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Pairing wine with food heightens the experience

Once, a few years ago, I was drinking a glass of full bodied Australian Shiraz while preparing an evening meal with friends. I had all but drained my wine when we sat down to perfectly grilled steaks, caramelized onions and other such fare. I cut off a fork-full of steak, topped it with some onions and popped it into my mouth – it was fantastic. I followed this with the last bit of wine left in my glass. The taste blew me away. The wine, good before the meal, was transformed into a deep, chocolatey, spicy nectar that was spectacular. I eagerly stabbed a second bite of steak and silently savoured its freshly enhanced flavour. It was at that point that I reached for the bottle only to find that it was empty. Misery of miseries, I was alone with my epiphany as everybody else was well into a second, different, bottle.

I hastily inquired of the label – how much money would I have to fork out (no pun intended) to have a bottle of this wine with every steak I would eat from that point on? Only a plane ticket to Australia – our friends had brought it back with them after a recent trip and it wasn’t (still isn’t) distributed in B.C. But the connection had been made. A little gold light bulb had turned on in my head; food and wine can make each other taste better.

This week, Whistler is hosting its seventh annual food and wine celebration, Cornucopia. It is a great opportunity for both devoted oenophiles (connoisseurs of wines) and neophytes to come together and learn about wines while sampling great food. In addition to the many seminars dedicated to wine and food pairings, several local restaurants are pairing up with wineries to provide multi-course feasts to highlight the wines. This is a great way to get your taste buds primed for flavour matches. I spoke with several chefs about how they approach the art of pairing wines with foods.

Learning any new skill, be it mathematics or carpentry, is best achieved by using different sense modalities at the same time. Seeing, hearing, doing, smelling and tasting all contribute important, yet different, messages to the brain that reinforce connections and make them stronger so that they are easier to access and recall. Learning to pair wine and food together is a perfect example of the wisdom gained from the interplays between tastes, smells and textures. Perhaps, because we rely so much on our sense of sight as a primary sensory cue, learning to fit food and wine together seems more abstract, after all red wine looks red and white wine, white.

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