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Wine enhancing the taste of food


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I don't drink now. When I did it was not with wine accompanying my food, I was more a scotch on the rocks kinda drinker.

I don't understand how wine which has a strong taste, contains alcohol which I would think deadens nerve endings, can enhance the taste of the food its eaten with ?

Of course I see wine parings on menus and there is a whole culture of and about wine. So I'm sure its I just don't understand.

Another question I have, is if wine really does enhance the taste of food, then, if took wine in my mouth, swished it around, spit it out without swallowing and then immediately put food in, would I get the benefits of the taste of the two together ?

edited for grammar & spelling. I do it 95% of my posts so I'll state it here. :)

"I have never developed indigestion from eating my words."-- Winston Churchill

Talk doesn't cook rice. ~ Chinese Proverb

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I don't drink now. When I did it was not with wine accompanying my food, I was more a scotch on the rocks kinda drinker.

I don't understand how wine which has a strong taste, contains alcohol which I would think deadens nerve endings, can enhance the taste of the food its eaten with ?

Of course I see wine parings on menus and there is a whole culture of and about wine. So I'm sure its I just don't understand.

Another question I have, is if wine really does enhance the taste of food, then, if took wine in my mouth, swished it around, spit it out without swallowing and then immediately put food in, would I get the benefits of the taste of the two together ?

a) As far as I understand it, wine can have hundreds of flavor components. Wine pairings rely on taste-bud magic that gives us a little thrill when we experience several things at once. Kind of like how a good strawberry-banana flavor item is better than just a banana flavor item.

I know that alcohol is absorbed by mucous membranes and transferred to the blood stream. I don't think it kills taste buds much. Professional tasters spit out wine because they will taste maybe 20-30 1oz samples during an event and they don't want to be absolutely plastered at the end of the event.

b) yes. Try my favorite experiment sometime:

Get an ultra-dark premium chocolate bar (one of those marked at 70% or above) and some Cabernet Sauvignon, just an ounce -but a good one.

With a clean palate, taste the chocolate.

Then, taste the wine -you can spit it out, but make certain that you get it all over your tongue.

Now, try the chocolate again. What will happen is that you'll notice all sorts of different things about the chocolate. For starters, it will taste much sweeter than before.

Hope this helps!

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Provocative question. I like wine but I regard it as completely non-essential for good food. If I lived someplace where the wine was fine and cheap, like Eastern Europe or New Hampshire, I'd have more of it more often. Pure chilled water is often the best accompaniment.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Its important to remember that when you add wine to a dish the first thing that happens is that the alcohol evaporates. Thus so long as you are actually cooking, not just adding wine to a dish that's already cooked, there is no alcohol left in the dish.

What remains are the flavor components of the wine which many people feel enhance the flavor of many dishes. A classic example might be Coq au Vin. You can stew a chicken in water or stock and it will taste pretty good, but it won't taste the same or in my opinion nearly as good as a chicken that has been stewed in wine.

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Its important to remember that when you add wine to a dish the first thing that happens is that the alcohol evaporates. Thus so long as you are actually cooking, not just adding wine to a dish that's already cooked, there is no alcohol left in the dish.

What remains are the flavor components of the wine which many people feel enhance the flavor of many dishes. A classic example might be Coq au Vin. You can stew a chicken in water or stock and it will taste pretty good, but it won't taste the same or in my opinion nearly as good as a chicken that has been stewed in wine.

This I get completely. What I was asking is about drinking wine before and during eating, that has not used and cooked in a recipe.

edited for grammar & spelling. I do it 95% of my posts so I'll state it here. :)

"I have never developed indigestion from eating my words."-- Winston Churchill

Talk doesn't cook rice. ~ Chinese Proverb

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Its important to remember that when you add wine to a dish the first thing that happens is that the alcohol evaporates. Thus so long as you are actually cooking, not just adding wine to a dish that's already cooked, there is no alcohol left in the dish. What remains are the flavor components of the wine which many people feel enhance the flavor of many dishes. . . .

This I get completely. . . ..

Actually, it isn't true that all of the alcohol evaporates in cooking. Sometimes it does (if you're deglazing a hot pan, with wine, for instance, and reduce the liquid to a syrup) but sometimes quite a lot of alcohol is left, as when you're simmering coq au vin or boeuf bourguignonne.

And while it's true that cooking with wine adds flavor to dishes, what's equally important is that alcohol dissolves some flavor molecules that water doesn't.

As far as the original question, wine has two things that water doesn't which make a big difference with food: acidity and tannins. Both acids and tannins tend to cut through fatty foods, and also serve to refresh the palate. Which is not to say that this is the only way wine interacts with food, but it shouldn't be discounted.

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It's not that wine does something to your tongue (deadening or revitalizing it). It's the interplay between the flavors of wine and the flavors of the food. It also works the other way around too as wine can seem more complex through interaction with the qualities (richness, acidity, flavors) of food. It's a two way street and its also fun to pair food with wine. If you've got the right food and wine, the combination can be exciting and revelatory for both.

nunc est bibendum...

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Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea is in the midst of a series of posts on wine pairing over at the Atlantic. It starts with "Why Wine Pairings Matter".

I can't say that I'd ever had wine that truly elevated food before I visited Alinea, and while I've had very successful pairings since, none have been as good.

It's an interesting question, but I wouldn't think there'd be a problem truly experiencing a good pairing if you didn't swallow the wine.

Edited by KD1191 (log)

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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I agree about Alinea: their pairings -- particularly across courses -- changed the way I thought about food and drink.

Janet's point about acidity and tannins is particularly important in my enjoyment of wine with food. Though I indulge in wine rarely, I'd ideally have wine with most meals that include animal fat simply because of the cleansing properties of those elements.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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The wine pairings at Alinea blew me away: the mind that could conceive of those dishes and those wines so well as to pair them so consistently well (some revelatory) is incredible. This leads to another point though: I've only had a few pairings in my (admittedly short, so far) life that have really demonstrated the possibilities of wine pairing. It's happened maybe once or twice with my own cooking by complete accident. I drink wine with a lot of my dinners, but I usually just think of what will "go" with what--I'm not trying to pair wines, I'm just putting them together. Big red wine with lots of tannins with steak or acidic whites with sauteed chicken thighs for some simple examples. There's something different going on with wine pairing at a place like Alinea. I'd make a distinction between putting wine and food together as opposed to pairing food and wine. There's a fuzzy line somewhere between the two that serendipity might happen to lead from one into the other in everyday cooking and drinking but usually I think there's a distinct difference for me (not a sommelier obviously, though I drink a lot of wine some of it very good and almost always have it with some kind of food).

I would also think that as long as you push the wine in your mouth and let it hit all those tastebuds, you could still spit it out and have the benefits of a good pairing.

nunc est bibendum...

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Years ago I was befriended by a wine shop owner (Elliot Fishbein of Town Wine & Spirits in East Providence RI) just as I was starting to develop skills in the kitchen and take on more advanced projects. I'd drive out to his store, talk him through a course or a meal, and he'd make suggestions. Often, he'd have a bottle open in the back that would allow us to talk more specifically about the different wine components and their relationship to the food. I'd bring that budding knowledge home and recall it in prep and at service, and I learned a lot.

I also would bring him samples of the lobster sausage or the porcini ravioli after the meal. No fool me. :wink:

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I've got the same thing going on here with the owner of the Cork and Bottle in Madison, WI. Last Sunday he came over and I cooked some stuff and we drank it with a 2001 Brunello and a 2004 Barolo (we also capped off the meal with a Manhattan made of Saz 18 (donated by him) and Antica (mine)--ah ooo gah!). I paired it with rare flank and ribeye steak of excellent quality over arugula (dressed only with olive oil and salt) and bread. It was a learning experience and fantastic. I'd never get to do stuff like this otherwise and I've learned a lot. Though I guess I've got more experience than most, I'd still make a distinction between the basic pairings I can conceive of and what I think a lot of people imagine when they're thinking about wine pairing which I think Alinea is an outstanding example of. I don't mean to imply a "don't try this at home" attitude toward pairing. But I would make a distinction between pairing that's revelatory (as at Alinea) or pairing that's simple and just good or even, dare I say, utilitarian.

I also don't want to imply that its an arcane art that's impossible to learn: it's not. I still think its true though that when I drink my everyday wine with dinner (which is usually the case--I don't have $50 or even $20 to throw around on wine that often), the pairing is just good. Just good (and getting better) is good enough for me when I'm cooking and hanging out. In fact, sometimes its even great.

I guess the point is that there's a lot to wine pairing and that it's occasional--good pairings taste spectacular when I'm in good company and pairings can be incredible under the guidance of a master. There's a good range in between too. Yet I think the distinction between picking up a well structured bottle of red to go with a stew's maybe not the same thing many people imagine when they think about "wine pairing." But both are really pleasurable matches of food and wine. Maybe I'm splitting hairs though...

nunc est bibendum...

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I don't drink now. When I did it was not with wine accompanying my food, I was more a scotch on the rocks kinda drinker.

I don't understand how wine which has a strong taste, contains alcohol which I would think deadens nerve endings, can enhance the taste of the food its eaten with ?

When you are sipping wine with food it does not have the same alcohol-forward effect that Scotch on the rocks does, IMO. I think you can certainly impair your sense of taste with too much wine, or the wrong kind, but it's more difficult. (Conversely I have found a meal enhanced by having say a martini first, but I've given that up because about half the time it seems like the gin does overwhelm my taste buds.) Probably varies by person.

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For certain dishes, e.g., rich French food a la Julia, I think the acidity of wine is essential to cleanse and refresh the palate so that you want to keep eating. Otherwise your palate starts to dull as the fats coat your tongue. I like the play of flavors between wine and food in a good pairing as well. Asian foods typically do not match up well with Western wines, IMO, and I often stick to beer. But a good Riesling can get that sweet-hot thing going with spicy Asian food, and I like that.

All this assumes you're drinking a decent bottle of wine to begin with, of course. A wine that is too tannic, too alcohol-y, over-oaked, or flawed by off flavors like kerosene (and I've been there for all these examples :laugh:) will decrease the enjoyment of any food, no matter how wonderful the food is.

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There are several schools of thought when it comes to wine pairings, and, there are also pairing fads that come and go with various food fads. I took wine classes in the early 1980's and again a few years ago. I was told in the recent classes that pretty much everything that I was taught the first time around was wrong.

Sometimes, you want a contrast like having an acidic, citrusy white to cut through the richness of a dish, making each bite seem new. Other times, a wine can help balance a flavor component like sweet, sour, bitter, etc. And then, a wine can also help coax out a particular flavor that would have been too subtle without it -think of adding a few berries to a pan sauce, wine could bring the berry flavor more prominence.

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