Monday, February 10, 2014

THC for wine tasters?

I am writing this when I should be working on one of my assignments from the Institute of Masters of Wine.  They send occasional tasting assignments that require us to write essays on a wine we are not actually tasting, but should be so intimately familiar with, we don't need to taste it again.  I lost my nerve at the high and the low end of the spectrum, having only rarely tasted $100 Premier Cru Puligny-Montrachet from 2010 and inexpensive mass production Aussie Chardonnay.  So I went and bought some and now am waiting for it to chill before tackling the assignment.

Sooo...I'm just cruising the internet and the news and I came upon this article from the Smithsonian that puts forth some theories on the munchies.  I don't smoke pot or anything else because it's bad for tasting and my health (and I know the studies on pot say its not bad but smoke in lungs causes cancer!).  BUT, this article posits that the munchies are caused by THC (the active ingredient in pot) via a binding process in the Olfactory Bulb in the brain that intensifies the ability of the nose to smell AND reduces the effect of olfactory habituation, a phenomena whereby you get used to smells and stop smelling them.


If there was a way to get this smelling advantage without reducing analytic abilities because I was high, I would try this.  I'll let the people with the lab rats work a while on thresholds and whatnot, but an MW student looks for every advantage!  Stay tuned and wish me luck on my assignment.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Catching Up

Happy New year to my eight dedicated readers of this blog!  This is a quick post to catch everyone up on my journey and a promise to post at least semi-frequently from this point forward.

I changed jobs and am now the manager of Out of Site Wines in Vienna, VA.  So I am no longer a chef and I am really enjoying both the challenges of learning the business and the increased work-life balance brough by no longer heading a kitchen.  I did apply, and have been accepted to study at the Institute of Masters of Wine.  The first seminar is in a week in Austria, and I am excited.  Meanwhile, I study and taste.  More to come!

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Penis Image Too Far?

Now folks, I am a fan of Moet Champagne and of Scarlett Johansson.  But I think that these adds might be edging too much from subconscious aspirational nudging to full on porn.  Your thoughts?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Biodynamic Book Report

I just finished an interesting read, Voodoo Vintners: Oregon's Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers, by Katherine Cole.  Biodynamic winemaking, sorry, grape growing,  is very trendy nowadays and quite controversial as many of its practices seem wierd and silly.  Cole's treatment is admirably open minded and I recommend it to anyone interested in just what the fuss is all about.

The practice, in my opinion, breaks down into two parts.  The first half is all about refusing chemical and biological fertilizers and insecticides while embracing older and more traditional methods of vineyard management.  An example of this is using natural compost as fertilizer.  Another really cool one is to keep an area near the vineyard as an "insectary" where one can see what is being attracted to the area and what they are eating.  Then one can plant cover crops they will like more than grapes, or encourage predators like bats and owls to control population growth.  Creating and working with an ecosystem rather than trying to destroy everything that isn't your crop is a solid idea that many have latched onto without embracing the more idiosyncratic ideas of biodynamics.

Healthy soils are the key here, and that makes sense.  However, the idea goes against lost of conventional wisdom that vines need poor soils to produce really great grapes.  If the vines struggle to survive, the saying goes, they will put more energy into grapes and less into producing wood and leaves.  This is where a focus on Oregon and Pinot Noir is perhaps a failing of Cole's book.  Pinot vines are naturally low in vigor, that is they tend not to produce much wood.  If one were to look at Angelo Gaja's vines in Barolo, by contrast, the case for biodynamics looks pretty thin.  The Nebbiolo vines that make up his $300 wines grow like weeds and he has to keep the soil in a constant state of nitrogen deficit just to control them!  Also, Oregon Pinot vineyards tend to be grown on thin soil hillsides that were once pine forest or hazelnut orchard, rather than say, the rich benchlands of the Napa Valley floor.  Where the soil is already good, composting and fertilizing is just silly.  Some great estates of Bordeaux, for example, spread manure once only every 14 years.

