Alice Feiring, fierce gadfly of erobertparker boards, world traveller, bonne vivante, she speaks her mind. Alice was very kind to agree to an interview for this humble blog. I’ve been a reader of her work for a long time and have found her first book, The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, to be funny, informed, and brutally honest. My method here was a kind of supplement to the book itself, asking some questions the fuller answers to which may be found in her text but also on her web site. The idea was to coax even more detail from this worldly soul. I am very pleased with the results.
Admin Have you ever tended a garden?
Alice Feiring I’ve always been an unstudied guerilla gardener (as well as an ardent forager of certain things. “Alice, don’t put that in your mouth!”). But my best gardens were when I co-opted friends’ backyards up in Cambridge. Community gardens in the same town, and now is relegated to herbs, greens and cherry tomatoes on my fire escape.
Do you cook? Specialties? What do friends cook for you?
Alice Of course! But I go in and out of remembering how to cook. Specialities..hmm..Indian spiced wild bass, vegetarian chopped liver, ginger ice cream, soups of various kinds, Arabic okra. What do my friends cook for me? Funny question. Whatever they want. Give me a great piece of bread and cheese (wine, of course) and I’m happy. I’m easy.
When you were a child was wine served at the family dinner table?
Alice Only on Friday nights and Saturday afternoon and it was the kosher sweet stuff cut with seltzer until I was old enough (and stupid enough) to want it full strength. There were no alcohol taboos. Often sipped my father’s beer, tasted his highball and my mother’s (extremely!) occasional martini.
When was your first sensation of intoxication?
Alice I was about five years old. It was Friday night. I was giggling uncontrollably, lying on the floor kicking myself. I still remember thinking, Alice, you’re acting like a baby. I didn’t like that sensation. I was careful after that. The next time when I was 17 was a far more interesting story. Southern Comfort, “Oh, THIS is what they mean by staggering.”
What is your take on the Locavore movement?
Alice It’s an extreme extension of seasonal eating. The Vietnam war wouldn’t have ended without SDS’s help. Extremity is needed in order to raise an awareness of what ‘local’ actually means and hopefully will encourage more diversity in farming. But I’m all for importation. There are some foods/drinks that I’m just not willing to rely on New York State for. We can’t all live in a food paradise like California, Tuscany or Provence.
Perhaps you can tell us about your early drinking history. How did your palate develop?
Alice Kosher wine led to the local wine bar on Grand Avenue, Foncy’s, that meant pitchers of Mateus and Lancers. First taste of zinfandel purchased in 1975 in Boston and drunk in the Boston Common. I was intrigued, but it tasted like gasoline. Moved to Boston in 1978, I had already discovered some great CHEAP rieslings and cote de rhones. Roommate worked in a wine store. Had a dancing friend who was starting a collection. All of the sudden I was in weekly intensive tasting situations in my apartment, learning about wine inspite of myself. Developed a speed tasting method just because I wanted to get to the wines I liked the best before anyone else. Self-preservation to drink the good stuff. After two years of just drinking and not caring I was at Pondicherry with a wine list. I saw the Trimbach Gewurtz and recognized it. The end of the beginning. Bought my first case of wine for $36. It was a Domaine Peyrousse Cote de Rhone. After that wine was a key part of my life and that exploded when I ditched dance therapy and moved back to NYC to write.
[Some details included from "The Age of Innocence", chapter one of her book. See link below.]
The most important development of [my] palate? Probably when I became aware of the taste of meat, decided it didn’t taste like a steak but a cow and I couldn’t deal with it. When I stopped I started to cook, discovered Indian food and my mouth went on a wild adventure of sensation. But the animal reflex of smelling started at birth. I also constantly train my nose at the spice rack.
You’ve been a steady, if subtle, promoter of Biodynamic wines. What is your interest in this movement?
Alice It’s funny. I don’t view myself as a promoter of BioD at all. IT just happens that most of the wines I like to drink farm accordingly, in whole or in part. But I do view it as the only organized body that could promote natural wine and I am invested in trying to keep it safe from nefarious interests. Which reminds me, I must write that email to Jim Fulmer who heads up the organization in Oregon [Demeter-USA] to urge him to add micro-oxygenation to the banned practices.
Which US State shows the greatest promise for the production of wines with restraint and complexity? Name names! Which US producers do you follow?
Alice I would love to see more good producers go into the Fingerlakes. I believe in the area. The only producer I’m wildly enthused about, however, is Silver Thread. It’s a difficult growing season, but I think it could be the American Loire. I would love to see them grow more cab franc and gamay and chenin. I really think California was sidetracked in the 90’s by flash instead of substance. Would be great to see a pull back there on fruit and technology and then, let’s see what the state could do. It’s a little like taking a person going into a pysch ward off their meds to discover their baseline.
