Friday, May 29, 2009

Eastern Iowa Amateur Wine Competition

Brad Post:

In my last posting I discussed and criticized the reliability of wine judging and went on to lend my support to the process, realizing and accepting the the limitations. However, just last night I was pleased to hear about the wine judge selection process of one of the nations rising and innovative professional wine competitions, the Mid-American Wine Competition.

As part of the selection process, the judges evaluated several wines (e.g., sauvignon blanc), identifying varietal characteristics, flavor profiles, and other judging criteria. In addition to the ability to distinguish the subtle characteristics of several varietals the judges were also required to replicate their evaluations. That is, after an initial evaluation the wines were taken away and later returned to be reevaluated! The best judges were able to replicate and show consistency across wines and time. Most excellent!

This year, my wine club, the Eastern Iowa Wine Club will host the 2nd annual Eastern Iowa Amateur Wine Competition in Vinton, Iowa (July 23-26). One of our goals for the competition is to make it a learning opportunity for the winemakers who receive their score sheet and comments from the judges (e.g., strengths, flaws/faults identified, and suggestions); and for the visitors who attend. In addition to ribbons for the top 3 finishers in each category, the judges will select the best 5 to receive gold medals, and one will be chosen as Best of Show. Additionally, after the judging, visitors receive their own evaluation form and are allowed to sample wines and pick their favorite "Peoples Choice Award". (Below is a list of the 2009 categories).

A new feature for this years competition/event will be Mini-Workshops designed to teach basic winemaking skills for beginners. Please join us at the Benton County Fairgrounds on July 23rd (6pm) for the public tasting and evaluation!

The 2009 Eastern Iowa Amateur Wine Competition Categories:

Class 1 – Grape Wine
1. Dry Red (Vinifera)
2. Dry White (Vinifera)
3. Sweet Red (Vinifera)
4. Sweet White (Vinifera)
5. Sparkling (grape)
6. Dry Red (Native/Hybrid)

7. Dry White (Native/Hybrid)
8. Sweet Red (Native/Hybrid)

9. Sweet White (Native/Hybrid)
10. Special Category: Marechal Foch - “Fochy Award”

Class 2 – Non-Grape Wines
1. Dry Fruit
2. Sweet Fruit
3. Dry Berry
4. Sweet Berry
5. Rhubarb
6. Dry Vegetable or Flower
7. Sweet Vegetable or Flower
8. Sparkling (non-grape)

Class 3 – Meads and Ciders
1. Dry Mead
2. Sweet Mead
3. Cider

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Movies and Books about Wine

Brad Post:

Recently I've been thinking about all of the wine-related movies I have watched over the past few years and the books, both entertaining and educational that I've read. And now that I have a little time on my hand, since the semester is over and my teaching load is unloaded, I thought I'd share some titles and commentary. Please add to the list!

Movies: These are probably the top-3 wine movies out.
  1. Sideways (2004): Starring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. The nouveax classic film that immediately sent shockwaves through the Merlot community and brought Pinot Noir to the awareness of the masses. An entertaining film, shot in beautiful northern California.
  2. Bottle Shock (2008): Starring Alan Rickman and Bill Pullman. This is a good wine-slurping movie to watch! Provides an overview of the 1976 French wine competition where California wines become prominent. I found it interesting that the portrayal of the 1976 California wine industry were of hippified, good hardworking 'folk', non-stratospherically oriented, and most of all: anti-French. Funny that today, California wines exemplify the antithesis of that vision of what it takes to make good wine.
  3. Mondovino (2004): Documentary. Here is what Amazon says about it: "The ultimate film about wine and wine culture, Mondovino offers an unprecedented look into the conflicts, conspiracies and alliances of the wine trade." I have yet to watch it.
Books: There are several good books on wine. Most of the following are about winemaking - except the first...which is an absolute hoot!
  1. First Big Crush: The Down and Dirty on Making Great Wine Down Under (2007), Eric Arnold, Scribner, NY. $*@*!* Hilarious! I laughed out loud when I read his book. The author took a year off to learn the wine business in New Zeeland and learned a lot. Fun, interesting, entertaining, and educational too. What a blast to read!!
  2. The Joy of Home Winemaking (1996), Terry Garey, Quill, NY. My first home winemaking book. I read it several years ago and fired-me up enough to make my first couple of gallons! Very good introduction to home winemaking.
  3. From Wines to Wines: The Complete Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Your Own Wine (1999), Jeff Cox, Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA. An excellent addition to the advancing home winemaker, includes winemaking and winegrowing sections.
  4. The Backyard Vintner: An Enthusiast's Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Wine at Home (2005), Jim Law, Quarry Books,Glouchester, MA. Another nice addition to your collection.
  5. The Grape Grower: A Guide to Organic Viticulture (2002), Lon Rombough, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT. A very comprehensive guide to growing grapes organically.
  6. Understanding Wine Technology: The Science of Wine Explained (2005), David Bird, DBQA Publishing, Great Britain. This was one of my first enology textbooks and does a pretty good job of helping the novice take the next step toward greater understanding. Maybe a bit heavy with European wine jargon but still a great resource!
  7. Cooperage for Winemakers: A Manual on the Construction, Maintenance and use of Oak Barrels (2005), Geoffrey Schahinger and Bruce Rankine, Winetitles, Adelaide Austrailia. Everything you'd ever want to know about barrels and then some. Put this in your library.
  8. Concepts in Wine Technology (2004), Yair Margalit, The Wine Appreciation Guild, San Francisco, CA. A very technically laden, chemistry-intensive book. But if you can get through the techno-jargon this book will serve as a great resource. One of my first wine science text books -- for the enology student or serious wine geek.
  9. Micro Vinification: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale Wine Production (2001), Murli Dharmadhikari and Karl Wilker, Southwest Missouri State University, Mountain Grove, MO. Most likely my favorite winemaking text/guidebook I use very frequently. Buy this book! First used in my wine science class, I now use it regularly for SO2 calculations and titrations, TA, and nearly all laboratory procedures. A must have!
If you don't see your favorite movie or book...drop a note and add to the conversation.

