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Friday, December 26, 2008


I will rarely write about wine, because I don't partake of alcohol. It's one of the few restrictions I take by choice; there are obviously some health benefits to it (although some may argue the "red wine good for you" stand, but I tend to think that's a case of wishing certain things to be true before they're proven significant). And although I am often requested to justify my stance, I don't impose my views on others.

But I am not alone. True, we are in the minority, nondrinkers are quite often in the same ignored category that people with peanut allergies reside. And for some, abstinence from alcohol stems from reason as profound as allergies (say, pregnant women). As I have written before, though, this is not a deprivation of any significance; believe it or not, one can easily enjoy a diversity of cuisine in absence of alcoholic beverages. Yet chefs openly describe their difficulty in accommodating teetotalers with the same derision some French chefs hold for vegetarians. In many categorizations, "Food and Wine" belong together like some enforced Siamese twinning, even though many of us are in no way interested in the wine part. And that includes the cooking part. Maybe it's because of the reverence we hold for the French culture and its contribution to encoding cooking into recipes.

I am learning that there is a spectrum to gourmands and "foodies" (loath as I am to use the word) - to some, wine constitutes an optional flourish to the food, a counterpoint that pairs well, but certainly does not supplant the experience of dining. And then, there's the other side, where wine and it's affiliated airs are what defines a cultured palate. And on that end of the spectrum, food is merely present to accentuate the wines in use.

Here in Houston, we have an emerging market for wine bars, and I can paint two examples of either end of this spectrum. On the first, I would nominate Catalan, where I was able to enjoy a pleasant meal without feeling pressured to even look at the wine list. On the other hand, the younger 13 Celsius only offers nibbles that promote drinking wine. I had to look hard at the meager food menu there to find anything worth ordering...and eventually gave up. The staff pretty much gave me the diplomatic answer that they don't really welcome nondrinkers in a wine bar. And while I see their point, when dining and drinking are a social cornerstone, this discrepancy in accommodation can drive an unintended wedge. This is one area, where I respect the maverick Charlie Trotter for treating nondrinkers on equal footing as drinkers.

By the way, let's put this old myth out of the way - alcohol does not cook completely out of most dishes when they are used. In fact, stewing can evaporate maybe 70% of the ethanol after extended cooking - and that quick flaming barely touches it.


  1. For the McBardos, wine is not so much a necessary part of the meal, but an enchancement. That said, a proper pairing of food and wine will improve both the food and the wine. And an improper pairing will ruin both. I don't so much feel that people must drink wine, just like I don't think that they must eat pig's feet (yummy pig's feet!). Rather, I think they're missing out on something very tasty.

    We're still learning how to pair food and wine in the McBardo residence. An amateur simply doesn't have the resources to attempt multiple food/wine pairings, and so will never be as good as what you can get at a restaurant with a world-class sommelier.

  2. I love it, it is an apt comparison between pig's feet and wine. Although I think that most people avoid pig's feet just from the idea of the body part - a properly prepared pied de cochon looks nothing like a pig's foot :)

    And how often can you afford the services of a world class sommelier? There was that study which pegged that most people rated the same wine as tasting better if they thought it was more expensive. But perhaps that was study done in isolation from food.

  3. I ... am not alone! I cannot count how many times I've tried to explain that I don't drink (no I am not a recovering alcoholic nor do I think anything is "wrong" with drinking!). I just don't drink. I don't like the way it effects me (immediately, almost like an allergic reaction). Mere sips of wine (red and white) have left me with an instant headache. So ... while I love to read about wine and pairing it with food ... and while I make sure my guests have wine to enjoy when dining at my home ... I am happy to say I now know of at least one other human who clearly loves food EVEN THOUGH they do not drink wine. I knew there had to be at least one other. Cheers!

  4. You never were alone. Besides, you have a medical reason not to drink. But, in the end, here's my point: you DON'T NEED a reason. You can just choose not to.