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Wine and Beer

September 27, 2011

More than anyone else I know, Mr. Dave seems to have a deep and intuitive sense of the values and morays mores of the Capital District. One of these days I’ll meet this man of mystery, who incidentally is now a father yet again (this time to a masculine child). Until then, I’ll just have to hang on his every word.

Recently he suggested why my wine posts weren’t getting their fair share of attention:

It seems you have kind of developed a regional appeal for your blog, and I just don’t think you have a wine culture here. You may have some wine enthusiasts, but for the rest wine posts are going to continue to be a big snore. If you truly enjoy writing them, isn’t the one guy who gets major jollies out of them worth it?

Naturally, I’m going to keep writing about wine because that’s just the kind of guy I am, and have always been. I’ll keep bashing my head into the same damn wall, hoping that the next one will make it through. I’ve mentioned before being a prisoner of hope.

And I recognize that we have a much stronger beer culture in the region. But wine isn’t fundamentally different from beer. Oh shit. Did I just write that? Now I’m going to have to defend it.

It was once explained to me by a brewer than hops are to beer as grapes are to wine, and that in both products yeast plays a major if underappreciated role in the ultimate flavor of the beverage.

So beer gets brewed while wine just ferments. Big freaking deal. They are both at heart fermented agricultural products. Tasty libations that go well with food and make you feel good. Each can take simple food like sausage or cheese and elevate it for a special occasion. By the same token each can enhance a fine dining experience with thoughtfully selected pairings.

Besides the cachet of being the drink of the everyman in this country, what else does beer have going for it that isn’t echoed in wine? What follows are a few of my guesses and counterarguments.

“I can drink a lot of beer, but if I drink a lot of wine I’ll get wasted.”

Okay, that may be true for most wines. They have a higher alcohol by volume (ABV) than most beers, but it’s certainly not universally true. There are some high ABV beers and some low ABV wines. In fact it’s the low alcohol content in German whites that I really enjoy. It means Mrs. Fussy and I can finish a bottle of a nice tart, dry and snappy Riesling without stumbling away from the table.

“Beer comes in single serve containers. Why would I want to open a whole wine bottle?”

It’s a good point, but there are three different options here. One is buying wine in half bottles, if this is an issue. Two is getting a vacuum-based wine preserver. Three is wine in a box. Wine in a box is great because the box keeps for weeks, and you can just pour a glass at a time without a deterioration in quality. There’s a lot of bad wine put into boxes, but more and more people are using them for better and better wine.

“Beer just tastes better.”

Maybe it does, but I have a hard time believing that someone who appreciates the nuances of a good beer wouldn’t gain a similar pleasure from savoring the nuances of a good wine. Why would anyone close themselves off to something that might be enjoyable? The trick is finding a wine that tastes good to you. But that can take time.

Perhaps if you are a beer lover, the worst place to look for wines is in the standard bearers of the wine world. You know, the Chardonnays, Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots. Perhaps you have a palate that prefers bitter flavors. If that is the case, there are some pleasingly bitter wines. There is more on this here.

The next time you make a batch of beans with greens try and find a nice Italian verdicchio.

“Beer is cheaper.”

That’s may be true, but it’s not entirely true. My first stop for everyday wines is BJs and there I’m able to find plenty of decent wines for under $7 a bottle. Given that there are five servings of wine in a bottle, this translates to a $8.40 six pack. Sure there are a lot more expensive wines than there are expensive beers. But good wine need not be expensive.

Look.

I’ve got an agenda. I have nothing against beer, but I do want more people to enjoy wine. I want people to open themselves up to the experience. I want them to venture into uncharted waters. And I want to help them do that.

It’s a lot of fun to watch people taste wine, really taste wine, for the first time. There is a bit of discomfort in it. There is a lot of awkwardness even about putting the experience into words. People don’t trust their own tastes, and that calls for some degree of handholding. I’m sure the beer geeks have experienced this at some point in their own evolution.

The big thing though is using either of these tasty and multi-faceted beverages as a gateway to making people more confident in their own tastes and opinions. Because when more people can express why something is good and why it isn’t, I believe that the overall standards of taste and quality will rise. And that will help us all.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 27, 2011 10:49 am

    Empire has a much better selection of wines under $10.

    On the difficulty of describing wine : “Words cannot touch the soul of a wine.”

    Richard Olney “Reflexions”

  2. Bill Swallow permalink
    September 27, 2011 10:54 am

    “It was once explained to me by a brewer than hops are to beer as grapes are to wine, and that in both products yeast plays a major if underappreciated role in the ultimate flavor of the beverage.”

    Um, either you got that wrong or the brewer needs to be brought out back and shot.

