At the end of a busy day, my husband and I like to relax before dinner with a glass of wine. I get my appreciation for good reds and whites from my father. Although he wasn’t wealthy, he always believed in spending a little extra on a good bottle of wine. When dining out, I used to love watching him choose a bottle, check the label, inspect the color, and swirl, sniff, and taste. In addition to enjoying a good pinot gris or cabernet, I love to learn about how people in other countries consume wine.
In France, it’s common to begin sipping wine with dinner as a child, so French teenagers often know more about wine than many American adults. For instance, they likely know that seven important regions — Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire, Provence and the Rhone Valley — have distinct terroir that yields specific types of grapes. They also know that at dinner parties, it’s not proper to fill a glass more than half full and to stop pouring wine when the last guest has finished eating. That’s probably why many French dinner parties last well into the night. While the French generally stick to red wines in the winter and white wines in the summer, they have great respect for food pairings and often follow the rule: white wine with fish or seafood and red wine with beef or lamb.
In Spain, wine is considered more of a food than an alcoholic beverage, so it’s not uncommon to see a bottle of wine on the table at lunchtime and dinnertime. In the old days, Spanish people enjoyed drinking wine from a porron, a practice that some continue today. Standing about eight inches tall, this peculiar container features a long neck; a fat, rounded bottom; and a long, tapered spout. A porron is held above the head with the spout a few inches from the mouth. When tipped, the wine is supposed to flow directly from the spout into the mouth, but I’ve found that using a porron takes practice. Because the spout doesn’t touch the mouth, a porron of wine can be shared among family and friends — no glasses needed.
Since the Roman Empire, wine has been a key component of Italian culture, which is likely why in ancient times the country was known as enotria, which translates to “land of wine.” The Romans believed in enjoying wine daily, and most modern-day Italians continue this tradition. In fact, many people believe that the laid-back, friendly attitude exhibited by Italians is associated with the country’s relaxed wine culture. Like the Spanish, Italians drink wine with lunch and dinner, and in restaurants, it is served in liter or half-liter carafes. I was surprised to learn that despite their love of wine, Italians come in second to France when it comes to wine consumption.
At summer dinner parties in Austria, it’s not uncommon for a bottle of white wine to be accompanied by a soda siphon, a vintage-style container full of soda water. Dinner hosts will fill glasses about two thirds full with wine and top them off with soda water for fizzy summertime refreshment. When the weather chills, Austrians (and Germans) serve gluhwein, mulled red wine flavored with cinnamon, star anise, vanilla, and citrus. I discovered that the word gluhwein translates to “glow wine,” which refers to the orange glow of the irons originally used for mulling.
Since I love a good dessert wine, I was not disappointed when a friend served ice wine at a dinner party recently. Ice wine is a product made from grapes that are frozen on the vine. Because it is labor-intensive, ice wine can be quite expensive, but for many wine lovers, the sweet flavor is well worth the money. While ice wine is usually enjoyed chilled, some Canadians serve it warmed, like mulled wine, during the winter months. When it comes to food pairings, red ice wines go well with chocolate, and white ice wines complement fatty foods like cheese and foie gras.
In the country of Georgia, winemaking dates back to 6,000 BC. People who lived in the area at that time stored and aged wine by burying it underground in large earthenware containers called qvevri, a practice that still occurs today. As a tradition, Georgians celebrate nearly every social occasion with a feast, or supra, and every supra has a toastmaster, or tamada. Usually, the job goes to elders who are considered wise and well-spoken, and long toasts are woven around serious topics like local history, death, or world peace. I’m intrigued by how Georgians don’t sip. With each toast, they drink a full glass of wine, which means some supras are extra-festive.
The French chemist and microbiologist, Louis Pasteur, once said, “A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world.” Wine lovers around the world might agree. This fermented grape beverage has earned a place in the traditions of many countries.