The Colours and Flavours of Puglia: A multi sensory experience

Apulia, or Puglia in Italian, is a unique kaliedoscope of vivid colours which paint the palatte of its places, its food and its wine.

Map of the wine regions in Puglia
A map of the wine regions in Puglia with a list of its DOC and DOCG wines

The region is a peninsula between the Adriatic and Ionic seas with over 800 kilometers of coastline, longer than any other mainland Italian region. It is also among the hottest and driest regions in Italy with a mediterranean climate of hot, sunny summers and mild winters.

In fact, it is this hot, dry climate together with calcareous clay and limestone soils that give Puglia such striking chromatic intensity. From the bright, turquoise sea contrasted by luminous, white limestone buildings, to the golden fields of wheat, the dark green olive groves, the deep purple grape bunches in the vineyards, and the rich, red soils, it is certainly a visually stunning region. It is also a true living testament of how the abundance of sun and dry, fertile land, surrounded by the sea, have characterised the cuisine and formed wine making traditions.

Various images of Puglia and its landscape

Furthermore, what effect might the visual impact of these colours have on our other senses?

The beach in Santa Maria Di Leuca, “The Maldives of Salento “

This is a photo of the beach in Santa Maria de Leuoca,  known as the “The Maldives of Salento”. The crystal clear, turquoise waters fading into the horizon of an azure sky and the golden, white sand make this place one of the most beautiful beaches in Italy. But also, just by looking at this photo, it’s possible to perceive sensations that overflow to our other senses.

You may hear the sound of the waves gently falling on the sandy shore. You may smell the fresh, clean sea air around you. You may feel the soft, warm sand between your toes, the warmth of the sun and the cool, refreshing water as you enter the sea. You may taste the salty sea water as you swim. The image alone can create a series of expectations for our other senses which would become intensely gratifying once we experience them.

If this is true for an image of the sea, then imagine the implications for wine and food.

Visual sensory cues in wine

When tasting wine, the first step is to evaluate its appearance, looking at its clarity, colour and consistency. This visual information helps the taster discern the type of wine, its composition and its evolution while giving a clue as to the type of aromas and flavours one can expect. Additionally, the colour of a wine depends on a number of factors including climate, varietal, wine making techniques, pH levels, evolution and conservation.

A colour chart of wine from winefolly
A chart of colours in wine from Wine Folly

Red wines from Puglia, such as Negroamaro and Primitivo, are particularly known for their concentration and intensity in colour, and have even been used in wines from Northern Italy and France in blends to add more colour (It’s the same story for olive oil).

Concentrated and intense colour of a red wine from Puglia

This intensity is a result of specific pedoclimatic conditions which allow the grapes to accumulate a large quantity of poliphenols, such as antocyanins and tannins, which not only give the wine it’s colour, they also give it complexity and structure.

This is an example of how colour is an indicator of the characteristics in food and wine itself, but colour also plays an important role in stimulating all our senses, adding to our overall experience of what we eat and drink.

The impact of colour on our perception of flavour

When thinking about food and beverages we naturally think of their taste and flavour, however the fact that we see it before consuming it is not to be overlooked. As Marcus Gavius Apicius, the notorious Roman Gourmand, said…

Mosaic portrait of Marcus Gavius Apicius

“The first taste is always with the eyes.”

Charles Spence, professor and experimental psychologists at Oxford University, has specialised in studying the integration of information across different sensory modalities, in particular related to our perception of food and drink.

Professor Charles Spence in his office

In his article On the Psychological Impact of Food Colour, he states that…

“Colour is perhaps the single most important product-intrinsic sensory cue when it comes to setting our expectations regarding the likely taste and flavour of food and drink.”

Here it is necessary to clarify the distinction between taste and flavour. Taste being a gustatory sense is related to the perception of sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness (as well as the newly discovered umami). Flavour, on the other hand, is a combination of gustatory and olfactory senses (via retronasal) related to the perception of combined taste and aroma. However, Spense takes it a step further claiming that…

“The perception of flavour is perhaps the most multi sensory of our everyday experiences.”

…likening it to a “multimodal sensory system” where all the senses are bounded together, across external factors of age, sex, ethnicity, and culture, to create a unique experience (Multisensory Flavour Perception , C.S.)

Visual aspects of food and drink include the intensity, luminosity, and variety of colour in addition to aesthetic balance, harmony and orientation. Intensity in colour creates the expectation of intensity in flavour while luminosity denotes freshness. Likewise, a variety of colour stimulates our senses, creating the expectation of a variety of flavours. These expectations are a result of our accumulated experience from childhood through our adult life which create associations in our mind linking colour to taste and flavour.

