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How important is wine to food?

I don't drink, never have and don't plan to. Part of it is that I generally don't like drinking things: soda, coffee, juice, etc. just don't do anything for me. The other is that family members have had some issues with alcoholism so, from a genetic standpoint, I see no reason to start.

Having said that, how important would you say drinking is to eating? I have certainly seen a great deal of fuss made over wine pairings, with the cost of the wine sometimes outweighing the cost of the food. Does it really make food that much better, or is it just a nice thing to have? I.e., when a person drinks some nice wine with some nice food (technical terms here) how much better does the wine make the food? Is it just that the food and wine are nice together or that the wine makes the food go from good to great? And how much of this is just the alcohol's physical effect?

Thanks for any responses to what is, I'll admit, a pretty convoluted question.

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  1. DH and I rarely drink wine when dining out. The cost doubles sometimes and it's just such a rip-off to pay 3-4-5x what I can buy it for. There's no skill, no talent involved and I have to tip on it?
    I get that alcohol is where the profit is at, but I'm there for the food and the last time I ordered a wine paring was years ago.
    That said, it certainly can enhance and play off flavors, but I just stick to water.

    1 Reply
    1. re: monavano

      And when you are dining at home?

    2. My take, as a non-drinker, on wine and foods is all about snobbery and elitism. I also agree with the sentiment that restaurants push wines to up the sale.

      I have in-laws that need wine first to relax and unwind. For them, wine is key to enjoying a meal.

      35 Replies
      1. re: dave_c

        So it is your opinion then that there is NO element of enjoyment or enhanced flavor experience brought about by a well paired beverage? It is ALL just snobbery and elitism? An interesting perspective, to say the least.

        1. re: dave_c

          As one, who admittedly does not know, I find your statement presumptuous, at the very least.

          I am one, who spends much of my life dining for extreme enjoyment, and also pairing the wines to accompany those meals.

          I could care less about snobbery, or elitism. I do so for my total enjoyment. The ultimate pairing will enhance both the food, and the wine, at least for me. The next level down is where the wine enhances the food, or the food enhances the wine. I eschew any pairing below that.

          Some of the greatest and most revered cuisines around the globe, grew up with wines. To most of the folk, who prepare and enjoy those cuisines, the wine is an integral part of the meal, unlike much of the US. In those cultures, the wines are as important to the meals, as are spices and gravies.


          1. re: Bill Hunt

            I am with Bill Hunt. I really, really like it when the wine and food enhance each other. It's terrific and I am glad to have experienced it. Last night, we had rack of lamb and the wine we had tasted so good with it. I had to remind myself to drink the wine because many meals I just have water and I wait until the end of the meal.

            1. re: whinendine

              At the end of the meal, you move onto another drink :-)

            2. re: Bill Hunt

              Well said, thank you.

              I never knew what I was missing until I was introduced to the idea. Once there, I always feel I am not fully enjoying a good steak or cheese, unless I have it alongside a reasonable wine.

              I am a sip-eat-sip-eat kind of person and it feels amiss to eat certain foods paired with water, juice or (gasp) pop. The times when I have to forgo wine out of praciticality, I actually find that a glass of diluted apple juice or grape juice works at least better than just plain water.

              I am sure there are many who think otherwise, but to me, wine pairing with certain foods is as common and unpretentious as pairing hearty, greasy dimsum with a strong oolong tea.

            3. re: dave_c

              >>> My take, as a non-drinker, on wine and foods is all about snobbery and elitism. <<<
              Uh, no . . . .

              >>> I also agree with the sentiment that restaurants push wines to up the sale. <<<
              Flat generalizations rarely work.

              >>> I have in-laws that need wine first to relax and unwind. For them, wine is key to enjoying a meal. <<<
              NEEDING a drink "to relax and unwind" is a sign of something else entirely.

              1. re: zin1953

                It can also be a projection. Enjoying something and "needing" it are two different things.

              2. re: dave_c

                I would not make quite as sweeping a statement as you do but yes, I think at least some folks do as you suggest. I myself drink a fair bit of alcohol, but more spirits than wine. At meals I don't feel the *need* to have wine with my meal, ESPECIALLY when the cuisine is NOT traditionally associated with wine in the Western form.

                For myself I find wine (and even alcohol) to be a distraction from good food. I enjoy a fine dish on its own merits. If there are other "components" that might enhance a dish (as wine aficionados state) why not incorporate them into the dish itself – or even as a condiment one adds - so one continues to devote attention to the blending of flavors within the dish itself. If there are flavors that are missing and need to be contributed from a wine (rather than a food-item condiment) then I am more inclined to think that the dish is deficient, rather than that the wine is needed as an adjunct from which one tries to separate out or extract out on one’s palate those “flavors” from all the rest of the congeners, tannins and conjugates before the dish can be properly enjoyed. My personal preference.

                To this day I don't really comprehend why folks INSIST on having Western wine with cuisines in which such wine is not native to it. Fiery Szechuan food, or delicate Cantonese food, for example. Just concentrate on the food. Even if there are some wine-like beverages made in those regions or close-by regions native to those cuisines. There are any number of discussions and arguments about trying to arrive at the "best" wine to accompany this-and-that "ethnic" dish - all induce eye-rolling in me. Try sake with Japanese food instead, as an example of an alternative and something more native to the cuisine. Obviously other folks will disagree with me. In many cases I can't help feeling that it is a dependency on needing alcohol that is behind it, and the ingrained notion that it needs to be Western wine that is required for psychological satisfaction especially when there is the additional notion that a "fine meal" cannot be enjoyed without said wine. But, in the end, I'm sure it could also be said that I have a different palate from those who need wine with their meals.


                1. re: huiray

                  Now, I am an avowed wino, so these comments must be filtered through that.

                  I dine frequently on Eastern cuisine. I almost always include wine with the meal. While it can be a tough pairing, in some cases, and on occasion, the wine list does not offer a good pairing. Still, there are many meals, that DO pair well to wonderfully.

                  In 1998, I had an opportunity to attend a seminar with Chef Mark Miller. There were six dishes, IIRC, from prominent Asian cuisines. Each was served with Sake*, Harp Ale, Riesling*, Sauvignon Blanc* and Wild Horse Brut Rosé sparkling wine. The hands-down winner was the Brut Rosé, though with some particular dishes, another option was # 1. This was the consensus of about 900 others, so it was not just my palate.

                  Now, with some Eastern restaurants, things might be different, and also a Brut Rosé might not be either on the list, or the optimum choice.

                  For *most* Eastern cuisine, and a good wine list, I think I could put together a good pairing for most dishes. Obviously, there WILL be some exceptions.

                  As I can only speak for myself, I could NEVER say that for another, a fine meal could not be enjoyed sans wine. That would be their personal choice.


                  * For those, I do not recall the producers

                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Thank you for your comments.

                    Yes, I remember your previous mention of that wine seminar in an older thread elsewhere. I presume it was this one: http://www.faqs.org/abstracts/Food-an... . I do not have access to the article but I somewhat suspect that the great majority of the participants were Caucasian folks from the USA - would that be correct? If so, then one was dealing with Western-trained palates with cultural and perhaps even innate preferences for Western wine? Just wondering.

                    In any case, I appreciate your description of what you would do with various cuisines including Eastern-type ones. Perhaps a brut rosé is indeed the best alcohol pairing with Asian food for folks like you.

                    My point remains, however, that one need not have alcohol at all (let alone Western wine) to enjoy the food as it was prepared *with its intended taste*. Having Western wine with Eastern food still smacks of square pegs in round holes to me. Just let the food be. Skip the alcohol. Clearly it is different for you. Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks.

                    I wonder if some folks who are steeped in Western wine knowledge are sometimes focused on the wine rather than the food, so they subconsciously seek out food to pair with wine rather than the other way around, and/or subconsciously seek out a wine to pair with any food rather than just enjoy the food on its own merits. Just speculating.

                    1. re: huiray

                      I would think that that was the same event.

                      Now, as to the attendees, I cannot tell you their ethnicity. There were approximately 1000, and I, unfortunately, did not meet them all. I do know that some (How many? Well, I did not count.) appeared to be of Asian extraction. Were they Amer-Asian, first-generation US residents, or Asian extraction, Asian citizens, attending, or some other mix? I cannot tell you. As I did not have to show my passport, I doubt that Marvin Shanken could tell you.

                      As for the exclusion of any/all alcohol, I agree. If one does not wish any form of alcohol, that is their choice, and I would never suggest otherwise.

                      I am just offering up what the masses, in that tasting event, chose, for the best total pairing.

                      You are perfectly welcome to discard that, or take it any way that you wish. Personally, I do not care.


                  2. re: huiray

                    Well, I confess that my drink of choice with "fiery Szechuan" cuisine is generally beer. That said, however, I agree with Bill -- but wasn't at Mark Miller's tasting -- that a good Brut Rosé, especially one from California or, perhaps something like a Bugey-Cérdon, will go beautifully with some Asian cuisines, even those with some heat. The same is true with (e.g.) Mexican street food (beer), versus the more "refined" cuisine one might find in Guadalajara or in a small beach town in Riviera Nayarit -- wine can be a great choice *if* the selection is there . . . .

                    That said, I have -- thanks to a couple of friends of mine, one a recognized Japanese chef, the other an importer of sake -- become more enamored (if not seduced) by the variety of fine sake now available in the US.


                    1. re: zin1953

                      Beer with Szechuan food - I think I remember that from a previous post of yours too. To each his own. :-)

                      Are you now pairing some Chinese dishes (or Indian dishes) with the sake you are trying, or simply letting it match Japanese food?

                      1. re: huiray

                        I'm "playing" with sake over a wide variety of cuisines, not just Japanese or even East Asian . . . that said, I find I *prefer* sake with (non-sushi) Japanese cuisine more than any other, but that could also be cultural bias, inexperience, or selecting the wrong style of sake with the wrong dish.

                        1. re: zin1953

                          For what it is worth, my palate leans heavily to a domestic (US) Sauvignon Blanc (I like the Groth Napa here) with most sushi dishes.

                          While I have had many producers' sake, and with many variation of sushi, my palate seldom gets THAT excited with most.

                          I have also found similar wonderful pairings with many tempura dishes, like calamari.

                          Though, as Huiray mentions, "to each his own."


                      2. re: zin1953

                        I find that Rieslings work *really* well with spicy food, particularly Sichuan.

                        There's a Sichuan restaurant in Berlin whose owner (from Sichuan!) has an extensive wine list of Rieslings, and is great at pairing them with his various dishes.

                        1. re: linguafood

                          With the Sichuan dish, in my above referenced tasting, I *think* that a Kabinet Riesling was the #1 choice, but the Brut Rosé was second.

                          I'd need to dig deeply into my notes, since that was now about 13 years ago, plus a move.

                          I love Rieslings, of various ripeness levels, and from both different regions of GR, and different producers, with spicy foods. Because of her New Orleans roots, my wife does some lovely, spicy, and often slightly "hot" (the spiciness does not always include real "heat") fare, so in our home, a Riesling is almost always a "first choice." For a red, Pinot Noir, often fills that bill, though it does need some structure to fit in. Nuances, while lovely in many PN's, goes by the way-side, and a bit more body seems to do a better job - at least for us, and our guests.


                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            This seems to be the thread where you talked about this before:

                            I also find sakes of various kinds go well with certain dishes from different Asian cuisines (Vietnamese, Shanghainese, Cantonese, in addition to Japanese). I tend to think that it helps with the matching because of the rice-based nature of sake.

