How to REALLY pair wine with food?


Would you drink a glass of Sauvignon Blanc while eating an orange? Or while eating salted chips? These two questions arose as I was reading a few extracts from the book This is Not a Wine Guide, by Chris Morrison which describes some wine-food pairings on the basis of things like Acid + Acid, Acid + Salt, Tannin + Fat for example. This takes us away from the generalised “red wines with red meats, white wines with fish” sort of advice, or the more specific “light reds with charcuterie, heavy reds with roasts”, or the ultra specific “Pinot Noir with Prosciutto”. What I was reading tries to open our eyes to the simpler way of thinking about the characteristics of foods such as saltiness, acidity, fats, proteins etc which most of us understand, and pairing these characteristics with those of certain wine types such as acidity, sweetness, tannic etc which we would also need to understand. So, I decided on an experiment, a bit extreme, but one to see if my brain would tolerate or recognise any affinity between a good example of an acidic wine, Sauvignon Blanc, with extremely acidic orange slices and salted chips/fries!

First up was the orange slices …. I wasn’t looking forward to this!

Sauvignon Blanc + Orange Slices

The first thing you experience with this wine is a crisp acidity as you swish it around your mouth, a clean lingering freshness that develops into something citrus, maybe zesty lime but not a mouth puckering lemon. Then there is a hint of peach, not lingering, only fleeting …. then it’s gone. Biting into a slice of orange builds a strange anticipation of an increase in acidity, but when a further sip of wine is taken…. the opposite happens …the wine is softened, the finish is lengthened and more complex. What happened?

Next was a plate of chips/fries, heavily salted which I like.

I don’t think this works, the citrus/lime has disappeared and the acidity has increased! I have no idea why this happened, but I DO know that I do NOT like vinegar (Acid) on my chips, I do like plenty of salt but no vinegar please. I’m not saying the Sauvignon Blanc had turned to vinegar, just that the acidity of the wine on the chips was not a pleasant sensation at all!

“The lime zest flavours (and sometimes gooseberry, green pepper) come from a group of flavour compounds called methoxypyrazines, which can be created, even in warmer areas, by shading the grapes from the sun. Many producers now avoid methoxypyrazines in favour of the more tropical-tasting, lusher thiol compounds which are characteristic of tropical fruits, kiwi, peaches etc. but these carry with them an ever-present threat of armpit sweat. A skilful viticulturalist will try to balance the canopy shading to maximize the good points of both.” (Oz Clarke, Grapes & Wines, A Comprehensive Guide …)

I suppose we need to know if it’s thiols or methoxypyrazines that love orange but don’t like salt, but this is definitely a bridge too far even for regular wine drinkers, but my message is easy; experiment, try things for yourself but follow the basic rules beginning with Acid + Acid, which means that Chablis will always go with oysters, Sauvignon Blanc will always go with goats cheese, but as for salted fish n’chips ….. your on your own!


Footnote

I acknowledge and am indebted to Danell at Vinthropology for her artistic inspiration which has influenced my images on this page. They are a poor reflection of her own brilliant artwork which you should admire directly at her wine related blog.

9 thoughts on “How to REALLY pair wine with food?

    1. Glad you liked it Seb, and thanks for following. If you want to follow up this taste thing a bit more you might like to look up the book by Tim Hanni who has a weird, but interesting take on food and wine matching! By the way, which restaurants in Budapest did you do Thai banquets at? We’ve stayed at Buddha Bar a few times and their Asian fusion stuff is fantastic!

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  1. Confused is right regarding some explanations! Also, I’ve never seen French folks drinking Muscat with oysters …. nearly always Chablis or Muscadet or Picpoul. I am never going to be convinced of solely describing the food-wine experience as being totally about the interaction between TWO sets of chemicals. Firstly there is a third set, my own saliva and whatever bacteria are in it. Secondly it’s a long journey between tongue, nose and brain and that journey is mediated by millions of neurons and synapses. All of these are factors that accumulate and determine MY experience ….

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  2. I thought those images looked familiar 🤔 Thanks for the shout out! It seems there are different approaches to food and wine pairings with varying levels of detail. I follow an Italian method, which with their love of food, I find quite exhaustive. A harmonious pair would be one in which the food and wine are in perfect balance with out any flavours of one or the other dominating, and obviously a clean, pleasant aftertaste. Salt and acidity are considered “hard” qualities in food and should be contrasted by “soft” qualities in wine such as sweetness and roundness (poly-alcohols), to create balance. Greasy foods are balanced by the alcohol in wine which has a dehydrating effect. On the other hand, acidity in wine is considered a “hard” characteristic which should be balanced by “soft” qualities in food like fat or starch (complex sugars). Following this logic, the acidity in the orange slice paired with the acidity in the wine should have increased that sensation. All I can think is that the acidity was so high in the orange that it annulled the acidity in the wine and you were able to taste the other softer qualities. Also the simple sugars in the fruit may have made the acidity less aggressive. With the chips, it depends if the saltiness was the same level as the acidity of the orange, and also how much potato there were in the chips as starch (complex sugars) should balance acidity in wine. For me, the second would seem like a better pairing, but it’s possible that there weren’t enough “soft” qualities in the food to make the pairing less aggressive. How does this coincide with the book you’re reading?

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    1. Thanks for the extra info. Im finding the book heavy going and I need to keep rereading to understand much of it. But many things I find either contradictory or without hard and fast rules, much as I find in wine tasting generally.Much of the explanation or rationale given for differing sensations is always attributed to the wine, and rarely to the taster either in neuroscience terms or philosophy, or existentialism specifically. A simplistic list of potential pairings is here … if you can open it .. https://www.foodandwine.com/wine/food-wine-pairing-rules

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      1. Wow, ok first of all I believe there are hard and fast rules to pairing because it depends on how the components in the wine interact with the components in the food which is relatively objective. Following personal preference isn’t going to help any one understand why and how a pairing works, only the workings of preference itself. Also, I would never pair acidity with acidity or acidity with salt for a question of balance between “hard” and “soft” qualities that I mentioned. The French drink Muscat with oysters and not champagne because the saltiness of the oysters is better balanced with a softer wine. The pairing of chips and champagne works not because it balances the salt, but the starch, and the bubbles cut through the grease. That’s why we tend to like beer or Coca-Cola with fried food. (Acidity has the same effect, so we add lemon to fried fish to create more balance in the dish by counterbalancing the grease). Goats cheese and Sauvignon Blanc work not because of acid-acid, but because the acidity of the wine cuts through the creamy, fat of the cheese and both food and wine have an equal level of aromaticity. Lastly, not all fats are the same. There’s solid fats (from animal origins) that are counterbalanced by acidity and liquid fat (greasy, usually from oil) that’s counterbalanced by alcohol or tannins. I could go on, but basically I think he’s got some good examples of classic pairings but an confused way of explaining them.

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