Eating and drinking is more than to feed oneself. One can draw an analogy between the use of eye and ear when one lives a spectacle, theatre or concert, and the use of mouth and nose while enjoying a well-prepared course.
It is a pity that, in the past, in our Western culture, the senses of taste and smell were suppressed. Until 35 years ago the human body was considered "dirty" and pleasures of the senses considered sinful. Gluttony is one of our 10 capital sins. In Eastern culture this is not the case, so concerning harmony of food and drink, Eastern people are much more cultivated than most of us. Famous chefs, such as Bocuse and others have understood this quite well and go to Japan or China to improve their skills.
This taboo is one of the main reasons why our cooking-art is been instructed in a procedural way and also why our greater chefs are mostly self-made people. These chefs are those happy few who distilled the fundamental WHY's on harmony of food and drink and other kitchen-science out of their experience. Normally they are not writers or scientists and those who are capable to put this knowledge in writing are usually not chefs at all.
History shows there are plenty of famous cookbooks, for example Apicius - de re coquinaria, but those who have the merit of putting part of their lifescience in writing were poets, philosophers or ... medical doctors. Let us not forget that (probably rightly) eating and drinking are designated as the sources of our health since thousands of years (Hippocrates). Restoration such as we know now was born in the 18th century and procured immortal chefs, such as Escoffier, who fortunately for us published their recipes. Bocuse will be linked forever to the Nouvelle Cuisine. However, all their books are procedural, describing WHAT, HOW, HOW MUCH, WHEN etc... but never the fundamental WHY's. Cooking-scientists are scarce. Well-known are: Brillat-Savarin (physiology of the taste), Pasteur (preservation), Von Liebig (chemicals). They all lived in the previous century!
Another reason for the lack of WHY's is the impossibility to convert the heuristic knowledge into rules and laws. Maybe also because they are well kept professional secrets. The fact we assume that smell and taste are so individual that one cannot argue about them can be a reason too. Recent insight in the working of the brain and knowledge about the fundamental behaviour of our senses as well as knowledge-science in psychology and knowledge-management in computerscience and artificial intelligence offer us a foundation on which we will build our discussion on the WHY's of harmony of food and wine.
Is it not the WHY that makes the difference between KNOWLEDGE and INTELLIGENCE?
Let us imagine attempting to measure the perimeter of a country, for example Belgium, by walking along the border with in our hands a stick of 1-meter length. An impossible mission, but if we would carry it out it would give a phenomenal figure as a result. On the contrary, we can picture Belgium as a triangle and express its perimeter as a few hundred kilometers!
Feasibility and the result depend on the measure we use. The more precise we try to describe the phenomena of eating and drinking the more complex they become.
It is possible to choose the measures for taste and smell in such a way that they are manageable, that we can talk about them, reason with them etc. The choice we made further is not unique although based on experience. It is a linguistic aid to support observations and describe the why's.
Knowledge of the basic functioning of the brain is important in our approach. Everyone experiences reality in his own way depending on the pre-knowledge he acquired before in his lifetime until the present moment However the thinking-process is much the same for all of us. By bringing the pre-knowledge on a certain common level we can try to reframe the previous knowledge in a way we can get new insights in the processes that induce harmony in food and drink for each of us.
More specific: storage of information in our brain can be seen as a holographic whole that is stimulated by our senses. In this whole social, political, religious, cultural and other beliefs are stored. The hologram contains our primitive animal instincts as well as our highest intellectual ideas. Adding one information to this whole can influence completely the insights we have on a certain matter.
Look at the signs in the picture and try to understand what they mean. If you observe them long enough you will "belief" what point we are trying to make. This hint reframes your eye-observation by adding information into your brain-hologram and you will come to the one and only reality i.e. of what is in the picture. The hint the exact interpretation "belief" has become pre-knowledge that is influencing your observation. Be patient this process may take seconds!
Taste and smell language
On colour and sound we all agree since long. We found out that colour and sound are nothing more than electro-magnetic vibrations of a certain wavelength (frequency) with a certain level of strength (intensity, amplitude). Colours- and sound components are represented as spectra. Light and sound are categorised in physics; laws and rules are formulated. We use these to manipulate them and compose nice colourmixtures and agreeable compositions of sounds.
There are 6 main colours (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet) and 7 basic sounds (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si) with which the painter paints and the musician composes.
What about odours? We only have food and products to describe them. Pineapple, cucumber, French beans... hundreds of odours, a lot of choice but much too complicated to reason with.
What do you think of a refrigerator coloured shirt combined with a Mediterranean coloured tie and a bad weather sky pair of trousers? Mix canary with sunny-sky to obtain grass!