                            Good to know about the Brut Rosé, which I will try when there is a chance in the future.

                            May I ask if you can recall any good pairings with curries (of any kind)? I usually default to beer, but am always wondering.

                            1. re: vil

                              Thank you for that link. That was the most recent reference to that pairing exercise, and I would anticipate that there are a few others, going back in time. As the questions of wines with various Asian dishes, I often reference what we encountered.

                              As for curries, there were none in THAT tasting, but I have paired, and had paired, several Rieslings, that went well. Most were either Thai, or Indian curries, and mostly yellow curries.

                              At Tamrind, http://www.tamarindrestaurant.com/win..., their sommelier used to pair some curries with GR Rieslings, but I see that the list has now gone to Alsace only, so my guess is that either the GR Rieslings were not moving, or there was a change in sommeliers?

                              Again, thanks for the link to that thread.


                          2. re: linguafood

                            Among other things, this combo works well because of acidity of wine cuts the richness of the dish (quite a number of the dishes can be very oily) and because a bit of sweetness is a great counterpart to spicy heat. Similar effect when one has pineapples perked up with chilli, a very common combo.

                            1. re: linguafood

                              Well, Lotus of Siam (LoS) has one of the best German and Austrian wine lists in the US, and we always go with wine. However, most of the Sichuan cuisine I have is actually HOTTER than the Thai food (Southern *and* Northern) that I have at LoS. With all that heat, I actually *like* the beer.

                              I'm learning about sake from a Japanese chef, and a Japanese importer of sakes.

                              1. re: zin1953

                                That's very interesting, zin. I've never had Sichuan food that was hotter than Thai, and I eat some pretty damn hot Sichuan food. It's just with the Sichuan peppercorns and the numbing properties that it never becomes as painful as, say, a mouthful of som tam studded with fresh bird peppers (as you can see, I prefer my Thai food to be Thai spicy).

                                That's why I actually prefer beer with Thai food.

                              2. re: linguafood

                                Finally, somebody recognizes the under-appreciated and often over looked Reisling!

                                  1. re: Chinon00

                                    Hey, when's your Berlin trip, Chi?

                                    1. re: linguafood

                                      Already went. It's wasn't anywhere near long enough. Got to the the following spots:
                                      1) Dicke Wirtin
                                      2) Weinbar Rutz
                                      3) Rogacki
                                      4) Paris Bar
                                      5) Clarchens Ballhaus

                                      Planning a return trip

                                  2. re: Fungiphile

                                    Under-appreciated and overlooked? Not in Germany, it ain't.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        Very good, but seldom "Great."

                                        While I love them too, there are not so many leather-bound books touting their virtues. Still, they should NEVER be overlooked.


                                      2. re: linguafood

                                        And not by most, who do food and wine pairings, or just appreciate great wines.

                                        Yes, it is off the radar screen of too many, but that is partially the fault of some mass importers, and some bad history. If one overlooks those, GR Rieslings rise to the top.


                                  3. re: zin1953

                                    I like beer with "fiery Szechuan" - white wine too. Haven't tried rose. I've also read(forget where, sorry) that western wine is gaining in popularity in China and probably other Asian countries as well.

                                    1. re: Fromageball

                                      Alcohol tends to amplify spicy heat, so a low alcohol beverage is often needed if one doesn't want to disrupt the spice and flavour balance too much.

                                      1. re: limster

                                        Exactly. Alcohol and capsaicin together result in compounded chemesthesis which can overwhelm tastes altogether. An example of how a bar pairing can ruin a meal as much as a good one can enhance it. (Then again, somehow when the mood is just right, a tough match can still be a lot of fun.)

                              3. I think no matter what beverage you choose, it can either add to or detract from your meal experience. But I don't think it will elevate a meal to great heights --- burned rice is still burned rice, so to speak. I've found that wine will pair well with food, but if it doesn't, usually people will say "this wine doesn't work well with the food" rather than "this food doesn't work with this wine". That kind of tells me that for most people, its all about the food and not the wine.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: freia

                                  Full disclosure here: I really like wine and beer, with and without food. So for me the thought of going out for a nice dinner and NOT having wine with it approaches the unthinkable (except in extenuating circumstances, of course). But having said that, I think freia's statement is on point. The wine either works with the food or it does not. It's not the food that doesn't work with the wine.

                                  I have had very good pairings where the food and wine interact to produce a wholly different flavor profile than either had on their own. But in a lot of ways, I view that as "bells and whistles." The sommelier gets kudos for that, but it's secondary. To answer the OP's question directly: It's a "nice to have," in my mind.

                                  Not having wine won't detract from the food one bit. To people who enjoy wine, not having wine may detract from the overall experience, but not from the food, per se. So don't feel like you need to pressure yourself into drinking/enjoying wine.

                                  1. re: freia

                                    As mentioned above, the ultimate pairing is where the wine enhances the food, and the same food enhances the wine. This is what many of us (winos) shoot for.

                                    Now, unless one has ingested copious quantities of a wine, you are right, it will not enhance burned rice. [Grin]


                                  2. The right pairing with the right food can completely transform the food or the beverage that it is served with. This can be true with wine, beer, bourbon or even a fruit juice. The purpose is to enhance certain characteristics. Food and beverage is the common pairing but you can also use the same techniques to pair food with food or food with sauce. For example think of pan seared halibut, paired with a lemon butter sauce enhances the flavor of the fish. Now add a wine that is herbal and citrusy and you can enhance it even further.

                                    Buying wine at restaurants can be tricky and expensive. If the wine list is posted online I will review it prior to going to the restaurant and check prices against the rates online this gives me some idea how much they are marking them up. Typically all the wines are not marked up the same amount. If they are you may want to bring your own and pay the corkage fee or drink something else.

                                    I disagree that there is no skill or talent involved in serving wine. The skill and knowledge come from them knowing the food and the wine selection and they can make recommendations based on your preferences and what your are ordering. If you choose not to take advantage of this then you are tipping for nothing when it comes to the wine service.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: pairswellwithwine

                                      I really like the BYOBs you find in Montreal...that way you can bring wine that suits you and you feel will work with your meal. Of course, you kinda need to know the food and what you'll be ordering...:)

                                        1. re: monavano

                                          OOOH that's a GREAT idea! I have to learn to think outside the box! I'll certainly do that next time, and I'll bet both bottles will be gone by the end of the night! :)

                                          1. re: freia

                                            "Think outside the box"-**snorts with laughter at the pun, intended or not**

                                            Wine in glass bottles is probably better to bring along than box wine. :-)

                                            1. re: EWSflash

                                              LOLOL glad you got that! We have a great wine cellar and wine in bottles that I've tasted before buying is preferable to the house wine (sometimes out of a box!)...

                                              1. re: EWSflash

                                                Wine, and in bottles! What will they think of next?

                                                Who knew?


                                        2. re: pairswellwithwine

                                          Well-stated. That enhancement of both, the food and the wine, is the "holy grail" of wine pairing. When it happens, and often with prior tastings and some knowledge of both the food and the wine, it is a thing of great beauty.

                                          Though I know my way around wine lists, that pairing is the main reason that I often rely on the sommelier to put the best onto my table. Often, they hit it out of the park, though sometimes they rather "phone it in." Still, in my many years, I have had more hits, than misses, and enough "bases-loaded home runs," to keep me coming back.


                                        3. I would never forgo the wine accompaniments to a tasting menu. They're just too good: the wine makes the food better and the food makes the wine better. And getting tipsy by the end of the meal is always fun.

                                          14 Replies
                                          1. re: brancron

                                            I drink a lot of wine and I have to respectfully disagree with you. If I'm doing a tasting menu I prefer it sans wine. It's just too much of a good thing. I did the 12 courses at Per Se and doubled my bill and while some of the pairing were amazing, most didn't blow my mind. By the end of the experience I was moderately inebriated so it affected my memory. But when I did the tasting menu at Alinea I had water and one lovely glass of a Portuguese wine and it was a perfect experience.

                                            When investing 3 hrs and a ridiculous amount of money for a multi-course tasting menu I want to remember all of it and not fry my palate. Now, a dinner out with friends or family, bring mama her wine please. ;-)

                                            1. re: lynnlato

                                              I would never avoid wines with a tasting menu, as I feel that wine should be part of the meal. Given the sommelier at Per Se, and her knowledge of both the cellar, plus the food coming from the kitchen that night, I would not miss her pairings for anything. However, that is just my personal feeling.


                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                Funny, we have a family friend who is a master sommelier and we've actually discussed this topic. We agreed that pairings for 15+ courses can be too much and has the potential of overwhelming the palate. But like you said, it's a personal decision. For me, too many goods things are just too much, in my humble opinion.

                                                1. re: lynnlato

                                                  I've had a couple of dinners where there were a few courses paired with one wine; might be one way to reduce palate fatigue. Also interesting then to see how a given wine changes with the food that it is paired with. Alternatively, if the kitchen is savvy enough about wine, one can have them cook around a bottle of wine rather than the other way around.

                                                  1. re: lynnlato


                                                    With a large, multi-course tasting menu, I wonder if one should demand no seasoning, as that might lead to palate fatigue?

                                                    As one usually does not have more than about 1/3, to 1/4 glass of wine (think pour of B-T-G here), per course, I would not think that the average diner would have a problem with alcohol consumption, but then I have been on a strict "training schedule," so might not be the best person to ask about this.

                                                    In very general terms, and even with the light pours, I usually have wine in nearly every glass, when the cheese-course (about 11 - 13) comes, so the total quantity of wine consumed is minimal.

                                                    Unless there is something that I really want to pair with a desert course, most are gone by the cheeses. Then, we make room for dessert, and whatever wines might be offered there - if any.

                                                    Yes, it IS a personal thing, and is dependent on one's desires, and also on their palate. I love a "sommelier's pairing," but do admit that stemware can pile up, and rapidly. I like to taste many wines, with the courses, not to put the sommelier to a test, but to expand my knowledge of possible pairings, and different flavor profiles. Food and wine pairings can work on many levels - acids, alcohol, mouthfeel (can be an element of alcohol), complementary flavor profiles, contrasting flavor profiles, and many other factors. I like to explore most of them, and hope that the sommelier will share some pairing, that I would never have considered, plus wines, that I do not have cases of in my cellar.

                                                    Maybe I am alone (except for my wife) in this respect?



                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                      Hmm, 1/4 to 1/3 of a glass of wine * 12 courses = 3-4 glasses of wine. Over a dinner, that would make me tipsy enough to no longer be able to really pay attention to the food, and it would have my husband under the table. And I'm in the middle of the pack among my friends and family when it comes to alcohol tolerance.

                                                      So for wine pairings over a multi-course tasting meal, staying sober is a serious consideration for a lot of people.

                                                      1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                        Three to four glasses of wine over the course of a three hour meal is not enough to raise the BAC of the average American male above the prevailing legal limits for driving.

                                                        1. re: MGZ

                                                          Yes, but it will result in what I call a Happy Meal.

                                                          1. re: Steve


                                                            Obviously, an ADULT "Happy Meal."


                                                        2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                          "Maybe I am alone (except for my wife) in this respect?"

                                                          Not at all.

                                                      2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                        My previous posting did not seem to have made it through.

