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Artichokes - some rights reserved by La Grande Farmers' Market
Artichokes – some rights reserved by La Grande Farmers’ Market

Why do I have to learn about the science behind wine pairing? Doesn’t that ruin the mood?

Imagine sitting in a quiet bistro at a romantic candlelit table for two. You lazily drape your fingers around the goblet as wine sparkles in the candle’s glow. The food arrives; your senses are aroused…aah, bliss! The first sip, the first taste is perfect! Then your date says, “You know why this wine tastes great with this food? Because the tannins cut through the viscosity of the oil.” Whaaaa-t? The mood is shattered.

Enter science. Yet, it’s true. There is a lot of science behind the deliciousness of wine pairing. It’s fun to understand, but don’t bring it to the table — out loud, at least! Enjoy your knowledge to yourself as you expertly select your wine.

In this article, I’ll discuss a few simple facts that are helpful to keep in mind. You don’t need a science degree, and in fact most of these facts are really just good common sense.

The Science Behind Wine Pairing with Eggs

Eggs are particularly protein rich and fatty, especially in the yolk. They tend to coat the tongue and subdue taste buds. Coffee works well with eggs because of coffee’s acidity and powerful flavor. When it comes to pairing wine with eggs, it’s not quite as easy. If you find yourself drinking wine with an egg dish, go for something acidic, but recognize that the yolky coating will subdue your taste buds’ ability to detect flavors.

The Science Behind Wine Pairing with Oil and Fat

Ever wonder why the French eat tons of fat, oils, and rich creamy food and never seem to put on a pound? Well, for one thing they walk a lot. But they also drink wines high in tannins. Tannins cut the viscosity of fat, and can raise metabolism in a couple of different ways (like raising body temperature and causing the body to burn calories by producing the enzymes required to break down the alcohol). Pair oily, creamy, or fatty foods with red wine.

Tastebud Tricks

There are a few foods that play tricks on the tongue, making wine pairing a little tricky. Artichokes and asparagus, for example, contain compounds called cynarin and mercaptan respectively, which cause the tongue to perceive flavors either being sweeter than normal, or bring out more bitter, vegetable-like flavors. For these foods, if you are unsure which wine makes a slam-dunk pairing, opt for a more middle-of-the-road flavored wine, like a smooth Chardonnay, instead of an oaky, buttery or robust Chardonnay.

Shellfish and Red

Common knowledge, experience and tradition rarely combine shellfish and other oily fishes with red wine. The science behind this is that seafood’s high iodine content doesn’t match well with tannins in red wines. Both exacerbate a taste some call “metallic.” Almost all fish blends better with a well-chilled white. Experiment to see if you prefer a snappier white like Marsanne or Pinot Grigio, or a smoother, more buttery white like Chardonnay.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the science behind wine pairing.

As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!

Cheers, Betty Kaufman
WineShop At Home

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  1. Love the article. Wine should be fun and not intimidating. Yes, these pairing guidelines work well! I recall sipping a very tannic wine with a winemaker. He suggested that I try it with butter. What a difference it made in the taste!

  2. Great article Betty. I just wanted to add my 10c worth on fish and red wine. I’ve found that any spicy fish dish, such as Cajun salmon, while pairing well with a big old Chardonnay, also works well with a Pinot Noir, or – if you want to be really adventurous – a cool climate Shiraz/Syrah.

    1. Jim, thank you so much for your comments. I’m eager to try your recommendations. And thank you for subscribing to my blog. I look forward to interacting with you again. Cheers!

  3. Just came across your site via LI. Good tips here. I think garrigue has become far too trendy a term personally. 😉 I also blog about wine, and do a Wine and Column for WashingtonExec magazine —

    I like to keep pairings even simpler — the power of the food and power of the wine needs to be matched. Don’t let one overpower the other. Other than that, drink what you like.

    My wife and I are with Jim — we drink Pinot Noir all the time with seafood.

    1. Chris, thank you so much for your comments. Interesting that you think garrigue has become too trendy. It’s a pretty new term for me. Now that I know it, I will be on the lookout and will probably agree with your assessment.

      I agree with you that matching the power of the wine and the power of the food is key to a good pairing. I love to experiment, so I don’t get too bent out of shape if I pick something that isn’t a good match. I just grab another bottle 🙂

      Thank you for introducing me to your blog. I look forward to following it.


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