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He just tasted something bitter.

He just tasted something bitter.

Second part to a sensory series.  Read Part 1: How We Smell.

 

 

Taste is often heralded as being the superior sense to smell, but as I explained in my explanation of How We Smell, this is not entirely true.  Taste works in concert with smell as well as touch to round out what we generally refer to as flavor.  We typically describe taste with names that we all know: Salty, Sour, Sweet, Bitter, and more recently, Umami.  Taste though can be unconsciously blended in with our other two flavor senses.  Improperly, in the case where we think we smell something sweet; when in fact we can’t smell sweet at all, but our mind is associating various aromas with sweet tasting foods.  As well as properly, in the case where we both feel the acid in our mouth and taste something sour which a number of acids are in fact sour tasting.  In wine and food pairing, it is taste and touch that we speak of when we talk about balance.

Exactly how we taste isn’t as much of a mystery as smell has been in the past, but science is beginning to discover now that there may be more to the story.  The 5 tastes accepted by most respectable scientists are detected by the taste buds we harbor in our mouths.  Not just the tongue mind you, but over a variety of the surfaces in our mouths, throats, and even into the nasal cavity.  These taste buds are stashed within the visible bumps in various kinds of papillae which are purely there to increase the surface area of the tongue and perhaps make the terrain a bit more interesting to the bacteria which reside on it.  Each taste bud is a collection of cells, sprouting up like flowers where each cell either binds to proteins to determine sweet, bitter, and umami or channels are created which are entered by ions to determine salty and sour.

Previously it was thought that different areas of our tongue were better at perceiving each of the different tastes. This was disproven (Largely credited to man named Charles Zuker) when it was discovered that each cell within our taste buds has a different taste palette; meaning that they primarily detect a particular taste and then to a gradually ranking lesser extent, the other tastes as well.  This of course means that if you lose the tip of your tongue in a sword fight (You old swashbuckler, you) fear not; you will still be able to taste sweetness.  Also, because each taste cell detects every taste, but at varying levels, when the signals hit our brains, they are being delivered in stereo just like smell is.

TasteBuddiagram

However, the number of those taste buds can vary a bit between individuals.  The most convincing and widely used evidence of this is found in the research of Linda Bartoshuk, PhD who showed not only that individuals vary, but exactly how much we vary.  She is the source of the phrase “Super Taster” which fit so nicely into sensationalist headlines however many years ago, even if it is somewhat misleading.  The term ‘super’ is oft-aligned with things we associated as being good, but in the sense of taste, we will see that this may not be the case.

To see what category of taster you are, you can perform a simple experiment.  Grab some blue food coloring, a piece of paper with a hole punched in it (7mm or 0.5 inches in diameter), and perhaps a magnifying glass by which you will look at your tongue in the mirror with.  After applying a drop of food coloring and painting your tongue blue, place the hole of the paper on the top of your tongue near the tip.  Poking out from the blue, you will see your white taste buds.  Using the magnifying glass, give these a count.  If you are technologically inclined, snap a close up picture with your phone for easier counting.

You will find yourself in 1 of 3 categories, but before you band together with others in your group and go around taunting the other two groups, let’s see what this difference means.

  • Non-Taster or Tolerant Taster: <15 papillae
  • “Normal” Taster: 15-35 papillae
  • Super Taster: >35 papillae
Pictured: Normal to Tolerant Taster...plus a blue tongue

Pictured: Normal to Tolerant Taster…plus a blue tongue

Now that you’ve discovered what kind of taster you are, what does that mean?  Well, it is a measure of the intensity at which you taste.  The more taste buds you have, the more sensory input you are receiving.  What it does not mean is that you are a better or worse taster depending on which category you fall in.  Super Tasters tend to find bitter tastes to be overwhelming and therefore you’ll notice they tend to need salt on everything.  In terms of wine, a lot of Super Tasters prefer the sweeter whites of the reds, because the tannin in red wines is too jarring for them.  On the other end, while a Tolerant Taster may be able to handle their whiskey neat and their wines big and tannic, they might not pick up a subtle sweetness of a wine that a Super Taster enjoys.

It should also be noted that which category you fall in to can change over your lifespan.  With rare exceptions, people tend to decrease in their level of taste sensitivity over time.  On the rebellious side of the wine world, Tim Hanni, a Master of Wine, is trying to introduce these different categories of tasters through his program myVinotype.  He breaks the spectrum down into more categories, which are more geared to how we market wine to people, but the important thing here is to note that it is in fact a spectrum.  This means if you done the above test and categorized yourself as a borderline Tolerant Taster, you might not like your whiskey neat.

Beyond the five tastes that have been agreed upon, more types of tastes are being researched to see if we also have cells that can detect them as well.  For a full description on these potential new contenders to be added to our taste list, see this article.  Here is a preview:

  • Calcium: Yes, that’s right, the stuff that makes bones stronger is also thought to create a taste similar to bitter that can be found particularly in things like spinach.
  • Kokumi:  A term meaning something close to mouthful-ness by the same Japanese company that brought us Umami.  This could provide an additional way to describe the body of a wine.
  • Piquance: Used to describe spicy foods.  This most likely will remain a physiological sensation though and not a taste since what we know of it now is that it trips our temperature sensors and is not tickling any taste buds.
  • Coolness: The opposite of piquance like what you get from mint.  Perhaps relegated to the same fate as piquance due to the trigeminal factors in play.
  • Metallicity:  Again, perhaps physiological factors are more in play here than actual taste.  The theory goes that there might be actual electrical conductivity happening (Shocking, I know) when certain metals are in our mouths.  If you’re wondering why you would ever put metal in your mouth look up silver and gold leaf on pastries…or watch a small child who happens upon some change.
  • Fat: Possibly the most likely candidate for a new spot on the taste list.  Fat taste cells have already been found in mice, but the discovery in humans is still outstanding.
  • Carbon Dioxide: Previously this tingling had been dismissed as a trigeminal sensation, but new research points to some receptors on some of sour taste cells that may bind with CO2.  Again, most of this is happening in mice, but that’s always the step before humans.

As noted in a few of these taste contenders, the experience we are gathering from them are more trigeminal reactions and not necessarily molecules binding to or entering taste cells.  Those will be discussed when I dive into the touch of flavor.  I’ll also show the effects of one taste on another mixing those with the touch sensation.  However, to complicate things a little more now, tastes can be perceived differently due to either mental perception (i.e. Framing and Priming as discussed in How We Smell), the balance of tastes, or due to taste modifiers.

