There’s nothing like a glass of Beaujolais to cleanse your palate, or a big steak to mellow the tannins in nebbiolo. But until now, researchers had failed to discover the scientific reasons behind drinking pinot with duck or cabernet with roast lamb.
Dumbfounded by this lack of understanding, a group of scientists from France, Japan and the United States collaborated on a project to understand why and how high-tannin wines and tea interact with fatty foods to refresh your palate.
It was understood that the introduction of lubricants into the mouth, such as fatty foods, helps to reduce strong astringent sensations. However, most teas and wines, the researchers argue, are only mildly astringent. Thus, there was no explanation for how these drinks could counteract the fat in your meal.
The answer was found in taking repeated sips of wine. The more sips you take, the greater the sensation of astringency, which is often referred to as tannin build-up. By drinking red wine or tea throughout a meal, the unpleasant, mouth-coating, fatty sensation in the mouth is reduced. Water does not have the same effect on fatty foods, suggesting that drinking red wine regularly throughout a meal really does improve your dining experience. Corkscrews at the ready!
But if you’re not eating while drinking, a red wine can seem much more tannic compared to the same wine served with food. The researchers corroborated this commonly held perception, “observing a more significant growth of astringency sensation with multiple sips without eating fatty food, indicating that fat reduced the build-up of astringency.”
So, now we have even more reason to have a glass of red wine with dinner. There is still work to be done on how different wines and tea vary in their ability to reduce fatty sensations during meals, and whether the amount of astringency needed to provide the “cleansing effect” differs from one person to the next.
In the meantime, sit back, pour yourself a glass of red, and relax in the knowledge that you now have scientific justification for eating that hunk of cheese you’ve been trying to resist.