What does history have to do with pairing?
The pairing between food and wine has always been an ancient practice, the wine was initially used as an accompaniment to food in a totally random manner. Over time, rules have been created that evolved during the last century and that we still use today.
It’s interesting to face the historical topic because we can understand from it how we arrived at what we now call a true art.
Below we will analyze in chronological order the different approaches that each civilization had on the theme of food-wine pairing.
The first evidence that addresses the topic of pairing can be found during the period of ancient Greece. The pairing, often mentioned by poets and philosophers of the time, happened during breakfast when the bread was dipped in wine mixed with cooked must.
Thanks to an extraordinary quality of products of their lands, the Etruscans prepared large banquets based on animals, cereals and focaccias. At these banquets, both food and wine were present, but there is no evidence of their pairing.
It’s difficult to describe the Romans cuisine because, since the foundation of the capital at the end of the empire, a millennium has passed. Keeping this factor in mind, we can say that the pairing between food and wine were totally random and unpredictable, without any kind of sensory research.
The middle Ages
During the Early Middle Ages (from the 7th to the 10th century) there began to be premises that identified relationships between food and wine. Moving on to the Late Middle Ages (from the 14th to the 15th centuries), a sequence of dishes set with more defined criteria and wines with particular characteristics will appear at the banquets. It could be assumed that the presence of more wines on the banquet induced diners to make choices of pairing with the food served. Famous were the norms of the Salerno school in the treatise “Regimen sanitatis”. They conditioned the combination and consumption of food and drink throughout the Middle Ages; some of them are:
– It’s advisable to drink wine after eating pears.
– Eat peaches the in wine.
– Drink a lot of wine with eel.
As we have already guessed earlier, we are still far from a sensory pairing theory.
During the Renaissance the first gastronomic texts made their appearance. In 1570 Domenico Romoli, known as the expert “Panunto”, wrote “Singolar doctrine”, a sort of encyclopedia in 13 volumes concerning all aspects of gastronomic art. In this text you can find indications of real pairing between food and wine.
In 1581 in his “Example Book” the German Marx Rumpolt indicated for each dish presented at the banquet his most appropriate wine. This book is fundamental in the history of the combination of food and wine as it was the first testimony of specific pairing that had never been treated before.
The seventeenth century
The seventeenth century was characterized by the appearance of a new concept of taste, understood as good taste. This concept, in addition to being applied in innumerable fields, was also applied in the food sector. The food taste, in this century and in the following one, was of great importance and constituted the basis and premise for every type of tasting.
The French agronomist Nicolas de Bonnefons in his book “Les délices de la campagne” published in 1654 wrote:
“A health soup is a good middle-class soup, full of well-chosen meat and reduced to a little broth, without beaten mushrooms, spices or other ingredients, but it is simple […] that of cabbage knows totally cabbage, that of leeks smells of leeks, that of turnips smells of turnips and so on. ”
From this brief extract it’s clear that, by isolating the flavors and eliminating the excessive and covering use of spices, it is possible to appreciate a pairing between food and wine. Texts of the time like this turned to the French bourgeoisie and no longer to an aristocracy and noble families. This class began to appreciate the flavors of food and wine exclusively in a form of sensory pleasure.
The nineteenth Century
In the nineteenth century the concept of the modern restaurant was born. The appearance of a list of food to offer to patrons, laid the foundations for the compilation of a list of wines to pairing with the proposed dishes. After the French Revolution, the kitchen of the restaurant became more and more popular, becoming the place of pleasure for the new bourgeoisie, but the culture of food-wine pairing of the rich patrons of the most illustrious French restaurants of the time was rather limited.
The twentieth century
In the twentieth century the culture of pairing was now widespread, each country with an ancient gastronomic and wine tradition, had a specific orientation on the theme of food-wine pairing. Specific schools and food and wine associations developed rules and criteria on this topic, taking the name of schools.
Followed by the great gastronomists of the end of the 1800s and the early 1900s, he claims that, based on his own experiences and tastes, everyone is free to choose the wine to pair with a dish.
Also known as a traditional school, it’s certainly more widespread than the first. An artistic approach that is based on three guiding principles subject to variations of any kind:
– The wine of choice to accompany the fish must be white.
– The wine of choice to accompany the meat must be red.
– The wine of choice to accompany the dessert must be sweet.
The conviction of the creators of this school is that an objective judgment on the combination of a food with a particular wine is not possible.
The ten commandments of Raymond Dumay
In 1967 Raymond Dumay codified in his book “Guide du Vin” the “ten commandments”, taken up later by the Italian school. Although they are elastic, they must be assumed in the form of advice and not of absolute dogma.
1. No great liqueur wine, be it white or red, must be served with game. The residual sugar of the wine, in fact, would make the wild taste of the meat disgusting.
2. No great red wine should be served with fish, crustaceans or molluscs, unless light structure red wines are served, and above all by the very limited content of tannins, with a sauce based on red wine.
3. Dry white wines must be served before red wines, although there are some exceptions depending on the combination proposed with food.
4. Light wines must be served before robust ones.
5. Fresh wines must be served before those at room temperature. This indication also applies to white wines with marked acidity.
6. The wines must be served according to a growing alcohol content, so that the wine being drunk does not regret the previous one.
7. Each dish must be paired with its own wine. This means that the choice of the type of wine for a given preparation must be made with care and in perfect harmony with the organoleptic sensations of both. Furthermore, if you have only a few wines, it is advisable to serve a few dishes.
8. We must serve the wines in their best season, not only from the climatic point of view, but also from the evolutionary one.
9. It is advisable to separate each wine with a sip of water, as long as it has the appropriate characteristics, in order to stimulate a real harmonization between food, wine and water.
10. Never serve one big wine on important occasions. There must always be the accompaniment of a wine of the same “rank” or “category”.
The Italian school has followed two paths:
A technical-scientific approach, which, thanks to some professional Sommeliers, has led to the development of graphics cards with scoring. In these cards, some well-defined parameters are taken into consideration that contribute to defining the validity of the combination.
A second approach was that of Luigi Veronelli and Castellari-Paielli. Their attempt was to catalog all the wines and a large number of dishes combining them together, thus providing an easy solution for those who have to choose a wine to match.
Italian cuisine has slowly moved to replace the French in the world’s greatest restaurants and the technical-scientific approach of the Italian school regarding the combination of food and wine has become a fundamental reference point. The modern criteria of food-wine pairing that are used today use the Italian school as a reference.
In this article we have tried, in a very concise and simplified way, to tell the story of food-wine pairing starting from the most ancient civilizations from the Greek, Etruscan and Roman civilizations, where the pairing were tackled in a coarse and casual way. Subsequently we saw how in the Medieval period rules began to be set up in pairing, which however didn’t have the aim of seeking a particular sensory experience. Only during the Renaissance period with the advent of the first gastronomic texts there were for the first time specific pairing between food and wine, reinforced by the birth of what we can define the good taste in the seventeenth century where they began to appreciate the table in the form of sensory pleasure. In France, in the nineteenth century we witness the birth of the modern restaurant with a primordial list of food and wine, but it will only be in the twentieth century that the theme of pairing will begin to be taken seriously. We have seen how food and wine organizations and hotel schools created principles, later defined as schools, including English, French and Italian, which are still seen today as points of reference.
The Italian school through a technical-scientific approach developed by professionals in the sector is the pillar on which the criteria for modern pairing are based.