcohol was all I could taste. I could not figure out why people thought it enhanced a meal; it was medicinal to me. Over the last five years I have begun to enjoy it more and more so that now, it's not a real meal without a glass of wine.

                      There's nothing like the first time you have the awareness that a particular wine is delicious with a particular food, and that each makes the other taste better. I hope that eventually you'll enjoy that epiphany, but as other posters have said, don't worry if it doesn't happen. Just enjoy the meal.

                      1. Of course you should you drink (or not) what you like, and I suppose wine, and any alcohol, is an aquired taste. If you do aquire the taste, there is really nothing like a spectacular wine with your dinner. Wine is an endlessly fascinating experience as well as just a simple pleasure. If you like it, then it's pretty high up there on the importance scale. But don't take my word:

                        “Wine makes a symphony of a good meal.”
                        Fernande Garvin, The Art of French Cooking

                        “A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine.”
                        Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin

                        “Wine is the intellectual part of a meal while meat is the material.” Alexandre Dumas

                        Good wine is a necessity of life for me." ~ Thomas Jefferson

                        If food is the body of good living, wine is its soul." ~ Clifton Fadiman

                        1. Guess this is the moment to revive a golden oldie thread, The Importance of Wine?,

                          1. Tony O is right about Riesling. I would add prosecco to that, although its probably not dry enough to be a great pairing with food.

                            Will Owen reminds me that Kingsley Amis, the great British writer, and the father of Martin Amis, said that he knew his night was going to be a bad one if the waiter started out with the words, White or red, sir? Know exactly how he felt.

                            - Sean

                            1. AlwayzHungry, I'm with you on this point. I've never "gotten" wine either. I like the occasional after-dinner port, and that's it. Of course, down here sweet tea is considered "southern table wine."

                              A common thread in this, uh, thread seems to be that wine is mostly an acquired taste. As such, I'm not sure how it could be considered a "natural" pairing with food. If you have to learn how to appreciate wine and food together, then it's not natural. So, I guess the question is, how much time do you want to invest in learning wine, and will the payoff be worth it? In my opinion, fine teas (not sweet tea, though I still enjoy a tall glass with BBQ and fried seafood!) make a much more natural pairing with food, and there is every bit as much diversity, if not more, in the range of teas one can enjoy with meals. Unfortuantely, there are very few restaurants in the U.S., or outside of Asia for that matter, that pair teas with food.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Low Country Jon

                                Gosh, I don't think I could disagree more with the notion that if you have to learn to like it, then it might not be authentic enjoyment. Avoiding the whole issue of what "natural" means, I think that many of the, maybe most of, the most enjoyable things in life are acquired tastes. If we went for the most immediate pleasures (salt and sweet)--which is of course what fast food places beg us to do, serving our most basic desires--then we'd most likely never enjoy coffee, tea, alchohol, most vegetables, dark meat, cheese, spices (not to mention poetry, opera, and art). Basically, it'd be baby food all around, with a side of chips and a coke, and whatever's on Fox.

                                As for how much time to invest in learning anything that doesn't provide immediate pleasure--well, if you think of it AS an investment, my response would be no time at all. If on the other hand, you think of it as a challenge or a way to sate your curiosity (if not your thirst), then keep on going until you either learn to like it or start thinking of it as an investment.

                                1. re: jasmurph

                                  Wow, talk about reading way too much into a post. Nowhere do I say that if you have to acquire a taste, then the taste is not authentic. Authentic and natural are not synonyms, at least not in my book or in the dictionary for that matter. I do find it somewhat unnatural for someone who is not just indifferent to wine but actually finds it somewhat repuIsive to spend a lot of time trying to overcome their repulsion just because of the peer pressure to do so. My basic point, as I stated before, is that if appreciation of wine has to be learned, then it is up to the individual to decide if the effort is worth it. Simple as that. You seem to suggest that anyone not willing to devote the time to learning to appreciate wine is an uncultured dolt who is interested only in "immediate pleasure." I beg to disagree. Appreication of wine is not the be all/end all of the food world, and I would argue that those who insist it is are the ones who need to expand their horizons. The wonderful world of food and drink is too wide to subject it to litmus tests like that.

