Does wine make food taste better?
Usually, when the subject of wine and food comes up, it’s about pairings — what goes with what, and often in such nuance that it scares the hell out of beginning wine drinkers. Which may be one reason why wine and food pairings are becoming increasingly less important to many wine drinkers.
The Wine Curmudgeon has been pondering this for a good while, trying to figure out a way to write about pairings that wouldn’t drive new wine drinkers crazy (as part of my resolution to make the blog more accessible to people who are new to wine).
Which led to the thought: Are we putting the cart before the horse? We’re telling people to pair certain wines with food under the assumption that the food will taste better. Is there any evidence to support this?
In other words, when I’m drinking an unoaked chardonnay with roast chicken, does the chicken taste better than if I had been pairing it with sweet tea or a soft drink (something I see very often in Dallas, where restaurant diners seem to drink more of the last two than the first). The answer: No one knows for sure. More, after the jump:
The relationship between wine and food falls under sensory science; this article from Food & Wine goes into great detail explaining how it works (and the chemistry isn’t too scary). But it doesn’t offer a firm answer, and no one in the several years I’ve spent poking around the subject has been able to do much better. There are too many variables involved, and the most important is that each of us is different. You like caviar; I think it tastes like moldy fungus. I like baked beans with bacon; you think it’s too sweet and too greasy. So how can we come up with a one size fits all explanation for the way wine and food go together?
Because I’m convinced, after some two decades of doing this, that wine does make food taste better. Do I have any scientific evidence? Nope, just my experience.
But you can test it for yourself. Pick a dish, even something as simple as a hamburger or chicken salad. Taste the food with a sip of wine, a sip of tea, a sip of soft drink, and a sip of water. See if there is a difference. Something about the wine meshes with the food, and you taste things you don’t taste with the other liquids. I did this recently with red wine and spaghetti and tomato sauce, and the wine was the winner. The sugar in the tea and the soft drink overpowered the tomato sauce, while the water didn’t do much of anything. The wine, though, somehow, made the food more complete.
Of course, there is literary evidence, from the very fine Southern novelist Clyde Edgerton in “Raney,” a book about the marriage of an Atlanta Episcopalian, Charles, and a rural Baptist, Raney. Toward the end, Raney discovers wine. And her discovery rings true:
… Charles has got me to sip his white wine at the Ramada a few times — to show me how much better it makes the food taste. One night I tried a whole glass. Just to make the food taste better, because it can make the food taste some better, depending on what you’re eating. Thursday night, when we stopped by the store I’d had two glasses. For the first time. I don’t think I’ll ever do it again, and I shouldn’t have then. I can’t decide what I think about it exactly. It does make the food taste some better.
I should mention, since this is a family blog, that what happens next is also decidedly un-Baptist. And it’s another point in wine’s favor.