Food and Wine Pairing: Design Michelin-star dishes at home

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re in one of two wine pairing camps.

  1. You’ve had a bad food and wine pairing.
  2. You’ve tasted a food and wine pairing made in heaven and want to recreate it for yourself – hopefully, like every single day..

Not everyone is bothered whether their food tastes different or better with wine.

But then you have one of the above experiences and think: is there a practical way to understand food and wine pairing? How can I know why a wine pairing is wrong? How can I know when I get it right?

You’d be interested to know there's a science to pairing wine and food.

In this blogpost – with help from the sommelier who influenced over 60 dishes at triple-Michelin starred el Bulli a.k.a. the ‘world’s best restaurant’ – we’re going to give you the tools to design your own Michelin-star food & wine pairings at home.

P.S. – This is a food and wine pairing guide; we don't go into how to present the food.

Table of Contents

1. The science of food and wine pairing – aromatic science
     1a. How does aromatic science make dishes taste great?
     1b. A practical example: Rotundone and Syrah wine
     1c. How to use aromatic science to design your own dishes
2. The rules of food and wine pairing – flavour, body and texture
     2a. The 5 laws of flavour
     2b. The 5 laws of food and wine pairing
     2c. The 4 types of texture and body
3. Nine professional food and wine pairing examples to deconstruct

1. The science of food and wine pairing – aromatic science

In 2006 the el Bulli head chef Ferran Adrià couldn’t finish a dish containing nori seaweed.

Then a sommelier arrived from Canada to give a presentation on his scientific method for pairing wine and food according to aromas. Adrià stopped him after a few minutes. Told him he had a job. That man was François Chartier and his method was ‘aromatic science’.

Chartier later helped Adrià to pair nori seaweed with other ingredients that have the same ‘dominant aromatic molecule’. What were those ingredients? Raspberries and violets.

And – voila!

El Bulli soon began serving nori seaweed temaki and raspberry and violet water purée. Chartier ended up influencing 60 other el Bulli dishes. He guided their sommeliers too and helped el Bulli establish its reputation as the best restaurant in the world.

(At its height el Bulli received 1 million reservation requests each year, and only granted 8,000 tables.)François Chartier (centre) worked with Catalan chef Ferran Adriá (right) between 2008-2010. Source.

1a. How does aromatic science make dishes taste great?

According to Chartier, dishes and wine pairings that share dominant aroma molecules create an ‘aromatic synergy’. 

“They will lead you into a zone of perfect harmonic comfort,” Chartier says. Obviously he says it in French – this is a translation.

But there’s science to back him up.

A study published in Nature in 2011 confirmed that palatability is overwhelmingly influenced by aromas. Up to 90% of sensations that stimulate our appetite come from aromas and fragrances – i.e. from the nose and not the tongue.

(The act of chewing produces aromas which travel to the nose through the back of the nasal passage.) 

And here it gets interesting.

It’s now scientifically proven that over 80% of ingredients intuitively put together in Western cuisine share dominant aromatic molecules of the same family. Examples: tomato shares dominant aromatic compounds with garlic, mozzarella cheese, olive oil, basil and black pepper.

Sometimes an ingredient has one dominant aroma molecule; sometimes several.

But when you link ingredients together that share at least one dominant aroma they enhance one another. According to the scientists in Nature Special Reports: “Ingredients sharing flavour compounds are more likely to taste well together than ingredients that do not.”

1b. A practical example: Rotundone and Syrah wine

There are 342 aroma molecules in black pepper – but there’s one which is more prominent than the others.

That molecule is called rotundone.

Here’s what Wikipedia will tell you are ingredients with high amounts of rotundone:

  • Black pepper
  • White pepper
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Geranium
  • Syrah wines

Rotundone is one of the key aromas found in Syrah grapes – it’s also not found in other wine grape varietals in such high levels.

This is why Syrah wines frequently contain aromas of ‘pepper’ on the nose. It’s also why Syrah pairs beautifully with any dish containing pepper.

UMAMU Estate is located in Margaret River, Western Australia. Syrah wines grown in Australia are called 'Shiraz' and the hot climate produces wines with a riper, fruitier character that can dumb down the hints of pepper. But Margaret River is known for being the only place in Australia to produce a Syrah-style wine thanks to our cooler Mediterranean climate.

