Apulia, or Puglia in Italian, is a unique kaliedoscope of vivid colours which paint the palatte of its places, its food and its wine.
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.
Furthermore, what effect might the visual impact of these colours have on our other senses?
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.
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).
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…
“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.
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. )
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.
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…