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WineLabel

There has been a lot of discussion recently in the wine world as to whether or not wines should have similar ingredient labeling like other food products are required to.  A lot of this discussion seems to generated by people who don’t actually make wine as is evident by the fact that they keep using the word Ingredient, defined as a component part of a mixture…but that’s not how wine works.  Therefore, here’s a little primer for any lawmakers or regular ol’ wine drinkin’ citizens that want to be more informed.

Wine making is conceptually similar to sculpting: you start with a single source material and remove the parts you don’t want.  This is the opposite of making beer or, to carry on with art metaphors, painting, where you start with a single source material (beer: water, painting: canvas) and then add to that material to create your final product.  In beer making or painting, it is wholly appropriate to use the word Ingredients when talking about the final product.  In wine making or sculpting, the word Ingredients is not applicable due to the very nature of how the product is created.

At this point, some of you may be wondering why the government keeps a list of legally allowed materials that can be used during the wine making process.  Aren’t these things being added to the wine?  Yes and no.  These materials are being added to the process of making the wine, but they aren’t present in the final product that you consume, at least not in noticeable amounts.  There are some very minor, yet notable exceptions to this, which I’ll point out as I give an overall explanation as to what types of materials and what happens to those materials get added in to the wine making process.

Yeast: When yeast is added to grape juice it converts the sugars into alcohol and CO2.   You can drink the resulting product and get drunk off of it so this is technically all it takes to “make wine”.  The amount and types of yeast can determine what percentage of the sugars get converted into alcohol and some of the aromas that will show up in the wine, but when the yeast has done its job, it sinks to the bottom of the fermentation tank and then is physically separated from the juice that is now arguably wine.  Technically, Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) is also a byproduct of fermentation, but more on that later.

Fining, clarifying, and stabilizing agents:  These are all the things that most people drop their jaws to in surprise to find out they are used in wine making:  Fish scales (Isinglass), egg whites, milk casein, Polyvinyl-polypyr-rolidone (PVPP), clay (Bentonite), and a host of other hard-to-pronounce substances that most people would never be interested in consuming by themselves.  When these materials are mixed in to wine they slowly fall down to the bottom.  Along the way though, they do some work at the molecular level of which the result is to make the wine look more aesthetically pleasing.  Some materials are used to break apart stubborn compounds that are causing the wine to look hazy while others are binding to oppositely charged particles and dragging them down to the bottom as they fall.  At the end of this process there is a layer of solids at the bottom of the tanks which are then physically separated from the liquid.

Acid modifying agents: Tartaric acid, malic acid, citric acid, and lactic acid are the predominant organic acids found in grape juice.  These are also there in the finished wine product most noticeably in the amount of saliva that rushes into your mouth after you swallow.  However, a winemaker may change minor changes to the amounts of each during the wine making process.  Can this mean actually adding acid into the wine?  Yes, it can and here is one of those notable exceptions I mentioned before.  Technically, a winemaker can add as much as they want, but it has been found that anything above a minor adjustment will make the wine less acceptable to consumers.  Minor adjustments also go for taking acid out of a wine which is done with various Calcium compounds.  These calcium compounds work similarly to the fining agents in which they are mixed in, fall to the bottom and take something with them along the way.  They are physically separated out before the wine is bottled.  Perhaps the largest change that can be made is what happens when Malo-Lactic bacteria is added to the wine.  As the name implies, this changes the harsher malic acids into softer lactic acids.  The total amount of acid isn’t changed in this process, the percentages of each are modified.

Preservatives: There has been a segment of the “Health and Wellness” movement that have labeled preservatives as the devil so let’s clarify this up front.  The preservatives used in wine are not the same as those used in industrial food manufacturing.  In fact, there is effectively only one used in wine: Sulfur Dioxide (SO2).  This is the same preservative used on dried fruit.  Additionally, this is also one of those notable exceptions I mentioned before. The acidic nature of wine and the amount of alcohol in it are doing the the heavy-lifting when it comes to protecting the wine from unwanted bacteria, but nevertheless, spoilage can still happen which is where SO2 comes in as a supporting player.  As I mentioned above when talking about yeast, SO2 naturally occurs as a byproduct of fermentation and usually only at levels of 50-100 ppm.  The legally allowed limit of Total SO2 in wine in the US is 350 ppm.  In Europe, it is 160 ppm for red wines, and 210 ppm for whites and rosés.  Why the difference between red and white?  The reason is because SO2’s other job is to protect the wine from oxidation.  Here, the degree to which SO2 plays a supporting role is determined by the amount of Tannin in the wine which are natural protectors against oxidation.. Tannins, which come from the skins and solids of the grape are therefore inherently found in red wines at much higher levels than whites or rosés. Despite the legal regulation differences, all good winemakers follow the “natural law” that whites and rosés require a little more SO2 than reds.   For a more detailed explanation on SO2 in wine, check this out.