Taste modifiers have been known of for a number of years such as how after tasting an artichoke your glass of water may seem a little sweeter, or how after eating some Miracle Berries our ability to taste sweetness is temporarily diminished.  Have you ever had orange juice after brushing your teeth? Taste modification.  These effects are a result of actual physical manipulation of your taste buds.  Sounds somewhat horrifying, right?  Be rest assured that there have been no negative or permanent effects shown by ingesting either of these so there is not likely a chance that you will lose your ability to taste sweet things anytime soon.  However, a company by the name of Senomyx, linked to the aforementioned Charles Zuker, has been actively mapping our taste buds and compiling a database of thousands of ways to manipulate them.  Their first product in collaboration with PepsiCo is set to be released this year which is a sweet modifier.  In other words the beverage will taste sweet even though there is a lack of sugar or other sweetener in it.

While our sense of smell if in charge of identifying thousands of different aromas, our sense of taste is actually quite limited in scope.  However, it is still a very important part in determining what we describe as the flavor of a food or beverage.  In wine, we even limit this more and we really only focus on sweet, bitter, and sour sensations.  On rare occasions we do mention umami or saltiness when describing a wine, but a lot of those times, it’s not in a good manner.  If you ever want to test yourself and see whether you are truly tasting something or mostly smelling something and then interpreting a taste from that try this: Take a sip of wine into your mouth as you hold your breath.  Do not breathe in or out.  Nope, not even just a little.  Roll the wine all over your tongue.  By not breathing you are able to isolate the sense of taste from smell and really ask yourself how much sweetness you are getting.  You’ll also notice the sensation of touch working, but we’ll get to that next time.

OK, you can breathe now.  Let the flavor be complete.

 

Additional sources for reading:

Neurogastronomy: How the brain creates flavor and why it matters – Gordon Shepherd

The Science of Wine: From vine to glass – Jamie Goode

Why You Like The Wines You Like – Tim Hanni

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photo-2

Of all the protuberances extending from our bodies, it is our noses that are held in highest esteem when it comes to enjoying wine.  The Schnoz of a trained wine professional is thought to harbor more natural capabilities than those of normal people.  However, it hasn’t been until relatively recently that the world of science has begun to figure out just how is it we detect and identify odors.

A good reasoning behind this progress is that it hasn’t been until relatively recently that we have been able to begin to understand how our brains work.  It turns out that the nose of a Sommelier is nothing special.  In terms of hardware, we all have approximately the same level of sensitivity.  Therefore, the only real major difference between the nose of an amateur and that of a professional is, like everything else in the world, the amount of practice and training.  That and bravado.  Professionals know that sometimes emphatically stating that something is the way they say it is, regardless of the truth, can be taken seriously. Because really, who’s to argue?

All that practice and training of course, does little to “tone” our sniffers, but more to educate the olfactory memories of our brains.  That’s right, we learn how to pick out smells in the same manner we learn how to play a song.  We memorize the pattern.  This of course means we can mistake one smell for another in moments of error.  Our memories are imperfect beasts.

Speaking of beasts, how many times have you been told that dogs or other animals are far superior smellers that we humans are?  Let me please disabuse you of that notion.  There are two ways to smell.  One is called Orthonasal Smell which happens when suck air in through our nostrils.  There is no doubt that animals with larger and longer snouts than us are superior at this kind of sniffing.  More space for sensors to pick up all of those molecules.  However, there is another type of smelling called Retronasal Smell which happens when we breathe out through our nose.  As far as we can tell ape descendants are the only animals that have a sizeable retronasal passageway to make this kind of function useable.  Therefore, we smell things before we put them in our mouths, and we also smell things (hopefully food) after they have been put into our mouths.  Two smells for the price of one.

He doesn't even care if the steak is cooked well, does he?

He doesn’t even care if the steak is cooked well, does he?

One could say we have a much more developed second dimension of smell.  It is this secondary smell combined with the enhanced processing powers of our brains that actually make us far superior smellers that most of the animal kingdom.  Interestingly, we are the only animals that appear to be concerned with the quality of the calories being put into our mouths for ingestion.  It turns out that even if you have lost your sense of orthonasal smell, that doesn’t necessarily mean your retronasal smell capabilities will be affected.

So what are smells exactly?  It depends upon which part we are referring to.  In wine, a number of different smells that can be found in wines are handily put onto what we call aroma wheels or in lists for our reference.  However, the aromas listed are actually collections of a number of different aromatic compounds which themselves are combinations of various different individual molecules.

Let’s take rosemary for example.  If you were to smell the plant you would say, “This smells like rosemary.” But a more trained sniffer would say, “I smell a combination of woody and floral notes as well as some conifer, clove, and eucalyptus”.  And beyond that, each of those individual aromas are either single molecular compounds or a combination of a few of them.   So an aroma must be thought of as a complex object and not a single entity much like a picture.  A picture after all is a collection of shapes and colors and that analogy is quite a bit more appropriate as will soon be realized. The term bouquet is perhaps more appropriate when discussing the collections or aromas in wines, but we tend to use those terms differently (if not incorrectly) in the world of wine so I will forgo its use here.

Before we recognize aromas though, they must first pass through our snouts to be captured.  Again, once on the way in (orthonasal), and once on the way out (retronasal). How that happens is really still up for debate.  The previous theory was that we had receptors that would accept a single odor molecule much like a key fitting into a lock.  That has been modified over the years with the allowance that perhaps more than one odor molecule may fit onto a receptor.  After all, we might not even have space to put a specific receptor for every single scent we can sniff.  An additional theory is that the odors vibrate the receptors instead of locking into them; much like sound vibrates our ear drums.  Gas Chromatography analysis of smelly things is somewhat based on this vibrational theory as it is used to identify the individual molecular compounds which it visualizes in the form of a plot of different frequencies.  This looks a bit like the sound waves of an erratic melody or the EKG print out of a failing heart.

Regardless of what the actual entry method is and how much is detected, each odor received sends a unique set of signals to a portion of our frontal lobes in the brain that is formed in the shape of a light bulb aptly called the Olfactory Bulb. Because our odor sensing receptors are tuned to multiple odors, the signals flowing up will tend to have overlaps as they hit the Olfactory Bulb.  The outer layer of this section called the Glomeruli is composed of individual cells, much like an LED screen which is “lit up” neurologically speaking with the pattern of the smell.  fMRI studies have actually been able to watch this happen and produce visual images of smell.  Yes, that’s right; when you smell a strawberry, it creates a different image in your brain, than when you smell a banana.

