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A Nose is A Nose is Splendor: Why Winemaking is Still More Art than Science

Vinted on March 24, 2008 binned in wine news, winemaking

(images: weblogs.nrc.nl, gizmag.com.au)

The AP reported an interesting tidbit recently in the world of winemaking – interesting enough to be picked up by several other news sources, anyway:

Ilja Gort, the flamboyant Dutch owner of Bordeaux’s Chateau de la Garde, has insured his insured his nose (and sense of smell) with Lloyd’s of London, to the tune of 5 million euro (which my sources calculate to be close to $8 million USD – but by May could be more like $4.7 billion, if the U.S. dollar keeps dipping at its current nasty rate!).

Those of you who follow along with this blog even semi-regularly would likely deduce that the Dude here would be planning some blithe and pithy schnoz-related jokes about this topic, make you laugh a bit, and then be on his way.

Understandably so!

But you’d be way wrong…

Sure, it would be a blast to spend a page or two pointing out Gort’s insurance policy caveats that prevent him from doing some things that would look totally awesome on a resume (most notably, he is not permitted to be employed as a knife thrower’s assistant or as a fire-breather – two things that I would kill to be able to put in the hobbies section of my CV).

But I think it’s much more interesting to discuss what Gort’s policy represents in the grander scheme of the winemaking world.

To me, Gort’s actions highlight a interesting – and keenly relevant – fact: in a marketplace that seems obsessed recently with trying to scientifically quantify the components that make up a truly excellent wine, winemaking remains (more than ever) more Art than Science.

Sure, Gort is no stranger to publicity, but he’s no dummy either. Part of putting the value of his schnoz on such public display was to make the point that “his sense of smell is his wine taster asset.”

This is a stark contrast to non-human techno tasters that can supposedly distinguish a wine’s quality and origins, or to robots that can “taste” quality wine. Not to mention robot wine tasting machines with bee noses (ok, that one’s a stretch, but read the article and it will make a bit more sense…).

I found it refreshing that, in an industry where so many sciences are required to be mastered just to make a quality product (geography, geology, agriculture to name but a few), someone is calling attention to the fact that a winemaker’s nose and intuition are the simplest – and greatest – tools that she or he can bring to the tasting table.

That’s because the greatest machine ever constructed for the purpose of wine appreciation is all organic – it’s called the human.

Man vs. Machine?

Puh-leeeze. No contest!

My money’s on the guy with the real nose (all $8 million worth of it).

Cheers!

In the News: Drinking Can Cut Risk of Heart Disease (+ Other Tidbits)

Vinted on March 20, 2008 binned in wine blogging, wine blogging wednesday, wine health, wine news

(image: healingdaily.com)

Mark Fisher, who writes the Uncorked blog at the Dayton Daily News, has posted an interesting piece this week with his thoughts on a recent American Journal of Medicine alcohol study.

Mark’s thoughts are always worth a read, and this article is no exception (and thanks to him as well for mentioning my previous post on the same overall topic of wine consumption and health).

While the study itself highlights the positive effects of alcohol on middle aged baby-boomers, Mark uses the study to point out that the issue of alcohol consumption and health is not a simple one.

I.e., trying to binge on wine in your 50s to make up for the booze that you didn’t have when you were younger is not gonna help you reap any wine health benefits. That kind of thinking is more likely to fatally turn your liver into a large hunk of scar tissue.

The good news is that the liver can recover from short-term damage – it just needs a break from the likes of coffee, medication, and especially alcohol. So if you’ve been hitting the wine tastings with added gusto lately, consider giving yourself and your liver the gift of a few days (if not a few weeks) of abstinence. Remember, I’m a wine nut, so if I’m saying it’s a good idea to lay off the vino from time to time, it’s not because I just like to type!

Also, for those of you playing along at home, Wine Blogging Wednesday #44 has just been announced by Gary V. over at Wine Library TV. Yes, that Gary V. The theme this time around is French Cabernet Franc. So, if you want to join the wine blogging community in a review, go pick up a wine and transcribe your thoughts! Details are available here (including what areas of France to look for at the wine store if you want to participate).

Cheers!

Weekly Wine Web Wrap-up: The “Hey, What Happened To Last Week’s Edition?” Edition

Vinted on March 8, 2008 binned in wine news

(images: toyarchive.com)

Alright, alright, alright – so it’s been a rough week, and rougher weekend, and Dude ended up totally missing last weeks’ edition of W4. Maybe he had one too many brewskis. And maybe made some bad decisions at the bar while jammin’ with his band homies.

