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Europeans have a different attitude about wine and youth

FARGO — Families in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy introduce wine to their children at a young age — diluted to start — then gradually to full strength, with the afternoon and evening meals. This keeps wine from ever being prohibited until the magic age of 21 is reached, and most people in these countries move into adult responsibilities with few if any problems with overconsumption.

American families operate differently. No alcohol, not even a low-alcohol content white wine is to pass between our lips until the very critical hour — 12:01 a.m., 21 years after the day of our birth. Then we are ‘free’ to consume the forbidden liquid, and do so responsibly.

Responsibility is not something to be gained instantly; it requires time and good examples to emulate. Mistakes are often made at this initiation with over-consumption leading to problems behind the wheel, poor grades or employment problems.

I firmly believe that allowing small quantities of watered wine with family meals, starting in the early teens — within the context of a society that disapproves of drunkenness – to be excellent protection against alcohol abuse by these children later in life.

Americans, like their European counterparts, are learning that wine is associated with a gracious, more relaxed, sociable lifestyle. Demographic studies have shown that wine drinkers in the U.S. are better educated and earn more than non-wine drinkers.

The students that take my class at North Dakota State University want to know about wine for both social and professional reasons. They come mostly from professional degree objectives: hotel and restaurant management, pharmacy, nursing, landscape architecture, chemistry, history, criminal justice, and of course, agricultural areas.

Just about all know that wine knowledge is a valuable social skill, and that in business, knowledge and appreciation for good food and wine is considered an asset. This introduction to education about wine is barely the tip of the iceberg, but it hopefully stimulates them to continue their curiosity about wine with more tastings and further examination of wine and its pleasures.

The Southern European way of combining wine with food at a young age makes wine the love letter to food. This is true because the beginning wine taster has a proclivity for off-sweet, young white wine, which is naturally high in acid, and like the acid in lemons (seeing lemon slices in a water glass gets my salivary glands going!), a well-salivated mouth is the beginning of the digestive process for food.

With maturity into adulthood, taste experimentations will often lead to red wines with higher tannins that can be paired with specific dishes or meals.

Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president, had it right, I believe, when he captured the spirit and tone of Enlightenment thinking when he said:

“No nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage.”

As Americans, we can proudly carry on President Jefferson’s vision of America: Well-educated and conversant in all things that matter in life, with wine appreciation being near the top of the list.

Smith, a retired NDSU Extension horticulturist, writes about his love of wine and its history. Readers can  reach him at tuftruck1

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