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03.29.2011

The Albatross That is Food and Wine Pairing

Food and wine pairing is the big bird around the neck, or the monkey on the back of American wine appreciation. How we've gotten to this place I'm not entirely sure. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that as a country our wine drinking and food cultures are imported, and somewhat recently compared to the rest of the world. We lack a native or intuitive sense of wine as food, and of wine as an essential part of the dining experience.

Don't ask me to fully explain how or why this has resulted in Americans' utter obsession with the concept of food and wine pairing as some sort of art, because I can't. Yet somehow, there seems to be an insatiable demand for tips, tricks, rules, examples, guidance, glossaries, and formulas.

I've written at length (and to much controversy) before about the inanity of all this, but It's clear that I'm very much in the minority.

Amazon lists no less than 159 books on food and wine pairing. Of the several hundred apps on the iPhone, more than 100 offer food and wine pairing suggestions, with nearly half that many seeming devoted only to that end.

Could the millions of words, innumerable hours, and millions of dollars spent on this subject be mostly wasted? There's a new research study that suggests as much. Conducted by Wine Opinions this study seems to suggest that a vast majority of the wine purchased in America isn't consumed with food at all. According to the Napa Valley Register, which reported on some of the survey's findings, the survey of core wine drinkers (those who drink daily and who make up 82% of wine consumption in the US) showed that 60% of their wine consumption is done outside of sitting down to a meal.

If this is true, then our food and wine pairing obsession is as unhealthy, not to mention fruitless, as I have suspected. I'm sure that plenty of people regularly, even constantly explore and enjoy the exercise of matching food with wine, but for every glass carefully chosen to go with a specific dish, there appear to eight more consumed in the same way most people drink a scotch.

I can only barely imagine what might happen if wine writing and the attentions of wine lovers actually matched their real behavior. Would a large portion of the critical establishment stop excoriating all wines that are greater than 14.5% alcohol as having no place at the dinner table? Would wine drinkers feel free to not only drink whatever they like, but to explore and experiment in their wine choices without fear of doing something wrong? Would more people actually drink wine because they knew it didn't always HAVE to go with food?

Of course, I haven't seen the detailed study methodology, or results, so my thoughts here are somewhat rash. But a guy can dream, right?

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.