Wine & Food

Snooth User: dmcker

Don't bother with food matches; in the world's largest winedrinking country, millenials view wine as a bar-type drink

Posted by dmcker, Apr 28, 2011.

Another interesting recent read, from a column by Laurie Daniel in the San Jose Mercury News.

Reporting on some interesting market research, speculation on why tannins are so rounded and acid so lacking in reds these days, as well as an observation that America must finally be developing a wine culture of its own, "And that's a good thing."

Any opinions?



The California wine industry, taking its cue from European wine culture, long has preached the pleasures of lingering over a meal with a bottle of wine. Entire books have been written about pairing wine with the appropriate foods. I once heard Julia Child declare to a wine gathering that "any meal without wine, with the possible exception of breakfast, is uncivilized."

But wait. A funny thing happened on our way to becoming the world's largest wine-consuming nation. American wine lovers don't necessarily see wine as something to be drunk with food. Recent research shows that nearly 60 percent of the wine consumed by avid U.S. wine drinkers does not accompany a meal. About one-quarter of the wine they drink is consumed on its own, in situations where food of any kind is a no-show. One-third of the wine is consumed with snacks or appetizers, or while the consumer is preparing a meal.

"The industry spends so much time on wine and food pairing," says Christian Miller, research director of Wine Opinions, the California-based market-research firm that conducted the study, "and the implication is that the public" doesn't care that much.

Rather, Miller says, Americans are "developing a notion of wine as a drink." More than half the respondents report drinking wine at casual non-meal get-togethers at home. "That's a wine occasion, not a food occasion," Miller says.

Even though this applies to wine drinkers of all ages, he adds

so-called millennials "are leading the charge." Three-quarters of this group born after 1980 say they "kick back over a bottle of wine" with their friends.

Some other surprising findings were in the Wine Opinions research. When I think of wines that are drunk on their own, as an aperitif or with appetizers -- wines that are called "sippers" in my house -- I generally think of lighter whites or maybe sparkling wines. But a majority of high-frequency wine drinkers (defined as drinking wine

daily or several times a week) in the survey do not classify certain types of wines as stand-alone wines and other types as wines that should be consumed with food.

In fact, dry red wine, the leading type of wine for all occasions, is also the leading category of wine consumed without food. It was followed distantly by dry white wine, then by semisweet, off-dry or sparkling wines. "The notion that wine without food should be lighter or white," Miller says, doesn't hold up anymore. Nearly half of respondents reported drinking dry red wines without food weekly or even more often, Miller says.

My first reaction to the news that so much wine is consumed without food -- or, at least, without a meal -- was to wonder whether this might explain why so many wines these days are soft, plush and low in acid. I find acidity to be essential when I drink wine with a meal, because that acidity cuts through the food and leaves you ready for more. But without food, a high-acid wine, whether red or white, can be less attractive and downright puckery to some drinkers. Where red wines are concerned, a firm tannic structure helps the wine to pair well with hearty meat dishes. But mouth-drying tannins aren't so great when you're sipping wine as a cocktail.

Although the Wine Opinions survey didn't delve into the question, Miller notes that "there's been this obsession with smoothing out tannins" in red wine. He adds, "Smoothness might be something that has paved the way for more dry reds without food."

Wine still finds its place at the table, though. "It's still the leader in what you drink with a proper meal," Miller says, "but obviously it's extended far beyond that."

While I was a little dismayed when I first heard about this research -- all those columns about pairing wine with food apparently are falling on deaf ears -- I've come to believe that it's actually a sign that the United States is developing its own wine culture. And that's a good thing.

As for me, I'll continue to drink most of my wine with meals -- although, in truth, I don't really need a reason to drink a glass of good wine.



Reply by outthere, Apr 28, 2011.

I absolutely love pairing wines with my meals but am just as happy drinking a half bottle or morewhile sitting at the computer working or chatting with my wine geek friends online. I guess I am part of that mold that doesn't necessarily need food with my wine. I enjoy wine too much to have to eat so much food. I'd be a lot heavier if that was the case.