This is exactly what we do with taste and smell.
Taste and smell are distinct senses. Taste reaches us via the tongue and allows us to detect only a few basic tastes i.e. saline, sweet, bitter and sour. Some other things can be tasted for example metallic or soapy but no categorization yet exists. The first four are the most important in the harmony of food and drink, the others are normally perceived as defaults. Sweetness is more than a groupname indicating sugars or sweets. Almost all products delivering energy to the body give a sweet impression on the tongue; fats and alcohol may serve as an example.
Several people have made attempts to categorize odours: Zwaardemaker (1895) grouped odours in 9 categories and 24 subcategories. Henning (1916) proposed 6 odourgroups (flowery, fruity, herbal, burnt, foul, resinous) and associated the spatial configuration of the odour-molecules to their smell. Crocker en Henderson (1958) reduced basic odours to 4 (fragrant, acid, burnt, caprilic) associating 8 levels of strength in such a way every odour could be described as a figure from 0000 till 8888 using 32 reference-odours.
Winetasting books such as those mentioned in the references at the end of this article categorize odours differently. Max Léglise: arômes de fleurs, de fruits frais, de fruits sec, d' herbes et de feuillage, de torréfaction, d' épices et d' aromates, d' animaux, d' autres arômes alimentaires, d' arômes spécifiques du vin. Holtzappel: embalmed, burnt, chemical, animal, ethereal, floral, fruity, herbal, woody.
For our purpose we divide odours in 8 categories i.e. ethereal, flowery, fruity, grassy, herbal, smoky, animal and foul.
This classification is based upon the lifework of Carl A. Rietz, an American who devoted his entire life to a scientific approach of eating and drinking but unfortunately did not have knowledge about our computer- or neuroscience. He published in 1965.
In analogy with what is usually supposed for colours and sounds we assume that there is an odourspectrum (see figure).
The most left part of the spectrum indicates the lightest odours, the right part the most heavy ones. The existence of light and heavy odours is intuitively clear since science states that the olfactory perception is based upon the difference in structure of odour-molecules free-floating in the air and reaching the olfactory bulbs in the nose.
When tasting wine one can observe the existence of light and heavy odours. When holding a sufficiently large glass with some mature wine in a slightly tilted position the lighter odours are smelled on top of the opening while the heavier ones remain low.
A natural colour or a natural sound almost never is one single frequency of the spectrum. The same is true for odours. Natural products contain more than one component of our defined odour-spectrum for example a ripe pineapple contains fruity, herbal and ethereal components. With this knowledge in mind let us define more accurately the different odour-groups. We mention examples of products having a dominant component in the stated group:
ethereal: ether, gasoline, resin, turpentine, anise, lavender, mint,
floral: roses, lily's, coronations,
fruity: banana, pineapple, raspberry, strawberry, blackcurrant, apple, sherry, peach,
grassy: hay, grass, fern, green pepper, tomato, asparagus, French beans,
herbal: basil, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, carve, coriander,
smoky: toast, coffee, cigars, wood
animal: leather, sweat, urine, wet hair, fish, amber, musks, meat,
foul: faeces, potground, mushrooms, mould.
As colours gradually follow each other in the spectrum we assume that odours do the same.
We can separate a certain colour into three major components with a little practice. Painters do this all the time. We will do the same with the odours of a certain food. This supposes that we use the given definitions with certain flexibility. We see this flexibility in the same way we use colours. Look around you and see what you would define as simply green or red if you would not distinguish between light and dark (intensity). The 3 major components are defined as follows: dominant, subdominant and accompaniant.
Everyone has lived the experience to be blinded by light. This happens when the light source is a lot stronger than the surrounding (greyer) background. The light stays in the eye (with its complementary colour) can hurt if the source is strong enough and disables any colour distinction. Heavy light sources tend to be observed as white. On the opposite diminishing the intensity is observed as darkening (more grey) so that first of all colours are disappearing gradually until followed by the disappearance of the picture itself.
Deafening sounds have exactly the same effect on the ear. The more quiet the sounds get the more difficult it is to listen selectively and distinguish the different instruments from the global music.
There is no reason to assume that our body (brain) reacts differently for odours as it does for light and sound. A certain odour can be so strong that it dominates all others and affects taste and smell perception. Some odours give headaches. Some others are not detectable because of their low intensity.
We must try to find the middle between not perceivable and overdone.
Every food has taste components and an odour-spectrum, each with certain intensity. The intensity may vary with the point in the life cycle (for example ripeness) or the way the food is processed before eating (for example raw versus cooked). We globalise the intensity of taste and smell as level of flavour.