                                                        I have rarely had a wine pairing with items in a tasting menu that was memorable. In most cases I could say at best that it did not interfere with the food. (Yes, I've had such menus and pairings in some of the best places) In many cases I've found that I would only take a few sips of the wine with the food before concentrating on the food and noticing only after the dish was consumed (with appreciation) that the wine was still there in the glass. In one case within recent years I did have a duck breast dish that was paired with a Californian grenache that I still remember well. I ordered a case of the wine immediately after the meal. Another time recently I had a pressed duck dish (a la Escoffier circa 1906) paired with some kind of red that clashed badly enough (to me) with the duck I had to swish my mouth with water etc to get rid of the taste of the wine before I could continue with full attention to the duck. Needless to say i did not touch that wine again.

                                                    2. re: brancron

                                                      I agree with you. Though I have about 6000 bottles of wine in my cellar, and choose wines for about 15 of my wife's guest dinners per year, when dining out, we almost always go with the sommelier's pairings. There are several reasons: the sommelier knows his/her cellar, knows the dishes, and even the way the chef is feeling that night. They are also exposed to many more wines, than I have time to taste. Even with a lot of trade contacts, I cannot taste it all. A good sommelier will have access to wines (and maybe even regions), that I will not.

                                                      With but a very few exceptions, we have never been disappointed.


                                                    3. For us, it is between 40 and 60% of the meal, except for breakfast, though I have been known to choose a "nice, little breakfast Chardonnay!"


                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                        Nothing wrong with a mimosa for breakfast (I know, made with champagne or with sparkling white, in my books that counts!) ! And lets not all forget about ice wines for dessert...

                                                        1. re: freia

                                                          While I have had them elsewhere, I often ask for one on the pre-flight offering, when flying.


                                                      2. In my life, drinking is not in the least important to eating. Ever.

                                                        I am a recovering alcoholic with 20+ years of recovery. Wouldn't it be sad if wine were important or essential to eat or enjoy food? There are many many people like me.

                                                        IMO it is much ado about absolutely nothing.

                                                        11 Replies
                                                        1. re: laliz

                                                          Liz, no one is saying that NO meal can EVER be savored without the addition of an alcoholic beverage. And certainly no one is even remotely suggesting you have to give up your sobriety to enjoy a meal. For you, I would certainly say that wine is not "essential to eat or enjoy food," but that is YOU, your life, and may or may not be based in experience. (After all, 20+ years ago, when you were drinking, I have no idea *how* you drank -- did you only drink a glass or two of wine with dinner? were you drinking a bottle of Jack every day, and never touched wine? There are alcoholics who fall into both extremes, as well as everywhere in between.) My point is not to challenge your sobriety (actually, I want to congratulate you; it's quite an accomplishment), but rather to point out that there is more than one path here . . .

                                                          For most people who do not drink at all, wine is irrelevant to food. For some people who do partake of alcoholic beverages from time to time, wine may be irrelevant or not. Yet for some others who enjoy wine specifically (as opposed to beer or spirits), and who enjoy the interplay between what's on the plate and what's in the glass, it's a very important part of the meal.

                                                          Clearly I fall into the last category. But getting drunk is NEVER the desired goal, and NEVER (see below) the result of the exercise. Rather it is to enhance the enjoyment of the food through the pairing of a wine that will match perfectly with the meal, and to enhance the wine through the interplay of the meal with the wine.

                                                          Last night, for example, my wife and I splurged on a bit of caviar for my upcoming birthday. I opened up a specific Champagne (Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs, FWIW). It's a Champagne I've had before, and loved, but I enjoy a great many Champagnes. (Indeed, I have probably a dozen different kinds of Champagne, some 30 bottles over all, at home.) But I selected *this* bottle. For us, the caviar would not have been the same had I served (e.g.) a bottle of S. Pelligrino water, nor would it been have good had I selected a different Champagne (e.g.: Bollinger Special Cuvée). The caviar was definitely enjoyed more with the Pierre Peters, and the Pierre Peters was enjoyed more with the caviar (as opposed to, for example, pairing it was a rare sirloin steak).

                                                          There are indeed many people like you, Liz. There are also many people like me, and many people who are like neither one of us!


                                                          P.S. I am 58 years old (in a few days), and I can could the number of times I have been drunk on one hand with a couple of fingers left over, and hasn't happened since I was in my mid-20s. Each time it was an accident -- that is, I never said/thought "Hey, let's get f****d up!" That has never been a goal of mine. Then again, having grown up in the wine trade, and worked in that field for 35+ years, it wouldn't be. People in the wine trade tend to have rather harsh views on alcohol abuse, drunk driving, and so on. If nothing else, it's bad for business.

                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                            Happy birthday zin! Just wanted to pas that along...:)

                                                            1. re: freia

                                                              Thanks, freia -- although I'm at the age where having a birthday is something of a strange feeling . . . .


                                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                                Since about the "big 50," I have sort of ignored them. The other day, someone asked my age, and jet-lagged, and totally with zero thought, I blurted out "57." When the words left my mouth, I knew that the age was incorrect, but really could not think of exactly how old I was. Luckily, my wife was there, and quietly said, "He's 64, though sometimes, he forgets it." She was correct. It has not been a big deal in many years, and is something that I disregard, almost completely.

                                                                Now, for that 50th b'day, my wife hosted a "surprise" lu`au, and for the first time in many years, I had zero wine, and only "Polynesian" drinks with little umbrellas. That might have also been the last time that I did not have even one glass of wine with food.


                                                                PS - Happy Birthday from me too!

                                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                  Thanks, Bill -- 58 on Tuesday. (gulp!) On the other hand, I can't complain: my wife bought me 6 bottles of Chateau Musar (one of everything we tasted in that Musar post of mine, plus one for good luck!) for my b-day, so . . .


                                                            2. re: zin1953

                                                              The question I answered is "how important is wine to food?" I began my response with the words "In my life".

                                                              I live in California, wine (and champagne) used to be "essential" in my life. Again, the original question is "how important is wine to food?" My answer remains the same, wine is absolutely not at all important to food. some people just enjoy wine.

                                                              1. re: laliz

                                                                Liz, as with many things in life, one can "debate" the meaning of various words, and how one interprets that word as it applies to them. (I'm not trying to paraphrase Clinton and say, "It depends upon what you mean by 'is'.")

                                                                "Essential" -- as in "essential to life" as in one would "die without it"? No. wine was never that essential to you, or anyone else addicted to the use of alcohol. (Proof? You no longer drink, and you are still alive; ergo, alcohol is not essential to life.)

                                                                However, "essential" as in someone craves it, wants it, is addicted to it? Sure. Some people are like that, and whether or not they "enjoy" the aromas, flavors, and complexities of wine, or are merely imbibing for the sake of alcohol ingestion -- well, I somehow doubt an individual is addicted to wine, per se, as opposed to alcohol itself, but then everyone (who can afford it) has a drink of choice, I suppose.

                                                                I enjoy wine. Truly, I do. But for me, it is also an essential part of any "serious" dinner -- i.e.: weekday/weekend isn't the point, but if my wife and/or myself are taking the time and making the effort to cook something special for each other -- or just open a small tin of caviar and celebrate Wednesday -- I'd say that, *for me* wine is an essential part of our meals.

                                                                Again, don't misunderstand: that doesn't translate into having a bottle of wine with dinner *every* night or else we don't eat. It isn't "essential" in the same fashion as having tires on an automobile. But -- for us -- life would be a lot less enjoyable without it . . . then again, on the bright side, we'd probably have more disposable income!

                                                                Jason ;^)

                                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                                  EDIT: Sorry for daring to participate, I see now this is another thread for the special people.

                                                              2. re: zin1953


                                                                Regarding your PS - you have me by a few "mistakes," as since my twenties, I have "stepped over the line" a few more times, but never by design. I hate the feelings, and I hate the side-effects later. Unlike Don Henley's "some drink to remember, some drink to forget... " [Hotel California], I do neither, though over the course of a year, do consume a lot of wine, at least by US standards.

                                                                For me, it is about the wine, and also about the wine and the food. It is about total enjoyment, and I do not even wish to get a "buzz," as I DO want to appreciate both the wine, and any food with the wine. That is one reason that I can get near the end of a 14-course tasting menu, with sommelier's pairings, and still have half of a "half (or 1/3) glass" of wine, for most of the 14! Besides, I want to be functional, to discuss the pairings with the sommelier, and if I have passed out in my second dessert course, that seldom happens.

                                                                I also understand diners, who do not partake of alcohol. I never press them to do so, for any reason. We just hosted 5 dinners for a board, and some award recipients in London. The lady, who coordinated the dinners had me choose the wines, in most cases. She also dined with us on two other occasions, where there were some great wines. Even before this trip, we had experienced the pleasure of her company, and I quickly realized that she did not want wine with her meal. Two occasions, and I realized that it was not something that she enjoyed. She also did not order any other alcohol. I did not pry, but with the board dinners, and recipient dinners, instructed the servers to NOT pour her any wine. She wanted sparkling water, and that was just fine for me.

                                                                I work with another person, who has been my caterer for some major wine dinners. He's great, and can easily understand the descriptions of most food and wine pairings. However, for religious reasons, he does not partake of alcohol, but has learned volumes on flavor profiles, mouth feel, textures, and many aspects of pairing food and wine, though he has never actually tasted those wines. Other than the tasting tests, I would expect that he could pass his sommelier's tests, based on his knowledge of flavors, and all the aspects of food and wine pairings. He is THAT good.

                                                                There has also been a sommelier (Master, IIRC), who does not drink, who has posted to the Wine Board. I do not know his story, and if he ever did consume wine, but he certainly knows his stuff.

                                                                There are many reasons, why a person would not consume wine, or any alcohol. To say that any of them was "missing something," relative to food and wine pairings, would never cross my mind, or my lips. That is what they have chosen.

                                                                I am very fortunate that I have no medical issues, or any reasons to pass on good, to fine, to great wines, and especially with meals. I am glad that I can enjoy the food/wine combo. That has definitely been a joy in MY life. To any, who wish to find that joy, I do my best. To those, who do not, I appreciate their choices, and would never try to persuade them to do anything differently. [Same with my Cuban cigars... ]


                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                    Could not have said it better myself, Bill. Thank you for phrasing it so much better than I . . .

                                                                    I personally know three people in the wine trade who concluded they had a problem with alcohol and stopped drinking completely. One is indeed a Master Sommelier; the other two are in import and sales. None of them drink at all anymore, but their sense of smell (always more important with wine than taste, though obviously that, too, plays a significant role) has "taken up the slack," so to speak. I've tasted with each of them, and I am frequently amazed by how "on" their descriptions are of the wine.

                                                                    On the other hand, I know of probably 10-12 people who had alcohol problems and left the business entirely. That makes more sense to me, and how those three individuals maintain their sobriety while working with open bottles and/or barrels every day is a tribute to their determination, their willpower, and their inner strength.


                                                              3. "And how much of this is just the alcohol's physical effect?"

                                                                You've hit on an important issue here. After a certain point, the alcohol will 'improve' your meal more than it improves the food. As I don't usually drink alcohol, I find myself more critical of high-end food than most people I know.

                                                                1. Wine is certainly important to food if your dinner companion's a bore.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. There are zillions of pairings between different things that we consume that really enhance one another, where the combination is way better than each part alone. Pairing wine to food is one small subset of that.

                                                                    Certain wines do make certain food taste better, but the same can be said of other beverages or of other food combinations. Wine is great to have in the appropriate context, just like potatoes or cheese or fruit, but none of these are special in the sense that they provide a level of deliciousness that the others cannot. In fact some of the principles behind pairing wine and food are generalisable to pairing all sorts of stuff -- e.g. using acidity to cut richness, sweetness against spicy heat, rounding off and balancing all the tastes - sweet, sour, salty and bitter, etc...

