Sensory Effects of Consuming Cheese Prior to Evaluating Red Wine Flavor
By: Berenice Madrigal-Galan and Hildegarde Heymann
In: American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, 57(1):12-22. 2006
To view this abstract, see AJEV Online
Since wine and cheese are often consumed together, these authors chose to study, through descriptive analysis, the way in which the flavor perception of different red wines is influenced by pairing them with different types of cheeses.
- · Cheese and wine have a tradition of being a perfect match, even if recommendations in the popular literature are rarely justified and sometimes disagree. As for the scientific literature, references to wine/food pairings are infrequent.
- · These authors felt that to study cheese and wine pairing, an understanding of the way in which cheese affects the sensory attributes of wine was required. So they evaluated the sensory effects of a variety of cheeses on red wine flavor and compared the results to the wine flavor when no cheese was consumed.
- · They chose 8 wines -2 from each of 4 varieties- in an attempt to select a low and a high price point within each variety: Pinot noir, Pinot noir$, Merlot, Merlot$, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon$, Syrah, and Syrah$. For the cheeses, they chose 8 that covered a range from soft to hard: California Mozarella, California Teleme, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Vermont Cheddar, New York Cheddar, Gruyere, and Emmental.
- · One of the techniques used by researchers to evaluate sensory characteristics is called Descriptive Analysis. In Descriptive Analysis, a panel of tasters -called an analytical panel- is trained to recognize smell and taste sensations – or attributes- and then given the task of measuring the intensity of those attributes in a wine, not unlike how a highly calibrated and reproducible pH meter would measure pH in any given sample.
- · The analytical panel in this case consisted of 11 students at UC Davis. Training consisted of 10 1-hour sessions, which normally follows the routine: 1) the panel generates aroma and flavor descriptors for the specific wines, 2) reference standards for those descriptors are presented -first in water, then in wine-, 3) the judges refine the descriptors (eliminate, add, lump, break apart, etc) as needed, and 4) the panel decides which descriptors to retain.
- · The actual evaluation –which followed a mock evaluation to confirm that panel performance was satisfactory- consisted of 2 stages. In stage 1, the panel performed descriptive analysis of the 8 wines alone. In stage 2, the panel evaluated 64 wine-cheese combinations, in triplicate, during 24 sessions (8 wine-cheese “combos” per session). Cheeses were presented as a 5 gram cube, which was placed entirely in the mouth and chewed before the judge moved on to evaluate the wine, which was finally expectorated.
- · Wines without cheese: Even though the individual wines selected for each variety pair were not necessarily representative of the population of “low price” and “high price” wines for that particular variety, the authors observed one interesting trend. The Cabernet$ had more astringency and more oak flavor than the Cabernet; and similarly, the Merlot$ had more astringency and more oak flavor than the Merlot.
- · Effect of cheese on wines: Each cheese had an effect on wine, and this effect was consistent over the eight different wines (no “wine x cheese interactions”). In general, most cheeses decreased the intensity of the following wine attributes: berry, dried fruit, oak, mushroom, vegetal, and bell pepper aromas, berry and oak by mouth, sourness, and astringency. Butter aroma was the only wine attribute that was increased by eating cheese before evaluating the wine. Remaining wine attributes that the panel evaluated but were not affected by cheese included: mint, vanilla, leather, and chocolate aromas, chocolate by mouth, and ethanol. Some cheeses showed a bit more effect than others, depending on the attribute in question.
- · In their discussion, the authors cover a number of interesting mechanisms that may explain the results observed: sourness is probably being suppressed by salts in the cheese; individual sensitivity effects perception of bitterness; cheese protein-binding plays a role in suppressing every sensation; cheese fat-coating probably acts to suppress astringency; butter in cheese probably enhances a buttery sensation in wine; and strong cheeses likely cause a larger suppression effect than milder ones. Interestingly, researchers have found that enhancement is usually the prevailing phenomenon in food mixtures when the tastes/odors are similar and suppression is more frequent when the foods are dissimilar. The authors’ findings are in agreement with this.
Here, the authors performed a rigorous study to show that, contrary to what we might have thought, cheese decreases the intensity of most attributes of a red wine, and not the other way around. The authors are not implying that we should not enjoy wine and cheese together. On the contrary, as they clearly state at the end of the paper, the effects they find for a variety of wines and cheeses are so similar, that we should be able to enjoy almost any cheese with almost any wine.
Author: Bibiana Guerra, Editor: Kay Bogart. This summary series funded by J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines.