Archive for November, 2009

“Hocus-pocus” – The Taste Makers in the NYer

Over Thanksgiving, I finally read Raffi Khatchadourian’s 10,000 word essay in the Nov 23 issue of the New Yorker. Entitled “The Taste Makers,” Khatchadourian tracks a flavor scientist at a company called Givaudan, which makes such flavorings such as acai, pomegranate or kiwi-strawberry for bottled drinks. The author follows the Givaudan team to various locales where they smell, taste and capture molecular readouts of exotic fruit aromas. The team seriously geeks out over smells. The flavorists had this to say about wine tasting:

During a meeting with several flavor professionals in New Jersey, I compared a flavor chemist’s ability to break down the structure of a soft drink to the skills of Robert Parker, the wine critic. I was quickly corrected. “That’s kind of like hocus-pocus,” one of them said. “Parker may say that a wine has a nutty note or is oaky, but a lot of things can be behind that, and I don’t think he’s matching aspects of the flavor to a chemical compound and going, ‘O.K., this note here, it comes from methyl isobutyrate.’ ” And yet controlled experiments show that, no matter what a person’s professional vocabulary or expertise, aromas remain a blur: the average person, with minimal training, can perceive about three or four distinct components in a given aroma; professional flavorists-without leaning on their chemical knowledge of particular types of food-can do no better.

The article also provided a primer about sensory perception and brain function, noting that unlike sights and sounds, smells bypass the thalamus. So maybe our hard wiring is why we will never be wine-tasting robots, with pesky things like emotions and context getting in the way.

Smells, for the most part, are fed directly from the nose to a “pre-semantic” part of the brain where cognition does not occur, and where emotions are processed. The bypassing of the thalamus may be one reason why smells can be so hard to describe in detail, and also why aromas stimulate such powerful feelings. The smell of rotten meat can trigger sudden revulsion in a way that merely looking at it cannot.

Related: “WSJ: wine-rating system is badly flawed

The Party Crashers’ winery, 36 million bottles, $30k for KJ – sipped and spit

Tareq Michaele Salahi SPIT: invitations. SPIT: glassware
All the talk this long weekend was about the White House state dinner. And perhaps to the surprise of wine lovers, it wasn’t about the two typos and at least one disastrous food-wine pairing on the menu! Instead, it was about the “party crashers,” Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who waltzed into the formal dinner without being on the guest list. It turns out there is a winery angle: they are owners of a Virginia winery that has filed for bankruptcy. While various creditors are making claims, the worst offense to one visitor to their Oasis Winery was the plastic cups in the tasting room!

SIPPED: logistics photos! Mmmm!
The Daily Mail published photos of 36 million bottles of wine in an English warehouse. Although their Christmas angle was different, they do note two interesting things: first, that Constellation self-distributes in England, unlike the US; and, second, they ship wine not glass by bottling all the wine in the UK after importing it in 25,000 liter bulk tanks.

SIPPED: ultra-premium wine
Want to upgrade from Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve wines? The Sonoma-based wine group now offers something new: customers who drop $30k get to taste and talk with the KJ head winemaker who will learn their wine preferences and produce a case of wine (12 bottles) with custom labels. Only $2,500 each! [Luxist; ht @ItalianWineGuy]

Photo via Facebook

Thanksgiving wines from the Twitterverse…and cellartracker

pulled corks A few sips form the twitterverse:

jmolesworth1: Counting the empties: 2x NV Krug, mag ’98 Paul Autard CdP Côte Rônde, ’97 Montelena Estate Cab. ’92 Dalla Valle Cab, ’89 Ridge Monte Bello
MemMW: Good God- 1907 Blandy’s Bual opened 4 wks ago. Simply Transcendant. Beyond Leroy, beyond Krug. Talk about giving thanks!!!!!
EricArnold: Burrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp.
EvanDawson: Food coma: better late than never. http://yfrog.com/35zc5j

And from CellarTracker, the top ten most uncorked bottles yesterday (as of this moment, by producer) were: Turley, Louis Roederer, Marcassin, Seghesio Family Vineyards, Kistler, Ridge, Kosta Browne, Kosta Browne, Gary Farrell, and Wiliams Selyem. See the whole list.

What did you uncork? How did it go?

Green curry prawns – an “impossible” pairing from the White House state dinner

obama singh Right now, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Dr. Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India, is being feted at a state dinner! The Obamas brought in chef Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit in New York to cook a meatless, Indian-inspired meal for the 320 honored guests. (Get full details at nytimes.com) In a toast, the President hailed the American relationship with India a ”great and growing partnership.”

