Guide to Making Wine Decisions
Florida Alligator Raids Woman’s Wine Cabinet
First it was Florida man. Next camp Florida woman. But the latest is Florida gator. This big boy seems to have a taste for red wine. See the PDF for details.
When she was still writing for Bloomberg, Megan McArdle did a winetasting of two wine clubs: National Review and The Nation. The former is conservative, the latter is very liberal. Hence, political wine. Her article is pretty entertaining as well as being informative. The specific piece was “Drinking to Blur Party Lines. A taste-test battle of two partisan wine clubs: National Review vs. the Nation” (November, 2015). Forthwith, a few paragraphs.
Naturally, I had to subscribe to both. I imagined a titanic showdown between the somewhat stuffy traditionalist wines of the heirs to William F. Buckley, and the strident cosmopolitanism of the Nation’s approach. Then I placed the orders, and realized that both wine clubs are supplied by the same third-party company.
In a way, this made things even more interesting. Would the wines in both shipments be the same, denoting the collapse of American politics into a single corporatist enterprise? Or would they be different — the Nation’s box stuffed with little vintages hand-produced by impoverished Guatemalan villagers under a fair trade cooperative, the National Review box full of American wines with little flags on the labels? And which would be better?
For $70 apiece, I was sent two boxes of wine, each containing 14 bottles. Then I invited over my friend Matt Ficke, a software developer who used to be a sommelier and the manager of DC’s fanciest cocktail bar. We sat down with his wife, Becks, and my husband, Peter, to discover what we had.
It took us three bottles to get to anything that anyone would consider drinking for any reason other than scientific inquiry. This was the Willow Springs California Cabernet Sauvignon (from National Review). My companions’ reviews were more along the lines of “I would totally drink this” than “Let’s make a note of the name so we can buy it again.”
“This has many of the flavors that you associate with cabernet sauvignon,” Matt said carefully.
The next bottle, a Silver Pony Cabernet Sauvignon from the Nation, represented a substantial regression. Matt licked his lips, stuck out his tongue and looked pained. His wife dumped the glass into our spit cup, declaring that it was too sweet. Indeed, when I tasted it, it was unpleasantly reminiscent of communion wine.
Top 6 Wines That Pair Best With Your Child’s Crappy Behavior
Over at the Life as a Rambling Redhead blog, Jennifer Todryk has the solution for those with kids (up to at least age 18). Her two-part series “Top 6 Wines That Pair Best With Your Child’s Crappy Behavior” is already making waves in the winetasting community. We are trying to get permission to publish her incredibly insightful work as pdf files. Warning: these articles are PG-13, perhaps worse depending on your sensibilities. Until then, here are the links:
Let’s raise a (large) glass of wine to toast the Rambling Redhead.
Irony in Oregon Pinot Noir
In Case of Accident
If you look closely you’ll see that this is a truck from a winery in Pennsylvania!
Vezér Family Vineyards Dragon’s Breath Blend
One of the few non-pinot-noir wines we tasted at the Family Winemakers tasting August 17 was Vezér Family Vineyards Dragon’s Breath blend ($37, 2009 vintage). The wine itself has a faint aroma of green pepper (methoxypyrazine, anyone?) followed by heavy-on-the-cab flavors. Since we’re not fans of cabernet sauvignon, this wine was not for us. But we were enchanted by the eponymously-named decanter:
[portfolio_slideshow include=”3775,3776,3777″ size=large exclude_featured=false]
How to Decide Whether to Have Some Wine
For those who need help, California Wine Fan is pleased to offer this flow chart to show you how to decide whether to have some wine. Cheers!
(Thanks to Texas Wineaux @FriscoKid49 for posting this on Twitter.)
New Sommelier Jobs
Today’s New York Post reports that there are a bunch of new sommelier jobs — for gourmet water. From the article:
“That’s right, restaurateurs are learning the nuances behind the flavor and chemical structure of water to better market the basic element to life.
The Los Angeles Times recently profiled one such water sommelier. Martin Riese, general manager of Ray’s and Stark, the restaurant inside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, launched the restaurant’s first water menu on Monday.”
Who says there are no good jobs any more?
Can I Trust This Yelp Reviewer?
Can I trust this Yelp reviewer? We’re pretty sure this is humor. You are, of course, free to interpret it any way you want. (Click the image to see it full-sized. Our theme’s limitations forced us to make it this small.)
What Is Champagne?
