(images: wpsignsystems.com, organic.lovetoknow.com)
Those of you who have been following the Dude’s blog know that when it comes to organic wines I have been, let’s just say, less than kind in the past on the quality and viability of these products.
To provide yet another perspective in my ongoing love/hate affair with all things organic. my partner in crime Jason Whiteside has offered up some comments on the organic trends impact for wine consumers.
Jason fully acknowledges the marketplace trends towards organic products, even though he is not influenced by it himself per se (according to Jason, “I am not a vegan. Whatever the opposite eating style to vegan is, that is what I am.“).
Organic-minded consumers should be aware of the hidden dangers in their wine bottles. According to Jason:
“Along with the wave of social food consciousness, it is natural to wonder about the wine we drink. Is it organic? Is wine OK for vegans to drink? What do we really know about the contents of any given bottle? Consumers who are sensitive to the use of animal products should know why and how animal products are used in the manufacture of wine. Eggs whites, isinglass (the powdered swim bladders of fish), and other proteins are used in the fining process, which helps make a wine clear.“
“Often times, when wine is made, it has a hazy or cloudy appearance from suspended particles. Nobody wants to drink hazy wines, for most of us are rightfully programmed to believe a good wine should be clear and bright. So the winemaker will use a carefully measured amount of protein to help remove the haze. This works because the protein carries an electrostatic charge opposite to the particles in the haze. They cling to each other, and fall out of the wine as sediment. The clear wine is then racked off the sediment, which means that for practical purposes there is no clarifying agent (egg whites) left in the bottle.“
For those who are over-the-top-serious about their organic shopping, even these fining procedures may not be enough:…
“But, who really knows if there is absolutely none left? Testing for that would be more expensive than it is worth.“
All is not entirely hopeless for these consumers, however: “As a consumer, it is relatively easy to find a list of wines that are either unfined or fined without animal products. This website lists vegan wine, and I have found it to be very helpful: http://vegans.frommars.org/wine. I recommend the wines from Rosenblum (especially their Petit Syrah) and Houghton Chardonnay, in particular.“
As for the current state of organic winemaking, Jason leans towards my assessment that good examples of these wines are harder to come by (but well worth the effort once you do finally get your hands on them):
“For consumers who look for organic or vegan wines, my hope is that more skilled winemakers take up the challenge of green winemaking. It is not an easy undertaking. Sulfur dioxide buys a winemaker a lot of time by keeping the grapes fresh, and fresh grapes mean better wine. If you want to see how fast harvested fruit starts to spoil in your own home, cut an apple in half, and see how long it takes to start to turn brown. The ‘browning’ is the effect oxygen has on fruit; sulfur dioxide protects against this. It will be difficult for winemakers to forever put away their chemicals, eggs, and fish bladders, and I for one would not ask them to. But, for those to whom this matters, know that quality wines are being made without the extra stuff. You just have to go out and find them.“
(images: epicurious.blogs.com, i.ivillage.com, chungkiddo.blogspot.com)
In a recent post on her blog, the venerable Dr. Debs wrote about a recent survey commissioned by Constellation Wine Brands (a big, big conglomerate that own dozens of wineries, including Mondavi). The study concluded that more and more wine consumers are overly confused when it comes to what wine they should buy – enough so that Constellation cited increasing consumption by “Overwhelmed” wine consumers as their (Constellation’s, that is!) biggest opportunity.
This finding isn’t surprising. There are over 7,000 wine brands available to consumers in the U.S. That’s a sh*t-load of wine choices, and even the most over-educated wine geeks among us can get overwhelmed (especially if we’re trying to understand German wine labels). In fact, it’s one of the main reasons that I got “seriously” into wine in the first place – I sat the WSET Intermediate Certificate exam so I’d be better able to buy wine at my local store!
Dr. Debs (quite rightly) points out that there’s already an easily-accessible vehicle to help the Overwhelmed wine consumers out there:
So is there a way to help the Overwhelmed, send them armed and ready into Wine Warehouse to face the Sauvignon Blanc aisle, and point them in the direction of wine enthusiasm rather than wine frustration? Yes. It’s called the Internet…
It’s likely that companies like Constellation have uber-smart Marketing-types, but it’s unlikely that those Marketing-types are going to help clear up anything for us Overwhelmed wine consumers unless it has the added benefit of further lining their pockets with more of the shiny gold stuff. Sure, you can use points to help make buying decisions, but who the heck talks in points about, well, anything (other than cholesterol numbers, I mean)?