    Hops aren’t fermentable. They are bittering and aromatic agents only. Wort (a solution containing sugars from germinated grains) is to beer as grapes are to wine. You ferment the wort to make beer, not the hops.

    Beer and wine share a similar process of fermentation, but the byproducts are vastly different given the composition of the ingredients. They use different yeasts, produce different esters and tannin, are accompanied by varying adjuncts (mainly in the case of beer)… Wine is nearly pure grape and yeast with no water added (though sulfites are often added to prevent spoiling in the initial stages before there’s a formidable alcohol base and carbon dioxide layer to keep things sanitary). Beer has four (not two) main ingredients: grains (malts), yeast, hops and water.

    You get the idea. Of course I’m of the mind that all of the counterarguments you addressed are, indeed, bunk. I’ve bought a $50+ bottle of beer. I’ve bought beer in bottles typically equal in size to wine bottles. I’ve bought beer stronger than wine (ABV) – and almost brewed one as well (strongest homebrew to date was 11.1%).

    I see them as peers (though beer is longer in the tooth, with evidence of it being made by humans a good 3-4,000 years before wine) and to be savored and enjoyed (and paired with foods) equally.

  3. September 27, 2011 11:37 am

    Ah, the great debate: wine or beer. I’ll preface my comments by mentioning that I’ve been a big craft beer fan for years, and am currently a professional beer brewer. Also, I’ve never enjoyed wine, though I haven’t tried any since my palate has expanded via good beer.

    I think there may be some additional issues influencing the preference of beer over wine. I’ll start with ingredients and consistency.

    Year to year, it is expected that grape growing conditions will vary and that the resulting wines will be have differences in flavor and character. This has become an endearing quality of wine. On the other side, the Bud-Miller-Coors fizzy lager marketing juggernaut has brainwashed the masses into expecting beer to be 100% consistent from year to year in flavor. What people don’t understand in many cases is how variable barley and hops can be from year to year. Unfortunately this misunderstanding may keep some people from jumping into wine because they’re more comfortable with the supposed consistency in beer.

    Over the years, wine has also, for better or worse, garnered a reputation as a pretentious white collar drink. I’m not sure how prevalent that is these days, but it’s a conception that’s worth noting. Many people seem to see beer as more accessible because of this, and that may hinder the population’s willingness to branch out.

    I’m sure there are other reasons that keep people from being more willing to expand their palates.

  4. September 27, 2011 1:44 pm

    Hops are not to beer as grapes are to wine. Malted barley is to beer as grapes are to wine. That brewmaster must have been making some pretty strange tasting stuff.

  5. September 27, 2011 4:29 pm

    Talk about attack of the metaphor. Wow! My two cents: I like both. A dear family friend makes a home brew that is to die for (save a growler for me, Frank!).
    Keep the wine posts coming. I haven’t wine in a box in years. I may have to revisit.
    Thanks!
    Kim

  6. September 27, 2011 6:44 pm

    You forgot one.

    Sulfites. Or, rather, people with allergies to sulfites.

    I should preface this with, all (or at least a vast vast majority of) people are allergic to sulfites. It just matters HOW allergic you are to sulfites, and some are far more sensitive to it than others. There are a number of similar things you can put here – animal dander, wool, pollen, metals, etc. Some people are more sensitive to these elements than others.

    What happens when you are more sensitive to sulfites? Well, for starters, it gets you drunk faster, with a headache to boot.

    Some wine is made without sulfites. They’re difficult to find, primarily because the sulfites act as a preservative for bottling. Difficult, but not impossible.

    Many people who say “wine doesn’t agree with me” or “wine gets me too drunk” are probably more sensitive to sulfites, and might be OK on sulfite-free wine, or even possibly white wine (which usually have less sulfites).

    Regarding the following comment:
    But wine isn’t fundamentally different from beer. It’s not, you’re right – and you can find a lot of pro-wine people who say they don’t like beer for a number of reasons, too.

    Me, personally – a fan of both. :)

    • September 30, 2011 11:33 am

      That’s really interesting about the sulfites. I’ve noticed as I get older, that I get drunker a lot faster from wine. One glass and I am tipsy, two and I feel drunk. I’ve never been this much of a light weight and in all honesty, I’m not that light! I wonder if it’s a sulfite allergy that I’ve developed. I’ll have to look into this.

  7. October 20, 2011 8:15 pm

    The hops are said to be the grapes of beer because they have terroir. One can talk about German noble hops and Pacific Northwest hops the way one can talk about Bordeaux and Napa Valley.

    • October 20, 2011 11:45 pm

      Very true, though the same holds true for grains, and let’s not forget the water.

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