Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Anne Krebiehl blogs from the first of the London Experimental Oenological Seminars

Published:  12 September, 2012

Anne Krebiehl went along to the first of Professor Barry Smith's experimental oenological seminars for an eye-opening tasting.

She writes: We thought it might be fun to branch out into wine," said Professor Barry Smith as he opened the first of a series of London Experimental Oenological Seminars (LEOS). Born out of the rather successful series of London Gastronomy Seminars, this new sequence on wine tries to come to the subject from a different angle. Quite understandably so, since Smith is not an oenologist or viticulturist but director of the Institute of Philosophy in the School of Advanced Study of the University of London. Here he has founded CenSes, the Centre for the Study of the Senses, where, amongst other things, he explores "the nature of taste and the multisensory perception of flavour". A departure, then, from your average wine tasting. "Experimental" in this case means that wine is actually tasted.

The opening night's theme was suitably accessible for a motley gathering of chefs, coffee specialists, mixologists, philosophers and oenology students in the suitably sombre and academic setting of Senate House: "Primary Aromas: The case of Sauvignon". Who better to present this than Dr Wendy Parr, also a multi-disciplinarian with a background in experimental psychology and now senior research officer of wine sensory science at Lincoln University, New Zealand, and boutique winemaker.

Considering that this was a seminar not necessarily aimed at wine professionals the premise was simple enough: initially, four Sauvignon Blancs were poured blind and everyone was invited to sniff, taste, make some notes and then group these four wines into categories under whichever heading they would fit together in our minds. Then the wines were discussed: despite the communality of the variety the wines were strikingly different. Parr then projected a slide with aromas commonly found in Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc and asked if according to these the wines could be assigned to a particular country of which there were three. Interestingly, nobody ventured guesses but the wines' characteristics were discussed enthusiastically. The wines were revealed as hailing from Chile (one of them restrained and very fresh from 2011, one of them rather smoky and unripe from 2009), a 2010 Menetou-Salon smothered by oak and an aromatic 2011 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Interestingly, provenance and age mattered much less to this group than the overall flavour of the wines - take note wine trade!

Parr presented more research comparing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to exponents of the variety from Austria and France and diagrams showed that pungent flavours of tropical fruit, broom, sweet citrus and boxwood were both analytically consistently higher in Kiwi Sauvignons and also perceived as such, no matter whether tasted by the French, Austrians or Kiwis. However, she also showed a diagram where, strikingly, all the flavours commonly associated with Marlborough Sauvignon like passionfruit, leafiness and green pepper where more pronounced and persistent in Marlborough wines made from machine harvested fruit than those same local wines made from hand-harvested fruit. Just another kink in the lovely and complicated texture of terroir.

To end the evening, two more Sauvignons were poured blind, this time from the same vintage 2007: a Cloudy Bay and a Pouilly Fumé from Château de Tracy, which won hands down in aroma, concentration, length and overall balance. Too late, really, to start a proper discussion - or possibly just for that very reason - Barry posed the most interesting question of the evening: Did Sauvignon Blanc have a quality ceiling, was it ever capable of reaching true greatness? The name Dagueneau fell almost immediately but was cited as the exception that proves the rule, Parr conceded that for her Sauvignon Blanc was essentially always a lunch wine, lacking "both the intellect and sensuality" to be a wine for the evening. I hope that this question was contemplated properly, possibly over the dregs of that lovely Pouilly Fumé.

When asked about the impetus for this new seminar series, Smith explained that "people want to understand more about wine and I want to bring together sensory scientists to pool experiences. Wine is a cultural object, an aesthetic object, a scientific object, a sensory object, so we need an approach that does justice to all of that."

Lectures are open to everyone and cost £20. The theme for the forthcoming LEOS seminar on October 8 is not decided yet, but you can sign here or