Monday, March 31, 2008

Screw Ups or Redox Redux?

Paul White, D.Phil, writes in the March/April issue of Santé Magazine about the continuing screw cap versus cork debate and offers results from the latest research and some great insights.

For one thing, Mr. White claims, "That far too many wine writers and wineries jumped on the screw-cap bandwagon prematurely and turned a blind eye to its shortcomings." The reason? According to White, "With reputations and potential recall liability at stake, it's doubtful they'll be drawing attention to the screw-cap inadequacies soon."

At a Cal Poly seminar we attended, Kathy and I did learn from Alan Kinne (winemaker for York Mountain and Martin-Weyrich Winery) about how wines have to made differently when screw caps are to be used. Why? It's something called "postbottling sulfide reduction." What it means to us, the wine sipping pubic is, to quote Dr. White, "At obvious fault levels it dominates wine aromas with progressively stinkier, sulfur like notes (struck flint, cabbage, rotten egg, garlic, hydrogen sulfide...)." Pairs well with deviled eggs I bet!

He goes on to explain that predicting this negative sulfide reduction beforehand is tantamount to a lottery because vintaged wine has an unmeasurable tendency for reduction known as its redox potential.

Paul White's advice to sommeliers, retailers and consumers? Be as cautious as a cat when approaching a screw capped wine that won't be consumed within six months to a year after bottling. Also, some varietals are more prone to reduction (e.g., Dolcetto, Pinotage, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc).

One indication of the seriousness of this matter is the furious race by manufacturers to develop new oxygen-permeable liners. Turns out, wine needs to breathe even while it's in the bottle. Corks allow this, tightly sealed tin caps don't. And the wines get revenge on being smothered by turning into a real stinker.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

sake2me and make it sparkle!

I originally passed by the press release on this item, thinking it was the sake version of wine coolers. Then when David Hopkins, winemaker for Briddlewood Winery, was on the radio show he said it was really good stuff. And I liked their ad (below), too.

Made from imported junmai sake, the best and most pure type of Japanese sake, saké2me is authentic and natural with no sulfites or gluten, a refreshing alternative to cocktails, beer or wine.

Each saké2me flavor is distinctive and delicious: Yuzu Citrus has a lemony citrus taste with a hint of orange peel; Ginger-Mango presents a sensual fruit taste with a refreshingly clean finish; Asian Pear is crisp and ripe with a subtle spicy aroma; and Green Tea’s intriguing flavor offers notes of wildflower honey and lemongrass.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Wine Whisperer Knows the Way to Monterey?

This week WW drifted a little north of his usual haunts in San Luis Obispo and Northern Santa Barbara Counties to bring you a hot tip on Pessagno 2004 Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia (LOO-C-YA) Highlands.

Click this link or the radio to hear him.

Some may not be aware of the significance of the vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands, but it has become of one of the most desirable sources for wine grapes of stunning quality.

This amazing Pinot Noir is a tribute to the outstanding Pinots winemakers are producing from this unique region in Monterey County. It opens with big jammy aromas and flavors of black cherries, briary berries and plums.

All nicely highlighted with spice, earth, leather and smoky notes. A great choice for beef, lamb, pork or quail, and yet so well balanced you will also find it irresistible when enjoyed all by itself.

This amazing Pessagno Pinot is usually 40 bucks but if you look around you can find for on sale for 30 dollars.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Quote of the Month - Agustin Huneeus

There was a brief interview with Agustin Huneeus, a leading vintner in California and Chle for than 40 years, in the March/April issue of Santé, The Magazine for Restaurant Professionals.

They asked Austin if restaurants were important venues for his wines, to which he sagely replied,

"Restaurants are to fine wine what temples are to religion. One can pray at home, but the experience is deepest in church."

You can read the full interview at

Friday, March 14, 2008

I've Got Dibs on the Nibs!

