All posts filed under: SOMM Journal

The pursuit of luxury

Considering the benefits of spending more on wine. Luxury wine brands rank among a handful of product categories that are an outright contradiction of the law of demand. Known as Veblen goods after the American economist Thorstein Veblen, luxury products like wine, cars, jewelry, and artwork occupy a rarified status among consumers who are inclined to buy more as the price increases. While conspicuous consumption stands in direct opposition to the pursuit of quality for value that drives many a savvy wine buyer, neuroscientists have reported that when we buy luxury goods, we experience emotions of trust, security, contentment, and confidence over the duration of ownership. Apparently there’s more to the experience of drinking a bottle of ultra-premium Champagne, even if its lifespan lasts just a few hours during dinner. Authenticity and timelessness are considered the hallmarks of established luxury brands, but it’s possible for newly-minted brands to achieve a similar status when their underlying concept demonstrates those principles. Champagne is unquestionably a luxury product, and many brands and wines of the highest quality occupy …

Aszú revolution: Modern styles redefine Hungary’s historic elixir

From grapes desiccated by noble rot in the Tokaj wine region of Hungary burst forth a plethora of traditional and modern wine styles. Rarest among them is the world’s sweetest and most complex grape elixir, Eszencia: a honey-like nectar once reserved for royalty that’s been coveted for centuries. The long history of wine made from aszú fruit (originally meaning “dried grapes,” the term has evolved to include grapes with high sugar levels affected with noble rot, or Botrytis cinerea) in Hungary dates to the mid-16th century. By the year 1737, a three-tier classification system of the Tokaji vineyards was in place—notably predating the sweet wine classification of Port by several decades and Sauternes by more than a century. Sweet and aszú Tokaji wine styles rely on clean fruit, botrysized bunches, or individual aszú berries. The latter are picked in multiple passes through the vineyard and then worked into to a paste or dough; varying amounts of this material are then macerated in fermenting must or wine. The two main grape varieties allowed are Furmint and …

Amorim's Dr. Paulo Lopes.

The Myth Buster: Dr. Paulo Lopes dispels long-held beliefs about cork

When it comes to wine storage, old habits are hard to break. But Dr. Paulo Lopes, Research and Development Manager at Amorim Cork, advises that if temperature and humidity are maintained at the correct levels, wine can be stored upright with no ill effects. In fact, sparkling wine should always be stored upright: a little-known fact that seems lost on many wine experts. During the course of his groundbreaking research, Lopes has seen no difference in the amount of oxygen found in wines that have been stored horizontally or vertically. Using science to debunk the myths that persist within wine culture is liberating largely because the facts can be even more compelling than the misleading maxims. In his recent presentation at the San Francisco Wine School on the reductive and oxidative nature of wine, Lopes made it abundantly clear that, after bottling, the main source of oxygen in wine comes from the cork itself. Atmospheric oxygen doesn’t make its way through the cork (neither does mold, for that matter); rather, the air trapped in cork’s …

The dark matter of dirt

With millions of unknown species existing in a ton of soil, biologist Edward Osborne Wilson has called bacteria “the dark matter of the biological world.” While our knowledge of the roles known bacteria play in the vineyard enables us to make delicious wine, the unknown far exceeds the understood when it comes to analyzing these soil microbiomes. According to biochemist Paco Cifuentes, who has compared studies from hundreds of vineyards, there’s a distinct kingdom of organisms found only in soils farmed sustainably with organic fertilizers. When evaluating the health of a vineyard, the presence of these organisms becomes a marker for sustainability and diversity. “In a conventionally-farmed vineyard, you’ll find on average 500–700 different types of microorganisms,” says Cifuentes. “In sites that are farmed sustainably, we find anywhere from 1,000–1,200 microorganisms, the majority of which are bacteria.” This promotes an environment of checks and balances where beneficial organisms can effectively suppress harmful organisms and help prevent disease. That vast array of potentially present microorganisms includes “a dozen or so very distinctive organisms that never show …

Red blends: Greater than the sum of their parts

While researching the current popularity of blended wines in preparation for a talk at the 2017 International Bulk Wine and Spirits Show about blends that begin life as bulk wine, I discovered white blends emerged as the exception rather than the rule. Consumer preferences for monovarietal white wines—Sauvignon Blanc is currently the fastest-growing white variety—are the likely drivers there, but that doesn’t stop winemakers from creating successful proprietary blends. In 2014, blended wines accounted for more than 40 percent of new entries to the U.S. market, with the lion’s share going to reds (29.3 percent) and whites accounting for just 1.9 percent. When surveyed, domestic consumers said they liked blended wines because they are experimental, interesting and trendy with better value. But it’s not the classic blends from regions like Bordeaux, the Southern Rhône, Valpolicella and Rioja they’re referring to; it’s the under-$25 blends that are marketed as nothing more than just that—blends. One striking example of success with modern blends is Dave Phinney’s Locations Wine portfolio, which goes even further by eliminating vintage and relying …

Sicily’s native grapes and the dawn of Italian wine culture

Archeologists researching the dietary habits of prehistoric Sicilians have discovered that wine was on the menu 6,500 years ago. The discovery made by a team of archeologists led by Dr. Davide Tanasi of the University of South Florida pushes the timeline for established viticulture in Italy back from the latter part of the Bronze Age (1600–1100 BCE) to the Copper Age (4500–3500 BCE). While excavating a site on Monte Kronio in the Agrigento province in southwest Sicily, Tanasi found tartaric acid and its salts both of which are natural by-products of winemaking on unglazed pottery dating to 4500 BCE. It’s believed that the Mycenaean Greeks established viticulture in Sicily during the Bronze Age but the discovery has unearthed a much earlier point of origin for Italian wine culture. Native varieties being trailed in the experimental vineyards at Donnafugata’s estate in Contessa Entellina. PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG As the history of winegrowing in Sicily continues to evolve so do the efforts of forward-thinking producers who are working to preserve the island’s native grape varieties. Sicily’s indigenous …

The trilemma of primary, secondary and tertiary aromas

Primary wine flavors (the combination of aromas and tastes) come from the grape variety itself and are almost always fruity except when they’re not. Secondary aromas are those associated with post-fermentation winemaking and include yeast, lees, yogurt, cream, butter or cheese and a full spectrum of flavors derived from oak. Tertiary flavors are defined as deliberate oxidation, fruit development, bottle age or any combination thereof.