The Science of Flavour: a Podcast with Christine Parkinson

 |   |  Podcast, The Modern Drinker 
The Science of Flavour: a Podcast with Christine Parkinson

Welcome to episode 25 of the REAL Podcast, brought to you as always by REAL – purveyors of award-winning non-alcoholic alternatives to sparkling wines. Have you heard that we’re available now in Waitrose? If you haven’t, you’ll want to add a beautiful bottle of Royal Flush to your basket or online trolley next time you’re doing the weekly shop.


Ever wondered what’s going on in your mouth when you taste a great drink? How about the technique behind formulating a winning food pairing? It’s something we think about all the time. Here at REAL we’re lucky enough to meet some wonderful, highly skilful people, and it’s always a delight to introduce them on our podcast.

We first met Christine Parkinson when she was Head of Wine for Hakkasan, the world-renowned restaurant specialising in modern Chinese cuisine. At the time, her forward-thinking team was trying to build out one of the first non-alcoholic drinks menus to be taken seriously – certainly one of the very first we’d seen at a Michelin-starred restaurant. In their search, they were looking for for a kombucha to be served as a non-alcoholic food pairing. Our drinks slid onto the menu very comfortably indeed, and we ended up working with them to create our very first one-off special, a premium kombucha we called Golden Monkey.

Since then, Christine has gone on to form the Brimful Drinks consultancy – a particularly interesting venture that specialises in helping companies working in the low/no world, some of whom have already been guests on this podcast.

This development fascinated us. That someone who has won Industry Legend awards after her years spent in the wine world should choose to move her attentions to the burgeoning non-alcoholic space… well, that really said something about the sincerity with which this category is being taken.

In this episode, Christine will talk to us about the tips and techniques she learnt for tasting drinks, the science that accompanies taste, the art of creating a great food pairing, and – of course – the considerable interest she has in the world of non-alcoholic drinks. We also learn some of that all-important drinks-tasting vocab – vital if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about.

Adjust your napkins and set your tongues to drool. It’s going to be a tasty one.

Christine Parkinson: a brief biog

In 2001 Christine created the first wine list for Hakkasan, eventually becoming Head of Wine for the group, which includes the Michelin-starred Hakkasan and Yauatcha, with sites in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the USA. She has been called “one of the most creative wine buyers in the UK” by wine guru Jancis Robinson, and has judged on numerous trade and consumer panels including Decanter World Wine Awards, Best of Riesling, New Wave Spanish wines, Sommelier Wine Awards and Wines of Chile Annual Awards. She also judges sake annually at the International Wine Challenge, becoming a Panel Chair in 2014, and became the first European judge at the US National Sake Appraisal in 2013.

She has won numerous awards including the CATEY for Wine and Spirit Ambassador 2018, ‘Wine List of the Year’ for Hakkasan (on multiple occasions), IWC Sake Contributor of the Year 2012 and most recently Imbibe Industry Legend 2019.

Christine Parkinson quotes…

On becoming an expert on taste and flavour… 

“You learn to notice what something tastes like and smells like and feels like, and you learn to notice how the drink in your glass is changed by the food and how it changes the taste of the food. The effect each other. It’s really just being prepared to take notice.”

“A lot of people say to me, ‘I wouldn’t be a good taster; I wouldn’t know how to notice all the flavours.’ But really, learning to taste is really just learning to notice.”

“Most of what we call flavour is actually something that we detect with our nose. Most people think we do our tasting in our tongues with our mouth, but actually our tongues are only designed to taste the basic flavours – salty, sweet, sour, bitter… possibly umami. We think we know the difference in flavour between a lemon and an orange, and that’s actually our nose that’s doing the work. It’s at the back of our noses. It’s called retro nasal olfaction. It’s where all the little molecules of flavour are detected.”

On successful food pairings… 

“A drink has to work. You can have drinks with very high acidity and a lot of sugar, or very low sugar, but it has to be a combination that works. As far as the food is concerned, there are some traditional pairings that make a lot of sense. If you’re having something that is quite fatty – think of good old British fish and chips – then a drink with quite a bit of acidity works really well. I had a friend who used to swear that the only thing to drink with fish and chips was Champagne!”

On REAL Kombucha… 

“A lot of people don’t realise that most Champagne is made with a mixture of white and red grapes, and that’s probably the reason why Champagne can work really well with red meats. Royal Flush does a bit of that – I guess it’s the Darjeeling tea. It has that stone fruit character which you get with certain Champagnes which have got Pinot Noir in them, and a bit more texture and weight. So I can see us drinking it with meat and something a bit more savoury. I reckon it would be really good with lamb – particularly a good fatty shoulder or loin of lamb with some fat on it. And I think the crispness and freshness of the Royal Flush would really contrast well with the meat, but I think it would have enough weight and that rich, deep fruity note to harmonise with the flavour.”