The combination of food-products will be balanced only then when the global intensity of the individual components is in the same order of magnitude. If this is not the case one component will dominate the others. This can be a wanted effect (for example pepper-steak).
Global intensity depends on 2 factors i.e. the quantity of food used and the intrinsic level of flavour.
Knowing the level of flavour (by tasting) we can adjust the flavour effect through the used quantity. In reverse when a certain amount of a food is needed (for example a portion) the quantity of accompaniant foods is not free to choose anymore.
Fortunately our brain is one huge selfregulating system with regard to our senses as long as we do not drive them into saturation nor under the level of perception.
For the level of flavour we define a semantic scale with 5 different magnitudes: very weak, weak, average, strong and very strong. This is completed with neutral (below perception level) and overdone.
The latter is to be avoided in the harmony of food and drink. Neutral can be accepted since it tends to neutralize or weaken some heavier flavours and sometimes contributes to visual effects.
About eating and drinking
A course consists of the presentation of one or more food ingredients together with the purpose to eat them. Tastes determine rhythm and vocals, the odours represent the melody.
Eating a course is a dynamic process: it is a function of time. Compare: we listen to a song, we look at a painting.
Savouring a course is more than eating the aliments.
More senses take part in the process.
Hearing plays a role. Cracking and crisping sounds can mask the flavour of weakly flavoured products. In some cases it can be a wanted effect that contributes to the enjoyment for example adding nuts, fried bread or small pieces of celery to a salad, eating toast with smoked fish or another strong-flavoured food.
Feeling is much more important than, hearing. Once the food is in the mouth we distinguish bigger versus smaller pieces, light versus heavy, raw versus smooth, dull versus sharp, hot versus cold etc... All these phenomena can be felt by the tongue, cheeks, palate and even teeth.
During the chewing process there is also hard versus soft, tough versus crisp, sticky versus fresh.
The common name for these observations is texture.
In addition, there are other events that influence the feelings. Observe for example the production of saliva when eating sour products, the thickening of the mass when the saliva is mixed with the foodstuff, the effect on the inner cheeks of astringent substances (for example tannin in wine).
All courses gain interest when texture-variation is taken into account.
When mixing food and wine important effects are: tannins attacking teeth and cheeks, amplifying bitterness and sourness and the carbon-dioxide gas in sparkling wines amplifying the sourness of the accompaniant food.
Heat and cold may contribute to interesting contrasts. Take for example crêpes with vanilla-ice, vanilla-ice with hot chocolate sauce etc. There are no strict rules and perhaps we do not use these effects as often as we should.
In essence this is the combination of form, size and colour. Here too the key to success is: variation. Larger and smaller pieces, sauces in the right place, colourful accents and contrasts must reveal that time or pain was avoided during preparation of the course. An orderly, well-prepared presentation automatically tilts the course above average.
Sight is normally the first sense that prepares us for what is coming next. First impression determines the expectations that will arise in our minds.
A carelessly presented dish induces prejudgments about taste and smell. Our brain will combine the present with past experiences and these links are not easily broken afterwards. Take note that this works in a positive way too.
All people do not experience colours in the same way. Education (pre-knowledge) is important. Think of blue soup. We do not expect blue things to be used as food. Unexpected (abnormal) presentation of food induces aversion.
We eat by putting small amounts of food and drink into our mouth. Sometimes the food is single, sometimes mixed with the drink, another time there are different foods mixed. Unconsciously we experiment with the composition of the presented foods and from the moment on we found a pleasing combination we repeat this more and more until one of the ingredients is consumed.
Compare: we listen to the different instruments of a song while looking for the melody, we look at different parts of a painting and try to see what it represents.
To avoid saturation of smell and taste and also to stay interested in the food, change is needed. Compare: different instruments are present in a music piece, different colours and shapes are used in a painting.
Through chewing all ingredients blended together with our saliva and we gain a global impression of the food. Compare: the total "image" of a music piece or a painting.
In between we use a rather "neutral" substance such as bread, potato or another starch containing product or we take a sip. We do this to reinitialize our gustative senses and start over again. Compare: we do not listen to he music all the time, we are not watching the picture all the time.
The process of dining is a continuous mix of variable tastes and odours.
Odours are taken not only through the vapours they give straight into the nose from the outside but also from the inside of the mouth (arôme de bouche - mouthflavour) i.e. chewing (grinding) and heating (body heat) liberate extra components that rise through the throat (pharynx) into the nose cavity influencing the total flavour-image. This is very important in winetasting.
