There’s a new way to teach wine and food pairing! Yet most professional schools do not teach it this way.
Read below to understand why this is and learn 3 wine and food pairing rules at the same time.
But first you may be interested to know this...
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Wine and Food Pairing
Mastering the art of wine and food pairing is difficult for many reasons.
First, our understanding of tastes is only in its infancy. Scientists don’t even know how many tastes there are. So far, we have only isolated 6 basic tastes.
Yet most of us will only be familiar with 4 – salt, sour, bitter, and sweet. Umami, which is the fifth, is a savoury taste. Umami was discovered by a Japanese scientist at the turn of the 20th century. However we’ve only recently been addressing savoury here in the West.
More recently, (think circa 2015) scientists isolated fat as the 6th basic taste. There are currently 2-3 more tastes about to be revealed. How these new discoveries will affect how we teach wine pairing principals is yet to be seen.
Here’s another reason why wine and food pairing is a difficult subject to teach. We all taste differently [mic drop].
Yup, that’s right. Which food and wine pairing you will enjoy the most will not be the same combination that I will like the most.
Wine and Food Pairing Rule:
We all taste differently
Perhaps the fact that we all taste differently won’t come as a surprise to most readers. But to the wine nerd community, by which I mean the professional tasters, sommeliers and the schools that teach them, this is a fairly new understanding.
Wine education textbooks traditionally taught students to memorize the traditional foods of a region where the wine and food grew up together. The common adage being, “If it grows together, it goes together!”
However, students were not taught that someone might not like Chianti Classico Riserva nor what they should do if that happens.
In fact, my experience tells me that many wine pros would dismiss said guest as simply being wrong.
[In reality, some wine teachers with hospitality experience may cover these scenarios, but they have to do it outside of the course curriculum.]
Wine and Food Pairing Rule:
"If it grows together, it goes together"
As professional tasters are trained to like wines with higher acidity, less new oak and lower alcohol levels, “If it grows together, it goes together” will likely always work with this group.
These are the so-called ‘classic’ wine and food pairings of France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Austria. Their wines were made to go with the regional food as the food and wine traditions grew alongside each other simultaneously. As such, wines from the ‘old world’ taste better when they are drunk with the food of the region.
Yet, New World wine drinkers (those from America, Australia, New Zealand, etc) and the vast majority of consumers in my experience, don’t always drink wine with food. They prefer softer wines with obvious sweeter vanilla and spice tones that come from ageing wines in new oak barrels. They also prefer more concentrated fruit and higher alcohol levels.
Here, “If it grows together, it goes together” aphorism may fail.
Because really, if you don’t like Chianti Classico Riserva because it’s sour cherry notes are too tart and the wine seems insiped and watery. You will likely not like it paired with Spaghetti Bolognese (one of the ‘classic’ wine and food pairings).
Wine and Food Pairing Rule:
If you don't like the wine, you won't like the pairing
I believe it was Tim Hanni, Master of Wine (MW) who first called out the wine world publicly in his 2013 book, ‘Why You Like The Wines You Like.’ In particular, he called out restaurant wine lists for being almost absent of sweet wines and ignoring their ‘sweet vinotype’ customers.
Who is a 'sweet vinotype'?
People in the ‘sweet vinotype’ grouping have the highest number of taste buds and don’t enjoy high alcohol in wines or the bitter taste from tannin.
Hanni’s gripe was that people in the ‘sweet vinotype’ category were being forced away from wine. Instead, these guests would order cocktails in restaurants because the wine community simply wasn’t listening to them.
The massive failure of sommeliers to bend wine pairing rules happened to other vinotypes too. Restaurants were missing out on many lucrative wine sales as a result.
Working with Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace MD, Hanni identified different ‘vinotypes’ or specific groups who taste differently and like different wines.
The total number of taste buds on a tongue can range from below 500 to over 11 000. Logically, your sensitivity to wine structure (like acidity and tannin) will vary based on how many tastes buds you have.
Hanni and Lovelace are both quick to point out that this does not mean that some vinotypes are better tasters than others. Simply, that not everyone enjoys the same wines.
This is how it works. Your tongue first catalogues the wine’s structure. Then these taste sensations go to the brain to be processed. Your brain is a place where physiology now meets psychology.
So get this…because wine is then processed by the brain, your culture will impact your perception of the wine.
This idea, now backed by research, was evident to me and other floor sommeliers who bothered to listen to their guests. But it is not common ‘wine pro’ parlance.
Furthermore, Hanni and Lovelace’s research showed that which ‘vinotype’ you are is evident in your outward behaviour.
And that means your wine preference can predict other things that you do that are not related to wine at all!
The Wine and Spirit Trust (WSET) was the first to respond in textbooks:
WSET is the first wine school to teach that people taste differently
I’ll give credit to WSET for being the first to address head on that tasters taste differently in their textbooks.
Full disclosure, I’m a certified WSET educator and most familiar with their way of teaching. However, I’ve also completed 2 certification levels with ISG (International Sommelier Guild) and am familiar with the curriculum of CMS (Court of Master Sommeliers). If you want to know more about my wine experience, click here.
The last two schools, the sommelier schools, do put more of an emphasis on food and wine pairing in their courses in general.
But WSET is the first school to admit that people taste differently. They therefore teach their students not to force the ‘classic’ pairings on other tasters. Furthermore, WSET is first to commit this wine pairing philosophy to text in their recent Level 1 (2017) and Level 2 (2019) WSET textbooks.
Still, if you attend a professional wine or sommelier course, you’ll be surprised to learn that there is no actual wine and food pairing practice in class. Instead, students memorize the ‘classic pairings’ and discuss the other wine and food pairing theories only.
The professional wine schools do not tackle what to do when a food and wine pairing does not work.
That’s why we are designing the ‘Ultimate Guide to Wine and Food Pairing’ for normal people like yourself! We break down the complex rules of wine and food pairing into bite-sized chunks called lessons.
Each lesson comes with a food and wine pairing exercise you can do at home. We also include quizzes to immediately test your memory making sure you retain what you’ve learned!
Finally, you’ll get our effective results based approach. So by the end of the course, you’ll know which element(s) in a wine are missing when the wine pairing is a disaster. You’ll also know what you need to drink instead!