Cooking with Wine

Cooking with Wine

Cooking with Wine

Basic Wine Tastes

Wine has three basic tastes:

  • Sweet
  • Sour (acidity/tartness)
  • Bitter
  • There is also astringency (tannins), which is mostly a tactile sensation

Basic Food Tastes

The sense of taste is composed of five primary sensations:

  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Bitter
  • Salty
  • Umami

Umami

The umami taste in Japanese soup stocks was identified in 1908 by a researcher named Ikeda, and was found to be associated with monosodium glutamate, the compound used to enhance "savory" characteristics in foods. The umami taste is found in high concentrations in Asian cuisine, but is hard for western palates to recognize. It is sometimes hidden behind stronger tastes such as saltiness. Some examples of umami are steak, ham, seafood, caviar, oily fish, tomatoes, asparagus, cheeses, dried shiitake mushrooms, oyster sauce and Worcestershire sauce.

How Wines and Foods Dance Together

Any wine can be described by how much of each of the basic wine tastes it has. It's a wine's style that determines the foods it will go with, not its grape or regional origin. We all have our favorite wine and food combos (no right or wrong answers here), but here are some guidlines

Sauce or seasoning is always more important than the choice of fish, meat, fowl or vegetable.

When thinking about wine and food matches, ask yourself:

  • What is the wine's style? (Not its varietal or its region)
  • Will the dish make the wine stronger or milder?
  • How do you want the wine to react to the food in a strong or mild manner?

A "go with everything wine" will have:

  • Low bitterness
  • Moderate acidity
  • Low sweetness

Sweet

Sweetness in food increases the awareness of sourness, bitterness and astringency in wine. The wine will also appear drier (less sweet), stronger and less fruity.

Sweet foods will make:

  • Champagnes & sparkling wines unaffected
  • Blush and white wines taste sweeter
  • Light, dry white wines more flavorful
  • Full bodied dry white wines taste more acidic and oaky
  • Light, fruitier red wines taste a bit more acidic with very sweet foods
  • Medium bodied red wines more bitter and astringent
  • Full bodied, moderately tannic red wines more tannic
  • Very full bodied red wines even more powerful and tannic
  • Dessert wines more acidic

Sour

Foods with high amounts of acidity will decrease our awareness of sourness in the wine and make the wine taste richer and more mellow. If the wine is sweet to begin with, it will appear to taste sweeter.

Acidic foods will make:

  • Sweet champagnes & sparkling wines taste even sweeter
  • Blush and white wines taste sweeter
  • Light, dry white wines lighter
  • Full bodied dry white wines taste more fruity
  • Light, fruitier red wines virtually unaffected
  • Medium bodied red wines milder
  • Full bodied, moderately tannic red wines less bitter and tannic
  • Very full bodied red wines less bitter and tannic
  • Dessert wines sweeter

Sweet / Sour Combos

Combinations of sweet and sourness in food can cancel each other out, depending on the concentration level of each. If one or the other dominates, the wine will react according to dominate formula.

Bitter

Bitter flavors in food will increase the perception of bitter elements in wine. Sourness and salt in food suppresses the bitter taste in wine.

Salt

Small amounts of salt in food, especially in sauces and other foods high in umami, can be helpful in toning down the bitterness and astringency of some wines. Sometimes salty foods make sweet wines taste sweeter.

Salty foods will make:

  • Sweet champagnes & sparkling wines even sweeter
  • Blush and white wines taste sweeter
  • Light, dry white wines taste even lighter
  • Full bodied dry white wines will taste more fruity
  • Light, fruitier red wines virtually unaffected
  • Medium bodied red wines milder
  • Full bodied, moderately tannic red wines less bitter and tannic
  • Very full bodied red wines less bitter and tannic
  • Dessert wines sweeter

Umami

Umami flavors in food will increase the perception of bitterness in wine, and seem to create a "metallic" taste. Saltiness or sourness in the food will neutralize the bitter umami reaction. Some examples of umami are steak, ham, seafood, caviar, oily fish, tomatoes, asparagus, cheeses, oyster sauce and Worcestershire sauce

Astringency in Wine

  • Astringency in wine is accentuated by sweet, spicy or tannic foods (Examples: nuts, some fruits, herbs and vegetables).
  • Astringency in wine is suppressed by acidic, salty foods
  • Astringency in wine is accentuated by umami tastes (Examples: meats, seafood, oily fish, tomatoes, asparagus, cheeses. Add salt to neutralize.)

The Last Word

Have fun! The ultimate aim of drinking a glass of wine is the joy that it brings, and that joy is multiplied with good food and friends.