                                                                    1. my general opinion is that if you enjoy the experience and taste of drinking wine, it can add a lot to the meal. however, if you don't want a buzz or don't like the taste, then it would take away from the meal. if you don't enjoy it, it's also certainly not worth the extra expense.

                                                                      for me, personally, i enjoy both the taste and especially the experience of getting a little buzzed, a little more chatty, and having a fun dinner feeling a little bit loose. but i've had soo many wonderful dinners and experiences without alcohol involved too.

                                                                      eating is so much about personal preference - some people love condiments, others hate sweets, etc. you just have to do what feels right.

                                                                      1. I love wine and enjoy pairings. My husband doesn't drink and enjoys his meal as much as I do. Ergo, it doesn't matter, either way.

                                                                        1. Putting aside any response based on anecdote or attempt at deduction, I thought it worth mentioning that alcohol produces certain taste sensations that can undoubtedly enhance a meal. First, it will provide astringency which can help achieve balance on the palate. (I believe limster is alluding to this above.) Next, alcohol will produce chemesthesis, the stimulating, heat sensation that adds dimension.

                                                                          Although each of these "tastes" can be triggered in other ways, e.g. green tea and chiles, alcohol seems the most complimentary source for them in certain cuisines. Consequently, drinking wine with, say, an Italian dinner is a part of the totality of the "eating" experience, whereas less appears to be missing when one enjoys tea with a Szechuan spread.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: MGZ

                                                                            There is strong belief that alcohol is a natural flavor enhancer. Hence the existence of vodka in tomato sauce. The vodka adds no flavor, but in theory enhances the flavor of the sauce. Alcohol definitely makes sauces taste damn good - even when you're not drinking it from the bottle. The alcohol, I mean.

                                                                          2. Sorry to chime in late , but . . . bear with me, as I try to respond.

                                                                            >>> I don't drink, never have and don't plan to. Part of it is that I generally don't like drinking things: soda, coffee, juice, etc. just don't do anything for me. The other is that family members have had some issues with alcoholism so, from a genetic standpoint, I see no reason to start. <<<

                                                                            While it is certainly not necessary to drink alcohol in one's life, it IS necessary to drink, period. You say you "generally don't like drinking things," but the human body NEEDS liquid, water, to survive. What DO you drink?

                                                                            >>> Having said that, how important would you say drinking is to eating? <<<
                                                                            Drinking liquid plays a CRUCIAL part in eating, digestion, etc., but obviously you are speaking of "drinking" as in "drinking wine." Whether this is important or not is strictly personal. For me, personally, I would say that wine is a very important part of meals -- well, OK, not breakfast, but some lunches and dinners would NEVER be the same were all I having with my meal was tap water.

                                                                            >>> I have certainly seen a great deal of fuss made over wine pairings, with the cost of the wine sometimes outweighing the cost of the food. <<<

                                                                            When does it not?

                                                                            >>> Does it really make food that much better, or is it just a nice thing to have? I.e., when a person drinks some nice wine with some nice food (technical terms here) how much better does the wine make the food? Is it just that the food and wine are nice together or that the wine makes the food go from good to great? And how much of this is just the alcohol's physical effect? <<<

                                                                            Keep in mind very little in life is so simple, so black-and-white. The right wine paired with the meal makes BOTH the wine AND the food better. The wrong wine, and neither the wine nor the food will taste as good as if they were served/enjoyed separately . . . or if paired "correctly" (whatever that means). But it's a two-way street: the wine can make the food taste better; the food can make the wine taste better.

                                                                            I have -- countless times -- paired wines and foods together. (In a sense, I used to do this for a living.) And countless times, I have had wines paired with foods for me by others. I've also *deliberately* paired the "wrong" wines with foods for classes I have taught -- tasting all the wines separately, and then pairing them with the same food, and asking students to taste and discuss their thoughts. And EVERY time, there are some wines that people absolutely adored when served alone, but disliked when paired with the food . . . just as EVERY time, there are some wines that people didn't like (or were less enthusiastic about), that absolutely shined when paired with the food!

                                                                            Very little is attributable to "the alcohol's physical effect." Alcohol, after all, is a depressant. Too much alcohol, and you cannot taste as well, as "sharply" as you could/would without the intake of alcohol.


                                                                            51 Replies
                                                                            1. re: zin1953

                                                                              Oh, just to clarify, I meant I generally don't drink things for any other reason than thirst. The only thing I drink besides water is milk, which makes me sound especially lame, but hey.

                                                                              And by "alcohol's physical effect" I meant that it seems like "buzzed" people tend to be a little happier and exuberant, so that might make a meal more enjoyable. I didn't mean that the food actually tastes sharper or anything.

                                                                              1. re: zooxanthellae

                                                                                But the interplay of the wine with food WILL actually make the food taste differently ("sharper or anything"). Truly. It does.


                                                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                                                  ...and to some, that change in the taste of the food is a distraction and/or a detraction from the taste of certain dishes or cuisines as it was intended to be.

                                                                                  1. re: huiray

                                                                                    . . . in which case I would say the wrong pairing was made. When the "right" wine is selected to match the cuisine, the combination is synergistic and exciting.

                                                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                                                      I agree with Jason -- if it distracts or detracts, yer doin it wrong.

                                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                        That would apply to equally to any beverage.

                                                                                        1. re: MGZ

                                                                                          It would apply equally to any food item as well. Not that everyone will like the same combinations, but each person should be able to find combinations of 2 or more items (beverages or foods) that are synergistic.

                                                                                          1. re: MGZ

                                                                                            I could not agree more. Whether wine, spirits, or even a water, any beverage should compliment the food. If it enhances the food, so much the better. If both the food and the beverage are enhanced - BINGO! Holy Grail.


                                                                                          2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                            ...according to your own preferences.


                                                                                            "...if it distracts or detracts, yer doin it wrong."
                                                                                            You should not presume to my personal preferences for the taste of wine, no matter how wonderful a pairing it may be with a particular dish, or dismiss any preference for savoring the dish *on its own merits* for that particular dish. Or, for that matter, that I *require* wine to be paired with any particular dish for suitable enjoyment. You are in effect saying that I *will* enjoy ANY dish *better* with wine if only I stopped "doing it wrong". Such arrogance.

                                                                                            1. re: huiray


                                                                                              I said nothing about your taste for wine -- or anything else, for that matter. I actually didn't address you at all -- I merely agreed with what Jason said.

                                                                                              And I absolutely did not say that any dish would be better with wine -

                                                                                              I said "if it distracts or detracts, yer doin it wrong" -- that means that if, according to your taste, it is dissonant, distracting, or detracts in any way ACCORDING TO YOUR TASTE, then it's the wrong pairing for you and you should move on. Even if you're the only person in the room who doesn't like it.

                                                                                              As MGZ and limster expanded thereon -- it doesn't matter if that's water, Coca-Cola, or a 1947 First-Growth Snooty Vineyards -- if you don't like it, don't drink it. Don't like pickles on your sandwich? Take 'em off. Don't like wine? Don't drink it.

                                                                                              If you read my other posts, I also said "I prefer to have wine with my meals...but it's not required, and you shouldn't feel obligated to drink wine ever..."

                                                                                              So...be offended if it makes you happy -- but I didn't cause it.

                                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                <<<So...be offended if it makes you happy -- but I didn't cause it.>>>

                                                                                                Uh-oh, I was hoping that you would own up to "causing it," as if it was not YOU, then it must be MY fault...

                                                                                                As you have stated, it should be a personal decision to consume wine, beer, ale, spirits, water, soft-drinks, whatever, and if one does not like any with their food, it should be a personal decision to NOT drink it. Seems clear to me, but maybe not to others?


                                                                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                  Please have a look at my response to sunshine immediately below.

                                                                                                2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                  Thank you for your clarification, especially when you edited it from your earlier response (I did see it).

                                                                                                  Your previous post: "I agree with Jason -- if it distracts or detracts, yer doin it wrong." was in response to Jason's post in which he said: "...in which case I would say the wrong pairing was made." in response to my post: "...and to some, that change in the taste of the food is a distraction and/or a detraction from the taste of certain dishes or cuisines as it was intended to be."

                                                                                                  The particular stress of the subject there was pairing wine to the food. So in the logical progression the immediate matter was "pairing wine to the food" = "it" in your post. So what you said by using the words "yer doing it wrong" was that the *wine pairing* was being done wrong, NOT that one could simply not drink wine. This then implied that in your view any food can be paired properly with wine if one did not do it wrong. Suppose I had read instead "if it distracts or detracts, having wine is wrong for yer" - that would have clearly meant what you then subsequently explained. Now do you see what got my goat?

                                                                                                  Yes, you said elsewhere that one need not have wine if one does not like it, or a different one, or nothing at all, etc. In that regard it was especially startling to read you stating that one was doing a wine pairing wrong if (due to the wine) "that change in the taste of the food is a distraction and/or a detraction from the taste of certain dishes or cuisines as it was intended to be.".

                                                                                                3. re: huiray

                                                                                                  If the wine detracts from the food, or the food detracts from the wine, then it is not a good pairing - period. Though based on personal tastes, if things clash, they are "wrong."

                                                                                                  I am not sure where you are trying to go with this, as I cannot follow along. What exactly is it, that you wish some of us to say? I will gladly play along, but am horribly confused by most of your posts in this thread.


                                                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                    "If the wine detracts from the food, or the food detracts from the wine, then it is not a good pairing - period. Though based on personal tastes, if things clash, they are "wrong.""
                                                                                                    Quite true, and I agree completely.

                                                                                                    "I am not sure where you are trying to go with this, as I cannot follow along. What exactly is it, that you wish some of us to say? I will gladly play along, but am horribly confused by most of your posts in this thread."
                                                                                                    Please read my response to sunshine posted above.

                                                                                                    I in turn am confused by your confusion about most of my posts. I have been steadfast in the opinions I have expressed.

                                                                                                    1. re: huiray

                                                                                                      Maybe rather than oblique and obtuse references, you could just state what it is, that you want, then perhaps I can help. As it is, I am still clueless, as to where you are both coming from, and where you wish to go.



                                                                                                4. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                  You should take a look also at a previous comment of mine in this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8152... . Those pairings of which i spoke were those put together by the sommeliers or responsible wine person expressly to pair with the food.

                                                                                                  1. re: huiray

                                                                                                    Just because a sommelier, or aknowledgeable "wine person" did a pairing, does not mean that you have to enjoy it. Food and wine (or other beverages) pairings, can be very personal. If things do not work for you, then they were wrong, though I might greatly appreciate them - we are totally different individuals.

                                                                                                    Though most sommeliers' pairings HAVE resonated with me, ALL have not. That is life.

                                                                                                    Going back a few years, we dined at Restaurant August, Chef John Besh's flagship restaurant in New Orleans. We had Chef Besh's grand tasting and the sommelier's pairing. The wines did NOT pair well, and that was reflected in my review. Matter of fact, as we retained tastes of each wine, it almost seemed that he was 1 - 2 course off. Earlier, or later wines, all went much better. The restaurant, while otherwise great, was graded down, due to the mis-matches, that followed the entire 8, or 9 courses. Stuff happens.


                                                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                      Yes, what you say is definitely true and borne out by my experiences, limited as they may be especially by comparison with yours.

                                                                                                      I would merely murmur in addition that your comment now about not being required to enjoy a sommelier's wine pairings is the first clear statement of it, I think, unless I did miss a similarly clear statement elsewhere here; ditto your example of such a mismatch at John Besh's restaurant for you.

