The gauntlet has been laid down. A survey about American drinking habits finds more people (60%) drink wine without food than those who drink it (40%) with food. This calls into question everything we've ever been told about the holy unity of food and wine pairings. Does pairing matter?
Not so much.
My husband asked me what I thought. "I have to tell you I think food and wine pairing is a lot of hocus pocus. I think it makes wine way more intimidating." He was quite shocked. I've had dinner parties around food and wine pairings. I'm working on my wine certifications where food play a role. How could I buck the system?
How many times have we all poured a glass of wine after a hard day, or joined friends for happy hour, with little to no food in sight? Oh yeah, that's me right now, sipping a glass while writing this post. Dinner is a few hours away.
I'm not saying that we should abandon all food wine pairings. My point is it's one more obstacle for people who feel wine is already intimidating. Instead we should be making wine more accessible. We in the food and wine, and yes the media biz, should realize just because our circle of colleagues and friends care about pairings, that doesn't mean the majority of Americans care. According to this study, they just want to drink.
We should be happy they're drinking more wine.
Consumer surveys show that Chardonnay is, and has been, the number one varietal Americans drink. It's logical to conclude a lot of people are drinking Chardonnay, not only without food, but with food. To people preaching wine pairings, that's like nails scratching a blackboard. Chardonnay can be one of most unfriendly wines for food.
I've been to many wine events where there are specific wine pairings for the food, or dinners where each course is paired with a wine. Sometimes the experience is magical. If I'm honest with myself, that's rare. More often than not, I don't get why others wax poetic about a particular pairing. Did I miss something? Consider the average wine consumer. Why make him or her feel less confident just because you think oysters and Muscadet are a match made in heaven, but they're happy with oysters and Pinot?
In the wine industry there are numerous trade and media tastings, where there's anywhere from 50 to more than 200 wines to try. At bigger consumer tastings there's even more wine. But there is little to no food at most of these tastings (cheese and crackers and fruit if we're lucky). Wine judging is usually done in the absence of food. Wine critics taste, more often than not, without food. What's the message here?
There's nothing wrong with deciding what you want to drink without thinking about food. The weather and situations usually influence my choices. Red is too heavy in the summer, even if I'm eating barbeque. Sitting in the sun and red wine don't work for me, but it might for you. Pairings are always a good guideline, but not ironclad rules. If I want a Viognier with my BBQ ribs, why not? Or if I sip a glass between meals, well that's ok too.
My philosophy is drink what you like, with or without food, whenever you want (and always in moderation). Then you can't go wrong. It's your palate, and if it's good to you, it's a good wine.