Monday, November 23, 2009

The Breathe of Fresh Air Improves the Taste of Wines

The whole concept of letting wine breathe, or aerate, is simply maximizing your wine's exposure to the surrounding air.

By allowing wine to mix and mingle with air, the wine will typically warm up and the wine's aromas will open up, the flavor profile will soften and mellow out a bit and the overall flavor characteristics should improve.

Which Wines Need to Breathe

Typically red wines are the ones to benefit most from breathing before serving.
However, there are select whites that will also improve with a little air exposure. In general, most wines will improve with as little as 15-20 minutes of air time. However, if the wine is young with high tannin levels, it will need more time to aerate before enjoying. For example, a young Cabernet Sauvignon will likely require around an hour for proper aeration and flavor softening to take place. Not that you cannot drink it as soon as it is uncorked, but to put its best foot forward give it more time to breathe. Mature wines (8+ years) are another story all together. These wines will benefit most from decanting and then will only have a small window of aeration opportunity before the flavor profiles begin to deteriorate.

How to Let Your Wine Breathe

Some erroneously believe that merely uncorking a bottle of wine and allowing it to sit for a bit is all it takes to aerate.
This method is futile, as there is simply not enough room (read: surface area) at the top of the bottle to permit adequate amounts of air to make contact with the wine. So what's a Wine Lover to do? You have two options: Decanter or Wine Glass

Decanter - use a decanter,a flower vase, an orange juice pitcher, whatever - any large liquid container with a wide opening at the top to pour your bottle of wine into. The increased surface area is the key to allowing more air to make contact with your wine. Keep this in mind while setting up proper "breathing" techniques for your favorite wine.

The Wine Glass - Pour your wine into wine glasses and let it aerate in situ. This is certainly the low-maintenance method and typically works quite well. Just be sure to keep the glass away from the kitchen commotion, while it breathes in peace. * Tip, for pouring wine into glasses make sure that you pour into the center of the glass with a good 6-10 inches of "fall" from bottle to glass to allow for further aeration during the actual pour.

In general, the Aeration Rule of Thumb: the more tannins a wine has the more time it will need to aerate. Lighter-bodied red wines (Pinot Noir for example) that have lower tannin levels, will need little if any time to breathe.

No hiding behind the oak

If you like you Chardonnay with true expression of fruit then this is the one to love! This wine does not hide behind any oak. It’s a crisp wine that tastes of the succulence and freshness of the grape.

White peach, grapefruit and melon with a hint of pineapple flavours are supported by a soft and textured mouthfeel (achieved through malolactic fermentation). It may have no oak, but this wine has an abundance of character. Drink it with all seafood, delicate white meats and creamy pasta dishes.

Tasting Notes

Ripe stonefruits and malolactic characters.
A rich full-length palate with hints of apricots, peaches and pears.
Food Match:
Uncluttered by oak the wine is a great match for seafood, white meats and ‘fusion’ food.
Two years with confidence.

Doesn’t follow the rule book
New Zealand is now acknowledged as one of the few countries to have successfully come to grips with this fickle, but supremely aristocratic grape variety. A combination of dry and moderate climates gives near perfect cool climate growing conditions and assists with the intense varietal characters in Marlborough grapes.

This wine puts the NOIR into Pinot; a fine combination of dark cherries and red fruit abound. This is a fruit focused and velvety wine with rich flavours and soft tannins. Lean meats such as veal, venison or turkey, are a great match.

Tasting Notes

Medium depth of colour with purple and crimson notes.
An aromatic wine with black cherries, red currants and strawberries on the nose, complexed with well-integrated oak.
Lovely fresh fruit on the palate with hints of oak. Good firm tannins give the wine length and weight.
Up to five years.
Food Match:
Ideal with lamb or pork chops. Suited to most rest meats and not bad as a wine to enjoy all on its own.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Booze prospectors set to drill
for Scotch whisky in the Antarctic
New Zealand team to mount rescue mission to recover precious, precious whisky left from Shackleton expedition
By TOM PHILLIPS - Monday, November 16, 2009