                                                                                                      1. re: huiray

                                                                                                        Ignoring any and all confusion for a moment, and returning to the initial comment of

                                                                                                        >>> ...according to your own preferences. <<<

                                                                                                        I would simply say, "Well OF COURSE it's according to MY preferences!" . . . just as whatever you eat/drink/like/dislike is to YOUR own personal preferences! As I have said many times in the past on this (and other) sites, you have YOUR taste buds in your mouth, not mine, not James Laube's, not Robert Parker's. The same goes for me -- I have my own taste buds. As such, while we may -- as a group -- come to some sort of general consensus as to, for example, Wine A is better than B and C, that doesn't mean (barring some obvious fault in the wine) that the individual who prefers Wine B is "wrong." Far from it. Wine B IS the better wine . . . ***for them***.

                                                                                                        So while you may prefer (just for the sake of this discussion) a Sauvignon Blanc with barbecued goat, and I may prefer to have soju -- neither one of us is "wrong."

                                                                                                        There is no right or wrong here -- only personal palate preferences . . . .


                                                                                                        1. re: huiray

                                                                                                          If that is the "first clear statement" that you can find of mine, then you have likely missed over 100 posts. Sorry about that.

                                                                                                          A "sommelier," or wine steward, or perhaps a server, charged with food an wine pairings is human. They are fallible, and, as humans, are open to mistakes. Should those mistakes happen? Well, if they are good, know their wines, know their kitchen, then no, they should not happen - but they do.

                                                                                                          However, if they ARE good, then the pairings should be as good, or ideally better, than I can do, just knowing the wines, and the general aspects of the meal.

                                                                                                          Over the course of my very long life, much of it devoted to food and wine pairings, I have fortunately had many more hits, than misses. Still, there have been enough misses to fill a small notebook. It happens, and I accept that it will again. It did, just two nights ago, at Kevin Taylor's in Denver. The pairings were basically their B-T-G selections, and while not bad (really general pairings with the menu, but not with the actual dishes on that menu), were nothing to get excited about. Not one wine/food pairing was a real winner. They were, at best, just OK, and nothing that the average wino could do, in their sleep. The pairings were "phoned in," and it showed badly. It happens, though one would hope that it would not.


                                                                                          3. re: zin1953

                                                                                            There is a list of possible food/wine pairings, and in descending order, pretty much:

                                                                                            1. The food AND wine are enhanced by the pairing
                                                                                            2. One is enhanced by the other
                                                                                            A. The food is enhanced by the wine, but the wine is unchanged
                                                                                            B. The wine is enhanced by the food, but the food is unchanged
                                                                                            3. Neither the food, nor the wine are enhanced by the other, though both are still fine
                                                                                            4, Things do not pair well
                                                                                            A. The food is enhanced, but the wine is diminished
                                                                                            B. The wine is enhanced, but the food is diminished
                                                                                            5. Both the food and wine are diminished by the pairing

                                                                                            When doing food an wine pairings, outside of an academic situation, one should shoot for # 1 (the holy grail), and only accept 1, 2 or 3. Beyond that, the pairing is not a success.

                                                                                            For some dishes, when hosting dinner parties, I have spent a week, ruling out even # 2 and 3, because I know that I can find that # 1 pairing. My guests have found my efforts worthwhile.

                                                                                            Is all that necessary for all? No way. For some, however, it is more than a hobby.


                                                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                              REALLY interesting article on the subjectivity of wine here:
                                                                                              Main points of interest to me?
                                                                                              1. In a blind taste test given to wine critics, there was very little overlap when ranking the wines from top to bottom in terms of taste. To me, to be expected as taste is very very personal.
                                                                                              2. Given the same glass of white wine, but with one tinted with red food coloring, 57 wine experts were unable to tell that it was the same wine. They described the "jamminess" and "crushed red fruit" taste of the "red' wine which was actually white wine. To me, I was shocked -- you can't tell between a white and a red? As an expert? A trained expert? Seriously? And using the industry language to describe differences that couldn't exist kind of underscores the common criticisms of the wine expert field, IMHO.
                                                                                              3. The same middling Bordeaux served in 2 different wine bottles, one bottle a fancy grand-cru and the other in a table wine bottle, resulted in the experts describing the wine in terms relevant to the bottle. Two different descriptions of the exact same wine. Says to me that the experts expected a certain taste/flavor based on presentation, and weren't using their tastebuds. AND that perhaps there was a certain "industry expectation'...how could a trained expert NOT taste the following things in a grand-cru? So perhaps they said what they said based on what was expected of them to say. Again, this underscores the major criticisms of the wine expert industry, if you will.
                                                                                              The article's conclusion: wine tasting and enjoyment isn't just about flavor, its about the expectation and experience and judgement of the taster.
                                                                                              Makes me wonder about what the experts REALLY know...

                                                                                              1. re: freia

                                                                                                It means that critic, expert and professional are all words too commonly thrown around in the industry.

                                                                                                1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                  The 2001 experiments were done with graduate wine studies students.

                                                                                                  1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                    Very interesting...and if you read the text, you'll read his opinion on wine experts, which is interesting coming from his background and expertise.

                                                                                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                        I stand corrected, in Brochet's study he used undergraduates. See, e.g. http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archi.... To be fair, however, they were intentionally misled.

                                                                                                        freia - I do tend to agree with Freed's basic premise that professing objective expertise in a predominently subjective matter is inherently suspect.

                                                                                                        1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                          And this is what makes wine so much FUN IMHO! I do ask for expert advice, and am willing to try pairings and experiment. But at the end of the day, I like what I like regardless of label and regardless of price. :)

                                                                                                          1. re: freia

                                                                                                            "But at the end of the day, I like what I like regardless of label and regardless of price. :)"

                                                                                                            To me, those are magic words, and are too often forgotten by sales people, sommeliers and even close friends.

                                                                                                            We have good friends, who are both heavily into foods, and into wines. However, we love bigger FR Chards, and they can find little to like in them. With red wines, our mutual tastes merge much more closely. Does that my our love of FR Chards wrong, or their dislike of FR Chards wrong? Nah. It means that while we share a lot, a love for FR Chards is not one of them. Nothing more, and nothing less.

                                                                                                            I run slightly afoul of some highly respected folk in the CH Wine Board, as I love bigger Zins, and some heavy PN's. They do not appreciate them, but it is just our differences. Now, I do like more subtle, spicy, nuanced Zins, and PN's, so there, my spectrum covers most bases.

                                                                                                            My lovely, young wife loves bigger US Chards, and I find some of them "over the top." Still, I can use those as sippers. She does not like my NZ SB's, but again, I am using those as sippers. For food, I reach for some fruit-forward domestic (US) SB's, a white Bdx., or something from the Loire most often. She finds those better.

                                                                                                            As you say, "at the end of the day... ," and one SHOULD go with what they like and enjoy. That is what wine should be about. While food can occupy that step on the ladder, at its base, we need that to survive. With wine, only a few of us need that to survive... [Grin]

                                                                                                            Enjoy, and please have a glass for me!


                                                                                                      2. re: MGZ

                                                                                                        Emphasis on the word "graduate": must have studied wine, wine tasting etc., passed the standard to be given certification as having special knowledge in wines. and as invino says, overwhelmingly failed the basics of all basics -- is this a RED or a WHITE wine..

                                                                                                        1. re: freia

                                                                                                          I am not sure sure that it is the most basic. Here is a Calvin Trillin about the 'red vs white question.' It featured a prominent california university wine studies program. They emphasized identification by grape, not color.


                                                                                                    1. re: freia

                                                                                                      Expectation impacts all experience, for everyone. We see it happen with restaurant reviews around here all the time.

                                                                                                      1. re: freia

                                                                                                        I'm sorry, but i don't know why this is surprising . . . all this has been well know for some 50 years now -- at least!

                                                                                                        Back in the 1960s, there was the "Black Glass Society" that demonstrated conclusively that being unable to see the color of a wine meant you were far less likely to correctly identify whether the wine was red or white, let alone correctly identify the grape variety.

                                                                                                        Experiments with decanting have long demonstrated that the sight of a fancy vs. plain bottle -- or worse, seeing the labels themselves -- *always* influenced the taster's opinion, regardless of protestations to the contrary.

                                                                                                        Music, time of day, what you had for lunch -- EVERYTHING affects the way one tastes wine, and the opinion/conclusion one arrives at. (For example, taste six wines at 10:00 a.m., and rank them1 through 6; have lunch, and taste the same six wines afterwards. Rank them again, and you'll rank them in a different order.)

                                                                                                        This is why you DON'T taste -- critically -- when you can see the labels, the bottle shapes, or any other identifying visual clue.

                                                                                                        There is a HUGE difference between tasting critically/professionally, tasting "for fun," and simply drinking.

                                                                                                        Serious tasting ("critically" and/or "professionally") is always 1) a pessimistic endeavor, and 2) work! It's hard. It isn't fun. It's physically exhausting, and mentally draining. And you often end up tasting 100+ wines before lunch. The object of the exercise is to look for flaws. Hopefully, you don't find any, but (critically) you write down VERY specific descriptors on each and every single aspect of each and every wine . . .

                                                                                                        Tasting for fun -- think going wine tasting in Napa Valley -- boils down to "yum" or "yuck." One need be no more critical than that! Oh, I suppose there is a second phase: if the wine is a "yum," is the "yum" worth the price tag?

                                                                                                        >>> It means that critic, expert and professional are all words too commonly thrown around in the industry. <<<

                                                                                                        One doesn't need training to write wine articles for a newspaper. (Often it's a sports reporter, a junior staff writer in the "Entertainment" section, or the newspaper simply picks up a syndicated columnist.) Anyone can proclaim themselves a "critic" or an "expert," no credentials required. In terms of "professional," hopefully one is at least employed in the field . . . but YES, the terms are all too frequently abused and, in the days when anyone can create their own blog, are all-but-meaningless.

                                                                                                        Jason -- who spent over three decades actually working in the trade (retail stores and restaurants, wholesale and importing, and for wineries, both in production and sales); and 25+ years writing for various publications (newspapers, magazines, plus radio and TV), serving as a judge at various competitions around the US, as well as teaching about wine for various colleges . . . and I can, will, and *DO* make mistakes in blind tastings, or with black glasses . . . .

                                                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                          And you do it well. Let the darkness shine in. Many here have learned a lot from you, thanks.

                                                                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                            Jason, several of us got the opportunity to be amateur tasters for a major wine competition near us -- we had a great time, and it hugely increased my admiration for those of you who do this every single day. (a little jealous, too...)

                                                                                                            Question for you - is it normal to leave a tasting ravenously hungry? We all ate well (but blandly...) for breakfast, knowing that this was going to be pretty taxing to our palates.

                                                                                                            We ended up tasting nearly 50 wines in a few hours...yes, we spit (okay, mostly - there were one or two that were so lovely that we swallowed) -- but when we left, we were ready to start in on the corks and the tables.

                                                                                                            It wasn't a one-off -- it happened again when we went to the wine fair to see if we could find some of our winners...again -- ate well, spit, but left ready to eat anything that wasn't fast enough to escape.

                                                                                                            Our only thought was that your mind processes that yes, it's wine, and that there should be food coming, right?...but it's not, so it triggered hunger spasms

                                                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                              I think it has more to do with "work," than it does any psychological anticipation of a waiter bringing food. At events like the California State Fair or the San Francisco International Wine Competition, "palate cleansers" like celery, crackers/(sweet) french bread, *rare* roast beef, and (my favorite) Graber olives are served -- but this isn't food. (I mean, no one is eating this stuff as a meal, but to cleanse your palate and eliminate tannin "build-up.") Then we break for lunch and continue afterwards -- tasting anywhere from 100-150 (sometimes as much as 200) wines per day.

