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Wine and Cheese incompatible, says research

To some, it will be like saying Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were out of step. But new research has revealed that cheese and wine do not make the perfect pair.

According to the results of tests conducted at the University of California, Davis, cheese dulls the taste of red wine, making it difficult to discern different flavours.

Dr Hildegard Heymann, who led the research, found that after eating cheese, wine tasters could not tell the difference between expensive wine and cheap plonk.

Using eight different cheeses of varying strength from Stilton to Emmental, a team of eight tasters was asked to evaluate the flavour and aroma of Syrah, or Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir both with fresh palates and after cheese.

In almost all cases, the cheese masked the flavours of the wine, blocking a range of flavours including berry, oak, sourness and astringency. Tasters struggled to tell wines apart.

The researchers also found that the stronger the cheese, the more it dulled the palate.

Heymann suggested that the fat in the cheese coated the mouth, inhibiting taste. Another theory is that the protein in cheese binds with the compounds in wine, making it harder to taste them.

The only wine aroma enhanced by cheese was that of butter, suggesting only a small molecular link between the two.

The experiment was not repeated with white or sweet wines.

Wine and cheese is a popular pairing although Heymann said she carried out the study to bring a more scientific approach to food and wine combinations.

Despite debunking the tradition, the news does not come as a shock to those in the business of wine and food matching.

‘What amuses me is that people need scientists to tell them this,’ said Decanter contributing editor and leading food and wine writer, Fiona Beckett. ‘Anyone who actually enjoys their wine will know that cheese will ruin their favourite wine.’

Beckett, who runs her own website on food and wine matching, said that wine lovers should pick one or two cheeses to have with their wine and not plump for a wide selection.

‘The trap that people fall into is to serve a lavish cheeseboard with mature cheeses and wine. It’s an absolute killer – any wine would fall at that hurdle.’

Reported in the New Scientist today, the results of the test will be formally published in the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture in March.

Written by Oliver Styles

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