Within the panoply of historic quotes and prose relating to wine are a few quotes that have been passed on and tweaked and amended and live on in some form, centuries later.
One favorite is ‘The first duty of wine is to be red’. Although the internet abounds with claims regarding its origin/originator, it is correctly attributed to playwright Henri Murger in his 1849 play La Vie de Bohème.
Since then, it has been re-tweeted so to speak, many, many times: ‘The first duty of wine is to be red; then sweet’ (surely from a Port shipper); ‘The first duty of wine is to be red…then Burgundy’ (attributed to author Alec Waugh—not his cousin wine writer Harry Waugh); Even an instruction in a training guide on how to be a proper butler: ‘After a meal, the first duty of a Butler is to put away the wine’ (from Eliot James’ book ‘Our Servants—Their Duties to Us, and Ours to Them’).
This came to mind recently when Geek was in a region of the world-renowned for its whites (though the reds were pretty tasty too). So much so, that of all the wine drunk at dinner (ok, lunch too) during a week-plus period, 95% was white…and no one felt unfulfilled. Although likely not just because of the famous 1849 quote, there is indeed a chauvinism regarding the superiority of red wine over white. Think about it: when have you ever gone to a wine tasting, wine dinner, even a ‘special event’ in your home (where you open that ‘treasured bottle’) and it wasn’t a red wine as the main event? Wine Geek is calling a cow’s horn full of you-know-what on that. Admittedly, if Geek were asked to name the ’10 Best Wines’ ever drunk, probably 8 or 9 would be red. But if asked to rank the ‘Best 100’, it surely wouldn’t be 80% red.
Anyone that has ever had the privilege of drinking a Grand Cru white Burgundy—maybe even Montrachet itself–knows there are few, if any, red wines that will make you want you to put that glass down.
But not to reduce it to Montrachet vs red, Geek contends there are all kinds of white wines that are the ‘equal’ of their red brethren. And lots of occasions where white makes way more sense. Not to mention SO many dishes which work better (only) with white wines. A few specifics: white Burgundy, top-tier Chardonnay from U.S., Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Italy…and a few other places (Ontario for example); White Bordeaux and its imitators; Alsace Grand Cru, German ‘Grosses Gewachs’ as well as the classic Prädikat wines, Austrian Grüner Veltliner, site-specific Friuli & Alto Adige wines, Etna whites, great Loire Chenin, great Condrieu …and did we mention Champagne? And what about great Sherry and Madeira? White wines, FYI. Are these not the equals of great reds? If you think not, you might be drinking the wrong wines.
Of course, if you consider yourself a ‘foodie’, or at least recognize & enjoy the difference the correct wine can make on your enjoyment of a dish, you know that white wines are essential to achieve Nirvana with many dishes: from Oysters & Champagne (or Chablis, or Muscadet, or Fino Sherry); Sauternes & Roquefort; Sancerre & Chèvre, Grand Cru Alsace Riesling with Foie Gras…these are the easy ones. Though the notion that you can’t drink red wine with fish is (happily) long gone, it must be certain types of fish—and certain types of red (Dover Sole & Cabernet is a miss!)
And what about occasion? A beachside picnic on a hot summer day; an Alto Adige white, or a Condrieu would suit the occasion much better than say a Malbec…at least in Geek’s opinion. Sunday Brunch and Cabernet? Ok, it won’t hurt anyone, but…Mimosas are better when made with sparkling wine than with Cabernet.
Note: Geek is not asserting that white wine is ipso facto better than red, but neither is the reverse true. Just that sometimes white wine is better for the moment. And if you are one of those wine lovers that ONLY drinks red wine you are A) more than entitled to do so and B) missing out on some amazing vinous treasures and wine/food experiences. Expand your horizons, you might be pleasantly surprised!
In conclusion, we will be next in that long line that have paraphrased Mr. Murger: ‘The first duty of a wine is to taste good’ (that would be from Wine Geek).
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