Wine as a Condiment: A Different Perspective on Food and Wine Pairings

Wine as a Condiment: A Different Perspective on Food and Wine Pairings

by Eddie Osterland, America’s First Master Sommelier

Most people see wine as a wonderful beverage choice. I see it differently. I see it more as a condiment – a complementary addition to enhance the flavors of a delicious meal – rather than a beverage. Let me tell you why.

The best example I know for the way a food and wine pairing works actually draws from the world of business. Business people work together in teams so that the results achieved are a product of many differently talented people. In business, there’s a formula:

1 + 1 = 3

This stands for Synergy. Take, for example, the sales department combining forces with the marketing team in an effort to bring out the best in each of them. Done properly, there’s a resultant chemistry that is considerably better than if you were to take the sum of the efforts of each team separately.

Wine and food share that same relationship. I know that most people don’t see it that way, so I want to shed some light on my perspective, perhaps changing the way that you understand and appreciate wine and food.

Wine's acidity amplifies the flavor of salmon topped with a rich Hollandaise sauce similar to a squeeze of lemon.

The wine’s acidity amplifies the flavor of salmon topped with a rich Hollandaise sauce similar to a squeeze of lemon.

Imagine dining out at your favorite seafood restaurant. You order some grilled salmon with Hollandaise sauce. It comes with a couple of slices of lemon. Most of us unconsciously squeeze the lemon juice over the salmon before beginning to enjoy the salmon. You don’t know why you do it – you figure they give you lemon for a reason and you just like how it tastes. What you don’t realize is that you like how it tastes because of what the citric acid does to your salmon and hollandaise. The acid amplifies flavors so it heightens the experience of the fish, making it taste better. It also cuts through the heaviness of the hollandaise sauce giving relief to the rich flavors.

When you pair wine with food you should choose a wine that has ample acidity for the food you are eating. Wines like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon, to mention a few, all have vibrant acidity. Essentially, these wines perform the same function as that squeeze of lemon; they amplify food flavors. Just think of the wine as a stunt-double for the lemon.

Let me put this in its proper perspective. Imagine you ate your salmon and forgot to squeeze the lemon on it. You wouldn’t reach down and grab the lemon and squeeze it in your mouth would you? No! They need to be tasted together. So, too, should you taste wine and food together.

To fully appreciate the pairing, you should take a bite of food and, before swallowing it, take a sip of your wine. Do this and you will see how the wine enhances the flavors of the food and the food changes the flavors of the wine, all for the better. It’s better than just the taste of the food or wine alone. The synergy equation (1 + 1 = 3) is what properly paired food and wine is all about.

It’s easy to understand this concept in principle, but applying it in real life can be a trickier prospect. How do you know which wines will best enhance which foods? Sometimes guidance is needed to learn the logic underlying certain food and wine pairings. This is where a system like Traveling Vineyard’s in-home tastings and Sommology program can be an asset.

Sommology is Traveling Vineyard's proprietary online food and wine pairing tool.

Sommology is Traveling Vineyard’s proprietary online food and wine pairing tool.

An in-home tasting is a wonderful opportunity to try different flavors with different wines, seeing for yourself the ones that pair well. All Traveling Vineyard wines have a barcode that you can scan to be brought to Sommology, which educates you on which foods to prepare. Or you can browse for yourself, finding recommended recipes for Merlots, Cabernets, Pinots, and more.

With such resources on hand, it’s time to embrace the synergy of food and wine. Stop thinking of wine as a beverage and start considering it a condiment instead.

After all, you probably have a favorite food and wine pairing. Take a moment to consider: why do you think it works? Let me know.

Eddie Osterland profile

Eddie Osterland, Master Sommelier, businessman and author.


In 1973, Eddie Osterland became America’s first Master Sommelier by passing the prestigious Master Sommelier Diploma Exam. Today, he is passionate about sharing his knowledge and adventurous spirit as part of his mission to change the world one meal at a time.

An enthusiastic and unpretentious entertainer, Eddie utilizes his unique power entertaining methods to educate on the art of entertaining for business or pleasure in a dynamic, humorous and engaging manner—Eddie makes learning about wine as fun as drinking it.

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