From molecular gastronomy to minerality, from the latest in iPad winelists, to the return of beverage carts, from texturometers to China’s tradition of KAMPAI, the flying fingers of WineAlign’s intrepid Treve Ring capture an entire day of presentations by leading global thinkers in the realm of food and wine at the Wine & Culinary International Forum in Barcelona. Says Treve: “What I clearly realized is that conventional borders to food and wine no longer exist. The new frontier is breaking through glass beliefs of pairing, and using science and chemistry to better appreciate how certain things react together”.
Setting the Scene:
Journalists, sommeliers and chefs from around the world descended on Barcelona last weekend for the second Wine & Culinary International Forum. Held every two years, the event was founded by Torres Wines, created to focus on the relationship between wine and gastronomy. This year’s theme is Creativity and Market, and the global presenters linked to this thread. As Miguel Torres Maczassek (Jr.). shared in his welcome address, he feels that some branches of cuisine, especially molecular gastronomy, have moved away from the marriage of food and wine. This weekend of seminars and tastings and workshops, uniting palates and minds from around the world, investigated the importance of uniting food and wine effectively. And inclusively as well – demonstrating how science and molecular studies can aid our understanding of perfect pairings.
I arrived to Barcelona with 70 journalists from 15 nations, and was happy to discover I was representing Canada alongside Toronto’s Tony Aspler. Live translation through headsets allowed all the various languages in the room to understand each presenter. We may not all understand the same language, but we all speak food and wine.
The brief below is a bit rough and tumble, the result of my typing as fast as I could over the course of eight hours. Since not everyone could be there for this important collaboration, here follows a recap of the speakers, and my takeaway thoughts:
9:30 h. Welcome by Miguel A. Torres (Sr.), President of Bodegas Torres, and Rafael Ansón, President of the Royal Academy of Gastronomy.
9:45 h. “The Sommelier’s psychology and the training of Sommeliers”, by Gérard Basset, World’s Best Sommelier 2010, OBE, MS, MW and MBA.
Wisdom from THE top wine professional in the world, on what it takes to be a good sommelier.
First, sommeliers need to love people. Second they need to be a salesman. Basset recognizes that some become offended by the term salesman, especially ones that see themselves as ‘artists’, but it’s a job, and the end result is making money. Sommeliers very much need to understand people, the profile of the guest, and matching wine to them. This will ensure happy guests = repeat guests. If a wine is out of stock, the somm doesn’t tell that to the guest. He/she brings out a more expensive or better bottle for guest, and sells it at same price. Service is key. Food is very important, and he’s very proud of the menu in his restaurant, but “wine comes first. No food comes until wine is ready.” Sommeliers should read blogs, especially Jamie Goode’s Wine Anorak, keep up on news, magazines, be well educated and up to date. Sommeliers must travel, meet and taste. “For me, I can’t imagine going to any holiday destination without wine”. When he was preparing for competitions, study is most important, but it’s more than just wine preparation. Basset prepared with a business coach, memory work champions, acting coach and psychologist. It’s all about the wine, but it’s about more than just wine.
10:15 h. “When wine inspires the dish”, by Josep Roca, from El Celler de Can Roca, 3* Michelin and World’s Best Restaurant 2013.
This master molecular gastronomy chef gave insight into how he works with scientific tools to better match food and wine.
Implementing a scientific approach to food and wine is difficult because humans are all different in their sensory perception. What he has researched is how different elements that all humans process affect food and tasting – the mechanics. For instance, how saliva affects what we perceive as well as benefit digestion. Aromas also have a major impact, as does texture. Roca wanted to quantify texture of his restaurant’s dishes to better understand how to match wine on a textural basis, so he works with a “texturometer”. Temperature affects texture so that is also closely controlled and timed. He likes working with wine in his dishes because it’s a fluid, and easily enters the body in a seamless way. Instruments and tools in the kitchen allow him to create very special, avant garde, cutting edge flavours and texture based on wine. For instance, he can take the alcohol from wine, freezing and dehydrate (removing water and leaving molecules intact), employ powdering affects and carbonation. Lyophilization is a specialized freeze dehydration technique traditionally used for preservation. Roca also uses other parts of the grape plant – like seeds, grape leaves, etc. He also distils the aromas of spirits, and reintroduces them into his dishes.