What is Champagne? This question is raised by a story on NPR’s Morning Edition. The focus of the story was Champagne. There were so many inaccuracies and misstatements that I’m writing two pieces. This is the second, covering the production technology of champagne. The first, The Economics of Champagne is on GonzoEcon.com, my economics blog.
Misunderstanding Sparkling Wine Chemistry
The focus of the NPR story was the bubbles. As almost everyone knows, smaller bubbles generally mean the wine was made using the méthode champenoise. The secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, with the wine allowed to rest on the lees for an extended period, often years. Quoting from the NPR website [emphasis added].
If you listen to my story, you’ll hear a tour with Fred Frank, third-generation winemaker at Chateau Frank, part of Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes region of New York state. Frank uses the traditional Champagne method to produce his sparkling wines. It’s a labor- and time-intensive process whereby each bottle goes through a second fermentation in the bottle. “The benefit of this method is higher-quality sparkling wine,” Frank says.
Mr. Frank is quite correct as far as his statement goes. But another expert, “French chemist Gerard Liger-Belair, author of Uncorked: The Science of Champagne has this to say:
So what’s the science behind this? Liger-Belair said that by using the Champagne method, “the [bubble-producing] CO2 produced by yeast cannot escape into the atmosphere, and is kept mainly dissolved into [the] Champagne.”
This is laughably incorrect. For one thing, this statement is true of beer, carbonated beverages, and sparkling wine produced by the Charmat process. Let’s learn some real chemistry.
Actual Sparkling Wine Chemistry
As the wine rests on the lees, autolysis occurs. The cell walls of the yeast break down, releasing amino acids and other proteins into the wine. In essence, this increases the specific gravity of the liquid, creating smaller bubbles that also last longer. For those who are curious, Tom Stevenson provides this explanation [emphasis added].(Those who enjoy chemistry are encouraged to read Mr. Stevenson’s entire article. Fascinating material, very well explained.)
Full yeast autolysis is unwelcome in most wines, but it is essential for Champagne. After remuage, Champagne may undergo a further period of ageing before the sediment is removed. The benefits of yeast-contact are derived from autolysis, which is the enzymatic breakdown of dead yeast cells. This occurs several months after the second fermentation, lasts for between four and five years, although up to 10 years is possible, and it:
- Releases reducing enzymes that inhibit oxidation, thereby reducing the need for sulphur dioxide.
- Absorbs certain essential yeast nutrients, which is the main reason why the dosage does not cause Champagne to referment.
- Increases amino acids and other nitrogenous matter, which are the precursors to the inimitable ‘champagne’ character, including the acacia-like aroma and finesse noticed in a recently disgorged Champagne and the complex bottle-aromas built-up after disgorgement (see Maillard Reaction).
- Produces acetal, which possibly adds a biscuity or brandy-like complexity.
- Produces mannoprotein MP32, which reduces tartrate precipitation.
After autolysis has finished, if a sparkling wine is kept on its lees, it merely remains fresher than the same wine disgorged at an earlier date, but the longer it is kept in this state, the more rapid the evolution after disgorgement. This is because the older a sparkling wine gets, the more sensitive it becomes to the sudden shock of exposure to the air during the disgorgement process.
The Judgment of … Finger Lakes?
But, believe it or not, the real travesty occurs in a tasting. Mr. Frank;s sparkling wine was compared to “the bubble streams of a bottle of 2005 Chateau Frank and a midpriced bottle of California bubbly. While the Chateau Frank bubbles were noticeably tinier, both produced multiple streams of bubbles that lasted a long while.”
Wow. There are many California wineries producing high-quality sparkling wines. Schramsberg, Korbel, and J Vineyards come to mind. We are especially fond of the Brut Coquard from Laetitia (a bargain at $35). NPR chose to compare what is presumably a high-end Finger Lakes sparkler with a California wine most likely produced by the Charmat process. The most amazing aspect of this story is the sheer volume of educational material available on the web. In ten minutes, the reporter could have learned more than she did in this entire interview.
NPR prides itself on not “dumbing down” their broadcasting. Sadly, they seem to spend too much time congratulating themselves and not enough time doing actual reporting.
Gopher Control the RN Estate Way
We are fortunate enough to belong to the RN Estate wine club. Naturally, we get regular e-mails from them. The latest included an unusual approach to gopher control the RN Estate way. Sure, RN Estate has dogs, but they’ll only work a few hours each day. We like their approach. And we’ll quote from their e-mail:
While our dogs Diego & Ronaldo are always in the spotlight… our two cats “Chouchou” & “Mama Kitty” are more involved in the vineyard doing “gopher patrol” on a Sunday morning.