Opinion

Armagnac, Absinthe, Dry Wines, and Dark Chocolate—Four Annoying Food Clichés

Indeed, the myth and ritual of Absinthe is irresistible.
Indeed, the myth and ritual of Absinthe is irresistible. Photo by Maura Luna via Flickr.

On a recent summer afternoon I was out with some friends and acquaintances and I mentioned how nicely a Pernod—classically served with ice and water—might go down at the end of this long, hot day.

“Pernod?” a table companion said. “You should be drinking a true absinthe.”

At which point I sat back and wondered how long it would take for this person to extol the qualities of Armagnac over Cognac, tell everyone how much she liked dark chocolate over milk chocolate, and wrinkle her nose at sweet wines.

Certainly, everyone should love what they love—and Armagnac, absinthe, dry wines, and dark chocolate are all very lovable indeed. The trouble is that sometimes these preferences are stated in a way that might betray closed-mindedness or—in the worst cases—knee-jerk one-upmanship.

Let’s take a close look at some of these oft-spouted clichés:

This is good stuff.
This is good stuff.

1. “Cognac’s OK, but I love Armagnac!”

Look, you might well think that. But before you voice this yet again, will you please make sure you’re not just saying it because Armagnac happens to be the more obscure of these two French brandies and hence, has more cachet?

Having traveled and sampled my way through both the Cognac and Armangac regions, here’s my take: It’s true that Armanac and Cognac are made differently. It’s true that a lot of mediocre, industrially produced Cognacs make their way into the U.S.

But if you put a fabulous bottle of Cognac up against a fabulous bottle of Armagnac, choosing the better of the two would be somewhat akin to choosing between a great Bordeaux and a great Burgundy. Each would be great in different ways.

So next time someone offers you a beautiful Cognac from the Borderies region—rife with piercing brightness and fascinating florals—you might want to give the Armagnac-Cognac hegemony a rest.

Milk Chocolate-Guinness Ice Cream. I wouldn't say no! (Photo by Joyosity via Flickr.)
Milk Chocolate-Guinness Ice Cream. I wouldn’t say no! (Photo by Joyosity via Flickr.)

2. “I like dark chocolate so much better than milk chocolate.”

Of course you do. Most foodies do. Just quit saying it like it attests to some kind of superior tastes.

I generally enjoy dark chocolate more than milk chocolate, too. Yet when I do order an inventive, open-minded pastry chef’s creamy and luscious milk chocolate dessert, I’d love to do so without someone at my table saying “Ack. Milk chocolate is just too sweet for me”—like that’s some sort of badge of honor.

Good! More for me!
Good! More for me!

3. “I don’t like sweet wines.”

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with preferring dry wines over sweet. But again, it’s no badge of honor.

When someone offers you a port after dinner—and your pretty sure you’re not a fan—just say, “no, thanks.” But relegating something you haven’t tasted (say, a great 10-year tawny) to some rote and vague general category (e.g. “sweet wines”) sounds a little closed-minded.

Besides, if you can’t taste the spark of ginger, the spicy heat of sage, and the virility of tobacco amidst the dried fruit of a tawny port, maybe you’re just not tasting closely enough.

True, you might taste all those things and not like this tawny anyway—and that’s fair enough. But don’t say it in a way that belittles the tastes of anyone who does.

Pernod works for me! Photo courtesy of Pernod Ricard USA.
Pernod works for me! Photo courtesy of Pernod Ricard USA.

4. “Ooooohhhhh. Absinthe!”

When my husband and I first started travelling to France, we would order Pernod, Ricard, Pastis 51, or other pastis drinks for the simple reason that they were often the least-expensive thirst-quenching drink you could get in a café.

One trip, we noticed that a chic young waitress at one of our favorite cafés could hardly suppress a smirk whenever we ordered one. We finally asked her (in so many polite French words) what was so smirk-worthy about ordering Pernod.

“That’s what old men drink,” she said.

And yet, about 10 years later, trendy cocktail enthusiasts started cooing over of pastis’s kissing cousin, absinthe.

Certainly, there are differences between pastis and absinthe, yet they have enough in common—starting with those insistent anise-herbal flavors—that if you like one you’ll probably like the other. But while no one looked twice at pastis in the 90s, many young drinkers in the 00s were all about absinthe.

Was the taste really that different? Or were some new fans simply lured in by absinthe’s well-marketed back-story? (The legend goes: 19th-century artist and underworld types allegedly drank it for its hallucinogenic effects—a myth now debunked—and it was banned for decades.)

Of course, there are probably plenty of drinkers who truly prefer absinthe over pastis. But the genuine absinthe enthusiast (versus the knee-jerk myth-lover) likely won’t bat an eye at a Pastis-drinker’s choice of spirit.

Are there any clichés that are getting under your skin these days? I’d love to hear about them. 

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About Wini Moranville

Wini Moranville is the author of The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day. For quirky insights on French food and lifestyle, follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @winimoranville.

  • Danguole Lekaviciute

    Agreed, all of this! And you know, most old men have good taste.

  • http://twitter.com/clintonk Clinton Kabler

    Yes. @odroku has written about his preference for pilsner and wheat beers over hoppy ales, and I’m with him. Just because I prefer old world style beers that gave birth to the Budweisers and Coors, doesn’t mean that drinking beers done in a pilsner style is akin to drinking mass produced ones. When I hear “I’m not into pilsners,” I hear why are you drinking that Bud Light in a bottle with French copy on it.

  • Insatiable Booksluts

    The dark chocolate/milk chocolate thing gets under my skin. I love almost all chocolate, but I find some dark chocolate not to my taste. (Other dark chocolate, I love.) I’m basically over people telling me what I can and can’t like.

    But the thing that REALLY gets under my skin … is the “zomg Starbucks coffee sucks so much” coffee snob crowd. I worked at Starbucks for over three years, and there are some *really good coffees* there (or, there were . . .not sure how many they still serve), you just can’t usually get them from the drip machine. And a lot of people are always on about how Starbucks beans “taste burned!” … yeah, to YOU they taste burned. To some other people, they taste just right. It doesn’t mean they’re garbage, it just means you don’t like them.

    (I had a much bigger rant in me about Starbucks than I initially intended, whew!)

  • Alison Swan

    Ahhh. Vintage Wini. Thanks for this “taste for yourself” reminder. I live, as you know, with a foodie who’s probably a food snob. I tend toward more pedestrian tastes, though it’s all relative, isn’t it? I love very fresh Hershey’s milk chocolate. In fact, I eat it daily. On the other hand, though I’ve never taken to wine, I’m probably one of the pickiest beer drinkers around. (I will simply not drink if there’s not a beer offered that I enjoy. Why waste the calories and carbs? There’s Hershey’s chocolate to leave room for, for one thing!

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