"Wine needs food" is the customary mantra, but I'm not sure how devoted Americans have ever been to that idea. We've been a country of beer and cocktail drinkers since the end of Prohibition, and as wine has become more mainstream in the past 20 years, it has become another alcoholic beverage that's OK to drink by itself.
I trace the origins of that back to the early 1980s when white Zinfandel and wine coolers were fashionable. (Bartles & Jaymes anyone?) People didn't drink them with a meal—they were grownup soda pop. Later, when consumers discovered Chardonnay, that became ubiquitous at bars and cocktail parties, as well as the dinner table.
When I moved to Sonoma County 20 years ago, people were sipping Merlot and Zinfandel and even Cabernet Sauvignon without food. It just seemed natural in wine country, but the rest of America was only a few years behind on the same idea.
Clearly one factor was health. The "French Paradox," a 1991 report broadcast on 60 Minutes, first touted the potential health benefits of red wine. American consumers went looking for soft and sippable reds and became devoted to Merlot and, more recently, Pinot Noir.
When the low-carb diet craze followed soon after, there was another reason to switch. A typical American beer has 10 grams of carbohydrates or more, while a standard glass of wine is half that or less.
Carbs and heart health don't mean much when you're 25, but for my generation—born on cusp of the Baby Boom and Gen X—it's crucial. I still enjoy beer, but anything more than a pint and I feel waterlogged, and considering the size of martinis they shake up at restaurant bars these days, there's no room for wine with dinner afterward.
I grew up in the Midwest and worked in the South, and before I moved to California, my friends mostly drank beer or bourbon or vodka. It wasn't until I reconnected with them on Facebook in recent years that I realized how many have switched to wine. Let's face it: By the time you reach 40, wine just seems more civilized, even in highfalutin'-hatin' small-town America.
Wine traditionalists will scoff at the idea of drinking wine by itself. Typically, they knock New World wines because "they don't go with food." I'm not sure Americans really care. And I'm OK with that. How about you?
Daniel Sherer — Healdsburg, CA, USA — March 28, 2012 11:44am ET
Allan Pannizzo — Long Island, NY — March 28, 2012 11:54am ET
Mark Lyon — Sonoma, CA; USA — March 28, 2012 12:44pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — March 28, 2012 4:31pm ET
Tim Mc Donald — Napa,CA — March 28, 2012 4:32pm ET
Priyavrat Patel — Berlin, CT — March 28, 2012 7:42pm ET
Joe Dekeyser — Waukesha, WI — March 29, 2012 10:08am ET
John Sgarlata — Wauwatosa,Wisconsin — March 29, 2012 12:28pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — March 30, 2012 12:59am ET
James Moseley — Rome,GA — March 30, 2012 12:51pm ET
Jan Fridrichsen — Birmingham, AL — March 30, 2012 2:08pm ET
Gregory C Deangelis — Rochester, NY — March 30, 2012 2:28pm ET
Mark Sinnott — Seattle, WA — March 30, 2012 4:06pm ET
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