As far as following? I’m interested in Wells Guthrie, Kevin Kelley, Steve Edmunds, Cathy Corison, Josh Jensen, Gideon Bienstock, Jason Lett, John Paul Cameron and Doug Tunnel of Brick House and Christophe Baron in Washington State.
What did you drink tonight? Was it a recommendation? A name you respect? A find?
Alice Camille Saves NV rosé. What a gorgeous champagne! And a 2005 St. Epine by Romaneaux–Destezet, which is the domaine of Hervé Souhaut. This is a St. Joseph. He’s out of the vin naturel school. Brilliant wine. Was disappointed by the synthetic cork, but still. Definitely decant it. Needs several hours of aeration before it peels back its layers. $44.
And your cellar? Do you have one? What’s in it?
Alice Some misbehaved man on the ebob board once ridiculed me for not having a proper temperature controlled cellar. Some of those people forget that writers do not have the income of lawyers or investment bankers. Because of the income deficit, all 200 bottles are in my apartment. I wish there was another 0 at the end of that number. I use my A/C on economy for the summer months and have removed all of the radiators. Mostly Loire, Burgundy, lots of Beaujolais, Northern Rhones, and some Barolo. Favorite producers (I can afford!) Paul Pernot, Chandon de Brialles, Domaine Bart, Domaine de Pepiere, Dard & Ribo. Herve Souhaut, Clos Roche Blanche.
What is your monthly wine budget?
Alice Is my tax lawyer reading this? About $340, unless I’m buying for assignment. Out of that meager amount there are always a few bottles for longer-term aging.
How do you choose a wine to purchase?
Alice Mostly trade tastings. But I constantly buy the same producers. I support them in any vintage. I do shop online at my favorite store, Chambers Street Wines, see what they have new, and then it miraculously gets delivered to my door.
What is the percentage of wines you’ve bought locally as against on-line?
Alice I actually never bought anything on-line, that wasn’t within delivery range. But I’m ready to expand and add to the carbon footprint.
What will be the practical effect on wine sales when and if Robert Parker retires?
He’s not already retired?
People are drinking wine. They’re not going to stop because he’s not driving the market.
Are there voices in the blogosphere that you find encouraging with respect to wine reviews?
Alice It’s the future and the future is now. Readers are finding the wine people they want to follow. The palate that most resonate with them. Granted I have a very narrow palate, and you know what? I’m not alone. I’ve gotten so many emails from people like—”help, I’m going to Barcelona. What should I drink. Are they all dreck?” Or, “I’m disgusted with Burgundy but I know the wines I want are there”. This one guy took my recommendations. I thought he was going to maybe dump a couple of hundred. Turns out he spent 5k. I had an anxiety attack. What if he didn’t like them? Turns out he was very happy. I bet you’ve had similar experiences.
You recently made unflattering remarks about the bulk of Cali wines produced. I find it very difficult to keep up with new winegrowers here! What is your method for selecting Cali wines to taste?
Alice I ask friends, sommeliers, and winemakers in California whether there’s anything that should be on my radar. Most of the best importers really do have what is considered the best of the new of California. I try to taste their recommendations at tastings to see if someone is working in an interesting way. I’m sorry to say, mostly not. Their idea of restraint and my idea of restraint is totally different.
Have you ever worked a Crush?
Alice Yes. I guess, I worked the vendange in the Loire. 2006. Mostly grape picking, a little bit in the winery as well.
Thinking of making you’re own wine?
Alice This year I should be out in Oregon at Eyrie doing just that. They’re giving me my own small fermenter, access to their grapes. I’ll nurse it all through the end of alcoholic. I’ll leave the elevage up to them. Jason said, “do it the way you want, foot-stomped, no sulfur, 100% stems, no cold soak. No nothing.” And with any luck it won’t go to vinegar.
Your new book, The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, is a fun read. How has the book tour been going? How have your audiences been?
Alice Thank you. That is so sweet of you to say.
I wish there was more of a book tour but I was grateful that my publisher saw fit to send me anywhere! The different venues in California were fascinating. I loved them all. The one at the Ferry building was the hardest. The one at Healdsburg the most stimulating. The one at Readers Books in Sonoma the most heartwarming. The one at Terroir Wine Merchant and Bar in SF and Lou on Vine in LA the most fun. And I’m really looking forward to the Commonwealth Club on July 16th.
Audiences in California ranged from the curious to the hardcore. One woman at a party in Napa sneered at me when we were introduced. “Alice Feiring? Yes, I’ve heard of you.” Sneer!
Speaking of Napa, I find it extremely interesting that there hasn’t been one invitation from Napa but several from Sonoma. Shall we read into that?
