Wine with food or wine alone?

Do you prefer to enjoy wine with food or to sip wine by itself without distraction? (Yes, “both” is a fair answer, but for now, let’s choose one.)
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What do you think?

Today I ask a simple question: Do you prefer to enjoy wine with food or to sip wine by itself without distraction? Come and share your thoughts in Substack Chat!

I’m curious about this because it’s one of those questions that divides many wine enthusiasts.

Sip wine by itself. I can think of a few good reasons for this preference. By enjoying the wine on its own, you can turn a laser-like focus on the wine’s flavors and aromas without the distracting aromas and flavors of the delicious food sitting right there in front of you. You keep things simple with no need to worry about preparing or ordering a meal, waiting for courses and such. You don’t have to deal with the challenge of coming up with just the correct food-and-wine pairing. And best of all, you don’t need to wait for dinner time! Open the bottle, pour, and enjoy.

Enjoy wine with a meal. Again, it’s easy to make a list of good reasons. Food can complement and enhance the flavors of the wine, and wine can return the favor by heightening the flavor of your fare. What’s more, a good choice of food can balance or even ameliorate characteristics like acidity and tannins, and even sweetness, that might make the wine less enjoyable on its own. And finally, as Tevye famously sang in Fiddler on the Roof, “Tradition!” In many cultures around the world, it would be unthinkable to gather around the dinner table without opening a bottle of the local wine to enjoy with the local fare.

It is perfectly all right to veer between both of these approaches depending on the situation. I do that myself: When I’m taking formal notes for a wine review, I always taste and take notes with the wine alone. The same is true, and even more so, in formal wine judging. It’s important to rate the wine on its own merits first, without delicious distractions that might alter my impression of the wine.

But once I’ve drawn those conclusions and written them down, I would then consider the review incomplete without taking my glass to the table and continuing its analysis in the company of appropriate food.

Wine goes with food, This has been my rule since I first got to know wine as a young (and possibly not quite legal) adult, enjoying Chianti with pizza or spaghetti in comfortable little Italian-American eateries. I got a graduate education in the topic in the early 2000s as a judge at the old Sydney International Wine Competition, which famously made it a point to judge wines in the competition first on their own but then triaged the winners by serving them again with foods calculated to match.

I get it, though, that many of my wine-loving friends – particularly those who favor higher-end or well cellared wines – strongly prefer to taste their treasures without distraction. I respect that view, although I’d also whisper to them that it couldn’t hurt to take the remains of the bottle to the dinner table.

Harvesting ripe Montepulciano grapes at Cantina Jasci, producer of today's featured wine, the very food-friendly Atilia 2021 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.

Harvesting ripe Montepulciano grapes at Cantina Jasci, producer of today’s featured wine, the very food-friendly Atilia 2021 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

After all, there’s a reason why “food-friendly” is one of my favorite wine descriptions. But what makes a wine food-friendly? Or conversely, what makes some wines not so friendly with what’s on your plate?

In my opinion, a food-friendly wine shows fruit and appealing flavors but doesn’t smack you on the head with them. It brings a good, bracing acidity to the party, a characteristic that might seem tart or even harsh when tasted alone but that cuts through fat and highlights the flavors of your meal. Ditto for some presence of tannin, an astringent character that mellows into a rounded flavor when it meets the flavors of the food you’ve just consumed.

So what’s in a wine that’s not so lovable with your fare? Frankly, some sought-after trophy wines may be better on their own: The so-called fruit bombs that fill your mouth with over-the-top flavor; wines with very high alcohol that burns. Or, to be fair, well aged delights from great vineyards whose complexity and elegance really demands to be tasted without the distraction of food.

So it’s not binary. But by and large, I’m a food-and-wine guy who prefers to enjoy a food-friendly wine like today’s featured Atilia 2021 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo at the dinner table.


Today’s Tasting Report

Atilia 2021 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($18.99/1 liter)

Atilia 2021 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

Certified organic and made with organic grapes, Atilia Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a fun and food-friendly Italian red that qualifies as a bargain in its generous liter bottle. Dark purple in color with a garnet rim, its aromas center on black cherry and dark chocolate, with a subtle touch of rosemary and basil in the background. Fresh, dry black fruit elevates the flavor, with bright acidity and just a whiff of tannic astringency to provide structure. 13% alcohol. U.S. importer: Fruit of the Vines Inc., Long Island City, NY, for Vinotas Selections. (May 29, 2024)

FOOD MATCH: The MYSA Natural Wine site suggests barbecue, pizza, and charcuterie, and those all sound good. It’s also fine with steaks or burgers or roasted or char-grilled vegetables. It was perfect with our simple lunch of pasta with fresh, garlicky tomato sauce.

WHEN TO DRINK: While there’s no immediate rush, and good balance plus a sturdy screwcap should protect it, this rustic everyday table wine is probably best drunk up over the next year or two.

At the equivalent of just over $14 for a regular bottle for my local price and’s $14 average U.S. retail for the liter, this tasty red is an excellent value.

Vinotas Selections, the distributor, has an active presence on its Facebook page. You’ll also find plenty of information about the wine, the Abruzzo region, and its producer, Cantina Jasci, at the MYSA Natural Wine vendor site. Finally, the winery offers a detailed fact sheet in English (without the fancy export label) at this link.

Check prices and find vendors for Atilia 2021 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo on

Read more about Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and browse a variety of its wines at this Wine-Searcher link.

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to learn about Italy’s red Montepulciano grape.


Find the wines you want

Explore Wine-Searcher is the place to go online if you want to find where to buy a particular wine that interests you. What’s more, offers so much more. It’s well worth a visit just to discover its many features, including its popular list of the world’s Top 10 Best Value Wines.


Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!


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