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89 Bottles of Wine on the Wall… (An Update on the "89 Project")

Vinted on September 3, 2008 binned in wine blogging, wine review
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It’s been one month since I posted about the 89 Project, the brainchild of 2 Days Per Bottle‘s David Honig. I figured it was time for a check in to see how the little guy was faring!

You might recall from my previous post (the one that Wine Enthusiast’s Steve Heimoff, bless his soul, interpreted so darn incorrectly as a disparagement of the 100 Point wine rating system, which isn’t quite what I was goin’ for…) that the 89 Project is a collaborative effort involving several bloggers that pokes a bit of good-natured fun at the current state of wine ratings. When you rate wines using a 100 point scale (like the big boy wine reviews in the big boy wine mags), giving a wine a 90 or above is ticket to 30% plus price hikes. Conversely, an 89 or below might get you into the discount bin – and could get overlooked by the general wine buying public, since many retailers don’t publicize those wines. A viscous cycle of non-showcasing, non-buying, non-showcasing, non-buying ensues.

Anyway, the 89 Project has wine bloggers from all over wine blog-o-land giving their take on 89-point wines. If you’re interested in learning more of the goals and genesis behind the project, check out David’s explanation via podcast from his guest appearance on WineBizRadio.com.

I’m pleased to report that the 89 Project is not only still alive, it’s alive & kicking. Not only was it featured on WineBizRadio.com, it’s also got its own discussion group over at the Open Wine Consortium (I love me some OWC!), and it’s now up to 30 contributors….


Personally, I’ve been having me a good time with my 89 Project contributions (you can check out my 89 Project reviews here). First, it’s an absolute hoot to go through a wine store looking for points, which I usually avoid like the plague (because, let’s face it, nobody talks in points, unless they work for Wine Spectator…). It’s even more fun to run through the wine store pushing a cart, taking pictures of the point ratings and getting positively giddy when you are finding wines clearly labeled as being given ratings less than 90 points.

The wine shop employees (especially in my local PLCB stores) think I’m totally insane now. It’s great…

So – stayed tuned to the 89 Project. You might find some interesting recommendations that you might otherwise have missed. And if you go looking for some of these wines, you just might, if you’re lucky, get yourself one hell of an “interesting” reputation among the wine shop employees in your neck of the woods…

Cheers!
(images: ggpht.com, wikimedia.org)

Bitterness in White Wines (No… Really!)

Vinted on August 30, 2008 binned in wine tips
I run into this situation at a lot of wine tasting events:

We’re trying white wines, and one of the tasters gets a look on their face as if they just sucked down one of those Altoids lemon sours. The kind that are so bitter, they make you feel as though you will suck out your brains through the insides of your cheeks, and spit them out shorty after you jettison the candy from your mouth at upwards of 200 mph.

“This wine tastes bitter. Why is that?”

This is usually followed by a statement from me that starts with “Astringency…” and ends quickly with “…soooooo, let’s move onto our next wine…” in order to prevent me from looking like I’ve got no idea what I’m talking about.

Explaining bitterness in red wines is fairly simple: red wines contain tannins, and almost every wine drinker knows that tannins (especially in young wines) impart a sometimes bitter, often gum-drying quality. Tannins come primarily from the skin contact that makes red wines, well, red. White wines typically don’t undergo too much (if any) contact with grape skins when they’re made. Sure, sometimes oak aging can impart tannins in white wines, but usually not enough to make them bitter.

So, what gives?

At a recent wine geek tasting party, my geeky friends and I discussed the very topic. And one of those geeks knows a guy, who knows a guy, who knows some people.

Important people. Dangerous people.

Well, not really dangerous, but people who have dangerous levels of wine guru knowledge. Like, for example, Jancis Robinson, one of the premier wine authorities in the known universe.

Now, before I get into Jancis’ (and others’) answer on the question of what makes some white wines bitter, we need to take a little side trip to the “She Blinded Me With Science” Department. Because when it comes to wines, you can’t talk about the nitty-gritty of flavors and bitterness without talking phenols. And you can’t talk phenols without talking science….

She Blinded Me With SCIENCE!!!

Just like you and me, wine is made mostly of water. It also has a good portion of alcohol floating around in there (just like me.. but maybe not just like you). The 5% or so left over are the chemicals (well over 900 in some cases) that make wine, well, wine. Because wine is made from grapes, it picks up chemicals from the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes called phenols. Phenols interact with other molecules in the wine, and those interactions help to define the taste, color, and body of a wine. When you taste bitterness and astringency in red wine, it’s likely you’re tasting phenols. Since the chemical reactions in wine can change over time (for example, when phenols interact with the small amount of oxygen present in the wine bottle), so can a wine’s tastes. This, in part, explains why a wine is often said to “mellow out” and become less bitter and softer in mouthfeel over time – thanks, in part to phenols.

Still with me? OK, so how does this tie into bitterness in white wines? What makes some white wines bitter for Pete’s sake??…


I’ve got three answers to that question, from three separate Masters of Wine, all of which are different but technically correct! Let’s decode each one:

1) According to Julia Harding, MW: “Aromatic compounds called terpenes, particularly important in aromatic varieties such as Gew├╝rztraminer, Muscat and Riesling (but also in the aromas of flowers), are said to contribute to bitterness. Their concentration is greater in very ripe grapes and the effect is likely to be more marked when grapes have been pressed less gently or after ill-judged skin contact.”