Ageing: It’s debatable to say that anything is added to the wine during the ageing process.  Traditionally, you put wine into a steel tank or oak barrel to age it.  Alternatives include: concrete or a clay vessel known as an amphora if you’re feeling ancient. When you age wine (or any other alcoholic beverage), oxygen is being slowly allowed to interact with the wine, but it’s not like oxygen is being added in to the wine.  Compounds from the oak, which is usually toasted with a flame, are technically added into the wine, but this isn’t much different than when some aroma compounds are imparted into the wine from yeast.  These include things like eugenol (think clove aromas) and vanillin (you can probably guess on this one).  Technically, if a wine maker uses oak chips or oak powder instead of a barrel, they are “adding” these into the wine, but like everything else added in, those get taken out before the wine is bottled too.

As you can see, anything that gets added during the wine making process, doesn’t actually stay in the final product that we drink.  Even the exceptions that do stay in the final product (SO2, acids) are only things that already naturally existed in the wine before. Therefore, the idea of labeling a wine with its “ingredients” is ridiculous because in actuality, there is only one: grapes.  The real question is whether you want to list the treatments the wine has gone through on a label.

In general, I am very much for transparency in food labeling as it provides the customer with actionable information.  This is especially true for those customers with food sensitivities or allergies.  Even though when you treat a wine with a material, effectively 100% of that material is removed from the wine, technically a tiny little bit could remain;  as in <1 ppm.  Food labeling laws in general don’t require items be listed on a label unless they hit a certain threshold.  That’s why you don’t see “Parts of rats and bugs” listed on a food label as an ingredient because food product producers are legally required to keep the ppm of rats and bugs in their products to a minimum.  The exception to this is known allergens.  When a producer cannot guarantee a known food allergen like nuts, dairy, or soy was kept out of the product due to the product being made in the same location as other products, they put the “This product may contain trace amounts of…” verbiage on the label.  In wine, we already have that.  This is why you see a notice about the wine containing sulfites on the label because we know sulfites are an allergen to approximately 0.4% of the population.

Personally, I would be very happy if wines were required to list all the ways they processed their wines on their labels, but that’s me as a wine professional, not me as a wine consumer.  Big Data analyses on various wine treatment methods? Yes, please.  But, a regulation like this, while not particularly burdensome to the wine producer since they already write that information down for their internal quality processes, is just not helpful to the consumer.  One could argue there’s a reason to add calorie and sugar levels to alcohol labels in addition to the ABV%, but at the same time, it’s difficult to mindlessly consume alcohol without very negative short-term effects, unlike snack food products. Food labeling, which was developed primarily as a public health information awareness mechanism so the population would think about their long-term health probably wouldn’t have the same impact with alcohol.   Having consumers be able to choose a wine based on its caloric content given that the range for dry-ish wines is generally between 70-120 calories per serving (5oz), probably won’t have much of an impact, if any on their weight-loss or other health-related goals.  Residual sugar could be useful in determining how sweet the wine will taste, but then you’d also have to add in the Total Acidity level to to really figure that out and then somehow explain to the consumer how those two measures interact to define how sweet the wine appears to be.

Now if someone could interpret those German wine labels for the average American consumer, that would be something…

 

 

 

Short ribs browned after sprinkling with salt and clove then slow cooked in a red wine/beef broth reduction with yellow onions, red pepper, mushroom stems, a dash of soy sauce, thyme, and bay leaves.  Served over a puree of golden potatoes and golden radishes blended with a touch of milk and butter.

