The Magical Interaction between Tannins and Fats in our Mouths (Why Red Wines go so well with Meat)

Wine pairing rules bothered me.  Experts and traditional beliefs guided the less experienced, people like me, on what to drink.  Then around the late 2000s to the early 2010s, there were a lot of experts advising the rules were meant to be broken.  For example, a New York Times author recommended red wine with oysters.     Unconventional wine choices made dinner, or any eating occasion, more fun and less stressful.

However, I could not get rid of the feeling the pairing rules, or guidance, made a lot of sense.  Almost everyone has had a great experience with a steak and wine pairing.  Shit, I just had one with the last Bordeaux I tried.

The match between a steak and red wine rests with tannins.  To quickly summarize, tannins are substances that come from grape skins, seeds and stems.  They are also introduced during aging in oak barrels.  In general, red wines have a lot more tannins than white wines.

The tannins of interest to us are called condensed tannins.  I mentioned these tannins in a previous post.   Anyway, condensed tannins interact with proteins found in saliva forming a precipitate.  These precipitates change the viscosity and lubricity felt in the mouth.  In normal speak, it makes your mouth dry out and, sometimes, feel grainy.

Things change when fats are introduced.  It turns out fats and condensed tannins can interact and form bonds.  When you take a sip of wine after chewing on a steak, the tannins are split between the salivary proteins and the fat in the steak.  Since there are not as many tannins available for the salivary proteins, the wine feels less astringent and smoother.

Other factors obviously come into play.  Cooking techniques, spices, sauces and fat content will influence what foods and wines can go together.   However, in general it makes sense that red wines go with meat.  My takeaway, the more fat in my meal, the higher the tannin content in my wine.




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