Do you drink wine without eating food? At the same time, I mean. Of course you eat food. And of course you don’t actually drink wine at exactly the same time that you eat food, as that is physiologically impossible… ah, forget it, you know what I mean!
Anyway… Chances are, increasingly, that your answer to that question is “well…duh!” At least, that’s the story from a recent Wine Opinions market-research survey, which was the subject of a New York Times piece by my compadre Eric Asimov.
I was quoted in Eric’s write-up, mostly on the topic of whether or not this trend away from wine and food meal pairing consumption should surprise anyone, especially with the advent of the Millennial wine-buyers coming of age into the market for fine wine (to save you some reading time, my answer was basically “No, we shouldn’t be surprised”).
For some reason I seem to have been anointed as someone with a direct line into the Millennial wine-buying hive-brain, which seems strange to me because, while I’m very, very humbled and grateful that so many in the Millennial set seem to enjoy this blog, the first thing that anyone who knows Millennials will tell you is that you should ask them (the Millennials, that is) about their buying habits directly, because they are probably more willing to speak about them than any previous generation. So if you’re in the wine marketing biz and you’re not talking directly with Millennial wine buyers, then you are not Charlie-Sheen-winning, my friends…
My surrogate representation of the Millennial set is also surprising because, well, I’m not a Millennial – I’ve got graying hair, a three-year—old daughter (graying hair thus explained) and I turned 39 a few weeks ago. I know… I don’t get it, either. But I do gladly count myself as highly influenced by their worldview, and for that I’m truly thankful and indebted to those crazy kids. And I certainly don’t speak for Italian Millennials – despite the surrogate representation of the U.S. contingent and coupled with the fact that I am of Italian ancestry – who (as reported by Decanter) are drinking less wine overall, with food or without. In fact, that same Unicab market research found that 30% of young Italians “no longer consider wine to be a symbol of Italian gastronomy” which is alarmingly f*cked up in so many ways that even I’m not going to go into them in detail!
Anyway… back to the Wine Opinions Survey: the survey questioned approximately 800 members of the Wine Opinions consumer panel, which includes residents of all U.S. states with the exceptions of North Dakota and Montana (which apparently don’t count when it comes to buying wine?), and of the measly (a pitiful 38 percent) of us who actually drink wine in the U.S., only 41 percent of those folks imbibe their wine with a meal.
Is this a sign that wine’s mysterious hold on food is waning?
Not quite, methinks.
Wine still – and always will – RAWK IT when it comes to food, and finding a great match of place / people / wine / vittles elevates all four elements into experiences powerful enough to stay with you until you croak. I love pairing wine with food, personally – a task made a bit more daunting by the great home cooking here, where we favor healthy meals and rarely (read: never) cook the same thing twice… a scenario that therefore presents all manner of vinous pairing challenges (try picking out a great red to pair up when you’re not matching it up against a nice, fatty, marbled hunk of steak). You wanna know what to sip up with some grains? I’m your dude (hint: pay close attention to the sauce!).
And the industry certainly still seems of the opinion that wine and food pairing matters, big-time (the March 2011 edition of Sommelier Journal is entirely devoted to the topic). Of course, that’s kind of a major part of a somm’s job, so we’d expect the restaurant and beverage industry folks to say that wine and food pairing is important, and in the restaurant context it certainly is. So I think the pairing concept has much to strong of a pulse to be declared dead just yet, even if that pulse is mostly being generated by the blood of the diners on-premise.
In my view, the recent increase in imbibing of wine without food is not a sign that people don’t care about pairing wine with food, but is more a sign that people are busier than ever, and younger people (Millennials) feel the business pinch earlier in their lives thanks to our increasingly hectic and ultra-connected lifestyles, and thus find themselves in more social situations in which they drink wine when food isn’t around – or, at least, times when a sit-down meal just isn’t practical. I mention social situations specifically because wine is the most social beverage in the Universe, and comes in packaging (a 750 ml bottle) that begs to be shared because polishing off one of those on your own in one sitting is going to get you very, very plastered (usually not a preferable outcome in a social context).
Of course, I welcome your comments about all of the above (Millennial wine buying habits, your take on wine + food, why the hell I keep getting asked about Millennials anyway) – before or after socializing yourself with that 750 ml bottle!