Fig2-c4

However, our noses have different thresholds of detectability for different aromas.  For instance, TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole), the odor we speak of when a wine is “Corked” can be detected when it is merely a few parts of a trillion.  Diacetyl, on the other hand, which is the basis for all of the buttery and creamy aromas takes a few parts per thousand to be detected.  And while there is some variation between individuals on what these thresholds are, there is perhaps more variation found depending on what kind of wine the aroma is in.

To complicate our perception of what we are smelling even further, the aromatic image that appears when we sniff can also be shaped by how we are mentally framed and primed beforehand.  In other words, we can be influenced by what have smelled previously, what we are currently craving, or even what we have been told about what we are going to smell.  For instance, it has been shown that even professional wine tasters have insisted that aromas exist in a given wine even though they do not just because the color of the wine they were smelling had been changed unbeknownst to them.  Perhaps, no one has sneakily changed the color of your wine, but how many of us can recall a time where a particular odor, good or bad, just would not leave us and we insisted we smelled it everywhere.  The nestling of our olfactory processing center so closely to our memory center helps us emotionally connect to aromas, but can also lead to confusion when too much information is presented during a sniff.

Traditionally, when it comes to wine we rely on seasoned experts to assist us in how we should perceive a wine’s aromas. While we assume that the conclusion of a practiced professional will be more consistently correct than an amateur, they are still dealing with a measurement where the human nose is more precise than any other means of measure that we have.  That is to say, you can never be completely sure if the overly poetic description of a wine’s aroma is what is actually emanating from the wine or even if it is the same as what you will sense.  Helpful for the general gist of what we can expect, but should be taken with a grain of salt.  Therefore, when it comes to flavor matching in wine and food pairings, it is best to speak in generalities instead of specifics.  The red fruits in the wine will probably bring out the red fruits in the food even if they aren’t the overripe and slightly confectioned cherries you were told to expect.

Our sense of smell, once relegated to our least powerful sense, has actually been shown to perhaps be our most affecting sense.  Its connection to our memories creates emotional responses when triggered and as we uncover more about how the sense works, it is taking on a new level of dimensionality.  However, the typical wine drinker should rejoice in knowing that even if we marvel at the skill a professional demonstrates when they can identify a wine at first sniff, we all smell things a little better after we have taken the first sip.

Additional sources for reading:

Neurogastronomy: How the brain creates flavor and why it matters – Gordon Shepherd

Taste Buds and Molecules: The art and science of food, wine, and flavor – Francois Chartier

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WineByTap

A couple of years ago I sat at a wine bar in SW Illinois.  The unique thing about this place was that behind the curved bar, around 50 taps were installed with the sole purpose of spouting out wine.  However, in an ironic similarity to ever other bar in America, they weren’t actually serving wine by tap.  They had yet to receive a single keg of wine to tap.

The concept isn’t new; it’s been bouncing around in the industry for the past 20 years or so, but the implementation is far from being mainstream.  The appeal of this system makes sense: There is less packaging waste, wine can be sold in more of a bulk form and thus is more efficient (profitable) to move, and shelf life is extended.  Beer has fully embraced the concept for a number of years so I have been wondering for awhile now why wine has been slow to adopt this format.

I posed this question to my friend, Jeremy who will be in charge of expanding the Old Chicago restaurant chain into the SE over the next couple of years.  “Wine sales are so low compared to our other alcohol sales that there’s little incentive to invest in something like that.”  The keyword there being “invest”.  In order to have wine by tap in a restaurant, new taps would have to be put in or existing and profitable beer taps would have to be taken over.  This is additionally hampered by the low number of wines that are actually sold in a tap-able form.  While restaurants like Old Chicago cannot be considered bastions for the wine drinking public, those that primarily serve wine by the glass still face the same Chicken and the Egg situation.

VinocopiaBarrel

The folks at Vinocopia Barrel may have part of the solution.  Their flagship product is a fully contained, wine dispensing system that delivers wine through a spout in their display-worthy barrels.  Therefore, after the barrels are bought, all the restaurant or consumer need to provide is space.  When I stopped in at their headquarters in Minneapolis to see their product it appeared they were attempting to bypass the lack of wine by tap infrastructure.  The barrel itself is more of a housing for the removable container inside which is changed out when empty. However, the only wine you can get in their barrels right now is from Piattelli Vineyards.  Not so coincidentally, the vineyard and the barrel system have the same owner.  Perhaps their recyclable barrel system is more an attempt at coming up with alternative packaging while avoiding the stigma of boxed wine.  Regardless, they do have a slowly growing customer base.

There are those who anticipate restaurants to invest in the wine by tap infrastructure as well.  Richer Pour is a company out of Boston that not only packages wine into a format that can be tapped, but also seeks out a variety of wines to put into their containers.  However, like Vinocopia their system does not involve the traditional metal keg that we are familiar with.  Their containers are disposable once they have run dry.

The metal kegs that seem to be a central focus point of any teenage party movie are wonderfully efficient for not only keeping oxygen out of the contained alcohol, but also keeping the carbonation in.  Perhaps sparkling wines by tap would make more sense to start off with then?  Cocktail houses and their patrons would no doubt appreciate a freshly carbonated pour of sparkling wine that could be reproduced every time.  Until then, we will continue drinking to the soft pops of wine corks being expelled in the background.

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photo (1)My home of Minneapolis is full of people who are rather enamored with beer.  I’m not talking about bros grabbing a cold one as they scan for ladies between rounds of Buck Hunter* (as apparently all of us do according to a now infamous NY Times article).  What I’m referring to is the insurgence of Craft Beer that has gained a strong foothold bolstered by people passionate about not just drinking beer, but how it’s made, how it works, and most importantly, how to infuse unique and artistic flair into something that has long been a mass-produced product.  Admittedly, I can in no way be classified as a “Beer Drinker”, but I still watch the movement as well as sample their progress along the way because it’s cool.

As the movement has been progressing it has been looking to the world of wine for a little guidance.  Some of it has been general instruction on how be called “Fancy” at dinner parties, but there has also been a push to pair beer with food á la food and wine pairing (the greatest experience known to humans).   Honestly, most of it I have seen thus far has been, to put it very nicely, a bit of a stretch.  Food science is generally ignored with this effort and it seems mostly to be an exercise in filling content for media to gain the Craft Beer lovers as a readership demographic.  So it was with that mentality that I quickly read a few lines of an article entitled: “Beer Vs. Wine” in our local beer rag, The Growler.  I skimmed over the first few lines of a portion someone had pointed me to about pairing beer with food and promptly walked away with disgust.  The author had sought guidance from a sommelier who gave him a list of Dos and Don’ts and I thought to myself “There is no hope for these people!”