Would you like ice with that? The team is set to drill for Shackleton's Antarctic booze stash
A team is set to drill through Antarctica's ice sheets in search of precious, valuable liquids. But it's not oil they're searching for - it's a lost cache of vintage Scotch whisky that has been on the rocks since a century ago.
The drillers will be trying to reach two crates of McKinlay and Co. whisky that were shipped to the Antarctic by British polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton as part of his abandoned 1909 expedition.
Workers from New Zealand's Antarctic Heritage Trust will use special drills to reach the crates, frozen in Antarctic ice under the Nimrod Expedition hut near Cape Royds.
Restoration workers originally located the whisky reserves under the hut's floorboards in 2006. At the time, the crates and bottles were too deeply embedded in ice to be dislodged.
Only some bottles will be rescued in the drilling expedition - under Antarctic conservation guidelines, the rest must stay put.
Whyte & Mackay, the drinks group that now owns McKinlay and Co., has asked for a sample of the 100-year-old Scotch for a series of tests that could decide whether to relaunch the now-defunct Scotch.
But Al Fastier, who will lead the expedition in January, said he did not want to sample the contents.
'It's better to imagine it than to taste it,' he said. 'That way it keeps its mystery.'
Richard Paterson, Whyte & Mackay's master blender, said the Shackleton expedition's whisky could still be drinkable and taste exactly as it did 100 years ago.
If he can get a sample, he intends to replicate the old Scotch and put McKinlay whisky back on sale.
'I really hope we can get some back here. It's been laying there lonely and neglected. It should come back to Scotland where it was born.
'Even if most of the bottles have to remain in Antarctica for historic reasons, it would be good if we could get a couple,' Paterson said.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I only recommend what I have tasted and liked, but if you buy on Score this one is for you.

A Hint of Hype, A Taste of Illusion
They pour, sip and, with passion and snobbery, glorify or doom wines. But studies say the wine-rating system is badly flawed. How the experts fare against a coin toss..


Acting on an informant's tip, in June 1973, French tax inspectors barged into the offices of the 155-year-old Cruse et Fils Frères wine shippers. Eighteen men were eventually prosecuted by the French government, accused, among other things, of passing off humble wines from the Languedoc region as the noble and five-times-as-costly wine of Bordeaux. During the trial it came out that the Bordeaux wine merchants regularly defrauded foreigners. One vat of wine considered extremely inferior, for example, was labeled "Salable as Beaujolais to Americans."

It was in this climate that in the 1970s a lawyer-turned-wine-critic named Robert M. Parker Jr. decided to aid consumers by assigning wines a grade on a 100-point scale. Today, critics like Mr. Parker exert enormous influence. The medals won at the 29 major U.S. wine competitions medals are considered so influential that wineries spend well over $1 million each year in entry fees.

According to a 2001 study of Bordeaux wines, a one-point bump in Robert Parker's wine ratings averages equates to a 7% increase in price, and the price difference can be much greater at the high end.

Given the high price of wine and the enormous number of choices, a system in which industry experts comb through the forest of wines, judge them, and offer consumers the meaningful shortcut of medals and ratings makes sense.

But what if the successive judgments of the same wine, by the same wine expert, vary so widely that the ratings and medals on which wines base their reputations are merely a powerful illusion? That is the conclusion reached in two recent papers in the Journal of Wine Economics.

Both articles were authored by the same man, a unique blend of winemaker, scientist and statistician. The unlikely revolutionary is a soft-spoken fellow named Robert Hodgson, a retired professor who taught statistics at Humboldt State University. Since 1976, Mr. Hodgson has also been the proprietor of Fieldbrook Winery, a small operation that puts out about 10 wines each year, selling 1,500 cases

A few years ago, Mr. Hodgson began wondering how wines, such as his own, can win a gold medal at one competition, and "end up in the pooper" at others. He decided to take a course in wine judging, and met G.M "Pooch" Pucilowski, chief judge at the California State Fair wine competition, North America's oldest and most prestigious. Mr. Hodgson joined the Wine Competition's advisory board, and eventually "begged" to run a controlled scientific study of the tastings, conducted in the same manner as the real-world tastings. The board agreed, but expected the results to be kept confidential.

