photos courtesy Sk Delph

UNLVino and Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits premiered four educational courses this season, and the one I was so fortunate to attend was HOW FOOD AFFECTS WINE—A BASAL FLAVOR TASTING, held on March 27 with Hannah Bellemare, a Swedish (now local) celebrity gastro-sommelier (she’s been featured in Forbes Magazine). Fully armed with a degree in Gastronomy Culinary Science from Umeå University Sweden and an Advanced WSET Sommelier Certification from The Swedish Restaurant Academy of Stockholm, she’s even writing her own cookbook. What's even more impressive is that she worked at a Scandinavian Molecular Gastronomy restaurant, broadening her exposure to the type of food preparation that's considered top echelon today. Hannah also created, a website featuring private tastings with French red wines, sparkling wines and champagnes, chocolate, sauces, cheese, and blind tastings to name just a few. And she plays with cheetahs. Yes, you read that right. Hannah is a diverse soul with deep feelings of kindness and compassion. She volunteers and fundraises for Cheetah Outreach, an operation trying to save the cheetah from extinction, located just outside Cape Town on the Western Cape of South Africa.

Hannah’s eyes sparkle as she shares her experiences teaching the art of food and wine pairing. “I want to spread my passion for the ‘science’ behind correctly pairing food and wine,” she said. “Often, clients will look for advice on picking a wine to complement a certain dish. What I love to do, is to pick the wine first, and it doesn't matter if the wine is five dollars or five hundred dollars, it’s all about choosing the ingredients and building the dish around the wine. In basal flavor tastings we experience the results of combining pure flavors with one another; I love to see people's surprise at the results. It's a mind-blowing experience!”

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to make a bottom shelf wine from the grocery store taste amazing. Let's get this class started!

The course opens with a serving of potato chips and a shaker of salt. What madness is this, you might find yourself asking, but hold tight. The method is about to unfold. 

The first pour is a 2018 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. The nose is bright with strong citrus notes, the taste, acidic and a touch bitter. Next we crunch on potato chips, sprinkled liberally with more salt to get the full effect, and quickly followed it with a sip of wine. The beautiful acidity was dimmed while the bold citrus flavors shined, much like fresh squeezed grapefruit.

The lesson here is to consider the level of salt in the dish when building a plate to match your wine. In my tasting notes, I jotted down how salt helped to magnify sweetness, bringing the fruit forward while softening the tannins. It reminded me of Japanese sushi spiced with wasabi and soy sauce, a plate often considered a challenge for wine pairing, and thought, why not try a Riesling? Hannah, step by step, was successfully opening our eyes to how flavors can come together in a whole new way.

Meanwhile, a platter has arrived with slices of lemon, a piece of endive, a teaspoon of hot chili, a small mound of prosciutto, a pat of cream cheese and a marshmallow. We puckered up with lemon then tasted the Sauvignon Blanc, and like magic, the wine tasted like water. We continued in this manner, experiencing the transformation of flavor from one ingredient to the next. It was revelatory. 

In the background, Hannah is filling us in on the history of flavors. “We are in love with the taste of sweetness from the day we are born, going back thousands of years. It helped us survive by showing us what provides energy and what’s good to eat. Bitterness relates to our innate sense of protection. Too bitter and it may be bad for us. Bitter ingredients include hops, arugula and coffee.” 

The three other pours were: Dr. Loosen Riesling Spätlese Wehlener Sonnenuhr from Mosel, Germany; Jean Claude Boisset Bourgogne Les Ursulines Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France; and Rust en Vrede Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch, South Africa.

I'd love to describe the entire class in detail, but then you’d be robbed of the chance to experience it on your own. If you missed it, be on the lookout for it next year.