Posts Filed Under 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.
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).
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.
(images: jacop.net, pocketpcmag.net)
Warning: If you consider yourself a wine snob, or are easily offended (or both), then I am about to lose you as a friend with this post.
Because I am here to tell you that “Fruit Bombs” (those wines made in a style that deliberately dials up the varietal fruit and shoves it right into your face) are OK.
No, really, I’m serious. They’re OK.
Yes, they really are. YES, they ARE.
Now, before I explain why Fruit Bombs are OK, I need to tell you a little about Jaco Pastorius (stick with me – this will all makes sense in a minute or two)…
Jaco Pastorius is widely considered to be the father of modern jazz bass playing. Often he is cited as the best jazz bassist to have ever lived (if not the best electric bassist ever, period). If, like me, you’re a bass player, then you have to be inspired at least a little bit by Jaco’s amazing playing and harmonious blend of musicality, technique, humor, and inventiveness – if not, you’d better have your pulse checked, ’cause you might be dead.
In the music biz, Jaco was just as famous for his quips as he was for his bass licks. Among his best: “women, children, and rhythm section first,” “it ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up!” and my personal favorite, “I am not here to raise hippy consciousness, I am here to wet some panties.”
Artistic Harmony is Important (Especially in Wine)
The key to Jaco’s success was how well he blended all of the different elements of his musical abilities together into a coherent whole. You may not like jazz, but if you’re really listening, you can’t help but admire the genuineness and balance.
When I’m drinking wine, I’m looking for the same things: genuineness and balance. I may not like the style, but I will admire those elements, if they exist in the wine. Because a winemaker who is really trying will give you the most of those things that are possible given the winemaking conditions, raw materials/grapes, and other resources s/he has on command for that vintage.
Don’t Dis Based on Style – Dis Based on Lack of Harmony
Fruit Bombs are nothing more than a style of winemaking. Do I think many of them suck? Sure I do. Do I prefer them to more subtle-flavored wine choices? Usually not. But I don’t write them off on the whole any more than I would tell you that all country music sucks just because I’m not a fan of the genre in general.
Making a wine is a bit like fiddling with the EQ on your stereo. Crank up the bass and extreme treble all the way, and most of your music will sound like shit. And the bad, disingenuous music? That will sound even worse. In winemaking, if you crank up the fruit, you’d better make sure that you’re also cranking up the structure (acidity, tannin, oak, etc.) to some degree, so that you’re providing a balance and giving the disparate elements in the wine the best chance to come together as a cohesive whole. Or most likely your wine will taste like shit.
Wine is Music to Your Mouth
A wine, even an inexpensive one, should be like music to your palate – and the Brittany Spears of wine is inherently no better than Joni Mitchell of wine, depending on which one you’re most into.
So let’s not write off the fruit bombs, people. Let’s write off the disingenuous wines that don’t have internal harmony.
I am not here to raise wine consciousness, I am here to whet some palates!
The wine sulfites battle rages on.
Some of you will recall that the Dude has been commenting on the topics of sulfites in wine, as well as biodynamic and organic wines.
Jason Haas over at Tablas Creek Vineyard has posted a great article on how the widely misunderstood fear of wine sulfite allergies (& “wine headaches”) has combined with overly-cautious (and poorly-constructed) U.S. wine regulations to cause winemakers unnecessary grief…
What U.S. Sulfite / Organic Regulations Mean for Winemakers
In a nutshell, it seems that the U.S. regulations regarding sulfite use for wines that are to be labeled ‘organic’ have a big negative impact on potential quality of the wine. That’s because some use of sulfites in higher quality wines is inevitable – otherwise the finished wine could be too unstable.
According to the Guidelines for Labeling: Wine with Organic References from the U.S. Dept. of Treasury – Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms:
“100% Organic” products cannot use added sulfi tes
in production. Therefore, since no add ed sulfi tes
are present in the fi nished product, the label may
not require a sulfi te statement. In these cases, a lab
analysis is necessary to verify that the wine contains
less than 10 ppm of sulfites.
Less than 10 ppm of sulfites… hmm… good luck! I wrote about the challenges of achieving such a low level of sulfites in wine before. Those winemakers that chase after the pot-o’-gold at the end of the marketing rainbow may make “organic” wines, but that will need to be done without much thought to the ultimate quality of the wine. Those winemakers that truly care about quality – well, they end up being discouraged from even trying to make wines that would be labeled “organic” by the U.S. government.
What U.S. Sulfite / Organic Regulations Mean for You
And who suffers the most – wine consumers. Because the average person is likely to a) be scared off because of the required sulfite warning labels on wines, often believing (mistakenly) that there last ‘wine headache’ was caused by sulfties, and b) assuming (mistakenly) that wines labeled as ‘organic’ are healthier and of higher quality, consumers can have a poor experience tasting a nasty unstable wine that is labeled ‘organic’ but sucks – and possibly get turned off to wine altogether because of that experience!
[WARNING: SARCASM] Gee… what’s not to love about this scenario? Besides everything, I mean… [END SARCASM]
Don’t Get Suckered into Following the ‘Organic’ Marketing Bandwagon
Unfortunately, it means that we wine lovers still need to have our wits about us when shopping for wine. Stay sharp, and don’t assume that a wine labeled as ‘organic’ is better for you or is higher quality, or contains no sulfites. Higher quality wines will contain sulfites and probably will NOT be labeled organic – but they will taste better, and in the grand scheme of things will be better for you, will provide better value for money, and will give you a better wine tasting experience!