Saturday, March 15, 2008

Thanks For Warning Us Mata Hari

Now I have to worry if they want me for me or for my wine!

Stressed Out Wine Drinker

Careful Of Those That Pray

I pray to prey on rich men and their prized bordeaux

La Femme Fatale

The Wine Punt

The dent on the bottom of a wine bottle is called a punt. It is found on the bottom of Champagne/sparkling wine bottles and still in many red wine bottles. The main purpose of the rounded bottom or punt is to strengthen the bottle--especially important for sparkling wines--but punts also can be useful for collecting sediment and for pouring wine (it provides a place to put your thumb).

Wine Market Council

How To Choose The Best Corkscrew

No wine lover has ever avoided the problems caused by a poorly functioning corkscrew and we have bad memories attached to these failures. We all had the experience of watching a waiter/waitress struggling with the corkscrew and have us pray that the wine will be OK after all the work. So we ask ourselves how to buy a corkscrew that will work the best, even for the fairer sex, if she is stuck without a Martian (us men) to delegate the bottle opening job to. Let me address the problem and give some recommendations.

First of all, what makes a good corkscrew? Aside from the obvious job of removing the cork, what other important issues are there?

1. The work should require as little brute force as possible
2. The cork should be kept intact – no shredding, breakage, etc.
3. The screw should go in straight to avoid breaking the cork or the screw
4. The pulling action should not shake up the bottle to avoid disturbing the sediment, if any, there
5. Must do the job safely (no explosions, cracked glass, broken corkscrew, etc.)
6. It has to fit all types of bottle necks, including the new flanged types

Joseph C. Paradi

More to Cork Than Meets the Bottle

Any way that you pull it - with a corkscrew, wine puller, or some other modern contraption designed to remove it from a bottle - a wine cork has a history of its own. That history begins in about 500 BC in Greece where cork was reportedly used as a stopper for wine jugs. Prior to that, olive oil was floated over the top of wine in ancient Egypt, and it was a practice that was still common throughout the ancient world until the Middle Ages.
As cork caught on, Portugal with its large population of cork trees (which are a type of oak) became the focus for a whole industry that has supported the wine industry. The cork producers take processing cork to be ready for a wine bottle just as seriously as a winemaker takes in turning grapes into a fine wine. More importantly, it takes more time to produce a cork than it does a wine.

The typical cork tree takes about twenty-five years to mature and then it must undergo a couple harvests of its outer bark before it is ready to be used as cork for wine bottles. Those early harvests do not provide material dense enough for stopping a wine bottle, so most of the producers have other materials such as cork tiles for floors and walls that are byproducts of that process. Some wineries in Portugal even use cork as their wine labels, because it can be easily branded with the name of a winery.

Each of the cork harvests need a 7-9 year waiting period before the cork can be harvested again. Once the bark is harvested off the cork trees, they look like they have undergone the ultimate body peel. After the cork manufacturers have aged, washed, and sterilized the cork, it is then punched into the shape it will have for insertion into a bottle. However, that is only part of the process. Bags of cork are then shipped to the United States for further processing.

In visiting Cork Associates in Napa, a production arm of the largest cork producer in Portugal, we found that the process still had many more steps before a cork was ready to be sent to a winery for its journey to fulfill its purpose of preserving a wine. Here, the corks were graded for quality. If they have defects, look too coarse, or have some other problem, they will be removed before they go any further. Wineries buy corks based on their quality, and prices are determined by premium quality. Corks are then washed, usually with hydrogen peroxide, although chlorine was widely used in the past, to disinfect them of any impurities. The cork producers even do lab tests to check the quality throughout the process.

Following their journey through quality control, the corks are de-dusted. This makes the corks ready for printing or branding with a winery’s name or logo. In some cases, a winery will use both forms of marking their corks; it’s a flashy way to remind the consumer about who produced the wine. An ozone-treated humidity room is where the corks stop next to make certain they are at the optimum pliability.

The next step is coating the corks with emulsified paraffin or silicon to create a good seal so the cork will be uniform against the glass. Then, they are tumbled in large industrial dryers that look like they belong in a laundromat. Finally, they are given a small dose (35 parts per million) of sulfur dioxide to prevent any contamination on their way to wineries or while they are being stored. Plus, the corks must be between 5 1/2 to 7% humidity in order to work effectively.