Reply by Andrew46, Apr 29, 2011.

I think this is an unfortunate trend, since it further encourages wineries to make flabbier reds that don't need food.  This is only unfortunate becuase I don't like those wines very well. 

The author focuses on softer tannins, but higher ABV has gone into this trend as well.  I like wine with food.  I like wine alone.  What I don't like are wines made from heavy red varietals where the stucture of the wine is gutted in what I can only guess is a effort to make it drinkable younger and without food.

Reply by AdamJefferson, May 1, 2011.

 We no doubt have more variety and quality available to us than at any other time in history; there's room in the marketplace for softer wines that appeal to those who do not care for the layers and complexity.

Reply by Andrew46, May 1, 2011.

OK, to be clear, I am also in favor of to each his/her own.  I don't mean to imply that eveyone make wines to appeal to me or that people should not enjoy a glass of soft, easy drinking red wine at a bar.  There is a place for all of that in the market.  Just not my thing.

Reply by GregT, May 1, 2011.

But there's not really a conflict. Americans drank cocktails with food for years, and people drink beer, soft drinks, lemonade, iced tea, juice, coffee, tea, horchata, milk(God forbid) and who knows what else.  I think the more choices, the better.  Then I can drink what I want and others what they want and we're all happy!

Reply by napagirl68, May 1, 2011.

She missed the root cause... it is not a lack of food that is driving this trend, it is more complicated than that.  On the surface, I would like to say it is an inexperienced palate that chooses overripe fruitbombs vs. a more balanced, acidic wine.  I drink wine sans food, and YES, I agree, there are those wines that just BLOSSOM with food, but on their own... mediocre.  But when I do drink wine on its own, I tend toward a more acidic, balanced wine that I would pair with food anyway!

But I am worried that there is more to this.. could mass-producing wineries be taking a clue from the processed food makers and fast food industries????  Those entities actually ADD sugar/sodium  to food that does not require it, like hamburger buns, etc, etc.  The theory is that they do this to ADDICT those who partake to be repeat customers... not unlike tobacco industry.    I am not a wacko purist by any means, but I wonder if that could be the culprit....   Wine drinking sans food is up big time here in CA, and they are not having a nice Bordeaux.. more like a 16% "cab" or "zin".  JMHO.  Talk about standing a pencil up in it!

Reply by dmcker, May 1, 2011.

"could mass-producing wineries be taking a clue from the processed food makers and fast food industries???? "

Of course they do, and have done, for some time now, NG! ;-)

Reply by GregT, May 1, 2011.

Well, if you all are going to complain and speculate like that - exactly what is wrong with a little corn syrup and MSG and salt?   How else are we going to make things taste good?  That'll make your pencil stand up. Or something like that.

Reply by napagirl68, May 2, 2011.

or maybe your pencil WON'T stand up if you keep eating that crap.... LOL! 

Yeah, I'm pretty anti-doping regular foods to addict the masses...

Look up the breakdown in a typical fast food bun.  I couldn't BUY one prepared at the grocery store that fits the bill.  I'd have to specifically bake them with more  sugar/sodium.  That's my only point.  I could make an attempted re-creation of fast food burger, etc...  and not pay ANY attention to calories, and still come out lower in sugar/ salt/ fat. I am not anti msg, salt or corn syrup, meat or any other specific food.  I am anti ADDING extra sugar/salt into a product that does not need them in order to keep the masses coming back for more. 

Back to wine..  everyone keeps saying that the big wines are selling, and that's what is driving the market.  I'm just saying that IMHO, they are catering to a sweet/alcoholic tooth, and keeping them coming back.

Reply by dmcker, May 2, 2011.

OK, Greg, you promised you'd be away, now you're back spurring me on! If you want corn syrup and salt together, look at the vid from UCTV of Robert Lustig's presentation back in 2009 when he talks about the 'Coca Cola conspiracy.' He's the guy who classifies sugar as a 'poison', and he's no crackpot since he's managed to stay afloat at UC San Francisco for quite awhile now. Dealing with child obesity would probably enrage anybody over time, though.