After having a brief conversation immediately following that about why I thought pairing food with beer was worthless (Yes, it was mostly me talking), I began to question whether that was an accurate statement.  This was after of course actually pairing a seasonal lager with a dish of andouille sausage and walnut/spinach pesto over a bed of spaghetti squash as seen above and struggling mercilessly to define whether it actually paired well or not.  The next day I actually read the full article and you should too.  It’s a pretty good article.  The author’s conclusion is actually that beer and food pairing is just beginning so people are still feeling their way around the whole concept which I would say is a good summary.

Yet over the past 24 hours my mind has begun to ponder possible interactions between beer and food and I’ve decided that what the beer community really needs is a good framework in order to begin to hash out their own guidelines (not rules) about beer and food pairing.  With that, I humbly offer some points from the evidence-based wine world to get them started.  I honestly look forward to future progress and I think there will be some surprisingly wonderful results.

Work with good chefs.

The craft of wine making developed alongside the craft of cuisine.  Why it was wine instead of beer or another beverage, I have no idea, but regardless, this means that wine and food already have a partnership.  Wine makers have generally assumed that their product was to be consumed alongside food and chefs traditionally assume a fine meal will be accompanied by some wine.  In other words, sometimes they are literally made for each other.  However, if a chef designs a meal with a specific beer in mind, the results will be much better than just trying to pair a beer to a dish already thought up.  Keep in mind though, that I don’t think any beers are made with the specific thought that they should be consumed alongside a meal.  So once the chefs are willing to give a little taste of what they can do, it would be best to return the favor.

Map out the relationships between the components of food to the components of beer.

This is something the wine world is just starting to do, but the fact that knowledge exists on this topic, it should be incorporated.  Maybe I’m missing it, but I can’t find where things like acidity or alcohol are being evaluated on standard beer evaluation methodologies.  Maybe they don’t matter when judging the quality of a beer, but they sure do matter when pairing with food.  What happens when you mix the varying acidity levels of beers with spicy foods? Why do parts of beer (i.e. carbonation) go well with salty foods? Ask questions and try stuff out.  This is an area I can certainly help with.  From this experimentation, guidelines can be developed and referenced.

Avoid Dos and Don’ts.  Especially Don’ts. Focus on explaining the experience.

We have plenty of fallacies in the wine world that have manifested themselves into rules about what we should or shouldn’t do instead of just stating why something we are experiencing is happening.  There are plenty of sommeliers that will tell you never to pair a big tannic red with a light fish.  However, if you cook up that fish in a creamy or butter sauce, make sure there is enough salt or citrus acid to reduce the astringency from the tannins, and then force the pairing down someone’s throat, they’d probably think it was pretty good.  Therefore, once you have guidelines based on what is actually being experienced in a pairing, let the chef planning the menu or the person consuming the meal decide whether or not they want to experience a certain aspect of the pairing or not.

Encourage the consumption of beer with a meal. Not necessarily by itself.

This is something America as a whole needs to do a better job of.  There are a whole host of reasons as to why drinking with a meal and not consuming alcohol by itself leads to a healthier lifestyle.  Having the Craft Beer movement be part of this push though would also help establish itself as a beverage that can add to the dinning experience.

Consider alcohol levels.

The alcohol content of wine has slowly been inching upwards so now wines are more commonly reaching the 15-16% ABV levels.  It is generally agreed that these higher levels may perhaps be too alcoholic to blend with a dish because they start to overpower them.  We are also seeing fewer wines being sold in the 11-13% range which is unfortunate, because this is a generally appreciated area for alcohol to be when being paired with food.  So while beer generally sits below the 5% range, some of the more crafty ones are being delivered at higher levels with good results.  Now, I think this will vary with the type of beer being made, but my personal opinion is that the most sublime opportunities for beer and wine pairing will be with beer around 9% ABV.  The point is that the wine world is leaving the bottom level open for you if you’d like to come in out of the rain.

*As an aside, I played Buck Hunter for the first time down in Iowa a couple of weekends ago…I still don’t get it.  

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And if you just put your glass of wine underneath like so...it's gonna taste better.

And if you just put your glass of wine underneath like so…it’s gonna taste better.

A while back, I wrote a post on hyper-decanting and how oxygen affects the aromatics of the wine right before you drink it.  Apparently I wasn’t very clear in one respect though so I’ll be exceptionally clear now: Don’t buy wine aerating accessories.  They are stupid.  Now, I know everybody that read up on my experiment shuns toys like the Vinturi, but apparently people keep buying those things; so as a PSA, please tell them to stop doing so for their own good.  If you’d like, have them read through their patent application and find where it states how their method of aerating the wine will improve the wine.  They won’t be able to because it’s not there.  Fun fact: Vinturi is gimmicky derivation of the Venturi Effect which describes the reduction in fluid pressure experience when the fluid flows through a constricted piece of pipe.  The concept is generally used to mix liquids, gases, or a combination of the two at a different pressure than they would be just dumping them together. 

This is not to say that you shouldn’t decant or swirl your wine up with oxygen (with or without a motor-powered mechanism to do so) to get those aromatic compounds moving about.  But I haven’t found a single, impartial taste test done that shows a Vinturi would be a solid purchase to aid your wine drinking habits.  Even these folks at the Huffington Post who don’t know much about wine couldn’t support it.

Let’s review the 101 on oxygen and wine aromatics:

  • Oxygen is generally avoided during the process of making wine because fermentation is an anaerobic process.
  • When oxygen interacts with finished wine, it aids in releasing aromatic compounds.
  • Different aromatic compounds have different densities.  If we could visually see what we smell in a glass of wine we would see the fruity aromas sitting up at the top and the earthy odors down towards the bottom.  This is why Riedel feels that everyone needs a different glass for every different type of wine, which I feel is slightly flawed logic.
  • There is a finite amount of aromatic compounds in a glass of wine.  The most enjoyment comes when they are at the peak of their release (or escape if you visualize them as imprisoned revolutionaries, as I do) and the varying compounds are being released in balance to one another.  I developed this popular chart and the term “Point of Diminishing Maturity” previously to assist in learning how this works:winearomaticsexperiencechart-0012
  • Usually the length of time a wine will need to be decanted, or to just sit there until you find it best to drink depends a lot on how far along the maturity path the wine already is.  If it’s an old and tannic red wine, it may take up to 2 hours in a decanter to “wake up”.  If it’s a vibrant young wine that just needs a little settling down, it could take 5 minutes.
  • Your preferences as to what you view as being “perfect” will be different than someone else’s.

