The privileged place of wine

Of all alcoholic drinks, wine occupies a privileged place.

I guess this links in with my post a few days ago, titled ‘what is wine?

Wine has a long history with civilization (at least with some cultures). In western cultures, it has a right of place at table, to the exclusion of most other beverage types.

I guess in some pub restaurants people still bring their pint of beer to the table, but it’s rare to find beer lists. The expectation is that when you dine, you order wine. There’s a wine list. There may even be a sommelier. It’s deeply ingrained, culturally, to have wine at table.

Is this because wine, as an alcoholic beverage, is uniquely suited to pairing with food?

Or is it because wine, as an object type, is ingrained in our understanding of a restaurant, as another object type?

Could wine lose this privileged position? Or is it here to stay?

I have been to a dinner at a very fine restaurant that attempted to match spirits with food – it was odd, but fun. I have also been to a memorable beer and food matching lunch. It was truly brilliant. There’s no reason that wine should have this primacy/

Look, I think wine is wonderful and special. But I love flavour, and I’d love to go to a restaurant that had a sommelier of sorts who worked across all drink types. In some ways, the obsessions we have with object types get in the way. We expect a bottle of wine, and we like our wine to come in 75 cl bottles. We consider beer to be personal: we order a bottle of beer and that is ‘my beer’. Both these things get in the way of matching food and beverage. We simply don’t think in terms of spirits and food as matches, although in Russia I had a good experience of this.

I’d love to know what foodie people think of this strong association between food and wine. I’d also be interested to know how things work in non-wine cultures.

 

5 comments to The privileged place of wine

  • Personally I’m very happy drinking beer with food in a restaurant and I think that beer can go just as well with food as can wine. Socially though you are right, it is much more acceptable to share wine than to share beer at the table and sharing a bottle of wine with someone over dinner, is often a truly magical experience.

  • I think other drinks can be just as interesting as wine – cider is another – but you and Andrew are right they haven’t historically had the same cachet. The number of people you see standing outside pubs at this time of year I’m sure go home and serve wine to their friends at the weekend. But things are changing. I’ve had some great meals with beer too.

  • Beer is refreshing and a good palate cleanser. So it is usually pleasant to drink with a meal. But, with some exceptions such as beer and sausage, I’m not sure beer as readily gives you the transcendent, synergistic effect where the wine makes the food taste more like what it is (Muscadet and oysters, foie gras and Sauternes, etc.)

    Furthermore, with the exception of some lambics, beer has less acidity than wine and may do less to stimulate the palate. Cocktail/food pairings have great potential if for no other reason than the sheer variety of flavor combinations that are possible.

  • keith prothero

    No—–it is wine for me .Beer is great with curry and Thai food but wine with everything else!!

  • Henry

    If you ever find yourself in Helsinki, Finland this is a place to go to explore food / cocktail pairing:

    http://www.a21.fi/dining/en/a21.html

    These guys started with their cocktail lounge which won high accolades in the (international) press and then decided to set up a restaurant based on the idea of combining cocktails with food.

    I’m myself very biased towards wine but the experience was nevertheless extremely interesting and enjoyable. There are so many different aromas and flavours in cocktails that their combination with food can produce quite surprising sensations compared to wine. Are these good (or better) sensations is left to each of us to decide. I’m not giving up wine, though…

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