BASAL FLAVOR: SWEET
Sweetness + Sweetness = ?
To put it simply, adding sweetness to sweetness makes it less sweet. Makes no sense right! Well if we add in some simple chemistry and math, it’ll make sense.
There’s two parts to any equation right. Part one is a sweet wine, part two is a sweet dish; a dessert! Now does sweet+sweet=ridiculously sweet, most people may automatically say yes, but this is not the truth.
This is where the chemistry comes in, all the little bumps on your tongue, called papillae perceive flavor. (Again to contrast from popular belief, all your papillae perceive flavor in the same way, your whole tongue perceives all the flavors, your tongue is not a map, where only the papillae in Sweetland perceive sugar.) If you give the tongue a flavor, in this case sweetness, it gets used to that flavor almost immediately, making it much harder for the tongue to perceive that specific flavor in the next bite (or sip).
So bringing us back to our equation, when you take a sip of a sweet wine, and then a bite, of a sweet dessert, the dessert will actually be perceived a bit less sweet than it would be otherwise, but more importantly when you take another sip of that sweet wine, the wine will taste much less sweet than it did originally!
The reason that the contrast will be much more noticeable when sipping the wine, is that there is a combination of flavors going on in both the dessert and the wine. The wine is basically made up of high acid, and high sweetness (to put it simply). While the dessert can have acid (fruit for example), bitterness (chocolate for example), saltiness (pie dough for example), umami (ripe berries, and lots of other stuff too, for example) but the main flavor of pretty much any dessert will always be sweetness.
While the dessert will have other flavors too, it will for example never have as much acid as the wine. So by tasting the dessert your tongue is now used to the sweetness, and then tasting the wine again, since you’ve removed the perception of sweetness; what do you have left? Acid! SO, to answer the equation of sweet+sweet=? The answer is that your tongue will make the flavor combination of the dessert (sweet), + the sweet wine (sweet), less sweet then they would have been on their own (balance).
Sweet dessert wine + dessert = balance!
Sweetness in food lessens sweetness in wine and vice versa (?)
Sweetness in wine is refered to as residual sugar, and is the grapes natural sugar that hasn’t been eaten by yeast (and tunred into alcohol)
Sweetness in wine (combined in balance with acidity) is what makes us think of different fruits when we smell/taste a wine, our memory realizes that the smell/taste of sweetness+acidity+certain compounds usually is related to a certain fruit, although of course all wine is made strictly from grapes, you can still find yourself thinking of an entire fruit bowl of flavors when enjoying different wines.
If this wet your taste buds (no pun intended) for how to perfectly pair Food and Wine, there are more articles to read! Saltiness, Bitterness, Acidity, Umami, Fattiness, Spiciness.