Most courses are experienced as tasty and nice when the 4 basic tastes sweet, saline, sour and bitter are present and equilibrated. A taste must be dominant only when it is needed as a special effect.
The same applies to the 8 basic odours. Ideal is when all component are noticeable, each at a different moment in time. The user must determine this moment in an experimental way.
Perfect balance is obtained when flavour intensity of all composing items and accompanient drinks are about the same.
To obtain this, one must start with the most flavour-intense components and whether adapt the rest to these or look for means to temper the strength. Herbs may help to rise some odour components to the right level of adaptation. A lot can be done choosing the right preparation besides raw for example (mostly in rising order of obtained flavour intensity): poach, cook, steam, braise, bake, roast, and grill. By serving the main food in weak sauces or using starch containing ingredients that cloud the others or cutting some components in smaller or larger pieces one can control the global effect.
Harmony of tastes
In case of music a limited number of instruments care for the overall sound and "fullness" of the tune. It is done through rhythm and counter-rhythm made with drums, bass-section, guitar, cello, violins etc... On this base, that determines the kind of music (reggae, waltz, rock, tango...) other instruments produce the melody i.e. in essential what makes this waltz different from the others.
Notice that the louder the rhythm-section plays the louder the other instruments have to play as well.
In a painting only a limited number of shapes and colours arrange the background or theme of the painting. On this the real picture is added. The stronger the background colours the stronger the other figures must be to be observed. Note that in both cases this can be achieved by contrast or by intensity.
Sweet, saline, bitter and sour deliver the background, the overall impression, the fullness of a course.
The different basic tastes influence each other. Most spectacular is the addition of a little salt to sweet foods. Fullness rises a considerable amount (for example ice cream). Another example is adding sour to foods that do not have this intrinsically (for example vinegar on fish and chips, salad dressing on salads).
Which influence they have one each other is indicated in a table below. It must be understood as follows: what is the effect of adding the taste in the left column on a food that has a dominant component indicated in the other columns for example adding sour to a bitter food accentuates bitterness.
In general salt is an amplifier and sweet an attenuator.
Chilling may temper sweet- and sourness but has little or non-effect on bitterness and salt. Heating can mask saltiness and bitterness by amplifying the odour-components in the food.
Taste substances in wine
Salt is not often present in wine except for a few vineyards situated nearby a coastline where salt can be deposited by the wind on the grapes and get into the winemaking process. We will not elaborate this further.
Sweetness is mostly present as sugar leftover after the fermentation process (fructose and glucose) or as alcohol and its related substances (mainly ethanol and glycerol). A sugar content of 5 to 7 grams per litre (g/l) is detectable by taste a lower lever mostly only by experienced tasters. More sugar gives a clearly sweet taste. Dry wines do not contain more than 2 g/l, sweet wines may have up to 100 g/l (moelleux = 18 tot 36 g/l, above this level = liquoreux). Alcohol can be obtained in a natural way until 14 à 15 % (volume). Wines with a low alcohol content are usually experienced as flat and used to relieve thirst. The most tasteful wines have an alcohol content between 10,5 and 13,5 % (110g/l). Glycerol can be as high as 5 to 10g/l and this contributes to the viscosity of the wine.
Sourness in wine is due to the presence of tartaric acid (1,5 tot 3 g/l), malic acid (0 tot 5 g/l), lactic acid (0 tot 3 g/l) and others (0 tot 1 g/l). These acids are responsible for the freshness (saliva secretion) and compensate the (to be avoided) stickiness in sweet wines.
Carbon dioxide contributes to the amplification of the observation of sourness in wine and courses. In sparkling wines usually there are more remaining sugars than in quite wines that may come as a surprise. It is the carbon dioxide that causes this effect and once it is gone, sparkling wines are flat and dull. The sugar content of sparkling wines is < 15 g/l for Brut, up to 20 g/l for Extra Dry, up to 25 g/l for Sec, up to 60 g/l for Demi-Sec, higher for Doux (sweet).
Bitterness in wine is due to the tannins. In red wines they come from fermentation of the grapejuice containing peels, kernels and stems (2 to 4 g tannins/l). When observed in white wines, it is obtained from the oak casks in which the wine matures and deliberately wanted since the juice is pressed before fermentation and therefore white wines sometimes lack some bitterness that is essential in the harmony as seen before. We may distinguish between noble and not noble tannins. The not noble tannins are the ones coming from the stems and the kernels and make the wine taste "green". This green taste can be experienced in full when we bite on a grape kernel. The noble tannins come from the use of new oak barrels. The choice of the type of oak (for example limousin, American oak etc...) is very important since other flavours are present besides the smoky, roasty wood-flavour. Vanillin is one of them and can easily be found in all the greater white wines for example Meursaults, Montrachets etc.