There is a rich history of scientific research questioning whether wine experts can really make the fine taste distinctions they claim. For example, a 1996 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that even flavor-trained professionals cannot reliably identify more than three or four components in a mixture, although wine critics regularly report tasting six or more. There are eight in this description, from The Wine News, as quoted on, of a Silverado Limited Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 that sells for more than $100 a bottle: "Dusty, chalky scents followed by mint, plum, tobacco and leather. Tasty cherry with smoky oak accents…" Another publication, The Wine Advocate, describes a wine as having "promising aromas of lavender, roasted herbs, blueberries, and black currants." What is striking about this pair of descriptions is that, although they are very different, they are descriptions of the same Cabernet. One taster lists eight flavors and scents, the other four, and not one of them coincide.

That wine critiques are peppered with such inconsistencies is exactly what the laboratory experiments would lead you to expect. In fact, about 20 years ago, when a Harvard psychologist asked an ensemble of experts to rank five wines on each of 12 characteristics—such as tannins, sweetness, and fruitiness—the experts agreed at a level significantly better than chance on only three of the 12.

Psychologists have also been skeptical of wine judgments because context and expectation influence the perception of taste. In a 1963 study at the University of California at Davis, researchers secretly added color to a dry white wine to simulate a sauterne, sherry, rosé, Bordeaux and burgundy, and then asked experts to rate the sweetness of the various wines. Their sweetness judgments reflected the type of wine they thought they were drinking. In France, a decade ago a wine researcher named Fréderic Brochet served 57 French wine experts two identical midrange Bordeaux wines, one in an expensive Grand Cru bottle, the other accommodated in the bottle of a cheap table wine. The gurus showed a significant preference for the Grand Cru bottle, employing adjectives like "excellent" more often for the Grand Cru, and "unbalanced," and "flat" more often for the table wine.

Provocative as they are, such studies have been easy for wine critics to dismiss. Some were small-scale and theoretical. Many were performed in artificial laboratory conditions, or failed to control important environmental factors. And none of the rigorous studies tested the actual wine experts whose judgments you see in magazines and marketing materials. But Mr. Hodgson's research was different.

In his first study, each year, for four years, Mr. Hodgson served actual panels of California State Fair Wine Competition judges—some 70 judges each year—about 100 wines over a two-day period. He employed the same blind tasting process as the actual competition. In Mr. Hodgson's study, however, every wine was presented to each judge three different times, each time drawn from the same bottle.

The results astonished Mr. Hodgson. The judges' wine ratings typically varied by ±4 points on a standard ratings scale running from 80 to 100. A wine rated 91 on one tasting would often be rated an 87 or 95 on the next. Some of the judges did much worse, and only about one in 10 regularly rated the same wine within a range of ±2 points.

Mr. Hodgson also found that the judges whose ratings were most consistent in any given year landed in the middle of the pack in other years, suggesting that their consistent performance that year had simply been due to chance.

Mr. Hodgson said he wrote up his findings each year and asked the board for permission to publish the results; each year, they said no. Finally, the board relented—according to Mr. Hodgson, on a close vote—and the study appeared in January in the Journal of Wine Economics.

"I'm happy we did the study," said Mr. Pucilowski, "though I'm not exactly happy with the results. We have the best judges, but maybe we humans are not as good as we say we are."

This September, Mr. Hodgson dropped his other bombshell. This time, from a private newsletter called The California Grapevine, he obtained the complete records of wine competitions, listing not only which wines won medals, but which did not. Mr. Hodgson told me that when he started playing with the data he "noticed that the probability that a wine which won a gold medal in one competition would win nothing in others was high." The medals seemed to be spread around at random, with each wine having about a 9% chance of winning a gold medal in any given competition.

