Highlights from the Wine & Culinary Forum, Barcelona (2)

Ferran Centelles presenting at the Wine & Culinary Forum

Ferran Centelles presenting at the Wine & Culinary Forum

So here are more highlights from the Wine & Culinary forum here in Barcelona. You can read Part 1, here.

Victor de la Serna

Victor de la Serna

Noted Spanish wine journalist Victor de la Serna interviewed Asia’s first MW, Jeannie Cho Lee, about the future for wine in the far east. There were a number of insights. Jeannie thinks we should look at Japan, which she reckons is usually a decade or a generation ahead of the rest of Asia. Here, consumption of wine has levelled off over the last 10 years. Is there a danger that wine consumption in China could level off after such an explosive growth period? But she still thinks mainland China is a key target market, simply because of the numbers and interest in the first, second and even third tier cities.

What about wine with food, asks Victor? Could this be key to growing Chinese wine consumption? She says yes and no. In the leading cities, the top restaurants have become more wine friendly. They have wine lists, and increasingly they have food plated in courses, served in sequence. But even top restaurants still have the tradition of gan bei, where a toast is made and you have to down your glass, even if it’s full of high-end wine.

In homes? Well, there’s just no room for wine. Jeannie thinks the real room for growth is in after dinner drinking venues, and she’d like to see casual wine bars opening – ‘Starbucks for wine.’ In the far east people tend to eat faster, get out of the restaurant, and then linger somewhere else.

Ferran Centelles delivered a really cool presentation, with some taste demonstrations, looking at impossible wine and food pairings. One of these is artichokes.

Artichokes contain two compounds – cholorgenic acid and cynarin – both of which are reported to alter taste in a large proportion of the population. For many, they modify the palate, making subsequent tastes seem sweeter. In a few cases, however, they make things seem more bitter. This is challenging for wine matching. However, a lot depends on how you cook the artichoke, and of course your biology. Centelles’ demonstrated match with artichoke drew a mix of responses from the audience.

Another difficult match is vinegar. ‘Let’s forget about the idea that vinegar and wine don’t mix,’ says Centelles. ‘It’s not as terrible as we thought.’ He demonstrated this with a gherkin paired with a red wine, which wasn’t disastrous at all. His third supposed ‘no go’ food was egg, but – once again – the taste test showed that it’s a finding that should be revisited.

Francois Chartier

Francois Chartier

Montreal-based François Chartier has developed a reputation as one of the top experts in food and wine pairing, and he led a session involving three chefs (Mexican, Indian and Quebecois), titled ‘The end of the geographic barriers in taste.’ This was a cool session with some lovely dishes matched with wine.

Chartier’s big idea is that by putting aroma molecules into related families, he can devise surprising, synergistic pairings by means of focusing on the core aromatic molecules shared by different foods and drinks. ‘If we work with aromatic molecules there is a greater impact than with working with tastes,’ he says. ‘We should combine ingredients linked with the same aromatic molecules, looking for an aromatic synergy greater than the sum of its parts.’

One molecule Chartier chose to illustrate his point was sotolon, which is widely found in foods and even some drinks. It’s one of the products of the Maillard reaction (which occurs when sugar groups are exposed to heat in the presence of amino acids, also known as the browning reaction), and is found in maple syrup, mushrooms and curry (methi is high in sotolon), and barrel-aged white wines, for example.

The three chefs, Vineet Bhatia, Stephane Modat and Daniel Ovadia, all did demonstrations and we got to try their dishes with appropriate wines. It was a really good session, and I’m going to read Chartier’s book and look into the theory behind matching based on aroma families.

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