Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Score one for terroir.

~I’m no longer producing wine, but I like to keep abreast of what’s going on in viticulture and viniculture, so I attend seminars that are offered locally by Cornell University’s Geneva Agricultural Station, in the Finger Lakes region of New York, my hometown.
~Tomorrow I am on my way to the agricultural station for a seminar on yeast trials with Riesling, the regions’ premier grape variety (I’ll write about the results later).
~A few weeks ago I attended a Riesling clone trial at the agricultural station, the results of which may surprise one or two wine critics and globe-trotting consultants.

In viticulture, cloned vines are developed from parent grape species and varieties to try to capture certain characteristics both for viability in a region and for desired results in the wine.

One way to test whether or not developed clones—or clones in development—produce the desired results is of course a series of trials that subject the clones to the same treatment to see how they respond.

~The Riesling trial concerned two clones and wines produced from the grapes of each clone grown at four separate Finger Lakes vineyard locations.
~The grapes were handled in the same manner from site to site, all stats—sugar, acids, alcohol, etc.—were set at the same standards plus the winemaking process was also the same for all wines. The idea was to find out whether under the exact conditions one clone or another produced an identifiably superior or at least different wine.
~The experiment was done for winemakers and so the room was filled with them. Other than the academics who attended, I was the only non-winemaker in attendance. But like the local winemakers, I have had extensive experience with local Rieslings, so my familiarity with the various attributes of Riesling produced on each of the major Finger Lakes production zones was in line with the rest of the crowd.
~The eight wines we tasted represented three of the lakes: Cayuga, Seneca, and Keuka, and it seemed that piece of information turned out to be the most important in the trials, that and the specific location of the vineyard sites.
~Generally, the group was not much enamored with the wines—they were neither representative nor consistent with the quality we have come to associate with Finger Lakes Riesling. In fact, one or two samples didn’t even taste like Riesling. The clones themselves did not impress us.
~What did impress us, however, was that we could tell the differences among the wines based on their site location.
~It wasn’t that we could identify with accuracy exactly where the grapes had been grown, although in one case it was obvious to me. It was that, even though the grapes and wines had been produced with the exact stats and in the exact production method, as well as at the same production facility, there was something unique about each wine.
~We unanimously decided that the unique quality that we had identified in each wine likely had to do with the four separate vineyard sites—put another way: terroir appears to have made the difference.

In a great deal of winemaking, certainly in a great deal of wine criticism, prevailing wisdom places importance for wine’s uniqueness and wonder squarely on the winemaking process.

In life, nothing is so damned conclusive, let alone self-assured, as a wine critic—and that can certainly be said both for what it is that influences wine the most and for the wine itself.

Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar, just as sure as a fermented juice really is a reflection of its plot of land.

Incidentally, I don't see many critics at these trials...

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
June, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Cork maligned

This entry starts with an apology to the cork industry and to readers of this blog—oh, what the hell, I apologize to everyone I have ever met who had to listen to me go on and on over the subject of cork taint.
~In the June, 2007 issue of the trade journal, Wines and Vines Magazine, Tim Patterson has an article about TCA that is the cause of my apology and this blog entry.
~In his article, Patterson explains that the conversation about so-called cork taint is itself tainted—with misinformation.
~Now don’t get me wrong. Most of the information we have about TCA taint is not purposely put out to get at the cork industry (well, maybe some of it is, especially from those who have an interest in promoting synthetic stoppers and screwcaps).
~Most of the information we have about TCA has been slow to materialize, and even slower to get at the truth, because those studying it just didn’t know all the answers.
~The answers have been coming in. I already knew that TCA can infect not only corks but every porous material—especially wood and cardboard—that is used in and around wine production, and once a wine facility is infected, TCA will permeate the place and ultimately ruin the wines. But there's a lot I didn't know.
~I don’t want to give away the meat of Patterson’s article, the link below will get you to it, but I do want to say that he lays out what’s been going on in California regarding TCA and you have to expect that if it’s happening there it’s happening in every wine region.
~Just the other day I opened a Southern Italian Rosato (a light red wine for summer) that had been ruined by TCA taint. Of course, I had the retailer replace the bottle. But the second one was not exactly right either, yet it was not as bad as the first one.
~Maybe after reading Patterson’s article I had been influenced by some of the information he imparts about TCA detection in our noses: some of us are better than others at picking up the taint at low doses. I know I am sensitive to the taint, but I have no idea whether or not my sensitivity to it is as acute as, say, the wine critic James Laube, who seems to be able to smell the stuff from a continent away!
~In any event, I am now thinking differently about the cork.
Being a porous wood product, the cork still can become TCA infected, so I am not completely convinced that we should abandon the move toward finding a better closure for wine bottles. Any closure that keeps my wine clean and as pristine as the day it was bottled should definitely be used for wine, and studies to find that material should continue.
I particularly dislike the plastic stoppers. While they may never be TCA tainted, they come with a few serious flaws, not the least of which is how they may or may not seal tight, and then how they may or may not want to even come out of the bottle neck when coaxed by a corkscrew (I recently broke a corkscrew trying to pry a recalcitrant plastic stopper out). I would never miss them should the plastic stoppers leave this universe.
The screwcap may be the best closure thus far, but it has yet to prove definitive, and some of them aren’t so easily twisted off either. I recently had one that refused to budge until I took a pliers to it, which of course bent the thing and rendered it useless for recapping the bottle, should I ever have the need to do such a thing.
~In any event, while the verdict is not in over which closure wins, it’s clear that the cork may have been overly maligned, at least regarding TCA taint. For whatever part I played in that indictment, I again apologize. In defense, I can say that I am not the only one who didn’t have all the facts. So, check out the link to Patterson.

