Last weekend (29th September-1st October) Barcelona was the venue for the Wine & Culinary International Forum, the first international congress on the harmony and interaction between wine and cuisine, as well as the complementary nature of both on gastronomic menus. The event, sponsored by Bodegas Torres and aimed at professionals, took place at the Hotel ME Barcelona.
240 professionals from the world of wine and food attended the event, with Catalunya and Spain represented by Meritxell and Toni Falgueras from the Celler de Gelida, Juan Antonio Herrero from Restaurante Lágrimas Negras, Joan Ras, President of the Catalan Academy of Gastronomy, Rosa Esteve from the Tragaluz Group, Juli Soler from El Bulli, Marie Louise Bayols from Lavinia, Isabel Brunet from Monvínic and Joan Carles Ibañez fr0m Lasarte, among others. Sommeliers came from the Netherlands, Canada, Finland, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. There was a full press corps among which Ireland was represented by a trio of wine writers – myself, Tomas Clancy, John Wilson – plus Melanie Morris, editor of Image. All-in-all a very sociable and harmonious team who, together with Findlater/Torres PR consultant Emma Needham fell into that category an England cricket captain or a Barbarians tour manager might describe as “good tourists”, essential if you are to live cheek-by-jowl in a hotel and at a conference for three days.
So far as I am aware, there has never been an event of this kind in which in which influential sommeliers, chefs, wine producers and tasters in the world debated, as objectively and scientifically as possible, the complementary nature of food and wine.
That the congress could take place was thanks to Bodegas Torres who maintain an interest in exploring the culture of wine over and above commercial considerations. The organisation was absolutely spot on with events starting on time and running to tight schedules throughout the day, important when, as on Saturday, we kicked off at ten in the morning and finished at 9pm.
As in any such event, some lectures and workshops were more interesting and informative than others. Josep Roca, one of the three brothers behind the 3-star El Celler de Can Roca at Girona, with massive chutzpah entitled his talk ‘Sommelier, a risky profession: my boldest matches’ but, alas, the talk didn’t quite match the hype, perhaps the topic was too daunting. And the ensuing ‘round table’ conducted by three eminent sommeliers didn’t really get to the heart of the matter. It’s only a personal conclusion but I believe here ego got in the way of giving the customer a good time and, from the discussion outside afterwards, I heard others express the same opinion. Still, dissent as well as assent is what these gatherings are and should be about.
The workshop ‘Wine in Sweet Cuisine’ given jointly by star pastry chef Oriel Balagueur and Ferran Centelles, sommelier at El Bulli for 11 years, was very well received. For me, though, the highlight of the day was the workshop ‘Taste Buds and Molecules; the aromatic science of Food & Wine’ given by Canadian author, cook, researcher and sommelier, François Chartier who has also worked with Ferran Adria. I am on record for dissing much of what’s written about food and wine pairing, believing a good deal of it to be hokum, or at least, mere personal opinion, unsubstantiated by evidence. My own view has long been that marriages of food and wine are like any other marriage. Five per cent of them are made in heaven; ten per cent in hell; and all the rest can be made to work. Now along comes a guy who has done his homework and established clear scientific links and relationships between the ‘taste molecules’ in food and wine – “synergie aromatique” as François called it. Now we’re talking! At last we can determine a relationship based on logic and science, not wooly opinion. This was ‘road to Damascus’; for me and I can’t wait to get my hands on his book, which I ordered from Amazon as soon as the talk had ended.
The tripartite conversation between Jancis Robinson, who needs no introduction, her husband, the ex-restaurateur turned critic, Nick Lander and Spanish-American sommelier Victor de la Cerna was notable for Jancis’ incisive introduction of the word ‘price’, first time I’d heard it mentioned all day. That evening she showed me the blad for her latest book Wine Grapes, Co-authored with Julia Harding MW and grape genetecist José Vouillamoz. It promises to be an authoritative tome. Jancis, whom I last met approx 25 years ago, is convivial, as well as impressive. We need her, as the first line of defence against the massed ranks of those who would turn wine appreciation into number crunching. Good also to meet Fiona Beckett (@winematcher) at last, with whom I’ve had some interesting sparring matches on Twitter re wine and food pairing – now she is a believer! Also Britta Wiegelmann, editor-in-chief of ‘Vinum’ magazine and another ‘good tourist’.
The first day concluded with a tasting of wines by Primum Familiae Vini, the ‘first families of wine’, an international association created in 1992 by Robert Drouhin and Miguel Torres and consisting of eleven European family-owned estates. Of course, to do it properly we should have had Sassicaia, Tignanello and Vega Sicilia but a line up of Badia & Passignano Riserva 2007; Guidalberti 2010; Ch Beaucastel 2007; Vega Sicilia Alión 2009; Petit Mouton 2005; Torres Grans Murailles 1998; Conca de Barbera 2007; Pol Roger 2002; Drouhin Le Clos 2008 and a Symington vintage port is not a bad way to end a day, especially a long one.
On the next day we went to the Torres Winery at Penedes. Mercifully,we were spared the bottling line! Interesting to see the high investment level and the ongoing renewal program in the vineyard. Highlight had to be the 8-course, plus amuses bouches, lunch provided by the trio of Roca brothers from El Celler de Can Roca which left us in no doubt as to why this restaurant is the current number two on Restaurant Magazine’s global list.
Finally, a huge thank you to the organisers and Miguel Torres for providing such a thought-provoking conference and, yes, let’s admit it, a gastronomic tour de force. I’ve love to see it become a regular, perhaps biennial event.