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RISKY RELATIONSHIPS: The Eight “Killer” Foods That Can Make Wine Taste Terrible

By Karen MacNeil
May 8, 2020

Anyone who loves food and loves wine, knows that the marriage of the two can be the ethereal equivalent of 1 + 1 = 3. Although, I have to admit, on any given night, I think it’s probably more important to match wine to mood than to food.

With one big exception—or rather eight of them. When any of the following eight “killer” foods are involved, I pay attention. Because any one of them have the potential to make wine taste as bland as tap water; as metallic as tin foil; as bitter as burnt coffee; or as stewed as canned spinach. Watch out.

  • Artichokes

Artichokes contain cynarin, an amino acid that can produces the impression of cloying sweetness and an unpleasant, metallic taste in wines. Drink cabernet sauvignon or other high tannin wines with artichokes and the wine will taste hollow at best, and possibly like a tin can.

  • Asparagus

Asparagus contain mercaptan, a skunky-smelling compound associated with spoilage in wine. Want your $25 wine to taste like two buck chuck? This is the way to go. (On the bright side: some wines—notably sauvignon blanc—can work well enough if you grill the asparagus and slather them with fruity extra virgin olive oil).

  • Cruciferous and Leafy Green Vegetables

Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, Brussel sprouts and related vegetables release sulfur compounds when cooked, contributing off-flavors to wines. With these foods, your great cab will taste like canned green beans. Pinot noir will taste like a swamp. Hello chefs: can you please stop putting the protein on a bed of wilted spinach?

  • Eggs

Eggs also contain sulfur, and release sulfur compounds when cooked, often contributing an off-flavor to wines. On the really disgusting list of food and wine combos: eggs and oaky chardonnay.

  • Chiles

Hot chiles contain capsaicin, which can make wines high in alcohol taste unpleasantly hot, and accentuate uber dryness in tannic wines. Zinfandel and chiles can blow off your head with heat and alcohol.

  • White Wine Vinegar

Vinegar and foods pickled in vinegar contain high concentrations of acetic acid, which makes wine taste bitter, astringent, or sour. Make that salad dressing with lemon instead of vinegar—or use a higher grade aged vinegar like top notch Sherry vinegar or Balsamic vinegar.

  • Raw Garlic and Raw Onion

Raw garlic and raw onion are both so strident and palate coating that they make most wines taste like nothing—or like garlic and onions. Smart cooks sautee garlic or onions before cooking with them if they intend to drink wine too. The perfect answer for that raw-onion-laden guacamole or a burger loaded with raw onion? Drink beer.

  • Chocolate

Only one partner is going to win in this marriage and it isn’t the wine. Chocolate is such a powerful, deep and complex flavor that it neuters most wines and makes them taste blank. The only wines that work with chocolate are wines that are more powerful, deep and sweet themselves—like the fortified wines Port and Madeira.