                                                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                Uh-oh! You fell into the same trap, that has nabbed me too often - just a little sip of the really good ones.

                                                                                                                I am glad that I do not do many "trade tastings," as I am now only buying for my cellar. I do get to enjoy a bit more. Even with but a "gold medal" on the line, one cannot get hung up on the "good ones," until the sheets have been handed in, and the committee is doing the math. At least then, I get to revisit certain wines, for my own, hedonistic pleasures.

                                                                                                                As you, and others have alluded, wine tasting is work, and not easy work, at that.


                                                                                                              2. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                When I was required to do critical tastings (fortunately not THAT often), I always had a problem - when I found the good ones, I wanted to drink the good ones, but had to be ready to taste another 50, or so wines. While one might consider it glamorous, it was anything but, and you described the process well.


                                                                                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                  Hunt, did you ever find your tastebuds or ability to discern between the finer points of each wine diminish with time? I've wondered that, since I find I get "burned out" if I taste more than, say, 15 wines (every year we do a wine tour, after 5 vintners and a flight at each one, and we taste/spit don't drink) , I'm exhausted and I can't really discern much anymore. How do you pros do it? :)

                                                                                                                  1. re: freia

                                                                                                                    I'm not a pro, but when we're at a wine fair, we buy or bring sandwiches and some mineral water --- when the palate starts to fail, we just go have a break and have a sandwich (we're hungry anyway).

                                                                                                                    The tasting offered bread and mineral water which, if nibbled every few wines, did help to prolong the senses through the entire session.

                                                                                                                    1. re: freia

                                                                                                                      Yes. At one trade-tasting, I reached too far, and had a "blowout." I tried every trick, that I could think of, and NOTHING was tasting food, with about 125 wines to go. As I normally start with bubbles, then lighter whites, and work up, I missed some prime, bigger reds, that were being served. Such is life.

                                                                                                                      When it comes to tasting room trips, I fight to keep it to two in the AM, and two in the PM, and no more. Some of the others in my group, strive to do 6 -8 in a day, but I feel that things just go "off," and will only do those for fun with the group - not for real "tasting."


                                                                                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                        Thanks, Hunt. Next year, we'll keep it to two vintners in the am and two in the pm...and that sounds like a professional nightmare come true...GAAK I CAN'T TASTE A THING!!!!!!! With 125 wines to go! Yikes! Thanks for the tips...and at my level of amateur enjoyment (vs a professional level), I'm generally there for fun!

                                                                                                                        1. re: freia

                                                                                                                          and a schedule of two in the morning, two in the afternoon, with a lovely lunch or picnic in between, also makes for a lovely unrushed day.

                                                                                                                      2. re: freia

                                                                                                                        Freia, I've tried to post this response twice -- once from my smartphone on Friday, and once, yesterday, from my notebook -- both times, it seems to have vanished into the ether(net). As a result, I am now apologizing for this short reply! ;^) I'm just tired of typing the same thing over and over . . .

                                                                                                                        So, posting as a (former) professional taster, let me first acknowledge that palate fatigue is indeed a very real thing. So, too, is fatigue of your olfactory sense. Fortunately your sense of smell comes back more quickly that your palate.

                                                                                                                        Certain foods help -- if you are tasting young, tannic reds, rare roast beef is a huge help; so too are Graber olives (http://www.graberolives.com/). I cannot tell you why these work so well, but they are -far and away -- the best olives I've found to eat while tasting. I find that other foods work with whites better, like celery for example. Also, sweet (not sourdough) french bread and water crackers help.

                                                                                                                        Keep in mind, too, that when I say we taste as many as 200 wines a day, keep in mind that that is *only* for judging in terms of competition, and that bears an explanation. (Maybe this is a long post, after all.) Depending upon the specific competition and its methodology, as a judge, you may be presented with anywhere from three to 100+ wines at a time.

                                                                                                                        Let's make it simple: let's say you have 12 glasses in front of you, and this is an "Eliminate/Retain" round -- meaning you are working your way through multiple flights of the same wine category (let's say Cabernet Sauvignon, to be consistent -- and let's say you have 120 wines in this category, so you're looking at 10 flights of 12 wines each . . . before lunch).

                                                                                                                        The purpose of an E/R round -- as opposed to a Medal round -- is to, in effect, separate the wheat from the chaff. In a medal round, you will cast your "vote" (again, depending upon the event's methodology) for "Gold," "Silver," "Bronze," or "No Award." But in an "E/R" round, it's a straight up-or-down vote, and you know that a wine that smells less than great isn't worthy of an award -- why fatigue your palate by tasting a wine you know will never get a medal? So even though you are "tasting" 200 wines a day, you won't actually taste them all.

                                                                                                                        This is different than, say, tasting for publication. Here, too, however, you know that wines which are, shall we say, "less than enticing" in the bouquet aren't going to score well, and since your magazine/newspaper/blog/whatever only publishes reviews of 85 points or higher, how much time do you spend tasting and evaluating and re-tasting that wine that's really a 76?

                                                                                                                        When tasting for publication, I limit my tasting to a MAXIMUM of 50 or so wines a day, broken up into 2-3 sessions. Some of the notes are in my own little shorthand, that I will expand when I sit down to write them up. Others may use a micro-recorder or something similar.

                                                                                                                        When tasting for purchase -- I used to be one of the corporate wine buyers for a chain called Liquor Barn with 104 stores -- I didn't have to take notes (some did), but it was more than "Yum" or "Yuck" -- it was a series of TLA's (Three-Letter Acronyms) and often that could be "zeroed in" with a single smell or smell-and-taste. Other wines took more effort. My TLA's -- I've posted this elsewhere on Chowhound -- were as follows:

                                                                                                                        IFC = "in-f*****g-credible" -- a definite buy!
                                                                                                                        GSM = "Good, $#!+, Maynard" -- my homage to Dobie Gillis, and a definite buy.
                                                                                                                        PGS = "pretty good $#!+" -- any buy recommendation depends upon QPR.
                                                                                                                        DNS = "does not suck" -- but doesn't mean I want to buy it, either.
                                                                                                                        and DNPIM = "do NOT put in mouth!" -- as in "Danger, Danger, Warning Will Robinson!"

                                                                                                                        There is also STW ("shoot the winemaker") for a wine that should have been great, but is suffering from an inexcusable technical flaw due to winemaking error).


                                                                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                          what do you do about the ones, then, when aroma and flavor (bizarrely, I agree) don't jibe?

                                                                                                                          At the last tasting we attended, there were a couple that either smelled amazing, but were curiously empty of flavor - and a couple more that smelled "eh - meh" but exploded in your mouth... All of us at the table commented on it, as we were disappointed by the flavor that didn't follow through on the aroma, and surprised by a flavor with a bland aroma.

                                                                                                                          (just for information's sake - all of the wines had been decanted into identical bottles, then covered with an opaque sleeve so that any identifying marks were obscured.)

                                                                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                            It all depends upon why you are tasting . . .

                                                                                                                            I know, that sounds strange, but let me explain.

                                                                                                                            Your examples are actually simple, but let me expand on it to show you what I mean. Using your examples, at a wine competition, if I am on a panel of judges that is evaluating (let's stick with) Cabernet Sauvignon, and Wine A "smelled amazing, but (was) curiously empty of flavor," that's a "No Award." So, too, would be a wine that was "meh" in the nose but tasted superb! Either way, it's an incomplete wine.

                                                                                                                            Now, let's stick with Cabernet Sauvignon but make it more complicated. The wine possesses a bouquet filled with ripe Cabernet fruit, moderate levels of oak (that is, *no one* can complain the oak overpowers the wine), and spice. But in the mouth, the wine -- it's a 2009; a new release -- is soft, low in acidity, and light in terms of the intensity of flavor. It tastes like Cabernet, but it's just very lightweight, soft, and may even have a touch of residual sugar (think jug wine -- very quaffable, not very complex, easy to drink). In focusing on the aroma, the wine came off as potentially a Gold Medal winner, but -- clearly -- it's disappointing in the mouth, and there is no follow-through from the bouquet to the mouth. At best, this may be a Bronze medal, but I'm thinking No Award.

                                                                                                                            Now, turn it around: clear Cabernet flavors in the mouth, good intensity, lush, good acidity, fine tannins; but the nose is floral, soft, and -- if I didn't *know* I was tasting Cabernet -- I would swear it was a Pinot Noir! Again, I'm thinking No Award, even if the wine is perfectly nice to drink, because it's not a Cabernet!

                                                                                                                            OK, time to shift gears: if I am writing up tasting notes on these wines for publication, my descriptions can EXPLAIN this Pinot-like bouquet with a Cabernet flavor. I can explain in the description that the wine is actually enjoyable, albeit it *not* a "classic Cabernet."

                                                                                                                            Let's shift gears one more time: the above wine would be a horrible wine for me to use as an example of, say, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in a wine class that I teach because -- no matter how enjoyable it may be -- it certainly isn't *typical* of what Napa Valley Cabernet is or should be.


                                                                                                                            1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                              By explaining the factory tasting process that you and others endure, you have basically convinced me to devalue any "awards" that a wine may have been given.

                                                                                                                              1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                                                In all honesty, IMO it's six of one and half-a-dozen of the other . . .

                                                                                                                                Keep in mind that every Fair/Competition has its own methodology, its own way of tasting and processing the results. For example, one event might categorize the wines by price point, while another does it by appellation; one might separate all of the entries of a specific variety by vintage, another may lump all them all together. Also, some may have *only* winemakers as judges, some may *exclude* any and all professional winemakers, while some may opt for a more "mixed" panel, with one winemaker, one retailer, one restaurateur, and one "other" wine professional. Some may use three judges per panel, some four, and some five. Some may limit the number of wines any one judge tastes in any one day to 75; some may have a judge taste as many as 200 wines the first day (when it's the far easier "Eliminate/Retain" rounds), and then fewer and fewer on each successive day when medals are rewarded. Some may taste only in the mornings, over the course of five days; others are a 3-day event, 8:30 until 4:00-5:00; others are over in a single day. Some may make all of the prospective judges pass a test/series of tests before qualifying them as a judge; others may not. And on and on and on . . .

                                                                                                                                With a panel of tasters, you (tend to) eliminate palate biases. With a single reviewer in a publication, the consumer has to figure out what that individual taster's biases are. With a single reviewer, you may have some esoteric wines receiving high scores which the consumer may love *or* hate. With a panel of tasters, you (tend to) -- at times -- play to the lowest common denominator (i.e.: a wine that is varietally correct and "solid" may end up with a higher score than one that is esoteric but delicious; some judge may love it, while another hates it).


                                                                                                                                Speaking strictly for MYSELF, the value in awards, competitions, and fairs is NOT in any one single medal. That is, one Gold Medal is meaningless. But if a wine gets, say, six Silver Medals in six different competitions, that is far more meaningful to me -- a broad consensus of (hopefully) professionals think that this wine is special. To my knowledge, only one competition publishes all the wines that were entered (most only publish the names of those which received some sort of medal/recognition). Ergo, you don't know if "Wine A" -- the one which received a single Gold Medal -- entered only one competition, or entered 10. But at least you know that six different panels of judges found something worthwhile in "Wine B."