Alice A few. It is just so thrilling when someone ‘gets’ me and ‘it.’ Beppi Crosariol from Canada’s Globe and Mail, Peter Hellman from the New York Sun and Patrick Comiskey from the LA Times. The recent one in Forbes, where they snared a quote from Parker about me and the book was great.
Where do you go from here?
Alice Meaning? For a while, back to the freelance world. Looks like I’ll be winewriting for the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine. More travel. Hopefully the next book will tap me on the shoulder and ask me for the next waltz. Finishing up first draft of a novel so I can quickly rewrite. Rechurning the never ending existential angst. I’m pondering teaching—writing not wine, though a few seminars here and there wouldn’t be bad.
Thank you so very much, Alice. Great fun!
Promising new research published in the June 18th issue of The Journal of Neuroscience has found a positive correlation between certain grape extracts and the the inhibition of amyloid protein accumulation in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s. A press release from the Society of Neuroscience reads,
“The researchers tested a grape seed polyphenolic extract product sold as MegaNatural-AZ, made by Polyphenolics, which in part supported the study. Polyphenolic compounds are antioxidants naturally found in wine, tea, chocolate, and some fruits and vegetables. To determine whether the extract could mitigate the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers used mice genetically modified to develop a condition similar to Alzheimer’s disease. They exposed pre-symptomatic “Alzheimer’s mice” to the extract or placebo daily for five months. The daily dose of the polyphenolic extract was equivalent to the average amount of polyphenolics consumed by a person on a daily basis.”
The principle researcher, Dr. Giulio Pasinetti, MD, PhD, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine was named in ‘07 to lead The Center of Excellence for Research in Complementary and Alternative Medicine created by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. The Center’s focus is on Alzheimer’s disease,
“The new Center has been awarded an estimated $8 million grant over the next five years to continue its research and study of ‘age defying diets.’ There will be an emphasis on grape-derived compounds that may be able to delay or possibly prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.”
The new research adds to the list of significant chemical compounds found not only in wine but in tea and cocao.
“Chemical analysis showed that the major polyphenol components in the study’s grape seed extract product are catechin and epicatechin, which are also abundant in tea and cocoa. These components differ from resveratrol, a polyphenol that has been reported to reduce amyloid beta secretion in cells and generally increase lifespan by mimicking calorie restriction. Resveratrol appears to be effective only at extremely high doses, which may limit its use in people. In contrast, the catechins in the extract product studied appear to be effective at much lower doses.” [SFN op. cit.]
As a person with a loved one so afflicted by this awful disease, I look forward to human trials of these promising compounds.
In 1788 Captain Arthur Philip sailed the first fleet into Botany Bay, eventually founding a colony that would stretch across a continent and become the Commonwealth of Australia. Two hundred twenty years later I landed in Botany Bay, now a major port, southern suburb of Sydney and the site of Sydney International airport. I don’t visit Australia much, in fact this trip was the first time in over 10 years, and as there’s no guarantee I’ll be going back any time soon I guess this article is going to cover a range of loosely related topics.
Australia has a long history with wine, the first cuttings arrived with Captain Philip in 1788 and today the country is the 6th largest wine producer and 4th largest wine exporter. Severe and extended drought meant 2007 was a bad year for the country with a 32% drop in production but better weather this season has seen an improved 2008 vintage with forecasts suggesting full recovery by 2009. The U.K. is the largest export market (just ahead of the U.S.) accounting for approximately 30% of Aussie exports and nearly 25% of total Australian wine production.
My first taste of wine this trip came after a pleasant walk around the commercial district and Sydney harbour on a sunny Saturday afternoon. On my way back to the hotel I chanced upon the CBD Cellars store in Carrington Street and wandered there for a while trying to decide on something to drink back in my room. I was sorely tempted by a bottle of Two Paddocks Pinot Noir, produced in Central Otago from Sam Neil’s vineyards, but it was a little out of my price range (approx $50) for an easy drinking red, so I ended up with Norman’s 2004 Old Vine Grenache from the McLaren Vale for $20 (the winery was established in 1853 and is now part of the Cockatoo Ridge group). This had spicy vanilla and black fruits with some floral hints, very smooth tannins, fruity mid-palate and an oaky, long finish with a touch of sweetness. There was a nice mix of flavours, not too much acid and some bitterness but it hid its 15% alcohol very well – 4 Stars and a thumbs up from yours truly (in old money that’s about 88-89pts!).
