Early in March I visited the old village in the north of Portugal where I used to live as a kid. The reason? The family (read my dad) decided that we should re-plant the old vineyard which had succumb after years of neglect (we moved away several years ago looking for a "better life"). This is the birth of a new wine project that I'm excited about… more on it some time in the future.
Though I wasn't there for long, this was a chance to reconnect with the local wine culture. I visited 6 different wineries and had plenty of wine throughout each day. This trip reminded me of how people in the "old world" live with wine.
For example, there just isn't much wine drinking happening without food. Be it a simple bread and cheese spread or an all out meal, wine comes with food. Some of you may have already realized that many wines which don't taste good on their own, can taste much better with food. This is at times an argument used to justify bad wines, but a bad wine is not "fixed" by adding food. To put it in simple terms, what I'm referring to is a style of wine which is higher in acidity, lower in alcohol, less "extracted"... these are the types of wines which tend to be more pleasant with food. I also think that drinking wine with food simply allows people to drink more... and that's not a bad thing.
Another aspect that I find interesting is how few people speak about grape variety when drinking wine. When the grapes are brought into the discussion it's usually of secondary relevance, sort of a minor detail. The emphases is mostly on how the wine actually tastes regardless of what grapes went into its making. My own experience is that here in the US most people (myself included many times) have pre-conceived notions on how well they'll enjoy a wine based on knowing the grapes in it. Some people even feel uneasy about drinking a wine without knowing the grapes used in its making. Though there isn't anything wrong with wanting to educate ourselves about the different taste profiles of each variety, I feel that we must not let it be the main determining factor in our wine drinking decisions and experiences.
The US has become a major wine drinking country but we are still learning how to live with wine in our daily lives. I hope that we can learn and benefit from some of our European counterparts approach. I believe we can do this without losing our identity.