Given these points, here are some reasons why one would want to decant or hyper-decant a wine:

  • Off-odors exist. A lot of these off-odors (sulfur, garlic, cabbage, rubber) tend to have a lower density than the desirable aromas and thus would “blow off” or dissipate.
  • The wine aromas seem unbalanced.  Pour it out.  Let it sit. See if they readjust themselves.  However, it could be just that the wine itself wasn’t made that well and is inherently unbalanced.
  • The wine seems “Tight” or you don’t seem to be getting much aroma off of it.  I find that a lot of this problem can be resolved by letting the wine warm up a little bit, especially with whites.  Letting the wine sit in the bottle or a decanter for awhile usually has the desired effect too.  You can also do a little Hyper-decanting if you’d like.

Oh, P.S. a milk frother works pretty well for hyper-decanting.  Bonus points: it can be done in your already poured glass of wine and it costs around $5 at Target.  Whir until fully frothy and then let it sit for 5 minutes. Win!

Now here’s Vinturi’s claim:

Traditionally, decanters were used to aerate wine. However, decanting is time consuming, cumbersome, and inconvenient.

Let me correct their marketing departments warping of a fact first:

 Traditionally, decanters were are used to aerate wine.

Now, let’s examine the remaining claims about how evil decanting is.

  • Time consuming.  The active time it takes to decant a bottle of wine is approximately 10-20 seconds depending on how fast you are pouring the wine.  Then you let the wine sit in the decanter between 0-120 minutes depending on the wine.  With decanting mentality, the time you let the wine sit depends on what the wine needs.  With Vinturi mentality, Vinturi give you one length of time for their “processing”.
  • Cumbersome.  Decanting a bottle of wine requires you to not only open a bottle of wine, but to also get a decanter out and pour the wine into it.  If you don’t become exhausted doing that, you may find the energy to drink your wine after this is complete.  The Vinturi method involves holding their device perfectly above your glass and making sure you pour the wine at the correct speed so it doesn’t overflow the device every single time you want a glass of wine.  …Yeah, their method is much less cumbersome.
  • Inconvenient.  I’m not quite sure how they are justifying that their Vinturi device is more convenient than a decanter, but I would back up the claim that it’s easier than hassling with a blender for some hyper-decanting.  However, you probably already have a blender so you wouldn’t have to spend $25 on a new kitchen gadget (compared to a $5 milk frother).  Admittedly, people spend a lot on decanters because they view them as works of art, but that means the decanter is solving a person’s need to feel “arty” as well.

To recap, the amount of oxygen that needs to be mixed with the wine before you deem it to be “perfect” to drink will vary greatly between wines and between people.  Therefore, a “One-size-fits-all” device probably can’t be justified as being appropriate to tackle the problem of getting the wine to the point where you think it’s perfect to drink.  Please file this under evidence supporting my notion that the vast majority of accessories for wine are stupid and pointless.

 

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The box tinkled as I lifted it, catching the ear of the Riedel (pronounced “REED-uhl”) sales rep.  “That’s not good…”  No, it certainly was not good.  A hundred or so boxes later, the damage was totaled up.  Around 80% of the boxes containing 4 different Riedel wine glasses held at least 1 broken glass; generally the Chardonnay glass.  As we carefully separated out the broken glasses from those still intact, the presenter of the tasting session racked her brain to come up with Plan B.  The rest of us furiously, yet carefully wiped down the remaining glasses to a sparkle.  I, only utilizing nine fingers, successfully avoiding getting blood from the tenth on the glasses like a true professional.  It’d probably be more understandable if I had cut myself on one of the broken shards, but no, I had received a paper cut from one of the cardboard boxes.  Yet even with one glass down, the folks from Riedel made their pitch to a large group of conference goers as to why each varietal of wine deserves to be sipped from it’s own specialized glass.

Their reasoning behind having a multitude of glasses is this: each varietal has its own “signature” aromatic profile and they have designed glasses to highlight this.  Oddly, I had previously thought that they had just wanted to diversify their product line and increase sales.  To demonstrate, they pour out a single wine into it’s “appropriate” glass and then have you pour the wine into the other glasses to compare.  They also acquire a “joker” glass, in this case, the squatty wine glass the hotel’s banquet service utilizes to act as a control. Think of the wine glass you get at a wedding.

Halfway through the tasting (or smelling as it were) the sales rep asked if anyone was not convinced yet.  The lone enologist in the room raised her hand. Since I was assisting the event I merely whispered my support to her discreetly.  Truth is, I’m not convinced either.

There are a few things about their pitch that just don’t work for me.  First and foremost is that they pour a wine into it’s assigned glass and tell you that what you smell is exactly how that wine should smell.  After this, they tell you to pour the wine into another glass and point out how it’s different, which they then define as worse.  This is called Priming in the advertising/marketing world  and while effective, I wouldn’t call it the most honest.  Second, they compare their glasses against the worst glass possible.  Third, they only focus on aroma, which to me isn’t the whole picture when choosing your glass.

However, I wanted to give this experiment a fair test.  What would happen if I removed all of the factors that were designed to convince me that the Riedel glasses were not only superior, but variety/style specific ones were needed.  Naturally, I went home and set up another wine-related experiment.  Now, I have a wider variety of glasses than the average duck:

Bucking my habit of minimalism. Bucking my habit of minimalism.

From left to right: Flute purchased from Crate and Barrel, Riedel Sauvignon Blanc glass, Riedel Burgundy glass, Ikea wine glass ($2.99!),  Riedel Cabernet Franc glass, Red wide-bowled glass purchased from Crate and Barrel.

Unlike the Riedel experiment, I opened a bottle of Sonoma Zinfandel and poured the equivalent amount into each glass.  As I went down the line smelling them there were again differences, but I honestly couldn’t put a preference on which glass I would go with solely based on aroma.

Here’s the deal, when you pour wine into a glass, the aromatic compounds that eventually get to our nose get kicked up into the air of the glass.  Various compounds have different densities so they settle at different levels in the air inside the glass.  Your fruity esters will be up top and some of the more earthy aromas will settle more towards the bottom.  This density thing is generally why wine people swirl their glasses like pretentious pricks.  It mixes the compounds of different densities and puts them in the air above the liquid for your olfactory pleasure.  Think of it as an aroma emulsion.