But cutting to the chase for us wine geeks, are the wines fulfilling a great partnership with the food? One course in particular caught my eye: guests wanting the green curry shrimp with smoked collard greens will be offered the Beckmen, Garnache [sic] from the Santa Ynez. While I haven’t tried the wine, one of Beckmen’s other grenache wines rolls in at 15.6% alcohol, not exactly my recipe for good times with green curry. I might just hold on to that Riesling from the previous course if I were seated next to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Jhumpa Lhiri, Bobby Jindal or Steven Spielberg tonight.

What would you pair if you were the USA sommelier with this course? (Only American wines are served at the White House.) Full menu selections come after the jump. Read more…

Poetry slam: wine education for kids [giveaway]

In our recent discussion of wine education for kids, two readers thoughtfully provided translations of an Italian rhyming verse (“Filastrocca del vino”) that is used in some Italian elementary schools.

foodie babies But we can’t let the Italians have all the fun! You are hereby challenged to come up with some sort of poem–be it a limerick, haiku, rhyming couplets or full-on iambic pentameter–about wine for kids in America. It can be descriptive of the current state of wine education to kids or focused on grapes, wine or consumption. It may be adopted in classrooms across America!

Whatever you choose to do, post your rhyme/poem in the comments below by next Monday. To whet your whistle, there will be a prize: Foodie Babies Wear Bibs, the sixth in a series of children’s board books by none other than Mrs. Vino. Have fun with it! (The winning entry will be the one that makes her laugh the most; prize can only be sent to a US address.)

Produttori, Pinon, Ridge, Luzon – popular wine picks from class

Another six-week session of my NYU class just wrapped up last week. I poured about six wines per class around various themes (if you’d like a one-night class, register for the holiday wines session on 12/10). Here are some of the popular and/or notable choices from the term:

Pinon, sparkling Vouvray NV (about $19): I poured a bubbly in almost every class; this one was unanimously liked. How could it not be? It is gorgeous bubbly with delicious aromatics and a balance between acidity and delicate residual sugar. It will be on my Thanksgiving table–and in a white wine glass.

Hirsch, Veltliner #1, 2007 (about $15): Refreshing, with good acidity and a hint of that snap pea character of Gruner, this wine got lots of thumbs up, particularly for the price.

produtorri barbaresco Produttori del Barbaresco, Barberesco, 2005 (about $33): I poured this wine the first day to illustrate tannins. While the taninns were actually more muted than I had anticipated, the wine was wildly popular. Many Nebbiolo fans were made from a sip of this wine. It does benefit from some air; another bottle that I bought was still going strong on day two.

Domaine Guion, Cuvee Prestige, Bourgeuil, 2006 (about $12): After our discussion online about cabernet franc, the polarizing grape, I had to add this wine to the following lineup. All but four people really liked it (about 90% of participants); I love it too for the good acidity and interesting tannins and have been buying it by the case.

Ridge, Three Valleys, Sonoma (about $23)
This blend of mostly zinfandel fermented with natural yeasts has 13.8% alcohol, refreshingly low for a zin. The class really liked its lushness and didn’t find it as overextracted as some of the other wines. It’s also a good value, available online for less than I paid for the class.

Luzon, monastrell, Jumilla, 2008 (about $8): This wine was funny since it was the cheapest wine we tasted for the day, yet the most popular as people reached for their pens to scribble this one down. To me, it didn’t have a lot of individuality but certainly was not the worst example of monastrell I’ve ever had (ahem, Sierra Carche).

Search for these wines with wine-searcher

Airline wines, bottle-a-day, arson, bands – sipped and spit

qantas wine SIPPED: airline wines comparison
Your last wine experience onboard plane may have amounted to little more than “red or white?” USA Today asked wine writer Dan Berger to analyze 33 wine lists. It’s no surprise that foreign carriers far surpass American ones. Berger taps Qantas the best list overall and Air New Zealand with the best offerings in coach. In an upgrade that would be great to see more widely, the Japanese carrier ANA will soon make the wines poured in business class available for purchase in coach.

SIPPED: Alcohol!
A research team lead by Larraitz Arriola found that male subjects consuming the most alcohol had the lowest rates of heart disease! A bottle a day keeps the doctor away? Not quite: Arriola et al. caution that alcohol also causes 1.8 million deaths a year. [WebMD; Bloomberg; Heart]

SPIT: arson
Mark Anderson admitted guilt in starting a blaze at a wine warehouse that torched six million bottles. [SFgate.com]

SIPPED: brands for bands
Forget record labels, now bands of the 60s (well, and the Stones, who keep on going) are rolling out wine labels. [Newsday]

Donald St. Pierre: wine’s gateway to China?

don st pierre china asc fin Donald St. Pierre, an American and a prominent importer of wine to China, receives an extensive profile in the current issue of the New Yorker (the food issue). He arrived in the country in 1985 thanks to a position with American Jeep and in 1996 he started importing wines after forays into other things such as scrap metal, lingerie, and Chinese and Russian ammunition. Here’s a taste of the early days: Read more…


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