                                                                                                                                Speaking strictly for MYSELF, the value in a single reviewer exists ONLY if that reviewer is CONSISTENT in their tastings, in their own likes and dislikes, AND then, only if the consumer can understand and interpret that individual's likes and dislikes to his or her own palate.

                                                                                                                                Some tasters/reviewers/critics I find completely useless, as their preferences are (seem to be) all over the board. Parker IS (well, can be) useful to me *despite* our palates being so different precisely because he is consistent, and over the years I've come to understand when he speaks of "hedonistic fruit," I run the other way regardless of his 98-point rating, but when he speaks of high acidity and minerality and "82 points," I know I'll probably really love it! His former associate, Pierre-Antoine Rovani was far less consistent, and thus, far less useful for me as a consumer.


                                                                                                                                For me, the BOTTOM LINE boils down to this:

                                                                                                                                1) Every piece of information is useful, but that *no* single piece of information is indispensable.

                                                                                                                                2) The individual consumer needs to develop trust in his or her *own* palate, rather than kneeling at the alter of the self-appointed Wine Gurus and praying, "For God's sake, tell us what to drink."

                                                                                                                                3) The "serious" consumer needs to develop a relationship with 2-3 equally "serious" retailers -- ask questions, get recommendations, and provide feedback *regardless* of whether or not the early recommendations are successful. Good retailers taste dozens and dozens of wines every week, and probably 10 for every one that shows up in their store -- the more they get to know the consumer's tastes, the more better their recommendations and the more helpful they can be.


                                                                                                                                P.S. This last point presumes, of course, there are some "serious" retailers where one lives, as opposed to only state (or provincial) -owned stores.

                                                                                                                                1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                                                  As with any "judging," it is all about the panel assembled.

                                                                                                                                  Now, for the "Gold Medals," that I awarded, then second guess.

                                                                                                                                  With Jason's "Gold Medals," I'd hold those in reverence.

                                                                                                                                  It is about the competition, and the judges.


                                                                                                                            2. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                              Wow. Thanks for the answer! Very, very informative, and clearly much more is involved that I ever thought there would be. I truly enjoy our annual visit to Niagara region, and enjoy picking up wines that I have personally tasted. I know that to the wine lover, the concept of anything else is bizarre, but in all seriousness, it IS really common to just go to the liquor store and find a bottle in the 10-12 dollar range and bring it over for dinner. Great, great info. Thanks, Jason.
                                                                                                                              Oh, and LMAO at DNPIM LOLOLOL Still laughing over that one!

                                                                                                                2. Drinking wine is a wonderful partner to food -- yes, it can make the food taste better, as the play between the chemicals can actually end up with serendipity -- a pairing that tastes better together than the items alone (an excellent example of this is sweet dessert wine - Sauternes, Monbazaillac, or similar -- paired with Roquefort cheese and honey. Each of the three is quite nice on its own, but there is some alchemy when the three are mixed that nearly attains Nirvana). A single sip is enough to confirm the magic of the pairing -- not even remotely enough to cause any physical effect of any kind.

                                                                                                                  I prefer to have wine with my meals, even on nights when I have only one glass with dinner -- which would not register as intoxicated any place I want to travel...but it's not required, and you shouldn't feel obligated to drink wine ever...

                                                                                                                  15 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                    Just curious- do you and others alternate sips and bites, or do you sometimes sip after a chew or 2 and comingle food with wine in your mouth?

                                                                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                        So, comingle sometimes? I frequently do with beef, and with cheese and bread.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Veggo

                                                                                                                          Cheese probably most often -- the Sauternes-Roquefort-honey magic pretty much NEEDS to be comingled.

                                                                                                                          That's a fun little lesson given to me that I have given to others.

                                                                                                                          Sip the Sauternes first.
                                                                                                                          Now nibble the Roquefort.
                                                                                                                          Now nibble the Roquefort and sip the Sauternes.
                                                                                                                          Now a drizzle of honey on the Roquefort.
                                                                                                                          Now the honey on the Roquefort AND sip the Sauternes.

                                                                                                                          It makes a huge impression on people as to the interactions between wine and food -- every step becoming more and more delicious (doubly impressive when the Roquefort by itself gets a grimace)

                                                                                                                          I like wine.
                                                                                                                          I choose to continue to drink wine -- in moderation and with meals.

                                                                                                                          But I have no issue whatsoever with those who choose otherwise.

                                                                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                            A great cheese paired with a great white wine is one of life's pleasures.

                                                                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                              Good Roquefort never gets a "grimace" from me, however, with the right wines (and also the honey), the smile gets even bigger.


                                                                                                                            2. re: Veggo

                                                                                                                              I probably do more "comingling" with the cheese course, but have never really monitored it well.


                                                                                                                          2. re: Veggo

                                                                                                                            I never even thought about that! I just use wine like any other beverage at dinner. I don't take a mouthful of water then eat something to mix the two. Usually the way I pair wines with food is that if a recipe calls for a bit of wine, I'll use one to cook with and serve the same on the side. To me, the comingling idea is kind of, well, gross. You might as well pour the glass of wine over the meal like a gravy or topping. I think the food should stand on its own. The flavors of the wine still stay in your mouth long enough to affect the taste of the food, but the food to me is the star. Personally, even though we have a great wine cellar, it is FULL of wines I've tasted and liked on their own. And if I have wine or not at a meal really doesn't impact my life. If someone was to say that all my wine in my cellar had to be thrown out for whatever reason, I personally wouldn't shed a tear. So maybe I see wine in the same way as I do other beverages. I like it, don't have to have it, and don't really miss it if it isn't there because to me, the food stands on its own. :)

                                                                                                                            1. re: freia

                                                                                                                              "...the food stands on its own."

                                                                                                                              1. re: freia

                                                                                                                                Nope, not at all like gravy. There's really no way to tell you other than to suggest you try it.

                                                                                                                                And of course you buy wine that you like on its own -- if you don't like it on its own, you're sure not going to like it with food. But as I alluded above, a great food and wine pairing creates a synergy -- the combined flavor of the food and wine together is a different (and generally better) flavor than the flavor of either of them on their own.

                                                                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                  Oh I agree about the synergy, for sure...
                                                                                                                                  And I guess the reason I say "buy what you like", quite often the usual route for people and wine is to go the the liquor/wine shop and pick up a variety of wine that fits in a price range and is what is "appropriate". You know," we have to visit the Jones, lets get a bottle of white, oh everyone likes Chardonnay, so lets get this bottle its 12 dollars and its Californian I hear that s pretty good." kind of thing. This wine then often gets paired with the dinner being served. We've all been at those dinners!
                                                                                                                                  And as to building a cellar, not everyone lives in a wine region. As a result, alot of wine purchases are based on what the experts say, columnists in the newspaper for example who suggest that the 2010 Shiraz from blah blah blah is worth a buy, kind of thing. I'm always surprised at the number of people who have a dozen or more bottles of wine that they've actually never tried before, but they bought them on recommendation and then try to pair with a meal for a dinner party, usually based on the wine label description. I know that doesn't necessarily qualify as a "cellar" but the idea is the same -- storage of wines purchased in anticipation of future consumption.
                                                                                                                                  Anyways, this is why people do rely on suggested pairings at restaurants -- they haven't actually tried the wine for sale, they rely on the advice of the expert.
                                                                                                                                  So my point is, buy what you like, not what the experts tell you to like, and that's a tall order to fill at a restaurant, where you probably haven't tried the vast vast majority of wine on the list.
                                                                                                                                  Which is why I say the food needs to stand on its own. As does the wine, :)

                                                                                                                                  1. re: freia

                                                                                                                                    but at a decent restaurant, you can tell the sommelier that you like xxx, yy, and zzzz, and they will find something within that flavor neighborhood that you are likely to enjoy and that will create synergies with the food you've ordered.

                                                                                                                                    Experts can at least be helpful -- IF that expert recommends wines that fit your style -- or if they consistently recommend wines that are of a style you DON'T like...a SWAG then becomes an educated guess...which gives you a better chance of enjoying a wine you haven't yet tasted.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: freia

                                                                                                                                      Personally, I do not live in a "wine region," but even in Phoenix, AZ, do live near some wine regions. Still, most of my purchases come from personal tastings, whether trade tastings, or from food/wine pairings by sommeliers.

                                                                                                                                      My young wife is often more influenced by labels and shelf-talkers, than I am, but often brings home some good wines. Still, when she's hosting a dinner, without me, she does a good job. She's nothing, if not a great student.

                                                                                                                                      When dining out, I will often rely on the sommelier, though I know my way around most wine lists, quite well. They know the chef, and the dish that night, while I am working with generalities. I also like to branch out, and seldom stick with the same producer (read "the same wine"), when I dine a second, or third time. I want to be exposed to other producers. I want to experience other regions, and though it's getting harder, other varietals.

                                                                                                                                      Recently, the sommelier at a favorite San Francisco restaurant asked why I had chosen a Vincent Giardine Montrachet, when it was a level below my normal. I explained that I had had all of the Colim Montrachets on their list, but had never had that particular V. Giardine Montrachet (though I have had others), and wanted to experience it. She allowed me to do so, with no warnings, and it turned out to be very good. Maybe it was not as good with their Sea Bass, as the Bruno Colim from a few weeks before, but still good, and I learned.

                                                                                                                                      I usually turn the sommelier loose, with but a few restrictions, like price-point, and will usually point out the wines, with which I am familiar, and then ask for something different, that will pair well too. They seem to love that, and I get to experience wines, that are often very new to me.

                                                                                                                                      At home, I can usually pull most common varietals (plus some uncommon varietals), and from many regions and producers. When dining out, I want to learn, but still be "wow'ed." The only time that I fall back onto my favorites, is when I am choosing the wines for a dinner out, with guests. Even then, I am open to sommeliers' suggestions, but I still heavily weight things, as it will now reflect heavily on me. I am much less adventuresome, when my reputation is "on the line."

                                                                                                                                      Just some observations,


                                                                                                                                    2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                      The only thing that I might add is that some wines are just not "sippers" for many, but experience a metamorphosis, when paired with the right food. In very, very broad terms, many Italian wines fall into this category. They evolved around certain foods, and really come into their own, with those foods. For me, a Chianti Classico is not a "go-to" wine, without food, but with a tomato-based sauce and pasta, I love the wine.

                                                                                                                                      Many distributors of heavy Italian portfolios, will often include food, or set up near the right food, when doing a tasting. When there is no food, one can hear many talking about how well their wine ____ goes with ____ food.

                                                                                                                                      Not THAT long ago, I had a Lopéz Heredia, that was rather unimpressive, by itself. Paired with a wonderful risotto with black truffles, it absolutely blossomed. It was a totally different wine, and also enhanced the truffle risotto greatly. It was a match "made in Heaven," and I enjoyed both greatly. On my above scale of food/wine pairings, this one was a definite # 1.

                                                                                                                                      Now, and on the other end of the see-saw, I love big, buttery Cal-Chards, as sippers, but find many (most?) harder to pair with food. Were I a sommelier, and the guest mentioned that they loved Shafer's Red Shoulders Ranch Cal-Chard, but they were ordering a rather plain white fish dish, I would probably suggest a Chablis (or maybe the right Meursault), or leaving the varietal completely, maybe a Sauvignon Blanc, but probably not a NZ SB, which I love by themselves, early in the evening.

                                                                                                                                      Still, a good sommelier, or wine steward, should be able to factor in a patron's likes, and come up with a fine pairing, based on the dish, from the kitchen, and even on that night. That is what they should be good at.


