A dinner party attendee holds up a glass of wine, letting the candlelight shine through, swirls the contents around, and says “It is soft, sensuous with a buttery aroma”. Food and wine pairings are often advertised as perfect matches whose tantalizing tastes promise to transcend all prior sensory experiences!  As characteristics of food and wine have been separately defined in literature, wine and culinary experts have recently started collaborating to define a perfect pair. The question still remains as to why these pairings work so effortlessly.

Does the Perfect Pair Actually Exist?  

The exploration of food and wine pairings begins with the identification of distinct characteristics including flavour, aroma, texture, and the interactions between them. Sensory properties of wine encompass sensations of acidity, sweetness, bitterness, flavour, viscosity, warmth, and astringency. The final aroma and flavour profile of a wine is strongly dependent on all aspects of viticultural practices. Seven major flavour categories are fruity, nutty, smoky, herbal, buttery, floral, and earthy.

Gastronomic Identity

Sharing a meal is the focal point of most social events and as such eating food and drinking wine is a universally shared experience. Even though wining and dining in general is seen around the world, the specifics vary greatly depending on the locale.

Gastronomy is the study of the relationship between food and culture, incorporating the regional environment as a factor. The practice of gastronomy dictates wine and food pairings according to the common regional cuisine, as well as the agricultural products available based on what can be grown and produced. As such, meals prepared with locally sourced ingredients are often paired with wines from the same or similar terroir so pairings can serve to enhance similar characteristics. 

However, this trend of “what grows together goes together,” also has a historical basis. Before globalization made it easy to acquire any ingredient for any type of cuisine at a supermarket, everyone relied on products available from nearby farms. Therefore, the food people ate and the wine they drank were a product of the region’s terroir and gastronomic identity.

The Universal Perfect Pair

Food and wine pairings tend to differ regionally, based on specific flavour profiles. For example, common ingredients in Mexican cuisine include tomatoes, chili, and lime. These flavours together often create warm and spicy foods, paired with sweet wines for contrast. In California, buttery Chardonnays are paired with local Dungeness crabs dipped in butter to enhance the flavour. Acidic Sancerre white wine from the Sancerre region of France cuts the richness of goat cheese from the same area. Finally, sweet ice wines from Niagara, Canada match well with desserts like tarts and pies made using locally grown fruit.

Although the ultimate goal of pairing for many restaurants is to create a new gastronomic effect, a ‘perfect’ pairing does not guarantee a satisfied customer. This is because there is no pairing that will please everyones' palates! In essence, when trying suggested food and wine pairings, we should always keep in mind that there is no such thing as a universal perfect pairing. Pairing preferences are subjective. They can exist on an individual basis and can greatly enhance one’s dining experience. The only way to discover which food and wine pairings are perfect for you is to experiment. Bonne chance!