We interviewed the author of Great Bar Food at Home, Kate Heyhoe, and she described the recipe for these little munchers that go perfect with red wine. We got many requests to post the recipe, so here goes. Enjoy!

Cocoa Nib Wine Points with Pasilla Sauce

Cocoa nibs, essentiall raw chocolate from the cocoa bean, put a crunchy, pleasntly bitter spin into these addictive little nibbles. Especially good iwth red wine, dark beer or some of the specialty fruit ales.

1 cup all-purpos flour, preferably unbleached
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground pasilla chile
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup red wine
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon cocoa (cacao)nibs, plus extra for garnish
1 large egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon water

1. Stir the flour, sugar, chile, salt and baking powder together in a mixing bowl. Mix in the red wine and olive oil. Using your hands, mix the 1 tablespoon of cocoa nibs and form the dough into a ball. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

2. While the ough rests, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease a baking sheet )preferably nonstick, about 17 x 12 inches or similar size) with olive oil.

3. Rol the dough into disks, 3–4 inches in diameter and about 1/4 inch thick. Slice each disk into 6 wedge-shaped points. Scrape up excess dough and and reroll until al the dough is used. Place the points on the baking sheet at least 1/2 inch apart. You should get around 40 points, but if you end up with more or less, that's okay, too.

4. For each point, brush the top with the egg-white mixture, then garnish with 4 or 5 cocoa nibs and lightly tap them down with your fingertip. Bake 15 to 17 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. Let cool completely on the tray. Points may be stored airtight for 2 weeks, if thy last that long, or freeze up to 3 months.

Thanks to the publisher of Great Bar Food at Home, Wiley & Sons, for permission to add the recipe and thanks to author, Kate Heyhoe, for joining us on our show on Saturday, March 8th. Click here to listen to the show from our podcast page.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Stick Out Your Tongue and Say, "Umami."

Professor Linda Bartoshuk of Yale University first published her groundbreaking work, dividing the population into so-called supertasters, normal tasters and non-tasters, back in the 1990s. But it has taken the world of wine a while to catch up with the implications.
The tongue belongs to Toffee, click on photo to go to her Pawster page.

With colleagues she identified a substance called PROP (6-n-propylthiouracil, a thyroid medication) that can help identify which of us has an abnormally high or low number of taste buds (which are found on fungiform papillae) on our tongue. Roughly a quarter of the population seem genetically programmed to have a markedly high number of taste buds, about a half have an average number, and another quarter have relatively few.

Because PROP is a prescription drug and there are ethical issues concerned with exposing the public to such a test and achieving their "informed consent," Bartoshuk has devised a simple way of measuring the density of your own taste buds. Her suggested method is to swab the front of your tongue with food coloring and then press a plastic (paper gets messy, apparently) ring-binder reinforcer on to it. If you can count more than 25 colored spots on the ring, you are a supertaster, apparently.

I was unexpectedly given a proper PROP test at the Institute of Masters of Wine Sixth Symposium held in Napa Valley last summer. The opening session was moderated by Tim Hanni, MW, a Californian musician and sometime employee of Beringer who has always been interested in questions of taste. It was he who first introduced many of us to the concept of umami, the fifth, monosodium glutamate-like taste we are now supposed to add to sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness -- although I have to say that I very rarely find it in wine.

Hanni gave out little strips of paper that had apparently been impregnated with PROP. The 250-odd of us in the room were to put these on our tongues and record whether we tasted almost unbearable bitterness, mild bitterness or nothing at all. This supposedly indicates whether we are supertasters ("hypertaster" would be a more accurate and less emotive term), normal tasters or hypo (low) tasters. And duly, about a quarter fell into each of the extreme categories with about a half experiencing mild bitterness and therefore classified as normal tasters.

I would have been a bit upset to discover I was a non-taster, but I was also rather disappointed to find that my paper strip tasted horribly bitter, indicating that perhaps I was a hypertaster.

