Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How Geeky is Too Geeky?

Brad Post:

Over the past weekend me and 14 other wine geeks met in isolation on a small Midwestern college campus to put our taste buds to the test.

Our mission was VIN 275, Sensory Analysis, and after 3 days (30 hours) in confinement we worked our way through more than 100 wine standards (i.e., wine spiked with an assortment of flavor compounds, such as lychee), evaluated detection and recognition thresholds for acidity, tannin, and sweetness in several panels, and blind tasted 10 white and 10 red wines from around the world.

Our final exam for the weekend was a surprise to all of us.  Toward the end of this residential school our instructor casually walked around to our small working groups and pulled a student away.  For this "live-fire" exam each student had to evaluate two wines, one white and one red, in front of a panel of advanced sensory student-judges. 

Here is how it works: 

Step 1 - Visual analysis: I pick up the first wine, a white and verbally describe the color, color intensity, rim variation, and viscosity.  All the while three judging eyes pierce me! Are there bubbles? No.  

Step 2 - Aromatic analysis: Sniff, sniff, I detect..."tropical fruit aromas, something floral, maybe apricot, maybe some apple or pear.  The aromatic intensity is pretty strong, I'd give it a 7" out of 10.  (You see for this process, we are in academia I am reminded, we use a 9 point scale so we can better quantify and confirm our results). At this point I am mentally guessing the age of the unknown wine.  I'm asked: "do you notice any bell pepper aroma?"  I sniff again, "no" is my response. 

Step 3 - Palate analysis:  slurp, slurp, I take notice of several of the wine attributes.  I taste, spit, and describe: "I pick up some sweetness, not much about a 1 or 2, the body is a little above average 5+".  Acidity?  "yes, I feel it here (point to my salvation glands) and notice a sourness and the accompanying salivation typical of a higher acid wine".  Tannin?  None.  Alcohol?  "normal".  Finish and complexity?  "the wine isn't terribly complex but has a nice acid-sugar balance that lingers pleasantly."

Step 4 - Conclusions:  My guess?  Well...I focused in on the floral aromatics and the apricot which led me, erroneously, to a Riesling.  Wrong!  The hint, given to be by one of the judges, was bell pepper.  That should have made me wake up and realize there were tropical aromas and bell pepper, which are hallmarks of New Zeeland Sauvignon Blancs.  DOH!

Overall, my assessment, up until the final conclusion was fairly sound.  I realize when talking with friends about my experience just how geeky this all must sound and I have to chuckle.  Yeah, pretty geek-like.

In another week, I go back for round two where we will taste hundreds of wines, sit across the tables from serious wine professionals: MS/MW.  Lots to learn...and so what if I get a little extra wine geeky in the process.

Friday, June 18, 2010

What the Progress in Automotive Headlights has to tell us about Choosing which Grapes to Grow in the Midwest

The headlights on nascent automobiles were first seen in the 1880s . Similar to those which had preceded them on the railroad, these acetylene oil lanterns provided 50 feet, or so, of visibility.

With a vehicle chugging along at 25 miles per hour that 50 feet ahead of him provided the driver approximately 1.36 seconds of visibility ahead.

Fast forward into the modern era and low-beam headlights now provide about 160 feet of visibility. With the vehicle travelling at 65 miles per hour the driver has approximately 1.46 seconds of visibility ahead.

Not much has changed.

In over one hundred years of automotive engineering we have improved the ability to the driver to see the road ahead, and react to changes ahead, by one-tenth of a second.

So, has your ability to peer into the foggy road of wine improved?

Growing grapes and its first derivative, wine making, requires the ability to see into the future.

In the recent past, those in agriculture would receive insight from those with technical expertise: the sort of expertise which would say to grow this and to not grow that.

The answer today is increasingly to be found by the interactions with your customers and continuously collecting information. On a daily basis your customers will tell you what they like and what they don’t like with their purchases. Consider:

Social Networking. This is THE way to engage with the millennials. If you are not on Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis you are missing an important avenue to connect with these new wine consumers.

Direct to Consumer Sales. Most wineries think about sales only and staff the tasting room with less than knowlegable staff. Granted: Sales from the tasting room are the way to open the door for interactions with the consumer. Think of this critical face-to-face meeting as your single greatest opportunity to create a life-long customer. But you don't always sell, and if you don't sell you should not pass up this opportunity to gain some insight. Consider collecting one piece of information from each visitor.

Wine Clubs. Once signed up, wine club members retain membership on average for two years. Think: two bottles per month for twenty four months.

