EATING cheese ruins the flavours of wine and makes fine vintages indistinguishable from cheap plonk, research has revealed.
While the two are often served together in the belief they make a sophisticated combination, scientists have discovered even expert tasters could not distinguish between wines after eating cheese.
Scientists in California asked trained wine tasters to try eight different cheeses before presenting them with four different varieties of cheap and expensive wines.
The tasters evaluated the strength of various flavours and aromas in each wine both alone and when preceded by the cheeses. Cheese was found to curb just about everything including berry and oak flavours, sourness and astringency, making it virtually impossible to distinguish them.
Strong cheeses overpowered the flavours more than milder varieties, but flavours of all the wines were smothered, meaning there was no magical wine and cheese pairing.
Professor Hildegarde Heymann and Bernice Madrigal-Galan of the University of California in Davis, who conducted the research, found cheese only enhanced wines with a butter aroma.
They suggested this was probably because cheese itself contains the molecule responsible for the buttery wine smell.
Another theory from the research, published in New Scientist magazine today, is that fat from the cheese could coat the mouth, deadening the taster's perception of the drink's flavours.
The findings come as no surprise to both wine tasters and cheese experts who said that wine and cheese was never a natural combination.
Graham Holter, wine expert and editor of Wine and Spirit, said the trend for cheese and wine being consumed together took off in the 1970s when people copied their contemporaries in an attempt to appear cosmopolitan.
"People were trying to be chic but really it has become clear that red wine and cheese is a pretty ghastly combination which most people in the wine trade are well aware of. It is a bit like the terrible fashion for pairing chocolate with champagne.
"Some strong cheese flavours and white wines harmonise such as Jacob's Creek and cheddar. But cheese is particularly pungent and will overpower almost everything."
Mr Holter said that experts in the wine trade taste everything in isolation.
"The film Sideways set in the Napa Valley in California showed how popular wine tasting and New World wines have become. You will have noticed no food was involved."
Paul Thomas, of Iain J Mellis cheesemongers in Edinburgh, said: "This research comes as absolutely no surprise. It is actually difficult to find a wine to suit the majority of cheeses.
"The combinations I would suggest are those such as Montgomery mature cheddar and cider and Lanark Blue with Laphroaig malt whisky.
"Basically what you're looking for is something crisp like a white wine from the Loire to go with the saltiness of the cheese."