The second part of the book is a fun look at the crazy parts of biodynamics.  It's father, Rudy Steiner, was a mystic who believed in gnomes and spirits, among other things.  One important part of his teachings was based on homeopathy, where 
The low concentrations of homeopathic remedies, often lacking even a single molecule of the diluted substance, lead to an objection that has dogged homeopathy since the 19th century: how, then, can the substance have any effect? Modern advocates of homeopathy have suggested that "water has a memory"—that during mixing and succussion, the substance leaves an enduring effect on the water, perhaps a "vibration", and this produces an effect on the patient.  source: wiki.
So this is where Biodynamics takes a decidedly crystal-humming tone.  They mix homeopathic preps in tubs that are shaped like a pregnant woman's belly and erect sculpture-looking things to channel energy and who know, attract gnomes?  Drive gnomes away?

Does it produce a great grape?  Sometimes these wines are better than others in their class.  I've sure tasted some awesome biodynamic wines, and in my personal opinion that can be attributed to close management of ecosystems rather than mystics.  It's sauce for the recipe, that's for sure, and a fun read.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lumos Wine Company

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk with Dai Crisp, owner of Lumos Wine Company.  Lumos is a relative newcomer to the winemaking scene in Oregon's Willamette Valley, but is making some excellent Pinot Gris, Gewurtz, and Pinot Noir.  Mr. Crisp formerly worked at Temperance Hill and Croft.  They have a small estate vineyard (Wren), but continue to source a lot of their fruit from Temperance Hill.

It was kind of a random meeting, I just happened to be in the restaurant when he and the wholesaler stopped by to chat up our sommelier.  But he was a very engaging guy, a real geek of the kind I get along with very well.  We talked pinot mutations, valve and propeller pumps that won't oxidize grape must, what happens to vineyards if the winter is too mild - serious geek.

The wines were pretty good too.  His base level 2008 pinot was rich and elegant at the same time, and I didn't hate either of his Pinot Gris selections, one done all in tank and another with some neutral oak treatment.  I mention the Pinot Gris thing...I don't hate it, but I haven't had much that was noteworthy.  Ever.  If I had the choice, I would just as soon pick another Alsace variety in most cases.  Stay tuned, however, I am planning a big tasting to retrain my palate on the issue.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sucking up to my teacher

About a month ago, I was privileged to be a judge at the Virginia Governor's Cup wine competition.  Now that the winners have been announced, I wanted to take a post to describe the tasting sheet we used.  It was designed by Jay Youmans, MW, my teacher for the WSET Diploma process.  At the risk of being a suckup, I liked it.

Tasting wine in a competition process is unique and very different from tasting in your living room, or even blind tasting under test conditions.  You have six wines in front of you that are probably the same grape, same region, and same vintage.  The basic taste is the same, for example, all merlot.  The tasting sheet doesn't ask to spend time going back and forth between a black raspberry and a blackberry descriptor.  It says, "yes, it's black fruit, let's move on."  The sheet is not about recognizing a wine, but evaluating it.  Are the flavors ripe?  What are the qualities of the tannins?  How much color got extracted?  We are expected to judge each wine individually, but when you are done, you get a really excellent look at what was possible with that bunch of fruit, and how close each individual winemaker got to that Platonic ideal.

So I encourage everyone to try this technique as a way to really jump forward in your trasting.  Get a bunch of wines, at least 6, from the same place and vintage.  Try to vary your purchases by price point, if you can. Have somebody else bag them and be critical!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A very brief review of a good book I jest finished, The Art and Business of Champagne, by Dan Ginsberg. Ginsberg was the only American ever to head up a Champagne house, and as a businessman in his own right, wrote a unique and excellent text on the wine. It was opinionated and passionate and well written. The descriptions of each village were excellent to the serious student of wine, but I doubt anyone needed vintage reports going back to the early 1900s.