An Easy Guide to Pairing Wine+Food

Look for the pairing icons on each wine+food pairing recipe to help determine why they go together.

Here’s an easy way to think about how all the flavors have a party on your palate.  The classic idea is that there are four taste regions on your tongue: Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Salt.  Umami has been proven to be a fifth taste region although I can’t seem to find any data on where it is.  The classic four region idea has been around for over a century, but it wasn’t until lately that scientists have started to question how accurate it is.  Recently, there have been studies to suggest there are taste regions on every taste bud.

For the purposes of wine and food pairing here, I’ll use the classic four taste region idea to keep things simple.  The next time you taste wine or food, take a moment to sense where the flavors show up on your tongue.  Sometimes flavors in a wine will register on the tip and sides of your tongue, but not in the back.  Same with food.  Delicate flavors play off each other, with each ingredient added to balance flavors.  See if you can sense flavors appearing or not appearing on these spots.

classic taste map

In addition to where flavors hit your tongue, I like to give each wine and recipe an intensity rating.  On a scale of 1 to 10, how intense are the flavors.  Again, trying to keep it simple here.  There’s a whole seperate conversation about texture, spiciness, etc..  If a wine is around a “6” in intensity, then the recipe should probably also be around a 6.


When you put the two concepts together, you have balance of flavor and matching intensity.  If the wine is out of balance, make up for it in the recipe.  For example, a Sauvignon Blanc will most likely register in the Bitter and Sour regions.  So I’d make sure the recipe registered in the sweet and salty areas so together the wine+food pairing becomes a symphony of flava.

Play around with this.  Really analyze where you taste flavors on your tongue.  Tune in to how a wine can be out of balance and not hit all four regions.  Or see if you can pick up how salt works with a bitter flavor like onions.  Over time, you’ll get better at finding a balance between the two.  Hope to hear about your experimentation!  Cheers

  5 comments for “An Easy Guide to Pairing Wine+Food

  1. March 31, 2009 at 6:39 AM

    Have THE book for you on umami. Actually, here's my post introducing the concept and the article includes a link to the book.… In similar method to wine tastings, the authors have exercises to isolate umami and also lots of recipes from great chefs that incorporate it.

  2. March 31, 2009 at 6:52 AM

    Also just took an espresso class at ICC by the Illy experts – they're saying that new research says it's shape and number of receptors on each person's tongue but map is not as accurate as was once thought? No citations for you but thought it was interesting concept. Also the freaky berry that changes flavor perception blocking certain receptors …have some in the freezer. There's a fun post coming on that!

    • April 1, 2009 at 12:12 AM

      I'd love to find more about the actual taste map of your palate. I know the 4 region idea is old and has been challenged. For me personally, I still find it to be accurate from past experiences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All Recipes Have Moved to

  • • there's better search features
  • • better photography
  • • and it's now more mobile

If you'd like to stay up to date you can do it here....