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Nov 1, 2011 10:56 AM

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: . 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,, 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.