Sommeliers across the world generally deal with three glasses.  A white wine glass which is taller than it is wide, a red wine glass that has a wider bowl than the white wine glass, and a glass for sparkling wine which is thin and tall.  According to standards committees (the ISO) the best glass for tasting is one that is half as wide as it is tall.   Regardless of which glass, the rim should always be a little more narrow than the bowl.  Those are the few specifications that the industry agrees that work.

What I have found is that the wider the bowl of the glass, the faster the volatile chemicals of the wine (the aromas) will dissipate.  For reds that seem “tight”, this is good.  More oxygen hits the wine which releases more parts of the aroma.  This is also why people want to decant wines, leave the bottle open for a few hours before serving, or put the wine in a blender.  Oxygen releases aroma.  BUT, the general trend for American wine drinkers is to be overwhelmed by the aromas.  Therefore, depending on how fast you drink your wine, you want a bowl with a size that matches your appetite for wine.  It should be noted that red wines contain a higher amount of polyphenols in them which are anti-oxidants so that’s why glasses for red wines have historically had wider bowls than for whites.  Therefore, your enjoyment of a tannic red wine might not be different when had in a white wine glass as long as you drank it over a period of a few hours. On the flip side, you might find that the aromas of most white wines diminish too quickly when served in an airy glass.

But back to Riedel. The aroma difference between the Riedel Cabernet Franc glass and my closest non-Riedel glass (The Ikea one) was close to nil.  The minimal differences in the shape of the glass really did not make a difference.  However, the Riedel sales guy left out a few factors which greatly add to the experience of drinking wine, that of the size (and direction) of the lip of the glass, the balance of the glass overall, and the quality of the glass.

Riedel Cab Franc (Left), Ikea (Right) Riedel Cab Franc (Left), Ikea (Right)

A thin lip that points up or slightly out is less obtrusive to putting wine into your mouth (bonus).  A balanced glass will let you roll the stem between your fingers as you gaze into its mystical depths (romantic bonus).  And there is a positive correlation between the quality of the glass and the quality of tone you get when you clink two glasses together gently and then put one up to each of your ears (musical bonus).  In other words, it adds to the experience overall.  Admittedly, the Ikea glass fails at the musicality aspect since it’s cheap glass and if I’m being honest, I’ll generally reach for the Riedel Cabernet Franc or Burgundy glass.  Why? Because they’re damn good quality glasses.  It really has nothing to do with their intent to be used with certain varieties or styles.

To end this post, I will leave you with what I think its the worst possible wine glass ever made.  I’m speaking about the globe glass, which you may find in  nearly every mid-scale Italian restaurant. It makes you feel like you’re drinking upside down when the glass is full and when it’s nearly empty you have to turn upside down, just to get the last few sips.

Great river-view patio. Worst wine glass ever. Great river-view patio. Worst wine glass ever.

So there you have it.  Now let me go find the next trendy Minneapolis cafe that feels the need to serve wine in tiny tumblers.

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Google Gets It Wrong

This would be cool if weren’t wrong. Chianti is a region in Italy that makes wine primarily from Sangiovese grapes. The rest are grape names. And then they threw in “Rose” a style of wine at the end. So close to being useful functionality. Is this why Americans are generally wine illiterate?

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photo-5Readers of this blog will note that I adhere to a strict non-point-scale-giving, non-arbitrary-ranking-system policy.  There is a simple reason for this: No regular person drinking wine is going to have an experience epiphany while manually tallying up observational points.  Who gives a shit?  I will point out the things that stand out in the experience of a wine though to help people find the words to describe what made it enjoyable or not.  However, wine critiquing is something that needs to exist for any crafted product to help set prices and to establish an inherent and generalizable definition of value in the industry.

Therefore, I would be doing you, the reader, a disservice if I didn’t actually know how to critique wine.  Fortunately for me (and you), I do.  I follow a close version to what is taught in the International Sommelier Guild which is where I received some of my training.  In order to demonstrate the steps for reviewing wine, I will be using the Gewürztraminer that I made  the other month which is now strangely disappearing quickly every time friends and family are around.

Appearance

  • Clarity: Is the wine free of cloudiness, crystals, or other floaty things that you’d rather not see in there?  This is relating to how well the wine was filtered and fined.  However, it should be noted that the appearance of crystals (a result of a slip-up in cold stabilization) doesn’t affect the taste or smell.  It should also be noted that some red wines are in fact, unfiltered.  When tannin starts to bind and fall in the wine over time, it settles to the bottom.  This is not a fault. Decanting will take care of this if you don’t like to have debris at the bottom of your glass, but some of us like this guy, do.
  • Color: What color is the wine?  You’ll find “yellow” or “red” doesn’t cut it with the professional crowd or color freaks.  You have to say some shade of “Straw” to gold for a white generally and a variation on ruby or garnet for reds.  Really you’re just trying to determine if the wine is the correct shade of color for the varietal.  If it’s brown, then something is wrong.
  • Color depth and brilliance:  How deep is the shade of color and how much does it shine?  Most wine critiques prefer wines that are rich in color and have a certain shiny characteristic (not unlike dog toys).  If you process a wine too much while fining and filtering, you’ll probably take away some of the luster.   The depth or purity of the color is really a preference though.  Some claim it’s an indicator of overall grape quality, but that’s not commonly recognized.
  • Color pooling:  How much does the color of the wine pool to the center? or is there a pale rim of color around the edge where the wine meets the glass?  This is an indicator of wine maturity (not necessarily age).  It’s not that the more color pools to the center, the better the wine is, it is more of an indicator as to how far along a wine is in its life.

Appearance of my wine:  Clear, deep in pale straw color, no pooling.

Nose

Pictured: perfect form

I have a big nose. I get it.

  • Health:  Does the wine smell healthy?  If the wine smells funky then there’s probably something wrong with it.  This could be a bacterial infestation (Mmmmm), general hygiene problems (usually also relating to bacteria), or way too much sulphur (smelling like farts).
  • Intensity:  How much do you have to work to smell the wine? I range this between getting knocked over the head with smell down to needing to dig your nose in the glass to get the faintest whiff.  A lot of critiques seem to like to be hit over the head.
  • Aroma/bouquet:  What are you smelling?  There is a lot of debate between the difference of aroma and bouquet so you’ll see them used interchangeably.  The best definition I have heard is that aromas are the compounds that are inherent in the grapes and bouquet are the compounds that come about during the wine making process.  So if you don’t know what the difference is this one might take a little work, but I can guarantee you that most critiques don’t know either.  The easy way out is just to list what you smell.  Then you verify that the wine you are smelling smells like what it is.  For example, a common Chardonnay aroma from cooler climate areas is Green Apple.  Does your Chardonnay have a Green Apple smell to it?  It should also be noted that humans can only distinguish between 4 different aromatic compounds at a time.  If someone is telling you more, you can call BS.