Read the tasting notes of our 2015 Shiraz from Margaret River:

“The bouquet is wondrously complex, with a collection of exotic spices establishing its quality before it is tasted....”
— James Halliday, 96 points

“The bouquet is fresh and berry-like, plummy and very ripe [...] a trace of pepper...”
— Huon Hooke, 90 points

If you want to design the perfect Shiraz wine and food pairing, you could now search for other ingredients which contain rotundone too. It's found in high levels in the following:

  • Grapefruit
  • Orange
  • Mango
  • Chicory

Cajun lamb and mango salsa?

Lamb shoulder with pink grapefruit and black pepper glaze?

Braised lamb chops with chicory?

These are all sure to delight at your next dinner party – and give immense satisfaction with a French Syrah or Margaret River Shiraz.

P.S. This study found that adding extra rotundone to grapefruit juice did not impart an exotic or woody odour akin to pepper, but instead enhanced the overall aroma and attributes. This is what Chartier meant with ‘aromatic synergy’.

1c. How to use aromatic science to design your own dishes

If you’re an analytical person, you might enjoy Googling flavour compounds in different wines and ingredients.

Syrah has rotundone. Vin Jaune (yellow wine) in France has sotolon, also found in curry leaf, nuts, soya beans, balsamic vinegar, fenugreek and maple syrup. Sauvignon blanc has compounds in the aniseed family like mint, basil, parsley, fennel, celery and root vegetables.

And so on.

If you’re a sensory person, you might enjoy detecting different aromas in wines and ingredients and intuiting which ingredients pairs with which wines. The aromas you discover will be your signposts to a successful food and wine pairing.

But hold on a second.

You can’t just chuck ingredients into a pot and wish them luck. Now that you’ve figured out your base ingredients for pairing wine with food you need to cook something that creates a successful balance of flavours, body and textures.

2. The rules of food and wine pairing – flavour, body and texture

2a. The 5 laws of flavour

In his Tedx talk (see below) François Chartier says that aromatic science is founded on the five flavours:

  • Salt
  • Sweet
  • Sour (or acidic)
  • Bitter
  • Umami


    If our sensory experience is 80% via aromas, then 20% is via flavour on the tongue. Try pinching your nose while drinking coffee or wine – you’ll detect the bitterness or acidity, but it’s only when you open your nose you start picking up the aromas.

    Nevertheless, the five flavours need to be in balance.

    Here are 5 flavour laws to learn about the five flavours:

    • Sweetness reduces saltiness, bitterness, acidity and has no influence on umami. Sweetness tells the body that foods are palatable.
    • Saltiness reduces sweetness, enhances bitterness and acidity, and has no influence on umami. Saltiness tells the body that food is mineral-rich and nourishing.
    • Bitterness reduces sweetness, has no influence on saltiness, acidity and umami. Bitterness aids digestion, but the human tongue’s threshold for bitterness is very low and overwhelmingly bitter flavours alerts the body to toxins, rancid ingredients, fermentation and alkaloids (e.g. caffeine, quinine and toxins in poisonous plants).
    • Acidity has no influence on sweetness, saltiness, bitterness and umami. Acidity helps to stimulate saliva production and many acids in fruits and vegetables act as natural preservatives.
    • Umami enhances sweetness and saltiness, and has no influence on bitterness and acidity. Umami makes food moreish and promotes satiety, or a feeling of being full and satisfied.

    Interactions between the five flavours. Upwards triangle indicates enhancement. Downwards triangle indicates reduction. Circle indicates no influence. Source

    2b. The 5 laws of food and wine pairing

    Wine has few proteins and little salt. The dominant flavours are therefore sweetness, acidity and bitterness.

    But here’s the thing.

    Food has a greater influence on how the wine tastes – and not the other way around.

    You can discover how food influences your wine pairing as follows. Taste any wine you have to hand, and then try a strongly acidic food (e.g. lemon juice) and retaste the wine. Notice how it annihilates the wine's acidity and makes it taste flat? Try the same with a sweet food (e.g. sugar). Then try the same with a protein-rich or fatty food (e.g. butter). And then a salty food (e.g. salt). 

    You can easily pick up many wine pairing tips on sites like WineFolly – but by doing the above, your tongue will now tell you why these five textbook food and wine pairing laws exist:

    1. Sweet food makes a wine seem less sweet – wine should be sweeter than the food
    2. Salty foods enhance bitterness and acidity in a wine – careful mixing overly salty foods and high-tannin or high-acid wines
    3. Bitter foods enhance the bitter tannins in a wine – pair bitter foods with low-tannin wines
    4. Acidic food makes a wine seem less acidic – wine should be more acidic than the food
    5. Proteins and fats, which commonly have an umami flavour, bind with bitter tannins in wine – bitter, tannic red wines are softened by protein and fats

    2c. the 4 types of texture and body

    Is it not enough to pair aromas and get the right balance of flavours?

