They oppose each other to create a balanced mouthfeel
History’s most famous couples have always had a yin and yang kind of thing going on. Anthony and Cleopatra. Ricky and Lucy. Wine and cheese. It’s true. Opposites attract.
In the case of wine and cheese—as with other famous food pairings—it’s a co-mingling of an astringent element to make the mouth pucker, and a fatty element to make the mouthfeel slippery. You know which one does which, but here’s why.
Yes, that’s a word—at least to people who appreciate wine and food. Here’s what it means and why it’s a part of why wine and cheese pair so well together.
Cheese is a fatty food. Wine is astringent. They oppose each other to create a balanced mouthfeel. Because fatty foods are oily, eating them lubricates the mouth. You take a bit of cheese and your mouth feels slick. Take a drink of wine and the tannins will make the mouth feel dry or rough.
Fatty and astringent substances do this by binding at a chemical level with lubricant proteins in your saliva. Proteins in the saliva solidify, leaving the gums and the surface of the tongue without their usual coating.
We humans don’t particularly like to have an overly slimy mouth. We’d rather not have our mouth puckered up, either. So, we want just the right amount of lubricating saliva. It’s why we find a sip of wine so perfectly refreshing after we nibble on a piece of cheese.
It turns out that wine and cheese strike a perfect balance, or mouthfeel.
Try it for yourself
Astringents can strengthen their effect with each drink you take. You’ll notice this if you enjoy sushi and you overdo it with the pickled ginger, or you drink an entire cup of green tea. Each bit of the pickled ginger or sip of the green tea reacts more strongly with those lubricating proteins in your saliva.
This astringency doesn’t overpower with the first application. It’s usually subtle, and it’s when sipping wine as you make your way through a course of cheeses that the astringent wine eventually counterbalances the slippery mouthfeel.
Nibbles and sips
We learn over time and from experience how to create that balance while we eat and drink. We learn, for example, that the fatty mouthfeel from sushi can be counterbalanced best by taking a sip of the green tea or eating a small bite of pickled ginger. We know that gulping down the green tea beforehand, or munching down on the whole pile of pickled ginger won’t create the balance.
It’s better to spread applications of the astringent substance throughout the meal. It’s why you enjoy taking bites of your pickle as you eat a salami sandwich—and of course, why you enjoy a sip from your glass of wine as you enjoy a cheese platter.
Now you know the science behind why wine and cheese—and some of your other favorite food pairings—go so well together. As for why or how these famous duos got together in the first place, that’s up for debate.
Why, for example, do we pair wine in and cheese? Who figured that out? Cheese and green tea would create the same balanced mouthfeel. You probably know the answer, or at least what seems logical.
It’s likely that most of these famous food pairings happened because of culture and location. Why sushi and pickled ginger, rather than sushi and red wine? Or, why cheese and wine, instead of cheese and green tea?
That’s still a gastronomical mystery, but it surely seems probable that it comes down to what was on hand at the time. Cheese is not something readily found in Asia even to this day. Wine has been around for about 6,000 years, and yet tea was not introduced to the western world until the 17th century.
Wine and cheese go well together because of the fatty/astringent mouthfeel, and we have neighborly geographical origins to thank for their availability to pair and enjoy. That’s the reasonable story for the most famous of food pairings.
Before you add wine to that recipe
Cooking with wine can give your meal that extra dash of flavor. According to What’s Cooking America, wine can be used “…as a marinade ingredient, as a cooking liquid and as a flavoring in a finished dish.”
However, you need to be careful how wine is used. It should always enhance the flavor and aroma of a dish rather than overpower other flavors.
We’ve put together a list of 6 things to remember when cooking with wine.
1. Choose a wine you like.
This is the #1 tip for a reason. It’s important to choose a wine that you actually like to drink. Think about it: if you don’t like the taste of a certain wine, why would you like it in your food? What’s Cooking America also recommends staying away from cooking wines. “These wines are typically salty and include additives that may affect the taste of your chosen dish or menu. The process of cooking/reducing will bring out the worst in an inferior wine.”
As for price, you don’t need to pick a premium or expensive wine to get great flavor, but cheap wine could ruin dinner.
Also, pay attention to the components of wine. According to Wine Enthusiast, “Wine contains sugars, acids and tannins, and each of these will show up on the plate … To maintain balance, check your recipe for acidic ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar and cut back to make room for the acid in the wine.”