Wine: Domaine du Gros ‘Noré Bandol Rouge 2011

FullSizeRenderNotes:  Look, I understand that my wine and food pairings have now been classified as cruel and unusual punishment due to the fact that you are not able to enjoy them, but I really don’t think that’s my fault.  You can have these too.  I believe in you.

The red wines from Bandol are made predominantly from the Mourvédre grape or Monastrell if you’ve been drinking Spanish wines.  Depth, structure, complexity; this particular Bandol is a ponderous wine which I spent at least 15 minutes sniffing to suss out the particularities of its vanilla notes.  I eventually decided on vanilla extract if anyone cares.  This wine enhanced the savoriness of the dish and the light clove buoyed the oak the wine was aged in which all created a heady experience during which I had to exhale a number of satisfactory sighs to keep from exploding with euphoria.

If I were to repeat this, I would have slow cooked the short ribs for around 8 hours instead of the 5 that I did so they’d be “melt-worthy”, but in my defense I only envisioned the dish at lunch time that day.

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P.S. That’s Jamie Goode’s latest book: I Taste Red that the bottle is sitting on.

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Welcome to 2017! This is the year that all of your wine dreams come true* so please look forward to it.  Amidst all the noise of the wine trends, predictions and recommendations that will be starting up today I would like to offer one small gift to help you get through the onslaught: Permission.  Permission to not have a favorite wine this year, or ever really.  Permission to respond with a shrug, or “I actually like quite a few wines, it’s hard to find a favorite” to the predictable question while hobnobbing with a new fellow wine drinker of “What’s your favorite wine?”

With this comes the freedom to not feel defined by a single wine and the responsibility to not turn your nose up at a wine that you feel doesn’t define you.  You are more than one varietal, one blend, one producer.  You are allowed to change; to ebb and flow.  You are allowed to mature, because really, it’s kids that have favorites isn’t it?  Favorite color, favorite super hero, favorite toy?  You’re an adult now.  You set a bar of acceptable quality and you’ll enjoy anything that meets that expectation. That’s not to say you won’t still be a discerning individual, but you’ll take pleasure not worrying if there’s something better.  Way to go you. Nice work.

While we’re at it, you don’t even need to seek out what someone else decides is the best wine.  Why? Because it’s a subjective measure based largely on preferences that you may not hold.  If you ask for the best at a restaurant/wine shop/winery, those in the industry will immediately identify you as their favorite type of customer in the world known as the sucker.  Let’s not be suckers in 2017.

Cheers to a new year.

 

*Disclaimer: Author’s definition of what your dreams are may differ from your own and may not be based in reality.

 

Let’s be honest, you are probably the social nexus and best entertainment source of all of your friends and acquaintances. Given this, it is inevitable that this holiday season you will most likely be hosting one, if not all of the the premier holiday parties in your neighborhood/city/region/world.  As a result of this, and the fact that your social network inevitably includes some thoughtful people, you will undoubtedly receive a number of bottles of wine brought by these guests as gifts.  Naturally, you, as a gracious host will follow the standard lines of polite society:

  • Say ‘Thank you’.
  • Add the bottle to the “Open bar” amongst the ones you’ve provided.
  • If you have prepared wine pairings with a specific meal, ask if you can hold on to the bottle for Tuesday Taco night.

But what if someone brings a bottle of wine that is truly undrinkable? I’m not talking about someone bringing a bottle of California Pinot Noir to a Francophile’s house, because that host just needs to get over themselves.  I’m talking about the bottom of the bargain bin, of dubious origin, might not actually be wine, bottle of wine.  These wines aren’t accidentally acquired.  One has to purposefully wander into the specifically set up section of the store that other shoppers are avoiding like the plague and then select a wine solely based on its lowest price status. Yet, it’s still my general assumption that no one brings these wines as gifts on purpose, but then again, I don’t know your friends.  The question then becomes what to do with these wines.  The answer of course depends on whether you’re good or evil.

The Good Way:

First, let Jeff Goldblum teach you how to act:

Then you have to figure out what to do with the wine short of pouring it out in front of the person.  Your best option is to tell them you’d like to save it for Tuesday Taco night (This is a thing people do, right?) and then toss it out the next day.  Do this discreetly if they are neighbors.  Now, some so called experts will tell you to add this wine to a festive holiday punch or cocktail, but if you’re adding bad wine to these things, you’re not making a good punch or cocktail are you?  At a minimum you have to add the other ingredients at a quantity that masks that bad wine taste which is kind of like throwing good money after bad.

