The notion of pairing food and wine is centuries old, but now science is backing it up.
Findings published in the October 9th issue of Current Biology suggests that mouthfeel, the way food feels in our mouths, is responsible for the phenomenon. In a release, the publication's publisher, Cell Press, explains that "astringent wine and fatty meat are like the yin and yang of the food world, sitting on opposite ends of a sensory spectrum."
Astringent wines often feel rough and dry in the mouth, whereas fats are slippery. Eating them together helps to balance the two out:
...weakly astringent brews—in this case containing grape seed extract, a green tea ingredient, and aluminum sulfate—build in perceived astringency with repeated sipping. When paired with dried meat, those astringent beverages indeed counter the slippery sensation that goes with fattiness.
In the study's summary, the authors used their findings to explain the underlying principle behind "palate cleansing." They found that repeatedly alternating samples of astringent beverages, like wine or tea, resulted in lower ratings of fattiness and astringency than if rinsing with water or without either.
The researchers also suggest the findings may explain the appeal of acid-and-oil salad dressings and the pickled ginger that accompanies sushi.
Although we'll be the first to admit that some sommeliers have gone overboard with wine pairings -- we highly doubt there's a definitive best wine to go with anything -- we'll be asking for a more astringent vintage the next time we order pork belly.