Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Beverage vs Cocktail - Can't anybody get this right? Not even Eric Asimov!

NYT wine critic Eric Asimov reports today on a tasting of California Zinfandels:

...and starts off by complaining about the "huge, dense, powerful monsters, pushing past 16 percent alcohol and overwhelming any food in their paths."

Me, I love these huge, dense, powerful monsters, and the alcohol level doesn't bother me. But then, I recognize that these popular styles of Zin are crafted as "cocktail wines." 

An understanding of the difference between Cocktail Wines and Beverage Wines would clarify the thinking of many a wine critic, even Eric Asimov: 

The bomb-Zins don't pair well with food?

Well, they're not made to pair with food!

They're cocktail wines.

If you were tasting 20-year Scotches and judging them based on which ones pair well with food, you'd be laughed out of the bar. And if you complained that the Kentucky sippin' whiskey in your glass have alcohol levels far past 16 percent -- well, they'd be looked at as if they landed from Mars.

It astonishes me that nobody in this business seems to get this distinction. Not even the Zin makers I talk to.

Beverage Wines are food-friendly wines -- they have the characteristics of a beverage that you drink with your meal: They wash down the food, have a little acid to clear the palate, are light but (when done well) flavorful, and don't clash with the food flavors and textures. That's why European wines are so light; that's how they fit into the meal.

Cocktail Wines are meant to be tasted by themselves, not with food. How can you eat even a burger with a Rosenblum Rockpile Zin yelling in your ear? You can't. It's wrong for the hamburger -- it's wrong for the Zin. It shows a lack of respect for your drink. 

When you go to a cocktail party, they'll have munchies to clear your palate, but the focus is on the cocktails. When you go to dinner, the focus is on the food, and the wine has to fit in, not the other way around. You don't go to a cocktail party and ask the hostess which food the Margueritas go with!

And it's not a question of which style is the better style. Each is suited to its own place. And not suited to the wrong place. As long as you can't keep this distinction straight in your mind, you will go through life, like Eric Asimov, confused by what you're drinking, because you're drinking it backwards!

1 comment:

Scott said...

An excellent distinction (cocktail vs. beverage when it comes to wine.) For some reason (tradition?) wine as a beverage is definitely the dominant paradigm. All the more reason to seek out the cocktails I say!

(Not that I'd pass on a Rosenblum Rockpile if it was offered to me with a burger, mind you! :-)