Sunday, December 5, 2010

Controlled Experiment: Licorice Candy (Twizzlers) and Synergistic, Positive Impact on Perceived Wine Quality

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By way of background: This is an experiment I have performed informally a number of times, and once here with some rigor, but here I will apply more discipline to it than I have in the past.

The experiment comes from informal findings that, when I sip dry red or white wine after chewing a piece of black licorice candy, the quality of the wine is improved, generally dramatically, over that which I have found without the licorice.  The effect lasts only for a couple of sips following each sip of licorice, and in my past experiment, I found it somewhat replicated with anise seeds.




In this experiment, I split a portion of Chez Ray Gewurztraminer 2010 - a very young wine - and steeped 350 ml of it with one shaved black Twizzler to see if I could obtain the same effect by applying the licorice candy to the wine, rather than to my palate.  I used a control of the same wine handled the same way but without the licorice, and compared both of these to tasting the unadulterated wine after chewing the licorice.  You can see results below.

The short summary is that soaking the licorice candy in the wine gives you licorice-flavored wine, of approximately the same quality as the original wine.  By contrast, chewing a little bit of black licorice before each sip of wine improves the gewurztraminer by a full point and a half on this five-star Spirit of Wine scale, a truly dramatic change.

I'd welcome any sense about the sensory components or science that may underlie this finding.  Informally, I have found the finding to be robust across dry red and white wines and across observers (at least observers who are willing to chew black licorice candy).  But I have no insights to offer as to the scientific basis for the finding.   I have posted a picture with the ingredients in case someone with more of a scientific bent can identify the likely active ingredients in this effect. 

By the way, this discovery has NOT led me to chew black licorice every time I sip wine - I believe that, as a reviewer, that would give me an artificially inflated opinion of the wines I sample.  (Plus it would add a bunch of calories and sugar to my diet!)

The oddest thing is that this is directly the converse of the effect of most sweet candies on dry red or white wines:  they typically make the wine taste, drier, more closed and almost bitter - which is why almost no one recommends sweet candy with your dry wines.
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Study notes:

For the notes below, I will indicate Control, Steeped and Chewed to represent the three conditions of:
Control: the base dry gewurztraminer, shaken several times (consistent with the Steeped condition)
Steeped: 350 ml of the gewurztraminer steeped for one day with a single shaved black Twizzler, shaken several times
Chewed: the base dry gewurztraminer, sipped after chewing and swallowing approximately 3/4 inch of a black Twizzler



In the glass, Control and Chewed: Clear, hint vanilla. 
In the glass, Steeped: Clear, distinct olive green cast.  Odd. 

On the nose, Control and Chewed: Poured cool with a brief decant and swirled vigorously, dry crisp fruit with hint of tropicality, not sweet in tone.
On the nose, Steeped: Poured cool with a brief decant and swirled vigorously, sweet licorice plus light laundry detergent and lemon.   


On the palate, Control: The primary elements on the palate are sleek mid palate with citrus and tropical acids defining the finish, which does linger a bit, though it grows cloying at the end.  2+ promise and concentration
On the palate, Steeped: The primary elements on the palate are distinct licorice flavored note in mid palate, balanced middle, very light acids and a clean finish. sleek mid palate with citrus and tropical acids defining the finish, which does linger a bit, though it grows cloying at the end.  2+ pleasant
On the palate, Chewed: The primary elements on the palate are concentrated, sweet and lush mid-palate, dripping with sweet citrus.  Finish coats your palate, with prickly and luscious robe gliding up and down your cheeks.  Four stars with its unexpected lushness and pleasure.

In summary, Control: Overall, rates two stars on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale, with a plus for promise and concentration.

In summary, Steeped: Overall, rates two stars on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale, with a plus for general pleasantness.
In summary, Control: Overall, rates four stars on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale with an unexpected lushness and pleasure following an unremarkable nose.

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