We already mentioned the importance of the balance between sourness, bitterness (saltiness) and sweetness in courses. Due to its complex and rich flavour contents wine can be seen as a course on its own. The balance of basis tastes plays a very important role in wine. To be able to exchange their ideas and to describe the different taste combinations, wine experts (see bibliography) have developed a specific vocabulary. The template on this page may serve as an example for red wines.
There are 3 major axes, one for tannins (bitterness), one for sugars and alcohols (sweetness) and one for sourness. The template does not give global intensity of taste but the axes are related to the intensity of the dominant components although there is no scale.
The template is a result from observations and proposed by Max Léglise (see bibliography). For example wine with a dominant sour component and with the 2 others in balance is described as "fresh", wine with slightly dominant tannin and alcohol would be described as upholstered etc.
For wines without tannins (most whites) the upper part of the template can be left out.
Even though the vocabulary is not always applicable the template can be used to fix the ideas for the harmony of food as well.
No component may dominate the others too much. When bitterness, sourness and sweetness are balanced it is the global level of intensity that plays another important role.
We could conclude here our study about the harmony of food and wine with a single recommendation, most people would be happy with the result.
When matching food and drink choose balanced, not to concentrated (colour may be an indication: the darker the richer), not to expensive, light wines (alcohol 10,5 - 12%) and serve them on the right temperature (no to cold for whites and not to warm for reds). Keep levels of taste in the same order of magnitude. Tell interesting things about the wine for example wine region, composing grapes and do not talk about the price.
A lot of wines comply with these criteria and doing so the taste of the food will not be disturbed by the wine.
Whites to fish and reds to meat is an oversimplification. Dry white wines can be drunk with everything (taking in mind balance and flavour rate). Most red wines have more flavour and are more adequate with stronger tasting food. Since red meat is normally stronger in taste than most fish we can understand why the rule mentioned above is been used. With salmon, tuna and depending on the preparation for the others (for example Meunière = fried, or grilled) light red wines are more interesting because of their flavour spectrum. A red wine, low on tannin, served slightly chilled (15°C), can be delicious with some grilled salmon and Béarnaise. Another misunderstanding is red wines with cheeses. White wines are wonderful companions to hard cheeses for example Gruyere, Cheddar and Dutch cheeses. It is flavour intensity that must drive our choice. Munster cheese with Gewurztraminer wine is a delight.
Bitterness in the wine is only acceptable when the accompanient food has already some in it. In fried, baked or roasted food bitter substances are formed due to burning (scorching) in the preparation process. When we poach, steam or cook the food, extra bitterness coming from the preparation process is avoided and even some intrinsic bitterness of the food itself can be taken away.
The sweetness of a wine can act as a compensation for bitterness or sourness in the food. Dressings (for example vinaigrette) and food with intrinsic bitterness (for example liver, blue cheeses) accept sweet wines. Sweet desserts accept sweet wines although a contrast with acidity can be interesting. An ice-cream dessert with a sparkling Brut may put a crown on a meal. Neutral sauces (usually with starch and/or cream) can get flavour when served with a sweet, tasty, botrytis affected white wine (for example most late harvest wines) and the sauce my even contain a nice piece of steamed white fish.
What we tried to explain is, when global flavour intensity of food and drink is matched and basic tastes are balanced we are freed from all capital sins. Subtlety and class though are to be achieved through...
Harmony of odours
Odours paint the melody of a meal.
This says it all. Odours make food really enjoyable. When we have a bad cold and the only thing remains is taste because our mucous membrane in our nose is irritated, what interest is left in eating besides saving us from starvation?
Suppose we could only hear the rhythm-section of a band or only see the background of a painting, would these arts be as interesting as they are today?
Enjoying a meal is a continuous spectacle created by a cooking-art expert and in which perhaps we participated for the scenario and the cast (choice of menu). When intensity and composition live up to our expectations (and this depends on our present mood and pre-knowledge) eating and drinking are a feast for the mind too.
Odours are as colours: pronounced or flat, contrasting, related or complementary. They can be reinforcing or supplementary. We will try to illustrate these properties by means of the odour-spectrum (see drawings below).
A pronounced odour is present in food with one single dominant component in the odour-spectrum. Subdominant and accompanient odours in its other odour-groups are weak. The aliment is very identifiable. For example strawberry (fruity), French beans (grassy).