The McLaren Vale was first planted in 1838 by John Reynell and Thomas Hardy and, with its South Australian neighbour the Barossa Valley, is home to one of Australia’s hidden gems –Grenache, with some vines more than 100 years old. When not bottled as a single varietal Grenache is blended with Shiraz or Mourverdre (Mataro) in a Rhone style, with some of the more famous producers from these two regions include D’Arenberg and Grant Burge. I really like the style of wines coming out of this region, and later on in the week I also tasted the delicious “The Fakir” Grenache from Magpie Estate.
As I was in town over the Queen’s Birthday holiday weekend I looked at signing up for a day trip to the Hunter valley, the nearest wine region to Sydney. Unfortunately both Sunday and Monday tours were fully booked – although in hindsight I’m not too disappointed, it rained both days and on the Monday evening I dined at Garfish (see previous article) so all was not lost! Saying that I would recommend a trip to this area, home to some well-known names in the industry including Tyrrells, Lindemans and McGuigan (recently rebranded as Australian Vintage). This difficult wine area, the most Northerly in Australian commercial production, is famous for its Shiraz, such as the Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz, and Semillon, such as Tyrrells Vat 1.
As for the rest of my visit (when I wasn’t doing the day job) I tried a few glasses in several bars and restaurants – of note as 3-Star everyday drinkers were the Printhie 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Orange region west of Sydney, and two delicious Rieslings: the Joshua Tree 2007 from Clare Valley and St. Hallet’s 2007 from Eden Valley, both of which had classic Riesling aromas and refreshing taste.
After a week down-under, and with my body just starting to acclimatize to the 10 hour time difference, it was time to come home again.
In my case were two bottles to add to the cellar;
First a Hunter Valley Semillon from Mount Vincent Estate, their 2006 Morisset which I got for $25 (from CBD Cellars again). This should age well for the next several years to give me a memorable taste of the Hunter Valley that I didn’t get to see.
Secondly a bottle I received as a gift from a friend, Russell, who I dined with at Garfish. He has links with the Reschke winery in Coonawarra and gave me a bottle of their “Bull Trader” 2004 Cabernet Merlot. Coonawarra in South Australia, is famous for its “Terra Rossa” soil and producing quality Cabernet Sauvignon, so I’m optimistic for this wine’s potential when I finally decide to open it (apparently it shows well in its youth but time will add even more complexity – I feel a kindred spirit!).
These bottles will join my existing collection of Australian wines which make up just fewer than 12% of my collection, on par with Italy and second only to France in my cellar.
In the U.K., and increasingly in the U.S., the availability and range of Australian wine in our shops means that there will always be a lot to choose from, unfortunately there is a regrettable tendency of the bulk brands to homogenize the styles by blending grapes sourced from across states. SouthEastern Australia, so often seen on cheaper bottles, covers an area equivalent to the Western United States and there can be no regional style detected from these fruit forward, early drinking but ultimately unfulfilling wines. Not much further up the price points however the different sub-regions have evolved an understanding of Terroir that is becoming apparent in offerings such as Hunter Valley Shiraz & Semillon, Coonawarra Cabernet and South Australian Grenache. I hope you get a chance to try some of these.
*Gary Vaynerchuk, enfant terrible of the wine world, raconteur extraordinaire, and now a published author, will be coming to San Francisco to film the 500th episode of his wildly popular Wine Library TV series. His participation is part of a larger tasting event in honor of his fans to take place in The Golden Gate Room, Fort Mason, on July 10th between the hours of 6 p.m. and Midnight. The event is expected to fill quickly. No more than 300 people may attend. There will also be a number of carefully selected wineries present.
Information about the event may be found on the WLTV SF Event thread and here.
In the interest of full disclosure, the event is being planned by two long-time WLTV viewers, both contributors to this blog. (In fact, we held the first party last year in the Fire House at Fort Mason.) I cannot speak for my collegues here at Reign of Terroir but it is safe to say my wine education was greatly accelerated by Mr. Vaynerchuk. Further, to meet him in person is a pleasure. He’ll talk to anyone about anything. To say that he is a people person is rather like saying Pavarotti was only a singer! Perhaps he may be forgiven for loving the New York Jets, but apart from that singular flaw, as great as it is, he is a delightful guy. A real gentleman.
For those unfamiliar with his show please visit here. Oh, let me hasten to add his right hand man, Chris Mott, celebrated in his own way, will also be joining in the festivities.
*Information in this post is no longer accurate. Refer to the WLTV website for an update.
1/39 East Esplanade,
Manly NSW Manly, Australia
June in Australia is mid-winter, which roughly equates to an average summer’s day in northern England, so what better than some fine dining in Manly, just a scenic ferry ride across Sydney harbor.
I was in town over an Australian long weekend – the Queen’s birthday is a national holiday down under, unlike back in the UK where the celebrations consist of lots of soldiers in red tunics and Bearskin helmets marching around with great pomp and circumstance, but no time off for the general public.
