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Wine and Food Wednesday
Wine Without Food? The Horror of It All

By Stephen Eliot

“Food without wine is a corpse; wine without food is a ghost; united and well matched they are as body and soul, living partners.” Andre Simon (1877-1970)

...well, just maybe it ain’t necessarily so. A recent study reveals the truth. Americans, it turns out, more often than not drink wine without food. Gasp!!

The noted market-research firm, Wine Opinions, finds that those gosh-darned Millennials are the worst of the bunch. Wine, it appears, is increasingly being viewed as a stand-alone beverage as opposed to a dependent part of the meal.

More than a few food and wine commentators have seemed quietly dismayed at the findings and have expressed a certain concern, but for the life of me I really do not see why. Julia Child is attributed to having famously said “a meal without wine…is uncivilized”, and I would not argue the point, but some seem to accordingly think that drinking wine without a meal is likewise the practice of pagans. When I was taking my first vinous steps way back when, wine was the thing, and food was a second thought if at all. It was only a good many years after I had been packing away cases of classified clarets and fine California Cabernets that I began to spend as much time in the kitchen as in the cellar. I suspect I was/am not alone. I did not feel especially uncivilized when pulling yet another cork from a 1970 Beaulieu George Latour or Chateau Figeac or Chateau Leoville las Cases of the same year and knocking back a few glasses not over dinner but simply as a late-evening catalyst to conversation with friends. Fine dining simply did not fit into my graduate school budget, but somehow I always found the funds to keep good wine on hand.

The Wine Opinion study is fascinating, but I do wonder just how these latest numbers in our metric-obsessed era might compare to those from ten or twenty or thirty years back if we had similar data. I have no doubt that far more wine is being consumed by Americans now than in the past…but it is possible that there might not be significant statistical differences between then and now when it comes to who drinks what where. So what’s it all mean? Not much I think other than perhaps a new marketing insight into the ways in which wine can be sold. Fair enough. I suppose I have no problems with anyone who aims to broaden American wine drinking culture, and I am frankly heartened at the idea that a new generation is becoming sufficiently comfortable with wine to ask for a glass in lieu of a beer or a Manhattan or such.

Curiously, however, I have already heard murmurs about how the study helps explain “evolving” wine styles, that this growing use of wines as a beverage only fosters more of the softer, riper stuff (read California et. al.) Maybe it isn’t the critics and high scores (I mean, really, is the wine-as-a-cocktail crowd really buying high-scoring, high-priced, cult Cabernets?). Just maybe it is the voice of a free-market. Maybe it is just people drinking what they like, and, yes, if sipping a glass solo without food, I would rather have something fruity and rounded rather than lean and austere. Others, however, apparently spend nights awake in anguish at the cultural damage done by ripe, very flavorful, high-alcohol wines (there, I’ve said it) that aim for richness rather than structured austerity, and the misdirected, uneducated youth seems likely to only make things worse.

My response to those whose feathers are somehow ruffled by the study’s conclusions is to simply say “take a breath, calm down and relax.” Connoisseurship comes slowly and of experience, and it is a matter of practiced individual taste. With practice comes increased appreciation, and, as I see it, the path to the table is inexorable. Of interesting note in the study, it was older wine drinkers who were most likely to drink the wine with a meal. Incomes and sensibilities and appreciation, I would argue, are all things that grow over time, and high-pulpit preaching about the “proper” situations and venues for wine drinking or rolling of eyes at those would might enjoy a fine Pinot without the requisite duck dish benefits none.

I remember all too well those times not so long ago when fine wine was snobbishly regarded as something whose enjoyment required a special education. These days it is my business to offer opinions about what and why a great wine is, as well as to make comment about those that for me may fall a bit short, but I have yet to see in a wine some special virtue that I believe only the sophisticated few can ever possibly comprehend. It would be a sad thing indeed to return to the days of the tuxedoed, nose-in-the-air, tastevin-bearing sommeliers who were the sole keepers of the truth.

I admit to drinking wine mostly at meal time and I find my greatest pleasures in a remarkable food and wine match, but I do like a glass from time to time on its own, and, as an unrepentant cheerleader for wine in general, I am delighted that so many new wine-drinkers are doing the same.


oh, what a surprise!
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:5/26/2011 6:14:24 AM


I don't understand the consternation of commentators either.

First, the result of the study is not news--it's been this way ever since I've bene in the wine business. The study is just a way to document the situation.

Second, it remains that upwards of 90% of the wine-consuming public does not constitute the geekdom that is the market for commentators and critics alike. In every specialty group there seems a tendency to judge the rest of the world by the group's mentality, and often the group is out to lunch, so to speak.

Good reading and ranting
by Chris Killingsworth
Posted on:5/26/2011 10:10:36 PM

I enjoyed your writing.

I enjoy a glass wine when I get home, then another with whatever I can scrape up to eat [during the week]. Big and fruity, lean & crisp, or meaty beaty big and bouncy. It all works.

Then a cup of coffee.

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