Learning about How Wine and Food Pair
Meetings Past

Learning about How Wine and Food Pair

Thursday 15 June 2017

Did you know how our sense of smell affects taste? Perhaps you have a blocked nose or been a heavy smoker? Try pinching your nose and then eating an orange segment. Can you taste the orange? Most likely not or not much. Open your nose and you will feel the rush of orange taste flooding your mouth. Did you know that our tongue and mouth have about 9,000 taste receptors and that these are replaced every 2 weeks? Or that a quarter of people are ‘supertasters’ with a heightened sense of taste, particularly for bitter foods?

How many tastes can we detect? Is it 4 or 5 or even 6? There’s the 4 accepted tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty. We now recognise a ‘new’ fifth taste sensation called umami. ‘Umai’ is Japanese for ‘delicious’ and ‘mi’ for ‘taste’, so the word means ‘deliciousness’. It is common in savoury foods such as soy sauce, seaweed, Worcester sauce, Marmite and Aromat. Some experts even consider fat to be a sixth taste sensation though specific taste receptors for fat have not been found. Talking of taste receptors, the tongue taste map that we all learned about in our biology lessons at school – sweet at the front (that’s why children lick and suck lollipops), sour at the front sides, salty at the rear sides, and bitter at the back (remember that bitter medicine pill that you can’t quite swallow?) – has been proved to be a common misconception. It was developed by Dr Hanig, a Harvard psychologist, in 1901. Research in 1974 showed that all tastes exist on all areas of the tongue.

This was the background to the 7th tasting meeting of the eagerly awaited Cape Wine Lovers’ Society in Wynberg. I spent the day preparing and cooking. It was well worth it. We tasted a white and a red wine after eating an item of food that represented each taste sensation: wine alone, with apple (sweet), with lemon (sour), with a chip (salty), with walnut (bitter) and with soy sauce (umami). Many of the sensations surprised. It was fun sharing our different responses. Some foods made the wine sweeter, or more fruity, or metallic, or bland, or bitter, or more alcoholic, or just plain weird. It really showed the impact of food on our wine taste and gave much food for thought for when we order wine at a restaurant. Here are the summary effects:





Impact on Wine when added to Food

SWEET ·                    More acidic, more drying, more bitter, more tannic

·                    Less sweet, less fruity, lower in alcohol

SOUR ·                    More sweetness, more bitter and tannic

·                    Less tart, less alcoholic

SALTY ·                    Smoother, richer, more alcoholic

·                    Less acidic, less drying, less bitter

BITTER ·                    More tart, more alcoholic

·                    Less sweet, less tannic

UMAMI (Savoury) ·                    Sweetness and perceived tannins enhanced

·                    Less acidic, less tart, less alcoholic

SPICY HOT ·                    More acidic, more tart, more alcoholic

·                    Less sweet

We then discussed the key principles of pairing wine with food. Most knew how we match the weight of food with the weight of the wine, together with the recognised maxim of ‘white wine with white meat’ and ‘red wine with red meat’. This is the traditional ‘horizontal pairing’ in which the food and wine are given equal importance. Lesser known is ‘vertical pairing’ that was developed by rogues in the 1980s who sought ‘contrast’ between food and wine on the basis that ‘opposites’ attract. Either the food or the wine were given the upper hand. We talked too about choosing a flexible wine if unsure (Sauvignon Blanc, dry Riesling or a Pinot Noir), matching wine quality with food quality, matching salty foods with acidic or sweet wines, of combining fatty food with powerful wines, about tricky desserts, and much more.

The aim of the evening, as ever, was to explore the topic on a practical basis. I had prepared 5 dishes that majored on a particular taste – an acidic salad, an earthy salad, a spicy curry, a meaty casserole, and a sweet dessert – for us to explore which wines we preferred with or did not like at all: red wine with a salad or dessert, rosé with meat or a dessert, white wine with meat and so on. There’s no right and wrong when it comes to wine and that is part of the fascination about it. I am very much an advocate of personal preference ahead of ‘rules’. The experiment conjured up many surprises and gave the chance to try pairings we never usually would choose.

I mentioned about how often 1 or 2 people among friends choose the wine for a table in a restaurant, without even knowing what food has been ordered. I dislike the South African habit of being asked to choose from a wine menu before even being given a chance to see or order food. It is best often to choose wine by the glass if eating several courses and wanting wine with each. Beware though the bottle that has been open for too long and the wine that is beyond its best and oxidised. For this reason, I always ask to see the bottle and to taste when I order wine by the glass as I have been caught out too often.

There was no cheeseboard tonight as our hunger was fully satisfied. Instead, we each had the chance to drink a little more of our favourite wine. This tasting involved much more work than usual but every moment was worth it. We all learned so much. Paring wine with food and exploring our preferences was such fun!

Wines tasted:


2015 Waverley Hills MCC Chardonnay Brut – MCC BRUT – R120


NV Casa De Ouro Graça (50% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Sémillon, 20% Colombar) – OFF-DRY WHITE BLEND – R35
2016 Nederburg Riesling – OFF-DRY WHITE – R55
2016 Bellingham Pear Tree (80% Chenin Blanc, 20% Viognier) – DRY WHITE BLEND – R40


2016 Steenberg Rosé – ROSE – R80


2015 Excelsior Purebred Shiraz Merlot (50% Shiraz, 50% Merlot) – DRY RED BLEND – R35
2016 Cloof Duckitt (42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc) – DRY BORDEAUX BLEND – R50
2012 Seven Oaks Pinotage – DRY RED – R75

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