Garfish is named after the Southern sea fish species and is one of those restaurants where they don’t take reservations in advance (something that appears to be common in Australia), so up until an hour before we arrived we weren’t completely sure whether we’d get in. Several drinks at the Manly Wharf Hotel across the road (where they have a nice by-the-glass selection in the main bar) meant the waiting was fun, and we strolled over at about 7pm to find a table was available. I was with my colleagues Stewart and Susan, who live in Manly, and a couple of their friends. They had been before and had mixed feelings on the place (although the food was excellent there had been service problems in the past) but they were happy to give them another chance as they said they had a very good wine list and knew that was of interest to me!
The inside of the restaurant is modern, with a large flat screen TV showing diners all of the frantic the activity in the kitchen, and, although it was busy inside, we got a great table by the window which would have offered stunning views over the wharf had it not been dark already! There was some initial disappointment when the waiter told us that several of the key menu dishes were not on due to the long weekend disrupting deliveries, including the whole Barramundi, which I had hoped to try. Instead I went for the Mussels in a tomato, chorizo and olive sauce, with Salt n’ Pepper Squid to start with.
The wine list had a good selection of mostly Australian wines and a couple of New Zealand and French offerings. Two caught my eye and the group agreed to try them both.
White was the Vincognita 2007 Madeleine’s Viognier from Nangkita Vineyards in Fleurie, South Australia. Peach and oak on the nose, rich & full bodied at 14%, yet zingy up front. With good fruit and a nice finish the two girls especially loved this – 87-88pts.
Red was the Magpie Estates 2005 “The Fakir”, a 14.5% Grenache from the Northern Barossa Valley. This had a deep nose, herby with some menthol and berries. In the mouth it had a wonderfully smooth texture, almost creamy, with well integrated tannin, lots of black fruit, mild heat and a good length. A very nice wine for the evening and enjoyed by all at the table who tried it – 88-89pts.
The food arrived and the eating began. My Salt n’ Pepper squid was indeed salty, but also tender and succulent with a lovely chilli paste on the side and I enjoyed every mouthful, however Susan’s starter of seared scallops on a polenta base with mushrooms and horseradish looked, and from her comments tasted, excellent and seemed the best choice of the night. For the mains mine came in a large bowl in its sauce, which doubled as a hearty soup. The mussels were plentiful and very tasty, although on seeing the other dishes I think I lost out – each of the others had one of the fish options and the presentation on these plates was wonderful with a piece of delicious looking fish and assorted coloured sauces and vegetable accompaniments – I felt rather rustic and uncouth with my bowl of shellfish! It was agreed Stewart had the best main, with his delicate smoked sea trout cooked to perfection.
The food and wine were both fantastic, and before the end everyone had agreed they were glad they had come back for another go. One final event sealed the agreement of an enjoyable evening when Stewart knocked a glass and spilled half of its contents over the table. As he started to mop up the Viognier with a napkin the waiter came over to clear the debris and then returned a few seconds later, unprompted, with a replacement glass!
If you like seafood, and find yourself in Sydney any time soon, then I’d recommend getting one of the regular the ferries over to Manly trying to get a table at Garfish so you can try out the hospitality yourself – Bon Appétit!
I first became aware of the efficacy of ultrasound and barrel sanitation when I read in the November/December, ‘07 issue of Practical Winery & Vineyard the article, “Cleaning/disinfection of oak barrels/oak adjuncts with high-power ultrasonics” by Andrew Yap, V. Jiranek, T. Lee, P. Grbin, M. Barnes and Darren Bate. Unfortunately, the article may be viewed by subscribers only. But the more I read the more important I realized what an innovation ultrasound to be. Clearly it belonged in a larger, more public space. Further, surely someone must be working on the development of a portable ultrasonic device. In any event, the idea stuck with me. And so recently, when I witnessed a local winery sell expensive ’spent’ French oak barrels for pennies to a gardening concern, barrels the winery could no longer clean economically, heavily studded with tartrate and/or contaminated with Brettanomyces, I began researching the topic of ultrasound anew, and stumbled upon the US patent application in 2006 for just such a device, a detail not disclosed in the Practical Winery & Vineyard article.
It turns out that two of the authors of the Winery & Vineyard article, Andrew Yap and Darren Bates, along with Arthur Mcloughlin, and William Wright, are the inventors of what is called the “Apparatus and method of ultrasonic cleaning and disinfection” and make up the management team of Cavitas, “the leading proprietary systems developer and solutions provider of high-power ultrasonics (”HPU”) applications for liquid-phase food and beverage processing”.