A good, if somewhat long and amorphous, overview of the issues in the NYTimes came outlast month. Perhaps you've seen the article.

I would think that we might look at a couple of classes of wine. Ghetto brownbaggers like the classic Ripple and Thunderbird and the like, and then the box wines from the bigboys in California. Would be curious to see chemical breakdowns. Then see how techniques were passed on to CA chards and white zins and merlots, etc. in bottles....

Reply by GregT, May 2, 2011.

Yeah it's a great article.  Scary too.  But you also need to keep in mind that Americans eat a lot more sugar than anyone and that since corn syrup isn't as sweet as cane sugar, more is needed for an equivalent sweetness.  But look at the way we eat it - you get a donut.  Lots of sugar right?  So what do we do?  Put "icing" on it and the "icing" is just a mix of sugar and starch that's mixed with water.  Or those cinammon buns they sell at airports - you can't even buy them w/out the goo on top and then they even give you a little cup of goo to add! 

I think a cake once in a while is OK - and I make my own so I know exactly how much sugar is used.  A donut a day though, or ketchup, breakfast cereal, fast food of any kind, most any baked product that comes from an industrial producer in a plastic bag - no way.  In NYC there's a current fad for cupcakes - piled high with sickening crap that's nauseating to look at, much less eat - they even sell them at Whole Foods, which is hilarious.

But all that's got little to do with wine.  I remember reading the comments of a winemaker in response to the argument that large producers put "additives" in wines. He laughed.  Said take a look at Gallo.  They buy grapes from all over, squeeze them and ferment them.  People can complain that there's no "terroir" because they come from vast fields, but there's also no reason to do much to them.  The sugar and color is natural as the fact that they're blended from all over helps make up for any deficiencies in the individual plots - something that people have long understood in Chateauneuf du Pape and elsewhere.

OTOH, the guy who has a few acres and a lot of his net worth tied up in it has to be really obsessed and if he's got to add a little Mega Purple or acid or water or whatever, he's going to, since he doesn't have the volume, market presence, and source diversity to make up for any shortcomings in his wine.

Since we've talked about sugar, I'm not sure why people in CA would need to add corn syrup or sugar - after all, CA is not Burgundy!

And speaking of the "big boys", a friend told me one of my favorite stories about Gallo.  His nephew is or was a winemaker there.  Calls him one night completely depressed, certain that he'd be fired.  Apparently he had pumped like 8000 gallons of juice into some tanks. Oops. Then they had 11,000 gallons.  Nobody was quite sure what the other 3000 gallons were.


Reply by dmcker, May 4, 2011.

No theories on those 3000? Great story...

Reply by fibo86, May 5, 2011.

Hi D

That was a great subject and in some ways answers the question....We're getting sweeter (all over the world). I was wondering though do you have a great deal of cane sugar? would production keep up with demands? Could that be the reason for corn syrup?

I'm not sure if it's only that though, what about the fact that winemakers could be going with what then trend might be?

Do you think that half the trend belongs more to popular wine writer's who have heradled the woudrous virtues of the juicy plush plum/berry driven shiraz of......or the marvels of that short finish juicy little sugar bomb from....the toast of the world atm.

Is it wine, winemakers or the wine writer? or just us following what might be the trend of the time?


Reply by Richard Foxall, May 9, 2011.

dmcker reading the SJ Merc?  Does that mean you are in the Bay Area?

I saw that article in the Oak Tribune (same owners, editorial staff, etc.) and commented to my wife that it was practically plagiarized from Eric Asimov's column or blog from the NYT a couple weeks before: 


Reply by dmcker, May 9, 2011.

What, journalists feeding off each other? How novel!

