Many Europeans have a hard time imagining wine without food or a meal without wine. The two are so thoroughly intertwined that the American practice of drinking wine by itself between meals seems very foreign. Understanding this can help us to grasp the differences among wine drinkers around the world and the diversity in wines themselves. This post will examine some cultural assumptions around wine and the effect of those attitudes on winemaking and consumption.
When I began drinking wine, I was focused on the aromas and flavors of the beverage itself and didn’t have enough attention or experience to worry about wine pairings. I remember reading about various wines and skimming past the food pairings. When I did buy a bottle, I was more likely to try it after dinner in the living room with friends than at the table. At the time, I didn’t cook much, and when I did, I simply drank what I liked without worrying about pairing advice. Many of the wines I tried at that time seemed to dry, tannic, and acidic. I preferred wines that were fuller, softer, and fruitier – though not sweet. My tastes were in line with those of my fellow Americans in general. What I didn’t realize at the time is that my preferences were shaped as much by when and where I was drinking than by my own individual palate.
Wine as a Condiment
Over the years, I’ve served European wines for many Americans who have scrunched their faces and remarked upon how “sour” or “bitter” it tastes. My response is that it’s wasn’t made to drink without food – though I’ve learned to enjoy some very austere wines on their own. In order to fully appreciate a Chanti, for example, one should have some cheese or salumi at the very least. The wine is designed to add to a plate of food without distracting from it or covering up essential flavors. The fact that some Chianti is too tannic to drink alone doesn’t bother those who made it or those who love it the most. If you want to have wine with a meal, look at recommendations from this site among others and be open to wines that you otherwise might not buy. They will taste much softer and more complete when they meet with a meal. Examples of wines meant for the dinner table include, among others, Brunello, Barolo, Chianti, Bordeaux, red and white Burgundy, and Sancerre. Of course, many people – including myself – enjoy all of these wines on their own but they arguably reach their highest potential when matched with excellent cuisine.
Wine as a Self-Contained Experience
If you’re buying a wine to drink on its own, consider finding one that is lower in tannins, fruitier, fuller bodied, and lower in acidity. These criteria, in general, are more likely in wines from the New World – wines from outside of Europe. The style of New World wine is often attributed to the landscape where the grapes are grown among other factors, but just as importantly, New World wines are made to suit the taste of New World wine drinkers. The wines are made for people who are influenced by a culture that prizes wines that taste good with or without food. Examples of these wines for drinking on their own include Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay from California, Shiraz from Australia, and Malbec from Argentina. Although these wines are meant to be delicious without food, they can all be paired successfully with food and will really shine with the right dish.
Hopefully, you now have a fuller understanding of why wines from particular places taste the way they do and how you can approach wines that you wouldn’t ordinarily buy. There isn’t a right and wrong with regard to wine culture. As with any other part of life, diversity in wine provides richness to life and should be celebrated.