    Almost, but not yet.

    We have one final rulebook to help you design sensational food & wine pairings: the four types of texture and body.

    The four types below add an extra dimension to your wine pairing ability. They’re also terms you will commonly hear sommeliers and wine pairing connoisseurs use, so they’ll show you know your stuff.

    The four laws look like this:

    • Light bodied
    • Light-plus bodied
    • Medium bodied
    • Medium-plus bodied 

    Most people will use the term 'full body'. However, at UMAMU Estate we find it useful to think of a continuum from light to light-plus and then medium to medium-plus.

    Light-bodied describes a softer texture of the food – think poaching, rather than roasting – as well as few-to-zero spices. Body and texture increase along with the intensity of the cooking method, the sauces or flavours and the richness of a dish.

    How do these four laws work when food and wine pairing?

    What you want is a congruence. A light-bodied wine has gentle acidity and no oaking – think an unoaked Sauvignon Blanc from a cool climate. A medium-plus bodied wine has high acidity and/or tannins, has usually spent time in oak and comes from a warmer climate or vintage.

    The four laws of texture and body are guides rather than rules.

    But you can use them to get an idea of which kind of wine or preparation you’re looking for, and then hone down your pairing by considering the five laws of food and wine pairing and aromatic science as above.

    3. Nine professional food and wine pairing examples to deconstruct

    At UMAMU Estate we’re passionate about producing wines that pair well with food.

    In practice, this means we let our Margaret River wines age in oak and in the bottle until flavours are brought into balance. We call this having no ‘screaming parts’. And it adds a smoothness to our wines which makes them easier drink and to accompany and enhance elegant dishes.

    To help our UMAMU Estate subscribers and readers, we regularly have food and wine pairing recipes created by Le Cordon Bleu trained for our wines.

    Let’s deconstruct nine of these to cement what you’ve just learned.

    Cabernet Sauvignon wine and food pairing – Duck breast with marmalade glaze

    Aromatic science

    • Ethyl butyrate (ethyl butanoate). A dominant aroma molecule in Cabernet Sauvignon which gives a sweet, fruit and juicy aroma. The compound occurs naturally in fruits like cherry, orange, pineapple, mango, guava, peach, apricot and plum and is used as an artificial flavouring to make orange juice taste ‘fruity’. Hence aromatic synergy between Cabernet Sauvignon and orange marmalade.
    • Eucalyptol. UMAMU Estate 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon has strong cassis or blackcurrant fruit aromas. The shared dominant aroma compound at play is eucalyptol – this compound gives a herbal and camphreous aroma to our cooler and complex Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon and is also dominant in balsamic vinegar.

    Flavour, body and texture

    • Bitterness. Cabernet Sauvignon wines typically have bitter tannins and are paired with rich, meaty stews or roasts. UMAMU Estate 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon has finer tannins (1978 old vines have more mature silky tannins) which do not overwhelm the fat and protein in pan-fried duck breast.
    • Sweetness. The bitterness in the marmalade also helps to reduce its sweetness and not overpower the sweet fruit aromas in the wine.
    • Acidity. Acidity in the balsamic vinegar adds a refreshing twist to the heavy duck, but not too much to overpower the acidity in the wine.
    • Medium-plus body. Duck is not as heavy or rich as beef and lamb – the common meats to pair with Cabernet Sauvignon. But pan-frying the duck adds texture and body so it can stand up with a medium-plus red wine.

    Click here for the full recipe to this cabernet sauvignon wine and food pairing.

    Sparkling wine and food pairing – Oysters with mignonette sauce

    Aromatic science

    • Free glutamate. Free glutamate is the substance that tastes ‘umami’, and is found in foods like cheese, ripe tomatoes, soy sauce, mushrooms, processed meats and especially seafoods like oysters. Scientific studies have proven the existence of free glutamate in aged sparkling wines thanks to long yeast contact. Sparkling wines and oysters together create ‘umami synergy’ and are the reason behind this classic pairing.
    • Limonene. UMAMU Estate 2019 Sparkling MacAnn is made from Semillon grapes. These give citrus notes to the wine, through natural aroma compounds like limonene which is commonly added to hand cleansers to give a lemon fragrance. The lemon juice and acidity in the mignonette sauce therefore creates extra synergy with the wine pairing.

