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In the Blogosphere: How Wine Sulfite Regulations Impact Winemakers

Vinted on January 20, 2008 binned in organic wine, wine health, winemaking
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HiYa! If you're new here, you may want to Sign Up to get all the latest wine coolness delivered to your virtual doorstep. I've also got short, easily-digestible mini wine reviews and some educational, entertaining wine vids. If you're looking to up your wine tasting IQ, check out my book How to Taste Like a Wine Geek: A practical guide to tasting, enjoying, and learning about the world's greatest beverage. Cheers!

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:

SULFITE STATEMENT
“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!

Cheers!

In The News: US Wine Consumption on the Rise – *Again*

Vinted on January 18, 2008 binned in wine eBook, wine news

There’s a great little article by Janice Jones in today’s Sierra Sun about the rising tide of wine consumption in the U.S.

According to the article, the U.S. has surpassed Italy and is now on the heels of France to claim the title of the world’s largest consumers of wine by volume (at 2.77 gallons per wine drinker per year). Though I think Luxembourg still holds the title in terms of wine consumption per capita.

What is most interesting about the article is the picture it paints of just how vast our wine choices are here in the U.S. – 7,000 different brands (with the $20 and under category making up most of the market).

That’s just… HUGE!

How’s a wine consumer supposed to navigate that kind of territory?…

Janice offers some sound advice on this: keep track of what you’re drinking, so you can build up your ‘Wine IQ’ and form the vocabulary to accurately describe what tastes you like – and don’t like – in your wine. Preferably by using a notebook and writing down your wine experiences. Which is exactly what the Dude’s Wine Tasting Guide eBook. Yeee-haw – vindication!! ;-)

In a way, the Sierra Sun article underscores why I wrote the eBook in the first place – to help people better navigate the crazy (but utterly wonderful) wine by building their own personal wine taste ‘map’. Without that map, and considering the vast array of wine brands available, their multitude of styles, and the increasing ‘pressure’ to somehow get on board the rising wave of wine popularity in the U.S., you may find the journey into the world of wine so daunting that you never even take the first step.

And that would suck – because the journey is really an amazing one.

Cheers!

WBW #41 – Talkin’ Tocai

Vinted on January 15, 2008 binned in Italian Wine, wine blogging wednesday, wine review

Wine Blogging Wednesday #41 (hosted this month over at Fork & Bottle) has us pondering the mountainous Northeast corner of Italy, as the wine blogging community explores the white wines of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. Too bad we’re not exploring their reds too, since this region grows some totally kick-ass Cabernet blends, having almost completely re-worked its approach to quality winemaking and viticulture since its vineyards were wiped out in the 19th Century by that nasty pet phylloxera (more history available in the excellent Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia).

The wine I chose for WBW (see inset pic from my kitchen counter) was Conte Brandolini D’ADDA Tocai Friulano 2005, from the Grave DOC in Fruili. Surprisingly, I found a decent selection of Friuli whites at the local wine shop here in the Communist-wealth of Pennsylvania. And I got it for $14 (sah-weeeeet! – Wire Chicken NOT included, of course).

But before I review this wine, I need to give you a quick bit of insight into why I can’t stand reviewing wines sometimes…

Outside of contributions to WBW, I don’t normally review wines at this blog. That’s because when I do decide to review a wine, someone with wine street cred that kicks the crap outta mine goes and reviews the exact same wine! In this case, it was the awesome Mary Ewing-Mulligan. I know what you might be asking yourself: “Self, I wonder if that’s the same Mary Ewing Mulligan who co-wrote the hugely successful Wine For Dummies, is president of the International Wine Center, and was the first woman in the U.S. to become a Master of Wine?

Yeah, that Mary Ewing Mulligan. She also happened to discuss this wine in person with the Italian Count who produces it. So I’m not sure how I’m gonna top that.

Mary, if you ever read this post, I formally challenge you to an arm-wrestling contest for a bottle of `82 Mouton Rothschild. But since I know your brother and he’s a great guy, I might let it slide and settle for a lesser vintage…

Anyway, back to Friuli – this is a region of great diversity in its winemaking, and subsequently great diversity – and confusion – in the flavor profiles for its wines. Tocai Friulano is no exception. Depending on who you talk to and what wine books you read, it’s a light-bodied wine and full-bodied wine. It’s a nutty wine. It’s a spicy wine. Or it’s a fruity wine.

The flavor profile isn’t the only thing nutty or fruity about TF. According to the Oxford Companion to Wine, TF’s name is also the stuff of total confusion: It’s known as Sauvigonasse, but many speculate that it has no relation whatsoever to Sauvignon Blanc. “Tocai” suggests some relationship to the famous Tokay of Hungary (made from Furmint grapes), but that connection is so specious that the Italians have agreed with Hungary to eventually drop Tocai from the TF name altogether. And TF bears no relationship at all to Tokay d’Alsace (which is better known as Pinot Grigio, also made in the Friuli region). Confused yet?