A flat odour means that several odour groups are present but not immediately identifiable. We obtain this for example by finely grinding the ingredients of a preparation with complex composition. The mixture becomes unidentifiable. Flat odours are generally not unpleasant and sauce or pulp is used as a carrier for other, more pronounced ingredients. As an example may serve basic stocks and kitchen sauces (fond) that are made from vegetables, meats, spices and herbs. They contain meaty, grassy, animal and sometimes smoky (due to scorching) or foul (cabbage, mushroom) components.
Flat odours can arise through greying, this in analogy to what happens with colours i.e. removing brightness (for paint this means adding the opposite colour, for light it means less intensity). It happens when we blend originally odourful components with low flavoured substances such as potatoes or other starch-containing food (rice, pasta) or cream and milky sauces and of course water. The result may be wanted and successful: think why you crush a potato in your meatsauce - the clamorous effect of the concentrated sauce passes to a beautiful harmony of herbal, animal and smoky aromas without saltiness nor bitterness.
When combining 2 or more aliments containing the same or related (see later) odour components reinforcing take place. The reason for this is the increase of the relative quantity of the individual odour elements. A lot of herbs and spices act in this way and of course adding concentrates can cause this too (for example tomato concentrate to tomato soup or sauce, stock cubes to stock, fruit liquor to fruit etc.). Reinforcing can also be obtained by physical concentration i.e. reduction of watercomponents by evaporation (cooking) or deshydratation (salami, Parmaham). Bear in mind that light aromas evaporate too which may badly influence the final quality. The preparation process is as important for odour components as it was for the basic tastes. Short preparation times and processes where flavour substances are prevented from leaving the food (for example steamer, high temperature grill) are recommended.
Supplementary odours follow the same principle: when we add a substance containing an odour component identical to the subdominant or one of the accompanient odours of the other substances, identical odours will add up. Care has to be taken to prevent domination of one of the subdominant or accompanient odours unless this is sought after.
So far the described effects only affect global flavour intensity and combination of odours in the odourgroup(s) of a basic substance.
Slightly more difficult and risky is trying to define contrast, relation and complementarity of odours. We must appeal again on the analogy with our other senses and therefore we define an "odour-wheel".
On top are the odours that quickly become unpleasant when too strong. To ethereal or to foul influence harmony in a bad way. Turning to the right more pleasant odours are flowery and fruity. On the bottom are the odours mostly associated with agricultural food (grassy and herbal) and turning more to the left the ones we associate with animal products.
Related are odours that are close to one another in the odour spectrum without being identical. Used together they "broaden" the odour-image that can have interesting effects. We have to concentrate while eating to be able to observe the distinct flavours. Wines can have that effect; we observe "red fruits" because the odours vary from cherry to blackcurrant to raspberry to strawberry etc.
It does not really matter if related odours are classified in the same odour-group or in adjacent ones. Some food is difficult to classify in one group. Think of litchi where the fruity and flowery components are difficult to distinguish. Classification in groups was a convention we assumed, in reality each odour-component is an unique substance and the same rules as for light and sound apply i.e. a continuous spectrum.
Contrast is obtained when combining 2 odour-groups that lay further apart in the colour-wheel such as animal and fruity (chicken and apple), foul and fruity (venison and cranberry) etc. Some people do not like contrasts in food. This has to do with the deeper feelings of harmony that synthesise through reasoning with the knowledge base and the character of a particular person. Some persons do not support contrasts and become irritated. Irritation stands in the way of the final harmony. Abstract painting and Jazz have their freaks and opponents too.
Complementarity is most important with odours. A complement is: what must be added to form a whole. With colours it is related to contrast because opposite colours in the colour-wheel make white light when mixed in the right quantities. With odours we use the definition above. Adding a complementary odour in the odour-spectrum makes it more complete. During consumption the odours mix and make a fuller overall flavour. This is experienced as very harmonious. For example: the smoky and herbal flavours of nuts together with the animal odours of cheese. When complemented further with fruit such as grapes or dried fruit and on the other side with a perfect ripening state of the cheese (foul flavours) the "picture" is complete.
When we compose a course we must know which effect we want to obtain and try to obtain it. We must decide if we want to lay accents on a specific odour-group or if we want to attenuate or amplify specific odours. Clamorous combinations must be avoided so in practice this means that we must be careful not to overdo certain odours.
