Which wine should you pair with which cheese? It’s a question that never fails to come up when planning get-togethers with family and friends. Choosing appropriate pairings can pose a bit of a problem. You may have heard that Sancerre marries well with goat cheese, red Burgundy will help tame the flavors of a bold Epoisses or that blue cheese should be paired with sweeter wines, but these recommendations don’t have any scientific basis. In fact, they are often based in tradition, or dictated by geographical proximity of the products, like with Vin Jaune from Jura (yellow wines) and comté cheese.

But what is really going on with these pairings? And, more specifically, does eating a certain type of cheese with a certain type of wine really change the perception and appreciation of these products? French scientists from the ChemoSens platform of the Center for Taste, Food and Nutrition Sciences decided to look more closely at the question. Their goal was the evaluate the effectiveness of the temporal dominance of sensations (DTS) tool at measuring and analyzing flavor and hedonic sensations felt during the consumption of two different food products. Developed by the French National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA), the DTS Tool is different from other traditional taste testing methods in that it allows tasters to indicate the sensations they’re feeling using simple descriptors, from the moment they bring the food to their mouth up to the point when they taste nothing.

A glass of red wine with Cantal cheese

Concretely, here’s how they conducted the experiment. The researchers selected 31 testers, telling them they were going to participate in a study on wine. And only on wine. They then proposed three different wines of four different varieties: A sweet white (Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Wine), a dry white (Sancerre), and two reds (Burgundy and Madiran). The type and color of wine was kept from the participants to avoid that having an influence on the results. As soon as they took their first sip, the DTS test was launched, showing a large variety of descriptors of taste (bitter, sweet, floral, spicy, etc.), with the participants clicking on the taste they felt. As soon as they clicked once, the same choices were given again and the tester could either click the same taste if that was what they were still tasting, or choose another one.

Where’s the cheese in all of this, you may be asking. Well, the researchers offered all of the participants a different type of cheese in between each wine, under the pretext of “rinsing their mouth.” They then were able to see what the effect of the different types of cheese had on their perception of the wine.

Two important findings came out of this study. First of all, the consumption of different types of cheese had no negative impact on the sensations and caused an increase in the appreciation of the wine. Even better, all of the cheese improved the perception of red fruit flavors in addition to reducing the length of astringent tastes in red wine, while reinforcing the taste of Sancerre.