I’ve always been fascinated by the ‘science’ of food and wine pairing. Is it actually a science, or is it down to personal choice? Are there rules to follow, or is it all common sense? Well, since taking a closer look at my own experiences and talking to various luminaries in the food and wine world, I’ve come to the view it’s a bit of everything.
As for me, I give wine theatres at shows like the Ideal Home and Jamie’s Big Feastival, and I’m always blown away that the questions I get asked more than any other, bar none, are to do with pairing food with wine. Can a light red be matched with fish or is that an unforgivable faux pas? Does anything go with goat’s cheese? Is Champagne and Sparkling wine meant to work just as an aperitif, or can you match it with anything? The general public seems very keen to learn, but slightly baffled by the subject, if I’m honest.
I was chatting to Victoria Moore, Wine Columnist for the Telegraph, the other day about this very subject. Victoria is far more qualified that I am to speak about this, after all, she holds a Masters in Food and Wine Pairing psychology. She has written a book, nay tome, called The Wine Dine Dictionary. It really is an exhaustive piece of research, laid out by individual grapes on one side and food ingredients on the other. I can’t get enough of this book, and find myself taking it around with me at all times, not unlike a child with his comfort blanket. Quite a feat when you feel how heavy it is. I even let myself down by fanboying out and asking Victoria to sign my copy…
What I gleaned from our conversation is that food and wine matching is actually a very cerebral (literally) subject, with a considerable number of layers to drill down into. I’ll spare you the nitty gritty, but it’s all to do with how we process smells/taste. Much of it is to do with this happening in the frontal part of our brain, where we also process emotions. It’s no surprise then that taste and smell are the most evocative of our senses, totally intertwined with time/place memories. Victoria asked me a very interesting question, “have you ever noticed when you’re tasting wine in a bad mood, everything tastes bad”. Exactly right, yet I’d never put two and two together.
What has this got to do with food and wine matching though? Well, our brains are conditioned to have a particular opinion of a wine/food even before tasting it. Even looking at the colour of a wine, our brain then fills in some of the gaps; what it will taste like, what it will go with. We almost need to de-calibrate our preconceptions and start afresh. It’s all about reading books like Victoria’s and trying out some of the wines and recommended pairing ideas. I can think of worse jobs.
Cabernet Franc and strawberries, Albariño and crabmeat on toast, Chablis and eggs benedict. I didn’t even think eggs could be matched to a wine, but it’s all about pairing to the more pronounced flavours on the plate, in this case the rich and buttery Hollandaise Sauce. I for one will be giving these and many other combos a whirl. It’s scientific, it’s common sense, it’s personal preference, it’s fun!!