Wine to match the meal
The term "food wine" has always been one that has baffled me. From my understanding of the term it does not simply mean a wine that is good with food. I believe that all good wines are great with the right food. The term "food wine" refers to a wine that is actually not as pleasant without food. In other words, it needs food to become the wine that it was intended to be.
The term is also used specifically in reference to French and Italian wines. Both French and Italian culture are, of course, tied closely to their foods. They identify with their local breads, cheeses, wines, dishes, and culinary traditions as a representation of themselves. If it were in this way that the term food wine came about I would agree with its use. The wines of many regions in Southern Europe are drunk most commonly in conjunction with a meal.
I think the term came about due to the development of the American palate as an independent entity from the collective French or Italian palate. For example, a very regular practice in Italy is the mid-day espresso. In fact, it is such a part of Italian culture that it is nearly takes on a religious connotation. Espresso is by its nature a bitter thing. Therefore, a few espressos with obscene amounts of sugar per day should build up a pretty good tolerance to bitterness. Maybe this is why a light but slightly bitter Dolcetto di Dogliani from Piedmont in Italy is quite comfortable to the Italian palate with or without food. The French palate is accustomed to cheeses that are offensive to most Americans. Aromas of sweat, barnyard, and animal are all part of the French palate vocabulary and if there is something kind of musky in a wine a French person might find it to be delightful while an American might consider it offensive. I have offered a wine from the region of Bourgueil in the Loire Valley to many people and without fail they have all found it offensive. It is however one of my favorite wines. The texture is clean, concentrated, and silky. I think it is the host of earthy and flavors that turns most people off to it. It is exactly that that draws me to it. I like both with food and without. I think what food wine really means is a wine that someone doesn’t like but also doesn’t want to insult.
So if that is indeed the definition of a food wine than what is a stand-alone wine? A stand-alone wine is one that is not heavily tannic, brightly acidic, bitter, highly alcoholic, or unusual tasting in any way. A stand-alone wine is one that doesn’t make you think much about it.
I guess for me the whole purpose of wine is the ever flowing array of new flavors and unexpected aromas; some of them pleasant and some of them unusual. Try the 2005 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Bourgueil $16 (sku# 915766) and describe what you taste. Let me know what you come up with, I bet the answers are going to be a bit weird.
Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in New York City. He tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments, he is easily contacted via e-mail at email@example.com .
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