Wine pros | The effect of temperature on food and wine matching

Wine pros

The effect of temperature on food and wine matching

Does the temperature at which you serve a dish affect the wine pairing? Matt Walls investigates:

Ice cold plate of curry, anyone? How about a nice hot trifle? No. Didn’t think so. We all know that the serving temperature of food has a big impact on the enjoyment of the dish. As foods become hotter, their texture often changes; liquids become thinner, solids soften or melt. Additionally, as they heat up, foods release volatile (i.e. easy to evaporate) molecules more readily, which affects their aroma. So a plate of food served at a different temperature becomes in effect a different dish. And a different dish might require a different wine match.

Last week I went to an ambitious tasting organised by Champagnes Mumm and Perrier-Jouët to investigate this often neglected dimension in food and wine matching. It was led by Peter Barham, Honorary Professor of Molecular Gastronomy at Copenhagen University (his day job is Professor of Physics at Bristol University). He explained that it isn’t just the aroma and texture of foods that can be manipulated by temperature; our sense of taste can also be affected.

Cool a food or drink down, and any sensation of bitterness and sweetness will be reduced. Ice cream mix tastes overwhelmingly sweet before being churned and frozen; once it is set, it tastes less so. Warm up a can of cheap lager and it will begin to taste overpoweringly bitter. Surprisingly though, when it comes to our sense of taste, it is not the temperature of the food that is making the difference – it is the temperature of your tongue.

To demonstrate this, we were given two pots of identical foie gras parfait with sweet peach jelly. All the dishes throughout the tasting were designed to match specific Champagnes by Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, owners of the Michelin-starred Casamia restaurant in Bristol. This pairing was to complement a glass of sweet Champagne – G.H. Mumm Demi-Sec NV. The pots were served at the same temperature, but with two sets of cutlery: one hot and one cold. When using the cold cutlery, the dish and the wine did seem to taste less sweet than when using the hot cutlery – the cold spoon did seem to numb my tongue to the sweetness of the dish.

Then we tried a dish of prawn consommé, sweet corn puree and toasted pine nut. This was well paired with a glass of G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge NV. We were given two versions of the dish; one cold, one hot. The dish itself was more successful hot; the texture was smoother, more balanced and the flavours more integrated.

Did it match the Champagne better? Due to the heat, the flavour of the dish was a touch more pronounced, and this may have helped meet the intensity of flavour of the Champagne. But as the Champagne gradually warmed in the glass, and the dish cooled down, this fleeting impression diminished.

Lastly, we were presented with two toasted brioche sandwiches of Tunworth cheese with marmite butter and a glass of G.H. Mumm Cuvée R. Lalou 1999. One sandwich was at room temperature, one straight from the grill. This Champagne is rich, toasty and full-bodied, and it worked well with both versions of the sandwich, but particularly the hotter one; the melted cheese had richer, more farmyardy flavours which paired well with the truffle, hay and other mature characteristics in the wine, thanks to its eight years ageing on the lees. The smoother texture of the melted cheese also worked better with the Champagne than the firmer, more rubbery texture of the room-temperature Tunworth.

Technically speaking, this was a difficult tasting to pull off. With the temperatures of the food, wines and cutlery constantly pulling towards room temperature, timing was all important. This element was hard for the kitchen and waiting staff to achieve with precision, even in this dedicated experimental tasting. But although this exact type of tasting is challenging to replicate, there are some more general insights that are useful to bear in mind.

Though there were disagreements in the room about which combinations of foods and wines worked the best, the temperature of the food (and indeed the mouth) does actually make for a subtly different dish.

One thing that many tasters did seem to agree on was that it was more often warmer dishes that made for better matches with Champagne; if you are throwing a party and intend on serving Champagne and canapés, instead of the more typical cold canapés, it would be well worth experimenting with warm ones instead.

The inclusion or omission of an ingredient in a dish will have a greater overall effect on any food and wine match, but considering temperature of serving can perhaps add a little fine-tuning to make a good match that little bit better.

Matt Walls is a wine writer whose first book on wine entitled Drink Me! was published by Quadrille in May. He blogs at www.mattwalls.co.uk and tweets @mattwallswine. This article was first published in February 2012.

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