jamie goode's wine blog

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Amazing flavour symposium

On Thursday night I took part in a remarkable symposium on Flavour Extraction. It's the first of a series of events, escalating in scale and scope, that look to explore flavour from a multidisciplinary perspective.

These events come under the banner of London Gastronomy Seminars, convened by a group of four: Francis Percival (food writer), Bronwen Percival (Neals Yard cheese buyer), Dr Rachel Edwards-Stuart (who has a PhD in molecular gastronomy) and James Hoffmann (Square Mile Coffee).

They state:
We live in an age where the great communicator of French bourgeois cooking to post-war America only tops the best-sellers list after her story is reinvented as a heart-warming relfection on marriage and destiny. Coverage of food too often sacrifices an understanding of the food itself - what makes it good, and why - to an ecstatic testimonial focused on an imagined foodie lifestyle: all fluff and no substance.

Thursday's seminar was, for me, a stimulating evening of rich fare. Tony Coigliaro kicked off with a short presentation on his work creating novel drinks. He owns the bar at 69 Colebrooke Row, and illustrated his talk with a cocktail creation in which the eggs used in it had been kept in boxes infused with a straw-like essence (hexenol). He had been using egg whites in sours to bind flavours together, but ran into the problem of wet dog nose; this was solved by using essences such as the hexenol used here in the egg box.

I gave a talk on wine flavour extraction, and illustrated it with two wines from Les Caves de Pyrene, with a very different flavour profile (Romaneaux-Destezet Syrah 2007 and Minervois Les Aspres 2004). This prompted a fairly lengthy discussion on flavour perception.

James Hoffmann (Square Mile Coffee, and his blog) gave a brilliant presentation on some of the issues concerning coffee flavour extraction. There are three steps to great coffee. (1) Creation: 'everything good about coffee is how it is grown'. (2) Preservation: how much quality can be kept through the stages of processing, transport and roasting? (3) Extraction. There's a brewing control chart created by Dr Robert Lockhart in the 1960s, which plots strength against extraction. While strength, the ratio of solubles to solvent, is a matter of personal preference, extraction only works between 18 and 22%. We tried two coffees that were the same strength, but had different levels of extraction. The 19% extraction tasted much, much better than the 14.5% extraction, which tasted weaker, less complete and more bitter.

Finally, John Forbes from RC Treatt gave an absorbing talk on the manufacture of natural flavourants. His company produces 150 essential oils and 1500 flavour chemicals. These chemicals are used by the food industry, perfumiers and even the pharmaceutical industry. It was a window into a fascinating world of flavour extraction and aroma capture, and John illustrated the talk with a range of different aromas.

The next event will be on 30 November, and it's a public lecture on flavour extraction, to be held at the University of London's Senate House.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Smelling gorse

I'm obsessed with taste and smell, to the point that I sniff things quite a bit. I took RTL for a walk on Hounslow Heath this weekend to find that gorse was in flower (it almost always seems to be in flower, at least a bit), so I sniffed one of the flowers. They have the most amazing smell of coconut. [Picture above was taken with my mobile phone camera.]

The world of aromas is one that, to a degree, is closed to us. We traded a whole stack of our olfactory ability for trichromatic vision some time back in evolutionary history. We don't have functional vomeronasal organs (which detect pheromones); many of our olfactory receptor genes are pseudogenes. As a result, I reckon we have to make a special effort to work on our ability to detect and recognize smells. Even then, it's clear that RTL experiences a spatial smell landscape that I just don't get.

In some ways, it has been a strange weekend here in West London. Saturday was lovely and spring-like, and Sunday also started that way. But then just after lunch the wind started, and then the rain. It was horrible. Just as we thought spring was really on the way, we've had another reminder of winter.

Busy week ahead. Off to Denbies tomorrow for final planning of http://www.sparklingwinesymposium.com/. Then on Tuesday there's the Tesco Press tasting, the Portuguese tasting and the Caballeros dinner. I have a 06.30 flight to Portugal on Wednesday, where I stay until Friday. Two articles to write, as well.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tomato leaf aromas in wine

Was watering my tomatoes today, and struck by the remarkable aroma that comes from the leaves when you brush them with your hand. It made me think of the wines where 'tomato leaf' is used as an aroma descriptor.

Which chemicals are responsible? For the distinctly green leafy aroma, cis-3-hexenol is the prime culprit, but I have also seen 2-isobutylthiazole listed as the signature chemical behind this smell.

Which wines have it? Tomato leaf is a Sauvignon Blanc sort of descriptor. It's pungent and quite green, and it is often used to describe Sauvignons from the cool Awatare Valley in Marlborough. It's a very attractive smell, although I'm not sure I'd want too much of it in my wine.
As with many of these descriptors, after a while it becomes a bit of a code word. As we taste, we decide what sort of wine we are tasting, and then trot out the usual terms that we associate with that wine. To smell and taste what's actually there requires quite a bit of concentration and deliberate effort.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Perfume: the film

Perfume is essentially a rather silly film, but, as someone fascinated by the sense of smell, I found it really interesting. Based on the best-selling novel by Patrick Süskind (which sold over 15 million copies), when it was released in 2006 it was hailed as Germany's most expensive ever film (see this report).

The setting is 18th century France, and the depictions of the grimy bits of Paris at the time are as visually stunning as they are shocking. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born into poverty, but posesses a remarkable talent: he can smell better than anyone else. Much better.

After a chance encounter with a failing master perfumier, played by Dustin Hofmann, Grenouille finds his vocation, creating wonderful scents. But he knows he is missing a magic ingredient, and to find this he embarks on a grisly, murderous quest.
The film descends into a black comedy, which is a shame, because it explores some interesting issues. Chiefly, the idea that for most of us the sense of smell is imprecise and somehow incomplete. It's a sense that has the ability to communicate in a very direct and raw way with our emotions, but much of the time it is strangely muted. I know from walking my dog that there is a whole world of olfactory sensations out there, which, to us humans, is out of our reach. The idea that someone could inhabit that world is a really interesting one.

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