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Wine Science at the Exploratorium
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed February 13, 2002. For more information go to

One of the many useful things about the World Wide Web is the way it archives events, preserving them for later enjoyment at your convenience.

So, if you missed the intriguing program, "The Science of Wine," at San Francisco's Exploratorium museum 2 1/2 years ago, don't fret: It's still available online, in text and even (assuming you have a high-speed connection or a lot of patience) in a live video.

No, you won't be able to taste the wine and food that graced the real-world event. But if information is your goal, this educational tasting is a real highlight of the world of wine on the Web. Let's go there today.

The Exploratorium, billed as "the museum of science, art and human perception," is a San Francisco landmark. Housed in the ornate 1915 Palace of Fine Arts, it's a great hands-on museum designed for children of all ages.

"The Science of Wine" was presented on Nov. 18, 1999 and broadcast live over the Web, featuring wine educator Bruce Cass with University of California at Davis wine scientist Ann Noble, developer of the wine-sensory "Aroma Wheel." It featured a variety of wines matched with dishes from the San Francisco restaurant EOS.

It has all been preserved in an "Interactive Guide" online, with pages covering the highlights of the program:

* Food and Wine Pairing outlines all the wine-and-food matches offered for tasting during the program, offering them not as one- of-a-kind pairings but as examples intended to inspire you to come up with your own combinations. (It offered, for example, the choice of a New Zealand Riesling or a German Riesling Spatlese with mixed wild and cultivated mushrooms in soy butter sauce. Sounds good to me!

* Acid Test: In a test easily replicated at home, this section teaches about acidity in wine by comparing the flavors of California Sauvignon Blancs from Meridian (low acid or soft) and St. Supery (higher acid or tangy), both alone and with food.

* How Sweet It Is: Examining sweetness in wine, the program moved on to three Rieslings from Germany, California and New Zealand for comparative tasting. The New Zealand wine was "dry," while the German and California wines had similar amounts of sugar; but the German's acidity should have made it less obviously sweet than the soft, sugary California Riesling.

* Tannin Eraser: This section studies tannin, the element that makes some young red wines taste as astringent as strong black tea, by comparing a tannic Australian Cabernet against a softer California Rhone-style red, with and without food. "Some people confuse tannin and acidity in wine," the program points out. "It's easy to tell the difference if you swish the wine between your gums and teeth. Tannin tends to dry your mouth out and put a coating on your teeth, while acid makes your mouth water."

* Comparing Wine Aromas: The final segment goes over Dr. Noble's outstanding aroma-training procedure, in which she uses common foods and extracts to "spike" glasses of wine to demonstrate common wine aromas and flavors. (This is a topic so worth pursuing that we'll return to it as the topic of another day's Wine Advisor.)

The Exploratorium Website. The museum is at 3601 Lyon Street in San Francisco. The Science of Wine Exhibit, including the video is available through the link.


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