Wine Tasting After Covid-19


tablas creekJason Haas, partner and General Manager at Tablas Creek always has something thoughtful to say about wine and the wine industry. Yesterday he posted his thoughts on which of the changes wineries have made to cope with Covid 19 will endure.

As you might expect, the enduring changes are those that eliminate the need for travel.

–Thanks to sample packaging and zoom meetings, wine producers won’t have to go traipsing around the country to participate in trade tastings.

–Customers needn’t wait for their vacation to wine country to interact with their favorite winemaker when the winery can schedule online live events via Facebook and Instagram.

–Customers are now in the habit of purchasing wine online and the convenience of e-commerce makes it unlikely they will unlearn those habits.

–Winery visits by appointment only are more efficient and enhances sales.

–It’s all upside and no downside to continuing to allow restaurants to sell wine to go. [He’s confident politicians will agree. I don’t know about that]

What’s odd is that all of these policies were available before the pandemic. It’s hard to kill old habits until forced into it.

What will not survive, according to Jason, are virtual tastings (boring) and cheap wine shipping (too costly for producers)

And there is no substitute for wine festivals once we’re comfortable with crowds. (Will that be sometime this century?)

This all sounds about right. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of dreaming now and then.

Wine Review: Domaine La Grange Tiphaine “Ad Libitum” Touraine 2018



ad libitumShould we call it the new dispensation? Perhaps that’s too grand, but there is a rising appreciation for wines with a kind of complexity not derived from oak. I’m sure the pendulum will swing back but I’m enjoying the liveliness, crystalline flare, and steely nerve of some of the unoaked wines I’ve been tasting. It is no longer true that a serious red wine must be oaked and of course there is the additional benefit that wines that can be sold more cheaply if wineries can forgo the expense of new oak.

This blend of Gamay, Cot (aka Malbec) and Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley is a compelling example.

Densely packed aromas of bright, focused, fresh red berry, lovely earth poised between mushroom and forest floor, gentle baking spice, and floral notes give the wine an occult spirit, its lush life beset by sharpened secrets.

Cranberry melds with rosemary on this mouthwatering, active palate. Medium bodied with a midpalate crescendo featuring mineral top notes and plenty of acid cut, the wine rides a swift current from fruit to stone to spice anchored by a firm but lissome texture. There is no grip or dryness from the tannins but you feel their presence. The finish is lengthy enough but lacks a bit of fruit power, driven instead by peppery tannins and stony top notes.

A wine of deceptive depth, more ecstatic than cheerful, earthy, its pace rousing and provocative yet lyrical and composed. A beauty bobbing on a wave of expectation like Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting

Technical notes: A long maceration for the Cot and Cab France, 15-20 days, aged for 5 months in cement. Organic grapes.

Score: 93

Price: $22

Alc: 13.5%

Cultural Appropriation and Moral Worth



padma 2Sophie Gilbert’s review of Padma Lakshmi’s new exploration of American cuisine, called Taste the Nation, identifies the central issue of any discussion of the ethics of food.

Lakshmi’s flirtatious manner, her unquenchable glamour, allow her to Trojan-horse Taste the Nation’s true intentions for viewers who might be expecting a vaguely patriotic travelogue through America’s most iconic meals. What she’s offering instead is one of the most fascinating food series to emerge in recent years: a ruthless indictment of how a nation’s cultural heritage has been constructed out of the people and traditions that it has consistently and brutally rejected….. But what becomes clear through the series’s 10 episodes is how distinctly American cuisine encapsulates a paradox, in which dishes made by immigrants are quickly appropriated as national staples while the people who make them are rejected over generations.

We incorporate so called “ethnic foods” into the mainstream of American cuisine, and then betray and traumatize the people who created the food. Without the food of enslaved and colonized people, American cuisine would be a bland and colorless land of pot roast and mashed peas.

I’ve always been skeptical of the view that there is something inherently wrong with appropriating the artifacts of other cultures. Cultures are not hermetically sealed, homogeneous units with fixed borders and clear boundaries. Because of the movement of populations, cultures have always mixed and exchanged cultural products, and today’s world of hyper-connected communication makes it impossible to preserve a pure cultural essence unsullied by the influence or appropriation of “outsiders”.

Culture doesn’t “belong” to anyone—it isn’t something you can own.

But if you are going to use the cultural products of others you owe them something in return—respect. You have an obligation to learn how they used that product, what it means to them, and most importantly to accept and honor their worth as human beings. That isn’t too much to ask, but Americans have always failed in this task and it is why our democracy is failing.

