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Taste Perversion: Artichokes and Wine

Artichokes start to come into season in the spring but are still harvested through the summer.
Artichokes start to come into season in the spring but are still harvested through the summer.
Photo by Tracie P.

"Taste perversion" is what the scientists call it. The expression refers to the way that foods (or drugs) can affect taste after they have been consumed.

In the wine world, artichokes are considered one of the greatest offenders.

The issue is caused by a component called cynarin (after the Latin name for the artichoke, Cynara cardunculus) that makes water taste sweet when preceded by artichokes, and wine taste bitter.

Does that mean that wine must be excluded from meals where artichokes are served?

I snapped this photo of an artichoke flower in bloom last year in June at a winery in Attikí (Attaca) not far from Athens, Greece.
I snapped this photo of an artichoke flower in bloom last year in June at a winery in Attikí (Attaca) not far from Athens, Greece.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.

At our house, where artichoke hearts are regularly breaded and deep-fried in a cast-iron skillet (this is Texas, after all), the answer is an unequivocal no. We're always game for pairing an aromatic white -- like Sauvignon Blanc or Friulano -- with our artichokes: The intense aroma and often herbaceous character of these wines works well with the thistle, even though it will attenuate the wine's fruit.

Like all nuggets of wine wisdom, this one, too, must be taken cum granu salis, as the ancient Romans used to say (with a grain of salt).

The important thing is to exclude artichokes from a meal where fine, aged, or rare wines are going to be poured. In those cases, you want to make sure that nothing in the meal eclipses the guests' impression of the wines -- a matter of good taste rather than science.

So whether you're grooving to the notes of a bright New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or rocking to the tones of a mineral-driven Muscadet from France, don't hesitate this summer to get your artichoke on...



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