                              2. As a vestige of my childhood, I give up booze for Lent (you can look up Lent on Wikipedia). It's only then that I really miss wine. What else is there to drink with food? Tea, perhaps. A nice green tea with Chinese seems like a natural pairing, as Jon says, but I couldn't put it together with the Duck Shepherd's pie at Balthazar.

                                When I'm desperate, I have a tonic water with a slice of lemon. But after years of experimentation, I realize that the only liquid that goes with food, apart from wine and beer, is water.

                                - Sean

                                1. if a person doesn't like the taste of alcohol, i suppose there's not much way of getting 'round that. but in my personal and professional opinion if a wine smells firstly and mostly like alcohol, it's a poorly made and badly balanced wine. wines have started to creep up the alcohol percentage scale in recent years, which i sometimes find unpleasant too. if the temperature of the wine is too warm, it can be even more pronounced.

                                  the pairing of food and wine is a relatively recent conceit, if you consider how many centuries people have been drinking it. for the longest time, wine was simply a fermented beverage, most frequently added to water. water wasn't always safe to drink, and the alcohol killed some of the grubby guys that lived in it. it wasn't a consideration to have a savigny-les beaune with the duck roast, ya know?

                                  one mistake frequently made, especially by americans, is feeling somehow pressured that wine is "important". it's a beverage to enjoy. most of us didn't grow up with our parents having wine with meals, like europeans do. i did, and was always allowed little sips with dinner. once parker and the spectator and the rest made wine into luxury good, the image spun out of control.

                                  if you don't like it, that's fine too. but much like learning to like mushrooms or onions as as adult ( i hated both as a kid), it's simply another dimension and world of flavors. and the discoveries within that world are endless.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    Cheers to Hotoyoodle! Well put!!
                                    I am firmly of the opinion that if you don't like something you shouldn't "learn to like it" because others say you should or it's the current hot thing. You can get used to anything. Like food without salt if you must for health reasons. Soy milk if you decide to give up dairy. But why? I eat just about everything but I choose not to if I don't care for it. I just pass politely and eat the things I prefer.
                                    I think you like wine or you don't. I loved it from the first. And like Hotoynoodle, I was allowed it as a child in small amounts at family dinners, in the European fashion. I've had to give it up for health reasons but I do fine without it and enjoy my food thoroughly. No big deal. I drink iced tea, otherwise known as The House Wine of the South. Some of my friends do great iced tea pairings, particularly the smoky and herb teas.
                                    Professionally, I have been responsible for selecting wines for dinners large and small, working with wine producers and vendors, clients, and caterers. I don't have H's expertise by any means, but humbly submit that it isn't all that sacred. I always have a lot of choices for a "perfect" wine at a lot of price points. Depending on the audience, many of the diners don't know the difference anyway. Hate to sound cynical, but everybody ain't Robert Parker, so don't let them intimidate you.
                                    Remember that the mark-up on wine carries a lot of restaurant overhead and those in the business will naturally emphasize its importance, as will food writers and restaurant critics who are, of course, in a symbiotic relationship. Don't let yourself be swayed by marketing.
                                    The nuances of wine are incredible, limitless and worth a lifetime of exploration IF you love it. If you don't, move on to something YOU love.

                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      "the pairing of food and wine is a relatively recent conceit, if you consider how many centuries people have been drinking it. for the longest time, wine was simply a fermented beverage, most frequently added to water. water wasn't always safe to drink, and the alcohol killed some of the grubby guys that lived in it. it wasn't a consideration to have a savigny-les beaune with the duck roast, ya know?"

                                      Well, not exactly, unless you consider >600 years as "relatively recent." If you study the regional cuisine of most of the Old World, you will find that the wines of that region developed along with the cuisine. That is why they pair well, and not because some contemporary vintner went about trying to find the right grape and vinification technique, to accompany the food.


