Peter Marks, MW, on the Liberated Enjoyment of Wine and Food

So much is being said and written about wine and food pairing. However, wine and food should be enjoyed together, not paired. “Paired” suggests that a certain wine must be served with a particular type of food. But in reality, your chances of enjoying wine and food together can be increased dramatically by balancing specific tastes within the food. In other words, it’s the food, NOT the wine!

So, here’s a new approach to wine and food enjoyment that is truly liberating – it challenges traditional wine and food pairing “rules” which are often dead wrong. Ask anyone what their definition of “food and wine pairing” is and you’ll get as many answers as you had questions. The Liberated Viewpoint establishes just one standard – that the wine tastes the same and has the same balance both before and after the food is tasted. After all, this is what you paid for!

Nosing Wine

The many old pairing “systems” have one common flaw – first, you prepare or order your meal and then must search for that perfect “pairing.”

The Liberated Viewpoint looks at the balance of umami, sweet, salty and sour tastes within the food as the deciding factors. The Umami taste, present in all delicious ingredients, and sweet taste, need to be balanced by salty and acidic taste. If the appropriate balance is not in place within the food, the wine is thrown out of balance. If the balance between these tastes is in place within the food, then any wine can be enjoyed with it, regardless of the type of wine or kind of food! White, red, rosé, sparkling, dry, sweet – they will all taste good.

What exactly is Umami? Umami is the official 5th taste – in addition to sweet, salty, bitter, and sour – defined in 1907 by Prof. Kikunae Ikeda of the Tokyo Imperial University when he tasted the crystalline remains of evaporated konbu (kelp) seaweed broth. The “magic” ingredients are glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods.

Umami triggers tastes receptors in the mouth and makes food taste better. Some people call it “deliciousness” taste. It’s probably easier to mention foods that are high in umami such as shellfish, cured meats, asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes, cheeses (Parmesan for example) and soy sauce. These foods have what I call the “yummy” factor.

Umami (and sweetness) does something different to wine.

Here’s all you need to know:

If the food is high in umami or sweetness, it will make the wine taste stronger. That is, it will increase the alcohol burn, make the tannins in red wine more astringent or bitter, and amplify the wine’s acidity to a higher level of tartness. At the same time, umami or sweetness in the food will suppress the wine’s lovely fruit flavors.


However, you can counteract these stronger tastes by balancing your food with just salt and acid. The increase in bitterness, acidity, astringency or burn caused by umami or sweetness will be neutralized and the lovely fruit flavors will return. For example, adding a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon or dash of vinegar* to the food will allow the wine to taste exactly the way the winemaker intended.

On the other hand, if the food is high in acid and/or salt, then it will make the wine taste milder. The wine’s acidity and tannin will be significantly reduced and the wine may taste flat and flabby. This time, adding umami/sweetness will return the wine to balance.

The re-balancing of the food can take place in the kitchen as the food is prepared or tableside with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt.

In conclusion, the Liberated Viewpoint allows you to drink what you like and like what you drink. You are also free to experiment with any new wine. Throw away the rule book. If the food unexpectedly makes the wine taste unpleasant, then season the food as noted above and you’ll be liberated to enjoy the wine once again!

*(All vinegars are not the same – some are sweet and balsamic is also loaded with umami!)

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.


Peter Marks, Master of Wine, WSET-Certified, Instructor, Member of the Napa Valley Wine Academy Board of Advisers.

Marks is the Vice President of Education for Constellation Brands, responsible for all wine education programs at Constellation and manages the wine education team at Constellation Academy of Wine. He is one of only 32 Masters of Wine residing in America. He received his MW in 1995, and in that year he also became the first American to receive the Madame Bollinger Foundation Award, which is bestowed annually to the MW candidate with the highest blind tasting score.
Before joining CWUS, Marks was the Senior Vice President of Wine at Copia: He has also held positions with and Draeger’s Supermarkets located in Northern California.

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