When it comes to agonizing over which wine to drink with whatever's on the dinner menu, I am as guilty as the next guy. I also spend some time thinking about what I might like to eat with a particular wine when I am tasting it. I'll bet you do too.
But I don't do it all the time.
I had a conversation about this with Michael Twelftree recently. He's the more visible partner in Two Hands, the Australian winery. Twelftree doesn't usually drink wine with dinner at home. He likes to open a good bottle when he gets home and drink it over the course of an evening, but with dinner it's just some mineral water. Now, my meals with Michael have included some great wines, and they're usually from some other great producer, not Two Hands. But at home, when it's just him and the family, he admits to drinking the wine before and after, but not during dinner.
Those who accuse the Aussies of making wines that are incompatible with food will probably jump on that as proof. But I see it differently. To me, sharing a nice bottle over the course of an evening makes perfect sense, especially today when a long list of other activities means that most of us spend less time at the table.
The idea that we drink wine "with food" is not quite right, either. I've often pointed out that, if you watch people at the dinner table, what happens is this. You pour the wine, take a few sips, talk awhile, and take a few more sips. Pour another glass, and the food arrives. You take a bite. Yum that's good, let's have another bite. Oh, and try the wine. Nice. Have a few more bites of food, a sip or two of wine, and the food is finished. Now you have an empty glass, but the bottle still has more in it. You finish the rest. If you add it up, unless you save your wine until the food arrives and consciously take sips only with bites of food, you probably drink most of it on its own.
And that's why I always choose a wine I want to drink over one that I might not like as much but would go better with the food. If you're drinking most of the wine without food, will those few perfect sips be worth it?
Wine is always on the table when we have guests, but more often than not I don't drink wine with dinner at home when it's just me and my wife. On the other hand, certain foods just seem to require wine. When we have fresh cracked crab, for example, it doesn't seem complete without a glass of dry Riesling.
And yes, I love it when a wine finds a seamless match with the food on the table, and those few sips that do time themselves with the food can be magic. But most of the time I might do what Twelftree does, which is to not worry about the wine with dinner and just drink it to enjoy it, maybe over the course of the whole evening.
There, my secret is out. What's your approach? Do you drink wine only with the food, or stretch it out over the course of the evening?
James Peterson — San Antonio, Texas — September 25, 2008 6:32pm ET
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