Why Wine Is Wonderful (And Our Drinking Culture Is Not)
So, this article was going to be a love letter to wine. In many ways, it still will be – I have lots of very, very good things to say about wine. Wine is wonderful. Wine is delicious. Wine is the perfect companion to almost any meal. I also have a very good relationship with beer, gin, cider and rum (I am not on speaking terms with tequila. It knows what it did.)
And that sort of brings me to the point of this article. We, and I am specifically referring to my generation of young Australians here, though we are by no means alone in this – are NOT GOOD at drinking. At some point, drinking became an all-or-nothing endurance test, and absolutely nothing to do with food. And I think that is a crying shame, because a good drink can be just as much of a brilliant taste experience as a good meal can. Unlike jaeger bombs, which, let’s just admit it, basically taste like liver disease.
I am not preaching from a high horse here – I am right down there with you, slinging back suggestively-named and alarmingly-coloured cocktails like there’s no tomorrow and then waking up with a mouth that tastes like the inner-sole of a gym shoe and a pounding headache that seems to be heralding imminent death. And every single time, I think never again. It’s terrible – we really have a reputation for it here in Europe. Americans, Australians, Brits – the whole English speaking world is known for our binge-drinking. And once again, I’ve been able to observe how the French do it differently.
Don’t get me wrong – the French love to party. In fact, partying is split up into a few stages here. First of all, of course, you have dinner. The idea of a “liquid meal” is horrifying. Food comes first. (I tried to explain the awful concept of “eating is cheating” to some French people, and they just did not get it. Actually, neither do I, really. We have a finite number of meals in this lifetime, why would you ever skip one??) Then you have le before, or as we call it, pre-drinks. My American friends call it pre-gaming, which totally reinforces this drinking-as-a-competitive-sport business. Pre-drinks for us often means drinking as much cheap alcohol as you can before heading to a venue where a night of drinking could easily cost more than your weekly rent. Le before is more often about sharing a glass or two with your close group of friends before meeting up with a bigger group. Then of course, you have la fête, the party! In France, this means dancing, socialising and maybe a couple more drinks. In Australia, this often means buying $12 mixed drinks until your wallet and liver are both screaming “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP” so loudly that you can actually hear them. Between 4am and 6am, the French often transition to “l’after” – the hardcore among them literally party until midday the next day. In Australia this doesn’t exist, because the combination of empty stomachs, straight hard liquor and/or Smirnoff double blacks, and a group of people chanting “scull! scull! scull!” means we have dropped out of the race very early, and are now sleeping our way into tomorrow’s hangover.
Come on, guys. What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Yeah, it can be fun. But not that fun. And like I said, I’m really not one to talk – I’m extremely vulnerable to peer pressure, have a nasty competitive streak and love a good time – so drinking games are basically the end for me. And when you find yourself drinking a king’s cup containing a vile mixture of red wine, tequila, gin and peppermint bloody schnapps, you really have to examine your life choices. This is not what wine was meant for. Wine is a precious gift, given to us by some divine power, and we should treat it as such. It can make your palate sing, and your nostrils hum contentedly, and provide a perfect accompaniment to your meal. It can be like the soundtrack to your film, the scented candle to your bubble bath, the Rose Tyler to your Tenth Doctor (too nerdy? Sorry, I’ll try to pull it back a bit). And wasn’t there a study about a daily glass of wine reducing risk of cancer or something? Right? No need to google it, I’m just going to happily and blindly accept that one.
I’m not here to preach. This is not a health blog. We know alcohol isn’t good for us. But like everything in life, I believe that moderation and variety are absolutely key. I was very lucky – I grew up in a house where I was educated about alcohol from a young age. Not just about the dangers and health risks of abusing it, but also the enjoyment that can be gained through respecting and appreciating a good drop. My parents are very knowledgable about wine, and even run an online business selling rare and unusual booze (quick plug for isleofwine.com.au! Is that reverse nepotism? Or just nepotism? Either way you should check it out!). So I learned earlier than most to identify heavier reds from lighter reds, dry whites from sweet whites, good rosé from bad rosé, and that with a very few exceptions, I do NOT like chardonnay. I also learned that when paired with the right food, wine can taste even better. Richer, more interesting, and with the added bonus that you probably won’t have a splitting headache tomorrow.
So let’s raise a glass to wine – whether it’s the €3 wine from my local French supermarket that miraculously tastes AMAZING (only in Europe), or the overpriced-but-decent wine from your local Aussie pub, or some incredible rare vintage that your uncle whips out for someone’s birthday, or the bottle you bought “for cooking” that keeps you company while you cook the dinner. Because wine deserves our love and respect, and if we give it that, it will be ever so good to us.
Now let’s cook with wine!
DELICIOUS WHITE WINE PASTA
This dish is part-carbonara, part-garlic mushroom, and 100% delicious. Like a lot of my recipes, it was inspired by me walking into the supermarket, buying a bunch of things I felt like eating and drinking, then figuring out how to cook them afterwards.
1 x bottle of delicious, crisp, dry white wine (a pinot gris would be a good bet!)
1 x brown onion
3 x cloves garlic
2 x eggs
200g your pasta of choice (I like fettucini with this particular dish)
- Slice the onion finely and throw it into a frying pan on a low-medium heat with some olive oil. While it’s sizzling very gently, slice the mushrooms, also quite finely.
- When the onions are a little caramelised, add the mushrooms and the garlic, crushed. Then add a knob of butter and a very hefty glut of white wine (about half a glass). Once it’s bubbling nicely, turn the heat right down. Let this simmer very gently for about 15 minutes.
- Put water on for the pasta. Enjoy the domestic-god/goddess feeling that comes from having two pans on the stove at once (other people get that too, right?)
- In a small jug, whisk together the eggs, cream, parmesan and a liberal grinding of salt and pepper. (Note to self “liberal grinding” does not sound delicious. Find a better way to say that).
- Splash some more wine into the mushroom pan. If you haven’t already, splash some into a glass for yourself.
- When the pasta is cooked, drain immediately. Drizzle some olive oil into the hot pan then throw the pasta back in there. Immediately add the mushroom/wine reduction and the egg/cream mixture and mix it through quickly but gently – don’t hurt the pasta!
- Sprinkle some more parmesan over to serve. I suggest having a simple green salad on the side to distract yourself from all of the butter and carbs. Enjoy, with more wine of course!
This recipe serves 2-3, so just multiply the quantities if necessary!