This analysis shows us how we must apply odours to obtain certain effects. Undesirable odours can be eliminated through masking or absorption (i.e. greying). To mask means: to add a dominant odour in such a way that the faulty odour disappears for example unacceptable red wine with a little cork-odour can be transformed in an acceptable Sangria by adding 10 cl brandy (smoky flavours), half an orange and half a lemon (fruity and ethereal flavours) sliced and cut in pieces and 2 tablespoons of sugar to compensate the sour and bitterness (tannin) of the wine. The added quit strong flavours mask the wines defects. To absorb means: adding components with a flat odour-spectrum such as water, dairy-products, dough etc. On top of this there is a physical phenomena for which I have no explanation that results in the fact that certain strong odours can be attenuated : to remove strong odours of frying oil we can bake pieces of bread in it, to blotter certain stocks we add potatoes whom are removed before falling apart so they cannot harm the preparation.
The dominance of a certain odour can be eliminated by broadening the spectrum through addition of a nearby odour-component (for example grassiness can be removed by cooking the aliment in a beef- or fish-stock) or by raising the basic taste (for example sour in a game-marinade).
We now described the basic processes that take place in the harmony of taste and odour. If we manage them and take them into account while preparing a meal the results will get better with experience. Practice makes perfect.
Odours in wine.
Wine is interesting because it has a large and elaborate odour-spectrum that varies in the short run : in the glass, and in the long run : in the bottle when aging.
The same way we can repeatedly listen to a piece of music and discover something different every time or when the same piece of music varies with its performers or conductors, we can do with wine. We can exchange impressions and experiences with fellow-tasters we can learn from eachother and devote our attention to certain components of the taste- and odour-spectrum. It is perfectly achievable to "taste" the wine-making process: if the wine was raised in oak (vanillin and wood flavours), made with an older installation (mould flavour), went through a maceration or special fermentation process. We can identify the type of grape(s) used and sometimes even the region (for example Chablis) or the name of the wine and the year of birth without looking at the label. A very amusing occupation on which we do not insist because we have to stick with the harmony of food and drinks and we conclude with the remark that a "special" bottle shall be savoured on its own without any other food.
Suppose we are presented with a glass of wine and we must identify the contents without tasting, only using our nose and with our eyes closed. If we cannot smell the colour of this wine, one may suppose the wine is quite ordinary (or not in its best condition concerning ripeness or serving-temperature). If its taste is balanced it will not harm the course with which it is served but it will not extol it either (see also our recommendations in the paragraph concerning harmony of taste).
Most cheap puddle-wines fulfil these criteria and in the land of origin they cost often the same as a bottle of lemonade. Taken with measure they are healthier, for an adult, as lemonade. It has been proven that people drinking no wine at all have the same chance on heart-problems than people drinking 11 glasses of wine each day; the smallest risk occurs with 2 glasses of (red) wine each day.
Since we mentioned puddle-wines we have to mention snob-wine too. These are the wines that are so expensive because in our world based on "free economy" something costs as much as somebody cares to pay for it. These products are unreachable for "ordinary" people. A perfect wine, taking into account the investments made for the land, the best fermentation and ripening installations, and the elaborate labour cannot cost less then 12 pounds. Fortunately wines to be served with a meal do not need such perfection at all and for every wallet there is a solution. Taking a little time to learn the basics about wine and tasting before buying can prevent disappointment.
To be of any interest one must be able to smell the colour of the wine. And not only the colour, wine must act on the odours of the food i.e. amplify, complement, broaden or deliver supplements or contrasts.
What is promised in the nose must be present in the mouth when drinking it. Mouth-flavour and odour must be balanced. Unbalanced bitter-sour-sweet ratio or to high intensity mask the "arôme-de-bouche".
Perhaps more than thousand different wines match a dish in perfect harmony. Why is it that we drink Burgundy with a Beef Bourguignon, Gewürztraminer with Munster-cheese and Madiran with Cassoulet? The choice is right and originates from the fact that those combinations arose through experience, long ago, in a time people were bounded to a place and did not travel a lot. They ate the local foods and drank the local wines and combined them until they found the perfect (local) combination. People sought sinful lust through all times. The best combinations are timeless and although sometimes perfectionable by means of the given rules, mentally it is satisfying to consume both food and drink from the same region. People have that urge of harmony too so why should we not comply with this. Everybody has the right to be respected for his own values and hopes on the fulfillment of his expectations.
Let us analyse which odours we can distinguish in normal wines - see spectra below.
The spectra are examples to fix the ideas.
Rosé wines have more or less the odours of both white and red wines.
All wine-tasting books treat the odours that are found in wine. Holtzappel (see bibliography) finds approximately 250 different flavours. All refer to know food for example strawberry, pear, leather, tobacco etc. The are needed for descriptive wine-tasting but not to necessary to obtain the harmony of food and drink.