The problem doesn’t stop there either.  What happens when you see the person again?  Yes, you can hope the topic never comes up again, but what if they ask you how you liked it?  Like a lost puppy, bad wine follows you.  You have to come up with a back story. Sure, you could just tell the truth and say it wasn’t the type of wine you prefer, because after all, you’re a good person, but you also don’t want to hurt their feelings because you’re a good person. So what else can you do?

  • Use the bottle for a candle holder or art project.  You’ll probably want to remove the label first because no one wants that in their house.
  • Use the wine to catch fruit flies.  It works.  The whole “Catch flies better with honey instead of vinegar” thing is a complete lie.  The opposite works.
  • If it’s a red wine, use it to dye some fabric.  Get crazy.  I don’t know, I’m not crafty.

The Evil Way:

  • Give the person a sympathetic smile and say “I’m so sorry, you’re uninvited to this party now” and then hand them back the bottle of wine.  Close the door slowly.  Lock the door.
  • Graciously accept the bottle of wine (see above Jeff Goldblum tips on acting) and then secretly serve it back to them and only them throughout the party.
  • Ask guests when offering them wine whether they’d like the good stuff or whatever “wine” (air quotes acceptable) [insert guest name here] brought.
  • Re-gift the wine on the next event those who gave you the bottle host.
  • Tell them your Elf on a Shelf drank it…and then died.

 

Whichever path you decide to take remember that wine is there to help you celebrate so share it with those you hold dear and be grateful they’re willing to put up with you.

 

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This turkey attempted to attack the car shortly after this photo was taken.

By now, on this day before the most gluttonous of all American holidays (Save the Super Bowl) known as Thanksgiving, you have probably seen a fair number of blogs and magazine articles about what wines you should bring to the table.  Oddly enough, you’ll probably also notice that no two articles agree on which wines to bring to the table even though they all declare their picks to be the best.  Well they’re all wrong…or perhaps all right depending on if you’re a wine glass half-full or half-empty kind of person.

The safest option for you would be to acquire ALL of the wines that have been recommended.  However, I understand that some of you have a limited budget and that may not be an option.  Even if you could, there’s the issue of finding the wines in the first place.  I would hope if you’re reading an article by a local wine expert that they at least listed which shops to find the wines at and how much they’re priced at, but this sadly isn’t always the case.  Most will leave you scouring the internet to hunt down these bottles and if you’ve waiting until now to do this, you’re going to be out of luck to get them by tomorrow.  The majority of seasonal wine recommendations that are given by actual wine experts are for wines that aren’t distributed to all 50 states.  At most, you have a moderate chance at finding them if you’re in a major city.  If you’re in the suburbs or beyond, don’t bother hoping your wine shop will carry them.

Given this, what wines should you go buy?  First, if you have a wine shop you like to go to, ask the “wine person” there.  Regardless of how much of an “expert” this person is, they’re the ones buying the wine for the store you like and they’ve tasted these wines so you can trust their recommendations.  If you don’t even have this, just buy some wines that you like to drink and don’t worry too much about how well they pair with the odd assortment of dishes on your table. Even pairings that seem off won’t make you unlike a wine.

For those that want to get a little more technical, here are some base recommendations that you can ask your wine shop about:

If you want to bring out any of those traditional Thanksgiving baking spices, especially clove, go for a red wine that has been aged in oak.  The aromatic compound, eugenol comes from toasted oak, and it’s the same compound in clove.

If you want to bring out the butter in your croissants and everything you are slathering with butter, get a Chardonnay that has been through the Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) process.

If your dishes are all carb/fat/savory/make-you-want-to-sleep-forever get a wine with some acid in it (usually from cooler climates) to brighten up your dishes and perhaps bring out their flavor a little more.

If you want a wine with dessert get a sweet wine (bonus points if you follow the baking spices recommendation above too).  If the wine isn’t as sweet as the dessert, you’ll notice.

Regardless of what wines you get this Thanksgiving, feel free to make fun of the person that brought their pumpkin-spiced beer.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!!!

