Budget Wine: Barton and Gustier Bordeaux Rouge 2014



barton and guestierBarton and Gustier is a very large negocient firm and wine merchant that has been around since 1725. They buy grapes or raw wine from various regions in France, vinify, blend, age and bottle them and ship the final product to their worldwide markets.

This is their entry level Bordeaux and is really quite ordinary.

The nose shows muddy, dark fruit, a bit stewed, chocolate and loam give it some depth but the readily apparent green pepper is unpleasant. The palate, despite more murky fruit and earth, is bland, with a hollow midpalate before the tannins  kick in. Neither rich, not sweet, nor taut it’s a middle-of-the-road wine, drinkable but unremarkable. It finishes short with sandy tannins and some sourness.

It doesn’t scream Bordeaux but it’s lacks the concentration of new world wines.

85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.

What’s dark, murky, a little bland? The Black Key’s Fever.

Score: 83

Price: $10

Alc. 13.5%

Basic Wine Tasting Competence



wine tastingWine tasting is difficult, especially for beginners, because the basic components of wine are a jumble that seemingly have no structure. To appreciate wine you have to unravel the flavors and textures, and you do that by discovering a basic structure that allows you to organize them. That structure is a three-dimensional field plus force, although recognizing these dimensions requires some metaphorical extension.

The most important dimension is time. The wine has initial aromas, an introduction or initial attack on the palate, a mid palate that follows the attack and then a finish, each temporal aspect shading off into the other. Flavors and textures evolve over this temporal dimension and their relative duration is important to note. The complexity of this evolution is what gives a wine finesse.

The spatial dimension is in part about where in the mouth the flavors and textures are focused. Fruit and sugar are sensed mostly on the tongue, tannins give a drying sensation on the roof and sides of the mouth and gums, and in the throat, acidity is a prickly sensation felt throughout the mouth, alcohol a burning sensation in the back of the throat. But there is a more metaphorical aspect to the spatial dimension as well. Some flavors seem to be top notes and others bottom notes. They are not literally above or below but they suggest this continuum perhaps on an implicit analogy with music, with some flavors and textures being broad and foundational like bass notes while others more fleeting and esoteric like highlights and upper register flourishes. Also wines can seem round or angular. These are also metaphors. The wine is not literally round but gives an impression of roundness or angularity in the way it feels on the palate largely because of the viscosity or lack of it.

The third dimension is depth. Some wines have flavors that appear in layers and some wines have a rich assortment of vaguely discernable flavors that seem highly integrated—not distinct or separate–giving the wine an impression of great depth.

Finally, a wine has weight which strictly speaking is not a dimension but a gravitational force. This has to do with the amount of sugar or phenolic compounds in the wine that make it seem heavy or light.

As the tasting experience proceeds you direct your attention to each of these dimensions giving your mind a pattern to latch on to that helps you grasp what a wine is about. Knowing what to look for and having the experience and perceptiveness to sense the content of these dimensions constitutes basic wine tasting competence.  Although picking out various aromas is important up to a point, wine quality is much more about how the wine expresses this structure.

But there is more to wine evaluation that this. There are aesthetic properties to attend to. More about that perhaps next week.

Disgusting or Just Unpleasant?



disgustFood culture writer Sara Davis asks an intriguing series of questions (i.e. intriguing if you like thinking about the pleasures of food)

Is there such a thing as a middle zone for taste? Is it possible to taste something that is not enjoyable without feeling something like disgust? When food is lacking in flavor or has a homogenous texture, the words we use to describe those sensations–bland, mealy, tepid, etc.–have negative associations; do those negative sensations define a disgusting experience, or is there some middle space between pleasant and unpleasant tastes?

My intuitive, initial response was of course. I don’t enjoy pasta with no sauce, butter, oil, or seasoning. It’s the very definition of bland. But I wouldn’t say it’s disgusting, and in fact I’m always sampling plain pasta when I cook to see if it’s done without experiencing disgust.

After thinking about it, I think the question involves a conceptual confusion. Disgust is not just a negative taste sensation, a bit of unpleasantness. Disgust is an emotion that consists, in part, of involuntary recoil and at least the beginning stages of nausea. Certainly a taste experience can be unpleasant without inducing the more powerful emotion of disgust. I know we sometimes say of food we don’t enjoy that it’s disgusting but that’s often a bit of hyperbole.

At any rate Sara’s inquisitive nature is commendable, surely beyond the call of duty:

Prison Food Weekend at Eastern State Penitentiary last summer offered an opportunity to explore these questions in an entirely unscientific and anecdotal way: I tasted a few samples of punishment loaf and observed others going through the same process.

Nutraloaf or punishment loaf is a food product used in some U.S. prisons as severe punishment, particularly for inmates who are in solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure. Punishment loaf is not standard cafeteria fare, it’s the modern-day replacement for bread-and-water rations in which most of the major food groups (proteins, starches, veggies) are blended together to meet daily nutritional requirements. The loaf is often served without utensils or a tray, so it must be eaten with the hands or out of a bag.

She describes the experience with the attention to detail of a NY Times food critic. So if you’re curious about what a loaf of nutrients stripped of flavor and context tastes like check out her post.

To be honest I find the fact someone finds it acceptable to deprive prisoners of the simple pleasure of a meal disgusting, and that’s not hyperbole.

But I do agree with her ultimate conclusion.

I don’t have an answer to my question–or if I do, it’s that tolerable blandness can become intolerable with only minor shifts in circumstances.

Foods that we find merely unpleasant can become disgusting. While I don’t find a few forkfuls of plain pasta disgusting, a plateful might be a different matter.

Wine Review: Boundary Breaks Dry Riesling #239 2014



Boundary Breaks Wine Bottle Studio REIS_D20150710JR1Finger Lakes Riesling runs the gamut from very dry to very sweet, from steely minerality to tropical fruit. This one is on the dry, mineral side of the spectrum and is the most intense wine I tasted in my recent extended visit to this region.

It jumps out of the glass with lime, flint, and apple woven with ginger highlights. Intriguing, subtle earth notes show up as the wine warms in the glass. In the mouth, the introduction is surprisingly round, ripe and juicy with a hint of sweetness (.9% rs) although it doesn’t weigh on the palate but exudes kinetic energy. Taut and explosive, it is too intense to be called light but  sweeps across the palate with bristling acidity in waves of lime and mineral notes, giving way to a long, crisp finish. A staunch backbone yet with some finesse in its nervy, tumultuous gestures, it is exceedingly well balanced never turning sour or biting.

#239 refers to the Gleisenheim 239 clone used to make this estate-grown wine. Boundary Breaks tends the vineyards and then hands the wine off to top local winemakers to be vinified.

Serve with something spicy but not too sweet. I successfully paired it with a green posole stew with Cod; its lime and mineral notes played nicely with cilantro and tomatillos.

Explosive and intense, not heavy, but with hard-bitten finesse like Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know

Score: 92

Alc: 12.8

Price: $20