Food and wine pairing is an attempt to match a specific wine with certain foods to enhance the dining experience. Wine was historically served with food because it was considered safer than some local water supplies, but no actual pairing was involved.
Whatever wine was available was served with the culinary traditions of a region, so over the years, local cuisines were paired with local wines.
As commercial wines grew in popularity in the last three decades, an entire subculture of experts has spawned an industry devoted to food and wine pairings. In the restaurant industry, expertise in contemporary food and wine pairing is handled by wine stewards or sommeliers.
But according to a Master of Wine Tim Hanni, the concept of food and wine pairing should be “eliminated” since it was based on a whole set of “delusions” and “does not exist.”
Hanni is a Certified Wine Educator, accredited by the Society of Wine Educators, and has been involved with wine and food businesses, and education and research for over thirty-five years.
Hanni’s techniques for creating wine lists, combined with culinary philosophies on “balancing” food and wine flavors, are used by thousands of restaurants and hotels around the world.
Hanni also claims to be responsible for introducing the concept of the “umami” to the wine and food community, and has lectured in countries around the world on the topics of flavor balancing, sensory sciences, wine and culinary history.
According to Hanni, orthodox food pairings such as red wine and meat, or white wine and fish, do nothing to increase the flavor of either food group.
In the case of the classic steak and red wine combination, Hanni concludes that it’s the salt in the steak rather than the steak itself that softens the bitterness of the tannin — the textural element that makes wine taste dry.
Hanni points out that the salt we put on meat suppresses the bitterness and astringency. Take off the salt – no softening of red wine.
“That is the point of my work and assertions – find out what is fact and what is fancy. Try some strong red wine, then a little bit of salt and lemon, a la a tequila shot but just a bit, then wine again. Smooth as silk. This is how food is traditionally balanced in Europe – or at least used to be.”
Hanni explains that in the simplest terms, “sweet and umami tastes predominating in a dish will render a wine thin, bitter, sour and unpleasant while salt and acidity in the food will make the accompanying wine richer or smooth, or taken to the extreme, flat and flabby.”
In a recent reddit thread submitted by the Independent, Hanni elaborated on his ideas and answered several questions.
Included below are several of Hanni’s interesting comments related to food and wine pairing:
* Collective delusions are an important and normal part of our neurology — collective delusions are concepts that brings humans together and also has them fight and kill each other. The “if it grows together it goes together” is a nice thought but also not accurate if you look closely at classical cuisines and regional wines.
* We pay lip service to the fact that people perceive things differently but have little or no understanding of the how, how much, and why. The differences are, in fact, significant. We also parade around ‘classic’ or traditional wine and food pairings that have no basis in fact as well. Smooth is the single most important word to wine consumers. Yes, it appears many times in my book along with insights into how ‘smooth’ is in the mouth of the beholder.
* How can we intimately connect with consumers, inspire them and get them excited, not necessarily about our own passions, but REALLY getting them. Improved communications, less embarrassment and intimidation, greater confidence plus an industry that guides and understands = sales like we could never imagine and an amazingly more healthy and prosperous industry with the ability to match diverse wines to a diverse market. How about that for a vision?
* Swear to you, a tich more salt and lemon juice on the asparagus will transform the asparagus reaction with wine – red, white, dry sweet, rose, sparkling. The vast majority of people get no unpleasant reaction from asparagus and the wines they love, those that do get the reaction cannot believe others do not.
* Some people have 500 tastebuds, others over 11,000. One extreme or another makes a huge difference in the range and intensity of what an individual perceives but it is a mistake to think that having more tastebuds or less makes someone a ‘better’ taster. Just different.
In fact, the people with the very most taste buds very often cannot tolerate dry wines – sweet wine lovers, who cannot stand dry wines, tend to have the highest degree of perceptive acuity. Same with people who put tons of salt on their food – they are using the salt to suppress bitterness that other people cannot even perceive.
* Actually you will find no mention of Sauternes and foie gras in classic French text. After the Troigros brothers returned from opening Maxim’s in Tokyo in the early 1960s they brought back new ideas that included sweet combinations never seen in classic French cuisine. This was the birth of nouvelle cuisine and represented a fusion of ideas for preparation and presentation of French food. Sweet food, eliminated in the main course of a meal by La Varenne in La Cuisiniere Fracois in 1651, has the effect of ‘brushing your teeth and drinking orange juice.’
Traditional wine served with foie gras were entirely dependent on the wines of any given region – Malbec in Cahors, mostly dry and acidic whites in Alsace, Sauternes and Monbazillac in the Garonne (but those wines were served with oysters, roast lamb or beef – you name it). In fact, Compte Lur Saluces at Ch. d’Yquem is noted as having a feeling disapproval for his wine with foie gras and this was about the ONLY food that did not like with his own wine.