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Breaking the rules of wine-food pairings Add to ...

Much of what passes for wisdom in food-and-wine pairing has always struck me as fishy. I'm talking such classic matchups as red Burgundy with creamy cheese (ghastly), strawberries with Champagne (a waste of the latter) and Thai food with beer (a surefire way to ruin two good things). To question such entrenched standards is to invite scorn from my fellow diners and traditional sommeliers.

Then I found a breath of fresh sommelier air in François Chartier. Mr. Chartier, a Quebecker, is the author of Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food with Wine, published last year in French and just released in English by McClelland & Stewart. I wrote about him last summer as his book, the culmination of two decades of chemistry research and experimentation, began causing a stir in culinary circles.

He's a practitioner of so-called molecular gastronomy, the movement pioneered by Spanish chef Ferran Adria. Occasionally found collaborating with Mr. Adria, the 45-year-old ex-sommelier has extended that scientific approach to the world of drink.

Rather than relying on the traditional cue of regional association - Époisses cheese from the Burgundy region with red Burgundy, say - he looks to aromatic compounds found in foods and beverages to come up with what he believes are far more harmonious pairings. And he pays close attention when he tastes.

Like me, he finds the Époisses-Burgundy marriage, among others, "terrible." Try it yourself if you don't mind wasting an expensive Volnay or Chambolle-Musigny. Pay attention to the way the stinky, creamy cheese annihilates the delicate pinot noir with its mouldy flavour and pasty texture. Mr. Chartier lived in Burgundy in the 1990s and would recoil when the two were served together. "Each time I would say, 'The red wine is finished, it's dead with the cheese,' " he told me over the phone from his home in Sainte-Adèle, an hour from Montreal.

Mr. Chartier theorizes that the time-honoured combination was the spawn of historical necessity rather than attention to flavour synergy or science. Most Burgundians, after all, had no access to - and likely had too much regional pride to entertain - more suitable beverages from elsewhere, such as Belgian beer.

After garnering best innovative food book prize at the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris earlier this year, Taste Buds and Molecules now is rocking a wider audience of English readers. I asked Mr. Chartier for a few iconoclastic alternatives to standard Western food-and-beverage pairings. I plan to clip this article and paste it on my fridge, where I keep my Époisses stored safely away from my red Burgundy.

 

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