How We Taste Wine Today


wine taster 4The tasting model currently in use for much of the wine community rests on two pillars.

(1) Descriptive terms drawn from the realms of plants, animals, and minerals. These terms are validated via a scientific discourse in which these plant, animal, and mineral aromas are caused by specific chemical compounds in the wine. And,

(2) Judgments of quality based on a numerical code. Value is understood to be a measurable quantity.

These two tendencies are part of a larger civilizational discourse in which science gives us access to the nature of reality and so wine tasting can aspire to a kind of objectivity. These tendencies are also a product of a globalized and democratized wine market. Consumers need not have knowledge of specific vineyard sites in France or be embedded in local knowledge networks in order to understand wine quality. Each person can develop expertise by learning the universal vocabulary of wine tasting or by simply relying on a readily accessible numerical  score for judgments of quality.

This  tasting model has limitations but it nevertheless has established within the general public an aesthetic discourse about wine,a discourse that did not really exist prior to the past few decades. (For a fascinating account of the cultural history of wine descriptions see Steve Shapin’s article in this anthology)

The tasting note, which is widely used to communicate about wine, is a promise of a distinct form of aesthetic pleasure.

The question is whether this tasting model captures the full range of aesthetic responses to wine. Is there more to wine than is captured by the aromatics of edible substances and a ranking?

Needless to say, I think there is an expressive dimension of wine that is largely ignored by this tasting model.

Food Rules and Authenticity



mostlyreal_thumbCooking is an art mired in tradition. Each nation has its food rules encrusted with the patina of age, and each region within each nation has its way of doing things that seem natural and “right”. Violations of “food rules” are met with moral indignation and contempt.

In Italy, the food rules say grated cheese is never added to seafood, oil and vinegar is the only proper salad dressing,  and coffee is never consumed during a meal. In France, salad is always eaten after the main dish, never before, ketchup is not a condiment for pommes frites.  Even in the “anything goes” United States, beans are part of a chili recipe only in certain regions of the country; and do not eat Carolina barbeque in Texas. [The rules are of course routinely violated—the food police carry no weapons.]

But of what value is authenticity when defined in terms of these rigid norms? Does it matter if these rules are followed or broken?

“Food rules” ignore the fact that all food traditions have been influenced by outsiders. All food traditions are a hybrid hash of influences thrown together by the movement of populations and the imperatives of trade. For instance, neither tomatoes nor polenta are native to Italy. Tomatoes and corn were brought to Europe from the Americas.

Whatever “authenticity” means it cannot mean pure or unadulterated.

Authenticity is not about origins but about the commitments people make and what those commitments reveal about their sensibility. There is a reason why tomato sauces marry nicely with pasta and why a tomato served with olive oil and basil is heavenly. Tomatoes may not be originally Italian, but Italians have done wonderful things with tomatoes. They committed themselves to tomatoes, discovered how they resonate with their local ingredients, and now there is a certain way with tomatoes that is uniquely Italian.

So should we just throw out the food rules?

I think not. It’s good that food rules exist because they set the table for innovation—they define the standards that innovation must meet. Food rules say: “If you want to violate this tradition it better be good.” Without tradition, innovation is just novelty.

However, anyone who is just a slave to tradition and rigidly conforms without entertaining new ideas is violating the very identity of living traditions—their ability to be affected. What makes traditions great—and this is certainly true of Italian food traditions—is their capacity to seamlessly absorb new influences.

Tradition and authenticity are not opposed to innovation–they depend on it. No tradition can remain alive if it does not innovate by accepting and transforming influences from abroad.

So if you’re dying to try miso polenta or achar-spiced pancakes. Go for it. You may be creating the food rules of the future.


Wine Review: Chateau de Meursault Clos du Chateau Bourgogne Blanc 2017



chateau de meursaultThe Burgundian region of Meursault is responsible for the original buttery Chardonnay, although its crystalline clarity and bright acidity limit comparisons to Rombauer. Chateau de Meursault owns premier crus vineyards, but the grapes for this wine come from an unrated plot on the premises of the Chateau. It has the form of a Meursault if not the substance. Even at 1/2 to 1/3rd the price of their premier crus bottlings, I wouldn’t call this a bargain but we are talking Burgundy here. If you want bargains, look elsewhere.