T’aint so:

Copyright by Thomas Pellechia
June, 2007. All Rights Reserverd.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

quality is another word for pigs can fly

~My friend and winemaker, John Zuccarino, posed a question recently to wine geeks concerning a potential correlation between an increase in wine quality and an increase in the point ratings that certain critics give to wines.
~As expected, sycophants come running when such questions are posed. Instead of simply seeing the question for what it is, an attempt to analyze or observe a correlation, they see it as either an attack or an endorsement of their favorite wine critic.

John seemed to embed in his question that he believes the increase in wine quality and the increase in ratings are related. I have a problem with that.

~First, I agree that wine quality may have increased overall in the past few decades, but I believe that the quality leap is a reflection of an increase in wine consumption met by an increase in wine production and competition.
~Still, there was John's question and so I challenged for a definition, because without a clear definition of “wine quality” how can the matter even be discussed?
~John never offered a definition, so here's mine.
~In matters of mechanical things, quality is measurable by how well or even how long a device functions properly, or if it functions properly at all.
~With food production, pinning down the concept of quality is not so easy. you can say that if the food gives sustenance and tastes good it's of good quality. While the sustenance part is measurable, the taste part is not: what tastes good to one person may taste like dung to another.
~Is the quality of a steak in the way the animal was raised, in the cut of meat, in the tenderizing or aging, in the preparation, in the taste?
~Is the quality of a restaurant meal in the freshness of the ingredients, in the cooking, in the service, in the taste?
~Is the quality of the wine in the type of grape, in the balance, in the aging potential, in the taste?
~Winemakers will likely agree that the quality of a wine is connected to its level of technical flaws. But consumers generally haven’t a clue about technical flaws.

Many consumers think that wine contains three or four components—wine contains dozens of components and many of them are measurable with a lab instrument. Some components are natural, winemakers add other components, and some components insert themselves through sloppy winemaking.

One fellow in the particular online discussion that John started was in the quality-correlates-to-critics-ratings camp. But he revealed how little he knows about the make up of wine and its technical parameters. Without that kind of knowledge, how can he even begin to be an arbiter of quality?

He referred to wine as if it were art--it is, and it isn't. There's more science to wine than most people care to imagine. It's called food science and it infiltrates not only wine, plus it is a measurable part of wine quality.

~Second, critics mainly rate a small percentage of all the wines produced in this world. In part, they act on their bias—they like only certain types and styles of wine; hand them something they don’t understand and they may not like it, whether or not its quality is pristine.