(Imagine this conversation: “Hey – did you see Rothlisberger pass all over the Bengals last night? He totally deserves a 111.4 QB passer rating.” “No way, man – he’s not a tenth of a point over 99.7. Puh-leeeeeze!” Not gonna happen. Plus, people can’t speak in hyperlinks – though that would be cool….).
While it’s true that the Internet is an amazing resource for Overwhelmed wine consumers, it can itself be a bit, well, daunting. I don’t know about you, but I liken whittling through the vast array of info. on the Internet to find anything useful to trying to reach into a narrow rats’ nest to pick up a nugget of gold.
And sometimes the rats’ next is full of hungry, nasty rodents. With razor-sharp teeth. And surly dispositions.
It doesn’t help that by taking one or two days off from your on-line life, it feels more like an eternity when you return only to find that you’ve missed 375 twitter updates, 900 blog posts, 250 news stories, 30 “friend requests” and god-knows-how-many e-mail messages. And I’m an IT geek – I can only imagine how the “Internet? Is that the one with the e-mail?” crowd feels.
How can you make sense of it all? My advice is to follow the same Zen-centric approach to handling wine info. on the Internet as you would handle any stream of information overload. Here are three tips that have served me (and my sanity) well in my on-line wine life…
1) Minimize & de-clutter your blog Inbox.
Humans are just not set up to suck in multiple streams of information and retain it all. We’re more built for trying to quickly decide whether or not something is gonna eat us and deciding when we should run like hell, etc. There are oodles of articles on-line that offer great advice on how to approach absorbing information (see this great post at Lifehack.org for an example). But the first trick is to limit the information coming at you.
To do this, you need to get a bit ruthless about the wine blogs and the wine websites that you follow. This won’t be easy – there are quite a bit of good ones out there. You need to find the ones that work best for you, and follow those. This doesn’t mean that you can’t read a great post on a blog that you don’t normally follow – it just means that you need to set a cap on the amount of websites that you do follow on a regular basis, and be very selective about the ones that make the cut to get a piece of your increasingly-precious time.
This of course can help you for any topics that you follow on-line (not just wine). For other tips on time and information management, I recommend getting the ZenHabits.net eBook.
2) Bring the Mountain to Mohammad.
Once you’ve got a firm cap on the number of wine blogs and websites that you follow, then you can stop following them!
What I mean is, get yourself a good RSS reader, and make those updates come to you. I’m a total Netvibes convert. IT geekiness aside, Netvibes allows you to customize and gadgetize the hell out of your on-line life. I’m not sure if I could get by without it at this point (click on the inset pic for a screenshot example of my Netvibes home page). I log in, and can quickly check for interesting blog posts in my day job / music / wine “lives” – minimizing the time I have to spend looking for that information, because it comes to me.
If your tastes are a bit more Spartan, at the other end of the spectrum is the pared-down-to-basics Google Reader. Just be careful, as it’s also easy to go overboard with these RSS tools (for an example of this itself can get overwhelming, check out friendfeed.com). Stick to the program!
3) Trust yourself.
This piece of advice is the most wine-specific. Nothing that anyone writes on-line should influence your own personal preferences and tastes. Your experience trumps all. Trust it, and trust yourself.
If anything, we in the wine blogging community should be educating you, entertaining you, and (most importantly) opening your mind to wine possibilities that you may not have otherwise known about. We should not be trying to convince you that what you like isn’t “correct” or “proper.”
(Warning: Shameless plug): For more about learning how to determine what you do (and don’t) like in the wine that you drink, check out my eBook.
Cheers (and happy surfing)!
Fellow CSW and SWE member Kathleen Lisson has posted an interesting article about wine pairings. Only this is a pairing not of wine & food, but of wine & music.
Being two of my favorite topics, Kathleen asked me to contribute to her article. You can read the full post at this link.
Kathleen as also included a way-cool playlist of her favorite dinner party music, which includes some amazing and excellent jazz classics. You can launch the stand-alone version of the player and jam along at this link.
To help get into the spirit, I’ve also added some of my own music-to-sip-with-vino picks in my on-line store. Enjoy!