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  Editorial Issue 177, October 2018   
Wine and Food: a not Always Perfect MarriageWine and Food: a not Always Perfect Marriage  Contents 
Issue 176, September 2018 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 178, November 2018

Wine and Food: a not Always Perfect Marriage


 The relationship man has established between wine and food probably has its origin in the very moment in which the beverage of Bacchus begins to be part of the history of mankind. In fact, we have countless examples and mentions from the past, even the distant past, proving how much wine was present in the tables and eating habits of our ancestors. Moreover, the role wine has played in past times in the celebration of rituals – both pagan and religious – is indissoluble, getting very high social meanings, including being a symbol of sacredness. A loyal companion at the table of civilizations of the Mediterranean area, man has always tried to pair, attempting to get the highest pleasure and joy, wine to food, from frugal meals to sumptuous banquets. Not only at the table but also in the kitchen: the many examples which can be found in ancient writings of the past offer countless recipes in which wine is used as an ingredient.


 

 I've been dealing with the enogastronomic pairing for over 20 years now, including beer and food, and even tea with food. The art of pairing wine to the table does not always give results which are agreed by everyone: there are many variables influencing the perception of the result. To this we must inevitably add taste, culture and the sensitivity of both the person who formulates the pairing and those who taste it. Things do not always give or find a common meeting point. In any case, there are criteria and formulas for objectively pairing wine to food and can usually meet the favors of the majority as well as providing a sure success within the same culture and tradition. In fact, it must be said that also culture, tradition, habits and social expressions of places and people have a strong influence on the acceptability and formulation of a pairing of wine to food.

 For example, I can mention the famous pairing of oysters to champagne, primarily adopted in order to show off the ostentatious display of wealth and well-being rather than the real harmony between the two elements. As far as I'm concerned, aware of the fact there are many who will disagree, the combination of champagne and oysters simply produces, for my senses and my taste, a non-harmonic result, even a contrasting one. There are also foods that, in most cases, represent a rather difficult task when paired to wine. I am thinking, for example, of raw artichokes and fennel, cocoa and dark chocolate: when they are the main ingredient of a dish, the pairing to wine becomes decidedly complex and complicated, although not impossible. In these cases, in order to prevent a failure, it is preferred to pair them to a different beverage, definitely not a wine. It is also true sometimes one should dare and some combinations of pairing wine to food can be challenges giving great satisfaction, sometimes, however, it is preferable to have the consciousness of understanding when to give up and therefore avoiding a failure, especially when the pairing is proposed to a large group of people.

 The pairing of wine to food has always been a subject of discussion, while hoping to discover the secret formula for the success. There are many methods and systems based on technical factors formulating the principles of pairing according to the intensity and quality of food and wine stimuli, giving an approach being as objectively acceptable as possible. These technical methods, despite having a high success rate in terms of acceptability and agreeableness, cannot be considered exact. All these methods, more or less and in general terms, are based on principles of contrast and analogy, that is, they tend to counteract sensorial stimuli of wine and food, or to support them in order to accentuate their effect. These principles are based both on the physiology of taste, as well as on chemical considerations, that is the capacity of certain substances to bind to others, therefore eluding their tactile or sensorial perception.

 There are also “methods”, although it should be better to consider them “rules”, which are based on principles defined by the tradition and culture of a place. These rules do not have a truly “technical” foundation, they are often and simply based on the availability of wines and foods of that place, therefore – many people support this approach – with local cuisine it is always a must the pairing to an equally local wine. It must be said that, often, the pairing is both pleasing and agreeable in objective terms, other times it does not give a truly harmonic result. In the latter case, most of the times, they particularly insist on the tradition of a pairing – only dictated by the principle that “this is how we do here and how it has always done” – leaving aside any other consideration, both technical and subjective. Including the “rule” that wants the pairing of a dish in which wine is an ingredient with the same wine.

 In my experience with food and wine pairing, both for personal pleasure and professional reasons, in all these years I came to believe the success of a pairing is inversely proportional to the number of people who taste it. It is very easy to be successful with a pairing destined to a small number of people – and, in particular, when you personally know them – it is decidedly more difficult when it is thought for a large group of individuals. In the latter case, especially when the group is made of several dozen of subjects, the probability of finding a person not exactly happy with the pairing is very high. This happens both because you can't obviously “please everyone”, and for the fact each one of us is different from everyone else, not to mention those who need to show their presumption, vanity and their attitude of criticizing everything “no matter what” in order to show off a supposed, but often vacuous and disputable, competence and to assert their pride.

 Finally, there are personal tastes and, with them, there is little to say or debate. After all, the ancient saying de gustibus non disputandum est (there is no dispute about tastes), is still true over the centuries and certainly not by chance. On this regard, I remind about a gentleman I met some years ago, who appreciated, and with true conviction, the pairing of Brunello di Montalcino to sogliola alla mugnaia, a popular Italian dish made of sole cooked in butter. This pairing does not meet my favor and taste – and certainly not for the famous and decidedly false belief red wine cannot be paired to fish, it is quite the contrary – simply because I think the combination is not harmonious and not only from a technical point of view. I admit, in any case, both that gentleman and I are right: the difference in taste, as well as in opinions, is worthy and respectable in any case and for anyone, at least until they do not try to impose it on others. In the pairing of food to wine, knowing the technique is important, not to mention the deep and specific knowledge of how the two elements were produced and what senses they can stimulate, moreover, it is also a matter of personal taste and a bit of talent. After all, the pairing of food to wine is the search for the pleasure of emotions through the senses. Just like theater, music and painting: it simply is the art of the senses.

Antonello Biancalana



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  Editorial Issue 177, October 2018   
Wine and Food: a not Always Perfect MarriageWine and Food: a not Always Perfect Marriage  Contents 
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