What happens if corks are not treated properly or become too moist? One result can be the development of mold that will lead to a wine being "corked." While every step of the process takes every precaution to eliminate this problem, industry experts estimate that between 5-8% of all wines have the musty dusty odor often associated with it. Fortunately, the majority of wines are preserved as they are meant to be.

All of us are looking for a little "closure" in our lives, and in the case of a bottle of wine, cork has been the answer. However, with the supply of cork trees diminishing at a fair rate of speed, the cork is being challenged by other adversaries wanting to be the next on the bottling line. The introduction of synthetic corks, as the ultimate method of sealing out oxygen from the bottle, has many wine purists up in arms.

The cork industry not wanting to waste any byproducts has taken to shredding leftover cork pieces and then gluing them back together to make a "composite" cork. Then there is always a screwcap, but where is the romance in that? The incredible journey cork takes from tree to bottle is an important part of the winemaking quality. It plays a significant role in the preservation of the investment wineries make as they produce super premium wines for consumers.

Most importantly, the process of cork production is paramount to producing good wines. Without it, how could you set the mood of removing the foil, inserting the corkscrew, hearing the pop of the cork, watching the bottle’s contents glide into the glass, and then tasting the wine as it caresses your palate.

Tim Hayes & John Koetzner
Wine Tributaries

Old World Italian Wine Cellar

Understanding Sulfites In Wine

Sulfites or sulfur dioxide is a fruit preservative widely used in dried fruits as well as wine. It is also produced by the human body at the level of about 1000 mg (milligrams) per day. Consumption of food preserved with sulfites is generally not a problem except for a few people who are deficient in the natural enzyme to break it down. For these people, the additional sulfites from food can be a problem. There are reports of severe and life threatening reactions when sulfites were added at erroneously and enormously high levels (100 times what was supposed to be used!) on salad bar vegetables. I have found two reviews of the medical effects of sulfites-unfortunately I could find neither on-line as they appear to be too old. They should be available at medical school libraries.
AF Gunnison and DW Jacobsen, Sulfite hypersensitivity. A critical review. CRC Critical Review in Toxicology, 17: 185-214 (1987). CRC Journals
R.K. Bush, S.L. Taylor and W. Busse, A critical evaluation of clinical trials in reactions to sulfites, J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. 78:191-202 (1986). J. Allergy Clin Immunol

The levels in wine average 80 mg/liter, or about 10 mg in a typical glass of wine, with slightly higher amounts in white versus red. A number of studies show reactions by sensitive patients to drinking wine with sulfites, but it appears that their reactions are also caused by other components. For details on this issue see this review: A.T. Bakalinsky, Sulfites, Wine and Health, in Wine in Context: Nutrition, Physiology, Policy, A.L. Waterhouse and R.M. Rantz, Eds. American Society for Enology and Viticulture, Davis, 1996. (Publication List)

The medical literature has virtually no reports on sulfites inducing headache. There are many studies of sulfites and asthmatic responses, and a few of these address sulfites in wine. A few studies from Australia shows that even with extremely sensitive people, there is only an asthmatic response in a small number of sensitive subjects (4 out of 24) for a single drink (150 ml) at extremely high sulfite levels-300 mg/liter or 45 mg. No effects were seen at lower levels, such as 150 mg/liter, or with several increasing doses up to 750 mg/liter! See H Valley and PJ Thompson, Role of sulfite additives in wine induced asthma: single dose and cumulative dose studies, Thorax 56:763-769 (2001). Link

There are many erroneous ideas about sulfites, so to put the record straight:

All wines contain sulfites. Yeast naturally produce sulfites during fermentation so there is only a rare wine which contains none.
The US requires a "sulfite" warning label and Australia requires a label indicating "preservative 220," but nearly all winemakers add sulfites, including those in France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Chile, etc etc. So, the wine you drink in foreign countries contains sulfites, but you just are not being warned about it when purchased abroad. Survey studies show that European wines contain an average of 80 mg/L sulfites just as in the US.

