Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wine Study- "Apertife"

Endangered by Cabernet Sauvignon? The Rocky Terraces Cailouteuses in Roussillon France
“I have seen the future of wine and it’s name is Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.” –Jancis Robinson

Today we start a series of sessions with the Francesca's at Sunset and Brannon's Cafe teams we are calling "Wine Study."  We will be meeting every other Saturday for the purpose of expanding our knowledge and experience with wine.  Our first guide will be Jancis Robinson's Wine Course DVD, an excellent resource!  Aired in the United Kingdom in 1995 and is fascinating to see both area where the wine industry has not changed and areas where it has.

Episode 1- Aperitif has a powerful hold on me because of the narrative arch Jancis takes us on; after filling in her background she tells you quite convincingly that the ONLY opinion about wine that matters in your own. As she builds the story of the wine industry showing us the competition results and supermarket buyers at work juxtaposition to vines being pulled up and wineries passed over by the buyers, and the changing habits of the wine drinking population.  At the end she boldly proclaims “I have seen the future of wine and it’s name is Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.” Probably not quite prophetic in 1995, it is amazing at how DOMINATE these two grapes have become.  From the vantage point; here in the future, I can see just how right she is today.  To drive the point home we can look up the places featured; the most dramatic being Domaine de Mayrac, which the supermarket buyer passed over, was sold by the Buoro family in five years of the filming.  Carignan, the grape vines being bulldozed in the video, in the Languedoc and Roussillon regions the planting area has decreased by seventy-one percent ((as of 2009, most likely even more today) or is it less...meaning more bulldozing and less Carignan grapes.) This is where it impacts me; yes it is our opinion that matters and the wine choices we make today have deeply profound effects in the lives and communities around the world. As consumers, sellers, educators and lovers of wine we have to make the right choices, informed choices and wise choices. 

It is a very compelling episode which is informative and instructional. Our group watched it and I provided this handout which has a few notes from the video and some information and links to more on the web related to the topics Jancis covers, hopefully it adds a bit of depth on the subjects.

To check your learning experience and highlight the most important information here is the quiz.  And the quiz with answers. And please reply to this blog; do you believe the future of wine is Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

sugar + yeast = alcohol, Co2 and heat

"wine is proof that God loves us." -Benjamin Franklin

The formula for wine: sugar + yeast = alcohol, Co2 and heat.  It could not be any simpler.  Out of this tiny equation springs forth a deep ocean of flavors and experiences.  This natural process can and will occur with out mankind’s involvement; prompting the illuminated comment by Benjamin Franklin.

Yeast is all around us in the environment including the skins of grapes, as soon as the yeast comes into contact with the sugar inside the grapes it converts the natural sugars of the juice into alcohol, carbon dioxide and heat. A vat of fermenting grapes is ALIVE!  It looks and feels alive to the touch.  It is a very exciting to experience, to witness! Do yourself a favor and seek out the opportunity.  After the carbon dioxide bubbles and the yeast have done their work what remains is WINE! (Or the winemaker traps the carbon dioxide in the wine for sparkling or method Champenoise.  More on that later.)

(Note: While Fermentation will often occur naturally, many winemakers control the fermentation with cultured yeast.)

The wonderful marvel of this natural phenomenon is that we understand so much about it yet can not duplicate it artificially.  As noted in the sub-section titled “WATER INTO WINE” in The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia by Tom Stephenson “The individual flavoring elements in any wine represent barely two percent of its content. Although we can determine with great accuracy the amount and identity of 99 percent of these constituents, the mystery is that if we assembled them and added the requisite volume of water and alcohol, the result would taste nothing like wine, let alone like the specific wine we would be trying to imitate.”  Did you catch that?  Wine can NOT be made in a test tube!

Understanding this genesis of wine is key to loving wine and appreciating this beverage.  It is magical and mystical the way so many varied flavor and taste experiences come from what are very basic ingredients; sugar + yeast = alcohol, Co2 and heat!

To learn more on the technical aspects of fermentation take a look at this great web site:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

why wine?

“In water one sees one's own face;
But in wine one beholds the heart of another.
~ French proverb

Why not beer or liquor? Or for that matter, why drink at all?  Sure you can drink wine to relax, unwind and PARTY!  I maintain that there is something special about wine that nourishes you from your frivolous funny modern moments, down to the very core of your primordial being.
To prove my point, I will not argue wine’s health benefits made popular in our culture by the 60 Minutes TV show’s 1991 French Paradox episode where Dr. Serge Renaud proved the benefits of RED wine, even with a high fat diet.  And continues to be reinforced by countless studies from around the world.  All saying “moderate drinkers of red wine” cut their risk for serious diseases dramatically.

To prove my point, I will not argue wine’s rich history.  Its place in the courts of kings and queens, from dining room tables to smoke-filled rooms.  I will not bore you with how the axis and allies planned the battlefield AROUND the French vineyards. While each side would launch sublime attacks against large populations of humanity, neither side would play a part in the destruction of the vines in Champagne, Bordeaux or Burgundy.

To prove my point, I will not argue wine’s integral role in humankind’s religious and spiritual life.  I will not go back to Ancient Egypt where their god Osiris was known for being resurrected and giving wine to mankind.  Or, Ancient Jerusalem, where a young man, about to meet his own death and resurrection, held up a goblet of wine and said, “This is my blood, take and drink.”

To prove my point, I will not give you a Latin lesson about how root for “vitis” or vine is “vit.”  Which is where we get the word viticulture.  Vit is also the root for the Latin word for life, “vita,” from which we get “vital” and “vitality.”

To prove my point, and answer the question, “Why wine?”  I will present you with a glass of wine to see, to smell, and to taste.  I will remind you that just as a beautiful work of art has moved you, a fantastic piece of music has swept you away, a movie has let you escape your troubles, or a great book has changed your life by changing your mind, the aesthetic experience of wine WILL affect you just as profoundly. Not by seeing it on the wall or hearing it in the air, you experience wine by letting it enter your body; it becomes a part of you.  Wine is an aesthetic experience but on an extremely personal level unparalleled in our world.  You owe it to yourself to become competent and knowledgeable in the joy of wine.  I will endeavor to assist you in this, and you can assist me; through this blog called "lessons in wine."