Nose of my wine: Healthy, mild intensity, aromas of peaches and lemons.

Palate

Marginally unrelated image.

Marginally unrelated image.

  • Sweetness:  How much residual sugar is residing in the wine?  This ranges from sweet down to dry (with an addition of “brut” for sparklers).  Despite what most think, the vast majority of wine produced resides in the dry and off-dry category.  The measure of actual sugar in the wine should not be confused with the perception of sweetness that is mostly caused by…
  • Acidity:  How much saliva rushes into your mouth after sipping the wine?  If you ever hear someone call a wine “flabby”, they are stating that the acid of the wine is much too low to balance out the wine.  As a general rule, the colder the climate, the  more acid is in a wine.  Therefore, if you like high acid Rieslings, don’t expect to like one from central California.
  • Viscosity:  How heavy does the wine feel in your mouth?  Is it vapid and wraith-like or does it have the characteristics of an iron fist wrapped in sweet sweet velvet?  You’ll see this referred to as “Body” a lot, but I find that term is a bit vague for my taste.

Plus we aren’t supposed to sexualize wine descriptions anymore. STAY BACK SEXY PURPLE-ISH PINK WOMAN!!

  • Alcohol:  How much alcohol is in the wine?  Yes, trained tasters can identify the alcohol content of a wine just by tasting it; usually within 0.5%.  Try me.
  • Sound wave:  I’m pretty sure no one else does this, but I can feel how the wine floats through my mouth and visualize it like the shape of a sound wave.  Does it peak early and fizzle out?  Does it crescendo into infinity?  I love this description because I think if every bottle of wine only showed the sound wave and maybe a few aroma descriptors, wine buyers would have zero risk in picking up a wine and knowing if they liked it or not.
  • Tannin:  That cotton-wrapped feeling your tongue endures when drinking some red wines, coffee, or tea.  Tannins bind to your saliva proteins which causes the dry feeling. Anything aged in oak will have tannin and anything which stays in contact with the grape solids for a while (reds) will some degree of tannin as well.  The amount of tannin should be appropriate for the varietal and the style.  The heavier the red, the more tannin it generally has.  The longer it is supposed to have been in oak, the more tannin is imparted into the wine as well.
  • Flavors:  Similar to the aroma/bouquet of the nose.  Do they also appear on your tongue or are they different.  Same reasoning too.
  • Complexity:  How much depth does the wine have?  Or how long does it make you think about what’s in it?
  • Balance:  Do all of these factors balance together or does one stick out to some degree?  Just in case there was any doubt: A balanced wine is a better wine.
  • Finish:  After you swallow or spit (which is acceptable when tasting, but for some reason the ladies seem to think that’s hilarious) how long does the wine linger with you?  Does it quickly dissipate or does it stick around?  The length of finish can generally be tied to the level of quality of the wine.

Palate of my wine: Off-dry, with fresh-acidity, silky viscosity, around 12% alcohol, a sound wave with an even fade-in and fade-out reaching a moderate height, fairly simple in complexity, but well balance and a lingering finish.

So all-in-all my wine turned out to be pretty decent considering I was expecting it to taste no better than something that came out of jug.  If I were going to put this wine out on the market, I could probably get $12-13 for a bottle at retail.  Not bad for a first attempt.

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The best wine is made in…the garage?

Do you ever wonder how many wine critics and writers have actually made wine? I’m not talking about a lifetime of wine making before putting up their wine thieves and turning to writing and criticizing, but just making a batch of homemade wine.  The answer, as you can probably assume, is well under 5% of professional wine writers and critics.  Admittedly, I have not done a complete survey of those in the trade and I can most certainly find exceptions, but recently I picked up the New York Times’ anthology of their wine articles over the past 30 years (more on that in the future) and it has left me with some lingering doubts.  I make this accusation, not from a high horse of self-serving sanctimony, as I myself had never embarked upon a wine making journey until recently, but from a self-disciplined critique of my own limited body of knowledge.   How can one, after all, make comment on a final product, without truly experiencing how it is made?

This is much like “Tech Writers” making critique on the latest iPhone model and its lack of ability to direct them to the correct Starbucks.  Their own electronics manufacturing and software development experience may never have exceeded cleaning the dark colored grit off of their mouse every few weeks, but still they comment.  The title of my wee little blog has been The Wine and Food Experience for a reason. Is experience not the best educator?

One may have noticed that I don’t do any critiquing of wines here.  Sure, I poke fun at wines that are made specifically to cost a certain amount, but I don’t have a 100 point scale and I never, ever review a wine for the sake of reviewing a wine.  I’m focused on my singular experience with a wine and usually its accompaniment with food.  However, I realized in my semi-professional career as a Wine Guy (official title) that I may be asked to judge wine at some point where my opinion would actually have an impact on people who produce the stuff.  Needless to say, I couldn’t tell someone they didn’t de-gas their wine enough which led to an unpleasant prickling on my tongue as I sipped when I haven’t de-gassed a wine myself, now could I?  Shameless.

So a few weeks ago I headed to Northern Brewer , a nationally renown retailer of home brewing equipment and picked up all the goodies for making some wine.  I had just started a full bathroom remodel on an off week from traveling and I figured why not add something else to the plate?  I settled for making an off-dry Gewürztraminer because I wanted some latitude with the amount of finesse needed and most importantly, it was the cheapest option. No, I didn’t crush my own grapes, I just bought a “wine kit” which comes with the juice in concentrated form, the additives, and the yeast.  Amazingly convenient!

Now, wine making is not overly difficult by any means.  People have been doing it for thousands of years with fewer of the tools available than I picked up in 5 minutes of shopping.  But to do it well, takes care.  For you, I have compiled some general lessons from the field of small-batch wine making that transfer into your experience.  I’ll be giving out bottles as soon as it’s bottled, so some of you may get early Christmas presents!

Guess what’s going in your stocking?

