Food and Wine Pairing: Deconstructed

Part One:  (of a two part series)


Boardwalk Bistro-1147crop

St-Emillion paired with Braised Lamb

Wine is a beverage of pleasure meant to be enjoyed with food and good company.  There are many schools of thought toward food and wine pairing from the classical, multiple-course meal, each course paired with a specific wine, to the modern philosophy that hails the match successful if found enjoyable in the eyes of the beholder, despite the fact it flies in the face of traditional pairing guidelines.

Simply serving what you like may work for yourself, however, when entertaining it is my advice to learn some basics because, in truth, food and wine do interact and the result can be disastrous.  An ill-fated pairing can take down not only the wine, but the meal that you worked so diligently to prepare.

Sherry Pairing

Spanish Sherry with Manchego and Marcona Almonds

Pairing specific wine to cuisine “by design” is a modern concept developed in the twentieth century.  Before the advent of today’s global marketplace, locally available wine was grown in the same village as the food and they were intrinsically suited to one another.  For example, the Muscadet of the Loire pairs exquisitely with shellfish plucked from the tributaries of the Atlantic.  Similarly the crisp rosés of Provence are brilliant alongside the olive oil, fresh herb, citrus and pasta based lighter fare of the Mediterranean while Nebbiolo, Barbera and Arneis harmonize perfectly with the hogs, cattle, wild birds, risottos, winter vegetable-butter-ladened faire of northern Italy.

In general, a complementary food and wine pairing exists when there is a symbiosis and each cast member makes the other better.  Contrary to what you may have been taught in the past, this has little to do with the color of the wine or matching flavors and nothing to do with pairing to proteins.

Successful food and wine pairing is based on three components:  aroma, taste and touch; the resulting flavor profile is then interpreted by the brain.  Learn and practice the principles that follow and watch your guests marvel at your prowess.  Can anything get better than each bite intertwining with each sip in building a stairway to heaven!

The three key components in food and wine are deconstructed below.  A sequel to this post will contain vivid examples of pairings putting this information to practical use.

AROMA:  There are over 400 volatile compounds that are responsible for giving wine its bouquet.  They abound in food as well. Aromas are sensed through the olfactory epithelium which transports their electrical current to the brain for further decoding.

TASTE:  The five primary tastes components include Sweet, Salt, Acid, Bitter and Umami. Taste is perceived through a multitude of taste receptors on the tongue, palate, epiglottis and tonsils. Pairing to taste is the most important factor.  Identifying the prevailing tastes in the dish you are pairing must be your primary consideration.

Knowing that chicken, beef or fish will be served for dinner does not provide information as to how the dish will taste.    By themselves proteins are bland and provide more information about the texture of the dish than functioning as a roadmap to its taste.  Therefore you must examine the preparation, seasoning and accompanying sauce in selecting the key ingredients for pairing considerations.

TOUCH:   A grouping of tactile sensations detected through a variety of receptors is located on the tongue, mouth, palate and nose.  They involve texture, astringency (e.g. tannin), viscosity, serving temperature, coolness (e.g. menthol) or hotness (e.g. high alcohol) and the effect of dissolved gases in a sparkling wine.

wine steak 4x3

Cabernet Sauvignon with Rib-Eyed Steak

Texture is the most relevant tactile stimulant when considering pairings and relates to the body or  mouthfeel in food and wine.  Textures are best when matched. For example:  rich food with a full-bodied wine such as a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon with Rib-Eye Steak.

There are some exceptions however.  To contrast textures you must be very careful and make this one a dead ringer.  Some examples will be sited in an upcoming sequel to this post and, when done correctly, can make an astounding pairing.

FLAVOR:  Floral, Fruity, Woodsy. Herbal, Mineral, Savory, Spicy, Nutty, Dairy, etc. are just a few of the many flavors in food and wine.  Each flavor category further breakdowns into subcategories.  For example, is it stone fruit or tropical fruit?  Please, do not confuse flavors with taste.  Raspberry is a flavor and acidity is a taste.

Flavor is the brains interpretation of what it smells through the nose, tastes with the tongue and feels through tactile stimuli in the mouth. Thankfully most flavors interactions, while unpredictable, are forgiving and complementary to one another.  They can be matched or contrasted to add interest and intrigue.   For example, the spiciness of Thai Curry can be cooled with the lychee flavor in Gewurztraminer for a perfect match in contrasting flavors.

In conclusion, let me reiterate, wine is an elixir of pleasure intended to be enjoyed with food and conversation.  Selecting wines to complement your next dinner party menu should be enjoyable.  However, a true understanding of how to pair “or not,” involves knowledge of these underlying principles and this must be learned.  So the scientist in me says dig in, study and master this while the Gypsy says, “yes, but have fun doing it”!

The next post will lay out the step by step procedure for designing a pairing and Basic Rules to assist you in the process.


Sources ;  “The Flavor of Wine” by Matthew Citriglia

The Science of Wine from Vine to Glass by Jamie Goode Published by University of California Press Berkeley and Los Angeles, California

14 thoughts on “Food and Wine Pairing: Deconstructed

    1. gypsy Post author

      Dear Barbara Jan,

      I am pleased that you enjoyed Part One of the Two Part series on Food and Wine Pairing. Much on this trendy topic is forthcoming. I invite you to also read Part Two, then you will be ready to go when further posts arrive showing full pairings and recipes. Fun is in the air!


      The Grapevine Gypsy

  1. penciloa

    fantastic post, very informative. I wonder why the other experts of this sector do not notice this. You should continue your writing. I’m confident, you have a great readers’ base already!

    1. gypsy Post author

      I appreciate your supportive words. My blog is very new. Owning a restaurant for 28 years required ongoing writing about food and wine. At this juncture, I’m hoping to expand my reader base. With credentials in both wine and science, efforts will be made to contribute in the sector on multiple levels. Thank you for your encouragement and I hope to read one of your posts soon.

      Grapevine Gypsy

  2. Kym Bloyd

    Wow! This has to be one of the most helpful blogs we’ve ever read on this subject. Basically Great. I’m also an expert in this topic therefore I can understand your hard work.

  3. Haydee Kennard

    This is the right blog for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want…HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!

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