Wine pairing: flavor versus taste with sommelier Jane Lopes

When it comes to food and wine pairings, there are several basic, generally accepted guidelines that concern the four main components of a wine: sweetness, alcohol/body, acidity and tannin. However, the rules for pairing wines based on their flavors (aromas) are simplistic, somewhat arbitrary and generally employ a “like-with-like” philosophy. At Eleven Madison Park, we wondered if we could enhance the dining experience by using the flavors of a wine to complement—without mirroring—the flavors of a paired dish.

Pairing wines by taste

Starting with the four main taste components of a wine, most wines are paired using the following principles:


Higher alcohol wines exacerbate spiciness. Heavier wines pair well with heavier foods. Lighter wines pair well with lighter foods.


High acid wines should be paired with high acid foods. High acid wines balance out fatty foods. High acid wines complement salty foods.


Tannic wines clash with salty foods. Tannic wines cut fatty foods.


Sweet wines balance out spicy foods. Sweet wines pair well with desserts that they are sweeter than. Sweet wines pair well with salty foods (e.g. Sauternes or Port and blue cheeses). Sweet wines pair well with richer foods (e.g. foie gras).

But what about flavor?

The general rule of thumb for pairing the actual flavor of wines, based on the “like-with-like” philosophy teaches us to pair butter sauces with an oaky, buttery type of wine. Or, to pair salty, briny wines with seafood. This tends to be somewhat rudimentary and subjective—not exactly the most nuanced approach. That was the genesis of this food and wine pairing project, and where Foodpairing® comes in.

Wine pairing by flavor (aroma)

Every sommelier knows that the unique scent of a wine is key to the flavor experience. In this wine pairing series, we will analyze and map the aromas (notes) of three different wines—a Sancerre, a Chablis and a dry Alsatian Riesling—that share the same general components in terms of taste.

Ingredients match when they share key aroma components

Let’s forget about the general wine pairing rules for awhile and start from the principle of Foodpairing®. I have selected three dry, tannin-free white wines, moderate in body and alcohol with high acid content. However, each has a wildly different aromatic profile. How does this affect a dish?

Follow along in my upcoming posts for our detailed examination of these three wines. How do a Sancerre, a Chablis and a dry Alsatian Riesling differ? We’ll show you how each one’s flavor profile differs according to the Foodpairing® aroma wheel and discuss this in relation to traditional pairings. For the fourth, final blog post of my wine pairing series, we will present dishes developed specifically for each of these three white wines, as based on the Foodpairing® research.

Will a room full of sommeliers, bartenders, chefs and journalists be able to distinguish these three wines by their aroma wheels? Will they be able to guess which dish was developed for each wine? And will each wine work best for its intended dish? Stay tuned to find out!

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