A Perfect Pair: The Science Behind Food and Wine Pairing
Most people probably think of food and wine pairing as a sort of art—something romantic that has been perfected by our forefathers and mothers over hundreds of years and continues to evolve today. However, Hannah Bellemare, owner of Dalälva Wine Tastings & Consulting, knows it to be more of a science. At Umeå University, Bellemare combined the study of food, culture and wine and ultimately earned herself the rare title of Gastro-Sommelier. We recently caught up with Bellemare and dug a little deeper into her unique perspective of food and wine pairing and the logic and reasoning behind it.
What is a Gastro-Sommelier and how did you decide to become one?
A Gastro-Sommelier, by definition, is someone who holds a university degree in Gastronomy, Culinary Science, as well as a university or academy diploma as a Sommelier.
The first class I took when I started studying Gastronomy at Umeå University in northern Sweden was a food and wine pairing class. I was instantly hooked by the science of correctly pairing food and wine and knew right away that that’s what I wanted to research and teach as a career. After graduating, I went on to get my Advanced Sommeliers degree from the Swedish Restaurant Academy of Stockholm.
For those who are interested in studying Gastronomy, are you aware of any local or online courses?
Unfortunately, to my knowledge, Gastronomy as a degree still isn't offered in the United States.
You mentioned that you were coined a “saucier” at University. What is it that draws you to sauces?
Hahaha! Honestly, I don't know. Maybe I just really like sauce?! My classmates and I just naturally had our roles in the kitchen, whether it was at school or after hours. They were the ones who coined me “the saucier.”
Maybe, subconsciously, it was because I knew I could control the flavor profile of the dish and thus its ability to pair with the wine that we were drinking with it. The sauce is the single most important component to take into consideration when choosing a wine to pair with your dish, never the protein. This is part of what I teach in my Sauce & Wine tasting.
Which common food and wine pairing do you feel is the greatest faux pas?
Definitely Champagne and strawberries! Since this is an industry publication, obviously, no explanation is needed. I just think about the poor winemaker who worked so hard to create a fantastic product, and how someone actively chooses to ruin the experience of the wine by pairing it with strawberries. It’s heartbreaking!
What would you say are the most difficult foods to pair with wine and which varietals would you recommend pairing with each?
There are a lot of ingredients that are hard to pair with, usually because of the high levels of umami-protein found in that particular ingredient. Examples are asparagus, sundried tomato, blue cheese, prosciutto and other charcuterie. Worst of all is eggs because of the combination of high umami and sulfur.
If you have a difficult dish or difficult ingredients that you need to pair wine with, going with a slightly sweeter white wine is always the safest bet. This also works well in the case of pairing wine with spicy food. The higher viscosity and lower alcohol content that comes with sweeter wines is the best way to avoid increasing the perception of spice-heat in your mouth.
Are there any varietals that you feel are easiest to pair with food?
As mentioned above, the easiest way to go when you're unsure, or are pairing with a multitude of difficult ingredients, is to go with a slightly sweeter white wine. Here in the US, this is easier because the general population isn’t often opposed to sweeter wines, whilst in Sweden everyone needs convincing to see that a sweeter wine, at times, can truly be a better combination.
You mentioned that you are writing a cookbook. What is your process in creating the food and wine pairings for it?
I've reversed the process of wine pairing. Essentially, you could call it food pairing. I start by choosing a wine and then create a dish to enhance the flavor profile of that type of wine. You have all the control over what you put in the dish but unless you're a winemaker, you have no control over the flavor profile of the wine. When you create a dish that truly enhances a wine, you can achieve the incredible experience of a perfect pairing.
Have you ever created a winning pairing with one of your son’s leftover snacks or meals?
Hahaha no, not yet. Maybe that'll be my next book...
If you were to compare your husband’s personality to a dish and yours to a wine, that pair well together, what would they be?
My husband is very logical and I'm quite spontaneous, so he would maybe be poached cod with wild rice and yellow zucchini, logical because it's filling and nutritious, and I would be a sparkling white wine, something fun and bubbly.
Do you have a favorite tasting experience that your company offers?
My most popular tasting, both here and in Europe, is the Basal Flavor tasting. In this tasting we discuss the theory behind food and wine pairing science, as well as tasting practically. We taste all the basal flavors and textural components that exist in food: sweetness, acidity, saltiness, bitterness, umami, fattiness and spiciness. We try them with four completely different wines and participants usually find the results astounding. It's a lot of fun!
What is the best way to get in contact with you for additional information or bookings?
Dalälva Wine Tastings & Consulting
Youtube: Dalalva wine (or Hannah Bellemare)