The Art of Food & Wine Pairing

A great wine pair is something that will feel like heaven in your mouth as soon as you try it, it is a combination you should never forget! That is why when Madame Josee from ‘Le Musée du Vin’ asked us to think of an important process in the World of Wine to discuss with the class, we thought long and hard about what would be an interesting subject; so we thought outside of the box and decided to talk about the most important process of all – the actual taste process and pairings!

It is hard to pair food with a nice bottle of red wine, as you probably don’t even want to eat anything not to ‘mess with the taste’, but if you pair it with the right food then you will actually be enhancing the taste of the wine instead of overpowering or altering it. During our presentation we will show you how the tongue and nose work together to develop the taste you perceive, how to identify your personal taste profile and most importantly, how to match food and wine appropriately.


The modern “art” of food pairings is a relatively recent phenomenon, fostering an industry of books and media with guidelines for pairings of particular foods and wine. In the restaurant industry, sommeliers are often present to make food pairing recommendations for the guest. The main concept behind pairings is that certain elements (such as texture and flavor) in both food and wine interact with each other, and thus finding the right combination of these elements will make the entire dining experience more enjoyable. However, taste and enjoyment are very subjective and what may be a “textbook perfect” pairing for one taster could be less enjoyable to another.

While a perfect balance where both food and wine are equally enhanced is theoretically possible, typically a pairing will have a more enhancing influence on one or the other. Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein notes that food and wine pairing is like two people having a conversation: “One must listen while the other speaks or the result is a muddle”. This means either the food or the wine will be the dominant focus of the pairing, with the other serving as a complement to enhance the enjoyment of the first. In regards to weight and intensity, if the focus of the pairing is the wine then a more ideal balance will be a food that is slightly lighter in weight to where it will not compete for attention with the wine but not too light to where it is completely overwhelmed. If the focus of the pairing is to highlight a dish then the same thought would apply in pairing a wine.

After considering weight, pairing the flavors and texture can be dealt with using one of two main strategies — complement or contrast.

The first strategy tries to bring wine together with dishes that complement each other such as an earthy, Burgundian Pinot Noir with an earthy, mushroom dish.


The second strategy operates under the truism that “opposites attract” and brings together food and wine that have contrasting traits such as a crisp, acidic Sauvignon blanc and a fish with a creamy lemon sauce. The crisp acidity of the wine serves as a contrast that can cut through the creaminess of the sauce and give a different, refreshing sensation for the palate as opposed to what a complementary pairing, such as a creamy, buttery Chardonnay, would bring.

When food and wine are experienced together, the combination changes how we perceive the original taste of the individual item. If you pair a mildly sweet wine with a very sweet dessert, the wine will taste as if it has lost some of its sweetness, it may even taste sour. This could be called ‘taste absorption’ (the food has absorbed the sweetness of the wine and our perception of that sweet taste is reduced). Spicy food, for example, will increase our perception of alcohol in wine. That is ‘taste magnification’. The possibilities are illustrated in the following Balancing Chart.

If a flavor balances another flavor, it means it counteracts or offsets that flavor to achieve an even more harmonious taste.

For example, spice balances sweet and sweet balances spice. Or if you have a dish that’s too spicy, you can also balance the heat with something sweet . So if you ever over-spice a curry or sauce, just add a bit of your preferred sweetener to neutralize the heat.


Flavors can also enhance each other. If you look at the ‘Flavor Star’, you see that salty enhances sweet and vice versa. This is why there are sea salt caramels or sea salt chocolate chip cookies. That light addition of saltiness actually amplifies the sweetness of those caramels and cookies.

Why Not Chocolate and Red Wine!?

Despite the common misconception that red wine and chocolate are best friends, this pairing is actually difficult to pull off. The bitter flavors in the chocolate multiply with bitter tannins in the wine, which makes the entire pairing taste too bitter.

The Tongue and Taste

While the tongue’s muscles guide food between the teeth and shape it so that it’s digestible, the peripheral sense organ is perhaps better known for its role in the perception of taste. The tongue not only detects gustatory (taste) sensations, but also helps sense the tactile, thermal and even painful stimuli that give food its flavor.