In addition, and for whatever reason, critics don’t consider many wine regions important enough to gain their notice, and when they do give in to those regions they often assign the task to lesser, hired guns—after all, there’s only so many hours in one person’s day…

~One word sums up my third problem with the notion that increased wine quality and increased ratings are related: inflation.
~Not more than a decade ago, when I worked as a wine salesman for a distributor, we could see an upward spike in the sale of wines that garnered a rating of 80 to 85 points. As much as I hated to see perfectly good wines without ratings sit on shelves while the rated ones flew out the door, the phenomenon made some sense: 80 to 85 points out of 100 is a pretty good grade.
~These days, wines that score below 90 points often get little notice (and I'm still waiting for a cogent reason to disregard a wine rated 89 for a wine rated 90).
~One major wine critic seems either never to talk about or never to encounter a wine below an 85 rating. Maybe he believes he need only tell the public about wines he and his workers feel deserve high scores; that's fair enough, but he also claims that his scores are strictly personal, intended only as a guide, so who needs to know about them?
~In other words, a most famous wine critic tells the world that his rating system is strictly hedonistic: what gives him pleasure gets his interest and it may go on to get a high score if it really gets his interest.
~That's fine with me. I have no particular problem with hedonistic wine ratings, but I don’t view them as a measure of wine quality? I view them as a personal opinion.
~Quality is a measure of performance, but for it to be a meaningful measure of performance both the measuring device and the expectation of the performance has to be objective. Looked at that way, only technically superior wines have quality. Looked at that way, only a fool would care to consume wine.
~Wine quality remains a slippery concept, but if you like a wine for whatever reason that you like it, why should you care what someone else thinks of its quality, or of the wine in general? So long as it doesn't make you sick or kill you, you've got what you like.
~As a measure of pleasure, hedonism is all about subjectivity. In that regard, ratings inflation may be a measure of marketing or a measure of palate overload, but it certainly has little to do with measuring quality.

There’s a certain wine produced in California that enjoys a cult following. In the past, a famous critic has touted the wine, which is why it was able to become a cult wine in the first place.

The way in which the wine is produced, however, leaves it open to many airborne bacterial and yeast infections. As a result, most releases of this wine that I have tasted suffered from major measurable technical flaws and I now avoid the product.

Even some of those who salivate upon release of each new vintage of this wine often admit that it is spotty from bottle to bottle and that it often goes completely off while aging in their cellars.

Objectively, this wine would likely fail most tests for serious technical wine flaws. Subjectively, it remains a cult wine and probably has no trouble selling out.

~To paraphrase my friend John's question: does high praise from a famous wine critic turn a flawed wine into a high quality product?
~I believe it was Peter Pan who said that to be able to fly you must want to believe.
~Think about that the next time you taste a pig of a wine that you hate but bought because it got a 92 rating; then, imagine that it is a high quality wine and maybe you can get that pig to fly.

John's question

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
June, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, June 15, 2007


~You’ve heard it before: never cook with a wine that you won’t drink.
~Like many, I lived by the rule for a long time, but then one day I realized three things: it can get expensive to cook with the wines I consume, rules are broken everyday, and—most important—enjoying wine subjectively has no rules.
~I changed my attitude and began to buy bag-in-the-box wines for cooking in the smoker, and I apologize to no one for it; yet, when I am in the wine shop buying the bag-in-the-box wine I find myself explaining to the cashier that “It’s for cooking only. I don’t drink it.”
~I suppose rules learned by rote don’t die easily.
Here’s how I smoke a turkey:
I marinate the bird in bag-in-the-box wine, chopped garlic and tarragon for at least 24 hours.
The following day I cut little wood chips from the peach, apple, pear, fig prunings that I saved from late spring and then soak the chips in water.
I start up the coals in the smoker and give them half an hour to get hot; then, I take out the turkey, lift it from the marinade, place it on its grill, place the marinade bowl in its position on the rack over the coals, place the turkey on the grill in its position on the rack over the marinade liquid, put the top on the smoker and wait until the thermostat reaches the “Ideal” setting.
When the temperature is ideal, I shake up the coals, throw a few wet wood chips on them (to create the smoke), add a few more coals, cover and let smoke. I repeat this procedure every 45 minutes or so until the turkey is done.
It takes from three to four hours for a 10-12 pound turkey to smoke this way, and it takes half a 3-liter bag-in-the-box for the marinade, which means I get two smoked turkey marinades out of one $9.99 white wine that I would never drink.
~The other day I found myself once more in the wine shop explaining to yet another new cashier that I don’t drink the bag-in-the-box wine; that I cook with it. Then, I went on to explain the turkey recipe.
~The woman listened quietly. She nodded a few times in that way people nod when they want to assure you that they do not think you are nuts, and then she said, “You know, technically you aren’t cooking with the wine.”
~Well, well, I thought on my way home. I haven’t broken any wine rules after all. Aaah, it was like having come out of the confession box (for those whose lives were not formed in the shadow of the Catholic religion, you’ll have to imagine the feeling!).
~Incidentally, my bag-in-the-box wine of choice is—nah, no endorsements on this blog, not unless someone is going to send me ad money…
~The temperature is going to reach 92F in the Finger Lakes this weekend. Time to marinade a turkey so that I can create a few cold smoked turkey lunches.
~Bless me wine god, for I have sinned—maybe.

