Pairing food with wine is pseudoscience 'nonsense', expert says

A perfect wine pairing doesn't exist, says Tim Hanni.
A perfect wine pairing doesn't exist, says Tim Hanni. Photo: Shutterstock

Any dinner party host worth their salt is accustomed to serving white wine with fish and red wine with steak.

But the wine-pairing rules are undiluted nonsense, according to one of the world's leading authorities. Tim Hanni, one of the first Americans to become a master of wine, says the practice is nothing more than "pseudoscience".

At the 2019 Sauvignon Blanc Celebration in Marlborough, New Zealand, he said: "A perfect wine pairing doesn't exist. We're doing a lot of damage to the way we match wine and categorise it. We need a campaign to stop wine and food pairing. We need to celebrate the diversity of consumers, not make them feel stupid. You can serve sauvignon blanc with steak - why not?

"We need to get over the notion that food and wine grew up together. Food and wine matching is a pseudoscience of metaphors and misunderstandings."

He said if consumers were always told they were drinking the wrong wine with their food, they would choose cocktails or beer instead.

While traditional local fare was once enjoyed with the local wine, the '80s saw a boom in wine pairing as the industry tried to augment its status.

You can serve sauvignon blanc with steak - why not?

Tim Hanni

Daniel Keeling, co-founder of Noble Rot wine bar in London, agreed that traditional ideas around wine pairing should be challenged. "Wine and food matching is a contentious subject and as much as there is no denying the power of classic pairings, there's never been a more exciting time to experiment with - or completely ignore - conventional rules," he said.

"It's nonsense to say you should only drink red with meat, or white with fish. Interesting organic, biodynamic and natural wines have opened up other flavours and textures - try a Josko Gravner iconic orange wine with miso cod for a sublime but unusual pairing. A slightly tannic white wine from Tenerife with steak and chips - why not?

"People didn't have the opportunity to buy produce outside the region they lived, so it's no surprise that local wines and food, such as the Jura's Vin Jaune and Comte cheese, or Burgundian Aligote with snails, work so well together."

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Victoria Moore, The Telegraph's wine columnist and author of The Wine Dine Dictionary agreed.

She said: "For me, putting wine with food is just the same as putting food with food. The mistake people make is to imagine that it's prescriptive. Of course it's not. At least, no more than any cookery book that gives you a recipe for beef stew with dumplings and notes, 'I like to eat this with buttery spring greens'. Wines with foods, just like foods with foods, are suggestions for pleasure - no more and no less."

But she added: "There is some art and some science behind this. Mood and memory are big influencers in the way we taste and enjoy food and wine.

"But also, what we're eating changes our perception of the flavour of the wine - for instance, if you have very salty food, then the wine will seem less acidic. This is why crisps are so very good with champagne."

The Telegraph, London