Is food and drink pairing advice a scam?
Wine advice from sommeliers, food writers, cookbook authors and wine educators almost always centers around pairing drinks with food. At times it seems as if all of civilization boils down to a single question: What do I drink with dinner? We are, in fact, drowning in tips on this matter. There are, at present, no less than 159 books available on Amazon to help solve this First World dilemma.
Yet, amidst all the hand-wringing, we may be learning that much of this advice is useless or irrelevant. In a recent industry study, reported last week in the Napa Valley Register, more than 60 percent of wine consumed by “high-frequency wine drinkers” is consumed without a meal. Understand that we’re talking about real wine drinkers, too, not just the person who pops open a liter of [yellow tail] once a year at a holiday party.
“High-frequency wine drinkers” — according to Wine Opinions, the market research firm that conducted the study — refers to the 29 million wine drinkers who consume the beverage daily, or at least several times per week. These drinkers drive more than 80 percent of the wine market, and almost all of the wine over $15 per bottle.
So if a majority of the bottles bought by the nation’s prime wine drinkers never sees a dinner table, how can we explain this obsession with pairing rules and etiquette?
Alder Yarrow, an influential wine blogger at Vinography.com, commented at length on the study and on what he calls American wine drinkers’s “insatiable demand for tips, tricks, rules, examples, guidance, glossaries and formulas.”
If the recent study is true, writes Yarrow:
...then our food and wine pairing obsession is as unhealthy, not to mention fruitless, as I have suspected. I’m sure that plenty of people regularly, even constantly explore and enjoy the exercise of matching food with wine, but for every glass carefully chosen to go with a specific dish, there appear to eight more consumed in the same way most people drink a scotch.
I can only barely imagine what might happen if wine writing and the attentions of wine lovers actually matched their real behavior. Would a large portion of the critical establishment stop excoriating all wines that are greater than 14.5 percent alcohol as having no place at the dinner table? Would wine drinkers feel free to not only drink whatever they like, but to explore and experiment in their wine choices without fear of doing something wrong? Would more people actually drink wine because they knew it didn’t always HAVE to go with food?
This isn’t the first time Yarrow has called food and wine pairings baloney. Three years ago, in a post titled “Food and Wine Pairing is Just a Big Scam,” he ranted that food media, along with sommeliers and chefs at fancy restaurants:
further reinforce a universal belief in three fundamental falsehoods when it comes to pairing food and wine:
Lie #1: For any given food/dish there is a “perfect,” “ideal” or “correct” wine pairing.
Lie #2: There are a ton of mistakes and pitfalls out there — lots of wines just “don’t go” with certain foods and vice versa.
Lie #3: Because of #1 and #2, food and wine pairing is an art that is hard to learn, requires deep knowledge and generally is best left to experts.
And these lies, dear reader, are tacitly supported by the wine establishment around the world, quite possibly because there’s a lot more money to be made if everyone acts as if they are true.
For Yarrow, food and wine pairings are a lie because “the single most important variable in the success of wine and food pairing lies completely out of the control of every sommelier and chef in the world. And that variable is me, you and every single person that sits down to a mouthful of food and a swig of wine.”
Gentle readers, what do you think?