11:00 h. “Minerals: harmony through terroir”, by Jamie Goode, author of ‘The science of wine’.
The highly travelled and educated Dr. Goode, a WineAlign friend, is one of the most influential wine bloggers on the globe and author of two very important books, The Science of Wine, and the brand new Authentic Wine.
Dr. Jamie Goode
Goode prefaces that while he’s interested in science, and a trained scientist (phD), he’s not a scientific fundamentalist. He is always questioning.
He describes Terroir by the following:
1st – the way that the quality of a vineyard affects quality of wine (slope, aspect, etc.)
2nd – Sense of place
3rd – Gout de terroir. Related to the soils in which the vines are growing
4th – Actual physical vineyard site itself.
Many definitions of terroir eliminate the human influence. Human intervention – viti and vini – may also confer a shared sense of place to wine. The mechanisms of terroir also need to be considered:
Chemical – light, water, air, elements
Grapes – starting place for wine production – entirely through photosynthesis and biochemistry.
Soil – water and dissolved mineral ions. Scientific consensus is that water availability is key – not soil chemistry. But experience of winegrowers testifies that soil chemistry is important. The bulk of soil mineral content comes from decaying organic material, not decomposed rock.
Microbial activity – breaks down organic matter into mineral ions. Water, food, oxygen affect microbial growth. Oxygen is more available in uncompacted soil.
In conventional agriculture, there is very little organic matter in the soil, thus little microbial activity. Fungicides kill off not just fungi but also a high proportion of bacterial and actinomycetes. The importance of soil microlife makes nutrients more readily available to vines. Organics encourage the soil microlife to develop. Root exudates from plants are important in encouraging growth of soil microlife. Vine age obviously has an effect, in part because of the vine’s expanded root system, encouraging better soil microlife vine interactions. Increased soil microlife could lead to more minerality in wines because the roots can absorb more living things.
Is there a connection with minerality and ageability of the wines? Interesting question not yet answered by science.
Minerality – a relatively new tasting term. Not used much before 1980s – Steven Spurrier started in the mid 1980’s. Jordi Ballester, the leading expert on sensory evaluation showed that there is a cultural basis for the term and its use (in the Loire it is used frequently, for example). The problem is that many people use it to mean different things, therefore there isn’t a clear consensus about what we’re all talking about. Plus, he deftly noted, when people run out of descriptors for a wine, they often throw in “mineral” as a filler – not helping.
For Goode, there are 3 types of minerality in wine:
1 – Mineral smells – matchstick, gunflint, volatile sulphur (mercaptans)
2 – Mineral tastes 1 – high acidity, wet stones
3 – Mineral tastes 2 – salty, textural, grainy
11:30 h. “Thinking outside the wine list: innovative approaches to selling wine in America’s top restaurants”, by Lucas Paya, José Andrés ThinkFoodGroup’s Wine Director 2008-2014, presented by Ray Isle, ‘Food and Wine Magazine’ journalist.
I’ve long admired Ray Isle’s writing, and insight on the American and worldwide drinking scene. Together with Paya, they thoroughly dissected modern winelists in America today, trends and successes.
In many US restaurants, winelists are about breaking boundaries and encouraging wine programs in a traditionally non-wine drinking culture. Most wine sales in the States are through wine stores – but restaurants are seen as trendsetters and arbiters of what people should be purchasing and aspire to purchase. The younger the group of people, the more they are purchasing in restaurants (millennials rank highest with 18% purchased in restaurants).
Creativity in winelists is important to make your mark in a competitive restaurant landscape, and winelists have been turned into a utensil to convey concept of the restaurant. Examples for layout: price, location, grape, weight, colour, alcohol, age, alphabetic order, producer.
