The science of wine and food matching

Once upon a time it was one of the simple, accepted dining mores that red wine should be matched with red meat and white wine with fish. Even those whose lips move when they read the menu could grasp that concept.

MAD Magazine even produced its version of the Heimlich Manoeuvre as posters for restaurants complete with diagrams: if choking on red meat give red wine; if choking on fish give white wine (while delivering the unclogging bear hug Heimlich Manoeuvre).

Now scientists in Japan have announced there is solid scientific proof to back this up. It seems the more iron in wine the fishier the aftertaste of an accompanying fish meal.

The experiment at the root of this hypothesis saw 38 red wines and 26 white wines from France, Italy, Australia, Chile, Japan, Spain, the United States, Argentina, Hungary, New Zealand, and South Africa being tasted while consuming hydrated dried scallops.

It’s a bit of a no-brainer to figure heavier wines with heavier dishes lighter wines with lighter dishes, lighter wines at the earlier stages of the meal and heavier as you progress through the courses. The red meat-red wine and dry white wine and fish paradigm can in part be attributed in an olfactory sense to the meat proteins reducing the bitterness of tannic red wines and astringency of white wines. But now science has fingered the iron and haemoglobin factor into the wine matching equation.

But it’s the nuances of the ingredients within the dishes which makes the precise matching tricky. I can remember thinking that a 17.4 per cent alcohol Wolfie Piggs Peake Zinfandel that was recommended as a match for a poached pork fillet was akin to using a sledge hammer to swat a fly. But the aromatic almost herbal nuances of this NSW Zin perfectly matched the sage mousseline that was part of the delicate pork fillet dish. My taste buds and the room of chefs rejoiced unequivocally at the match.

Having a bunch of white coated boffins checking out total and ferrous iron concentrations in wine through gas chromatography-olfactometry and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry seems a bit of overkill and takes the fun out it.

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