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The Concept of Food and Wine

By Gaurav Karn

Wine and food have always been a very interesting subject but at the same time debatable topic. The perfect pairing of wine and food can really accentuate the pleasure of wining and dining, making it a memorable outing but many times imperfect match ruins the appetite, as well as most foods, usually go well with wine and there are very few, if any, complete no-no wine and food pairs.

Wine and food pairing is an extremely subjective topic, in today's world where various different styles of wines and accessible and perhaps countless food recipes existing, with numerous preparation method like grilling, roasting or poaching with thousand of seasoning available to be used by the chefs, it is difficult to predict a perfect food match for a particular wine and only experimenting can justify the verdict. Nevertheless, sometimes a little sense of pairing can avoid an embarrassing situation in front of your guests arrived for a wine dinner.

Food is not so different from wine and we use the same senses and evaluation criteria to judge a food that we use for wine. Like wine, food should have good eye appeal and colour, aromas and flavours should be pleasant. At the same time, it needs to be balanced without any one ingredient overpowering the others.

'There is an old rule which states 'white wine should go with white meat (poultry or fish) and red wine goes with red meat (beef or lamb).' This still holds true in some sense as there is some logical reasoning behind it and is more of a case of complementing each other in terms of taste and flavours. The lighter, floral/fruit fragrances and acidic nature of most wines complimenting milder flavoured poultry and fish; and the fuller jammy flavours and tannic features of the most red wines seem more suited to the more intense flavours of the red meats. But in some cases, complete contrasting tastes and flavours also perfectly matches for example sweet dessert wines with salty blue cheese. The saltiness, in this case, cuts through the sweetness left on the palate by wine, refreshes the palate and makes the next sip of the wine equally appealing as the previous one. This combination of complementing or contrasting can make people bit confused but the simple idea is, nothing from wine and food should overpower the other and should be able to either mingle well or one should cut through the tastes and flavours of other to leave a refreshing palate to savour the next morsel or sip of the other.

We all have food preferences and sensitivity depending on the culture, experience and genetic variation. But the majority of us can easily detect basic tastes like sweet, sour, bitter and salty; recent researches have proved that we can detect umami, which is a savoury taste of monosodium glutamate (MSG) present in tomatoes and mushroom, and fat taste also. Mild sweet and salty tastes are generally preferred by human palate and too sour and bitter tastes are rejected. So the idea behind wine and food pairing should be to accentuate the preferred tastes and to neutralise or decrease the perception of the not so desired tastes.

Along with tastes, wine and food have mouthfeel components like astringency, spiciness, and hotness. Astringency and too much spiciness and hotness are generally less desired by human palate so while pairing we need to minimise them.

For example, a highly alcoholic wine enhances the spiciness (undesired component) of food and the sweetness of a dessert increases the perception of sourness (undesired component) in a dry wine. So these combinations are generally avoided and considered as a mismatch.

Umami taste is generally considered most difficult to match mainly because it accentuates the sourness of dry whites and enhances the bitterness and astringency in red wines. Best way to match umami-flavoured foods with wine is to blend it with other desired component like salt.

Apart from all these considerations, there is one more component which we need to consider while matching wine and food that is weight or body. Body of wine and weight of food should generally complement each other i.e. full-bodied wines should be paired with heavy-bodied tannic wines goes well with heavy fatty foods. Another reason behind its pairing is fat creates a smooth layer on the palate which gives a smooth passage for the tannins and reduces the perception of astringency in red wines. Tannins also have a strong affinity with proteins; hence tannic wines are always a good match with food containing high protein and fat content like red meat or aged cheese. 

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