Maria Broadbent, of Bury St Edmunds restaurant CASA, delves into the intricacies of food and wine pairings
I started to write this article about food and wine pairing. I then asked myself out loud ‘WHY does wine taste different with different foods?’ I then went on a Google rollercoaster of discovery, from TED talks, through science journals to memoirs of wine critics. I will give you some pointers on trying wines with food here. . . but the science and psychology is more interesting
The key fact I learned was that taste and flavour, two words that are interchanged at whim, are not the same thing. Taste is what your tastebuds do – which is detect which of the five basic tastes you currently have in your mouth: sweet, sour, nitter, salty and umami. Flavour on the other hand is what occurs when your other senses join in the party with taste!
When we smell something edible we do this in two ways, firstly before we eat it, and secondly during or after we eat it. The second way is the part that contributes to the flavour – it is the smell we take in through our nose and the back of the throat. Try eating a piece of citrus fruit whilst holding your nose – then release your nose and try again.
Touch also plays a part. This is the texture, temperature, bubbles, chilli-tingling etc.
Hearing also engages with taste – a crunch crisp and a sizzling pan, or perhaps the gentle hissing fizz of champagne.
Finally – it is often said we eat with our eyes. How food looks and is presented is important; colour, the plate it is served on and general presentation all play a part.
Interestingly, our senses communicate with each other to ensure we are eating stuff that is good for us! Because the brain is so involved in the process, it introduces a whole raft of other factors. It will be assessing how tired, hungry, happy and healthy you are. It then puts all these things together to create what Ali Bouzari, a food scientist, describes as an instant status update based on what you are eating. It is worth taking 20 minutes to watch his TED talk called ‘FLAVOR’.
He concludes saying that it is so important we properly engage with the food we are eating, where we are and who we are with because these are the memories we will encapsulate in that flavour.
Smell is most often the precursor to taste, and is a sense that is not filtered through the reticular formation (the bit of the brain that stops sensory overload). This means that, unlike visual and audio stimulus, smell goes straight to your central cortex. This, in turn, means it is potentially the most evocative of all senses, immediately transporting you back to a moment where you had previously smelt the same smell.
Once we understand the science of taste and flavour, it makes the concept of wine pairing more logical because, for most of us, it enhances the ambience. Different people like different wines and there should be no rules around what goes with what. It is totally your preferred flavour combinations that matter. This is not to say, though, that there are not tastes that fight with each other when combined.
Always bear in mind that when you chew food certain physical and chemical processes in the mouth break it down, releasing complex flavours and aromas. The saliva and food combine hopefully to give us pleasure by dissolving compounds and transmitting them via nerves to taste centres in the brain.
When you drink wine you might feel the acidity first, and then the richness of fruit comes in, followed by the sweetness of oak. It is worth noting that saliva makes an impact on those experiences, too.
It’s well known that certain foods and wines taken together in the mouth enhance each other. Wine experts will recommend Cabernet Sauvignon and blue cheese – quoting a symbiotic effect. The sweetness of the cheese brings out the sweetness of the wine’s fruit, while the cheese’s creamy fat neutralises Cabernet’s tannins and acids: a perfect combination. Another great pairing is sushi or indeed smoked salmon and sparkling wine, particularly rosé.
On the other hand, sushi – raw fish – is repelled by oak. Paired with a big, barrel-fermented Chardonnay, sushi will revert to a fishy taste!
The American chef Julia Child (credited with bringing French cuisine to the USA) was quoted as saying: “Great combinations of wine and food are unforgettable. Knowledge of wines is a lifetime hobby, and the only way to learn is to start drinking and enjoying them, comparing types, vintages, and good marriages of certain wines with certain foods.”
If you want to go on your own voyage of discovery there is plenty of information available on wines, and there are also various apps available (Vivino is a popular one amongst my friends). At CASA I have, selflessly on your behalf, been searching out new wines I believe pair well with the wide range of flavours within our dishes.
I wanted to find wines that have reasonably universal appeal and yet give customers the chance to try different grape varieties and wine styles. We serve them by the glass, and on Thursdays we give away a FREE 50ml measure when you order the paired tapas. During my arduous research I found it enlightening to discover a couple of our dishes contained components that we were unable to match with any wine. The solution – change the menu of course!
