Living like the French: Part 3--Drink French (Or Euro-Zone) Wines

Photo by LidiaL via Flickr

My friend Herb Eckhouse of La Quercia Prosciutto once said to me something that crystallized my thoughts on how I evaluate a meal. He said “I not only judge a meal based on how it makes me feel as I eat it, but how I feel after I’ve finished it.”

I’m sure I’d been doing the same—intuitively—over my many years as a restaurant reviewer, but I’d never quite articulated it that way. But it’s so key to everything I feel about the pleasures of the table.

Sometimes I can’t believe how great I feel after enjoying dinner in France. After three (usually four) courses, including an apéritif and a splitting a bottle of wine with my husband, I practically float out the door—sated, but never uncomfortably full, lifted up but never drunk. And I rarely ever feel the downside of all that merriment the next day. (Or if I do, it’s never anything a robust bowl of cafe-au-lait and a croissant won’t set straight.)

Back here in Amerique profonde, when dining out, I can rarely manage two courses—let alone three or four—and I rarely drink more than 2 glasses of wine with dinner because I heard a friend of mine, who works at at a drug rehab Orlando, that drinking more than 2 glasses increases the chances of dependencies on it. Either way, more than that and I feel stuffed, stupid, and done-in. The next day, I feel worse. Anymore, I just don’t go down that path.

So, what’s the difference? Let’s bracket our obscenely large portions for now. And let’s talk about the wine.

Hugel Cuvée Les Amours–a Great Choice for a Picnic!

First of all, consider what we drink as a pre-dinner drink. As I mentioned in a previous posting,the European apéritif is rarely ever a large or high-alcohol drink—it’s just enough to stimulate the appetite and shrug off the day’s funk, readying the spirit for what’s to come. Conversely, American cocktails hit you harder. That’s fine, if that’s what you want…but I like to be more alert for the rest of the evening.

Then there’s the wine. A few observations:

Alcohol content: Next time you open a bottle, look at the alcohol content (by law, it has to be there). Most American wines are at least 13.5%, and many go much higher. Now, look on a bottle of European wines. Most are below 13.5%, and many go lower.

Does it make a difference? Yes. If you drink a 12.5% glass instead of a 14.5% glass, you’re getting about 13.8% percent less alcohol in each glass you drink (Trust me—I asked a math major for this calculation.) That will make a difference over a bottle. In my experience, that pleasant lift you get from wine comes on gradually and sustains itself longer when you’re not drinking high-proof drinks.

Altadonna Vermentino: Light, Bright, Food-Friendly–and 12.5% Alcohol. YAY!

Euro wines are food wines. Higher-alcohol “New World” wines are usually heavier and make you feel more full as you drink them with food. Often, their commanding flavor profiles overpower what’s on the plate. Euro-wines, conversely, are usually less plush and full-bodied, their flavors more subtle. In fact, they’re sometimes more rustic, tannic, and even tart (think of the sour-cherry appeal of Chianti!), but the more you enjoy them with food, the more you realize that’s they way wine works best at the table.

Of course, I’m painting in broad strokes here. There are plenty of US wines that bring sane alcohol contents, and plenty of European wines that are plushly full and higher in alcohol. Also, I’m talking about everyday wines. The high-end stuff (on both continents) can be a whole different boule of wax.

If you don’t believe me, try an experiment. If you’re used to drinking higher-alcohol bruisers, next time you and your dining partner are going to split a bottle of wine with dinner, try a Euro wine with a 12.5% alcohol content or lower (after a small apéritif). Just see how it makes you feel, both as you drink it and the next day. I’d love to know if it makes as much of a difference for you as it does me.



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3 comments to Living like the French: Part 3–Drink French (Or Euro-Zone) Wines

  • I live in France and it is SO true–many course, including cheese, but I never feel stuffed. Partly too b/c they eat slowly here—but I never thought about the role of the wine! Great post, merci.

    • Wini

      Yes–they eat more slowly, and part of this is because they stretch a meal out over courses…I truly don’t think they eat more, they just spend more time eating. And enjoying. Thanks for posting!

  • Linda

    I like that: they don’t eat more, just spend more time eating. That’s the real secret, isn’t? Slow down. Savor the meal.

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