 

catbookwine

There has been an increasing amount of discussion over the past few years over what a ‘Fact’ is which is interesting in itself, because the word has a definition as all words do and that is a fact.  However, in this era of truthiness, an aspect of that definition that is more and more frequently being warped is the process of turning experience into fact. This insistence that things that are not actually facts are in fact facts is something that the wine world has been dealing with for quite some time.  Perhaps it correlates with the invention of the wine snob, but I can’t verify that as a fact.

If an experience happens; that’s a fact.  The fact that the experience happens though doesn’t mean that the experience was perceived accurately or that the experience is reflective of some larger truth.  As one example let’s say Person A believes, based on their experience, that all people with the name Aaron are horrible people.  Person B doesn’t believe this because they’ve had quite a few pleasant experiences with people named Aaron.  Additionally, some research has been performed which defines what a horrible person is and there has been a reasonable evaluation of a sampling of Aarons and that sample didn’t meet the definition of  horrible people.  However, neither Person A or Person B is fully aware of this.  In this case the facts are this:

  1. Person A believes people named Aaron are all horrible people based on some bad experiences.
  2. Person B believes people named Aaron are generally decent people based on some positive experiences.
  3. Research shows that people named Aaron cannot generally be defined as horrible people.

If someone bothered to look into the issue (and they really should;  highly critical issue here), we could see that while it is a fact that Person A and Person B believe different things based on their experiences, there is evidence that Person B’s belief is more in line with the larger truth.    Therefore, if Person A went around telling everyone that it’s a fact people named Aaron are jerks, they would in fact, be wrong.  No matter how many times they said it.  Even if Person A said: well, it’s their opinion and they have a right to voice it, they are still, in fact, wrong and should be encouraged to not purport their opinions and/or beliefs as facts. Even if Person C comes in to the conversation and says they agree with Person A, they are still, in fact, wrong.

Unfortunately in the wine world, there are a lot of Person As running around and have been for quite some time.  It seems that it is almost the standard rate of currency in wine knowledge that the more opinions/beliefs stated, the more knowledge that is held.  The sad part is that there is now quite a lot of research and evidence that people can reference to check these opinions/beliefs against.  People don’t generally question a statement coming from an “expert”, and usually take a statement expressed as fact at face value.  There have been a number of times that I personally have made statements regarding wine that I believed to be true and purported them to be facts. Why? Because I was told they were facts by experts.  I tend to be more careful about that since my younger days.

I would love to have an exhaustive list of all the mis-truths paraded around as facts in the wine world, but that would most likely be impossible and if it is, it would be better presented in an encyclopedia format.  Therefore, I’ll just address the major categories that seem to contain all of the issues and what to look for.

What Wine Professionals Learn in Class

I went through the International Sommelier Guild for my “official” wine training.  Through conversations and demonstrations of knowledge with people who have gone through other wine schools (International Wine School, Wine and Spirit Education Trust, etc. ), my impression is that the curricula are roughly the same.  While the breadth of knowledge should certainly be viewed as impressive for anyone coming out of this education, it should be emphasized that the main focus as you reach higher levels of the education is on the memorization of wine regions, what wines they produce, and what appears to be unique about the wines from those regions.

  • A historical overview of wine’s role in society.
  • The very rough basics of how wine is made and the various styles it can be made into.  Anyone attending these classes does not actually make wine as part of the course.
  • A high-level look at viticulture and the common ailments grapevines can face.
  • The wine regions, which grape varietals are most commonly grown in those regions, what styles of wine are generally made from those grapes, and what laws govern wine production including the legal descriptions of what “Quality” wine is in wine producing countries.
  • Sensory training to identify and describe acidity, astringency, sweetness, alcohol content, and basic aroma descriptions (see more on aroma descriptors below).
  • Traditions and expectations around wine service at restaurants including wine storage.
  • Traditions of pairing wines to various foods and a collection of “rules” to follow when creating pairings.
  • Cursory overviews of beer, spirits, and cigars.

