As much as we like to imagine there’s a clear delineation — an unassailable wall — between art and science, there’s often a little bit of one in the other. The culinary arts, especially, have a pinch of math and a dash of science in the recipe, and perhaps never more so than with winemaking.
Maybe that’s why, for five years running, the Pink Palace museum has played host to the annual Science of Wine tasting, with this year’s event taking place Friday, August 16th.
The Science of Wine brings 120 different wines to the event, as well as samplings from 13 local restaurants (plus additional restaurants in the already-sold-out VIP area) to the grounds of Memphis’ rose-hued museum of science and history.
The annual event is a fund-raiser for the Pink Palace’s education department. To learn a little more about the museum’s boozy, foody educational fund-raiser, I met with one of the participating chefs, as well as the wine coordinator, and a representative from the Pink Palace in one of the museum’s basement science labs to eat some food, drink some wine, and learn about the event.
Mike Patrick, chef and owner of Rizzo’s by Michael Patrick, is switching up his menu for his third year participating at the fund-raiser. “I did duck breast the first couple years,” he says. “I’ve been doing this braised pork cheek for a couple weeks now. I want to add them to the new menu at the restaurant. … It’s very tasty,” he adds. “It’s braised, slow and low, for a couple hours.” Patrick brought samples of the pork cheek and grits, and they’re tender and savory, dressed in a creamy sauce.
“The grits are a great medium because it can rest upon it,” Patrick continues. “I’m also able to add a little sauce to it. This sauce is something that I put on the South Main Scramble for Sunday brunch. Will it be the final sauce? Probably not. Everybody’s familiar with grits, especially in the South, but I don’t try to do breakfast grits. I try to make them more savory.”
Patrick, who moved to Memphis in 1997 for a job with Elvis Presley’s Graceland, first visited the Pink Palace for a food-themed event of a different flavor. But that was years before his first Science of Wine. “Alton Brown did a booksigning here,” Patrick says. “He was promoting his motorcycle ride cross-country tour. I had heard of the Pink Palace, but I had never been.” Patrick says he remembers thinking of the museum, “This has been here the whole time, and I didn’t even know.”
Liz Grisham, the wine programming director for West Tennessee Crown, the company that provides all of the wine for the Science of Wine events, pays strict attention to the flavor profiles the chefs have on offer. She has to. It’s her job to coordinate between all the different vintners and chefs who participate in the event. “With this dish,” she says, motioning to the braised pork cheek and grits, “the petite sirah came to mind. It’s really dark and inky. It has a lot of flavors of blueberries and blackberries and black pepper, and that pairs well with barbecued meats, hamburgers, and things you cook on the grill. And it holds up to the spice.”
Grisham has to keep a lot in her head — flavor profiles, logistics, and more. “There are always going to be challenges when there are moving parts. I have someone from Oregon who’s going to be here. I have someone from California. People will come in from Nashville to represent their brands,” but, Grisham says, “I think on our fifth year, we have it down to a science at this point.”
Grisham is confident, but she wasn’t kidding about the many moving parts that go into making each Science of Wine event a success. West Tennessee Crown is responsible for more than just providing the titular beverage — they bring in the speakers for the guided tasting sessions, the “science” in “Science of Wine.”
“Somebody came last year who grew up in France and now lives in Oregon,” says Luke Ramsey, the manager of public and special programs in the Pink Palace Museum’s education department. “He talks about how the soil and weather and climate affects [growing] and how the terroir contributes to the flavor. And people love that. Another [speaker] was talking about the physics of why someone would choose to can wine instead of bottling it. Those are the keynote locations for Science of Wine. They’re like lectures, but they’re more interactive.
“We also have demo stations throughout the museum,” Ramsey continues, letting slip that more exhibits in the museum’s recently renovated Mansion will be open this year. “Last year, Christian Brothers brought an awesome display about pollination and what kinds of insects pollinate grape vines. And Wolf River Conservancy talked about the role that water plays and water conservation and how that connects to the manufacture,” Ramsey says.