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  • Writer's pictureV.A.

WSET level 1. Element 3: An Introduction to Food and Wine Pairing

When we are eating while drinking wine, it is affecting how the wine will taste. The wine can taste different when we drink it alone and when we drink it while eating. When wine and food are combined correctly, it brings out flavors, effects that we could not get if we just had wine on its own.

While pairing wine and food, we should understand the basic taste combinations and keep in mind that not everyone has the same sensitivity, the taste of flavors, aromas, levels of bitterness. Therefore we must take into consideration also the people's preferences for whom you are making the combinations.



- Sweetness and umami (components in food) make the wine taste "harder" - drying, bitter, acidic, less sweet and less fruity.

- Salt and acid (components in food) make the wine taste "softer" - less drying, less bitter, less acidic, more sweet and more fruity.

Sweetness in food

- Increases the perception of acidity and bitterness and the burning effect of the alcohol in the wine.

- Decreases the perception of sweetness, fruitiness, and body in the wine.

* Sweetness in the food can make the dry wine lose it fruitiness and becomes unpleasantly acidic. If a dish contains a lot of sugar, it is recommended to choose a wine, containing a higher level of sweetness.

Umami in Food

- Increases the perception of acidity, bitterness, and alcohol burn in the wine.

- Decreases the perception of sweetness, fruitiness, and body in the wine.

* Umami is savory taste and it could be difficult to isolate it. We could find it present with other flavors like cooked or dried mushrooms.

* Examples for tasting umami: try a raw button mushroom with one that has been in the microwave for 30 sec. The umami taste in the mushroom increases with the cooking. Another way to taste umami is by sampling MSG or Monosodium Glutamate, we try only a few grams. In this form, umami is combined with salt taste.

* Foods to pair with a high level of umami but low level of salt: asparagus, eggs, mushroom, soft ripe cheese.

* Foods to pair with a high level of umami and high level of salt: cured or smoked seafood, cured or smoked meat, hard cheeses (like Parmesan).

Acidity in food

- Increases the perception of the body, the sweetness and the fruitiness in the wine.

- Decreases the perception of the acidity in the wine.

* A small amount of acidity in food is a good thing for the food and wine pairing as it would balance a high acidity wine into enhancing the fruitiness in the wine. * If a wine is low in acidity and the food is high in acidity, it would make the wine flat, flabby and lacking focus.

Salt in food

- Increases the perception of the body in wine.

- Decreases the perception of acidity and bitterness in the wine.

Salty food could help soften some of the hard elements in the wine.

Bitterness in food

- Increases bitterness in wine.

* Each person has a different sensitivity of bitterness. Bitterness on it owns either in wine or food it is a good thing. But bitterness in a combination of food and wine can be unpleasant.

Chili heat in food

- Increases the perception of acidity, bitterness and the alcohol burn.

- Decreases the perception of richness, body, sweetness, and fruitiness in the wine.

* It is a tactile (touch) sensation rather than one of taste, and the levels of sensitivity can be different from person to person. It could feel very pleasant or unpleasant for a person.

* The intensity level increases with the level of alcohol in wine. Alcohol can also increase the burning sensation of the chili.


* Flavor intensity: It is recommended that the flavor intensities, both in the food and wine are matching so that neither is overpowering.

- Curry (intensely flavored food) could be paired with a light flavored wine

(unoaked, light wine).

- Light flavored dessert could be paired with intensely flavored sweet wines.

* Acid and Fat: Acidic wines and fatty or oily food are a perfect combination. It feels like the acidic wine is cutting through the fatty/oily food and clearing the palate.

* Sweet and Salty: Some people enjoy it, and some do not. An example: is paring of sweet wine with blue cheese.


Everyone has different preferences and sensitivities. Therefore it is difficult to set a rule to which wines go best with which food. A somm might get guests who would not agree with his pairing. A successful matching could be done by dividing the food and the wine into low and high risk.

High-risk foods:

- Sugar: if a dish has a lot of sugar it should be paired with wine having as much sugar.

- Umami: if a meal is high in umami it should be paired with more fruity wines, as the umami will point out the bitterness of the tannins.

- Umami: to "take down" the umami in the dish, it could be added acid or salt in a reasonable amount, not to alter the character of the meal.

- Bitterness: if a meal is high in bitterness it will point out the bitterness in wine as well.

- Chili heat: if a dish is high in chili heat it should be paired with whites, low-tannin reds, with low % of alcohol.

Low-risk foods:

* Dishes who are high in salt and/or avid

- Dishes high in acid should be matched with wines high in acid as well. If not the wine can taste too soft and flabby.

High-risk wines:

Are the wines with a high level of bitterness from the oak and the skin tannins, in combination with high levels of acidity and alcohol with complex flavors. The incorrect combination with the food, the wines can reveal hard to detect flavors, as when they are consumed alone.

Low-risk wines:

Unoaked simple wines with a small amount of residual sugar, cannot be made unpleasant by any food. They are safe to combine, they change a little, but the total pairing experience is not enjoyable.

* As recommendation is to analyze well known and successful food and wine pairings, and then to identify other wines or food that could be used.

* Champagne (unoaked) would go well with oysters, it doesn't have a bitter component to be ruined by the umami oysters taste, it is light in flavor - it would not overwhelm the delicate flavor of oysters, and Champagne is also high in acid, so it goes well when we are eating oysters with lemon/lemon juice. -> Another wine who would satisfy these criteria as Champagne, would be an also good match for oysters.

* Cabernet Sauvignon and BBQ; Riesling and seafood, Sancerre and Chevré; Chocolate and Port Wine.

The last part of the WSET 1 course is the wine tasting. Pictures from the wines tasted are posted bellow.

Wine tasting is not a part of the WSET Level 1 exam. We did taste the wines to learn how to describe them and to learn the correct process of wine tasting.

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