It should be noted that little to no actual science is included in this education.  Wine schools are geared toward preparing students to work as Sommeliers, be in wine sales, and writing articles entitled “The Top 5 Wines You Should Be Drinking NOW!!!”…which it seems a lot of people forget, is still wine sales.   I always compare wine to fashion; if you are a fashion “expert” generally you’re just promoting certain brands and talking about trends and styles, but that doesn’t make you an expert on how the clothes are constructed, production costs, labor issues, the science behind dyes and fabric production, etc.  Most wine “experts” I know and come across still haven’t even bothered to make a single batch of wine and therefore when they talk about the subject, it’s really from an armchair perspective.  If you like sports commentary, maybe that’s your thing.  A wine’s legs or tears (the drips down the inside of the glass after you swirl it) is an aesthetic that is sometimes evaluated in wines, but it means nothing in terms of quality despite the opinions of some.  Therefore, it’s appropriate to question whether what is being related is a fact, or just this person’s opinion especially when it comes to statements as to what makes something better than something else.  It is also appropriate to question sensory assessments, but more on that later.

Wine and Food Pairing

There are a lot of facts about how we interact with wine from a physiological and psychological standpoint.  I address a number of these in my wine sensory experience series that starts here.  When it comes to wine and food pairing advice though, these are all matters of opinion and not fact. Most current wine and food pairing advice can be boiled down to one of two things: 1) What grows together goes together (Traditional pairings), or 2) Flavor matching, or putting wines that have certain flavor characteristics with foods that share those characteristics.  There’s a lot of talk about “perfect” pairings, but given that the designation is wholly subjective, as in, not based on anything objective or measurable whatsoever, we can throw out the idea that people are using any metric besides their preference to declare what wines go better with what foods.  This is why we spent at least decades with the thinking that white wines can only go with fish and chicken and red wines can only go with beef and, depending on some cultures or who you’re trying to impress, Cabernet Sauvignon should be ordered with absolutely everything.  Therefore, saying you had a certain wine paired with a certain dish and you enjoyed it is a fact.  Saying a certain wine pairs better with a certain dish than all other wines is a matter of opinion and given that the person probably didn’t taste test all of the wines in the world with that dish, it is perhaps an uninformed opinion regardless of who they claim to be.

Wine Aromas

If there’s one thing all wine buyers are constantly exposed to it’s tasting notes.  They’re on the bottle, they’re posted in reviews on-line, they’re heralded as the highest art form in the wine world.  People who are respected by other wine drinkers are said to have a “Good nose” or a “Good palette”, and what the hell does that even mean?!?! Are these people quantitatively more in tune with their senses than the rest of us?  Are the physically and mentally superior?  Usually, the answer is no, they’re just better at bullshitting (Important life skill kids.  Don’t say ‘bullshit’ though).  Now, there is a way to see if someone was actually superior to someone else at identifying various aromatic compounds and it is a skill that can be developed. In a nutshell, we teach ourselves to match up the aromas we are smelling with the “image” of an aroma in our memory banks, but that process can be conflicted and conflated by a wide number of different things.

Let’s face it, most people in this world aren’t that great at describing what we smell.  It’s not our fault, we just don’t have the words for it. Yet it’s the central focus in the world of wine.  To alleviate this, various lexicons of aromas have been developed.  Most notably is Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel which is a great way to have a discussion that compares and contrasts various wines.  But the aromas listed on that wheel were taken from looking over tasting notes, which as mentioned above, aren’t really a scientific analysis of the actual volatile aromatic compounds in the wines.  They are people’s perceptions or opinions of what they smell.  Therefore, if someone says “There are lilac and peach aromas in this wine.” the fact that they are meaning to convey is “I smell aromas that remind me of lilacs and peaches in this wine.”  You may very well smell something different.  This isn’t to say that there are no “correct” or “wrong” answers.

Regardless of what we interpret as the smell, one could chemically analyze the wine and compare it to the 40+ million fragrant molecules that have been identified that our noses can sniff.  And each varietal of wine has it’s own aromatic spectrum or range based on its genetic code of things it could possibly smell like…not to mention the addition of aromas that come from wine making practices, but we don’t have a definitive index yet of which fragrant molecules are absolutely found in certain wines based on terroir, or some might say, phenotype.

If someone tells you they smell cinnamon in a wine, you can wonder if someone else could interpret it as clove, anise, Thai basil, wild basil, malted barley, fresh mangoes, apricots, pineapple, strawberries, rosemary, potatoes, cooked asparagus, mozzarella cheese, or grilled beef.  Why?  Because all of those descriptions of aromas contain the aromatic compound eugenol.  But if someone said that the chemical analysis of this wine reveals that there are molecules of eugenol, estragole, s-carvone, apigenin, r-carvone, menthol, and anethole.  One could assume that an anise aroma could be found and one could also assume that someone wouldn’t interpret the aromas as butter (that’s primarily diacetyl).

