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  Corkscrew Issue 8, May 2003   
Matching Food and WineMatching Food and Wine  Contents 
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Matching Food and Wine

Food always had in wine its best companion, a strict bond that always accompanied men to the pleasure of eating

 The presence of wine in the table, particularly in those country where the enological culture has ancient origins, such as Italy, France and Spain, is a characteristic that since many centuries accompanies people's meals, it always had a fundamental importance as well as a scrupulous attention. Wherever there was wine they always tried to formulate the best matching with food, in past times, to the service of noblemen, were hired real and proper experts that were in charge of the “delicate” duty of pleasing and delighting their master's taste by proposing the most suitable and best wines for their meals.


 

 Even in the houses of less wealthy people they tried, more or less, to do the same, however the scarce availability both of money and practical things, could not make the availability of a vast choice of wine to be matched to meals possible, therefore they had to be contented with what their places had to offer, both in the glass and in the plate, while trying, as much as possible, to adapt one to the other in order to have a good match. Today things are greatly changed, the progress of markets and of transportation vehicles allow the purchase and the appreciation of many products, including wines, coming from many places, even far away from the one where they are bought: now it is rather frequent to find an Australian or New Zealander wine in Italy or in France, as a matter of fact. This new opportunity allowed the exploration of new horizons even in the area of enogastronomy because by having a wider possibility in choosing wines, it makes more versatile and more flexible the matching of food and wine.

 However the subject of enogastronomical matching is rather vast and complex, many have tried to formulate “scientific” methods in order to create the most satisfactory matching possible and agreeable to anyone, the effort in creating an “universal” method that could be used in any circumstance, with any wine and with any food, does not consider, as a matter of fact, that unpredictable and indisputable element, which is always found is anything where the personal gratification of individuals is part of the “game” and must be satisfied: subjectivity and personal taste. The famous “rule” that fish must always and anyway be matched to white wine, besides not being absolute, there are reds that go well with dishes made of fish, does not have any practical meaning if we consider the subjectivity of the one that is actually going to eat a dish made of fish and decides to match it with wine. There are many people out there who prefer red wine with fish, this is therefore their best matching no matter the “general rule” suggests it is wrong and not proposable. Once again, the ancient saying of Latins “De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum” (there is not dispute about tastes), is still applicable, particularly and above all on enogastronomical matching. It should be however remembered and considered that the many technical methods for enogastronomical matching are based on proved chemical facts and objectively agreeable according to the common taste, therefore they are to be considered as valid and respectable systems that certainly allow the formulation of a good matching.

 

Matching Systems

 In the course of centuries there were established many schools of thought about the subject of enogastronomical matching. Many of them based their ideas on traditions and social customs of the places where they were at, with no consideration for logical and technical aspects. Essentially can be mentioned five main systems for the matching of food and wine:

 

  • Subjective
  • Traditional
  • Seasonal
  • Aesthetical/Emotional
  • Technical/Logical

 Subjective matching does not require particular comments, it simply is what is determined by personal taste and preferences, not always agreed by others, however indisputable according to the personal point of view. Traditional matching is to be considered of relevant importance, first of all in the places where it is from, where, traditionally, they always matched certain wines with specific local dishes, such as in Emilia (Italy) where Lambrusco wine always accompanies “zampone”, or the traditional matching between Champagne with caviar or oysters. Traditional enogastronomical matching cannot always be correct according to a technical or logical point of view, as it is in Champagne matched with caviar or oysters; according to a technical point of view they have characteristics that are not matchable, while mutually exalting each other tastes that, together, are not very pleasing, saved for a subjective point of view.

 Seasonal matching, which can be comparable in many aspects to the traditional one, is based on the seasonal availability of certain foods and certain wines, that are available in a limited period of time, often within few weeks. This is the case of, for example, roast chestnuts, typical food of the autumnal season, matched to Cagnina wine, common in Romagna (Italy), or in Umbria they have roast chestnuts matched with vernaccia, a sweet wine because of the non completed fermentation of must and typical of the region. Same food, same season, different wines. Aesthetical and emotional matching is the one, compared to the others, that never take into account foods to which wines are to be matched, a characteristic that, alone, could not make this specific case as a matching. This is the case when wines are chosen, and most of the time foods as well, just because of the prestige and the condition imposed by the circumstance as well as one's mood, for example choosing expensive and prestigious wines, although not matchable with that food at all, in very formal occasions or when one wants to impress someone else, in case of a romantic or business dinner, or in those cases when one wants to show off his or her presumed wealth or to explicit a specific social condition. Instead of a matching this could be defined as a behavioral strategy in order to obtain higher prestige and approval from others and from society.

 Lastly, logical and technical matching which is uniquely based on chemical considerations and on objective foundations about taste and physiological reactions of the taste-olfactory apparatus in consequence of the stimuli from food and wine, a condition that should guarantee appreciable results according to the “common taste”.