                                    2. Moi aussi, Robert....I can still remember the first transformative experience w/ wine, sitting on a large porch in late summer as the sun was setting over the bay. I was poured a glass of 1997 Lenz Estate Merlot (Long Island winery that was nearby), and its richness, complexity, and character were striking, and a nice long finish that was very satisfying. I don't recall what I ate that evening, but the wine has stayed w/ me for eight years.

                                      Of course the OP's experience is different, at least thus far. Wonder if the OP were poured some better-quality wine that the experience would differ?

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: 280 Ninth

                                        That is a very worthwhile question. I once felt, as the OP did. For many years I attempted to "enjoy" wine, and my wife went to great lengths, but I just didn't "get it." One evening, a good friend, who was very much "into" wine, ordered a Pomerol to accompany our mains of grilled beef. She poured me a glass, though she knew my predeliction to other beverages. She gave me a very quick course in "tasting" the wine. I took her sage advice, and followed the proceedure. "Hm-m, this IS interesting," I thought, but I still wasn't convinced. Over the course of an hour, the wine went through three transformations, that I noted. When the main course arrived, I tried it WITH the food, expecting the worst. I was completely blown away at how well it went with the beef. Yeah, the evening was perfect, my wife, great friends, wonderful conversation, excellent food in a fantastic restaurant with stellar service AND the wine! I was totally hooked, and have not looked back. On average, I have probably only had 3-4 evening meals without wine and maybe only 60% of my lunches. Now, I have yet to find the right "breakfast" Chardonnay, so that meal has always been sans-vino.


                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          Aw c'mon, Bill, Moscato di Asti, "breakfast of champions". Here's the photo of my french toast and glass of moscato at Eccolo in Berkeley,

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            Thanks, I had not thought of that pairing. Seems that the last time that I had an Asti for breakfast was in college and it was a cheap Spumante, left over from the night before - not a worthwhile wine, even fresh and cold, but warm and flat - yech! But, that was then, and this is now. (Grin)

                                            Now I once did ~12 Bollinger RDs for "breakfast," though the food of the breakfast had been consumed a few hours earlier. I do have to admit that it was a great way to start the morning, especially since we were going on to taste the top 20 wines of that particular year, next.


                                      2. Many non-winedrinkers serve wine or give it as gifts so the Wine Board is very useful. I learn a lot from some of the knowledgeable posters there that helps me when I choose wine both for private social use and professionally.
                                        I most enjoy the postings from the new winedrinkers who are asking for help in learning to understand the complexities. The evil streak in me occasionally relishes watching a know-it-all get put in his place.
                                        It helped when I purchased new wine glasses for myself and as gifts at Christmas even though I don't drink wine any longer for health reasons. You may not be able to imagine eating certain foods without your glass of wine but I do with joy and good health.
                                        Like you, I consider wine just another part of the food world but it needs its own separate board because of the importance that some place on it. This topic appeared originally in another place. Can't remember where.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                          If I had to stop drinking for health reasons, there are quite a few dishes I'd give up, or at least be a lot less interested in eating.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            I felt exactly the same way. I gradually got over it. The last holdout was raw oysters. How I missed that dry crisp chilled Sancerre. I didn't eat them for awile. Then finally I decided I couldn't spend the rest of my life without them.
                                            Life is good.
                                            BTW, my guests drink better for your postings for which I thank you!

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              There are a lot of dishes my doctor would ask me to give up before he asked me to give up wine. We have a deal, I limit my wine drinking to a reasonable level (about two bottles a week) and try to lose weight by giving up some of the high calorie dishes I also love.

                                              One thought for AlwayzHungry. Let a glass of wine breath for a little while, swirl it a little and then try it. If it is still to much alcohol (or hot in the parlance of wine drinkers) then it probably isn't that well made. On the other hand, many wines seem too hot if you drink them alone but work very well with food. Most wine is much better if drunk with a meal as the food and wine complement each other if done right. A big CA Cab may seem very hot, but drunk with a well cooked steak, it is pretty damn good.

                                          2. "Is it really that important?"

                                            If history is worth it's salt, it seems the answer is rotund YES.
                                            There's no single culture on earth that hasn't had some exposure or other to fermented beverages.