Happy Tastings!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Reilability of Wine Judging

Brad Post:

Visit most any winery today are you likely to find a showcase of their best wines shrouded in medals and ribbons. The more notable places, if lucky enough, will be adorned not only with traditional accoutrement but the highly sought after acknowledgment and praise of the upper stratum of wine critics, such as likes of Robert Parker and other wino bigwigs.

Of course, I must confess, that I lack a certain sophistication in my personal wine consumption and have also been known to enter a wine contest or two (yes, won some awards too)...but, at the same time my scientific mind says: Hmmm, I wonder about the consistency of wine judges. In other words, can wine judges replicate their own judging? For example, if our judge was evaluating a small sample of wines (10 Chambourcin) at our wine competition, we should reasonably expect they would be able to judge the same wine the same (or at least closely) if we slyly entered two of the exact same wines (from the same bottle) in this round. And if they couldn't, should we not be at least a little suspect of their abilities and question their sway over us?

Funny I should a recent study in the Journal of Wine Economics, Dr. Robert Hodgson investigated 65 judging panels and concluded only 30 panels came close to consistency in evaluation. By definition, when measurements of the same item are inconsistent over time, then we say the measure is unreliable. So, what is going on here? Can judges distinguish between the noted bell pepper, asparagus, and pineapple sensations when judging or are they simply deluding themselves or are they engaged in an elaborate group-think, self-reinforcing process?

I will avoid the social psychological considerations and briefly focus on the sensation and perception of taste to at least touch on the subject. It is well known that taste and smell are intricately related, such that if you have a bad cold, your ability to detect scent decreases. For example, without scent the potato tastes much like an apple. There are four main types of tastes: salt, sweet, sour and bitter (yes, I haven't forgotten savory umami, so make that five) each with their own distinct taste thresholds.

Some Taste Facts (courtesy of Schaffin (2001) Sensation and Perception):
  1. All taste stimuli must be dissolved or soluble solutions.
  2. Sour comes from acid compounds; Bitter, from alkaloids; sweets, from nutrients such as organic substances.
  3. Temperature effects taste thresholds (e.g., salty foods taste saltier when cooler than 22C or warmer than 32C)
  4. Taste sensitivity (ability to distinguish) decreases for most after age 60.
  5. Adaptation: Prolonged exposure to a taste solution results in a decrease or complete loss of sensitivity. How many wines can someone taste and still detect their qualities?
  6. Adaptation-Produced Potentiation: A fancy way of saying that our ability to taste can shift because of adaptation. For example, if you are drinking a substance, such as lemonade and follow that with a glass of cold water the resultant taste is sweet. Here are how the four tastes are effected by the adaptative potentiation of water: A) Bitter - can elicit a sweet taste with water; B) Sweet - can elicit a sour and bitter response from water; C) Salts - can elicit sour, sweet and some bitter water taste; D) Sour - can elicit a sweet water taste.
Without going into the anatomy of taste I think it is fair to conclude taste is a fairly subjective and complex phenomenon. Furthermore, I believe wine judging, even when it is done well, is relatively inconsistent and is likely a long ways from anything terribly scientific. So on one hand we have consumers who frequently base their decision to purchase on a particular wine scoring system (generally, a 100 point scale); likewise, we have winemakers who use this information to market their wines accordingly and take pride in a well-made wine because of the evaluation.

I guess the challenge is to decide for yourself, perhaps with the guiding evaluations of the experts, to make a wine purchase decision - or to take a little extra pride in making a good wine for the winemakers. Frankly, I do think the experts know the difference between a very great wine and a great wine...but for me, it just seems like another layer of complication keeping good people away from good wines. And like Andrew Zimern, I say "if it tastes good, drink it".

Hoping his wines will win at the next competition,

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Churchill and Champagne

Terry Post:

I am re-reading Roy Jenkins’ book, “Churchill, A Biography” which I recommend highly. As a result of reading about Churchill and his copious consumption of Champagne, I have found it necessary to return to sparkling wine (can’t afford the real stuff) and have recently enjoyed two bottles of California sparkling wine and one from France.

I have enjoyed, to varying degrees, the following NV sparklers:

1. “Cooks” Brut Sparkling Wine. I paid $6.99 for this 750 mL California sparkler at a grocery store. It had a very distinct yeast scent and was quite bubbly. I was disappointed at the taste as the yeast overwhelmed any fruit that might have been hiding within. Not recommended by itself. Might be okay in a mimosa.

2. “Barefoot Cellars” Brut Sparkling Wine. I paid $9.99 for this 750 mL California sparkler at a grocery store. I was not aware that Barefoot Cellars was producing sparkling wine, and this was the first time that I’d ever seen it on the shelves. I am aware of the brand and see it as trying to define itself as a low-to-mid priced wine with above average quality. The wine itself had no yeast on the nose or palate. It showed expressive citrus bouquet on the nose followed by loads of melon on the end. I was very pleasantly surprised and would buy it again. Recommended.

3. “Jean-Louis Cuvee Blanc de Blancs” Brut Sparkling Wine. I paid $10.99 for this 750 mL French sparkler at a beer and wine store. The nose was profoundly pineapple with a little citrus – very nice. The finish was smooth and easy and there was pineapple again at the end. I have gone back and bought three more bottles of this one. Strongly recommended.

~ Terry