Interesting notion – selling wine by weight. 1 mg of wine correlates to 1ml of wine, and pricr and sell accordingly. The Coravin has allowed huge advancements in serving wine in restaurants due to its precision and quality. Guests tried a glass of Mas La Plana 2009 that was first “Coravined” in June 2014 and it tasted as fresh and unspoiled as if it had just been opened.
A great tip on reading a winelist from Isle – “If Veuve is overpriced, the entire winelist will be overpriced.” BAM.
What current trends in winelists?
– Flat pricing – all bottles @ $50, for example
– By soil type (Husk, South Carolina) – Limestone, Volcanic, Alluvial, Granite
– Promotions that go beyond your restaurant – like Summer of Riesling (Terroir, NYC) and collaborations with other sommeliers, restaurants.
– By flow chart/pictograms/diagrams – playful, self directed, easy and short
– iPad lists, allowing customers to instantly look up specs, photos, tasting notes, pairing suggestions, critics’ scores
– Bringing back the traditional – amphora, biodynamic and natural in winemaking, and decanting, sabring, port tongs, drinks cart, wine casks in service.
12:15 h. “Wine in Mediterranean diet”, by Dr. Ramón Estruch, senior internal medicine consultant at Barcelona’s Clínic Hospital, and Domingo Valiente, Executive Director of Mediterranean Diet Foundation.
The Mediterranean Diet is a major theme of the forum. Current science shows that Mediterranean countries Italy and Greece have much lower coronary heart disease than elsewhere in the world. Genetic factors proved improbable; therefore the life habits like diet and exercise are leading contributors.
Mediterranean Diet, like many diets, can be thought of as a pyramid. I found it quite interesting that the bottom of the Mediterranean diet pyramid shows a large social aspect – dining with friends – as of great importance. Other key items to intake include extra virgin olive oil, breads, grains, fruit and veg, olives, nuts, seeds, white meat (vs. red), moderate wine, fatty fish. Substitute refined cereals to whole grain and reduce salt and red meat. And completely avoid soda, commercial bakery sweets and pastries.
13:15 h. Cocktail-lunch offered by Nandu Jubany + Tour around Bodegas Torres’ worldwide wines.
15:30 h. “Far East and wine: how to make it popular”. Journalist and winemaker Víctor de la Serna interviews Jeannie Cho Lee, first MW of Asia.
No one knows Asia and wine better than Jeannie Cho Lee, the first Asian MW, and instrumental in introducing Bordeaux to Asia. She was interviewed by influential Spanish journalist Victor de la Serna.
Cho Lee remembers 1997 as the first boom of wine into Hong Kong and mainland China. Now, 14 years later, she is seeing change in the wine habits of Asians, but it’s still a very slow uptake to culturally accepting wine with a meal. The Kampai culture still rules – wither you’re drinking 85 Bordeaux or 67 Cheval Blanc, you are to chug your glass in a social setting when Kampai is called.
Cho Lee is seeing a gradual uptake of having certain wines paired to certain courses – especially in fine dining restaurants in Westernized cities. One major issue blocking wine culture in Asia is space – there is no room for wine storage in a typical Asian home/apartment or restaurant. The very highest quality sushi, tempura, soba, ramen restaurants don’t think of nor have room for wine storage and service.
In Cho Lee’s opinion, an after-dinner drinking venue is needed: “Starbucks for wine” – casual lounges. She recommends stop fighting the culture and try and fit wine into already existing patterns. The Chinese domestic wine industry makes up 80% of the wine consumption and punitive taxes stomp the growth of import wine. The vast majority of wine imported is red, only 5% is white (better marketed as GOLD wine). Of highest importance – wine must offer value.
Restaurants are hugely hesitant to hire a sommelier – because the hired somm will know more than the owner/chef, and the restaurant will have to trust in the somm. There is very little shared glory to go around. Similarly, there is a hesitation to promote chefs – because then the chef will have a name and become popular and possibly leave the restaurant. Cho Lee noted a massive protectionist mechanism in place. On a positive note, WSET enrolment for levels 1-3 is highest worldwide in Asia = change is coming. On a negative note, women barely register in the fine wine scene; the higher the price point, the fewer the women involved.
