Wine Folly Logo
Food & Wine

Simple Science of Food and Wine Pairing

- Updated

See the theory of food and wine pairing in action with this easy to use chart. Then, understand the simple science behind food and wine pairing based on our basic sense of taste.

You can learn the fundamentals of how taste components like sweet, sour, spice, bitter and fat go together. Then, try pairing wine by letting the characteristics of your food suggest your wine.

Food and Wine Pairing Science

food and wine pairing method

Buy Poster


How it works in action

When it comes to food and wine pairing, most folks lean on the phrase “What grows together, goes together” as a starting point.

For example, you could pair Italian Sangiovese with Italian pasta and make a decent pairing without trying.

But if you think about wine as an ingredient you can start to construct your own unique flavor combinations.

pairing-food-and-wine-fish-tacos

In this example, we chose fish tacos and broke them down to their core ingredients. The fish turns out to be a pretty polarizing ingredient that doesn’t usually pair with red wines. Additionally, cilantro and lime will push this dish closer to a much more specific wine.

If you follow the chart, you’ll see that a light-bodied white wine looks to be the best option for this dish. And, it is! Of the wines on the list shown, you’ll do great with a Vermentino, Albariño, or Pinot Grigio.

Why do certain wines go with certain foods?

When you start analyzing the structure of wine, each type of wine features different characteristics such as acidity, tannin, alcohol level and sweetness. If you start thinking about wine traits as flavor ingredients, it becomes easier to pair them with a meal.

So how come a bold red wine doesn’t go with a fatty fish like salmon?

Tannin and fat actually counteract each other quite well, so it would seem like an oily fish such as salmon would pair well with a red wine. The reason it doesn’t work is because the tannin in the wine and the fattiness of the fish cancel each other out leaving you with a residual fishy flavor. Basically, this pairing brings all the negatives of each component to the forefront as the final taste in your mouth.

Fish pairs well with wines that have a cleansing effect (a.k.a. high acidity). The wine acts as a scraper of the fish flavor left in your mouth. This could be why highly zesty wines like Champagne go well with many different types of foods. If you’re interested, you can read more about pairing wine with fish.

6 basics to making perfect pairings

Food pairing is a science

Dr. Paul Breslin, a sensory biologist at Rutger’s University, has been studying the effects of taste on the palate. In a recent study he conducted, he focused on how oiliness and astringency interact. He took a closer look at how greasy food leaves an obnoxious taste on the palate. In the study, when tasters rinsed their mouths with water, the greasy feeling would not subside. However, when people rinsed their mouths with tea (a liquid with light tannins and moderate acidity), the greasy feeling went away.

What Dr. Breslin found was that our saliva glands produce proteins to lubricate our mouths. When we eat greasy foods, our mouths over-salivate and make our tongues feel slippery. Tannin and acidity counteract this slippery feeling by pulling out the proteins from our tongue. Of course, this action can also go in the other direction when you drink a very tannic wine with no food. This will leave you with an equally obnoxious astringent and dry feeling in your mouth.

This study illustrates how powerful the acting forces are on the basic characteristics of taste.

So, the next time you grab a bottle of wine ask yourself:

‘What am I having for dinner?’

Buy the Book - Get the Course!

Get the Wine 101 Course ($29 value) FREE with the purchase of Wine Folly: Magnum Edition.

Learn More

AboutMadeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

Cover Image for The Handy Guide to Wine and Steak Pairing

The Handy Guide to Wine and Steak Pairing

Wine and Steak is one of the essential pairings in your wine journey. Tuck your napkin into your collar and explore the wines and the cuts.

Read More
Cover Image for Discover the Best Wines for Spaghetti

Discover the Best Wines for Spaghetti

One of the best food experiences with endless variety. Everyone loves eating Italian, so dive in and discover the best wines for spaghetti.

Read More
Cover Image for Try Wine With These 8 New Year’s Food Traditions

Try Wine With These 8 New Year’s Food Traditions

Find your favorite New Year’s wine pairing tradition! Explore these 8 new year’s traditions from around the world.

Read More
Cover Image for Wine and Hummus: 9 Delicious Wine and Middle Eastern Pairings

Wine and Hummus: 9 Delicious Wine and Middle Eastern Pairings

Will wine go with couscous, baklava, or hummus? This guide will help you navigate some classic Middle Eastern food and wine that complements them.

Read More
Cover Image for 6 Easy Wine Dinners From Basic Kitchen Staples

6 Easy Wine Dinners From Basic Kitchen Staples

Looking for something easy with elegance? Here are 6 wine dinners for the times when your wine cooler is full, but your fridge is empty.

Read More
Cover Image for 10 Wine and Grill Food Pairings Made For The Porch

10 Wine and Grill Food Pairings Made For The Porch

Beer might be the traditional drink for a hot day over the coals, but we believe that wine and grill food can make amazing pairings! Here are 10 of our favorites.

Read More