Thursday, February 14, 2008

Able Grape - a wine knowledge search engine

The ever expanding world of cyberspace is truly a spider’s web. Probe it for items on Shiraz and you are just as likely to be stuck with hits for Shiraz, Iran as you are for the grape of the same name. If you want an example of this just click on the Google SHIRAZ NEWS tab to the right of this page. Wouldn’t it be handy if there was a search engine restricted to wine related material? Well there is, or at least there is a site that is in Beta that proclaims to be a wine search engine for learning and research. Called Able Grape it came about through a need to have up-to-date, trustworthy wine information from the web that would help in passing WSET exams. Still a work in progress, Able Grape consists of 32,000 sites and some 10 million pages. That’s serious wine content.

Just how friendly and effective is Able Grape? When I first tried to search its contents I was led to a page with the following -

You are getting this message because your browser is not a supported configuration. At present, Able Grape supports:
• Safari 2.0/3.0 (best experience; Mac)
• Firefox 2 (best experience; Mac/PC)
• Internet Explorer 7.0 (good experience; PC)
Javascript must also be enabled in your browser. We truly apologize for the inconvenience. As we grow, we hope to support additional browsers more gracefully.

After updating to Version 7 of IE I was off and running. The search mechanism is still a little clunky, which is why there is a help page. I found the best approach, at present, is to type in your search word(s) and then refine the search using the TOPIC and REGION filters on the left of the page. My first attempt was with decanting Shiraz, which brought up 1,779 hits. That is a lot, but its way less than the 80,000 hits on a Google search. Refining by limiting my search to South Pacific reduced the number to 241. Then I got serious and limited myself to Australia (215 hits; I guess they don’t do a lot of decanting in New Zealand – must be all the Sauvignon Blanc), then South Australia (72 hits), and then Barossa Zone for 25 hits. Most of the hits were for Jacob’s Creek Centenary Hill Shiraz. But the link I found the most satisfying was the very first hit on my initial search. It was The Frugal Oenophile’s post on The Great Decanting Debate. I particularly liked the conclusion -

So what do we make of all this? First, decanting is not a fool-proof solution to anything except the elimination of sediment. Also, aeration appears to negatively affect the nose of the wine, making the wine dumb. Aeration will not necessarily soften tannins or make the wine rounder either. Although a two-hour rest may appeal to some people, no aeration period seems to be ideal; anything from 0 to 24 hours appears to pass muster.

This experiment involved one wine, from one maker, from one region, from one vintage, decanted according to one person's idea of how it should be done. At every turn I tried to eliminate variables, and yet the results were far from conclusive. My tasters managed to come up with a definitive answer. After a brief discussion (while I was out of the room), they decided: There is no answer. Not what I was hoping for.

So it would seem that decanting is not a given. There are no clear-cut reasons for doing it, but apparently no real reason not to. I will continue to use my decanter for cut flowers, as I've proven to myself that I don't like what decanting does to wine, unless I hit some sediment, of course.

I finally know what to do with the decanters I have!


Charles Knight said...

Charles Knight, editor
ReadWriteWeb Network

BobFoster said...

What horrible research technique:

"My own perceptions may have been clouded by my admitted prejudice and the fact that I knew which sample was which."

Totally invalidates the whole experiment.

Michael Pollard said...

Now, now Bob. Nothing is ever perfect. But I agree that his own impressions are not all that valuable (much like my own in tasting the Marius Symphony. Still he did have the opinions of a number of others who were blinded, and I think it is relevant that they could not reach a solid conclusion on the value of aeration. It seems more likely that his experiment was subject to differences in sensory perception so common in a group setting.

BobFoster said...

But he interacted with those tasting blind. If I were his professor I flunk him for such lousy research techniques. Why don't you and I set up a test with ALL of the tasters tasting blind?

Michael Pollard said...

A blind tasting? Absolutely. Getting appropriate wine, or wines, may be a challenge but I'm game. Let's organize this via email.

Jason said...

For anyone interested I did a side by side comparison of Able Grape, Google and another wine specific search engine called Scrugy. You can find the results here.