16:00 h. Master tasting: “Great family wines – The Primum Familiae Vini”, by Christophe Brunet, Wine Ambassador of the PFV, and Fiona Beckett, journalist specialized in harmonies between wine and gastronomy.
The crowd was very excited for this presentation – from the highly regarded Brunet, noted wine professional, and the widely read Beckett, respected author of 23 books on wine and food pairing and with a hugely popular website Matching Food & Wine, 10 years in the running. As expected, Beckett’s pairings were insightful and acute.
Primum Familiae Vini is an international association of some of the best (11) winemaking families in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal – initially founded by Torres. To gain inclusion in the private group, you have to have a minimum of 5 generations producing wine. It’s evident that the group is united by a passion for the pursuit of excellence, using their collective expertise to share, educate and train the younger generations. Brunet introduced one wine from each family, and Beckett offered her **pairing suggestions**, based on how the wine was showing at the exact moment. Scores are Treve’s, tasting at the forum.
Pol Roger Brut 2004.
Classic. Mineral and toast, shell, lemon pith, pear nose. Very elegant, shell, salt, lees, almond, citrus – lovely finessed acidity. Proper champers. 92 points.
**Vintage champagne has an undeniable umami. Pair with freshly roasted chicken – with well roasted chicken skin.
Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot 2011, Marquis de Laguiche, Joseph Drouhin
Cream, apple and vanillan pear. Stone, perfume. Fresh, creamy palate, white blossoms. lemon curd, Cheerios/grain and fantastic stone spice and length. 20% oak, balance is bang on. 92 points.
**Good quality raw shellfish, crab, langoustine, lobster risotto, scallops. Creamy fennel puree, caramelized cauliflower puree.
Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2013, Egon Müller-Scharzhof
Mosel. 2013 was the lowest yield since 1945 – hard for Egon to send 11 bottles for this tasting! Hugely expressive nose. White blossoms, talc, earth, truffle notes, lees, light botrytis notes, lime pulp. Delicate floral, crystallized lemon, incredible intensity and concentration (11 HL/HA). Off dry, with extreme precise balance between sweetness and lazer acidity. A baby. Great length. Wood ferment yields no wood flavours. 93 points.
**Thai food – pomelo, chilis, tamarind, lemongrass
Guidalberto 2012, Tenuta San Guido
Cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend. Earth, light cherry, savoury, slightly salty. Light red, stone, saline character, black cherry, raspberry. Slightly grippy, light tannins. 90 points.
**Tuna, octopus, black rice, rabbit, shrimp
Tignanello 2011, Marchesi Antinori
1970 was their 1st vintage, kicking off the Super Tuscan regime. 80% sangiovese, with cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon. Black cherry, upright structure, floral perfume, liquorice, black cocoa, concentration, and softer tannin – a bit downy. 90 points.
**Lamb with herbs, Korean steak, Parmigiano Reggiano
Chateau de Beaucastel 2008, Familie Perrin
Have used no chemicals for 60 years. Use all 13 grape varieties allowed in Chateauneuf-du-Pape for this blend (rare). Savoury, aged wood, tobacco, black cherry, leaf, stone. Very layered flavours, Amazing spice, cinnamon, black flowers, savoury spice, black cherry, strawberry, gamy, leaf, herbs, straight up structure, but tannins well integrated. Generous, surprisingly fresh acidity, benefit of the vintage = best of both worlds. 93 points
**Braised short ribs, beef stew, comforting foots
Valbuena 5° Ano 2010, Vega Sicilia
“Best vintage of Valbuena we’ve ever made” according to Vega Sicilia. Not released yet, we had a sneak preview. Tempranillo, merlot, cabernet sauvignon. Black plum, cedar wood spice, black perfumed flowers, Slightly gummy tannins, dense fruit, light eucalypt/branch notes and oak still present. Very young – long way to go. 89 points.
