Wine is alcohol, so wine is a cocktail.
It’s 8:00 pm and I’m in my running clothes, sitting on the floor with wine books around me. The phone is tucked between cheek and shoulder as I bend over a piece of scrap paper and take notes. Daniel, whom I think I can rightly call my wine mentor by now, is on a roll, spouting out facts and figures, recommending wine writers, and coming up with publishing analogies to make sure I get what he’s talking about. (Alluding to the value of studying wine before I am professionally involved in the industry, he says “it’s like a writer going into publishing. The job becomes less about writing and more about marketing.”)
I struggle to write fast enough, getting only fragments of sentences down before Daniel switches gears and is on to the next subject. Tonight he stresses the importance of understanding the American mentality toward wine, and how people in the industry must react to that perspective.
“Americans don’t drink wine before they are in their 30’s,” he says definitively. He pauses, but not long enough for me to mention I’m an exception to that rule.
“First of all, there is no wine culture for us before we are 21, because it’s illegal. That means many of us get our introduction to alcohol in college, where we drink sugary concoctions to mask the cheap liquor taste. But we get used to it. Most of us are raised on sugar anyway, so we might actually like it. Then, out of college, we stick with what we know, which is syrupy sweet. When it is finally appropriate for us to drink wine (let’s face it, college kids associate it with snobbishness), we want it sugary, or big and alcoholic, and we want to sip it like we sipped our cheap cocktails. But wine is not a cocktail to be sipped. It is a condiment.”
I wasn’t expecting that. Wine is a condiment? The first thing that pops into my mind is a big, red bottle of ketchup on a picnic table. Wine is a condiment?
But I have no time to protest.
“I like to call it synergy,” Daniel says. “Food-wine synergy.”
I write it down.
“You wouldn’t eat ketchup by itself. You wouldn’t sip salad dressing. Wine is like that. It always goes with food.”
I’m surprised he doesn’t have any qualms with referring to ketchup and wine in the same context. “A condiment, Daniel?” I ask. “Really?”
With a shrug I can imagine over the phone, he acknowledges my hesitancy with pure confidence. “Really,” he says. Period.
“We have to reach out to the consumer with this in mind, always encouraging them to expand their palates. We have to talk to them about terroir and sub-appellations, and the fact that southern French wine pairs perfectly with Herbes de Provence for a reason; that Muscadet is made for mollusks because its grapes are salted by the Atlantic.”
Remembering my famous bottle of Nuits-Saint-Georges, I mentally add Burgundy pinot noir with the local sauce à l’Epoisse to the list.
“As people start to get to know wine,” Daniel continues, “they can choose which best complements their meal. But if they don’t try a lot of wine, they’ll stick with what they know. And we have to get them away from the unfortunate wine-as-cocktail schema!”
I chuckle to myself. Wine as ketchup is better than wine as cocktail?
But what he says is true, and I respect Daniel for using the unflattering term “condiment.” It brings the whole subject of wine down to earth and forces us to wonder in which context wine is at its best. It really is meant to be drunk with food. The French philosophy that it is best to beraisonableapplies here: is it ever very reasonable to drink without at least a little something to eat at the same time?
As our conversation concludes — five pages of notes later — I think about the experiences I have had drinking wine in France. Call it the power of suggestion, but a host of pairings comes to mind: Chignin and fondue, Nuits-Saint-Georges or Aloxe Corton and coq au vin, vin jaune from the Jura and a slice of comte cheese, Champagne and popcorn, crepes and cider… Every region has its wine, and every dish has its drink! It has been fun to learn about the pairings, and to branch out from the old, and very general, standby of white wine with fish and poultry, red wine with dark meat.
If you’ve recently experienced great food-wine synergy, let me know. If not, what are you waiting for?!
Click here to read the translation from my future belle-soeur! Continue reading