Event Tasting: Worlds of Healthy Flavors


I recently attended the Worlds of Healthy Flavors Retreat, which was hosted by Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard School of Public Health - Department of Nutrition from January 18-20.  The retreat was held in the stunning Napa Valley at the CIA’s Greystone campus.  The weekend was filled (I mean, really filled) with nutritional information.  To cap off a day of intense learning, the CIA’s own Karen MacNeil lead a wine tasting. 

You may recognize MacNeil from her award-winning book: The Wine Bible. She is also the Chairman of Professional Wine Studies at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.  During her descriptions of the wines we tasted, MacNeil was sincere and engaging.  In these situations, the instructor can sometimes seem a bit snotty and like a know-it-all, especially to a novice like me.  Not MacNeil.  She wanted to share what she knew with us, not just show us how much she knew. 

MacNeil was tasked with offering four wines that would pair well with fish.  In general, she said that when pairing wine with food, a sip of the wine should make you want a bite of the food and a bite of the food should make you want a sip of the wine.  She called this the seesaw effect.  Here are the four wines she recommended for the food category of fish that she felt achieved this effect:

Milazzo Terra della Baronia Bianco 2004, Sicily.  MacNeil said we should taste a combination of wild herbs, hot baked earth and the taste of salinity from a nearby sea.  I signed and tried again.  I got the herbs, but the rest?  Well, let’s just move on to the next one.

Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc 2005, Napa Valley.  MacNeil’s description of this wine (along with her engaging, sincere demeanor) helped me understand how she has achieved such a high level of success.  First, she informed met that Fume Blanc and Sauvingon Blanc are synonymous.  This was news to me.  Next, she described Sauvingon Blanc as the bad girl of the wine world, wearing stiletto heels and big hoop earrings and acting wild.  Well, I never! 

Dr. Loosen Riesling Spatlese Graacher Himmelreich 2005 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Again, I encountered a learning experience when we tried the Riesling.  If someone asked me to name my favorite wine, I’d say Riesling every day and twice on Sunday.  MacNeil added a new dimension to my ability to understand the flavor of Reisling by pointing out that what I was tasting was not sweet, it was fruity.  I am pretty sure a light bulb lit up over my head.  She also explained that Riesling was appropriate with fish because the jumping jacks that your mouth and brain does when it encounters opposite flavor profiles. 

Laetitia Pinot Noir Estate 2005 Arroyo Grande Valley.  MacNeil noted that if you put the first wine we tasted and this wine in opaque carafes, you would think this Pinot Noir was a white wine based upon its taste and smell.  This was intriguing, so I closed my eyes and smelled and tasted both.  She was right!  However, I’m not sure I can ever drink Pinot Noir again after hearing MacNeil discuss this one.  She said its earthy, sexy, sweaty taste is reminiscent of how a man smells after running a mile.  She was quick to point out that he only ran one mile, not five.  She also asked us to imagine old leather and the feeling of the Harvard Club in New York City. 

The sweaty man comment was oft discussed at the post-tasting reception, so if nothing else, at least MacNeil got us talking about wine!

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Reader Comments

Thank you Madeline. I’m thrilled you had fun… Gratefully, Karen MacNeil

It was a pleasure to learn from you, Karen. I’ll keep trying for that baked earth with the salinity of a sea nearby!