Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Wine for tasting, Coke for lunch. Why?

A glass of wine with your lunch, Mr. Fonzarelli?
Yesterday I had lunch in St. Helena, in the heart of Napa Valley. A couple at the table next to me told the server they are in Napa Valley from New York for 8 days. Why are they here? "Wine tasting, of course," the man said. They are visiting wineries every day.

They had Coca-Cola with lunch. Both of them. A bottle of Coke each, at a place with a reasonable by-the-glass list with selections as cheap as $10. (If that sounds expensive, the burger is $16.) And they were having at least a 2-course meal, with an appetizer and main course.

What is it with people like this?

You're in wine country on vacation, you're there for the wine, you're tasting wine every day, you're having a wine-friendly meal ... what better time to have a glass of wine?

I notice this on airplanes a lot. Americans will have a small bottle of wine before their meal -- they'll even pay for it -- but when the food comes, they have a Coke. Or orange juice.

I write for trade magazines sometimes so I know this phenomenon exists. A lot of wine writers proclaim from Mt. Olympus, "Wine is meant to go with food," when in fact a lot of Americans drink it as a cocktail, either to unwind after work, to enjoy with friends at a party, or whenever they want a drink. The upshot of that for the wine industry is, the types of wine people like to have without food are different: lower acid, less tannin, possibly more fruit-flavored. I get that. I understand why people enjoy wine without food.

What I don't understand at all is why these same people then don't have wine with food when they have a perfect opportunity. Have they never tried it? Do they think food gets in the way of the wine's flavors?

You can't spend any time around the wine hospitality industry without being told that wine goes with food. You certainly can't spend 8 days in Napa Valley -- yes, even Napa, where a lot of the Cabs are better without food -- without hearing the "wine with food" mantra.

I suppose I should have leaned over and said, "Excuse me, why are you having Coke with your lunch?" Because I don't know, and I'd like to, and instead I have to write this blog post, and hope somebody can explain it to me.

Help me out here: Why do people who like wine, not like it with food?

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


  1. At typically three times the alcohol of beer wine has been and probably always will be lumped in to the realm of "alcoholic drink" for Americans and as such, they treat it as they would treat a cocktail. I try to explain this to my fellow Europeans as much as I can but, like you, they find the concept ludicrous that you'd have wine in the same context as a Gin & Tonic. I find it to be in the same vein as how marijuana got lumped in to the same group of drugs as heroin in the US. It's all sin!

    Once Americans can think of weed being like tobacco and wine being a delicious, grapey beer, then maybe we'll get somewhere. But yes, like you I just don't fucking get having Coke with a meal unless I'm really hot and really sleepy.


  2. Sugar & caffeine but I would go with wine and a nap myself;)

  3. Perception that $10-20 for a "glass" of wine is too expensive. If restaurants would serve 4-6 oz pours in small carafes that could be shared, I bet more people would buy wine with their lunch.

  4. Blake,

    You may be missing the forest for the oak trees.

    Perhaps lunch is the respite after morning winery tasting sessions -- giving these Napa visitors sufficient time to metabolize whatever alcohol they have ingested, before hitting the road to their afternoon tasting sessions?

    And we all need sober drivers on the road in wine country.


  5. Blake,
    I like a couple of glasses with dinner. Perhaps 1 or 2 while making dinner, too. So I'm definitely all for wine with food. But I can totally see giving your palate a break at lunch after tasting a couple of places as Bob mentioned. At the end of the day, people are different (I know... I'm so astute) and we like what we like.

  6. But wouldn't having a coke after wine tasting be rather cloying? I also suspect that spending $$$$ for a glass of wine as opposed to $ for a coke might seem a bit extravagant for this couple, despite the expense of their Napa vacation.

  7. Blake,
    I have a question about the picture. I live in Milwaukee, so the picture with the Bronze Fonz means you were here. So when was the picture taken?

  8. Nate: Recently. What, are you saying I'm one of those guys who just trots out the same picture he thinks is flattering over and over again for years.

    OK, yeah, I do that. But this was taken last month.

    Glad to have a reader in Milwaukee! Been to Distil? If not, tell them I sent you.

  9. I too will go the iced tea route when lunching between tastings, to give my liver and palate a rest if I've not been spitting all day. But I never shy away from wine with meals. That said, there are some wines that I prefer to drink without food, particularly if I'm in love with some nuance that I fear might be lost among other strong flavors.

  10. Americans drinking Coke and fruit juices with their meals was exactly the reason the Mariani brothers thought amabile-style Lambrusco would be a big hit in the USA.

    Now if we can only convince the condescending snobs that there is a time, place, and person for fizz from Emilia-Romagna, maybe we'll see less soda being drunk at lunch. Lambrusco does seem to be making a comeback in some pockets of the US.