28 Jan 2013

Handmade Pasta and Italian Wine Night with Yorkshire Wine School

I really enjoyed this event, which I attended as a guest of Yorkshire Wine School. A cookery demonstration from chef Tom Guise and a tasting of six Italian wines with Laura Kent – a welcome glass of Prosecco, three more whites and two reds.

The pasta was absolutely superb. If I'm honest I'm a huge fan of plain old dried pasta dressed in a good sauce – I love pasta – and sometimes find the fresh stuff to be a slight disappointment, but this was just brilliant. Linguine with clams was excellent; later, a small bowl of spiced squash ravioli in sage butter was an absolute beauty - really supremely good, top-notch stuff. Very impressive.

On to the wines. Of the whites, the slightly off-dry Roero Arneis Malvira 2010 (£10.99, Waitrose) from Piedmont was my favourite, evoking warmer climes as it swished around with the clams like a leisurely breaking tide.

My stand-out red - and favourite wine of the night - was the Langhe Nebbiolo Renato Ratti 2010 (M&S, £13.99), again from Piedmont. I love this kind of thing: big, earthy, savoury aromas mellowing and melding together, just calling out for a fireside swirl in a nice big glass and, I imagine, it'd be great alongside a deep meaty stew or a joint of meat falling from the bone.

The other wines we tasted on the night all went down well: the softly textured Greco Sannio 2011 (£6.95, The Wine Society) white wine from Campania represents very good value; the Primitivo A Mano 2008 (Latitude Wines & Spirits, £8.99) a touch on the sweeter and jammier side of things for me but went down very easily; and the Prosecco Collezione NV Brut (£7.99, Waitrose) simply did what Prosecco does and nicely relaxed the tasting muscles for the main event.

As well as the food and wine tasting, an interesting feature of the night was a talk about the 'flavour wheel' and the principles of food and wine matching. Laura said that, while different people will have their own tastes in terms of the kinds of drinks they like to match with different foods, there are certain effects that always tend to take place when you combine different things. For example, eating salty food can make a wine taste less bitter, it can play down the acid and can make the wine feel smoother or "bigger" in the mouth - certainly the clam linguine eaten along with a slurp of Soave Classico Pieropan 2011 (Latitude Wines & Spirits, £12.99) appeared to give the wine a bit more richness, a bit more body than when I tasted it on its own.

It's all really interesting stuff – a good reminder of the fact that, yes foods and drinks objectively have flavour properties, but how we taste or experience those flavours will vary depending on when we taste them. As well as the chemistry that comes into play as in this example of salty foods, there are also psychological factors that sway how we experience flavours. Think of the "holiday effect" when you bring back a case of wine that seemed delicious at the time, but then you taste it when you get back home…

Oh, and one final point, this was also the first time I'd had the chance to taste monosodium glutamate (MSG) in its naked state. A strange experience! Converting flavour experiences into words is notoriously tricky anyway, but with the umami, savoury type thing that MSG is all about, it's almost impossible to put into words. It doesn't taste of a whole lot on its own - although it does taste of something - it's more like a bass note that delivers a bit of oomph to everything else; enhances other flavours as opposed to adding something immediately definable in itself. Parmesan cheese and soy sauce are packed full of it.

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