Have been reading the SJMerc online since the mid-90s (less frequently now, tho, as it's gone more liteweight) when I almost did a JV with them (and the WSJ, since those two were the first to go online in a solid way). Wish I was in the Bay Area, but still stuck in Tokyo working my tail off. Wouldn't mind joining you in the RRV at the end of the summer, though not sure even something like that's possible. ;-(

At first I thought you were saying that the article on sugar had been plagiarized from Asimov. Had me surprised there for a second....

Reply by Richard Foxall, May 10, 2011.

Ha!  My writing got sloppy during my month off. Interesting points about the smaller makers having more reason to "cheat."  Rimerman at Garagiste went on a tirade about inaccurate ETOH levels the other day, saying food makers could never get away with this.  Funny, since the article he linked to said that food labels are allowed to be off on the calories by 5 to 10 percent! (Calories being to food what alcohol is to wine--necessary and something you want to not do to excess. 

D: Wasn't my RRV comment from another thread?  Nice to be remembered in any case. It would be awesome if you dropped in.  We are on the second year of a tradition.  We go up with our kids, they engage in mischief which we pretend to be shocked by.  (We might actually have a problem with co-ed bed sharing in a few years, but right now it's just, "Why aren't you sleeping in your own beds?") Meanwhile, they keep themselves entertained until bed time, we start on the wine which I bring... then we break out the guitars and our wives pretend we are vastly more talented than we are. 

Re: Adding to sugar to wine:  Last I checked, chaptalization is illegal in the US but adding concentrated grape juice is allowed.  And, as a chef I shared a home with pointed out, concentrated juices can contain as much simple sugar as you want them to by simple evaporation. Which I am sure many wineries do when they can't get the brix where they want it.

Reply by Richard Foxall, May 10, 2011.

fibo:  Re: cane sugar:  Hawaii used to have tons, but lots of agriculture there has been replaced by time shares and ugly townhouses.  The corn syrup story is complicated, having a lot to do with price supports, hunger eradication during the Nixon years, and the embargo on Cuba, which was a major source of sugar at one time.  Sugar beets are a major source of sugar, also, and a by- product of sugar beets is MSG--a two-fer for the producer.  But price supports for corn syrup make it more than competitive with sugar. 

Oh, and that 11,000 gallons of which only 8000 were definitively juice:  Couldn't Gallo just sell it under the Red Bicyclette label?  If the pinot wasn't actually pinot, why should the table wine be actual wine?

That's the perfect tale of industrial food production:  When they mess up, they have enough whatever it is to fill a lake. But there's a silver lining to large scale production:  When a friend of mine was testing integrated pest management in the Central Valley, the big producers could set aside acres for experiments where the small guys could not.  That didn't stop the farm managers from asking if they could use "a little Roundup."

Reply by Stephen Harvey, May 16, 2011.

Foxall - gottta love Roundup, I use it to kill most things in my garden, probably works on Journos too.

Hey, lets not get too excited, Macca's, Coke, JW Red, Jim Beam, Yellowtail, Gallo Jugs, Bud are all products made cheaply and in large quantities.

They all have their place - Coke [as in the Cola] is a great hangover cure, Macca's provide clean and hygenic toilets for tourists everywhere in the world, Bud and NFL are joined at the hip and I am sure the Gallo's and Casellas are related and JB and JW well as the JW adds say  - keep on walking!!!

On a serious note - sadly marketing "gurus" try to invent trends to influence us to follow their trends.  Good food and good wine have survived many attempts to change the world but us mere consumers somehow find our way back to the "perfect match"


Reply by Richard Foxall, May 16, 2011.

I don't mind Jim Beam at all.  Wouldn't want to use the better stuff on the rocks where you lose the nuances, but sometimes I'm just having a social drink and Beam on the rocks is fine.  Same for JW Red and Black--although I drink more rye and bourbon than Scotch generally.  Beam Rye on the rocks is a good cocktail party choice for me.

I confess I used some Roundup in my yard a while back--sometimes you gotta go after those weeds.  The original soil is probably contaminated by lead from the nearby freeways, so what's a little weedkiller?  But my elevated beds where I grow my tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, beans?  Purely organic.  That's just how I roll. 

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