The innovation put forward by Mr. Yap et. al. is ultrasonics, an intriguing step toward solving the problem of thoroughly cleaning barrels of tartrate buildup and associated protected microorganisms with limited water usage, zero cleansing chemicals or gasses such as ozone and sulfur dioxide, and no required shaving of the inner surface which often results in damage or, at the very least, demands costly retoasting. Wineries would rather get rid of such barrels, older in the main, sell them to other wineries or nurseries, than contend with standard industry cleaning methods that simply don’t work to their satisfaction or are too labor intensive. Financial loss follows upon financial loss.
A bit of supportive background. Why are tartrate coatings undesirable?
“[B]ecause they block the extraction of oak flavor compounds into the wine, can alter wine maturation rates by reducing oxygen permeation through the wood and into wine, and they may harbor and protect spoilage organisms.”
Indeed, according to Yap et.al. the presence of spoilage organisms, principally Brettanomyces/Dekkera yeasts, is on the upswing internationally owing, in part, to barrels traded in the second-hand market and the current popular style and practice of wines with a higher pH, residual sugar, and the decreased use of filtration and SO2.
Moving quickly, high power ultrasonics work by generating high-energy micro-bubbles within a liquid. The bubbles collapse, “releasing energy that causes shock waves, acoustic streaming, and vibration.” Read the patent application linked above and this for a more precise elaboration.
Cavitas writes on their web site, “Pricing will be available after completion of the final prototype trials, anticipated to be in Q2, 2008. Our price target is aimed to provide customers with a payback within 24 months.
“Following Beta testing with select industry participants, the Barrel Washing Disinfection Device (BWDD) solution will be available for sale in 2H, 2008. Distribution is presently being discussed with reputable wine industry equipment suppliers and service providers.”
The downside of this new technology is that “[t]he first product release is targeted at medium- to high-capacity wineries, with stocks of at least 5,000 barrels”. Five thousand barrels! It cannot be so difficult to scale down to smaller wineries! The device is simple enough. Let us hope the second product release is friendlier to the smaller winery.
For a full examination of the drawings and specs of the device a free account is required on the free patents online web site. Enter patent number 20060191424 in the search box, scroll down and follow the simple prompts.
Update: Please see my October 28th post, Cavitus Ultrasound Prototype in Winery Trials, the first part of a series.
In the course of doing research on the drought currently gripping Barcelona, Spain, its relation to Global Warming, the overall effect of climate change on grape growing, and the response of winegrowers internationally, one name kept popping up, Miguel A. Torres. The current President and Managing Director of Bodegas Torres, Mr. Torres has been actively pushing the envelope, placing ‘Green’ practices at the heart of the winery’s philosophy. A very fine article recently appeared on the Wines and Vines website summarizing well his efforts. And a fine gloss may be found on the UN’s website where we learn of the accelerated pace of Global Warming in Europe. Of course, apart from the far more important social consequences, environmental change has a direct effect on the vineyard itself.
“The impact of warmer temperatures on grapes include over-ripening, drying out, [curbing] acidity levels, and vulnerability to pest and disease. High levels of carbon dioxide accelerate the rate of photosynthesis and alter the way vines produce and ripen grapes. Warmer temperatures may also change the harvest season from the beginning of October to September. The dormancy of the grapes is expected to begin earlier due to milder winters. These changes may affect the taste and sustainability of the grapes.” (From the UN gloss.)
Yet however central is environmental change to Mr. Torres it is but one of a multitude of programs the gentleman and his family have begun.
In 1986 was founded the Miguel Torres Foundation, “To contribute to the well-being of our people and the progress of society at large, and to preserve and protect the environment in which we operate.” The foundation consists of two complimentary parts. The first is Social Responsibility which includes funding Foster Homes, Natural Disaster assistance, and the building of schools such as the one in India pictured on the left. It was established through the Vincente Ferrer Foundation, and of the school’s founder and mission:
“Vicente Ferrer is a Jesuit missionary who set up a trust fund in 1969 in one of the poorest regions of southern India, Anantapur, and has been there since, working principally with the dalits or untouchables, to enable them ‘to become the masters of their own destiny and recover their dignity.’”
The second part of the Miguel Torres Foundation is dedicated to Environmental Awareness. And in this they truly excel. They’ve begun programs to protect the Bonelli’s Eagle, an endangered species in Europe; a program, in coordination with the Catalan Institute of Vines and Wine (INCAVI), to recover native grape varieties; the active promotion of ISO 4001, a compilation of international business standards with respect to the environment; and a forward-looking program dedicated to fighting climate change in their own vineyards. Torres uses solar power, electric/hybrid vehicles, water reclamation techniques, the replanting of woodlands for CO2 sequestration, bio-diesel in tractors, and many other ‘green’ innovations.
