The Lost Art of the Full Meal
I went to the Van's in Belmont last weekend to have dinner with friends and, boy oh boy, did we do it right.
- gin martini to start (w/olives)
- bottle of clean aperitif white wine w/ appetizers
- aged Bordeaux with our steak dinners
- glass of whiskey with dessert
And we did this over the course of three hours. I felt great when I got home that night. I wasn't full, drunk, or sick to my stomach, just completely satisfied in a way that I rarely am these days. Every itch had been scratched, every indulgence had been responsibly indulged. Now granted I can't (nor should I) eat and drink like that every night, but it makes for a lovely bookend with booze on both sides every now and again. It's a slow, progressive way of eating that allows me to dip into each one of my alcohol-related interests, rather than simply choosing one and sticking with it.
Yet, for as wonderful as these experiences are (to me), they're an entirely lost art in the United States today, and are becoming so in the old world as well. The past two years while David and I have been in France, we've spoken with Cognac and Calvados producers who worry about the effect that modern living is having on their livelihood. Lower blood alcohol driving limits have put a serious kibosh on the post-dinner nightcap, and younger generations are moving more towards pre-dinner cocktails anyway (which is why we ended up drinking warm, iceless Cognac and tonics while visiting producers—at least they're trying!). Even in Italy, grappa and amari producers (like the Noninos, who talked about this in our recent podcast interview) are having to embrace the mixology trend in order to stay relevant. It's ironic to me, that in this neo-renaissance of old world practices and ideals—organic, hand-picked, rustic, and old-fashioned—there's still a relative amount of Darwinism going on. Not everything can be made cool again, and post-dinner digestivos are definitely missing this new boat of enthusiasm.
In fact, grappa is getting to be so irrelevant that I'm almost considering eliminating it from our selection. Grappa doesn't mix well into most drinks, it has a dubious reputation with most Americans (almost like tequila did in the early 90s), and it isn't necessarily inexpensive. However, for any connoisseurship to grow and prosper there needs to be an appreciation of quality—an ability to recognize what makes a spirit taste better or different than its competitors. Not only do few people understand what makes one grappa better than another, few people care to understand. Ten years ago no one gave two shits about where their Bourbon was made or what made it taste good. Today, people are willing to spend ten hours on the internet fighting about it. Grappa and other post-dinner oriented spirits are going to need that injection of enthusiasm to survive in this new era.
However, if there isn't another way to drink grappa—other than as a delicious sipper at the end of a long meal—how are more folks going to take an interest? I don't see it happening. We live in the age of five minute meals and twenty-four hour work days and there's little tradition of long dinners in the United States as is. It's a tradition that's died out, just like many grandkids don't speak the language of their grandparents. I just hope I can still get a glass of it every now and again when I do have the time to enjoy it.
In the meantime, I'm going to make one last effort.