There are a few (very few) winemakers who make wines without adding sulfites. In the US, organic wine must be made without added sulfites. These are unusual because the wine is very perishable and often have unusual aromas from the aldehydes that are normally bound and rended aroma-less by the sulftes. Look for these wines at natural food stores.
Sulfites do not cause headaches!!! There is something in red wine that causes headaches, but the cause has not yet been discovered. Refer to the Bakalinsky article above. (Many people seem to connect their headache with the sulfite warning label, but sorry there is no connection). To avoid headaches, try drinking less wine, and drink with food. If you think sulfites are causing your headache, try eating some orange-colored dried apricots, and let me know if that induces a headache. If not, sulftes are not the likely culprit. These bright colored dried fruits typically have 2000 mg/kg sulfites, so a two ounce serving (56 gm) should contain about 112 mg sulfites.
I get about one note every two months protesting this assertion from individuals who say they get terrible headaches from sulfites. Their experiences may well be true, but anonymous emails cannot be verified and tested, rendering them useless in advancing a valid understanding. I have offered to post their stories if they are willing to verify their identities (to me) and let me compile them in a list for a future research investigation. Unless the sufferers are willing to undergo some actual verification of their affliction by an independent observer, their stories remain heresay. Neither science nor the law is willing to take a stand on such grounds.

So, if you feel that you are so afflicted and you are willing to go on a verified list of potential subjects of a scientific study, please send me a note that includes your postal address, and daytime phone, and a statement of your willingness to be a participant in a future study. This personal information will NOT be posted in the internet. I will keep this in a list for medical researchers interested in such a study. Just so you know, your note will NOT be a legal document and any future study on human subjects will include many more documents explaining the nature of any study in which you may participate as well as the risks, etc., and you will have ample opportunity to back out if you have concerns about the study.

Current Testimonials

In the US, the law states that
Wines cannot contain more than 350 mg/liter sulfites
Wines with more than 10 mg/liter must have a "Contains Sulfites" warning label
Producers must show levels below 10 mg/liter by analysis to omit the label
Wines must have less than 1 mg/liter to have a label that says "No Sulfites"
This level must be shown by analysis
All wines must carry the label whether made in the US or abroad
Still want to get rid of sulfites? In theory, you can remove sulfites by adding hydrogen peroxide to your wine. I don't recommend it but I mention it only because I keep getting asked how to do this. The correct amount to add will depend on the sulfite level in the wine, an amount you cannot deduce except by chemical analysis. However, for the typical wine at 80 mg/L sulfites, 1 milliliter of 3% hydrogen peroxide, the form sold in pharmacies, will remove the sulfites in one bottle of wine. If you want to learn more, there is a study of the reaction between sulfite and hydrogen peroxide in simple water solutions: M.R. Hoffman and J.R. Edwards, Kinetics of the Oxidation of Sulfite by Hydrogen Peroxide in Acidic Solution, J. Phys. Chem. 79: 2096 (1975) Link Hydrogen peroxide has been used to remove sulfites from cucumbers and dried fruit. Ozkan, M; Cemeroglu, B. 2002. Desulfiting dried apricots by hydrogen peroxide. JOURNAL OF FOOD SCIENCE 67 (5): 1631-1635. McFeeters, RF. 1998. Use and removal of sulfite by conversion to sulfate in the preservation of salt-free cucumbers. JOURNAL OF FOOD PROTECTION 61 (7): 885-890.
Every 5 years or so a M.D. asks me if I want to collaborate on wine headaches, but there is no funding for such research. So, if anyone wants to support a Master's student research project on the topic of wine headaches ($30K) we can start to investigate.

Andrew L. Waterhouse
Minor Wine Components

Great & Unique Wine Service In Miami!

I highly recommend Wine and Cellar Concept; what a unique and great service! Alexander Barrellier knows exactly what you are looking for when it comes to wines and cellar building. Once you tell him what you want; he pinpoints what you are looking for effortlessly. He was born and raised in Paris, France. Wine selection is second nature to him! He studied at L'Ecole Du Vin in Geneva, Switzerland, has a restaurant one hour northwest of Paris, not far from Giverny Gardens, has relatives in the wine business in Bordeaux, but above all, he loves what he does. After you describe what you like or what you are looking for, a wine tasting is done at your home that lasts one to two hours. Usually four to five bottles are opened and tasted, depending on you. Then you decide what you want, place your order and the wines are delivered at no additional cost to you within 48 hours! There is a wide selection of wines from all over the world and for different budgets. He also has wine tastings at restaurants. Next month he will host a French wine tasting at a restaurant in Coral Gables and will be giving wine tasting classes at Alliance Française de Miami. More information about these events and his unique concept can be seen at:

Happy Client
Pinecrest, Fla.

One sommelier issues a call to savor

There's time in that wine bottle, he believes -- why the rush?