After reading so very much of what wineries are doing internationally to respond to climate change, from the indifferent, the marginally concerned, to deeply committed winegrowers, I can honestly say that Torres is on the cutting edge of innovators. Should a reader here need a boost in spirits please visit the Torres website. Theirs is no mere commercial portal, a few scattered, lo-cal platitudes, infotainment punctuated with Parker scores. No, the Torres site is a meal of good news.
The Wines of Burgundy by Clive Coates, MW, is a magnificent effort. At over 850 pages and 34 detailed maps, it is quite simply the finest book of its kind written in English. However, humility is required for the vast majority of readers. The respect for the region Mr. Coates demonstrates is paid forward. Pinot Noir may be the grape of the moment here in Cali, we’ve our celebrated wineries echoed in the mainstream wine press, but in France great Pinot is found down obscure, unimproved roads. The Burgundy region is a labrinyth. As Mr. Coates writes,
“The only way to become a competent judge of young Burgundy is to spend many years at the coal-face; to go down there as often as possible, to listen a lot, to say a little, and to learn much.
“This is what I do. Sadly, I seem to be largely alone. There are many growers I visit who have never seen another writer; many cellars who would dearly love to welcome others to explain what they are trying to do.”
Alan Meadows of Burghound fame notwithstanding, the reasons for Mr. Coates’ solitary toil are multiple.
Firstly is the recent history of the region. Mr. Coates writes,
“A generation or more ago, Burgundy was on its knees. Over-fertilization in the 1960s and 1970s, the introduction of high-yield, low quality clones and the clampdown on bolster wines from the south of France and Algeria all led to wine which was thin, pallid, fruitless and short-lived.”
(Eric Asimov recently provides a more pointed gloss.)
Secondly, “Burgundy has been much maligned-more so than any other region-by certain elements of the media”. By which he means Robert Parker and Wine Spectator. Of the latter he says, “Wine Spectator has criticised the increasing bunch of estates that refuse to play ball with its modus operandi [...]“. For Parker’s recently minted sentiments see Asimov’s article linked above.
And lastly is the difficulty of finding in the States a very high percentage of the wines he reviews. No small matter.
Mr. Coates also provides instructive notes on the critical concept of Terroir, especially relevant in Burgundy. He improves on many normative wine texts with a persistent emphasis on Global Warming and viticultural improvements.
“It is alarming to see how much damage can be done so rapidly. Through a combination of ignorance, negligence, cynicism and a regard for solely short-term profit [...] the Burgundian vineyard was reduced to the status of almost desert [...]“
He discusses both Organic and Biodynamic innovations in the region. The latter method he finds mysterious yet praiseworthy:
“Sometimes the extremes of biodynamism sound like black magic. But the point is: it works. We should learn not to scoff.”
More concretely the book provides, in the main, vineyard and domaine specifics, owners, hectares under cultivation, and notes on the wide variety of wine-making techniques used:
“All one has to do is permute between zero and 100 percent stems, use zero to 100 percent new wood, ferment at temperatures from 25 C all the way up to 35 C and above, and employ cold soaking or not.”
Mr. Coates is well into his 60’s yet he continues to explore and to learn. Under the guise of a sedate, ‘old world’ writer of thick books he nevertheless remains a radical. I encourage every serious student of wine to read this book, but especially novice drinkers of Cali Pinots. Much will not be understood, and that is a good thing. Books like his stand as humbling reminders of where we stand with respect to wine knowledge.
Kalyoncu Kulluk Cad. No. 4, Galatasaray, Istanbul
Last week I was lucky that my final evening in Istanbul fell on a Friday, as that’s when the locals like to party and I could get a taste of the real social life of this vibrant Metropolis. My friend Murat, always keen to indulge my wine obsession, had proposed a visit to one of two famous wine houses (Saraphanesi) in the Taksim district, Viktor Levi and Pano. Both of these establishments have been in operation for the best part of a century or more – Pano founded in 1898 by Panayot Papadopulus and Viktor Levi opening his in competition in 1914.