To test that idea, Mr. Hodgson restricted his attention to wines entering a certain number of competitions, say five. Then he made a bar graph of the number of wines winning 0, 1, 2, etc. gold medals in those competitions. The graph was nearly identical to the one you'd get if you simply made five flips of a coin weighted to land on heads with a probability of 9%. The distribution of medals, he wrote, "mirrors what might be expected should a gold medal be awarded by chance alone."

Mr. Hodgson's work was publicly dismissed as an absurdity by one wine expert, and "hogwash" by another. But among wine makers, the reaction was different. "I'm not surprised," said Bob Cabral, wine maker at critically acclaimed Williams-Selyem Winery in Sonoma County. In Mr. Cabral's view, wine ratings are influenced by uncontrolled factors such as the time of day, the number of hours since the taster last ate and the other wines in the lineup. He also says critics taste too many wines in too short a time. As a result, he says, "I would expect a taster's rating of the same wine to vary by at least three, four, five points from tasting to tasting."

Francesco Grande, a vintner whose family started making wine in 1827 Italy, told me of a friend at a well-known Paso Robles winery who had conducted his own test, sending the same wine to a wine competition under three different labels. Two of the identical samples were rejected, he said, "one with the comment 'undrinkable.' " The third bottle was awarded a double gold medal. "Email Robert Parker," he suggested, "and ask him to submit to a controlled blind tasting."

I did email Mr. Parker, and was amazed when he responded that he, too, did not find Mr. Hodgson's results surprising. "I generally stay within a three-point deviation," he wrote. And though he didn't agree to Mr. Grande's challenge, he sent me the results of a blind tasting in which he did participate.

The tasting was at Executive Wine Seminars in New York, and consisted of three flights of five wines each. The participants knew they were 2005 Bordeaux wines that Mr. Parker had previously rated for an issue of The Wine Advocate. Though they didn't know which wine was which, they were provided with a list of the 15 wines, with Mr. Parker's prior ratings, according to Executive Wine Seminars' managing partner Howard Kaplan. The wines were chosen, Mr. Kaplan says, because they were 15 of Mr. Parker's highest-rated from that vintage.

Mr. Parker pointed out that, except in three cases, his second rating for each wine fell "within a 2-3 point deviation" of his first. That's less variation than Mr. Hodgson found. One possible reason: Mr. Parker's first rating of all the wines fell between 95 and 100—not a large spread.

One critic who recognizes that variation is an issue is Joshua Greene, editor and publisher of Wine and Spirits, who told me, "It is absurd for people to expect consistency in a taster's ratings. We're not robots." In the Cruse trial, the company appealed to the idea that even experienced tasters could err. Cruse claimed that it had bought the cheap Languedoc believing it was the kingly Bordeaux, and that the company's highly-trained and well-paid wine tasters had failed to perceive that it wasn't. The French rejected that possibility, and 35 years ago this December, eight wine dealers were convicted and given prison terms and fines totaling $8 million.

Despite his studies, Mr. Hodgson is betting that, like the French, American consumers won't be easily converted to the idea that wine experts are fallible. His winery's Web site still boasts of his own many dozens of medals.

"Even though ratings of individual wines are meaningless, people think they are useful," Mr. Greene says. He adds, however, that one can look at the average ratings of a spectrum of wines from a certain producer, region or year to identify useful trends.

As a consumer, accepting that one taster's tobacco and leather is another's blueberries and currants, that a 91 and a 96 rating are interchangeable, or that a wine winning a gold medal in one competition is likely thrown in the pooper in others presents a challenge. If you ignore the web of medals and ratings, how do you decide where to spend your money?

One answer would be to do more experimenting, and to be more price-sensitive, refusing to pay for medals and ratings points. Another tack is to continue to rely on the medals and ratings, adopting an approach often attributed to physicist Neils Bohr, who was said to have had a horseshoe hanging over his office door for good luck. When asked how a physicist could believe in such things, he said, "I am told it works even if you don't believe in it."

Or you could just shrug and embrace the attitude of Julia Child, who, when asked what was her favorite wine, replied "gin."

As for me, I have always believed in the advice given by famed food critic Waverly Root, who recommended that one simply "Drink wine every day, at lunch and dinner, and the rest will take care of itself."

