Updated 2009-03-08 16:21:27 ID=333:0

© 2009 The Romantic Table
©2009 The Romantic Table 2009-02-17 09:52:55:123
©2009 The Romantic Table

Larry McGourty writes about wine and food

Is there really an American predisposition for low acidity in wine?

So is there really an Americans predisposition to sweeter, less acidic wines? Well, it's not that simple. While there are a couple of issues at play like regional diversity, as American drink more wine with meals rather than just social drinking, preferences are changing.

In a recent blog on Wine Rocks, the blogger described a Sauvignon Blanc from Bronco (of two bucks Chuck fame). His comment was the wine was low alcohol and low acidity. He liked the wine's lower alcohol, but his personal preference is for higher acidity. His blogging point was that the wine was made to those specifications, low alcohol and low acidity to match the preference of American buyers. His conclusion is that American wine buyers like don't like acidity. Accompanied of course with a lot of comments on the American "bigger bodied fruit-forward wine making" styles.

In the egullet.org forums about the same time, there was a thread initiated by a member who added a bit of sugar to a wine a couple of days opened and in his words, "cut the slight vinegar taste, enhanced the wine." Of course I am not sure what he meant by "vinegar" - I assume acidity. I believe the wine was a mid-range French Pinot Noir so it was made to French tastes. No doubt a bit on the acidic side for the "American" palette. Basically the thread was supportive of adding sugar if that's what you like. Of course if you like less acidic and sweeter wines, why not choose that particular wine in the first place?

So is there really an American predisposition to sweeter, less acidic wines?

Well, it's not that simple --I think that there are really a couple of issues at play here. First and foremost the big fruit-bombs get the press and the high points. It is a style of wine making that serves a particular segment of the public, the wine critics. Incidentally it is a style that is suited to grapes grown in the more dependable and warmer climate of the New World. It is a niche were the "upstarts" have a built in advantage over the old world producers so why not exploit it? In a culture like America where there is no real wine drinking tradition, our first exposure to wine will be driven mostly by what we read. If the bigger, sweeter, less acidic wines are getting the press, we naturally assume that is what we are supposed to drink.

Another issue is that by and large there still is not an accompanying gastronomic tradition among the wine drinkers of the New World. Things are slowly changing, but in most cases a New World wine drinker, particularly a younger millennial-next, is more likely to go out wine tasting with friends, or have a party where wine is served as a cocktail rather than a sit down formal wine-dinner for friends. The bigger fruity low acidity wines are better suited to cocktail service than the more spare and acidic European style.

For example in some parts of the USA Zinfandel is a favorite party wine - White-Zinfandel that is! I am not knocking a glass of good chilled Zin Rosé. It is great on a hot, humid summer night like you get in the South, and is a natural for social drinking. But if that is your only exposure to Zinfandel, your wine experience will be limited. I remember a few years back we were in Austin Texas and the locals were amazed to learn that Zinfandel in its "true" form beloved by Zin-aficionados was a very robust red.

Now if you primarily like wine with food like we do, the European style is better suited for that service. The lower alcohol and higher acidity work much better with food --which brings up another problem in the New World. In theory if you are dining out at a good restaurant, you would expect that your server would have a least a rudimentary grasp of the wine list and if asked could make a pairing recommendation. Usual not so. Waitering is not considered an occupation here, just a temporary job while waiting for your "real career" to take off. And then there is the problem of a multi-course meal, a good wine selection for the first course may not be so good for the second and vice versa. Usually the bland safe selection will suffice since it doesn't have much character to start with, and will be inoffensively overwhelmed by the entreé.

Things are changing slowly in areas that are developing a local wine-culinary culture. Wine dinners are becoming much more common. Certainly it is true in California wine country like the Central Coast and of course in all the major cities of the US. As we learn more about wines (and how to pronounce some of the names like Viognier and Aglianico so we can ask for them!) and wine and food parings we begin to appreciate the European style wine matched with their regional culinary counter parts.

Still, the U.S. is a big place and there will always be regional differences in taste. Perhaps a white Zinfandel would pair well Southern BBQ, but it would not be a great selection to accompany oak grilled Beef Tri-tip, Santa Maria Barbecue Style, a California Central Coast favorite. Wine making styles and culinary styles develop organically together -what grows together goes together.

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A tip from Sue!

Eating well with no guilt!

For those health-conscious, alternate a "healthy meal" just before and after a "splurge meal." You can enjoy the food much more when you're not plagued by guilt! And this keeps you on a self-imposed "mini-diet" and maintains your weight much better than if you haphazardly eat at random.