Aromas of pineapple and a hint of orange blossom sing back-up to the generous buttered toast that I found a bit too prominent. In the mouth it’s full-bodied, round, and soft up front showing a bit of baked apple but it becomes transparent and watery at midpalate where the fruit persistence fails, leaving butter and wood to meld uncomfortably with the late blooming acidity. The finish seems tart without being refreshing.

It’s a bit clunky in its transitions and lacks rhythm but the flavor and weight up front are satisfying and it’s a simulacrum of a classic style. Even the cliff notes for Hamlet are worth reading—amirite?

Fat and happy, extroverted to the point of giddy but a bit too lazy, a stumbling attempt at grace. It reminded me of that classic pop song from the late 70’s, Baker St., which opens with a gorgeous, thrilling sax solo only to settle into measures of mediocre melody and limp rhythm.

Technical Notes: Aged on lees in 35% new oak barrels and stainless steel for 1-2 years.

Score: 88

Price: $55  (Purchase here)

Alc: 13.5%

A Fundamental Mistake about Subjectivity in Wine tasting


wine flavor wheelI keep seeing this inference in discussions about subjectivity in wine tasting by people who should know better.  Gordon Shepherd makes it in his book Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, and Jamie Goode makes it in his  otherwise fine book I Taste Red. Both insist that the flavor of wine is not in the wine but in the brain.

The mistake is this. From the fact that the brain integrates a variety of multisensory signals in order to create flavor perceptions, it does not follow that the brain creates the flavors that we perceive. Flavor is one thing. Flavor perception something else just as a color is one thing and our perception of that color something else. We can sometimes make mistakes when perceiving color and we can sometimes make mistakes when tasting wine. The act of perceiving is distinct from the thing perceived.

No doubt flavor perception requires input from our sensory system and the brain. But it requires something else as well—the flavors perceived. The mistake is to think that if perceptions occur in the brain that the thing perceived must also be in the brain. No doubt we can know only what we perceive but to think the thing perceived must then exist in the mind is to conflate what I can know with what exists.

The brain by itself does not create the taste of wine. And we don’t live in separate taste worlds as Jamie Goode sometimes suggests. We may disagree about what what we taste in a particular wine but we’re tasting the same wine.

Perception is an interaction between the brain and our environment—you need both to create a perception and the object is not an empty cipher. It has real causal properties without which perception cannot occur.

Emotional Wines



wine and emotionWe call wines elegant, simple,sexy, sophisticated, brooding, lively, rustic, authentic, and subtle. These terms are already a routine part of the wine lexicon. So why not describe wines as joyful, angry, melancholic, cheerful, nervous or rowdy? Our ability to describe the individuality of wines would be greatly enhanced by a vocabulary that included the full range of human emotions and personality traits.

Instead of a winemaker making a wine intended to be lively or sexy, why not make a wine that is cheerful or angry?

What matters is whether describing wines in this way would make sense of our experience of them. Does it help us to understand the wine? For such a practice to be worthwhile, our descriptions would have to be more then imaginative flights of fancy. They would have to be anchored in features of the wine.

But it seems to me good wines have the complexity and perceived movement characteristics to anchor such ascriptions. And by doing so we would be able to dig deeper into the uniqueness of each wine and the capacity of a wine to affect us.

After all we interpret specific brush strokes on a canvas and specific notes and rhythms in a musical piece as evocative and expressive of human personality traits or emotions. Why would aromas, textures, and their transformations be less evocative than lines, shapes or sounds?

Wine Review: Sun Red Kontozisis Vineyards Karditsa 2015



sunIf you prefer a horseback ride through rugged terrain to the freeway, this wine is for you. From Karditsa in Central Greece, this blend of 50% Limniona and 50% Xinomavro is as rustic as a sheepfold.

The nose is simple—floral-accented cherry notes, forest floor hiding a hint of cider. The textured mouthfeel is anything but simple. From powdery, to dusty, to grainy, like a calloused hand stroking  steel wool.

The stony launch acquires a seam of satisfying midpalate juiciness, but that is ultimately squelched like a tired promise as the spare but firm tannins ripple tensely on the granular, herbal finish.

This wine is all about texture with a unique evolution in the underbelly. Very distinctive. Cold, acerbic, gritty, it comes alive with some very hard country like the Drive By Truckers “Where the Devil Don’t Stay”.

Technical Notes: Organic grapes, 30 days of skin contact, native yeasts, and aged for 9 months in old and new oak.

Score: 90

Price: $27 (find the wine here)

Alc: 13%