Matching food with wine is an art and a skill that anyone can learn and experiment successfully with once you know the basic rules. It’s true that there are some classic food & wine marriages such as smoked salmon & champagne, Port & Stilton, Foie Gras & Sauternes and although they are magical matches there is nothing mystical going on, it’s all about balancing the flavours. Let’s take smoked salmon and Champagne or indeed smoked salmon and Chablis, both wines are a fabulous match. Smoked salmon is characterful in flavour without having flavours that are big and bold plus it is greasy. What you need is a wine that is also characterful with flavours that do not overwhelm the delicate taste of the salmon. It should also have refreshing acidity to cut though the greasiness and refresh your plate leaving it clean but still holding the delicious flavours of the food and wine. The last thing you want is a wine with obvious oak, it will leave a feeling of sliminess in the mouth! So Champagne and Chablis fulfil the role perfectly but so would other wines that fit their profile. Port & Stilton work for a few reasons. Port is a sweet wine and Stilton is a blue cheese that has a salty character. I have found that many people think that any red wine will be good with Stilton and other blue cheeses but in fact if they were to analyse the conjoined flavours of the blue veins and the salt with the tannins of a red wine they will realise that it leaves quite a bad flavour in the mouth. What you need is sugar to counterbalance it all and Port provides that perfectly as does Sauternes with Roquefort, another classic pairing. Foie Gras & Sauternes works because sweet wines are the perfect foil for savoury and salty food as in the above example. That’s why I am not an advocate of dubbing sweet wines dessert or pudding wines, in my opinion they work equally well if not better with cheese and savoury foods so why categorize them for only one use? The impact of food on wine is mostly determined by the balance of primary tastes in the food of which there are five basic tastes; sour, bitterness, saltiness, sweetness and in recent years the 5th one has been added to the list which is a borrowed Japanese word umami, meaning delicious. It’s primarily a natural savoury or ripe flavour that the taste receptors in our mouths can’t get enough of. Think gravy, tomato ketchup, caramelised tomatoes, roasted meats and vegetables and for some marmite. Glutamate is one of the key compounds providing umami taste and widely present in savoury and fermented foods and commonly added to some. Glutamate is an amino acid and it’s this that is released when you slow cook something savoury such as meat or even soup that gives the irresistible umami flavours.