**Perfect steak wine. 28 day or 55 day – look for something with age.
Petit Mouton 2005, Mouton Rothschild
2nd label Petit invented 1930. Browning. Bretty as heck. Underneath, lovely dried raspberry perfume, cherry, leather, aged wood. Light floral vein, stone, cherry. Medium body, fine tannins, graceful and stately. 90 points
**Well aged lamb – like mutton. Or meat pie with fantastic pastry.
Reserva Real 2010, Bodegas Torres
The king of Spain was visiting the winery, and Torres knew he liked Bordeaux wine, so made a wine with those grapes: cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot. Only 200 cases/year. Black fruit, anise, blackberry, branch, black fruit, stone and spice, eraser/dense graphite. Herbal note. Cigarette. Lovely freshness and structure. 91 points.
**Butterflied herbed leg of lamb, Portobello mushrooms grilled with garlic, a high quality, gourmet meat burger.
Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive 2007, Hugel & Fils
Sweet wines are 2% of production, yet are the flagship wines of the house. Light golden hue, honeysuckle, pear, honey, roses, great stony spice, apricot, hugely concentrated. Sweetness tempered by stone, acid. 91 points.
**Blue cheese, warm beignet with apricot chutney/dip.
Dow’s 2000 Vintage Port, Symington Family Estate
Ink, black cassis, tar, very concentrated black fruit, caramelized sugar, vanilla, black peppery spice. Grippy tannins starting to loosen. Still much power and fresh finesse. Drinkable now. Great length. 91 points.
**Single squares of beautiful, single origin chocolate.
17:15 h. “Cook with wine”, by Manuel Martínez, chef owner of the Parisian restaurant Le Relais Louis XIII. 2* Michelin.
Martínez demonstrated the difference between making a sauce with wine incorporated, and one without – for the entire room to taste and judge.
Live demonstration that showed wine added in at the end is clumsy and disjointed. One with wine reduced in cooking, followed by fresh wine that hasn’t been boiled and then incorporated in proved much more finessed, smooth. Proof in the pudding.
17:45 h. “False wines enemies”, by Ferran Centelles, elBulli sommelier 2000-2011 and www.jancisrobinson.com contributor.
Sitting down to a pairing session with one of the best somms in the world was both insightful and a reality check. Fantastic advice to not let tradition rule your pairing decisions.
Artichokes, eggs and acid are considered for many as the most difficult and challenging food for a successful wine pairing. We tasted through a line up of different white and red wines with flavour pairings (acid, egg, artichoke) and proved that certain long-held assumptions (vinegar kills everything) wasn’t necessarily the case. A great exercise to remind us to question everything, and not take any pairing principle for granted.
Debunking wine and food pairing myths
18:15 h. “End of geographical boundaries of taste”, by François Chartier, “Créateur d’harmonies”; Daniel Ovadía, chef owner of Paxia (Mexico); Vineet Bhatia, chef owner of Rasoi (London); and Stéphane Modat, chef of Champlain Restaurant (Canada).
Chartier is a Montreal-based, world-leading researcher in recipe creation and “the number one expert on flavours”. As a Canadian, it was entirely rewarding to see him present the final talk, and tie in everything to maple syrup.
As scientist Chartier got into wine and gastronomy, he released he had to recreate and reinvent the way he thought about tasting – to move past sweet, sour, bitter, acid. There was no exact, measurable science, so he began to investigate pairings based on molecules. His studies proved instrumental on elBulli’s successes, and Chartier travelled very often to Spain to meet with the chefs and restaurant team there. Pairing certain elements together, based on molecules, means 1+1= 3. You could make a more than ideal match, by aligning and partnering like or matching molecules. Each chef in sequence prepared a dish that shared molecular structure with maple syrup, but included no maple in the recipe. Formidable.
20 h. Closure
A full day, packed with science and art. What I clearly realized is that conventional borders to food and wine no longer exist. The new frontier is breaking through glass beliefs of pairing, and using science and chemistry to better appreciate how certain things react together – for the positively and negatively. As a wine critic, it’s always good to remember to present notes clearly and concisely and consistently. What we taste means nothing if we can’t communicate it to the consumer and our readers.
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