More Taste, Less Filling

My flight was delayed and I was facing a three hour wait at DFW so I decided I might as well eat. Picking out the most promising restaurant I could find, I sat down at the bar and ordered the simplest thing on the menu, which is always my defensive eating strategy in such places. I was in no hurry so stretched out my dining experience as long as possible. During those forty five minutes or so the guy next to me downed four Coor’s Lights. With nothing else to do, but watch my barmates, I noticed they were all drinking light beers. On top of that they they were all drinking a lot of them and not a glass was in use. Lots and lots of long neck lights were being downed while the draft lines went undisturbed.

Coming from Oregon I’m used to anybody and everybody drinking craft brews. Besides the fact that there seems to be as many brew pubs as gas stations in Oregon, you even find a line-up of craft brews on tap on the dumpy-ist country tavern. Here taste in beer tends to run to IPA’s with such bitter hop intensity that Coor’s Light has more in common with Perrier than our local brews. Living in such a place makes you forget what most Americans want in their food and drink.

What they want is little or no flavor or extremes of flavor. In some ways the Oregonian adulation of beers with so many hops that you can taste nothing else is just the mirror image of the Coor’s light drinker who likes it because it has almost no flavor at all. This is why we have such extremes of flavor in our culture and why you have people washing down blistering hot Tex-Mex and Asian foods with flavorless beer. Look what we do to Sushi, that most delicate of foods, as we insist to douse it in wasabi and soy sauce, which only insures we can’t taste if the fish is fresh or not. Sushi insiders know if you want the chef to give you the best fish you have to show him you’re not going to ruin it.

This is a huge dilemma for winemakers. Are we faced with making only innocuous industrial wines or supercharged spoofulated wines to stay in business? Fortunately no, as wines with complexity, balance and elegance can never be mass produced and there will always be a niche market for such wines. However, such producers have to accept that most Americans will never understand their wines as their palates just are not attuned to delicate, complex flavors.

On this same trip I was lucky to eat at the excellent Parkside Restaurant in Austin Texas where chef Shawn Cirkiel features one of the best selections of the freshest oysters you’ll find anywhere. The people next to me asked many questions about the oysters. They’d been to some great restaurants including Gary Danko and The French Laundry and were clearly into food. When their pristine oysters arrived they requested Tabasco and proceeded to obliterate each and every nuance of the assorted oysters in front of them. For wine the Tabasco is too much new oak, over-ripe grapes, dry ice and all the other over-manipulations of modern, spoofulated winemaking.

Today taste in America means more is better. Light beer is popular because you can drink more of it. Burning hot food is popular because anybody can taste it. Huge portions must be a great deal, right? It’s no wonder that wines with the most (most flavor or most advertising) are the most popular at all points on the price spectrum.