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:

Science and Wine Vocabulary: An Uneasy Pairing



chemical analysisI have a love/hate relationship with wine science. While advances in our scientific understanding of viticulture and winemaking have produced enormous gains in the overall quality of wine over the past several decades, wine scientists and academics are sometimes hell bent on destroying what is beautiful about wine.

Case in point, Maynard Amerine, UC Davis’s first enology professor and an enormously influential teacher and writer who died in 1998. Historian Steve Shapin wrote an article about Amerine’s influence in a 2012 article in the journal Social Studies in Science which scientist Erika Szymanski has helpfully summarized for those who lack access to academic journals.

In order to improve wine quality, Amerine was dedicated to turning “uselessly soft subjective experience into reliably hard objective knowledge”. In other words, forget describing wines as elegant or full of finesse and talk about only what can be detected via scientific assessments of wine. According to Amerine, fruit flavors were permissible but “petrol” and “flinty” were not. His reasoning? He smelled fruit flavors but not petrol or flint. In other words, being objective meant relying on Amerine’s subjective reactions. I guess he never drank the Mosel or Chablis.

Frankly this is just bullshit—a powerful person utterly lacking in self awareness with the position to impose his nonsense on others, although Shapin and Szymanski treat him with more respect than I am in this post.

Today, of course, we have gas chromatography and other sophisticated methods for detecting chemical compounds in wine, but you won’t discover elegance or finesse using a gas chromotagraph. Many wine experts today with a scientific bent will argue we should restrict our wine vocabulary to what these chemical analyses reveal. But why?

Elegance, finesse, balance, the unique aromas that can best be described via metaphor, and our emotional reactions to wine are what wine lovers adore about wine. To refrain from using such terms is to refrain from communicating what wine is all about. Are these descriptions sometimes misleading and overly flamboyant? Of course. It happens to people writing about art and music as well. Describing sensory experience is hard.

But demanding we restrict descriptions to what is scientifically detectable sucks much of the enjoyment out of wine while doing nothing to enhance the consumer’s experience.

This reminds me of philosophers who argue we should replace our emotion vocabulary with reference to brain states—“I love you” is replaced by “C-fiber 145 is firing”. If this strikes you as useless and silly why is wine vocabulary different?

Scientists should stick to science and leave the writing to writers.

Can You Pair Cheese and Sake?


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sake and cheeseWhen in doubt about what wine to pair with a meal, often the adage “What grows together goes together” supplies an acceptable approach. Serve a wine indigenous to the region your dish hails from and you will at least have a pairing that has long been a convention. It is better to be accused of being conventional than wrong I suppose.

But rules are made to be broken according to another adage. Sometimes the best pairing has nothing to do with what grows together.

Although contemporary Japanese eat cheese as snacks or on pizza, it isn’t incorporated into traditional Japanese cuisine. Yet sake and cheese can make an excellent pairing at least in theory. The fermentation process that Sake undergoes creates lactic acid which of course is also a main component of cheese. The lactic acid contributes to the aromas and flavors in cheese as well as the creamy texture and yogurt-like aromas in Sake. And both aged cheeses and Sake are high in umami. According to flavor pairing theory, foods that share flavor molecules will  harmonize well. So this should work.

I had a chance to test the theory at the Society of Wine Educators Conference with Master of Sake Toshio Ueno. Of course not any Sake will go with any cheese. Here are the pairings we tested:


Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai with Pecorino Romano

The nutty, salty flavors of the cheese and the dry mouth feel  complemented the soft, full bodied Sake that emphasized fruity notes mostly by staying out of the way of each other and creating balance in the mouth. A good but not extraordinary pairing.

Kikusui Junmai Ginjo with aged Gruyere

This is a gentle Sake, very light weight and fruity. The Gruyere’s developing earthiness was subtle and needed a sake that was not too assertive but with enough fruity quality to match the sweetness of the cheese. This was a perfect pairing perhaps the best in this lineup.

Born Gold Junmai Diaginjo with Blue cheese

The sake showed complex green apple and peach on the nose, quite pronounced and juicy. Creamy and full on the palate and loaded with umami with with plenty of acid to balance the weight. It all melded perfectly with the blue  cheese. The flavors in the sake were assertive enough to stand up to the cheese yet on the palate it was all melding and integrated. Another great match.

Tengumai Yamahai Junmai with Havarti

A funky nose, lots of mushroom and earth with a buttery mouthfeel and quite a bit of sweetness on the palate. The havarti was young and the buttery mouthfeel matched that of the sake but I thought the earthy notes in the sake were fighting the cheese and burying its flavors. This sake is best with meat or fermented fish. It needs strongly flavored food.

MIO Sparkling Shirakabegura with Manchego aged about 3 months

Yes, they make a sparkling sake which tastes like Moscato, light, fruity, and refreshing. It was fine with the nutty, slightly tangy flavors of the cheese but there wasn’t much synergy. OK but not remarkable.

Sho Chiku Bai Creme de Nigori with Brie

Assertive sweetness with coconut notes and a slight smoky quality for this Sake. It was fine with the Brie because Brie is so mild it won’t fight other flavors. The problem with Brie is that it coats the mouth making it harder to taste the flavors in the beverage you pair it with. I thought it perhaps dulled the flavor of the sake a bit but otherwise the pairing work.

Mr. Ueno advised against pairing sake with goat cheese or Camembert I have no first hand experience with those pairings.

So in conclusion, in general sake and cheese pair nicely when done thoughtfully. For beverage and food pairing enthusiasts there is much here to explore;  it’s worth adding to your list of more and more things to learn.

Michael Shaps Wineworks Petit Manseng Monticello 2015



michael shepsPetite Manseng is a relatively little known white wine grape hailing from Southwest France. But it is now becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., especially in Virginia where the loose clusters and thick skins make the grape ideal for a humid environment in which rot and mildew are constant threats.

In France, it is usually allowed to raisin on the vine to concentrate the sugars and is blended into a late harvest sweet wine. Most of the bottlings I’ve come across in Virginia have been semi-sweet because the grape’s high sugar levels convert into excessive alcohol when vinified dry. But it also features high acidity that leaves a crisp impression despite the residual sugar; in Michael Shaps hands this is an off-dry wine that finishes dry and refreshing.

Intense, hedonistic aromatics showing red apple, pineapple, and citrus highlights promise a fleshy, colorful experience and in the mouth it delivers.  The weighty, unctuous opening of prominent tropical flavors acquire an underpinning of racy acidity as it evolves on the palate. This front-to-back textural contrast of velvet to piquant grabs your attention and leads to a long and vigorous finish with lemon tart impressions that persist for several minutes.

Left on the lees for about one week and aged for 6 months in neutral French oak.

This wine is so big yet crisp it will stand up to almost any food. The residual sugar means it will not fade or become tart when paired with sauces with some sweetness.

Virginians have designated Viognier their state grape—I think it should have been Petite Manseng.

Very impressive.

Score: 90

Price: $30

Alc: 14.3%

Hedonistic and colorful with a thick, brassy bass line like Bowie’s Fashion:


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