And apparently women are far more likely than men to be hypertasters: 35 percent of American Caucasian females tested by Bartoshuk as opposed to 15 percent of American Caucasian males qualified. There also seems to be a particularly high incidence of hypertasters among Asians.

In a brief report on the symposium that ran on my Web site I mentioned all this en passant, thinking that readers deserved to know if my palate was deformed and in what direction. One reader contacted one of the symposium speakers, Michael O'Mahony, professor of food science and technology at UC Davis, for more information and he replied, "The test that Tim gave does not really diagnose tasters versus hypertasters. It is a lot more complicated than that and the test was completely biased. You can tell Jancis that she is probably a normal taster."

This was good news, and I reported it on my site, but too late it seems. Fellow wine writers were already reacting.

Mark Squires' bulletin board on started a thread on whether biology determined tasting ability, initiated by someone who seemed to understand the issues and pointed out it was quite brave of me to admit to being anything other than normal. But that misleading prefix "super" does a lot of damage. Robert Parker himself jumped in early to declare that he couldn't abide spicy food in any form. (I like it, incidentally.) Then another American wine writer, my old friend Matt Kramer, who must have read this particular thread (though not my own account as he confidently reported that I had painted my tongue with blue coloring) dashed off a column for that well-known oenophiles' gazette, the New York Sun, making me the prime perpetrator of "an almost desperate attempt by some of today's wine tasting potentates to bolster their credibility by suggesting a physical superiority."

This was the last thing I was attempting. But on reflection I do think it is as well for those of us concerned with wine -- whether producing words about wine or wines themselves -- to realize that people taste things in very different ways. And it would probably be helpful for consumers if wine critics were to take the test and come clean about where they stand. Perhaps I am a hypertaster, and perhaps this explains much of what I don't like about particularly alcoholic wines. I would say I have a good tolerance of tannin and acidity, however -- I really enjoy young, tannic wines and, especially, acidity. So I'm not too sure where this leaves us. It could however explain my apparent distaste for the new genre of controversial wines from Chateau Pavie in St-Emilion, which are certainly chock-full of everything. I would describe them as uncomfortably exaggerated but they presumably taste just right to other palates.

Jamie Goode, in his extremely accessible book "Wine Science" (Mitchell Beazley, 2005), addresses some of these issues and asks Gary Pickering, a professor of oenology at Brock University in Canada, whether hypertasters are at an advantage when it comes to wine tasting. "I would speculate that supertasters probably enjoy wine less than the rest of us," the professor is reported as saying. "They experience astringency, acidity, bitterness, and heat (from alcohol) more intensely, and this combination may make wine -- or some wine styles -- relatively unappealing."

The full article, from which this post was excerpted, appeared on page G - 9 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Jancis Robinson is a London-based, internationally known wine journalist, book author and educator. Visit her Web site at and e-mail her at

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wine Whisperer Chills With Chilean Mystery Varietal

This week, loyal readers and listeners, I've discovered a Casa Silva 2006 Sauvignon Gris from the Colchagua Valley (COL CHOW WAH) in Chile.

Don't be alarmed if you've never heard of the Sauvignon Gris grape; it is a delicious mutation of Sauvignon Blanc, and this elegant version offers classic grapefruit, grass and lime flavors highlighted with soft nuances of green apple.

It’s a wonderful aperitif and a good choice for green goddess salad, capellini with pesto and all types of spicy cuisines from Mexican to Asian. A steal at only $17 at Monterey St. Wine Co.

If you go to our podcast page you can hear an interview with the winemaker, Arnaud Frennet, on our February 16th show.

Full Steam Ahead for Miele Meals

Doing a radio show about food and wine certainly gets you involved in some interesting stuff. Last week I found myself at the Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery in San Luis Obispo for a demonstration of Miele's new steam oven.

Mary, the home economist from Miele, put on an informative show for about 20 of us and, as they say, "The proof is in the pudding."