Clean, clean, clean, clean, clean, clean, clean.  It is so easy to get things dirty when you’re making wine.  Dropping things into cloudy juice and needing to fish them out, for example.  Taking samples, the transferring, the pouring, the mixing; every step is a disaster area waiting to happen.  If you’ve ever had a sense of dirtiness when you are tasting wine, you’re witnessing a slip in hygiene.  I’m not talking about the “Sitting in a rustic barn, with faint wisps of manure” dirtiness, I’m talking about the “Something just died in my mouth” dirtiness.  This is why most wineries put custodial duties at the top of their priority list.

The right tools, however few, are essential.  Northern Brewers basic wine kit was missing a few things in my opinion: A wine thief (the thing you see people dipping into barrels to take out wine samples), a thermometer, pH testing strips, and a drill-mounted mixing tool.

A note on additives.  Wine is held in high esteem by a large number of people because making it is generally a reductive process.  Some people also get very high and mighty about this.  In its purest form, the winemaker merely shepards the grapes from their round form into an alcoholic beverage.  This is called Natural winemaking.  They use the yeast that comes naturally on the grapes, no sulphur , no nothin’.  99% of winemakers want their wine to last more than a few months in the bottle and therefore at least add a singular additive of Sulphur. These same winemakers also choose to inoculate their wine juice with chosen yeast strands instead of the natural yeast.  Of course, there are a whole host of things that can be added and done to the wine that aren’t necessarily in that “pure” realm.  Here’s the list of acceptable additives for wine in the U.S. and the list of acceptable processes.  If you’d prefer to drink your wine without an edge of disgust, you should probably avoid clicking on those links.  BUT, additives do actually serve a purpose.  The ensure that fermentation happens, they make the wine clear and not cloudy, they smooth out the flavor, etc. and so forth.  So if you absolutely demand consistent wine, that’s perfectly clear at a cheap price, it’s best not to get worked up about additives.  For my endeavor I added Yeast to convert sugar to alcohol, Bentonite for stabilization before fermentation, Metabisulphite for preservation, Sorbate to control foaming, and Isinglass for clarity.  Now most of these small amounts of additives latch on to particles in the wine and drag them to the bottom which are left in the bottom of the tanks before being bottled, so wine can still claim to be a reductive process.

 

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Being from Minneapolis, I have to be somewhat of a Hipster.  We are the Hipster capitol of whatever, as you know.  I’m not the glasses, flannel, and skinny jeans type; no (that’s so passé), but it is certainly not beneath me to state that something that has now become popular is suddenly uncool.  That something is the wine and cheese pairing party trend.  The mid-2000s called; they want their snobby party idea back.

Like most things I oppose, this one is mostly on principal.  I won’t belittle it because it gathers people together to quaff large quantities of wine while enjoying cheese on the side and a feeling of “fanciness” in the air.  No,  I fully support people who enjoy that sort of thing taking part in that.  It is the fact that the event is a complete sham and people are only maintaining the illusion that they are learning something about wine that I just won’t stand for.  And since I won’t call it out when some guy is talking about how amazing his wine and cheese parties are at a wedding reception and it’s “Just something [he] likes to do”, which apparently makes him a “Wine Guy”; I will do it here.   I’m so passive-aggressive.

So let me lay it out for you: why you should step it up a notch at your next wine-inspired event.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to crack down on the Kraft cheese.  That isn’t the issue.  I’m not even going to crack down on the casual appearance of Two Buck Chuck: still not the problem.  The problem is food science.

Cheese is composed of fat, protein. and salt.  That’s all of it.  The balance of which will cause you to define it as a creamy cheese (i.e. Brie), a salty one (i.e. Aged Cheddar) or something in between (i.e. Gouda).  Plastic-y is something else entirely.  Hopefully, you read the results of my rebelliousness previously and will at least pick up that salt has a certain affect on red wine.  Fats and proteins have long been paired with red wines because they bind with the tannins, thus reducing the cotton-mouth feeling you get from them.  Salt, as previously reported, has a similar effect, and also reduces bitterness.  If you add a couple grains of kosher salt to your coffee, you’ll get a similar smoothing as adding cream.  In fact, milk is still an acceptable additive in numerous parts of the world to ease the bitterness and astringency on overly tannic red wines.

Then there’s acid.  Acid in wine can help lighten up a heavy dish by “cutting through” some of the fat.  A dash of vinegar or citrus in a heavy cream sauce or soup can turn a dish from bland and heavy to focused and structured.  Voilá.  Thus, higher acid in wine cuts through heavy and creamy cheeses.

So here are the two experiences you’ll ever notice at a wine and cheese party. First, when you have a creamy or salty cheese with a red wine, you are masking the tannins or “softening” them in wine lingo and left with the fruit of the wine.  This generally encourages those who aren’t too fond of tannins to drink more red wine.  Then, if you pair an acidic wine with a creamy cheese, you’ll be ok with eating more of that cheese.  At the end of the night, you’re primary experience will be, “Wow, I ate a lot of cheese and drank a lot of wine.”  You will have spent most the evening masking certain items of either cheese or wine.  This is like erasing the horrible lead guitarist in the band and not replacing them with anyone better.

Wine and food pairing, much like a good band is about balance.  Everything has to play a part to create a more complex and enduring experience.  As someone who plays music solo a lot, I can tell you that I crave, crave, crave a full band sometimes to make it more interesting for the listener.  Do you want to listen to a drum solo the rest of your life? I didn’t think so.

When I’m doing a wine and food pairing event, I admit I’ll occasionally have a cheese and chocolate course at the end with a tannic red.  But it’s to show the specific effect the elements of cheese have on tannins in red wine. That’s a drum solo within a song.  Rock on!

Therefore, if you truly want to make the night an interesting experience over and over again, you have to change the mix of interactions between the wine and the food.  There are five different basic tastes you can play around with.  Have something sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and savory (umami) and then see what happens with each of those and the chosen wines.  You will learn something, I guarantee it.  From then on, you can taste a food or wine and ask yourself what you think is missing or what more you are craving to make that sensation balanced.

This self-impression of balance is what is being referred to when someone says,”This pairing did/did not work for me.”  But only by getting beyond wine and cheese events will you be able to answer the most important part to that, which is why.  There’s certainly a time for having a little wine and cheese as a snack, because sometimes simplicity and comfort are what we are craving, but that one note solo is not going to make for an entertaining evening again and again.

As a side note, if you really want to seem cool at these parties, use my music metaphor and tell people you need a little more of the bass line on a certain pairing trial and they’ll be astounded.

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