Murat had been to both and knew either would be an enjoyable experience for me, and it was Viktor Levi’s we reached first as we walked through the Galatasaray area, flags still hanging across the narrow streets in celebration after their football team won the Turkish title. However the doors were locked, so we continued towards the British consulate where Pano is situated, walked past the impressive bar with racks of bottles and a set of wine barrels overhead and settled into a table on the empty ground floor, it was only 7pm and too early for most people who didn’t have to worry about a dawn flight home the next day!
website, which also contains the full wine and food menu, although only in Turkish). My last post was a review of “A Hedonist in the cellar”, but a true Hedonist appears to have been the 11th & 12th Century Persian poet Omar Khayyam whose Rubáiyat has been described as a Bible for drunkards and has been adopted by Pano, where they hand out postcards with some of Khayyam’s quatrains and have a plaque on the wall, just above a picture of Turkey’s own famous wine lover, founder of the Republic and its first President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The inside of the restaurant is decorated with wine related murals, paintings and pictures and local music was playing in the background (for a taste of which go to their website, which also contains the full wine and food menu, although only in Turkish). My last post was a review of “A Hedonist in the cellar”, but a true Hedonist appears to have been the 11th & 12th Century Persian poet Omar Khayyam whose Rubáiyat has been described as a Bible for drunkards and has been adopted by Pano, where they hand out postcards with some of Khayyam’s quatrains and have a plaque on the wall, just above a picture of Turkey’s own famous wine lover, founder of the Republic and its first President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
The menu contains a good selection of local wines, many specially produced for Pano by Turkish wineries Doluca, Kayra and Yazgan. Happily they sell all of their wine by the glass as well as the bottle, although the glasses are of a short, wide-rimmed style so were not overly useful for swirling! We started with a white, the 2006 Pano Vasilaki (Marmara region) from the small island of Bozcaada (Tenedos in Greek) in the Çanakkale district, a few miles down the coast from the ancient city of Troy. The island only has a population of about 2,500 but has a long history due to its strategic location at the mouth of the Dardanelles and wines that were renowned for centuries during ancient Greek, Byzantine and Ottoman rule. Vasilaki is one of Turkey’s many indigenous grapes and this one had a fresh grassy nose and was dry in the mouth. There was a rich texture, full bodied with a long bitter finish and a hint of burnt rubber, which reminded me instantly of a Santorini Assyrtiko I had a couple of weeks ago. 85-86pts.
Appetizers were ordered; a cheese plate containing a delicious selection of smoked, soft and hard cheese, and a mixed Meze plate with, amongst other things, stuffed vine leaves, smoked aubergine paté and octopus. A second glass of white was required, the 2006 Pano #59 (Marmara) which was an Emir and Narince blend from Sarköy, on the European side of the Bosphorus. This had a smoother, richer nose and was more full-bodied, not as dry as the Vasilaki. There was some citrus and tropical fruit and a good biter finish which worked remarkably well with the smoked cheese. 87-88pts.
We moved onto red with the 2006 Papazkarasi (Marmara), containing grapes from the European areas of Edirne, Tekirdag and Kirklareli. The varietal name translates to “Priest’s Black” (or “Black Bishop”) and is local only to these Thracian regions, preferring dry growing conditions and typically used to produce young drinking wines. There was an aroma of roasted cherries, with a hint of balsamic vinegar and the wine was a little unbalanced, more acid than tannin and the fruit was a touch overwhelmed. 82-83pts. This was a light rustic wine for quaffing, which we did with the warm appetizers that followed, excellent tender pieces of liver, delicate enough to be calves liver, fried with onions and dill, and succulent prawns fried in lashings of country butter, all it lacked was garlic, but delicious nonetheless.
As we waited for our final dish to arrive, Lamb Shish Kebab with rice, we moved up market with the 2006 Pano #10, an Öküzgözü (Elazig, E. Anatolia) and Bogazkere (Diyarbakir, S.E. Anatolia) blend. These are two of Turkey’s most famous red varieties and the wine had an earthy nose with a touch of cherry and a lot of vanilla which developed into tobacco and ash over time. This was a full and rich red with some tannins and forward acidity and for me was an enjoyable 87-88pts. The kebab was nice to, with a dark smoky barbecue flavour, although not as tender as the meat we’d had the night before on the old mountain road outside Bolu on our way back from Ankara.
With the evening drawing to a close (at least for me, the restaurant was busier than ever and people were waiting for tables) I selected my last glass, the 2005 Pano Papakosti – a blend of Papazkarasi, Cinsault and Karasakiz varieties from Marmara and the Aegean. The nose was somewhere between the Papazkarasi and the #10, light with a hint of smokiness. There was strong acidity but plenty of tannin structure to back it up, woody aspects and some pine resin which was nice. A peppery heat, not overdone, led into a long finish. This was a lighter style wine than the #59, more astringent, but had surprising complexity in both aroma and taste which made it an enjoyable drink. 86-87pts.
A Turkish coffee brought to the close a superb evening, we left just after 10pm with all 3 floors packed and an Istanbul party night in full swing. To finish I’ll choose Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat Quatrain 478 (as translated by E. H. Whinfield l):
“Wherever you can get two maunds of wine,
Set to, and drink it like a libertine;
Whoso acts thus will set his spirit free
From saintly airs like yours, and grief like mine.”