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
June, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 11, 2007

So, what's new in wine?

I thought you might like to read the following exerpt from a talk I gave at Brock University in Ontario, Canada. The subject of the seminar was culture and wine, and mine was one of three talks. I've condensed it, but it still is long for a blog entry. What the hell, it's my blog!

~The wine world has certainly benefited from technological innovation, but, like so many worldly matters, in the wine world what seems new has often been done before.
~My interest in wine is what led me, before I turned thirty, to travel, both figuratively—in books—and literally—around the world. My instinct told me that studying wine is the same as studying civilization.
~My first extensive trip abroad was to the Middle and Near East. Between 1973 and 75 I lived and worked in Tehran, Iran. It was before the 79 revolution, so I was able to travel throughout Iran if I so chose, and if I took a different route each time...
~Since it was before the revolution, I got to sample Iranian wines: Riesling and a couple of reds, one of which I convinced myself had been produced from the shiraz grape, but I never was able to confirm that suspicion.
~I’m still not sure if I believe the shiraz grape originated in southern France, as I have been told. The Greeks started wine production in southern France, at Marseilles, about 400 years before Christ and I am sure they brought new grapes with them, grapes they may have gotten from their trade with others—from Persia, perhaps?
~At the time, the only Greek wines I had ever tasted had turned me off—it’s only in the past decade or so that solid Greek wines have been regularly available in the United States. But on a subsequent trip to Greece, the local white wines I drank, particularly the ones from the islands of Samos and Rhodes, opened my eyes.

In the 1990s I read about Patrick McGovern who specializes in wine archeology and is on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania—I later read his book, Ancient Wine: the Search for the Origins of Viniculture. McGovern led a team that discovered what at that time was the oldest known site where wine had been produced, in the Zagros Mountains of Iran, near the border with Iraq. I remembered that the Iranian Riesling I used to drink had been produced somewhere “up north” between Tehran and the Caspian Sea.

Soon I was researching and writing about ancient wine, which is how my latest book came about Wine: The 8,000 Year-Old Story of the Wine Trade.

~I discovered that in just about any community where wine was produced, it was extremely important both to the economy and to culture: first as a spiritual vehicle, then as a medicinal, and finally as a food.
~Today wine is not as powerful an economic force as it once was but it still manages to serve the spirit in just about the same ways it always has, which means that despite the many innovations along the way, those of us interested in wine’s history can be forgiven for asking: so, what’s new?
~Take the case of cult wine production and single vineyard designation.
~Wine was of course part of Classical Greek culture, especially wine from the Aegean islands, which, in ancient times, as it is today, was considered the best. In fact, the Classical Greek economy, like the later Classical Roman economy, was largely structured around grain, olives, and wine. Greeks introduced wine on the Italic peninsula around a thousand years before Christ.
~At the time, Etruscans held prime land in the north end of the Italic peninsula. There’s evidence that, although the Greeks considered them barbarians, they traded wine with the Etruscans for natural minerals. It was a successful trade relationship: the Greeks continued to build colonies and the Etruscans continued to indulge in good food and plenty of drink.
~Rome was once reluctantly under Etruscan rule. Some historians claim that Romans also considered Etruscans barbarians and that in early Rome the people cultivated milk products instead of grapevines. Roman law at the time prevented men under 30 and women of all ages from drinking wine. How’s that for culture taking the lead?
~Soon enough, however, the efficient Romans were poised to subsume both Etruscan and Greek cultures. Romans began to produce wine for themselves, using Greek methods as their guide.

A culture of the elite developed in Rome and those wealthy Romans drank only Greek wines—considered superior to the homegrown stuff. (Some of us know that feeling.) The cult fashion that elite Romans gave to Greek wines could be viewed as a reflection of too much disposable income in the hands of too few people (and doesn’t that seem familiar, too?)

