Applying aromatic science of molecular harmony for wine pairing

Mar 6, 2021


In a chapter of the book Tastebuds and Molecules, which explains the aromatic science created by François Chartier, there is a concrete example of molecular harmonies offered during a meal proposed by Chartier, oenologist Pascal Chatonnet and chef Stéphane Modat. After a tasting of a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château Beaucastel 2006, notes of honey (phenylacetaldehyde) and apricot/peach (lactones) emerged as the dominant molecules (aromas). 

The interaction between the guests and the discussion with the chef resulted in a dish dominated by ingredients containing the same molecules as the Beaucastel white wine: scallops with bitter almond oil, warm fennel salad with imperial tangerine, mirin, salted/dried corn powder. This dish was based on the aromatic profiles of two molecules described during the tasting: phenylacetaldehyde and lactones. 

This exercise of molecular could be translate : 
wine aromas  -> Complementary aromas (dishes) -> dominant molecules  

This exercise of molecular harmonies can also be reversed: 
Complementary aromas (dishes) -> dominant molecules -> wine aromas.  

Harmonizing with food and wine or other beverages is challenging and complex for many sommeliers and wine lovers, chefs, or home cooks. A tasting session that uses the keys of aromatic science will save time and allow you to think about future harmonies using the formula described above. 

By adding the “complementary aromas” to my notes of the many wines I have tasted, specific pairings created to accompany the tasting menus of the restaurants where I worked began to occur spontaneously. The harmonies came naturally. 

The brain accumulates information that will be useful in due course, beginning with the analysis of potential aromatic paths. 

The more extensive this mental database is thanks to your curiosity, the more easily harmonies will be achievable and will be multiple, as much for the choice of wines and beverages, as for the creation or adaptation of recipes created “by and for” the wine. Moreover, multiple harmonies can be possible with the same dish, according to the guests’ tastes. 

With a dish such as Hare à la Royale, a Cabernet Sauvignon wine aged in oak barrels, with a note of evolution, works perfectly. The reason is simple: the dish’s complementary aroma contains 90% dark chocolate and black truffle, both linked by the dimethyl trisulfide molecule, also found in the wine mentioned above.  

I served a fresh junmai ginjo sake with a ceviche since the “tiger leche” was a perfect match for the green apple notes associated with the ethyl caproate that is dominant in this type of sake. 

Tests are essential to find the perfect harmony and achieve what Chartier describes as “harmonic nirvana”. One thing is sure; this intellectual gymnastics always leads the sommelier using it into an “aromatic comfort” zone. There is perfect harmony with the glass and the plate when there is aromatic harmony; the same can be said of music: when the notes are in the same key, there is harmony. It is quite simple! 

Other factors can include the possible magic of the texture, the day’s expressivity, the impact of the chosen vintage, the style of the producer, etc. We are talking about a personal experience, the subjectivity, which makes the sommelier or the guest like or dislike something and allows us to put our human perception back at the centre of the harmonies. 

I like to consider aromatic molecules as bridges between food and wine and other beverages. Molecules allow me to connect food and drink with scientific logic. If you leave out the molecular step, which can be tedious and chemically complicated, other “shortcuts” are possible: all you must do is learn the possible combinations between ingredients to fill this famous “aromatic baggage.” 

From the moment we understand that black olives harmonize with Syrah wines or that fresh mint enters in aromatic synergy with Sauvignon Blanc wines (or with similar wines, such as Verdejo, Furmint or Cortese), there is no need to possess the science behind these aromatic harmonies. All the sommelier has to do is make use of this new harmonic roadmap! 

The examples used earlier deal with wines. However, aromatic science applies to any beverage. Aromatic molecules are present everywhere. The same approach to creating recipes, pairing, organizing a tasting, or understanding a product can apply to distilled drinks, beers, juices, and tea. The dimethylpyrazines found in Cabernet Sauvignon wines are also present in Pu-erh black tea. The sotolon from Jerez wines is also found in cooked Oolong tea, thus creating new opportunities.  

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