2. White or red wine … which type is best to use?
This choice will again come down to what you are cooking. Red wine makes a great marinade, as it helps enhance the food’s “inner” flavor. It also brings out the color and essence of the dish while adding dryness so it tastes less sugary. By contrast, white wine actually alters the flavor of food. Dishes may taste sharper.
White wine suggestions: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay
Red wine suggestions: Lighter reds such as Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Malbec
Wine Enthusiast recommends using the same type of wine you serve with the dinner. One word of caution: “When you’re cooking with red wine, watch out for tannins. When concentrated in reduction sauces, they can become harsh. Fortunately, proteins found in meat and dairy declaw tannins…”
3. Think about what you’re cooking when choosing a wine.
Are you making a main dish with protein such as meat, chicken, or fish? Maybe the wine is for a dessert? Sweeter dessert and fortified wines go best with desserts, as they help caramelize and create delicious sauces. In contrast, beef and pork require a more full-bodied wine, while chicken and fish generally do better with more acidic white wines. Of course, there are always ways to mix it up. Salmon might cook perfectly with the right red wine, for example.
4. Understand how wine will be used.
Your choice of wine will have a lot to do with the type of dish you’re planning to make.
Some chefs will use a lower quality wine if they’re making a braise, which means the dish will be cooking for a long time. If you need wine as a finishing flavor, choose something of higher quality to really enhance the taste.
5. Use the proper amount of wine.
Cooking with wine is a delicate balancing act. Too little and you won’t get enough flavor. Too much and the wine will overpower everything else. You want to be like Goldilocks and get the amount just right. It actually doesn’t take much to do the job.
6. Know when to add wine.
Cooking in general is about timing, from how long something should bake to when it’s time to get the dish out of the oven. When cooking with wine, never add it right before serving. If the wine is added too late, it won’t have time to reduce and the flavor may be too harsh. You should also be careful about adding more wine right away if you fear it’s not enough. A good rule of thumb is to wait ten minutes and then taste to see if the wine has worked its magic on the flavor.
Wine serves as a great flavor enhancer in your dish. Use it wisely and you will be amazed by the results. Whether you plan to cook with wine or just drink it, Orange Coast Winery offers excellent choices. Look at our selections and enhance your next meal or party.
Winemaking adds truth to the saying that beauty is only skin deep.
Apples and oranges. You’ve heard the expression used to describe comparing two things that are extremely different. It’s easy to associate this cliché with the difference between red and white wine because there really is a huge difference.
But there are also a few striking similarities. One of them even has to do with what grapes and apples have in common. Now that we’ve created a veritable fruit salad of allegories, read on to discover the main differences between red and white wine—besides the color.
We’ll start here because it’s only fair to satisfy the question we just brought up about what grapes—both red and white—and apples have in common. Skin color.
For the most part, if you peel any variety of apple, you reveal the same color flesh. The apple’s skin can be green, red, or yellow.
Similarly, when removed from their skins, both red and white grapes create a clear liquid when juiced. That’s right: red grapes do not produce red wine. Well, actually, they do—but only if you include their skins. And, this brings us to one of the most striking differences between red and white wines—which is how they’re made.
Nobody peels grapes before they start the process of winemaking. Imagine the time and effort this would take! However, during the production of white wine, the skin is separated from the clear juice. And while making red wine, the skin and seeds—and sometimes the vines as well as even leaves—are included in the juice fermentation process.
It’s known as maceration, and this is what causes the clear grape juice to turn red. It’s also a bit like brewing a cup of tea. A longer seep produces a darker brew. Longer maceration periods produce darker red wines, also resulting in more intense flavors.
It turns out that the secret to a wine’s complex flavors and bold personality lies in the grape skin. Does it surprise you, then, to discover that Cabernet Sauvignon grape skins are among the thickest to be found?
Wood vs metal
Fermenting with or without the skin might be the main difference between what makes a red or white wine, but what the juice from the grapes gets fermented in runs a close second.
We want our white wines to be acidic, zesty, and have floral aromas. We want our reds to be soft, rich, and velvety. At the start, the juice from both red and white grapes is somewhat unremarkable. You’d be hard pressed (excuse the pun) to taste and predict which will become a red or white wine.
The decider is oxidation. It causes red wines to lose their fruit and floral notes, and to take on smooth, nutty, richness. Winemakers encourage oxidation by using oak barrels to make red wines. Wood breathes. Winemakers reduce the exposure to oxygen during fermentation by using stainless steel tanks to make white wines. Metal does not breathe.