                                            From the link below:

                                            Since fruits ferment naturally, fermentation precedes human history. Since prehistoric times, however, humans have been taking control of the fermentation process. The earliest evidence of winemaking dates from 6000 BC, in Georgia, the former Soviet Republic.[1] 7000 year old jars of wine have been excavated in the Zagros Mountains in Iran, which are now on display at the University of Pennsylvania.[2] There is strong evidence that people were fermenting beverages in Babylon circa 5000 BC,[3] ancient Egypt circa 3150 BC,[4] pre-Hispanic Mexico circa 2000 BC,[3] and Sudan circa 1500 BC.[5] There is also evidence of leavened bread in ancient Egypt circa 1500 BC[6] and of milk fermentation in Babylon circa 3000 BC.[3] The Chinese were probably the first to develop vegetable fermentation.[3]

                                            Food fermentation has been said to serve five main purposes:[8]

                                            Enrichment of the diet through development of a diversity of flavors, aromas, and textures in food substrates.
                                            Preservation of substantial amounts of food through lactic acid, alcohol, acetic acid and alkaline fermentations.
                                            Biological enrichment of food substrates with protein, essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, and vitamins.
                                            Detoxification during food-fermentation processing.
                                            A decrease in cooking times and fuel requirements.


                                            1. I guess that my first question would be do you have any known biases against alcohol (i.e. an alcoholic relative or friend, a religious conviction, etc.) If not then it might be again, as previously mentioned, the fact that wine, etc, can be an acquired taste. Some also just have a very delicate palate. I once gave a friend a sip of Belgian Peche Lambic ale (a virtual wine cooler). She described it as tasting like battery acid. This person just will never like booze so you just have to give up. It's not the end of the world. However if a person likes coffee (without cream and lighter on the sugar) I personally find it hard to believe that the very same person would have difficulty appreciating a stout beer which have virtually the same flavor profile. The same is true of tea and lighter ales (i.e. Mild, Bitters).
                                              For me most of this business is an unresolved guilt issue around alcohol.

                                              1. I was one of the people that didn't "get" wine until I was in my early thirties. I would always accept a glass but then think "what is the big deal?" But then my husband and I went to Italy and had really good local Italian wine paired with really good local Italian food, and we both had a conversion experience. The right wine with the right food is so much more than the sum if its parts. It is a fun journey if you choose to embark on it, but certainly one can live a relatively full foodie life and not like wine.

                                                1. If you don't like high alcohol presence, try a Riesling... check the labels as some have very low alcohol content in the 5 or 6% range...

                                                  Also there are alcohol-reduced wines out there, try them. You'll still get a good amount of the "wine and food" flavor effects without consuming so much of the alcohol.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: Chicago Mike

                                                    Those reduced alcohol wines, as well as alcohol-free wines, are swill to put it diplomatically. Better just to pass on wine altogether than to ruin good food.

                                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                                      The reduced-alcohol wines on the market may well be bad, but there's no technical reason they have to be. In fact, a lot of wine geeks I know have been speculating that some very prestigious California wineries have been using technology to knock their insanely alcoholic reds down from crazy levels like 17% to something more like 15%.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        >>In fact, a lot of wine geeks I know have been speculating that some very prestigious California wineries have been using technology to knock their insanely alcoholic reds down from crazy levels like 17% to something more like 15%.<<

                                                        Yeah, and they're still undrinkable. Not the soundest of arguments, frankly. Got an exhibit B?

                                                        1. re: carswell

                                                          Who's to say they're undrinkable when the winemakers keep it a secret?


                                                          "There have been wines that have been dealced in the Wine Spectator’s top 100, but no one wants to talk about it because people have that misunderstanding. It does dumb the fruit down, but if the wine has all the right stuffing, you can blend around it and fix it and have something that’s really nice."

                                                          To make the top 100, somebody thinks they're drinkable. I'd love to do a comparative tasting of wine before and after reduction, but where would one get samples?

                                                  2. "Good wine is a necessity of life for me" - Thomas Jefferson

                                                    "I agree" - Me.