It has also been proven that aesthetically pleasing dishes are perceived as actually tasting better than the same ingredients in a less appealing composition. Take this example of a study done in 2014 by Franco-Colombian chef, Charles Michel called “Kandinsky On a Plate” (Multisensory Flavour Perceptions, C.S. )

Kandinsky on a Plate study, Charles Michel 2014
The first image shows Kandinsky’s painting, Painting Number 201, found in the MOMA in New York. The second image shows Michel’s salad inspired by the painting. The third image shows the same ingredients with no particular composition and the fourth with the ingredients individually. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people found the “Kandinsky salad” to be the best tasting.

But according to Spence, colour remains the single most important factor as it directly affects our ability to correctly identify flavour. This phenomenon is beautifully demonstrated in an experiment conducted by Wendy V. Parr and her colleagues in New Zealand with a group of expert wine tasters and social drinkers (The Nose Knows: influence of colour on perception of wine aromas, Parr WV et al.)

Both experts and non-experts were given three glasses of Chardonnay, one normal glass, one of Chardonnay coloured red in an opaque glass and one of Chardonnay coloured red in a clear glass. They were asked to taste each wine and describe its characteristics as accurately as possible, ignoring the colour.

Glasses of white, rosé and red wines

The expert tasters were able to accurately describe the wine in the normal glass, while they were relatively accurate in describing it in the opaque glass. However, they were much less accurate in describing the “red” Chardonnay in a clear glass, identifying some flavour characteristics that typically belong to red wines even though they were told to ignore the colour. On the other hand, the data collected from non-experts was reported to be completely unreliable without any clear patterns. Spense points out that,

“Such results suggest that the cross modal effect of vision is not under cognitive control.” (On the psychological Impact of Food Colour, C.S.)

If the visual information we receive and interpret prior to consuming food and drink is not, therefore, under our cognitive control, then it certainly is intrinsic to our complessive perception of flavour as a wonderful multi sensory experience.

 

A visual enogastronomic tour of Puglia

And so with all that in mind, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then I’ll let the images do the talking. Here are some examples of typical dishes from Puglia paired with its wines for your viewing pleasure…

“Crudo di pesce” with Castel Del Monte DOC Chardonnay
“Crudo di pesce”, a selection of raw shell fish, paired with Castle Del Monte DOC Chardonnay
Tiella Barese, made with rice, potatoes and mussels, paired with Locorotondo Bianco DOC (Fiano, Verdeca grapes)
Tiella Barese, Made with rice, potatoes and mussels, paired with Locorotondo Bianco DOC (Fiano, Verdeca grapes)
“Orecchiette alle cime di rapa”, a local type of pasta served with broccoli, paired with Salice Salentino Rosato DOC (Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera grapes)
“Orecchiette alle cime di rapa”, a local type of pasta served with broccoli, paired with Salice Salentino Rosato DOC (Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera grapes)
“Fave e cicoria”, fava beans and chicory, paired with Rosato Di Primitivo Salento IGT
“Fave e cicoria”, fava beans and chicory, paired with Rosato Di Primitivo Salento IGT
“Nghiemeridde”, grilled tripe wrapped around goat or sheep interiors, paired with Primitivo Di Manduria Dolce Naturale DOCG
“Nghiemeridde”, grilled tripe wrapped around goat or sheep interiors, paired with Primitivo Di Manduria Dolce Naturale DOCG
“Bombette di cavallo”, horse meat stuffed with local cheese, paired with Terra d’Otranto Negroamaro DOC
“Bombette di cavallo”, horse meat stuffed with local cheese, paired with Terra d’Otranto Negroamaro DOC

Sources:

On the Psychological Impact of Food Colour, Charles Spence

Multisensory Flavour Perception, Charles Spence

 

11 Comments

      1. Of course, in your cracked wine jug! Luckily most the wines in Puglia are very reasonably priced and good value for money, but what’s most important is that you enjoyed your experience.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I live in Puglia and I’ve become curious about the wine – both the food and wine is amazing here. I particularly love the Negroamaro wine. I love how you’ve paired the local food with the wine. It makes it so much easier to know what to serve with what. Thank you for such a lovely post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Lovely! I visited a bit of Salento this past summer but I’d love to go back to Puglia and explore because I hear there’s a lot of variety. I’m currently in Salerno in the Campagna region. There’s lots of beautiful beaches and interesting places to visit here too if you get the chance!

        Liked by 1 person

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