Back to the skin, again
Red wines are usually always described as having complex profiles. They make us think of berries, but then a list of secondary attributes that run the gamut from tobacco leaves to leather. Whites, on the other hand, tend to serve up a single citrus note, with maybe a secondary and more exotic tropical attribute. It’s not uncommon for someone to mention “pineapple” when talking about a white.
Red wines develop their profiles because of what exists only in the skins: tannins. Remember the apple? When you bite into an apple skin and feel your mouth pucker up, you’re experiencing the astringent phenolic compounds that make up tannins. These components are found in many plants, including grape skins.
Tannins extracted from grape skins during maceration are what create the foundation of the complex flavors we find in red wines. Tannins are also natural preservatives, which is why red wines can be aged much longer than whites.
Without tannins to impart complexity, white wines depend on developing the structure of acidity. The lack of tannins and oxidation creates higher amounts of acids, giving white wines their crisp, tart profiles.
They say beauty is only skin deep. Winemaking adds truth to this saying. When you remove the skin, you change more than the color of the wine you’ll make.
All champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne.
You may have heard people who claim to be knowledgeable about such things tell you that sparkling wine can only be called champagne if its origins are from the region of Champagne, France. It must be made from the Pinot Meunier, Pinot noir, and Chardonnay grapes grown in this region.
These people are correct, mostly. Throughout the European Union and most of the rest of the world, the name “Champagne” is legally protected by an agreement called the Madrid system. This 1891 treaty designates the sparkling wine produced in the region and requires it to adhere to the standards defined for it as an appellation d'origine controlee. But there’s a loophole.
Anybody can make sparkling wine if they know how, thanks to the monk Dom Perignon, who discovered the process in the late 1600s. Monsieur Perignon gets the credit, but it’s likely that the process was created slowly over time by the monks who lived in the Champagne region of France.
Sparkling wine starts out the same as regular wine. Carbon dioxide is produced when yeast begins to consume the sugars in the wine. In the case of champagne, this carbon dioxide is not allowed to escape. The gas is trapped in the wine, and released in the form of tiny bubbles when the bottle is opened.
Winemakers from all over the world produce types of sparkling wine. They cannot make even a vague reference to champagne if they are to be sold in the European Union, however.
So, how is it possible for winemakers—mostly in California—to be able to create sparkling wine and use the word “Champagne” right on the label? We have World War I to thank for that.
A loophole in the Treaty of Versailles
This historical document brought about an end to the first World War, and it also had a few additions to satisfy the major players. War activity in the Champagne region of France destroyed nearly all of the winemaking facilities there by 1917. Peace would return to the region, but champagne-making might not.
So, Article 275 was added to the Treaty of Versailles. Its purpose was to prevent Germany from taking advantage of the situation and flooding the market with their version of sparkling wine. It prohibited all members signing the treaty to produce a wine or spirit protected by a regional appellation. In theory, this should have meant that the United States would have to stop calling the sparkling wine created by California wineries “champagne.”
But, if you recall from your world history class, the United States never signed the Treaty of Versailles. The US Senate never ratified the treaty. And France probably wasn’t too concerned about competition from the United States because Prohibition was about to put an end to California’s winemaking capacity.
Business as usual
Prohibition did decimate California’s wine industry. Sales history shows that it didn’t really regain strength until the 1970s, during which winemakers began to produce inexpensive wines sold in jugs. As a marketing ploy, these wines were given names like Chianti, Chablis, and Burgundy.
Speaking of Burgundy—the California version—the popular 1970s “Hearty Burgundy” by Carlo Rossi, was actually made from a blend of Zinfandel grapes. There was nothing even remotely associated with the region of France, much to that country’s chagrin.
And France was getting a bit agitated by the continued use of treaty-protected appellations by California winemakers—especially when it came to champagne.
America finally joins the party, sort of
It took until 2005 for the European Union, led by France, to get the United States to the wine bargaining table to reach an agreement. In exchange for easing trade restrictions on wine, the United States agreed that what it termed as “semi-generic names” such as California Champagne, Sherry, and Chablis would no longer be used on domestic wine labels. Unless…
If a United States winemaker had used one of these “semi-generic names,” such as California Champagne, prior to March 10, 2006, they would be allowed to continue to include it on their label indefinitely.
Is there any remarkable difference between California Champagne and the sparkling wine that by virtue of a global treaty bears the right to be called Champagne? The rest of the world thinks so. France continues to grumble that California winemakers are causing consumer confusion.
What would Dom Perignon think?
We’re not sure. But he’s wound up as a trademarked brand of Champagne created in 1921 by France’s Moët & Chandon.