Sometimes we hear suggestions that certain wines can only be enjoyed with specific dishes. In reality, everyone has their own preferences about which wines and foods are complementary, and the taste of wine and food pairing usually has more to do with the seasoning in a dish (e.g., sauces that are salty, sweet, sour or savory) than it does with the dish itself. I encourage you to discover your own preferences.

The judicious addition of Salt to food, especially to sauces and other savory foods, can be useful in some cases to tone down the Bitterness and Astringency (strong taste) in some wines.
Sour foods with high amounts of acidity will decrease our perception of sourness in the wine, making the wine taste more vibrant and more mellow.
Sweetness in food will increase the perception of sourness, bitterness, and astringency in the wine, making the wine seem less sweet (drier), less fruity and stronger.
Savory (umami) taste in food will increase our perception of bitterness in the wine.
A note about Spicy seasonings: Spicy food will exaggerate the tannin and bitterness of wine. Salt and sour additions to the menu will counteract this effect on the wine. For instance, squeezing lime over hot enchiladas makes for a more wine-friendly dish.
SALTINESS

The judicious addition of Salt to food, especially to sauces and other savory foods, can be useful in some cases to tone down the Bitterness and Astringency (strong taste) in some wines.

As foods become saltier, their own flavors tend to increase and neutralize bitter and sour tastes of the wine tasted after salty foods. The saltiness in the food creates an impression of less bitterness in the wine.

As foods become saltier, their own flavors tend to increase and neutralize bitter and sour tastes of the wine tasted after salty foods. The saltiness in the food creates an impression of less bitterness in the wine.

Some people make a habit of putting a little salt on Granny Smith and other “tart” apples. This is done to soften the sourness and bitterness, making the apple seem milder in taste. Proper seasoning of meat-based sauces is essential to negate the savory compounds produced in the cooking process, which can unfavorably impact the taste of the accompanying wine.

SOUR

Sour foods with high amounts of acidity will decrease our perception of sourness in the wine, making the wine taste more vibrant and more mellow.

Natural acids impart tartness or sourness of food or wine. Most wines that have sweetness, such as White Zinfandel and many Rieslings, also have very high acidity to keep the wine from tasting flat or cloying. If a food reacts in a way that suppresses the sourness of such wines, they will taste very sweet in comparison.

Dry wines tend to taste more acidic because they do not have the sweetness balancing and covering the sour taste. White wines tend to be higher in acidity than red wines.

SWEETNESS

Sweetness in food will increase the perception of sourness, bitterness, and astringency in the wine, making the wine seem less sweet (drier), less fruity and stronger.

Sweetness is found in many foods and wines. Sometimes we do not really think of certain types of sauces or foods as “sweet” when in actuality they are, such as teriyaki, cocktail sauce, and other tomato sauces. Often vegetables and indeed fruits can add a degree of sweetness to a dish and must be considered when making a wine selection.

There is a wide range of sweetness levels in many beverages and foods. Our individual expectations will dictate the desirability of levels of sweetness. This is expressed in many ways: how we take our coffee or tea, what kind of chocolates we like, the balance of a wine, etc.

The desirability of a wine and food combination that affects the sweetness of the wine depends entirely on the preference of the individual experiencing the combination. A combination that raises the sweetness of wine may be delicious to someone who appreciates a sweeter wine, while the same combination is considered unsatisfactory for someone who prefers a drier wine. When food is sweet, it will suppress the sweetness of the wine served with it through sensory adaptation.

SAVORY (UNAMI)

Savory (umami) taste in food will increase our perception of bitterness in wine.

Savory, or umami in Japanese, has gained acceptance by food scientists as a fifth taste, separate from the tastes sweet, sour (acid), salty and bitter. The prototype for savory flavor is found naturally occurring in almost all food to some degree.

Umami was identified by the Japanese researcher Ikeda in 1908 as the taste in laminaria Japonica seaweed, used as a component of soup stocks in Japanese cuisine, and was associated with glutamate (monosodium L-glutamic acid). Later, ribonucleotides were discovered as having umami taste and also having a synergistic effect with glutamates that greatly enhance the perception of the umami taste.

Umami is more prevalent and often found in higher concentrations in Asian cuisines. Western palates do not as easily recognize umami because we have never been taught to identify it. As with other tastes, the umami taste is many times hidden behind stronger flavors like saltiness. The umami taste in food can have an effect on taste elements of a wine that is served with it, bringing out bitter and often metallic tastes. The reaction between umami and wine can be negated by salty tastes in food.

BITTERNESS

Spicy food will exaggerate the tannin and bitterness of wine.

Bitterness is often confused with astringency and is similar to astringency in its interaction with food. A bitter taste is commonly found in some green vegetables (endive, arugula, radicchio) and herbs, many spices, some fruits, or food charred during the cooking process. Bitterness is extracted from many foods during cooking, especially at high temperatures. This also occurs when you boil tea instead of gently steeping it.

Food with bitter components seems to increase the bitterness of a wine served with it. Make sure that the herbal-smelling Sauvignon Blanc chosen to help with the dish with lots of fresh herbs does not push the bitterness of the wine over the top.

ASTRINGENCY

There are tactile sensations, such as astringency, imparted by wine and food, which can react in combination. Astringency (mostly from tannins in wine, fruit such as persimmon, and vegetables) is the most prevalent of these sensations. These sensations of touch are essential along with taste in determining the basic reaction potential between different wine and food combinations and were once thought actually to be a sensation of taste.

The “tannic” taste of a wine is actually a sense of touch and not of taste. Tannins coagulate proteins in your mouth and create a puckering or drying sensation known as astringency. Consumers who think that this sensation is what is meant by a “dry wine” very often misinterpret this sensation. A “dry” wine is simply not sweet.

Astringency in wine is accentuated by food that is sweet or “hot” (spicy) and is suppressed by foods that are acidic, salty, fatty.

The most dramatic example of this can be demonstrated by eating a bit of soft-ripened bleu cheese, followed by a taste of tannic red wine. A small percentage of people will find a strong reaction to bitterness with this combination due to high sensitivity to this taste.

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