THE WINE LIST
The wines I have introduced at CASA in the last couple of weeks, and we are currently showcasing, include:
Viñas del Vero Gewürztraminer 2018
A lovely Spanish wine with a delicious floral and citrus aroma. Easy drinking and fabulous with anything spicy – or just on its own with good company!
Albariño “Ruta 49” Viña Cartin 2017
Creamy, clean, and as it is from Galicia, home of seafood tapas, just wonderful with Garlic King Prawns or Chorizo & Prawns.
Rioja Blanco Mi Villa Bodegas Perica 2018
Crisp, clean and crunchy! Lovely with courgetti fritters and homemade tzatziki.
Tareni Grillo Sicilia
Citrus, jasmine and orange blossom are all present in this delicate and elegant wine from Sicily. It is at its most interesting when paired with the salmon goujons and orange tartare sauce as it brings out the citrus beautifully,
Finca Constancia Parcela Verdejo 2018
This is a really interesting and different Spanish white wine which goes as happily with meatballs as it does with cheese and almonds. Fresh and creamy, stone fruit and herbs with integrated oak aromas.
Constancia Selección 2016, VdlT Castilla
This red is a blend of six grape varieties from Spain and creates a complex accompaniment to almost any tapas. The grapes were hand picked and aged in a mixture of American and French oak barrels for six-12 months. The result is a full-flavoured wine, with intense berry aromas, beautifullyintegrated sweet oak and hints of leather and spice.
Rubicone Egot Merlot Sangiovese IGT Cevico 2018
You get more cedar scents from the Sangiovese than the smooth blackberry of the Merlot. Intense red colour with delicately herbaceous fragrance, lightly spiced with cherry notes. A rounded, soft flavour, good all-round wine. This is another easy-drinking wine for those who prefer the softer notes of Italian reds. Great with all the meze-style dishes, and I particularly like it with the feta and pomegranate salad.
Cidre Bouché, Les Vergers du Cotentin
Prefer cider? This artisan Normandy cider from a family-run business has good levels of fruit with hints of vanilla and not too much unnecessary fizz! Gorgeous with the belly pork or smoked tofu.
THE EXPERT OPINION
"I love the three wines you have listed from our Gonzalez Byass family in Spain. . .
Our award-winning winemaker Beatriz Paniagua makes the two Finca Constancia wines, she is passionate about her winemaking. The Verdejo has such good quality, flavour and mouthfeel/texture for a wine of this price. . . a really good food wine, which can deal with meals with lots of flavours that you serve at CASA. The red is silky smooth and well made, it’s great with food or on its own.
The Vinas del Vero Gewurztraminer is a slightly off dry wine, made from a grape variety that is normally grown in France or Germany, but this is our very fine Spanish version from the Somantano region in Northern Spain. A beautiful spot, where you can see the Pyrenees mountains from the vineyards. This wine is a heavenly match to a dish that has sweet and savoury combined like pork and apple sauce!"
Melissa Dracott, national sales director for wine distributor Gonzalez Byass UK
WINE TASTING TIPS
* Clear your palate first and try the wine on its own.
* Admire its ‘legs’ (these are the dribbles that run back down the side of the glass) they give you a clue to the viscosity of the wine.
* Tilt the glass against a white background to get a true look at the colour.This is particularly enlightening for reds as you can see how pink/red brown they are.
* Swill the glass to release the ‘nose’ – give it a good sniff – what do you smell?
* Take a reasonable sip and let it wash around your mouth – if you can, without dribbling or sounding ridiculous, then suck some air in to aerate your mouth. This is meant to intensify the flavours because of the oxygen.
* Finally, if you are being very ‘professional’,many wine drinkers regard a ‘long finish’ in the mouth as an attractive attribute of a good wine.
If you want to learn more, this is a great website for doing just that: winefolly.com/deep-dive/how-to-taste-wine-develop-palate
If you prefer to try this in a sociable atmosphere – we are launching ‘CLUB CASA – wine & more’, with tastings and chances to meet the winemakers, talk to the merchants and come to exclusive tastings. It is all about having fun whilst expanding your eating and drinking experience.
Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
Tel 01284 701313
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