Let’s just agree to get over this awkward moment together, and continue with our professional relationship as blogger and reader, OK? Cool.

I give you the “Hey, What Happened To Last Week’s Edition?” Edition of W4…


“When the Dust Has Cleared… And Victory Denied…”
When I say it was a rough week, I mean it – especially for our friends who are fighting the good fight against the three tier, monopolistic wine distribution industry. Wine and Liquor Wholesalers poured their big bucks into beating back legislation that would have allowed on-line wine sales in both Tennessee and Maryland. Never mind that both the public and the wineries of those states supported the legislation – what do they know about wine and the needs of wine consumers anyway, right? Obviously fear-monger organizations like StopTeenDrinkingTN.org know more and need to protect TN citizens from themselves. You can read about them on their “About Us” page – by the way, it doesn’t mention that the TN wine and spirits wholesalers lobby likely funded their website (the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association is the major coalition member). Pathetic.

Robot Bee Wine Tasters (You can’t make this sh*t up!)
By far my favorite news article of the week. Australian researches are testing bees’ noses to give them insights into how to develop robots that can sniff out quality wine. Since it’s a small animal that lives in Australia, I’m assuming the bees are poisonous (hey – even the platypus has venom, people).

Single, Ginormous & Ubiquitous On-Line Retailer Seeks Wine Buyer. Did I Mention I’m Finally Profitable?
If you need a job, Information week reports that Amazon is looking for a wine buyer. Yes, that Amazon. But there’s talk of Amazon’s wine foray actually being a deeper partnership with Wine.com (who everybody loves to hate at the moment for their spurious actions in selling out their competitors to state governments, Communist-China-style).

A Case of Indian Sour Grapes
I’m not sure why I was drawn to this article from the Business Standard – I just found it interesting that India is now getting into the wine competition thing. Once we get the calm, meditation-&-yoga oriented cultures to become anal-retentive, competitive A-types like the rest of us, the world is sure to become a better place, right?

Cheers!

In the News: How Young Buyers are Impacting Winemaking

Vinted on March 2, 2008 binned in wine buying, wine news, winemaking

(image: darlingofourage.files.wordpress.com)

This is not your fathers wine buying.

There is a great little article posted today in SunJournal.com about how the tastes of a small, but extremely influential group of people are impacting the wine trade.

And they’re NOT talking about the Robert Parkers of the world, whose tendency to enjoy big, alcohol-laden fruit bombs have influenced wineries the world over to produce ‘bomb’-astic wines at all costs in order to chase the high-end of the big wine magazines’ point rating systems.

These are 20-something sommeliers and wine directors that work for some of the most well-respected and expensive restaurants in the United States.

And the wines that they’re looking for? “Wines that are quirky, regional, with rich background stories…” Wow – definitely NOT your father’s fruit bomb style of wine!…

“Their challenge is to find a wine that they’re as excited about as the chef is … about the flavor of his vegetables from the farmers market…”

This is very good news for “old world” style wines from Italy and Spain, which are finding increasing favor with this growing influential set of wine buyers. And it might be bad news for the fruit-bomb makers, who are seeing a growing backlash in the consumer market against these styles of wine.

Now, I’ve met some of this 20-something sommelier set, and I can tell you that 1) they do prefer regional, exciting wines that offer something unique, 2) they always seek to compliment the chef’s food as much as humanly possible, and 3) their buying habits do help to set some trends with winemakers who are seeking to get a foothold into the exclusive high-end restaurant market.

What’s also very interesting, at least to the Dude here, is how the article ends. SunJournal.com quotes industry analyst Jon Fredrikson regarding if and how this trend may impact what wines start to fly off the supermarket shelves (as opposed to what is recommended at the tables of the nation’s high-end epicureans):

“We way overestimate the knowledge of the American consumer…”

Ouch. Is this true?

Dude’s opinion: I can see a great deal of merit in this ‘don’t-call-it pessimistic-call-it-realistic’ view. The fact is that most wine consumers just want a decent wine that they will enjoy, at a fair price. You can’t force people to make the jump into serious wine appreciation if they lack the desire to do so. But then again, introducing someone to a quirky, unique wine and in the process expanding their wine knowledge is one of the small pleasures of life for the Dude. I just don’t expect everyone to be into that – if you forced your passion for, say, crocheting onto me, I would be finding an excuse to spend a little quality time away from you (like 10 or 12 years worth).

Your thoughts…? Shout `em out in the comments.

Cheers!

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