Max Léglise (see bibliography) states that the odours of white and yellow flowers and fruits dominate in white wines and those of red flowers or red fruits in reds. This is a good rule of thumb because although not proven there is supposed to be a physical connection between colour- and odour-components. When a wine ages, the fruity flavours oxidize and more animal and smoky odours arise. White wines become more gold-coloured and darker, red wines more brown and light.
Young wines possess the most fruity and flowerish odours. Whites have apple, peach, apricot and citrus. Reds have strawberry, raspberry, cherry and blackcurrant odours.
Cask-ageing induces smoky and woody flavours and adds flowery and herbal components (vanillin). The fine tannins of the oak fortify and complement the harmony of the wine itself.
Older wines develop heavier odours: smoke (coffee, tobacco), animal (leather, horsehair, wet dog) or even foul (mould, mushroom, kitchen-sink odour typical for old Burgundy-wines). Well-aged red wines are the ones that have conserved still the younger, lighter (fruity, flowery ) odours together with the heavier ones. Their spectrum has broadened and became a lot richer.
On behalf of the harmony of food and drink we mainly distinguish following types in wine:
On normal wines we said it all : choose flavour-intensity in report to the flavour rate of the food and balance bitter-sour-sweetness of the combination. These wines do no harm to the food but do not raise its value.
Special wines are wines with pronounced, unusual flavours that dominate easily. They demand special food and specialised knowledge of the cook to obtain a perfect harmony. A simple example is : "Poulet au Vin Jeaune" served of course with Vin Jaune (= French Jura-wine). Errors are easily made which is a pity for the food and the wine since its subtle flavours are lost. Gewürztraminer is another example of a wine with a dominant character , Viognier-wine (for example Condrieu, Hermitage) is a wine that looses its subtle flavours easily when served with high flavour-intensive food.
Spirited means full of strength, spirit, energy, not faint. Spirited wines are fresh, fruity and herbal and go well together with spirited dishes. Jung and spirited are mostly joined, also for wine. Examples are: Riesling- and Sauvignon Blanc wines for whites and Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah-wines for reds. Spirited wines have, spectrally spoken, definite odours with big intensity differences and a basic taste balance that is not easily disturbed. We draw an analogy with modern music or modern art.
Solemn means distinguished, proud, respectable, and stately. Solemn wines are round and mouth-filling and sometimes even taste a little greasy. They make harmony with dishes subtle of taste, from whom the balance is easily disturbed such as most dishes prepared with soft, creamy sauces or stocks. An explicit herb or dominant sour sweet- or bitterness in the food can harm the taste of the wine. Ripe Sémillon- and Chardonnay-wines are examples of solemn white wines, Pinot Noir en Merlot-wines may serve as an example for reds. We draw an analogy with classical, symphonic music and classic art.
Evolved wine was treated before. Through evolution the balance becomes more delicate and fragile, which also means easily disturbed. Wines for which we waited a long time to be in optimal condition deserve to be drunk separate from food and savoured in company of a good friend.
The cook-artist must be the one that innovates and dares to experiment with the theory we elaborated before. Thousands of combinations are waiting to be discovered. This artist must do his job thoroughly and explain his ideas to the user as clearly as possible in a way that this user does not have expectations that cannot be fulfilled or wrongly associates the subject with what he already knows.
As is the case with many things, what is a value for one is a banality for another. A good cook must not try to change people by forcing things upon them for which they are not mentally ready. Through knowledge and experience he is allowed to bring them to the same insights he has have him. This can only be done through free will and acceptance from the others. For this he must draw their attention and raise their interest.
For the "eater" this article can be a motivation to be open for what the world offers in food and drink and pleasures of taste and smell and try such new combinations. Our senses and our brain are the most beautiful gift we got, "use them or loose them..."
Willy Van Cammeren, november 1994
A guide to the selection, combination and cooking of foods - volume I en II
Carl A. Rietz - AVI publishing company Westport Connecticut V.S.- 1961
Over eten en koken.
Harold McGee - Uitgeverij Bert Bakker Amsterdam NL - 1992
ISBN 90 351 1087 0
Dat is wijnproeven.
Albert Holtzappel - Het Spectrum B.V. Utrecht NL - 1986
ISBN 90 274 0551 4
Une initiation à la dégustation des grands vins.
Max Léglise - Editions Jeanne Laffitte Marseille F - 1984
ISBN 2 8676 085 4
Le goût du vin.
Emile Peynaud - Dunod Paris F - 1983
ISBN-2 0401 5709 3