A Match Made In (Science) Heaven

If you’re any kind of wine lover or foodie, you’ll hear endless tips on how to ‘pair’ your food and wine for a fantastic experience. What is it that drives this, however? Today the Lousvale Wines team take a peek at why food pairing works- and yes, even science says so!

Wine pairing

Synergy the delicious way

The overall idea of pairing is simple. Take two delicious things, match them perfectly, and enjoy something even better than the original! The flip side does work- you can put a lovely wine with a great dish, but if their tastes clash, you’ll drag both down. The idea is to find complimenting pairs that lift each other up instead of dominating.

This has, of course, been very dominated by culture through time. It’s natural that local cuisines have evolved to pair well with local wines. So while traditional pairings are a fantastic place to start, remember that they didn’t evolve in a global world- there’s nothing wrong with experimenting!

Your preference should also count. Remember that taste is very subjective. What someone loves, another can hate. So don’t force yourself to drink a wine you hate with a mean just because someone says they pair well. Find your own perfect pairs over time, as well.

Wine pairing

Science and taste

Humans have 7 key taste areas, 5 of which matter in the food world: salt, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. Some argue that ‘fatty’ is a sixth. Science also contributes to how you taste wine. All those aroma notes of flowers, earth tones, herbs, woods, and minerals? You’re actually ‘smelling’ them inside your mouth through the sinus system.

For wines, there’s some key areas to note. ‘Acidity’ is a term referring to the tart/sour and fresh tastes in wine. It’s a balance to sweet and bitter components. It’s partially driven by actual fruit acids (tartaric, malic, lactic, and citric). These also help make a wine stable, and influence the color, too. Typically, and a little counter-intuitively, sweet wines have more acid than table wines, to balance the sugar.

Acidity contributes to food pairing in a complex manner, as it influences how you perceive flavours. Wine acids are great to ‘cut’ or ‘lift’ heavy, rich, and fatty dishes, as well as offset salt. Your wine should be a touch tarter than the dish, so it doesn’t seem thin/weak.

Tannins are found in wines and teas. They’re that slightly bitter, but pleasant, wine undertone, and typically found in higher volumes in reds than whites. It gives wines body and structure, but high tannin can be overwhelming to pair with food. It best suits chargrill tastes, while it can make fish seem metallic. Think fat and protein when pairing tannin-heavy wines.

Sugar contributes to how ‘dry’ a wine tastes, as well as how sweet. Sweet undertones help balance spice, salt, and heat, and they pair well with rich foods, too. The alcohol content also matters, bringing a sense of texture and density to the table the higher it goes. Highly alcoholic wines amp the heat of spicy dishes, so beware. Lastly, did you know oak barrels contribute their own notes to the mix? Tea, toast, and sweet vanilla notes often come from oak barrels.

So what are the rules?

Now you know a little more about the science behind pairing, let’s look at some basic rules to help. Remember, however, that personal taste should always be your key driver!

  • Weight and texture: Think of the ‘weight’ of your dish and wine. No one wants to pair a heavy roast to a light unwooded Louisvale Chardonnay, but it’s perfect for a seafood dish, for example. Pair ‘heavy’ and full-bodied wines with similar dishes, and vice versa.
  • Forget color: There used to be the notion that whites only went with light fish and poultry, and reds with red meat. While it’s ok as a guiding notion, don’t get hung up on it, especially with more eclectic cuisines
  • Saucy: Pair your wine to the sauce if you have one, if not, pair to the protein
  • Fat-tea: Fatty dishes like tannic wines. Reduce tannin for lower fat reds.
  • Sweet things: Pair sweet dishes with wines that are at least as sweet as they are, or a bit more so. Spicy foods love sweet wines, too
  • Salty and Acidic: It’s good to try for a wine that’s more acidic than your dish, too. Salty dishes need crisp wines with a little sweetness.

Food and wine pairing is an art, one you will develop as you gain confidence and experience with wines. So don’t be afraid to experiment! Why not pull a Louisvale Wines favourite from your cellar today?