Friday, October 26, 2007

A Wine Critic Who likes to Repeat Himself

It can be difficult to write new things about wine, especially if you write about a lot of wines. How can you keep your originality? One wine critic has an answer. You just use the same phrases to describe different wines like Cabernet and Merlot. And sometimes you use exactly the same description of a wine from different vintages.

1995 Russian Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine is not a blockbuster, but rather, an open-knit, richly fruity, expressive wine unburdened by excessive tannin or weight. Plump and hedonistically-styled with natural textures, it merits serious attention. The 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon offers an expansive, open-knit, black currant, earth, and spice-scented bouquet. Soft, round, generous, and richly fruity, this medium-bodied wine is meant to be drunk over the next 5-7 years.

1994 Russian Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain
This wine is not a blockbuster, but rather, an open-knit, richly fruity, expressive wine unburdened by excessive tannin or weight. Plump and hedonistically-styled with natural textures, it merits serious attention. The 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain reveals a saturated purple color in addition to blackberry/cassis and floral scents. Expansive, rich, chewy, and succulent, with low acidity, exuberant, pure fruit, and a hedonistic, fleshy mouth-feel and finish, this is a sumptuously-styled Cabernet Sauvignon to enjoy over the next decade.

1996 Russian Hill Merlot (87 points)
This wine is not a blockbuster, but rather, an open-knit, richly fruity, expressive wine unburdened by excessive tannin or weight. Plump and hedonistically-styled with natural textures, it merits serious attention. This wine is dark ruby-colored, with plump, sweet, expansive, black cherry fruit intertwined with a subtle dose of wood. The acidity is low, and the fruit succulent. Drink it over the next 4-5 years.

1995 Russian Hill Merlot (88 points)
This wine is not a blockbuster, but rather, an open-knit, richly fruity, expressive wine unburdened by excessive tannin or weight. Plump and hedonistically-styled with natural textures, it merits serious attention. This wine is dark ruby-colored, with plump, sweet, expansive, black cherry fruit intertwined with a subtle dose of wood. The acidity is low, and the fruit succulent. Drink it over the next 4-5 years.

Let me guess? Its not abusive use of cut and paste, even though it does occur in the same group of tasting notes. Its all the publishers fault! No matter, its all good!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

It has arrived!

I now hold in my hand the truth teller, otherwise known as the Vinometer. OK, that may be overstating the case. But this rather fragile looking glass tube has the ability to measure the alcohol in dry wine. No, its not infallible but it has significant advantages over more precise but much more involved methods.

The most precise method for determining alcohol in wine is by distillation. This method is based on removing and collecting all of the alcohol contained in exactly 250ml of wine. The distillate is diluted back to exactly 250 ml. using distilled water, and the alcohol concentration is then determined by measuring its density using an alcohol hydrometer, usually calibrated at 20C and in % v/v. Other methods include ebulliometry, which uses the depression of the boiling point of water in the presence of alcohol. This method requires more expensive equipment than distillation and is also dependent on the accurate measurement of the change in boiling point of wine compared to water.

The Vinometer, as the blurb says is a piece apparatus that consist of an open, graduated glass tube with a small filling resevoir. The vinometer's reservoir or funnel is filled with a small amount of wine being tested until some wine exits out at the other endIt is then turned around and placed on a flat surface, filling reservoir side down, and allowed to self drain.The alcohol concentration level is read of the vinometer's scale, on the capillary, at the top of the liquid being measured, in %v/v alcohol.

The level of the liquid is determined by the modifying affect that alcohol has on the interfacial tension between water and glass and the opposing surface tension of water. The greater the alcohol concentration the less marked the liquids capillary action and the lower it will sit in the tube of the vinometer

The vinometer is calculated on the basis of pure alcohol and water solutions, whereas wine is not a pure water/alcohol solution and the accuracy of a vinometer can not be relied upon.
Sugar interferes with the interfacial effects that a vinometer's action relies on and hence the method can only be applied to dry wines. Similarly other components in wine can also interfere with accurate measurements.

So I will need to check out my vinometer by diluting pure alcohol with distilled water so that I have some idea of how accurate this little instrument can be. But seeing as how that will have to wait until next week, I just couldn’t resist the temptation of checking one wine. The wine is a Spanish Tempranillo from Rioja (2000 Valenciso Reserva). The label says 13% alcohol. The vinometer gave the same reading (two measurements) of between 14-15%, so let’s call it 14.5%. That is quite within the law as below 14% a wine is allowed 1.5 points above or below the value stated on the bottle.

Terroir is an excellent marketing tool, that’s why everyone uses it

I’ve not jumped into the terroir argument in any substantial way. The reason is that while I believe there are wines that display a sense of place (e.g. the eucalyptus notes in Cabernet Sauvignon from the Willows vineyard in the Barossa or the influence of calcrete on Coonawarra wines), I just don’t see many wine drinkers showing that much interest or facility in identifying the flavors and tastes that may indicate that a wine is expressing its terroir.

Others, like David Farmer of Glug, are even more suspicious of the concept of terroir. An article written by David makes some interesting points, and is certainly worth reading. Like all well written opinion pieces he saved the best for last.

As for being able to recognise when a wine is expressing terroir this seems more hope than reality and it seems more and more that terroir simply means making the best wine possible from that site. After all that is what humans have been learning to do for centuries.

Perhaps the last word should be this from the Beaune n├ęgociant, Louis Latour as reported in the August 2000 edition of Bourgogne Aujourd'hui.

"What definition do you give for terroir?

"None! It’s an idea that doesn’t move me much. A great wine is born from a set of conditions amongst which is the soil. We must simplify! The essential thing is to say to the client that this wine comes from this place. Full stop! This is already the case when we speak of ‘wine from Beaune.’ And then when you try to analyse in detail the diverse elements of terroir you find yourself with such uncertainties that it's better not to stick your nose in too far. That said, terroir is an excellent marketing tool, that’s why everyone uses it." *

* This translation is by Warren Moran, Professor of Geography, University of New Zealand and is from Terroir-The Human Factor.
Link to article.

Additional Note: David Farmer's Land Surface Studies.