Every wine aficionado, wine maker, sommelier, event planner gets challenged from time with a difficult pairing. How does anyone interested in food and wines set about planning when presented with very difficult pairings. One of the most difficult set of pairings include those vegetables with a strong herbal taste – fennel, artichoke, asparagus, mint, etc. These are traditionally paired with Sauvignon Blanc and fight horribly against the compounds in Chardonnay. Another difficult set of pairings are spicy foods – Hunan Chinese, Mexican, Thai, and Indian, cuisines that use a lot of peppers (capsaicins – are enhanced, made hotter, and fight with, tannins) curries, cumin, saffron, and similar spices. These types of foods will go better with wines with some sweetness (Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Moscato) or reds with softer profiles (Grenache, and even Syrahs).
Which brings me to the point of this article. If you really would like to learn more about this from a technical standpoint, I have a great book to recommend. But it goes pretty deep into the physiology of taste, what we taste and why. But it is well written, easy to read, fun and has plenty of pictures and graphs to explain. So I strongly recommend you get a copy of TASTE BUDS AND MOLECULES, The Art And Science of Food, Wine and Flavor, John Wiley and Sons, publisher. The book was written by a French food and wine fanatic, Francois Chartier, and translated into English. Chartier was a close friend of Ferran Adria, who owned and ran El Bulli, now closed but during its heyday widely regarded as the best restaurant in the world. Ferran Adria wrote the foreword to the book. Ferran is regarded as the leading missionary of molecular gastronomy. Now we have a counterpart from the wine world in Chartier.
So what is the basis of the book? All foods, all wines, all matter for that fact, have various molecules, some of which lend things like color, texture, taste, smell. These related to smell are called volatile compounds to the concept of “aroma”. Remember we only taste sweet sour bitter and salty (some say “umami” also). Everything else is a smell so these are very important components to our flavor experiences. Lets take a look at cloves. The clove chart includes funny words like “vanillin” (gives flavors of and to vanilla); furfurals (give the flavors of toast, hazelnut, maple, coffee, caramelized flavors and woodiness); eugenol (clove aromas); acetyleugenol (warm and sweet odors); oleanolic acid (confier fragrances). So we can take those components from cloves and then say, Ok what foods have these, what are the foods complimentary to the clove spice. We get vanilla, toasted bread, beer and malted barleys, apricots, gingerbread, hazelnuts, grilled beef, Indian curries, maple syrup, pineapple, strawberries, and scotch whiskey among many others). And from that analysis we can then look at wine pairing for these dishes ie which wines have some of the same volatile compounds. For the pairings try Grenache/Syrah/ Mouvedre blends, Tempranillo, Petite Syrah, Syrah/Zinfandel blends, Garnachia (Spanish clones of Grenache) Touriga National/Syrah blends (Touriga is the Portuguese native red grape), Mencia (a Spanish grape nearly unknown here), and even Pinto Noir. Not a Merlot or Cabernet in the group.
Get the book, and enjoy!