Foodies vs. Winies?

My friend and colleague Winnie helps me to understand the “foodie vs. winie” dialectic.

I was recently inspired to create my Do Bianchi blog by my friend and colleague Winnie. She works with me in the marketing department for the company that runs Vino, I Trulli, and Centovini. She is also the editor of the Slowfood newsletter, The Snail. She’s one of the best food writers that I know.

Browsing her blog, I came across a link to an Epicurious/Gourmet Mag blogger that Winnie particularly admires, Francis Lam. I was intrigued by his take on “foodies vs. winies” and wanted to address some of the issues he raises. See quotes from his post and my reflections.

…food geeks are insufferable, but wine geeks are TOTALLY insufferable, and most people try to limit their insufferability. Once, at dinner with a real winie (if I’m forced to answer to “foodie”, it’s only fair to call them “winies”, right?) I took a bite of peas and exclaimed, “Oh my God. . . that tastes so much like pea!” Kind of annoying, sure. But then my winie friend took a bite and said, “Yeah. . . it tastes like pea skins.”

Wine geeks are insufferable (and I would argue that food geeks are equally insufferable, especially when they consider talking about food more important than eating well, but then again I guess that’s why all of us are in this business. “Foodie” and “winie” (a neologism? or is this what they call us all the time?) are reductive terms. We all need to approach food and wine within the context of who and where we are and whenever style supercedes substance, we all might as well just stop eating and drinking all together.

…have you read any wine tasting notes lately? Yeah, I don’t blame you. Last time I picked up a wine magazine, I realized that I can’t really blame my pea-skin loving friend. Hey, I understand how hard it is to talk about what something tastes like–we really don’t have much of a vocabulary for it.

I can’t say how much I agree: wine tasting notes are the “lice” of the wine world (as Montale once said of pronouns in poetry). Wine tasting notes are such a turnoff to so many people. Wine should taste like wine and the sad thing is that people overlook the fact that you need to start your knowledge by learning what different grapes and appellations taste like. You have to learn what Merlot tastes like before you can begin to describe the differences between Merlot grown in different places and vinified using different methods.

…I’ll say this at the risk of losing all my credibility in the gastronomic world: WINE IS NOT AS IMPORTANT AS FOOD. It’s just not.

As much as I agree with the central theme of his post, I have to say that a statement like this is just ridiculous and it’s irresponsible for someone like Francis to publish an “absolute” like this (in all caps?). This is a great example of what’s wrong with the blogosphere. Wine and food are equally important: uninformed bloggers like Francis are not aware of the fact that wine (like beer, also an important source of nutrients) were essential to human existence unti the post-second-world-war era when consumerism and the hegemony of American puritanism transformed wine into a purely “luxury” item.

Despite what oenophiles will tell you, wine is not central to food. To wit: all of the food cultures that have developed without wine: Hello, Muslim world! Hello, Asia! Hello, Mexico!

Again, why does he have to write in such extreme colors? And, again, he is misinformed: just think of the great fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz and the many verses he devoted to the mystical pleasures of wine. Muslim culture developed without any wine? Yeah, right.

…it’s a real problem that the idea of “knowing” wine means that you’ve memorized grapes and vintages, or that you know to look for the grapefruit, chalk, and sea salt in your glass of Pouilly-Fumé. These things might matter, but the bigger question, I think, is not how to get people to name the 13 varietals in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but how to get people excited about trying something new, something good.

I felt compelled to write this post because what Francis is saying is fundamentally right (at least in my mind). Knowing wine, as he writes, is being excited about “something new, something good.” I tell people all the time: don’t listen to the would-be poets who taste “star anise” in their wine (when’s the last time they put star anise in their mouths?). All you need to know about wine is whether you like it or not. Drink what you like and don’t let anyone tell you different!

…that’s what I might say if I were going to be thoughtful about this.

Good thing Francis has decided not to be thoughtful.

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