 

A Technical and Logical Approach

 In a logical and technical matching system, however far from being defined in scientific terms as infallible, first of all, are to be evaluated every single characteristic both of the food and of wine, and therefore formulate the best matching according to the principles that regulate the physiology of taste. The formulation of a correct technical and logical matching requires the knowledge of the characteristics of the food to be matched, not only organoleptic ones, but also cooking and preparation techniques that, as it is commonly known, alter the taste of foods. Even without being enogastronomical experts one can however proceed by means of a method in order to formulate a good matching of food and wine. A correct matching is the one where the organoleptic characteristics of food do not prevail over the ones of wine and vice versa, in other words, food and wine must mutually exalt and complete each other.

 General principles that are usually applied to food/wine matching are two, precisely concordance and contrast. This means that specific organoleptic sensations of food, in order to be rightly matched to a wine, will be associated to the same organoleptic sensations of the wine, whereas others will be contrasted by specific organoleptic characteristics opposed by wine. An example can be the one of the sweetness of a food which is always associated to wine's sweetness (concordance) rather than contrast, that is to a bitter wine, the result would be unpleasing almost to the totality of the individuals. On the opposite, a food which appears to be “unctuous”, needs an agent that would cleanse the mouth, a job that, according to contrast, can be done, for example, by wine's alcohol.

 The principle of concordance is generally the most easy to apply and offers a number of solutions for the majority of foods. One of these is certainly represented by aromas, or better to say, by the aromatic intensity or strength of foods and of wine. Any food emits proper aromas, as well as the ones of the ingredients used for its preparation, such as spices and aromatic herbs. A very aromatic food is matched with a very aromatic wine, a food having delicate aromas is matched to a wine having light aromas. The same applies to sweetness of food: a very sweet food requires a very sweet wine, a slightly sweet food requires a wine whose sweetness is not very high. The same is also true for the “structure” of food: a rich dish, robust and structured, such as, for example, braised meat with very reduced and tasty sauces, requires a wine having a pretty robust body as well as a long persistence, a light and delicate dish, such as a vegetable soup, requires a light and delicate wine. Likewise, delicate tastes require delicate wines, moderate tasty foods can be matched with wines having an average body, robust and full bodied wines go well with rich and robust foods. Foods having strong tastes are matched to wines having strong and intense flavors, foods having persistent tastes require persistent wines.

 The contrast principle is more complex and its application requires a scrupulous evaluation both of the food and of wine. Let's try to understand this principle with a simple example. Let's suppose to squeeze a lemon and to add its juice to a glass of water. Tasting the solution will reveal a rather sour taste. In case some sugar is being added to the solution, acidity does not change, however sweetness makes the solution more tolerable and pleasing. In other words, sugar contrasted lemon's acidity. The same consideration can be done for sour or lightly sour foods, a wine having a certain sweetness or a certain roundness, will tend to contrast the sensation of acidity. The same principle can be applied in case a wine is very acid; a food having some sweetness will probably be its best companion. The same considerations can be applied to salty foods, as it is commonly known, salt neutralizes acid, therefore a salty food can be happily matched to an acid wine. Salt in food, such as in case of hard cheese, reveals and complements wine's sweetness, a good reason for matching sweet wines to salty and tasty cheese, such as, for example, Gorgonzola or Roquefort.

 Another example where contrast can be useful is offered by tannins in red wines. According to a chemical point of view, tannins bond to proteins, a phenomenon that can be always observed in one's mouth when a sip of very tannic red wine is being drunk, soon after an evident roughness and astringency can be perceived in the mouth, tongue does not slip with its usual easiness: tannins got bond to mucin, a protein present in saliva. In case a tannic wine is being matched with a food rich in proteins, such as meat or cheese, tannins will bond to the proteins of food and diminishing as a consequence the rough and astringent sensation because of the bond of saliva's mucin with wine's tannins. This property of tannins will be besides useful for all those foods that produce lots of salivation, therefore producing the sensation of “succulence”, just like rare meat, the astringent properties of tannins will stop salivation and therefore the balance in mouth will be reestablished.

 Enogastronomical matching is however a subject that leaves excellent opportunities to experimentation and research. By playing with the principles of concordance and contrast can be created special effects that can particularly exalt wines or foods. This kind of approach is usually popular among wine lovers that prefer to organize their meals with the explicit purpose of exalting and magnifying a specific wine instead of a food. The same is true for the opposite thing; it can be used a wine in case specific and determined qualities of a food should be exalted. However there is one thing which is surely true: a mediocre food is not improved by a good wine and a good food does not improve a mediocre wine. An advice that could be given to the ones who want to experiment with the enogastronomical matching is to create wrong matching on purpose, such as a light wine with a robust food, or a very acid wine with an acid food: these are just a couple of examples that will allow to understand, better than one thousand words, the principles of concordance and contrast we talked about. Likewise, it could be good to match the very same wine to different foods, even very different one from each other, it will be useful to understand the organoleptic characteristics of a wine can change in a relevant way according to the food it was matched to, of course, even a food changes its taste according to the wine it is matched to. Another advice that can be given to anyone who wants to explore the enchanting world of enogastronomical matching is to learn to dare and to experiment: sometimes what can be apparently seen as unacceptable, not proposable and that makes no sense, could instead turn into something very pleasing and rich of surprises for the palate.

 




 Events  Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 8, May 2003   
Matching Food and WineMatching Food and Wine  Contents 
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