The ‘Guru of Gout’ Puisais – what affects the Taste of Wine

External Influences on the Taste of Wine with Jacques Puisais –

Jacques Puisais, the specialist in all things to do with understanding how taste works and how it develops, led us through a tasting of several wines to illustrate some of his life’s findings at the Faculty of Oenology, Bordeaux on Friday 11th January.

Founder of the Institut Francais du Gout, Puisais in 1993 taught over 20,000 school children and had over 100 teachers trained by gastronomic and culinary professionals (saying the taste buds of children today are deprived). His main focus this afternoon, at the Faculty d’Oenology, was the external influences on the taste of wine.

Forty students of the DUAD (Diplome d’universitaire d’analysis de degustation) listened to his philosophies and findings, but it was only when he started his wine tasting to demonstrate his ideas did his work begin to come alive.

First we started with the importance of TEMPERATURE. We tasted three wines blind; two reds, one served at 12 degrees and another at 16 degrees. The wines were completely different -much less astringent at the warmer temperature (colder temperatures accentuate the hardness of tannins) and yet Puisais assured us they were both 1992 Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste, Pauillac! The third wine seemed much cooler, but was also served at 16 degrees. It was, however, a different wine – Chateau Haut Bailly, of the same vintage, 1992, but from the Graves.

He described that wines have the attributes of the SOIL that their grapes come from; clayey soils stick to your hand and are astringently ‘sticky’ in the mouth, limestone soils make wines with ‘curves’ (‘galbe’) and gravelly soiled wines are free-flowing just like letting a fistful of gravel fall from your hand. He explained to us that wines had shape, structure and form. 

So stipulating the right temperature to serve a wine by type does not go far enough. It is essential to decide on the right temperature for each wine. Factors such as soil type and even date of flowering affect the way a wine tastes and therefore its optimal temperature. And wine is evolving every day…

Then we tried two sweet wines. Whilst tasting the second wine, we were subjected to a high level of NOISE interference – rather what you would imagine if you were in a school canteen or a noisy restaurant. The wine seemed less aromatically intense – older somehow. Yet they were the same wines – this time, 1998 Doisy Daene. According to Puisais sweet white wines such as Sauternes are among those wines more resistant to such strong outside influences such as noise and yet our ability to taste even this wine was impaired. Less intense wines are more susceptible.

Now we looked at the affect of the COLOURS of the table cloth on the taste of the wine served. Using the white table cloth as the control, the wine (an Entre Deux Mer Sauvignon) was aromatic with a persistent finish. Three further wines were served blind with a different coloured tablecloth each time. The wines tasted very different. On the yellow, green and blue cloth the wine was less persistant on the finish. With the yellow and green the wine was  particularly muted in terms of its aromatic intensity and with the blue it was more intense but not as much as with the white cloth. Against the green table cloth the acidity of the wine was diminished. Against the blue tablecloth the  wine seemed more watery (something to do with the tannins according to Puisais). It was in fact the same wine served each time. Colour of one’s immediate surroundings is very important to take into account when tasting wine. Neutral colours cause less ‘interference’ when tasting wines.

Then we looked at the effect of serving FOODS – matching texture, volume and flavour. A crunchy salad of various types of lettuce leaves seasoned with vinaigrette was served – a real no-no in the wine world. We tasted a further two white wines. The first was a fresh Sauvignon wine with very high acidity and wonderful citrus notes on its own. Then we tasted the salad and tasted the second wine. The wine appeared much lower in acidity and rounder, riper. Again it was the same wine – a Sancerre (100% Sauvignon). It matched perfectly the salad and had enough vivacity to cope with even its crunchy nature – not always the case according to Puisais. So there is no need to worry about serving vinaigrette as long as the acidity levels are similar in the wine and the food he assured us and proved it too.

The next wine was a beautiful garnet coloured red wine that smelt of blackcurrants and cream, had wonderful structure and length. So much so, that Puisais started to draw the wine on the blackboard with a head, a body and a tail all in balance with eachother.  A platter of St Nectaire cheese was passed around and we enjoyed the next wine with the cheese. According to Puisais the combination worked as the wine had as much volume as the cheese. It was the same wine – 1994 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, St Julien. Wines do have their own shape and structure and we need to take this into consideration when matching foods with wines. Superb – thank goodness for Fridays!

 Nicolle Croft


2 thoughts on “The ‘Guru of Gout’ Puisais – what affects the Taste of Wine

  1. If you are interested in the work of Jacques Puisais, he has just published a new book called Emprientes de Vins (ISBN 2-914635-18-4) apparently available in French and English. Edited by Deliceo, Les Editions du Capitole.

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