Day 422

In Business Ethics, we again split into groups to consider the ethical issues in a case study. This time it was Walmart under our steely gaze, specifically the facts of a class-action lawsuit brought against the merchandising giant in 2001 by six women alleging gender discrimination.

Sensory Overload, Part 1

Sensory Overload, Part 1: 4 wines, 5 foods.

In Sensory Evaluation, Jennifer Wilhelm demonstrated some basic rules of pairing wines with food. First we started with some basic tastes–lemon slice (acidic & sour), broccoli (bitter), parmesan cheese (protein & salty), spicy sausage (umami and spicy), and a frosted cupcake (sweet)–up against four different wines (an acidic Riesling, a tannic Chianti, a high-alcohol Malbec and a sweet Late Harvest.)

The idea was to nibble each of the foods and then taste each wine to see if the food enhanced the taste of the wine or overwhelmed it. Likewise, did the wine pleasantly enhance the food?

This is where the sensory overload started. If you are keeping score, five different foods and four different wines means 20 different combinations. That’s a lot of different flavours to discern, and I could already feel my taste buds starting to lose some discriminatory powers after only a few. However, there were some basic lessons to be learned:

  • The acidic lemon paired with the acidic Riesling made the lemon taste sweeter, but the wine lost its character (its acidity). When acidic wine is paired against acidic foods, the food may taste better but the wine loses.
  • Due to a chemical reaction with tannins, the bitter broccoli paired with the tannic Chianti produced an unpleasant metallic flavour.
  • However, the parmesan cheese paired with the Chianti made the wine less astringent and more fruity. (The tannins bind with the cheese’s proteins, allowing other aspects of the wine to come forward.) And the cheese paired with the sweet Late Harvest made the wine seem less acidic and sweeter, its flavour rounder.
  • The alcoholic Malbec (14%) intensified the heat of the spicy sausage. (This may be a plus or a minus, depending on how your taste buds feel about hot spices.)
  • The sugary cupcake frosting overwhelmed the sweetness of the Late Harvest. Obviously never pair a sweet wine with food that is sweeter.
Sensory Overload, Part 2

Sensory Overload, Part 2: 6 wines, 8 foods. (Not shown: 2 beers)

Okay, that would have been plenty for one class. But no, after a short break, Jennifer came back with six more winesand two beers! This time, they were up against five different cheeses, as well as honey and two types of jam. You human calculators out there already know that this made for 64 different combinations.

I started by writing careful notes about each combination. That was quickly reduced to single words: “Salty.” “Meh.” “Watery.” Then even that degenerated to a simply checkmark or X. By the end, my stomach was protesting against all the salt from the cheeses, and my taste buds were done for the day. I couldn’t have distinguished foie gras from mac & cheese.

If I took anything away from today’s class, it was a certainty that, although you can find a wine to go with any particular food if you look far enough, it is far far easier to find a beer to go with the same food. The taste spectrum of beer–dry, sweet, sour, bitter, roasty, bready, caramel, fruity, strong, mild, nutty, chocolate, coffee, etc.–provides a much larger palette of flavours with which to pair a particular food.

As I noted at the Caps, Corks & Forks beer vs. wine dinner last winter, the foods that create challenges for wine, provide opportunities for beer.

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