Artificial Wine



synthetic wineThis is bizarre but inevitable I suppose given the popularity of reductionism is science.

Reductionism is the view that all complex phenomena can be explained by analyzing them into their component parts. Thus, wine is nothing but a particular organization of chemicals.

AVA Winery in San Francisco claims that they can recreate any wine simply by analyzing its chemical constituents and combining the appropriate chemicals. According to their website if you combine the right acids, amino acids, sugar,  volatile organics, and ethanol you can create any wine you want. No messy grapes, expensive barrels, or time consuming fermentation. Just chemicals.

The owner’s holy grail is to recreate the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won the Judgment of Paris. However, they are currently taking orders for a replica 1992 Dom Perignon Champagne which they will sell you for $50. (The current market price of the real thing is $227) The wine has not yet been made so no one knows how successful this will be.

I think it cannot quite be true that they are making an exact replica of a 1992 Dom Perignon since they could not reverse engineer a wine that no longer exists. The current bottles of 1992 Dom have undergone years of bottle aging that have significantly changed their chemical structure. The best they can do is replicate what it tastes like today.

But I have some reservations that such a thing is possible. I doubt that today we know enough to determine which of the 1000 compounds in wine contributes to its flavor. Taste tests by independent somms have been thumbs down. In fact, their methods are no different from those used by the food industry to create the snack “foods” at your supermarket, none of which tastes like real food.

But there may be reasons to doubt such a thing is even theoretically possible. Some complex systems may have properties that are quite different from the properties of its component parts. They only emerge as the result of the interaction of the components. The crucial question is whether these so called “emergent properties” are fully predictable based on features of the component parts. If not, artificial “wine” will be at best an approximation. But if the features of complex systems are predictable and can therefore be engineered, artificial wine may be in your future.

Don’t Be Throwing Writers Under the Bus


White laptop with coffee cup on old wooden table.Winemaker Clark Smith in discussing the connection between winemaking and music in his fine book Postmodern Winemaking makes the following claim:

Nothing is more exquisite than to be deeply known by another through an offering, be it a Syrah or a symphony, that touches us beyond mere words.

Where does that leave us writers? If only experiences that are “beyond mere words” have ultimate aesthetic or communicative value, then the great literary accomplishments of human beings pale in comparison to great music or wine. Shakespeare? Nietzsche? Keats? Tolstoy? All pikers when it comes to “exquisiteness”.

I get that words often fail to fully capture the richness of experience. But so do music and wine. No single mode of expression gets it all into the picture. Yet the attempt at articulation, the attempt to render experience in words, is what separates humans from beasts and makes experience broadly intelligible.

One of the most important differences between wine and orange juice is that no one talks about orange juice. It’s wine talk that makes one person’s experience of wine accessible to another. It is wine talk or music talk that puts wine and music in circulation, that anchors them in a community. Without the attempt at articulation, aesthetic experience is just a series of fleeting moments with no more significance than itches or burps.

I know all the jabbering gets irritating, but that’s because it’s indispensible.

Wine Review: Gabriele Rausse Rosso Virginia NV



gabriele rausseSometimes I buy a wine because it’s interesting; sometimes because it tastes good. This one is interesting. The nose has explosive spice notes—cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg, which usually come from oak. But this wine is unoaked. There is some crazy extraction technique going on here that gives it that favor profile. Curious.

And it’s a blend of Bordeaux varietals, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot that almost always see some oak treatment. There is a reason for that. Time in oak barrels that slowly introduce oxygen into the wine helps to soften and integrate flavors and give the wine texture.

That is where this wine fails. The fruit upfront is fresh and juicy but green notes emerge midpalate which also features a sharp, hard texture introducing a course, disjointed finish. The components needed more time to learn to live together. This tastes like a shotgun marriage. But of course shotgun marriages are interesting, the stuff of legends, even when they don’t taste good.

This is either an experiment or some juice quickly brought to the tasting room to fill demand for wine. The price indicates the latter. Their line up was otherwise competent but this one caught my eye because it was different and when I spot difference I can’t help myself.

At any rate, I learned that you can get spice notes without oak and that naked Bordeaux varietals are like naked people—they better be beautiful.

Score: 84

Price: $16

Alc: Table Wine

Like a pretty face with a mean streak. A Strange Brew indeed:

Wine and Health Update


wine and health2For the past 20 years, the data on moderate wine consumption and health has been largely positive. Studies have tended to show that moderate red wine consumption (meaning 1 glass of wine per day for women and 2 glasses for men) has positive effects on mental health, heart health, brain function and resistance to some cancers. As with most studies limited in sample size and with difficulty controlling for all variables, it’s appropriate to be cautious about drawing conclusions. But the connection between wine and health seemed reasonably well established.

Then this past winter studies reported by the UK Department of Health seemed to call all of that into question.

New guidelines for alcohol consumption, produced by the UK Chief Medical Officers, warn that drinking any level of alcohol increases the risk of a range of cancers. This is supported by a new review from the Committee on Carcinogenicity (CoC) on alcohol and cancer risk .