Yet, cult wine wasn’t a new idea even then. The practice can be traced to the Nile Delta well before Rome, and even earlier in Damascus, where a famous Phoenician sweet wine called Chalybon had a cult following all the way to Persia, and who can forget the famous nectar of Homeric Pramnian Essence, which was sweet red wine. Unfortunately, cultism often proved to first increase the price of wine and then, over time, to cheapen the product.

~As Rome slid from a republic into an empire, it finally did subsume Greek culture, and viticulture took on more importance as a reflection of that event. Then, in the Punic war of 141 BC, Rome sacked Carthage, a place where the descendants of the Phoenicians had taken a largely wine dependent culture and economy to new heights of oligarchy. After the war, Romans had in their possession fine viticultural notes from a book by a Carthaginian named Mago. The book not only showed them how to produce better wine, it taught Romans the potential economic value of viticulture. Soon Romans produced widespread commercial wine—they had already taken over the grain industry and would soon take over the olive industry from the Greeks.
~Two decades after sacking Carthage, at the Latium border with Campania, Romans on a small hillside known as Falernum finally put the reputation of Greek wines to rest, and they did it through single vineyard wine production. The producers at Falernum identified three sites from the bottom to the top of the hill, the latter being the premium site.
~Falernian was not only produced from single vineyard grape growing, it was controlled in small production. It was also expensive—it became a Roman cult wine and of course any Roman who was anybody had to have it—the wine was probably shipped on allocation well before the advent of email newsletters…
~The success of Falernian produced copycat wines and then imposter wines. Even the Roman government had been duped, using so-called Falernian to give away as expensive political favors to rivals and barbarians at the gate. Incidentally, wine to pay political favors and potential warring rivals remained a common cultural activity in parts of Europe into the Enlightenment period, but no other culture since seems to have done what the Roman government did: give wine away as welfare payments to its citizens.
~Since the owners at Falernum could make money by exploiting its cult status, they began to dilute the single vineyard designation by flooding the market with more Falernian than could have been grown on the little hillside. By the second century Pliny and the famous physician, Galen, each had written that Falernian had become second-rate.

Even back then, wine writers could make or break a producer…the difference between then and now is that not all of them, but a majority of the ancient wine writers either grew grapes or produced wine, or both.

~The price of Falernian plummeted.
~In fact, over the life of the empire, Roman wine economy suffered from bouts of under and over production as fads came and went, vineyard practices changed, and populations shifted. It got truly bad for single vineyard owners between the first and second century when large producers began to contract with growers, paying money for the crop before harvest, a practice that had once been outlawed in Greece for fear of weakening the quality of the crop, which, of course, it did. Roman vineyard standards fell, wines became increasingly mediocre, and prices rose and fell with frightening regularity.
~Always a thorn in Roman wine merchants on the Italic peninsula, when Rome fell the Gauls began to take control of the European wine trade. In some sense, they had to reinvent the trade. Certainly, government wine welfare systems were a thing of the past; so was the amphora, which gave way to the oak barrel—Mediterraneans had access to a lot of material for ceramics, but the Gauls had a lot of forest in the north.
~With some exceptions, single vineyard wine production was out of favor. Large-scale cooperative production was encouraged. Plus, the economic focus shifted. The medieval French, and other northern Europeans, introduced new grape varieties to survive northern climates, where more elegant wines began to be produced and more commercial traffic had taken root.

Throughout the Middle Ages the wine trade regrouped and grew stronger, mainly in northern Europe. By the 16th and 17th centuries most wine traffic either was in bulk or went through negotiant shippers who blended. And then along came Arnaud De Pontac and Haut-Brion.

~De Pontac owned a restaurant and grocery in London that catered to the cream of society. He was also a Bordeaux wine producer who followed the line of beneficiaries of the 12th century marriage between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England, a wedding that solidified a relationship that to this day keeps the British in ample supply of their beloved “claret.”
~De Pontac brought his Haut Brion wine to the restaurant and billed it as special and at truly special prices. He not only made himself rich, he started a small wine revolution in Bordeaux. And what was that revolution? Another version of single vineyard designation, which led to the Bordeaux growth classification system, a system that was arguably established mainly on price and cult status…and the worm kept turning.