    Flavour, body and texture

    • Acidity. The acidity from the lemon and the vinegar doesn’t reduce rich umami flavours in this pairing, but helps to refresh the palate and stimulate the appetite.
    • Umami. This food and wine pairing is all about the umami flavour. Adding umami-rich trout roe to this classic pairing is a lesson in why the umami flavour is so strangely satisfying.

    Click here for the full recipe to this sparkling wine and food pairing.

    Rose food and wine pairing – Melon, prawn and prosciutto salad

    Aromatic science

    • Hexyl acetate. This ester is a common artificial flavouring thanks to its fruity and juicy odour. Hexyl acetate is found naturally in a range of fruits but most prominently in pear and melon – especially the cantaloupe or rockmelon used in this recipe. UMAMU Estate 2018 Rose is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot which create fresh, floral and musty aroma compounds that pair beautifully with the melon.
    • Maltol. Maltol or ethyl maltol are naturally occurring compounds used as flavour enhancers. It has a fragrant caramel–butterscotch aroma and is often added to cured hams to increase umami flavours. Oaking also gives maltol aromas to wine and is why our 2018 Rose – after spending four months in French oak – has cedary, dry and spiced notes that create a synergy with the prosciutto.

    Flavour, body and texture

    • Sweetness. Saltiness in the prawns and prosciutto and bitterness in the rocket and mesclun salad mix reduce the sweetness of the melon so it does not overpower the Rose.
    • Medium-body. Adding prawns, cured ham and dressing to the salad elevates the body so it matches the oaked, medium-body Rose.
    • Texture. The crunch of salad leaves combined with the juicy prawns and melon and soft ham create a range of interesting textures.

    Click here for the full recipe to this rose wine and food pairing.

    Dessert wine and food pairing – Campari pavlova, citrus and strawberry salad

    Aromatic science

    • Acetate esters. Acetate esters are responsible for the main fragrances in citrus fruits – with mercaptohexyl acetate described as a main aroma of grapefruit and octyl acetate described as orange blossom. Ethyl acetate is used in perfumes and is the main aroma compound in strawberries. These are all present in Sauvignon Blanc (the grape from which UMAMU Estate 2014 Cane Cut is made) and create synergy between the citrus notes in the wine and the oranges and strawberries in the pavlova.
    • Maltol. Maltol is the main ingredient in vaping liquids said to taste of ‘meringue’ and ‘vanilla’. It has a caramel-burnt sugar aroma. UMAMU Estate 2014 Cane Cut also has vanilla, toffee and crème brûlée notes thanks to four months ageing in French oak (the maltol comes from the oak).

    Flavour, body and texture

    • Acidity. The sweetness in the meringue and extra sugar in the salad helps keep acidity down, so the wine’s sharp-edged lemon and orange citrus notes are not lost.
    • Sweetness. UMAMU Estate 2014 Cane Cut is a sweet Australian wine – but not as sweet as Muscadelle or Pedro Ximenez. The bitterness of the Campari helps to reduce the sweetness of the meringue and fruit salad so that it doesn't kill off the sweetness in the wine
    • Texture. The crunch of the meringue with the softness of the fruit salad creates a contrast of textures – but you already knew that!

    Click here for the full recipe to this dessert wine and food pairing.

    Shiraz food and wine pairing – Rack of lamb with Shiraz and chocolate sauce

    Aromatic science

    • Guaiacol. The phenolic compound guaiacol provides the smoky, ashy aroma found in chocolate, tobacco leaves, whiskey and roasted coffee. Guaiacol is present in higher amounts in oaked wines and sets the stage for a food and wine pairing between chocolate and the spiced and toasty notes in UMAMU Estate 2019 Shiraz. Smoky aromas from the roasted rack of lamb adds to the synergy.
    • β-ionone. Ionones are aroma compounds with the scent of roses and violets. They have been discovered as a main aroma compound in chocolate and are a dominant aroma in Syrah wines. UMAMU Estate 2019 Shiraz is better called ‘Syrah’ as the Margaret River has a cooler, Mediterranean climate compared to Australian Shiraz vintages grown in the hotter south. β-ionone is dominant in dark berry and fruit flavours like blackberry and plum – both of which are present in the nose of our Shiraz.

    Flavour, body and texture

    • Bitterness. The fats in the rack of lamb, alongside the sugars in the vinocotto, help to reduce the bitterness in the dark chocolate and soak up the approachable tannins in the Shiraz.

    Click here for the full recipe to this Shiraz wine and food pairing.