One thing that isn’t in dispute is TF’s popularity – it is practically the BudLite of northeast Italy; in other words, it’s ubiquitously planted and consumed in that region.

What’s my take on this wine?
It has a gorgeous pale lemon color. Fairly aromatic, though I was less beguiled by the aroma than Mary was in her review. Citrus and hint of pineapple on the nose. Lots of minerality on the palate (must be the gravelly soil), and some almond there as well. Good body (a bit more than I would have expected at 12.5% alcohol), and very decent, crisp acidity. I enjoyed it a bit more on the second day when it opened up just a tad.

The BudLite of Northeast Italy…? Undeserved, totally, if you’re talking taste. Those who appreciate a nice guilty pleasures will find something to like in this one. Enjoy it with fish – the lighter and whiter, the better – with some mild mango salsa.

Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

If you’re interested in learning more about Italian wines, check out the book Vino Italiano.

Cheers!

Does This Wine Make Me Look Fat?: How To Drink Wine While You’re on a Diet

Vinted on January 9, 2008 binned in best of, wine health, wine tips

Dieting – how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… OK, DONE!

No one really enjoys dieting, and while we may be of the epicurean mindset, even us wine lovers need to count the calories once in a while. To get our New Year’s resolutions off to the right start, I’ve put together some information for wine lovers who might be wondering how wine factors into their their dieting plans…


All alcoholic beverages have calories. This includes wine. Most wines contain a very small amount of sugars – a few grams – even wines that are totally “dry.” Very sweet dessert wines contain a bit more, but overall this will still be less than 10 grams on average. You may even find a small amount of Sodium (about 1% the recommended daily amount) and even carbs (around 5 grams, or about 2% DV). But those all contribute a very small amount of calories to the overall wine experience.

A Wine’s calories are largely a factor of alcohol content. Alcohol content accounts for 80% or more of the calories in a wine. A typical glass of wine – about 4 to 5 fl oz -
will contain about 100 calories. That’s the bad news. The good news – none of the calories are from fat (hey, there’s a bright side to everything!).

Wines with Less Alcohol Have Fewer Calories – but Not by Much. If you want to get more specific, a general rule of thumb (as published on Wineintro.com) is that this formula will give you the approximate calories for any specific glass of wine: 1.6 x percentage x oz in glass = total calories. So, if you pour yourself a 5oz glass of modest Italian white (say, 12% alcohol), you’re looking at 1.6 x 12 x 5oz = 96 calories. A big ol’ honkin’ glass of powerful California Zinfandel at 15% alcohol would be 1.6 x 15 x 5oz = 120 calories. Not a huge difference, but could be significant enough for you to change your wine choice at dinner, if you’re expecting to have more than one glass but are trying to watch your weight.

If You’re on a Diet, Drink Wine in Moderation. This one seems obvious, since in effect wine is contributing the the dreaded “liquid calories” (like soda) that most dieters try to avoid. But it’s a lot tougher than you’d think. Restaurant pours of wine seldom adhere to the 4-5oz average, and some restaurants may pour you a glass nearly double that amount. Which means that glass of big ol’ honkin’ CA Zinfandel is really more like 240 calories. If you’re on a diet, tread carefully when eating out.

Don’t Binge. Another seemingly obvious recommendation, but consider this: drinking alcoholic beverages is proven to relax your inhibitions, which in turn makes you more likely to do dumb stuff. That includes taking diet-unfriendly actions like eating more, choosing to eat foods that you should avoid while on your diet, and generally begets more drinking (thus more calories). Binging on wine while on a diet is definitely NOT diet-friendly.

If You’re Drinking & Dieting, Make Lower-Calorie Wine Choices. If you love wine way too much to cut it out of your diet, go for lower calorie wine options. Dry, lighter white wines will generally provide less calories. Heavy, fortified wines, like ports, will generally have the most calories. For more information, you can view a quick table of approximate wine calorie totals here, or check out the more comprehensive wine nutritional listings at calorieking.com.

Know When to Take a Break. The bottom line: if you are dieting, you need to cut back on the wine. If you’re a contestant on Biggest Loser, then it’s probably a good idea to abstain entirely from drinking alcoholic beverages of any kind for a short period of time (until you reach a safe weight-loss milestone, for example). Sure it will suck to go without your favorite Cab, but a healthier you is more likely to be around to enjoy future great vintages of your favorite wine.

Cheers!

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