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Artichokes and Wine

By Cook's Illustrated Published September 2014

Sometimes wine can taste oddly sweet and one-dimensional when paired with dishes containing artichokes. Is there anything one can do to combat this problem?

A compound in artichokes called cynarin purportedly binds to sweet receptors on the tongue, temporarily shutting them off. As you sip your wine, the cynarin is pulled off of the receptor, reactivating it. At that moment, your tongue registers sweetness, and your wine tastes sweeter than it normally would. Not everyone experiences the phenomenon, but about 60 percent of people do. To compensate, wine experts recommend serving artichokes with wines that are highly acidic and contain little to no residual sugar, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Grüner Veltliner, or Albariño.

But what if you don’t have such a wine on hand? We asked several tasters (whom we’d prescreened to confirm that they experience this phenomenon) to sip Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and then to sample each again after a bite of our Tagliatelle with Artichokes and Olive Oil (see related content). They noted that the wines tasted noticeably sweeter, with the Chardonnay being off-puttingly sweet. We then asked them to take another bite of the pasta dish and then to take a drink of water before sipping the wine. This time they noted that the wines tasted like their control version. Why? They had washed away the cynarin with the water.

While your best bet is to buy a highly acidic, dry wine, you can ensure that lower-acidity wines like Chardonnay won’t taste overly sweet with artichokes if you take a drink of water before you sip your wine.