    Chardonnay food and wine pairing – Corn chowder with mussels and scallops

    Aromatic science

    • Diacetyl. Chardonnays often have intense ‘buttery’ aromas – so much so that some winemakers will aim to promote diacetyl, the main aroma compound in butter, in their Chardonnay wines. UMAMU Estate 2018 Chardonnay has a gentle buttery cashew nut nose thanks to time in French oak barrels and through fermentation of malic acid to lactic acid. It’s a perfect pairing with the creamed corn.
    • Dimethyl sulphide. Sulphur compounds have a bad rep in wine as in high concentrations they indicate spoilage. Dimethyl sulphide on its own smells like cabbage. But it’s surprisingly the dominant aroma molecule in scallops and is present in corn. Aged wines like UMAMU Estate 2018 Chardonnay naturally have dimethyl sulphide which at lower concentrations can pair famously with seafood and corn flavours.

    Flavour, body and texture

    • Acidity. While sharing buttery and seafood-like aromas, the acidity of the Chardonnay cuts right through the rich corn chowder and keeps it light. Texture. The thick, rich broth begs for something light to wash it down – and likewise the soft acidity in the Chardonnay begs for something thick and rich.

    Click here for the full recipe to this Chardonnay wine and food pairing.

    SBS food and wine pairing – Dover sole, capers and lemon

    Aromatic science

    • Limonene. Limonene is the major component in the oil of citrus fruit peels, and is added to cleaning products to give a lemon or orange fragrance. Sauvignon Blanc has the highest concentrations of limonene among wine grapes, and limonene is also found in Semillon. Our UMAMU Estate Sauvignon Blanc Semillon vintage has citrusy acidity which pairs with the lemon juice in this simple recipe.

    Flavour, body and texture

    • Acidity. Acidity in the SBS wine is a wonderful palate cleanser in this classic white wine and seafood pairing.
    • Medium-body. Pan-frying the Dover sole gives it a medium-body, which is a perfect match for the SBS that has had a portion of the Semillon fermented in French oak for added complexity and texture.

    Click here for the full recipe to this SBS wine and food pairing.

    Cabernet Franc food and wine pairing – Veal saltimbocca

    Aromatic science

    • Eucalyptol. Eucalyptol is the dominant aroma molecule in eucalyptus, and is also a major component in Mediterranean sage varieties – saltimbocca is a classic Italian dish featuring veal wrapped in prosciutto and sage. Eucalyptol is an aroma in UMAMU Estate 2016 Cabernet Franc.
    • 3-alkyl 2-methoxy pyrazine. This is a key aromatic element in asparagus, according to Chartier himself, and also produces the green character in bell peppers and green peas. The aroma of green bell peppers is characteristic of Cabernet Franc and these aromas cancel out each other out in the food and wine pairing, allowing Cabernet Franc’s fruitiness to shine.

    Flavour, body and texture

    • Bitterness. Cabernet Franc is a fruit-forward varietal with mild tannins for a red wine. The fat and proteins in the veal and prosciutto absorb the wine’s bitterness and allow its sweetness and acidity to shine.

    Click here for the full recipe to this Cabernet Franc food and wine pairing. 

    Sauvignon Blanc food and wine pairing – Cheese platter

    Aromatic science

    • Ethyl butyrate (ethyl butanoate). A dominant aroma molecule in Sauvignon Blanc which gives a sweet, fruit and juicy aroma. The compound occurs naturally in fruits like cherry, orange, pineapple, mango, guava, peach, apricot, passionfruit and plum. This creates an aromatic synergy between UMAMU Estate 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and the dried apricots in the cheese platter.
    • Limonene. A dominant terpene in Sauvignon Blanc and raspberries, with a citrusy aroma.
    • Diacetyl. Diacetyl provides the buttery aroma in butter, cheese and dairy products. It’s also present in wines that have been aged in oak barrels. Not all Sauvignon Blanc wines are aged before bottling. UMAMU Estate 2013 Sauvignon Blanc has spent 10 months in oak barrels which offers cashew nut aroma that aid a successful pairing with this cheese platter. 

    Flavour, body and texture

    • Acidity. The fresh acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc is a great palate cleanser after a heavy main course, and helps to keep the fats and proteins of the cheese light. The Sauvignon Blanc’s acidity is strong enough to remain more acidic than the fresh fruits and tangy cheeses.
    • Umami. The rich umami flavours in the cheese help to bring out the sweetness in the fresh fruits, dried fruits and the Sauvignon Blanc.

    Click here for the full recipe to this Sauvignon Blanc food and wine pairing.