Most people mistake the bumpy structures that cover the tongue’s surface for taste buds. These are actually papillae: goblet-shaped elevations that sometimes contain taste buds and help create friction between the tongue and food. Taste buds are smaller structures, tucked away in the folds between papillae. Every taste bud is made up of basal and supporting cells that help maintain about 50 gustatory receptor cells. These specialized receptors are stimulated by the chemical makeup of solutions. They respond to several primary tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami (savory) and fat, which some scientists claim might be a sixth taste. When a stimulus activates a gustatory cell, the receptor will synapse with neurons and send an electrical impulse to the gustatory region of the cerebral cortex. The brain interprets the sensation as taste.


Each gustatory receptor cell has a long, spindle-like protrusion called a gustatory hair that comes into contact with the outside environment. The hair extends from a small opening, or taste pore, and mingles with molecules of food introduced by saliva. The saliva solution contains digestive enzymes that help break down foods chemically. Saliva is secreted by three major salivary glands — the parotidsubmandibularand sublingual glands — as well as other small salivary glands contained within the tongue and mouth.

Aside from the tongue’s ability to detect gustatory stimuli, it also perceives temperature and the complex tactile sensations that food scientists call mouth feel. The tongue, along with the rest of the mouth, helps determine a food’s texture, oiliness, chewiness, viscosity and density.




Chefs use the concept of taste balance with food. The same rules apply to wine, but it’s also important to not overshadow the wine (especially if it’s expensive!). Keep the following tips in mind when having wine with food.

  • Having Salad? Your Wine Should have Higher Acidity
  • The Wine Should Match the Color of The Meat
  • Match Earthy Wines with Earthy Foods
  • Neutralize High Tannin Wines with Rich Meaty Foods
  • For Dessert, The Wine Should be Sweeter
  • White wines tend to pair better with lighter foods such as green veggies and fish
  • Keep clear of red wine and fish for the most part unless it’s a rich not-so-fishy fish
  • Sparkling wine pairs with a wide variety of foods because it acts as a palate cleanser

5 Wine & Food Pairing Guidelines

Champion the Wine

The number one guideline is to bring out the best characteristics of a wine. A high tannin red wine will taste like sweet cherries when paired with the right dish. Focus on the characteristics that you want to champion and make sure that the wine will shine instead of fighting against the food.

Bitter + Bitter = Bad

Since our tastebuds are very sensitive to bitterness, it’s important to pay special attention to not pair bitter food and high tannin wine. Green Beans withCabernet Sauvignon will multiply bitter tastes. If you want to pair a high tannin wine, look to foods with fat, umami and salt for balance.

Wine Should be Sweeter

As a general rule, make sure that the wine is sweeter than the food and you will have a successful wine pairing. If the wine is less sweet than the food it’s matched with, it will tend to taste bitter and tart. This is why Port wine is perfect with dessert.

Wine Should be More Tart

A wine should have higher acidity than the food it’s matched with otherwise it will taste flabby. For instance, a salad with vinaigrette is better with an extra brut Champagne than a buttery Chardonnay.

Improve an Earthy Wine

Ever hear that Old World Wine is better with food? On their own, Old World wines can be very earthy and tart. However, when you pair an earthy wine with something even more earthy like mushroom stroganoff, then the wine tastes more fruity.



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Juicy red meat, California Cabernet, Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style blends are terrific with steaks or chops: Their firm tannins refresh the palate after each bite of meat.



Silky whites—for instance, Chardonnays from California, Chile or Australia—are delicious with fish like salmon or any kind of seafood in a lush sauce.

Seafood (spaghetti alle vongole, spaghetti with mussels, linguine with crab) need crisp dry whites such as Frascati, Verdicchio, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Muscadet or Picpoul de Pinet. A dry rosé is good too. Crab or lobster sauces can take a fuller white such as a good quality Soave or Chardonnay.



Because of the intensity of flavors, bittersweet and dark chocolates need to be paired with stronger red wines with concentrated fruit notes.

While some of the wines above may appear too tannic to pair with chocolate, the cocoa butter decreases the astringency and dryness of the tannins and the higher cacao content enables bittersweet chocolate to pair well.

DRY CHAMPAGNE & CAVIARcaviar-and-champagne-1

One of the best yet least known pairings out there. Vodka is arguably better but not as romantic.


Duck “canard” with a sweet sauce such as honey glaze or fruit will pair very well with Pinot Noir.



By: Yessika Marmol, Jane Lee & Mavis Ye


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