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Here at Creation we recently had the pleasure of welcoming Professor Gabriel Lepousez in our midst. Gabriel holds a PhD in Neuroscience from the Sorbonne University and is an expert on sensory perception and brain plasticity. He is a wine aficionado and will be working on several scientific projects with our team and researchers from Stellenbosch University. In short, we intend looking at how we reverse engineer wine compounds such as phenolics and organic acids from viticulture through to the fermentation process. We’ll be looking at the impact of these viti-vinicultural processes on umami taste thresholds in wine, its relevance to wine and food pairing and how it can enhance the wine lover’s experience.

Last week, our team joined a masterclass with Gabriel on the subject of ‘Sensory Perception in Wine’, and among other things, we learned how we smell in stereo. Yes indeed! Our nostrils operate independently of each other, sending different signals to the brain which are then computed to determine the direction of the odour.

Umami is one of our five major tastes, together with salty, sour, sweet and bitter. Despite its mysterious name, umami is a primal taste that most of us can relate to because our first experience of umami comes from mother’s milk. Indeed, human breast milk contains not only fat and sugar (lactose) but also glutamate, the major driver of the umami taste.  Umami taste receptors all over the tongue detect amino acids —the bricks that compose proteins— some nucleotides —the bricks that compose genetic material— and also fermentation-derived compounds such as succinic acid.

To be released, umami compounds need lengthy fermentation, maturation or cooking. Examples of ingredients containing significant levels of umami are cured protein-rich foods such as cheese (Parmesan), cooked and cured meat, fish sauce and soy sauce, chicken stock, beef stock and fish stock. Umami is also available to vegetarians, since compounds are present in ripe tomato, asparagus, celery and mushroom. Additional sources known to us in South Africa are Marmite, Nik Naks, biltong and droëwors. What do these ingredients have in common? A delicious and persistent salty/savoury taste which triggers a prolonged release of a thick and coating saliva in the mouth, leaving the tactile impression of a comfortable, enveloping mouthfeel.

What about wine? The yeast can be a major source of umami, releasing succinic acid during fermentation as well as amino acids and nucleotides during maturation on the lees. I firmly believe umami makes wine shine, contributing that additional third ‘wow’ dimension. Here I’d like to quote Gabriel Lepousez: “In the field of umami, 1 + 1 = 3, meaning that the subtle umami present in food and in wine will eventually turn into an explosion of umami when paired in the mouth”. But the proof always remains in the tasting and we would love to treat you to some of our umami-focused pairings on your next visit.

Carolyn Martin – Co-owner and Creative Director, Creation Wines

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