Food and wine writing talking over readers’ heads? A minor rant

November 6, 2009

I’ve had an article from the San Francisco Chronicle Food & Wine section on my desk for about six weeks now, thinking it fodder for a blog post, but then being kind of reticent about it. But, well, I’m tired of seeing it there, mocking me, calling me a chicken, and so here goes.

The article is called Dips and Sips, and it pairs simple appetizer/dip recipes with wines. The thing is, many of the suggested wines are ones that most people have never heard of. Which drives me absolutely crazy.

For their Sloppy Joe Dip, for example, they suggest Grenache, Barbara, red Rhone blends, and some Zinfandels. For Radish Dip, they suggest Vinho Verde, Quincy, and lighter rosé. Now, with the exception of Zinfandel and possibly, possibly lighter rosé, does the average wine drinker know what the heck the Chronicle is talking about? Could you go into the liquor department of your local supermarket and find a Grenache, Barbara, red Rhone blend, Vinho Verde, or Quincy? I think not.

I’m writing a second book on the subject – food and wine pairing – and even I don’t know what Quincy is. (I do, however, know enough to have the right reference materials on hand for when I’m stumped – the fabulous Wine Lover’s Companion reveals that Quincy is a tiny [their word] appellation in France’s Loire Valley. Aha.)

All in all, articles like this, more than anything, serve to keep wine mysterious, frustrating, elusive, and therefore, at arms length for most people. Why does the wine industry keep doing that? Doesn’t it know it’s cutting off its nose despite its face???

My calm, logical husband points out that perhaps the only paper that can get away with recommending such little-known or understood wines is the San Francisco Chronicle, what with the proximity to several of the world’s premier wine regions and all, and perhaps the New York Times, what with the paper’s huge circulation and East Coasters proximity to European wines. (Comic genius that he is, he also suggests the Bordeaux Picayune.) And okay, while we’re being generous I should point out that the Chronicle’s article included nine recipes and while one or two others provided an equally esoteric group of wine suggestions, pretty much every recipe included at least one more familiar wine among the bunch. So I guess you could argue that they did their best to cover the breadth of readers’ wine knowledge.

You could also argue that it’s one of the inherent dichotomies of the wine world – that it’s both alluring and daunting, intriguing and off-putting. To a certain degree, it’s that allure that makes wine attractive. Perhaps if you take away all the allure, made it totally accessible, understandable, welcoming, and inclusive, you’d make it totally uninteresting and boring.

But I, for one, would like to find out.


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