But no one says that, and it’s highly improbable that you’re going to chemically analyze the wine you’re drinking. Let’s just say that when it comes to a wine expert describing a wine to someone it’s more of a performance and exercise in creativity than anything.The same goes with blind tasting.  But since I’m not writing a novel on the subject right now, I’ll just say this: while training does help with identifying a typical variety of wine from a particular place, a wine of a different variety from a different place can be made to taste the same way.  Education in wine builds the skill of identifying typicity, and that’s good for two things: recognizing when something is either atypical or typical of what it is supposed to be, and a neat party trick to impress your friends and potential mates.  Actually, there’s a third thing: verifying the server brought you the correct glass of wine.  Perhaps the best use of the skill, I’ve had to make corrections only a couple of times, but that was when I ordered a wine that I really, really knew.  I’ve probably been served the wrong wine multiple times, but it was similar enough I didn’t notice.  Mistakes in restaurant service happen and it’s ok.

The list of chemical compounds and aromas was taken from the book Taste Buds and Molecules and is the result of the chemical analysis of a large, but obviously not complete sample of wines.

To top it all off, there are a lot of “facts” floating around out there that have been disproven that are still in popular circulation: our tongues have certain areas that only perceive certain tastes (false), steak goes with tannic wines because the fat softens the tannins (false), sweet wines are always lower quality than dry wines (false), or even that people who prefer to drink red wines are more superior or somehow better educated than those who drink whites (false…in case you were wondering).  Therefore, it’s acceptable and encouraged to question anything being presented as fact in the wine world until you can have it proven for yourself.  You can prove that the more acid a wine has, the more saliva will rush into your mouth.  You can prove that wines made in typical styles from different locations are different from each other.  You can prove that when wines have certain characteristics, you tend to enjoy them better.  But if something being said seems ungraspable, unreachable, untenable, there’s a good chance it is.  While demonstrated experts should certainly be trusted, wine is not a magical beverage no matter how much we claim it to be so it’s best to also be skeptical.

 

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Picture selected based on the artist’s misunderstanding of when the USA was founded and when bards and swashbuckling pirates existed. 

Recently, I had a birthday dinner at a local restaurant here in Minneapolis.  It was French.  It was delightful. It was serene.  The most wonderful part of it though was the fact that this restaurant was offering half-glasses of wine (2.5oz instead of 5oz) on their menu of any wine they poured by the glass.  Even better, the price of that half-glass was exactly half the price of the full glass.  It was brilliant.  I was inspired.  I wrote a ballad about it:

 

The Ballad of the Half-Glass Pour

As I sat down at the restaurant,
Menu soon in hand,
I was craving bubbles from a Francophonic land.

But as my eyes danced merrily,
From savory small plate to sweet,
My wine desires multiplied, how would my cravings be complete?

But what was this? Could it be true?
I spied in the margin,
Half a pour for half the price? A fair and even bargain.

How else could I sample them all?
Mix and match as I pleased,
This restaurant was offering half glasses of wine, it seemed like such a tease.

Unlike the up-marked volume sales of the airport,
Where they offer you 6 ounces or 9,
I’ll take variety so 2.5 will be fine.

In the end a similar volume
Will probably be consumed,
But who can choose just one flower, when the entire field is in bloom?

Bubbles to start
Then I selected a Cab Franc rosé
Could have gone on to a red, but I’d already had a glass that day.

For dessert, I had the Byrrh,
A digestif to settle all that food.
Having only just half glasses had put me in the mood.

Satiated, satisfied,
I sat back in my chair with a delighted sigh.
It felt as though Utopia had finally drawn in nigh.

If you chance upon a restaurant
Whose menu begets a paradox of choice
You’d best hope they have the half-glass pour, and if they do rejoice.

For the wine flight is constructed
Meant for comparing and not completing
The option for the half-glass pour however, is certainly worth repeating.

IMG_0008

Taken in Lyon, France…not the bottle I drank from the night of the half-glass pours.