It is now known that the risks start from any level of regular drinking and increase with the amount being drunk, and the new guidelines are aimed at keeping the risk of mortality from cancers or other diseases low. The links between alcohol and cancer were not fully understood in the original guidelines, which came out in 1995.

This review also found that the benefits of alcohol for heart health only apply for women aged 55 and over. The greatest benefit is seen when these women limit their intake to around 5 units a week, the equivalent of around 2 standard glasses of wine. The group concluded that there is no justification for drinking for health reasons….

Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, said: Drinking any level of alcohol regularly carries a health risk for anyone, but if men and women limit their intake to no more than 14 units a week it keeps the risk of illness like cancer and liver disease low.

This study and the policy prescriptions from the UK received an enormous amount of press. So what’s going on here?

At the Society of Wine Educators Conference earlier this month Matilde Parente (MD, FCAP) gave a presentation that was very skeptical of these studies that the Brits rely on for their policy. Her key point was that the Royal Statistical Society, a professional organization for statisticians and data analysts, thoroughly shredded the argument put forth by the UK Department of Health. A fact that was not widely reported in the press.

In spite of the risks at the revised guidelines being acknowledged as minimal, the communications have also strongly emphasised potential harms of low-level consumption, particularly cancer. This appears to have been built into the commissioned analysis from the start, and it could be argued that the main change from the previous guidelines has been due to a statistically-unjustified assumption imposed by Public Health England1. There has been a continued emphasis on inducing fear through mentions of cancer, and consistent downplaying and even denial of any health benefit – the Press release says that “the protective effect of alcohol against heart disease has now been shown not to apply to men”, which directly contradicts the estimates published in Table 10 of the Guidelines Development Group report (1).

The Royal Statistical Society is not a group of bomb-throwers who toss charges of corruption around lightly. They really, really don’t like these recommendations. Their problem with the UK policy really comes down to three claims:

1. The UK Department of Health has no statistical justification for their recommendations. The increased risk of cancer was assumed from the beginning; not derived from any new studies. The evidence for this is that the tables provided in their report in fact show that “the threshold for males to reach a 1% lifetime risk would have been 21 rather than 14 units, exactly the previous Guideline.”

2. The report assumes a linear relationship between alcohol assumption and risk. “This again serves to increase the apparent harm of low levels of consumption by forcing the statistically unjustified assumption that the number of acute deaths arising from a change in peak daily consumption from, say, 0 to 2 units would be the same as a change from, say, 20 to 22 units.”

3. And perhaps most importantly, the health officials did not consider the well established benefits of alcohol when weighing the risk factors. In other words, instead of weighing the risk of certain cancers against the benefits of alcohol consumption, they simply ignored the benefits

The Royal Statistical Society argues instead that a 1% increase in risk for certain cancers with the consumption of 14 glasses of wine per week for men and women, which is what the data shows, is “broadly acceptable”. However, the risk does increase dramatically with higher consumption levels.

In short, the worthies at the UK Department of Health are anti-alcohol zealots who use their position to push their agenda. In fairness, the UK Department of Health is a public agency charged with protecting public health. And excess alcohol consumption is a huge public health risk. They have a difficult job trying to tame the beast. But public health is not advanced by giving misleading information in an attempt to shock the public into compliance with their puritanical views.

There is surely a lot we don’t know about the relationship between alcohol and health. It may turn out that the positive relationship between wine and health is illusory. But nothing in this report by the UK Department of Health demonstrates that.

And just as an addendum, I should add that this whole controversy brings to light a constant failing on the part of the press who report medical findings. When you read that something increases risk of mortality by, for instance, 20%, it does not mean that 1 in 5 people will die from it. The increased risk is from a base line. If your risk of dying from a malady is for instance 2%, an increase of 20% means your risk increases to 2.4%. This is seldom included in reports and is part of the ignorance of statistics against which the Royal Statistical Society does battle.

Budget Wine: Belmondo Pinot Noir Delle Venezie 2014



belmondo pinot noirPinot Noir from Italy is always an uncertain proposition, especially when found on the supermarket shelf. It’s probably bulk wine but the quest for cheap Pinot must follow every lead.

This one shows black cherry, dark berry and some earth but also prominent eau de band aid—plastic chemical notes that mar the nose and lower my expectations. The band aid aromas probably come from Brettanomyces , a yeast that infects wineries producing a variety of aromas some more appealing than others. Band aid is not among the favored.

The palate opens with mouth-coating velvet but that is short lived becoming harshly acidic as the experience progresses and that chemical flavor emerges. Although the fruit seems at first big enough to balance the acidity the two never come together giving the wine a hard texture ; the finish manages to be simultaneously watery yet biting.

Not recommended.

Score: 81

Price: $8

Alc: 12.5%

Front Line Assembly’s Plasticity might create enough sympathy for industrial sludge to get you in the mood for this:


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