Pairing food and wine has long been considered something to strive for by culinary experts. Restaurants, food experts, chefs and cookery writers have been recommending the best wine for certain dishes for decades, if not centuries. But is it an exact science, and does it really matter which wine you serve with your dinner?
Whether you believe there are perfect wine and food pairings or not, there is an entire industry built around the concept. Sommeliers taste hundreds, and possibly thousands, of different wines to match with a menu. There is a set of instructions in place regarding the balance of acid, fat, salt and alcohol to achieve the perfect match. But recently, the wine industry has been upset by experts suggesting it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
Perfect wine pairing may not exist
Tim Hanni, a US chef, Master of Wine and certified wine educator announced at the 2019 Sauvignon Blanc Celebration that he doesn’t think the perfect food and wine pairing exists. He qualified this by saying that the industry is doing “a lot of damage the way we’re matching wine and categorising it.”
After the event, he told The Drinks Business that he is concerned with the genetic traits that cause people to taste, smell and experience sensations differently. It’s a scientific fact that some people lack certain taste receptors and can therefore tolerate much more bitterness than others, for example. In contrast, more than a third of people are very sensitive to bitter flavours and don’t enjoy any wine with an alcohol content of more than 13%.
Hanni says these differences make the notion of ideal food and wine pairings obsolete, as they depend so much on personal taste receptors.
Food and wine pairings should be adjusted for personal taste
Clement Robert is a wine buyer and Master Sommelier for Caprice Holdings, London. He agrees with Hanni that taste is subjective but does not agree that sommeliers are blocking people from enjoying food and wine.
He says that wine pairings are simple, and expert sommeliers will always adjust their suggestions to cater for personal taste.
Of course, if you’re visiting a fine dining restaurant, the wine list and sommelier are all part of the experience. But the popularity of House Reds and Whites shows that many customers don’t want to overthink their wine choice, and just want to enjoy their meal.
So, is there such thing as a perfect food and wine pairing? As the debate rages between wine experts, winemakers and Master Sommeliers, it’s probably best to assume that there is no single answer. Everyone has their own opinion, and most people have a favourite wine. It’s about finding the wine that’s perfect for you, and not worrying about whether it is the ‘right’ one.