Translation: If the wine gets a bit too much poorly-timed skin contact (from squishing the juice out too roughly, or from deliberately giving the juice contact with the grapes skins but at the wrong time), you might end up with some bitter white wine – especially if the grapes were very ripe at harvest. Terpenes can also be imparted from oak contact, so too much oak contact could also be the culprit.

2) Pancho Campo, MW‘s answer:

“IBMP (isobutylmethoxypyrazines) are frequently regarded by numerous authors as responsible for the herbaceous character and bitterness of certain wines. IBMP are compounds found in grapes that have not achieved a correct level of phenolic ripeness.”

Translation: The grapes weren’t ripe enough when the wine was made. This allowed the introduction of those IBMPs, without the right amount of flavor, etc. to counterbalance the ‘greeness’.

3) And from the irrepressible Jancis Robinson herself:

“Excessive phenolic extraction is the usual explanation for bitterness.”

Translation: Too much phenol action, baby. Either from mistake or from the winemaker gettin’ a little too greedy, someone was trying to extract the maximum amount of flavor from their grapes – but they went overboard. Whoops – hello Mr. Bitter!

There you go – now, off to impress the guests at your next wine party with your wine chemistry smarties…

For more wine chemistry geek knowledge, I recommend the Oxford Companion to Wine.

Cheers!
(images: time-inc.net, wikimedia.org)

Ethics and Wine Blogging (or "Ouch! I’ve Got a Neck Cramp From All This Navel-Gazing!")

Vinted on August 29, 2008 binned in commentary, wine industry events

Oooooooooooooohhhhh boy.

Seems I can’t go a week these days without getting embroiled in one wine blogging controversy or another.

Let’s see… how do I recap this so it’s not mind-numbingly boring for people who came here thinking they might be reading about wine?

See, apparently, that’s not what wine bloggers like to do anymore (I know… I didn’t get the memo, either!). Instead, they talk about themselves… which will be cool to do during the upcoming Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma, but isn’t so cool to do on wine blogs themselves.

Where readers come to, well, read about wine stuff.

And not to read about wine blogger navel gazing stuff.

But… in this case I will need to talk a bit about wine blogging because it actually involves YOU – the readers of wine blogs (I know this is difficult now… but someday, I think you’ll forgive me, and our relationship will grow stronger… and we’ll finally take that get-away-from-it-all trip to Vancouver tat we’ve been planning… just the two of us…).

Whoops. Sorry, got distracted.

Let’s recap: Regular 1WD dot com readers will recall that I was part of an innovative blogging experiment, headed up by Jeff over at GoodGrape.com, to be among a select group of bloggers to taste the innagural release of Rockaway Vineyard, a new allocated California Cab.

Apparently, a bunch of other wine bloggers didn’t like that.

Tom Wark (fermentation.typepad.com) and Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast (www.steveheimoff.com) in particular both questioned the ethics of the experiment participants for agreeing to write about Rockaway as a condition of taking part in the experiment (and receiving an advanced sample of the wine). Tim over at Winecast.net has a great summary of the whole thing, which you can check out here.

The funny thing is, no one who’s written about the ethics of the experiment has yet to validate their assumptions with either Rockaway or the participants.

Whoops…


I tried to clear things up on Tom’s blog in his comments, but let’s just say it ain’t easy convincing a group of green cheese lovers that the moon is made of rock. Even when you’ve got a sample stone in your hand.

For those of you who still care (sorry, I’m trying to make it as “non-boring” as possible), I actually have a Code of Ethics that’s been posted on my site for well over a year. As far as I can tell, it wasn’t violated by me taking part in this experiment. Sure, I agreed to write an article, but I agreed that with my editor (Jeff at Good Grape), not with a winery. And I didn’t see anything wrong in an editor stipulating receipt of an article as grounds for participation.

I mean…. DUUUUUUH…. wouldn’t a journalist get fired for consistently not producing articles for an editor by a deadline? If not, then I’ve changed my mind, and I really do want to be a journalist! Sounds like a sweet gig!

Instead of talking about ethics, maybe wine bloggers should be talking about Journalism 101 and Reading Comprehension? Or (egads!), wine?

Anyway – now you’ve got the background, and you’ve got my take, and you’ve got my Code of Ethics. And that is important, to me at least – I’m writing this blog because it’s fun, but mostly because I genuinely love sharing wine knowledge with you. I’m certainly not writing it for other wine bloggers (though they’re more than welcome to participate).

I trust that you’re smart people, and all-grown-up adults (at least, I hope so considering you’re reading a blog about an alcoholic beverage…), and therefore I trust that you can make up your own minds about my ethics.

Which reminds me…

THANK YOU to those who have contacted me with your words of encouragement and support. It’s literally kept me from hanging up my bloggin’ spurs these past couple of weeks. And for that, you have my (possibly non-journalistic and unethical) gratitude, always!

Cheers!
(image: calgarysun.com)

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Vinted on August 29, 2008 binned in best of

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