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The myth of wine and food pairings

The myth of wine and food pairings

You must drink big red wine with beef — or else!

Wine and food pairings are wine’s version of Greek mythology. It’s the solution to all of the wine industry’s problems, even though – like Apollo’s oracle – pairings don’t mean all that much to the vast majority of wine drinkers.

This is not to say that wine and food pairings aren’t legitimate, because certain food tastes better with certain wine, and there is scientific evidence to support that. What it does mean is that, for most consumers, they aren’t important. You can see more about this here. And here.

This has made such an impression on me that I’ve pretty much given up on wine and food pairings (though I’ll still suggest them). The cheap wine book goes into detail, but what it comes down to is this: If I tell people it’s OK to drink what they want, then why I am telling them what to drink it with? All I ask is that wine drinkers be open to the concept of pairings and give them a try. If they don’t like them, that’s fine, too. As my brother says, “I like big red wine. Why can’t I drink it when I want?”

Nevertheless, many in the wine business see wine and food pairings as the key to increasing wine consumption in the U.S. (this being one of the most important exceptions). This approach shows up regularly in studies and white papers, and most recently in what was an otherwise outstanding effort to help the industry figure out how to get Hispanics to drink more wine.

But the report, issued by Rabobank, has this line: “What support will be given for pairing wine with Hispanic food?” Forget the practicalities – what exactly is Hispanic food, given that Hispanics come from dozens of countries and they even eat non-Hispanic food? More importantly, it also ignores the point that most consumers don’t care about pairings and that pairings are especially intimidating to new wine drinkers. So how will that help lure Hispanics into wine?

Sometimes I wonder if anyone is really paying attention when they write these things.

  • http://blog.wblakegray.com/ Blake Gray

    Jeff: I think it’s a stealth issue. I think people do care about food pairing even when they think they don’t.
    I’m not talking about the sort of over-specific bullshit you see in food magazines: the ’10 vintage of this wine works with this dish because of the fresh basil, but the lighter ’11 vintage isn’t as perfect blah blah PUT A FORK IN YER EYE.
    What I’m talking about is that ordinary drinkers don’t like clashes, even if they can’t always describe why. It’s no coincidence that US-made supermarket wines have more noticeable acidity and lower alcohol than higher-rated wines. US supermarket wines are made to go with food, and people will reject them eventually if they don’t. A wine doesn’t have to specifically go with chicken or pork ribs or whatever, but it can’t not go with anything — like many 98-pointers.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jeffsiegel Jeff Siegel

    I hope you’re right, Blake. Wine does taste better when the pairing is correct.
    Though, between what I’ve seen here in the middle of the country, talking to consumers, and the studies that do exist, I don’t know that you are right. I think people who drink Cupcake Red Velvet drink it because they like it, and not because it goes with anything.

  • http://vintagewinepicks.blogspot.com/ cono_sur

    Great piece, Jeff!
    I haven’t given up on food & wine pairings, but I do believe they are less & less important, as most wines go with most foods anyway. Some wines pair a little better, some pair a little worse), and it’s really hard to screw up a pairing.

  • Jason smith

    People drink more wine when there is food around…

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