PICTURE a few people at a table in a restaurant or at home, with sumptuous food on the way, getting ready to pull a cork on a good, 10-year-old bottle of Côtes du Rhône.

First we anticipate the wine (I've included myself in the gathering -- who wouldn't?), bought five years ago but approaching its prime now. Then we pour and take our first smells from the glass. Then the first sips, and then, on our own time, as the evening progresses and the wine relaxes, we might consciously or unconsciously take a dreamy wander through a vineyard on a warm September afternoon in 1998, when the guy who made this wine was tasting grapes and decided it was time to pick.
Scenes such as these, at the dinner table and in the vineyard, are what give wine its reputation for romance. When we put a corkscrew into a cork, our experience is characterized by anticipation, by the sensuality of smells and tastes and the sharing of that sensuality, and by the fantasy of imagining the origins and the life of the bottle.

But if we don't take our time, if we don't consider what we're drinking, if we turn the bottle upside-down and drink the contents as if it's light beer, there aren't any flavors in the world that will make up for what we've lost. And as much as we might hope that pleasures of the dinner table might be exempt from the global rush to quicken, miniaturize and streamline, there is ample evidence to suggest that they need some defending.

To survey the gastronomic concepts that have most powerfully captured American imaginations and curiosities over the last 20 years -- critics' scoring systems, which have encouraged wine drinkers all over the world to consider the differences between 92 and 96 point juice; or the popularity of wine flights, which invite tasters to compare and contrast sips of wine in multiple glasses as though they are examining laboratory specimens -- is to find that we might not be savoring as much as we could be.

The last few years have seen a proliferation of what might best be called wine dispensaries, little shops where patrons purchase single ounces of wine at a time by swiping their credit cards in much the same way that we pay for gasoline. The upside of this presentation is the opportunity to sample from a huge selection of wines, some of them very expensive, without committing to buying more than an ounce. Just like numerical ratings and wine flights, these shops can be great resources, especially for those working in the industry.

But I'm reminded of a remark the French chef Mimi Hebert once made to me while decrying the sudden popularity of menus offering small plates. "If the dish is good," she said, "I don't know what's really happening until the fifth or sixth bite. It takes me that long to figure out all the flavors and textures."

She might just as well have been talking about good wine, which becomes eminently more approachable as it's shown the courtesy of a little patience. From its infancy as a bubbling swamp of fermenting grape juice to its shining moment on a dinner table years later, wine is an ever-evolving living organism, with vulnerabilities, and expressions of maturation, and distinct personal quirks and harmonies.

Complex flavors are what make great food delicious, and the nuance they bring to the dining experience is no different than what great character development does for novels or subtle foreshadowing does for great symphonies. None of these elements is discernible immediately, of course, nor would anyone want them to be. Their very appeal is that appreciating them is a gradually evolving process.

That the same is true for good wine is something that anyone who has ever drunk a full half of a good bottle understands. The experience of that wine after 10 ounces and 40 minutes is entirely different than what it was when the cork came out of the bottle.

I once heard Aubert de Villaine from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy say that he thinks of his wines as prisoners until they are let out of their bottles -- living in suspended animation until they are allowed to breathe again.

Here again, one is reminded of all the world's great art forms and the time it takes to appreciate all of them. Who would want to absorb the emotional experience of a great film in 30 seconds or a painting in one glance? What charms us is the duration of the thing, the consideration, the chewing on it.

At a winemaker event last summer at the restaurant where I work, winemaker Bob Lindquist, who has spent the better part of the last 30 years tending the vines and barrels at Qupé Wine Cellars outside Santa Maria, stood before a small gathering of people who had assembled to taste his wines and hear him say a few words about his work. When the chatter subsided to the point that Bob could be heard, he chose not to speak about the flavors of his wines, the qualities of certain vintages or macerations and fermentations. He simply said that when he started making wine in the 1970s, he did so mostly because he was struck by the sanctity of one simple experience: the act of two people drinking a bottle of wine together over dinner. The sharing of the bottle, he said, was for him the holiest part of the process and was the most important motivating factor behind his life's work.

Probably because I work so closely with wine, tasting dozens every week and spending countless hours dissecting flavors and considering values and looking at scores, and probably because I'm something of a romantic, I'll never forget what Bob said that night. There are few pleasures in the world as magical as savoring a great bottle of wine, and all we need to enjoy it is patience and time.

Matthew Straus
Los Angeles Times

Edouard Layeillon