—Leonard Mlodinow teaches randomness at Caltech. His most recent book is "The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Beer Tips and this is also my first "Draft"... pun intended.

Ale or Lager?
What is your favorite style of beer? Do you enjoy it because it is flavorful or refreshing or for another reason? Whether it is porter, wit, pilsner or doppelbock it falls into one of two broader categories – ale or lager. These distinct types of beer divide the entire world of beer in two.

Does It Matter?
I have a friend who refuses to drink lagers claiming that they are flavorless. The only good beer is an ale, he insists. I tend agree with him that ales are tastier. They have more pronounced aroma and a wider variety of colors. Popular styles of ale are stout, porter, wit, brown ale and hefeweizen. But I am still not going to swear off lager; to do so would be to deny myself a lot of great beer.

Lagers are generally crisper and more refreshing. Where ales are sometimes cloudy, lagers are almost universally clear. Even darker varieties are, when held up to the light, noticeably clear. They are also more subtle in taste and aroma but that is not to say that lagers lack flavor and variety. Lager styles include pilsner, Vienna lager, doppelbock, Oktoberfest and American lager.

Tasting the Difference - Try these two side by side.
Consider Newcastle, a brown ale, and Negra Modelo, a Vienna-style lager. Both are brewed with medium roasted barley and moderate hops. But they are strikingly different beers. The ale lacks the crystal-clear appearance of the lager. Its nutty sweet flavor has layers and depth. The lager sits lightly on the tongue with a bright, sweet malt flavor that dances effervescently away with a gentle hoppy smack. Both are fine beers for different reasons.

The difference between ale and lager is fundamental to understanding and, ultimately, enjoying beer.
It can be compared to the red/white divide in wine but the difference runs deeper. The distinction between ale and lager happens during fermentation when the beer is born.

It’s All About the Yeast
To get our heads around the difference between ale and lager let’s begin at the brewing process. Now bear with me, this may get a little science-geeky.

Brewers put malted barley in a bath of warm water producing wort, a rich, sweet soup of proteins and sugars. Next, the grain is filtered out of the wort which is then boiled with hops. Finally the wort is cooled and ready for fermentation. Now is when it is decided whether the final beer will be an ale or a lager depending on which kind of yeast is used.

Ale yeast ferments at warmer temperatures – about 60 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. It also tends to flocculate, or gather, near the top of the wort which is why ales are sometimes called top-fermenting beers. It converts less of the sugar to alcohol leaving more behind to enhance the flavor, aroma and appearance.

The yeast used to make Lager or bottom-fermented beer prefers temperatures a little cooler, around 46 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and it flocculates towards the bottom of the fermenting vessel. It is a more efficient yeast, converting more sugars to alcohol and leaving a cleaner beer behind.

This cleanliness is reinforced by lagering. Lagering, which is different from lager yeast, simply means to store the beer in a cool place for a while after fermentation. This process contributes to the beer’s cleanliness because it causes much of the suspended proteins and carbohydrates to fall out. The final result is a very clear beer with subtle flavor and color characteristics.

Which Is Better?
My friend who despises all lagers is both right and wrong. He is correct in saying that ales have more flavor. The best ales display striking aroma and depth of taste with flavor stacked on top of flavor. They continually reveal new characteristics to the attentive drinker. But that does not mean that lagers are simple beers. A well brewed lager marked by subtly and balance displays the finest of the brewer’s craft. These beers can be both flavorful and refreshing revealing a side of beer that ale cannot.

Understanding the difference between ale and lager is not vital to enjoying beer.
But knowing which category a beer falls into can help you make a more informed choice. It can also help you understand why you like the beers you like.

Popular Ales
•Wheat Beer – Paulaner Weissbier
•Stout – Guinness
•Porter – Rogue Mocha Porter
•Pale Ale – Bass Pale Ale
•IPA – Goose Island India Pale Ale
•Wit – New Belgium Mothership Wit
•Brown Ale – Newcastle

Popular Lagers
•Pilsner – Bitburger
•American-style Lager – Corona
•Doppelbock – Paulaner Salvator
•Oktoberfest – Spaten Oktoberfest
•Vienna-style Lager – Negra Modelo

Here is my first Draft of Wine Tips... note the word BEST is also EXPENSIVE... that is why I need a second draft of this tip sheet.