Bottom line: Merely keeping up with the competition is not sufficient if you are to grow your business. An aggressive set of strategies is required to connect with, gather information from, and make sales to your customers.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

2009 Beau Chene, White Granache, Vin De Pays D'Oc, France

Terry post:

Summer Wine Series

It was a few weeks ago that I purchased a number of bottles of wine from The Wine Seller in Herndon, Virginia. Unlike my brother's experience in Iowa, Lucinda could have not been more helpful providing me several surprising hits.

I have scant experience with White Granache wine. When I think Grenache, I think of the stony vineyards of Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape which produce the rich, thick and chewy reds which I so enjoy.

The idea of sacrificing a great French red for a so-so "pink" wine is, to say the least, a damn waste of grapes.

Okay. Enough griping.

My impressions: Pale salmon color in the glass. Strawberries on the nose, but not so overwhelming as to be unpleasant. Fresh and dry. Smooth. Easy to drink - not overtly sweet. There is more than a hit of acidity in the wine, so it might work with food. My thought is that it is best as an accompaniment to light lunchtime fare or by itself well chilled. Citrus and melon on a long refreshing finish. Recommended.

Second thoughts: The wine improved and tasted better on day #2 than it did on day #1. Were I to buy another bottle, I'd give the wine some time to breath before I drank it. I may not have had the wine on its best footing when I first sampled it.

$12 at The Wine Seller

~ Terry

Sunday, June 6, 2010

2008 Esperto, Pinot Grigio, Delle Venezie, Italy

Terry post:

Summer Wine Series

We carried the Esperto Pinot Grigio at Restaurant 213 from the grand opening onward and it is still on the wine list today. It has been a steady seller popular with those who prefer a dry white wine with floral characteristics.

My impressions: Pale, diluted straw-color in the glass. Faint floral note when first poured opening slightly to citrus as the wine warmed. Moderate bodied and dry. Not nearly as fruity as I have experienced with other Italian Pinot Grigios - more American in style. Recommended.

Good acidity. Food friendly. I paired the wine with a Watermelon-Feta Cheese salad - and it was perfection.

Imported by Moet Hennessy USA. 13% alcohol.

$13 at retail.

~ Terry

Combat Wine Tasting

Brad Post:
I should have trusted my weather intuition yesterday or the fact that a portent of the impending storm was purchased the day before, a new pair of sneakers!  And so my day began as a wine host at a wine and pork festival, called SWINE Festival, located on a lawn of a community college campus north of Des Moines.
Leaving home late in the morning to meet my wine tent colleagues, temperatures around 80 degrees and the potential for severe weather in the forecast, I left unprepared for what was soon to become my Woodstock or should I say “Winestock”, but I am getting ahead of myself.
By 3pm the tent was erected, winery signs strategically placed to attract the crowds of wine lovers, and cases and cases of wine ready to be served.  Ominous dark storm clouds passed overhead as the humidity increased.  The crowds arrived at 4pm.  Our wineries tent, a portable contraption with a canvas top, held up by an aluminum frame – the kind of structure one person can set up alone, was to be our base for the next four hours. 
Within moments of opening our serving tables were inundated with thirsty wine imbibers.  No trickle of visitors, it was a full-on, onslaught of $35/person wine drinkers and pork eaters who wanted to taste!  We obliged with a counter offensive of “Hello, welcome to…” and “Hi, may I offer you a tasting of…” and with bottles in both hands we were pouring as quickly as the controlled, one-ounce dispersers would allow.  This was serious – this was combat wine serving at its best!  Fun!
The first indication of a problem began around 6:05pm with a parcel of condensed water vapor landing on my friends’ bald head.  Drip.  “Oh, that’ll pass” someone laughingly said.  Then drop!  Then Deluge!  The sky opened up and rain drops whose life began 50,000 feet above us gave up to gravity and started their free fall.  The 435,305,020 rain drops descended on our tent and brought along with them the ten miles of rain-generated wind – aimed directly at us and our thirsty customers.
At the same time drenched wine lovers waited in line to purchase a bottle, a dozen or two stood firm to sample, a freaked out few dove for cover under our flailing tent, while others holding stead-fast in their positions reached above their heads and securely grabbed hold of our aluminum frame to keep our tent grounded!  Assessing the situation, our team continued selling wine and pouring samples while the torrent of rain was unleashed upon us.  With sample bottles in hand, I exited the tent and surveyed the damage, pouring samples to our dedicated customers whose outstretched arms were holding our structure in place and whose free hand held an empty glass that received my appreciative pour.
In the wake of the storm we, all of us, stood drenched in sopping wet clothes and laughed out loud at our condition.  We were a mess, soaked from head to toe, one of our aluminum frame pieces was broken in half (we secured it with some rope and our tent remained standing), and the ground was now the consistency of light brown goo.  This was our Woodstock of a sort…our “Winestock”- great music, fun people, delicious wine and food, and a wonderful mess.
Next time I’m wearing my old sandals!