Want Wine With That?

McDonadls franchise

In the world of food and wine pairing, only certain types of dishes were traditionally considered worthy of being paired with wine. Not surprisingly, these were usually simulations of haute cuisine served in fancy restaurants—trout meuniere, Chateaubriand with béarnaise sauce, etc. Over the past few decades, the restaurant universe in this country has expanded, and we now drink wine with ethnic dishes or comfort foods without giving it a second thought.

For many Americans, pairing wine with fast food is still out of bounds, simply because it is fast food. This is a good example of what Buddhists refer to as dualistic thinking, and it is obviously ridiculous—if the circumstances of your life dictate that you must dine at McDonalds or Burger King, you’re probably more in need of a glass of wine than ever before.

Fortunately, things are changing. Starbucks announced last year that it would begin serving beer and wine in trial locations in Seattle; at $5 per brew and $9 for a glass of wine, it’s a welcome alternative to a cup of expensive, burnt-tasting coffee. Burger King has also launched a pilot project at some of their Whopper Bars, including the one in South Beach, which now offers beer for sale at $4.25. The Sonic chain (purveyors of hamburgers, hot dogs and corn dogs) is planning to offer bottled and draft beer, along with 10 varieties of wine, to customers in their Miami and Fort Lauderdale locations.

I suspect this is economic necessity rather than a triumph of aesthetics. The major fast food chains have become intensely competitive on price, and alcohol represents a new and untapped profit center. As in any other food service enterprise, alcohol sales represent added profit—customers will likely have the glass of wine in addition to the fries, not instead of them.

Profit motive aside, it comes down to cultural norms. McDonalds has been serving beer at their stores in Germany since the early 1970s. When I was in Argentina several years ago, the Golden Arches outpost in Mendoza was offering a Big Mac paired with a small bottle (187 ml). Slowly but surely, we’re stumbling into the new millennium.

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