The Wine & Food Pairing Story: A Quick History

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Rows of premium wine bottles on a wine rackIf you've ever spent hundreds of dollars to sit down to a finely curated tasting menu at a world-class restaurant, you'll recognize wine's important role in that experience. Proper wine pairing creates a synergy for your palate, marrying the coordinated flavors of your meal with a precisely chosen wine. 

The food's flavors don't overwhelm the wine, and the wine doesn't overwhelm the food. Instead, the two dance on your palate, creating a divinely choreographed experience. Each food and wine pairing is a different dance. 

If you haven't experienced the bliss of a tasting menu accompanied by a paired wine for each dish, don't worry, there are plenty of ways you can create your own experience

But how and why did this practice come into prominence? The 'why' seems obvious...because it's delightful. The 'how' goes deeper.

A Brief History of Wine

Before you delve into the history of wine pairing, it's interesting to know precisely where wine originated and how it solidified itself into human culture. Although it's unknown exactly when the first wine was made, current evidence points back as far as 6,000 BC. 

Which region gets the privilege of touting itself as 'the cradle of wine?' The region belonging to the Georgians, whose ancient ancestors discovered that burying grape juice underground for the winter turned it into something special.

However, in its early days, wine was not meticulously paired with entrees. Wine was sought after in its infancy because it was a more sanitary drinking option than widely available water supplies. Of course, it still had the beneficial aftereffects it has today, but it was primarily consumed with meals because people were less likely to get sick from it.

This shifted over time as wine became treasured and mass production began. In 2011, the world's oldest known winery was unearthed in Armenia. It dates back to 4,100 BC. Wine's influence on our present-day culinary experience blossomed from these ancient roots.

Pairing Wine With Food: A Natural Evolution

It's natural to assume that there is no exact date to the beginning of wine pairing. As wine spread across the world, it evolved with the climate in which its grapes grew. 

This climate also impacted the fruits and vegetables that were readily available and the livestock that thrived there. Available livestock determines not only the kind of meat that is accessible but also the cheese — a classic wine accompaniment

Examples of this natural evolution are particularly evident in Europe. Historically, lamb has played a prominent role in people's diets in wine regions, including Bordeaux, Rioja, and Rhone. These region's wines are known for pairing exceptionally well with lamb. 

In Italy, wine is woven into the culture as much as the food, and the two are seldomly separated. It's no wonder, then, that Italian wines offer an acidity that brightens with rich tomato sauces. Tannic Italian wines that often overwhelm on their own transform when paired with the right Italian dish. This is the product of food and wine growing together through the generations. 

The History of Modern Wine Pairing

Wine pairing as an art emerged in the second half of the 20th century. As the world left behind prohibition and two world wars, everything grew more accessible through the advancements in technology. With this accessibility, the population's desire for unique experiences grew, especially in dining. 

In the 1960s, Rosé became a sensation. Rosé wines were available before this, but they became a popular choice for pairing with cheese, crackers, and grapes after dinner. 

The 1970s saw one of the most exciting transformations in the history of wine pairing. During this time, wine recycling became popular. While this practice may seem sacrilege, it opened the door to sweet sparkling red wines, which paired well with food once considered unpairable. Thanks to recycling wine, you can now enjoy the right wine with Indian, Thai, and Greek dishes.

In the 1980s, wine pairing advanced into the art you enjoy today. During this decade of economic prosperity, restaurants increased their profits by selling not only fine dining but also an experience. 

Decanting a full-bodied Bordeaux while being waited on by a sommelier became yet another sign of wealth to flaunt in the 80s. Thus, the competition to discover the finest pairings transpired and gave you an ever-changing array of food and wine pairings to explore.

Today's Wine Pairing Trends

Many factors impact the future landscape of wine pairing. Environmental changes are not only affecting wine flavors but also causing wineries and consumers to consider the environmental impacts of growing and distributing wine. From this, sustainable wines are beginning to stand out. 

Wine pairing is also changing with our diets. Wine connoisseurs are currently more concerned with eating healthier foods than they have been in the past. This means pairing wines with flavors that rely less on rich fats and more on the nuances available in natural flavors and new spice combinations. The rise of veganism and vegetarianism has some frightened, but this is an opportunity for wine pairing enthusiasts. 

Wine has evolved with humanity for thousands of years. Like deep space, we've yet to explore all of wine's complexity and the myriad of possible combinations with the food we eat. Changing diets and new gastronomical creations offer you chances to discover new quality pairings. Perhaps you'll uncover the next defining sensation in the history of pairing food and wine. 

Find Your Perfect Pairing

The most important rule of enjoying and pairing wine is to drink what you like. Every wine connoisseur's palate is different, and JJ Buckley offers premium and collectible wines that will elevate your meals for years to come. Our wine experts take great pride in offering expert wine advice that is honest and impartial. Contact our wine experts today if you want to know what wines go with your best at-home dish or at your favorite restaurant.