Past centuries are full of small winery successes that had been overtaken by conglomerates; wine gluts that caused major price fluctuations and losses in wine quality; wine fads, such as various additions to wine (yes, the ancients had their versions of the wine cooler). Discussions in vine spacing, trellis training, crop exposure, and suitable grape varieties for certain sites go back to ancient Egypt—which method took precedence often reflected the marketplace rather than the vineyard, as is evident in the modern desire for crop hang time on the vine to increase intensity and alcohol; this very practice was in part responsible for the success of ancient Falernian, some of which may have been as high as 30 percent alcohol by volume.

~Constant arguments over storage, shipping and packaging led to innovations that took wine out of ceramics stuck into the ground and put them into barrels stacked in a warehouse or out of large earthenware vessels and into smaller glass bottles. The point being: each innovation often fed off commercial and cultural conditions such as developments in glass blowing, overgrown forests for wood and so on. Follow the culture and you are soon following developments in commercial wine.
~400 years ago an argument ensued in Europe whether cork, which was first under widespread use to cap pharmaceuticals, should be used to cap wine. Obviously, the cork prevailed over the use of a layer of olive oil, wax or a rag stuffed into a container; cork was better. But today the wine cork is under siege, and while its time may be coming to an end, it promises not to go without putting up a valiant fight. What is behind the fight? Many producers are afraid to switch to screw caps in part for production reasons, but mainly because of perceived consumer resistance. But the cork will be subject to the culture, and a growing part of the culture hates to lose rather expensive wine to a tainted cork; to them, screw cap is better.
~In past centuries the cycles of the moon guided viticulture and winemaking. Then, thanks to much of the work of people like Louis Pasteur, science and the laboratory advanced grape growing and winemaking technologically. Today, however, there’s a move out of the lab, away from petrochemicals and into the natural state of things from organic to biodynamic, where the claim is that the sun, the moon, and the earth gods govern all living things, including plants, and that the natural concoctions of earth materials are superior to any chemical regime. The ancients certainly would recognize this call.
~After generations in the cultural wilderness of what we still call the New World, the past thirty-plus years have seen an increase in wine consumption cycling throughout the North American culture. Of course, this is encouraging to those of us in the wine business. Arguments in the U.S. over the archaic wine shipping restrictions across the fifty states proves that a growing segment of the American population wants its wine. It’s also nice that even the Supreme Court has been brought into the fray, although I am not fond of the narrow solution they put forward, reasoning that gave states the right to restrict shipping completely or to allow it but with many potentially expensive—not to mention confusing—hurdles for out-of-state wineries. Europeans of past centuries who fought wars over wine and placed protective tariffs across borders would likely hail such medieval thinking.
~Scan the global wine landscape; look at its fads, its regulations, its technological achievements, and its level of growth in North America and it becomes clear that our New World often reflects the Old. Oddly, that idea gives me hope, because it forces me to continually ask: so, what’s new in wine?
~My only sadness is in the realization that if North American governments feel the need, as the Romans had, to dispense wine as welfare payments, it probably won’t happen in my lifetime.

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
June 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Gray Lady and wine

~It's known as the Gray Lady for its, what, regality? I'm talking about the New York Times.
~For those of you who may not read or have access to the New York Times, in his latest weekly column, the newspaper’s resident wine writer tackled wine geekdom.
~Anyone who has read my posts on this blog likely knows what I think of the word “geek” and the concept behind “wine geek,” so you will forgive me if my bias shows, but why in the world do we need to spend so much time talking about what other people think wine should be?
~The column focused a lot on geekdom online.
~I admit to having done my time on the online wine geek-oriented Web sites, and I suppose my attitude about the whole thing is because I have spent time on those sites, where nitpicking over the nuances of someone’s opinion is about as stimulating to me as another round of Andrew Lloyd Weber classical music rip-off productions, with or without the techno effects.
~By mentioning big name wines that people might recognize, as wells as the big name guru that just about everyone would recognize, the columnist made a valiant attempt at making the subject seem important, but really.
~I agree with his early premise, “Never has such a diversity of great wines been so widely available.” But from there, it is down hill.
~It doesn’t seem newsworthy that there are people whom the columnist calls “subversives” and who he claims “…have left the mainstream to discover new worlds of wonderful, offbeat wines.”
~In my view, discovery is the natural state of things. I see as subversives those who prey on the trepid and insecure who need to follow someone else’s palate.
~This particular column also illustrates the futility of trying to define wine “geekdom.”
~The columnist refers to certain wines as being called “spoofulated” which he says is “…a geekdom term for engineered wines…” He says that to the geeks the opposite of spoofulated is “real wine,” wine that cannot be produced on a mass scale.
~People who like so-called spoofulated wines are also wine geeks. I am certain some of them even think they are the correct wine geeks. But as with all specialized focus, geek factions have sprouted from the original.
~You’ve seen the faction thing before, in politics, in your local neighborhood block association, in your family, ad infinitum, and you know what factions do: they obscure the subject by arguing over method and message.
~To me, wine geekdom obscures rather than enlightens. Unfortunately, in my ever so humble opinion, a newspaper column that discusses the factions only serves to further obscure the subject.
~I understand, however, that newspapers need to sell, and selling information sounds like a good idea until you try to get someone to buy it. With that in mind, I understood why the column was written, and after reading the posts of many wine geeks on the few Web sites that host such ramblings, I came to understand fully why the column was written.
~And so, the beast has been stirred, the conversations will go on for a few days, and the inanity of it all will go completely over the heads of the wine geeks.
~Meanwhile, the rest of us can search for and discover, on our very own, and then we can consume that truly wonderful bottle of wine while the others argue online over their opinion of it, should their guru have discovered it for them.