You never really know what a wine will taste like until you open it (even the “experts” don’t!), but there are some things to know to help you improve your chances of picking a great wine to go with dinner tonight. Read on to pick up a few tips, and have your own cheat sheet the next time you venture out to pick up a bottle or two.

The best thing you can do is drink wine! Start by serving it with meals at your home, and pay attention to what you like. Remember where the wine comes from, and what grape it is made of. As an example, Cabernet’s from Napa Valley tend to have similar flavor profiles, so if you like one, you will probably like many of them.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t like the wine you chose for the evening; just remember it and don’t pick it again! The same thing applies; if you really dislike that Reisling from Germany, then chances are you won’t like the next one you pick.

As a guide, here are some general things to remember about the various wines of the world.

The very best wines from California have the name of an American Viticultural Area on them.

The best example would be a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

There are a number of excellent wines which only have the designation, “California.”

These wines many times are made up of some percentage of grapes from the best areas, but can also contain grapes from anywhere in California, so the cost of production is lower, and thus the prices are lower.

This general principal can be applied to wines from other states.
For example, a wine denoted “Oregon” will not generally be of the same quality or price as one which exclaims that it comes from Willamette Valley in Oregon!

Generically labeled wines like California Chablis or California Burgundy, are often misleading.

A California Chablis could be a mixture of French Colombard and Thompson Seedless grape juices. While bad generic wine would probably go the way of the Dodo Bird unless it was priced at about 99 cents a bottle, thanks to superior methods and advances in wine making technology, great generic wine is common today. Most of the long-standing generic wines you find are reasonably priced and decent wines.

The very best American wines, with one exception, are labeled with the name of the grape.

For example, if a wine is labeled “Chardonnay”, then it must contain at least 75% Chardonnay grapes.

The top whites are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling; however, Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Gris, and others are close behind.

The best reds are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Syrah/Shiraz, but we’re beginning to see successful efforts from Sangiovese, Mourvedre, Grenache and others.

The exception to the varietal label signifying the best wine is the Proprietary label.
Sometimes the best wine a winemaker can possibly make is less than 75% of one varietal (the most famous early example took place at the Joseph Phelps Winery in 1974, where Phelps named his 70% Cab/30% Merlot “Insignia”). That decision engendered the likes of Opus One, Dominus, Magnificat, and Endeavor, to name a few.

Cheat Sheet – Wines From Around the World
Here is a world map “cheat sheet” to help in selecting your favorite grape varietals from the best areas around the world:
1. Chardonnay – Burgundy, France (white)
2. Sauvignon Blanc – Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume from the Loire Valley, France (white)
3. Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc – Bordeaux, France (white)
4. Chenin Blanc – Vouvray from the Loire Valley, France (white)
5. Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot-Bordeaux, France (red)
6. Pinot Noir – Burgundy, France (red)
7. Syrah – Shiraz from Australia (red)
8. Grenache/Garnacha – Cotes-du-Rhone, France and Rioja, Spain (red)
9. Sangiovese – Tuscany, Italy (red)

Cheat Sheet – U.S. Wines
And a “cheat sheet” for selecting some of the best areas for your favorite varietals in the U.S.:
1. Chardonnay – Russian River, Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Sta. Rita Hills and Anderson Valley, Willamette Valley (Oregon) and Washington State (white)
2. Sauvignon Blanc – Napa, Sonoma (white)
3. Riesling – Finger Lakes, New York, Washington State (white)
4. Pinot Gris – Russian River Valley, Oregon, Washington State (white)
5. Zinfandel – Dry Creek Valley, Napa and Sonoma (red)
6. Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – Napa, Sonoma, Alexander Valley (red)
7. Pinot Noir – Russian River, Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Sta. Rita Hills and Anderson Valley, Willamette Valley (Oregon) and Washington State (red)