By María Isabel Mijares and García-Pelayo Chemist, oenologist, graduate of Sensory Analysis and wine writer
A lot has been written on this subject and not just recently, although many believe it to be a modern idea and even a discovery of today.
For many years the great Jacques Puissais, president of the Institute of Taste in Paris – and who I had the fortune to work and collaborate with in the 70s as a leading oenologist, excellent chemist and sensory analyst – fought and worked more to bring this concept to chefs (there are too many to name), newly initiated sommeliers, expert oenologists and authentic winemakers. It is a pity that Puissais only published in French for francophones. With his glasses worn on the bridge of his nose and the appearance of a slightly eccentric researcher he used to say: “there is no wine and gastronomy, wine is gastronomy”. He even added: “what would gastronomy be without wine?
He spread this new idea of “harmonies” between solid and liquid, first to a large group of chefs from Tours, then Touraine and later all of France and the whole world. He contrasted opinions and an array of professional opinions like those we have seen which he rightly called “consommateurs avertis”, that is, “informed consumers” a description to which I would add interested.
His works, like all things innovative, were not free from controversy even among the major wine experts who wrongly believed that his work trivialised the work of artists. And even among the top chefs who did not want something so analytic and scientific published about their work
Many years have passed since then and much has been written, as you would expect, good and bad; from the idea of “white wine with fish and red with meat”, to trying to set and determine one wine for one dish.
All of that, with no more explanation that “prefabricated theories” from so-called unusual “pairings”, a curious word and not “harmonies” as they should be called. And without any technical basis, worse still without taking into account the most important thing which is pleasing the consumer and not the pride of the critic, sommelier or chef.
For further reading on this subject I recommend reading the latest book by Ferran Centlles “What wine to take with this dish….” which contains free and entertaining gastronomic analysis.
Pleasure above all else
Gastronomy is culture and wine, as an important part of that, is history, civilisation, culture but above all, pleasure.
We eat and drink with our senses more or less trained and at the end we are left with one question: Do I like it? Is it good? We sometimes eat and drink in company, with those around us and at times out of utility or convenience or even out of routine. It would be good if we could eat and drink above all with freedom and for pleasure.
We, as experts in Sensory Analysis, want to explain, define, justify and in the end intellectualise everything by applying even stricter rules. But there are things that go beyond analysis and definitions and these things are emotions.
One dish served with four different wines sends different messages, transmits different emotions, but is it the same message for everyone? The same at different times? Or in different company?
There are no strict rules, we each have the right to try and to discover. There are thousands of varieties of grape that go on to become wines (sometimes we restrict ourselves to 10), from different climates, varied soils, and at times from diverse groups of people.
We could say the same about the different ways a dish can be prepared. And, of course, I talk about wine as a drink, because that is the issue at hand, but I don’t want it to be interpreted as meaning wine can be drunk with any dish; there are many other drinks although wine is, without doubt, the most complex and complete due to the thousands of compounds in its liquid but it is not the only drink, magical as it is.
Gastronomy, with wine playing a leading role is and must be, above all, personal, pleasurable and free.