Most everyone knows that wine with food is one of the best marriages going. Yet I know couples who open and drink a bottle of wine before dinner.
Shocking? Or the norm? Just wait.
“Then do you open a second bottle?” A friend asks them.
“What do you drink with dinner?”
“Nothing. Well, sometimes water. Or Coke.”
Shocking? Or the norm? Your answer will reveal much about how you view the relationship of wine to food.
I’m fascinated by this relationship, for it seems to be changing and with its change, so too are the wines. More and more wines, European and New World alike, are being made to drink young. Nothing wrong with that. They’re approachable wines, which means easily drinkable. They’re fruit forward wines, which means lots of fruit up front, rather than barnyard or musty characteristics. They’re smooth and delicious. Nothing wrong with that. But is there?
A good French Burgundy or Bordeaux may be delicious on its own, especially when given time to age, but it’s made to be drunk with a meal. Such wines are often described as complex. The great Bordeaux can be extremely tannic, owing to the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, and don’t soften except with time. Yet, pair these wines with dinner and you see how the wine complements the food and vice versa. The food softens the tannins, but the wine still retains enough structure to balance the meal. If, on the other hand, you had paired a super jammy New World Shiraz, for example, with the same meal, the wine might not be able to stand up to the food. This is not to say that Shiraz does not complement many foods, for it does. Only that many wines that taste scrumptious on their own, don’t do justice to a meal. And this is why often a customer will taste a French wine and say, “A little rough.” Or “too earthy.” Because its not being used the way it was meant: with food.
It’s a cultural difference. Europeans drink much more wine per capita than we do in America, but they drink it with lunch and dinner (and sometimes breakfast).Americans drink more wine as a cocktail before a meal than do Europeans.
Because of growing consumer demand for easy to drink wines, even European producers are changing the way in which they make wine, changing methods and beliefs that are centuries old. Alcohol content too is creeping up. Alcohol content of 13% used to be the exception reserved for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Now it’s the norm and 12-12.5% becoming rare. It’s not unusual to see Zinfandels and Australian Shiraz’s at 15-17%.
Following are wines I consider “food wines.” See if they don’t enhance the meal more than that glass of Coca-Cola.
Château de Gaudou – from Cahors in the southwest of France. Often called the “black wine” it’s so full-bodied. Merlot/Malbec blend. Pair with Cassoulet, duck or hearty beef. $12
Domaine Berthoumieu, Charles de Batz – from Madiran, this wine is outstanding. Made from 100% Tannat, it is tannic, but the tannins soften with food. $22
As always, buy meats from local farmers or buy free range.