                                                                                                                                  2. re: Veggo

                                                                                                                                    I will usually chew a bit, swallow, and then sip my wine, however I have probably mixed the two, but seldom. OTOH, I might reverse the order, and sip first, swallow, and choose a bit of food. This is less common for me.

                                                                                                                                    I might also have several bites, and then a sip.

                                                                                                                                    I guess that sometimes, it depends on the conversation around the table, or how I am feeling, or how well, or poorly, the wine is going with the food.

                                                                                                                                    I know that the above translates into "it depends," but that is the way that it is.

                                                                                                                                    However, I am very strict, in that I ONLY do cigars with certain desserts and wines, or only after all food, and then wines. Then, it is outdoors, and away from any crowds, unless they are also doing cigars.

                                                                                                                                    Just me,


                                                                                                                                2. For me, wine is an important part of the meal. I like to sit down, relax with some wine and make dinner with my husband--and that is 90% of the time. Could I have a meal without wine? Yes, but I prefer it with.

                                                                                                                                  1. When done well, wine (or beer) and food pairings can be remarkable. The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

                                                                                                                                    That said, it's not always easy to predict when a given dinner is going to give you that kind of sublime experience. Typically, in my experience anyway, it doesn't.

                                                                                                                                    12 Replies
                                                                                                                                    1. re: Josh


                                                                                                                                      Those have been my experiences, exactly. Though I am versed with food and wine pairings, I will usually work at them, especially when hosting a wine-oriented dinner. My wife will begin working on her recipe, and over a week, or so, we will do tastings. I will begin with wines, that I have in my mind, and we will spend a few nights tasting both the food, and the wines. Though there have been dinners, where I have "nailed it," there have been plenty, where it was not until Friday night, that I been able to put things together. During the week, the recipe might have changed a bit, and the wine selections have changed greatly. Still, the week of "work,"has been great, with really good food, and a lot of wines, though not all combos have been something made in Heaven. I would not have it any other way.


                                                                                                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                        Bill Hunt,

                                                                                                                                        I am curious: have any of your guests ever said anything (or dared say anything) about not liking your pairings? (After all, each of them are individuals who may have different palates and/or tastes from yours)

                                                                                                                                        1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                          I can't speak for Bill but any guests who would say that sort of thing are clods. If you're a guest in my house and don't like the meal I prepared, the cocktails I've made, the pairings I've chosen, that's fine... just keep it to yourself. There's no polite way to say "I don't like this" without insulting your host. They can put on a happy face, take a small bite or sip of the offending item I've prepared, and leave the rest if they don't like it.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Chris VR

                                                                                                                                            Frankly, I feel quite the opposite. When I prepare meals for which I am attempting pairings, I encourage my guests to offer their opinions. I want to have them express whether they think something works or doesn't work - as well as any insight into why.

                                                                                                                                            I feel the same way about the food itself. I am a very harsh critic of my cooking and have no fear of honesty from those eating it. Better than having them blow smoke up my ass.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: MGZ

                                                                                                                                              That is more in keeping with my common experiences, but then I am always open to learning, and gathering others' feelings. My ego is tough to bruise.


                                                                                                                                            2. re: Chris VR

                                                                                                                                              True - and part of the reason I asked Bill Hunt, who would be known as a great wine aficionado to his guests. So if one's guests did not say anything* how would one know for sure if others did or did not like the wine you paired with the food and, importantly, also the reasons for their dislikes?

                                                                                                                                              * other than taking note that they only took a sip of something, whether or not they exclaimed that they found the wine "nice" or whatever (even if they did not find it nice)

                                                                                                                                              1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                                In my case, I encourage my guests to discuss the food, the wine and the pairing. I want their input. Much good can come of such.


                                                                                                                                              2. re: Chris VR


                                                                                                                                                I understand where you are coming from, but then I actually encourage such discourse, especially with my wine pairings. We do the same with my wife's recipes.

                                                                                                                                                We often dine with a great couple. She writes cookbooks, and I often pair wines with her dishes. During those meals, we tear apart both the recipes, the executions, and then my wine pairings - all of us. I have found that criticism is very, very useful.

                                                                                                                                                Still, I support your comments, as all dinners are probably not so open for discussion.


                                                                                                                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                  You know, it really does depend on the situation and the friends. For the most part, I'm not looking for critique when I've made a dinner and just want to relax and socialize with friends, but if the idea is to figure out which wine pairs better, or which new side dish recipe is a keeper, then I'm very open to discussion, as long as it's phrased in a way that makes everyone feel the intent is to lead to a better meal for all of us, and not to just pick apart my choices.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Chris VR

                                                                                                                                                    Chris, if I may . . . .

                                                                                                                                                    >>> any guests who would say that sort of thing are clods. If you're a guest in my house and don't like the meal I prepared, the cocktails I've made, the pairings I've chosen, that's fine... just keep it to yourself. There's no polite way to say "I don't like this" without insulting your host. They can put on a happy face, take a small bite or sip of the offending item I've prepared, and leave the rest if they don't like it. <<<


                                                                                                                                                    >>> I'm not looking for critique when I've made a dinner and just want to relax and socialize with friends, but if the idea is to figure out which wine pairs better, or which new side dish recipe is a keeper, then I'm very open to discussion, as long as it's phrased in a way that makes everyone feel the intent is to lead to a better meal for all of us, and not to just pick apart my choices. <<<

                                                                                                                                                    In my opinion, BOTH these statements miss out on something quite important, as well as presume something that isn't there -- or rather, has never been there at *my* dinner parties.

                                                                                                                                                    You are assuming that you will be JUDGED somehow and/or "attacked" by your guests for some (blatantly obvious?) faux pas ("you served THIS?!?!?"). Nothing of the sort has EVER happened at ANY dinner party I have attended. Indeed, nothing even remotely close to it!

                                                                                                                                                    But also, keep in mind that context is everything, and I'm not (necessarily) speaking of which wine is paired with what food. Rather, it's the company around the table. Now I spent 35+ years in the wine trade, and my wife -- though a defense attorney -- has "foodie" credentials dating back 30 years. As such, we know (and invite over for dinner) any number of professionals from the wine and restaurant trade, be they executive chefs, chefs de cuisine, or sous chefs; winemakers, assistant winemakers, or "cellar rats." And that doesn't include sales reps, retailers, sommeliers, bartenders and waitstaff -- as well as just "regular" consumers.

                                                                                                                                                    At some dinner parties, I (or my friends) will supply all of the wines, with each wine (or sometimes two different wines) paired with each course. At others, I (or the host) will inform the invited guests of the menus and "assign" each couple to bring a wine for ________ course. The result is that we may have two (or even three) wines -- sometimes radically different wines -- paired with each course. Example: with the ____________, I may select an four-year old bottle of Alsatian Pinot Gris, but someone else may bring a two-year old California Chardonnay, and another guest might bring a South African Pinotage . . . who knows?

                                                                                                                                                    The discussion is just as it would be around any dinner table, save for the (relatively short) time when we might speak of the wines. ("X didn't work for me with this dish, but I thought that Y was just singing, highlighting the dish in . . . . ") This discussion is often quite brief, especially if some of the guests are not as "into" wine; or, it may be an in-depth conversation if everyone there is a winemaker, for instance. There are no hard-and-fast rules.

                                                                                                                                                    But common courtesy and manners still exist, and I cannot imagine someone saying, "Chris, I can't believe you served this bottle of $#!+ with THAT . . . ."


                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chris VR


                                                                                                                                                      I have hosted many events, where I feel the same. Now, when the wines show up, I do encourage guests to discuss them, and the pairings, but with my wife's dishes (or those of a guest chef), I am less interested, but still do listen, and take mental notes, as does my wife.


                                                                                                                                                2. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                                  Over the years, I have had several discussions on my pairings, and greatly encourage those. While most do enjoy the pairings, and many admit that they would never have considered some, the majority enjoy them. However, all have not appreciated them, and we have discussed those - probably more "at length," than those, who DID enjoy them. I am always open, and ready to learn. No one knows it all, and no one ever will. That is one reason, that I enjoy a well-thought out sommelier's pairing. I want to expand my horizons, and continue to try and do so.


                                                                                                                                            3. Food probably couldn't care less about wine. Now, the person *eating* the food... might feel quite differently '-)

                                                                                                                                              1. When I stopped drinking some years ago, I quickly realized wine (usually white, usually Italian) had really added nothing to my appreciation of food *as I was eating it*. I did miss cooking with wine however, and use wine in cooking now when I want.

                                                                                                                                                10 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                                  So, what do you drink with meals now?

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Leibowitz

                                                                                                                                                    water, San Pellegrino, iced tea...one of those three

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                                                    Some people just like to drink. My father drank scotch ALL THE TIME. With meals and w/o meals; he wanted to get a buzz. It wasn't about enhancing anything other than his mood. We all aren't like that.
                                                                                                                                                    Wine's acidity and tannins texturally blend with fats in the meal much like vinegar does with oil for salads dressings. It creates a balance in your mouth. That may be of absolutely no interest to you (it certainly was not to my father) but it's a reality.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                                                                                                                                      Remember the restaurant chain from the mid-1960s, "Scotch 'n' Sirloin"?

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: zin1953

                                                                                                                                                        Must have been regional, as I have never heard of it - California?


                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                          The one I went to in the 70s was in Boston.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: escondido123

                                                                                                                                                            Thanks for that. While we get to Boston, though infrequently, as it's not in our normal rotation, I do not recall it.



                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                              Well, with all that wine tasting, memory of specific places can become a problem. ;)

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: escondido123

                                                                                                                                                                OKAYYyyyy...hic...you know what your PROBLEM is??? I'll TELL you what your PROBLEM is....I love you man...hic...I really love you...hic...where are we????

                                                                                                                                                  3. Less important than meat.

                                                                                                                                                    1. I cannot drink liquid with meals b/c I have a lap band. With that said, I absolutely love wine, but have never really enjoyed having it with food. I want to drink whatever wine I am in the mood for, which is usually a red. I don't want to have to pair my wine and food appropriately, b/c what if I'm not in the mood for that wine that day? I also find that for me, wine distracts from the food. If I had to have something to drink with a meal, it would be water, so as not to distract from the food itself.

                                                                                                                                                      I think it is different for everyone though, depending on personal taste. I certainly don't see wine and food pairings as snobbery or anything of the such. I can easily see how food and wine pairings can enhance meals for some people.

                                                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                      1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                                                                                                                                                        Yeah you see wine and food as two separate events rather than one having an affinity for the other and thus creating a third event. There are certainly wines that I enjoy that I don't consider to be food friendly so I drink them alone. Others like MANY Italian wines almost need food to show their complete utility; due to higher acidity.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                                                                                                                                                          One thought, as I cannot comment on the lack of liquids with a lap band (or with a lap dance, for that matter, though I presume that be a different conversation entirely!) . . .

                                                                                                                                                          >>> I don't want to have to pair my wine and food appropriately, b/c what if I'm not in the mood for that wine that day? <<<

                                                                                                                                                          Personally, I find that -- if I am "in the mood" for Wine X, *that* wine will indeed be the perfect accompaniment to my meal.

                                                                                                                                                          There is no one *right* match, no singular one wine that will be the very best match for __________. If there were, we'd be looking at labels like Domaine Lamb Chop, Château Rack of Lamb, Leg O'Lamb Vineyards, and the like. Instead, it is ALL about personal taste!

                                                                                                                                                          As for the rest, I do find myself agreeing with the idea of the combination of wine + food equalling a "third event," but that's me and YMMV . . .