February 22 2012 Australian Institute of Food Science & Technology Sensory Food & Wine Evening

I attended a food & wine sensory evening run by the AIFST at the Uni SA Health Sciences Sensory lab in Adelaide on Wednesday. The Sensory Lab is a new addition the school of Agriculture, Food & Science. It is small and the attendees were given a tour of three of the rooms – The Hub where lectures are held and we will be exploring taste, the kitchen/food preparation area which is a small kitchen with the ability to store and produce an array of foods and beverages with hatches lining one of the walls for food to passed through into the Tasting room. The tasting room is long with a number of booths along the wall, each with a hatch, a monitor for displaying and recording findings, and a range of coloured lights to obscure visual recognition of food and beverages.

The attendees tonight are predominately scientists working in the food sciences industry or associated fields. I need to point out that I am not one of these people. I am not a scientist, rather I am a lay person with a interest in science although I spent 15 years working in the Food & Beverage industry and it is from that perspective that I will approach this.

Our speakers this evening are Louisa Rose and Briony Liebich.

Briony opens the evening with the question: What is flavour? Most people would probably think that flavour is just the sense of taste, all in the mouth. Turns out flavour is far more complex than just the sense of taste, it is multi-sensory, incorporating sight, smell, texture, and sometimes hearing. The involvement of these senses on perception also come from the individual persons background – male or female (gender actually changes the perception of taste), industry (complex analysis) or consumer (simpler analysis ), genetic predispositions, history...

To highlight this Briony invites us to partake in an experiment involving three cups of lemon cordial labelled C, X, & Y. Visually the 3 cups look exactly the same. The experiment is as follows: Take a sip of C and take note of how It tastes, then take a sip of X and take note of the variation from C, then sip C again and see if anything has changed from the first sip, followed by Y and finishing with C.

For myself, C initially tasted like a very plain lemon drink, X was sweeter and Y was tart. C actually became blander as we moved through the experiment.

This experiment highlights something very simple when it comes to flavour – the senses can be confused – with flavour actually being suppressed. It is a fascinating way to start the evening.

Louisa steps up next to begin the meat of the evening.

She opens with a little bit of background on the creation of a wine. There are countless websites dedicated to wine and their creation that I won't go into great detail on the subject matter. Basically, each wine comes down to some very specific elements and processes and levels to get the product desired: varieties of grape, yeasts, phenolics, sugars, acids, carbon dioxide.

As all the liquid for wine comes from the grape, and within this liquid are a great many flavour potentials for the wine. Some of the compounds will modify with fermentation and others will remain virgin. Grapes vary in their variety, as well as within their variety by the environmental conditions they are grown in. Each season can subtly adjust the flavour profile of the grape and it is part this variation which allows for two growers to be very close together geographically yet have such differing results among the same grape. This is also the reason why you get variation in the colour of the styles of wine – variation in the grape that modifies the skins and seed and thus the colours of the wines.

Louisa comes across quite passionate when she speaks of building the flavours in wine but at no time more so than when she talks about the language wine makers use to describe their wines and the stories relating to it: Grass and Pepper, citrus and stone-fruits. The language of food and wine is mostly metaphor and as such becomes a dialect unto itself. Louisa tells of visiting an apple orchard and hearing apple growers speak using similar metaphors to describe their products, assigning differing meanings than the one she would have applied. It seems that apples aren't just apples the same way wines aren't just wines.

It is her that we learn of the wines we shall taste this evening. There are 6 selected from the Hill-Smith Family Vineyards.

  1. Pewsey Vale Riesling 2011
  2. Eden Valley Voigner 2010
  3. Dalrymple Pinot Noir 2010
  4. Smith & Hooper Merlot 2009
  5. Patchwork Shiraz 2008
  6. Heggies Botrytis Riesling 2011

It's quite a decent selection of wine and Louisa gives us their descriptions and flavour profiles before introducing us to the plates of food which we will be trying our wines with.

Plate 1: Chicken Terrine, Pork Pie, Sliced Apple & Rocket.

In front of us we have a pairing chart with the foods listed across the top and the wines down the left and this is where the fun begins – taste the 1st food with the 1st wine, take notes, taste the 1st food then the 2nd wine, take notes, and so on and so forth until you have consumed each of the foods with all of the wines.

Why is this the fun part? Besides the eating and drinking? It's fun because this is where things get surreal for your palate, where you taste a range of wines with same food running the gamut of potential from light to heavy, bitter to sweet. You are forced into combinations that you normally would not tread and it's all down to the nature of the experiment.

After finishing the plate and wines you would then discuss your results with others. This is fascinating and goes to show the variance between individuals. What you would find wonderful another might find it horrible. It gives you an appreciation of what must go into the description of commercial foods and wines, their food matching suggestions, and how to arrive at common descriptors that the majority of consumers may find useful.

This experiment reminds me of the best part of my time in the Food & Beverage Industry – exploring new food and drink. Below is a chart of my results. Be aware as you read it that the results are written in my own unique way and thus may offend any critics or professionals who prefer to use the appropriate dialect.


Plate 2: Cheddar Cheese, Blue Cheese, Pecorino, Walnut bread and sliced pear.

The process is the same as the first plate, only the foods are different. Where we were experimenting with a main dish now we are onto desserts. Below are my results.


In conclusion, an evening spent exploring taste and various combinations of food and wine is an excellent opportunity for any foody. It broadens your understanding of the subjective nature of taste. I think anyone who has an appreciation of food, or works in an industry associated with food should attend one. I am very much hoping to see what other gastronomic sensory evenings become available through the AIFST and can only hope for some of them to include some of the more boutique foods and beverages produced in South Australia.

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