THE NOT SO SECRET MEANING, SCIENCE AND PLEASURE OF PAIRING CERTAIN WINES WITH CERTAIN FOODS
In the food and wine world, “as long as you like it, you can pair any wine with any food” is a controversial statement, not a basic right. In fact, the appeal of this “like what you like” approach is directly related to the mantra “we are all entitled to our own opinions on wine and food”. While we might agree on the latter, we shall never concede that any wine can be great with any food.
Why? Simply because it is objectively impossible to pair - and like - any wine with any food. In fact, even assuming you like a wine so much that you want to drink it with whatever food, you actually can’t. In reality, a single wine could compliment a variety of foods but definitely not across all food categories. You’d eventually find that out when your favorite wine starts deteriorating in your mouth if paired with the wrong food.
What if you like it no matter what? They say that there is no accounting for undiscerning palates, however, try to drink a red Novellino with Negros oysters or pair a Sauterne with Jollybee yumburger and perhaps your confused taste buds – once reached the red alert level - will warn you that something bad is happening in your mouth.
Insisting that it is only about your taste and your subjective opinion still doesn’t make the opening statement right. The point is neither questioning the importance and the uniqueness of your taste buds nor denying your personal food and wine fondness rights… We are all different individuals, and we all have our own history, experiences and education that in time shaped differently our perceptions and tastes. Not only that, but we also have a different biology: for instance, some people are more sensitive to bitterness or sweetness, others are unable to smell specific aromas, etc.
They say that food and wine are acquired tastes but so are coffee, balut and cannabis. The process of acquiring a taste involve a developmental maturation progress encompassing genetics, biochemical brain perceptions, age, character, environment, territory, country, religion, family, friends, school, society and, last but not least, your wallet’s thickness (try to figure out).
On May 24, 1976, during a blind wine tasting in Paris, nine highly qualified French judges established that the American wines in the competition tasted better than the French. Note: the nine tasters of the Judgment of Paris - relying exclusively upon their subjective smell and taste senses – unanimously ruled that, objectively, the American wines were the best.
Since taste is modifiable by cognitive processes, your subjectivity can be shaped by education. To some extent during your life, you must have tasted different food and different wines and thus exercised your judgment according - or despite - what your taste buds or your brain perceptions were recommending you. Maybe you have also learned that if you smell a whiff of vanilla in a red wine it must have been aged in American oak barrels, or if you taste fruits flavors in a white wine it had to be vinificated in the vat at low temperature.
You have learned, and you can always learn more regardless your taste buds. That’s the purpose of studying and experimenting: how do I know how does a durian taste if I don’t try it? How do I sort out if my favorite wine can be paired with it? Most people are not born to be wine and food experts; instead, they simply acquire short or long segments of learning processes.
Food that is consumed with wine has an objective, scientifically proven effect on the way a wine taste, and vice versa. This is basically why certain foods and certain wines taste better together. Their compounds’ qualities complement one another according to chemistry relations involving acids, tannins, sugars, alcohols etc.
Food and wine components can be broken down into three general sensory categories - structure, texture, and flavor. The interactions between the structure, texture, and flavor of the food and wine are the basis for a rational understanding of food and wine pairings.
Liking a wine and finding its right food match is definitely not only a subjective matter, but also a learned process based on existing, real, objective fundamentals. We are all entitled to our own tastes and opinions on wine and food but if you say that acidity level in wine should be higher than in the food you are not expressing a personal opinion, you are stating an objective, scientifically verifiable truth.
Besides, you can easily learn by yourself that sweetness in food increases the perception of bitterness, astringency and acidity in wine. But wait, also spiciness in food increases the perception of bitterness, astringency and acidity in wine… Responses to bitterness are objective reactions to individual, genetically induced sensitivity to the 6-n-Propylthiouracil molecule. So, if the wine you like doesn’t match the sweetness or the spiciness in your food then either you keep drinking your wine turned bitter, astringent and acidic or abstain having it with the wrong food pairing thus proving wrong, in both cases, the statement above.
Among wine and food professionals the discussion about subjectivity and objectivity of judgment in wine and food has never been theoretical. The main purpose of pairing wine with food is to enhance the dining experience. In order to achieve that result, you simply want the quality of your wine to match the quality of your food, the weight of the food to balance the weight of the wine, the structural components of both food and wine to influence each other in a pleasurable, enjoyable way.
Pairing is about accomplishing a superior sensory experience by combining wine and food's main flavors. While taste and personal preference are subjective deciding factors, there are objective scientific reasons as to why a wine might heighten the experience of a meal or detract from it - and vice versa. If for you it doesn't matter, by all means, go on and pair your Moscato with short ribs or your Cabernet Sauvignon with caviar...