I promise to get back to wine in my next entry, which won’t be for about five or six days. I am off to a three-day wine conference in Canada, where I am engaged to speak about wine and culture.

Not once during my talk will the words geek and culture cross paths…


Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
June, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Is it bottle or travel shock/sickness?

~A friend of mine, John Zuccarino, who happens also to be a winemaker and winery owner in the Finger Lakes, recently brought to light the subject of bottle shock. (Incidentally, in Italian, John’s last name is interpreted as “little sugar”—fitting for a winemaker, don’t you think?)
~Bottle shock is a phenomenon that some say does not exist and many say does exist. John pointed out a study that had been written about in 1975 by scientists at the University of California at Davis. One of the writers was among the most respected of American wine researchers, Maynard Amerine.
~Amerine, et al., stated that bottle shock does in fact exist and that it simply is a temporary state of oxidation that can last as much as a month in the bottle and that shows up about a week after the wine had been bottled. It occurs because of the level of oxygen that is introduced into the wine on many—but not all—bottling lines.

The book is more than 30 years old; bottling technology has changed much since then. Not much oxygen gets near most wines during bottling these days, unless the winery is small and/or does not have a tight measure of control over the bottling line.

~Remember the last time you opened a wine that you had tasted once before but found it not to be as good? What happened?
~Possibly, the wine was in a state of bottle shock. But what about that other phenomenon: travel sickness?
~The condition of travel sickness seems mainly based on anecdotal evidence. But sometimes experienced wine industry people find their imports going through a change after having been shipped form port of origin to destination, making the idea of travel sickness a touch above mere anecdotal, especially when these people compare recently received wines with wines already resting in their warehouse.
~If there is such a thing as travel sickness, it likely does not have to do with oxidation, as the wine is sealed and no air should be entering it, at least not enough to cause short term damage.
~Some have pointed out that all living things that travel a long distance seem to react to the journey—they point to how we feel after a long flight.
~Barring the bad food, cramped seating, and general annoyance of flying, how we feel has to do with jet lag, an effect on our circadian rhythm—internal clock.
~A portion of our brain is acclimated to our daily routine and so it expects us to sleep at a certain time of night and be awake at a certain time of day. Traveling across time zones upsets this brain function.
~Based on its cause, it’s difficult to correlate jet lag with what may or may not happen to wine when it travels long distances and across time zones. Many wine geeks refer to wine as having a nose or showing good legs. But I’ve never heard even the most annoying wine geek claim that the product has a brain!
~Last April, Donald A. Dibbern, Jr., posted on his explanation of wine travel shock—to me, it has merit.

Put simply, Dibbern claims that travel shock is real and it may have to do with the various interconnections and reactions of colloids and solutions common in wine that, when shaken up, can cause temporary changes in aroma and fruit tastes. After a certain resting period, the wine rebuilds its homogeneous and heterogeneous substances.

~Unfortunately, I've heard and read a few wine professionals talk about bottle shock and travel shock as if they are the same thing. They are not, and neither have anything to do with jet lag, unless you drink a lot of wine before or during a flight—that activity can increase jet lag symptoms, not to mention dehydration.

BottleShock, Travel Shock

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
June, 2007. All Rights Reserved.