In this case the proof was salmon, chicken, broccoli, potatoes, poached egg, rice pilaf and tasty steamed fruit. Getting back to pudding, both Mary and a member of the audience, noted that the Miele Steam Oven makes amazing flan.

Cooking with steam has been a forte of Miele since they introduced the world's first built-in convection steam oven in 1999.
Miele's literature, and most nutritionists agree, that the steam oven is ideal for those who enjoy eating healthy and for those who simply value speed, convenience and great tasting results. Mary stated there is virtually no limit to what can be cooked in a steam oven .... uh except for bread and pizza and popcorn.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Wine Whisperer Cries, "Kiwi wi" All The Way Home

Today, loyal readers, we've found a (Knob- il- low) Nobilo 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. This winery was founded by a Croat immigrant, Nikola Nobilo, who settled in West Auckland which is situated on the North Island of New Zealand. He and his family started planting vines in 1943 and it all seems to have worked out nicely.

Their Sauv Blanc is so tasty and crisp, offers zesty aromas and flavors of pink grapefruit, fresh lime and minerals. It’s just the ticket for spicy cuisine like Mexican and Asian dishes.
I spotted it at Trader Joe’s. A steal at just $8.99, even compared to its kiwi peers found on the same shelves.

Gives "Wine Sail" New Meaning!

MONTPELLIER, France, Feb 20, 2008 (AFP) - The first cargo of wine shipped from France by sail since the late 1800's will arrive in Ireland from the southern Languedoc region next month, saving an estimated 140 grams (4.9 ounces) of carbon per bottle, compared to a regular shipment
"My idea at the beginning was to do something for the planet and something for the wines of Languedoc," said Frederic Albert, founder of the shipping company, Compagnie de Transport Maritime a la Voile, CTMV.
"One of my grandfathers was a winemaker and one was a sailor," said Albert who worked in a wine shop in Dublin for four years before moving back to the Languedoc to put his ideas in place.
Fifty Languedoc wine producers have now been chosen to supply wines, and Albert says he has a waiting list of about 200 others. "We chose the best wine in the area, but it must also be made in a sustainable way, using as many natural products as possible," he said.
The ship itself, the first of seven planned to be working by 2013, is the 52-metre (170-feet) three-masted barque Belem, the last French merchant sailing vessel to be built.
Launched in 1896, its job was to bring chocolate from Belem, in Brazil, to France.
The wines will be delivered to Bordeaux by barge using the Canal du Midi and Canal du Garonne that run across southern France from Sete in the east, via Beziers in the Languedoc, where the wines will be collected.
The first shipment planned for Dublin currently amounts to about 60,000 bottles, and each bottle carries a label with a stylised ship logo and the slogan, "Carried by sailing ship, a better deal for the planet".
Retail prices will range from seven to 20 euros, a "normal" price range for French wines, said Albert. "I realised working in Dublin in the wine shop that French wine was very badly represented, and that it is always sold more expensively than other wines so we are losing out on volume."
CTMV's second boat, which cost six million euros (8.4 million dollars) to build and is as yet unnamed, will also be launched in March this year. It will measure 52 metres and have 1,000 square metres of sails and a top speed of 14 knots.
Estimated delivery time to Ireland is four days, says Albert. "We had someone who studied a century of weather conditions to work that out."
With a total of seven ships the investment in the project looks set to be about 40 to 50 million euros. Albert would not confirm the exact investment figure, but said he now has seven private investors and the financing is 70 percent private capital and 30 percent bank loans.
"There is a lot of interest in green investments in France," he said.
The greenness of the project does not stop with the delivery of the wines.
The ship will bring back to France an equivalent tonnage of crushed glass for recycling into wine bottles at two factories, one in Bordeaux and one in Beziers.
This should mean cheaper bottles and better supply given the current problems some producers are having trying to get enough bottles. Another plan, to collect the used bottles, may also emerge, but at the moment the logistics are complicated, Albert said.