Bochis Francesco Langhe Barbera - remarkable value from Piedmont

bochis francesco barbera

So enjoyed this wine. It’s a Piedmont Barbera aged for four months in large botti, from limestone soils at 420-460 m.

Bochis Francesco Langhe Barbera Dogliano 2012 Piedmont, Italy
13% alcohol. Lovely black cherry and plum fruit: sleek, pure and fresh. Fine and elegant with some grippy structure and a bit of damson to complement the raspberry and black cherry fruit. A lovely wine of great purity and finesse. 93/100 (£12.50 Haynes, Hanson & Clark)

Research suggests fruit flies could be responsible for wine's pleasant aromas

buser goddard fruit flies yeast

Could fruit flies be responsible for the nice smell of most wines? This is a really interesting idea suggested by a research paper just published in scientific journal Ecology Letters. It’s by a New Zealand group, led by Dr Mat Goddard, who have already published some really interesting research on yeast ecology, showing that the wild yeasts completing fermentations in a number of New Zealand regions are local to the vineyard sites, and not escaped commercial strains resident in the winery. The lead author on the paper is Dr Claudia Buser, a postdoctoral researcher in Goddard’s lab.

The authors are looking at the broader ecological idea that niche construction can initiate the evolution of mutualistic interactions, but this work has relevance for wine. What is niche construction? Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the wine yeast, helps to construct an environment that suits it. It likes ripe fruit as a food source, but so do many other organisms. So S. cerevisiae uses alcoholic fermentation, which is a really inefficient way of using the sugar up, but which creates heat and alcohol that makes it a much less inviting environment for others. In particular, bacteria don’t tolerate alcohol the way that this yeast is able to.

But ripe fruits are quite seasonal, and spread far apart, and yeasts have a problem: how do they get to them, considering they are not mobile? The strategy they have evolved is to hitch a ride on insects, and in particular, fruit flies. These flies are attracted to fermenting fruit where yeasts are growing, and they lay their eggs there.

And this study shows that yeasts are actively producing aromatic compounds to lure the flies.
This has answered a question that previously had confused scientists. Why do yeasts go to the bother of producing all these aromatic compounds that we find in wine, when there is an energetic cost involved to them, and seemingly no benefit? It seems that the yeasts benefit because the aromas bring in their ride.

And the flies? They benefit too, because fermenting fruit is a fertile environment for them to lay their eggs in. It seems that the eggs laid in fruit with S. cerevisiae present do better. The most attractive smelling yeasts lure more fruit flies, and both dispersal and egg fertility are both enhanced. This is known in biology as a mutualistic symbiosis.

In the experiments Goddard’s lab undertook, flies were released into a glass tube maze where they could choose among different types of yeast, and these results were replicated in the field, which demonstrated that S. cerevisiae was being carried by 100 times more flies than you’d expect if the flies were randomly recruiting fungi from the environment.

So this raises the strong possibility that we have flies to thank for many of the pleasing aromas of the wines we drink.

Smith & Evans Higher Plot Pinot Chardonnay 2010 Somerset

Smith & Evans

Always good to see a new English sparkling wine that’s of top quality. I was really impressed by this. It’s the first crop from a vineyard in Somerset, planted in 2008 by Guy and Laura (the Smith & Evans behind the wine) and you can find out more about it on the Smith & Evans website. This was disgorged in March.

Smith & Evans Higher Plot Pinot Chardonnay Brut 2010 Somerset, England
From limestone soils, this is a blend of Chardonnay and the two Pinots, aged on lees for 2.5 years, 11.5% alcohol, 4 g/litre dosage. Lovely ripe, nicely poised nose of ripe pear and citrus fruit with subtle toastiness. Taut palate with ripe apples and pears, keen lemony acidity and hints of toast. Elegant and refined with lovely purity of fruit. Quite dry but not at all austere, with great potential for development. 91/100

Some wines from a weekend away

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Just been away for a weekend with family, staying in a lovely house in Puddletown, Dorset. It wasn’t a wine geeky sort of weekend, so I brought along some good solid wines that delivered a lot of pleasure, without being at all wine nerdy.
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Marks & Spencer Macon-Villages Uchizy 2013 Burgundy, France
From Raphael Sallet, 13% alcohol. This is a really impressive Macon, with lovely tangerine, lemon and grapefruit. Lovely texture here with purity and focus, and a really delicious almost saline mineral quality. 90/100 (£10.99 Marks & Spencer)
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Domaine Fillatreau Chateau Fouquet Saumur 2012 Loire, France
This comes from a domaine with 6.5 hectares of organic vineyards and another 4 ha in conversion, and in 2012 because of the short harvest everything went into this wine. 12.5% alcohol. It’s really fresh and varietally (Cabernet Franc) true, with sappy raspberry and cherry fruit, together with some nice mineral, gravelly characters. It’s fresh and quite grippy, and rather tasty. There’s no doubting where this wine is from. 89/100 (£12.50 Yapp)

Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir 2012 IGP Var, France
Louis Latour’s venture in the South of France has yielding this fairly convincing Pinot. It has cherries, plums, spice and some grip. It’s ripe with a savoury, spicy edge, and has a delicious plummy personality. 89/100 (£10.99 Majestic)

Stratum Pinot Noir 2012 Waipara, New Zealand
Made by Sherwood Estate for Virgin Wines. Silky and fresh with lovely cherries and plums. Juicy but supple with sweet fruit and a hint of warmth. So drinkable and delicious with some fine spicy notes. 90/100 (£12.99 Virgin Wines)
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Bouchard Finlayson Missionvale Chardonnay 2011 Walker Bay, South Africa
13.5% alcohol. Full yellow colour. Rich notes of butterscotch, popcorn and toast. The palate is bold and tangy with lemons and grapefruit notes, as well as some orange peel. Rich, developed and intense with bold flavour. 91/100
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Aubert Vouvray Sec 2012 Loire, France
12.5% alcohol. Taut and really stony with bright green apple and citrus fruit. Very pure and linear with keen acidity and real finesse. The dominant theme here is the distinctive stony quality this wine possesses. 90/100 (£12.25 Yapp)

Two lovely Loire Chenins

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These were two wines I enjoyed at the IPNC Grand Dinner, sandwiched between Pascaline Lepeltier and Rajat Parr. Totally brilliant examples of Chenin Blanc from the Loire. Quite different in style, but beautiful. In particular, watch out for the wines of Thibaud Boudignon, a new star of Savennieres.

Thibaud Boudignon Savennieres 2012 Loire, France
His first vintage. Lively, linear and pure with fresh lemon and herb notes as well as bright acidity. Lively and fine with real precision: a remarkable wine. 94/100

Le Vignes Herbel La Pointe Chenin Blanc 2009 Loire, France
I love this wine. It takes a moment to get past the initial oxidative notes on the nose, but if you do you are rewarded with herbs, lemons, ripe apples and citrus. Amazing acidity with lovely precision, and a sense of alive-ness on the palate. This is a remarkable, textured, mineral wine. 94/100

Lalou Bize-Leroy Domaine d'Auvenay Les Folatieres Puligny-Montrachet

leroy folatieres

This was perhaps the stand-out wine of a wonderful weekend of wine. I tasted it with Raj Parr and some friends just before the salmon bake at the IPNC. We were left speechless. It’s an almost perfect wine, even though it comes from a vintage that isn’t one of the strongest (although it was better for whites than reds), and it’s a premier, not a grand cru. Whisper it quietly, but Leroy may be even better than the legendary DRC, although I don’t have enough data points to really make this conclusion.

Lalou Bize-Leroy Domaine d’Auvenay Les Folatieres Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru 2004 Burgundy, France
Incredible, dense and mineral with perfectly integrated matchstick reduction. Taut, refiend, yet possessing richness. Mealy with notes of toast and spice, as well as generous fruit. Such lovely complexity, richness, balance and finesse to this wine. 97/100

More from the road in Oregon

More pictures from the road in Oregon. Yesterday I had another full day of visits, and I was joined by Elaine Brown and her daughter Rachel, who did some filming. While it’s nice driving around on your own, it’s also great to have company. All the visits, once again, were quite special. Lots of new discoveries, and some great people. A range of styles of wine, in some part reflecting the personalities of the people who make them, but also reflecting the different places. Now I am sitting in Portland Airport on the way home via Dallas. Laters.

Dan, winemaker at Johan

Dan, winemaker at Johan

The brilliant Maggie Harrison, Antica Terra

The brilliant Maggie Harrison, Antica Terra

Antica Terra

Antica Terra

Antica Terra

Antica Terra

Skin contact Pinot Gris, Johan

Skin contact Pinot Gris, Johan

Dag, owner of the fab Johan

Dag, owner of the fab Johan

Ken Pahlow, super-talented winemaker/owner at Walter Scott

Ken Pahlow, super-talented winemaker/owner at Walter Scott

Ken and Erica, Walter Scott

Ken and Erica, Walter Scott

Clare Carver, half of the super-nice Big Table Farm team

Clare Carver, half of the super-nice Big Table Farm team

David Paige, Adelsheim's talented winemaker

David Paige, Adelsheim’s talented winemaker

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Big Table Farm

Big Table Farm

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Brian Marcy, Big Table Farm

Brian Marcy, Big Table Farm

David Autrey, Westry

David Autrey, Westry

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On the road in Oregon wine country

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I’m in the middle of a packed itinerary of visiting Oregon wine producers. I didn’t decide who I was going to see but left it in the hands of the Oregon Wine Board. This way, I get a lot of surprises. They have done a great job in matching me with producers whose approach and wine style I will appreciate, and I have made some great discoveries. But I don’t have time to blog about the first day and a half just now, in any sort of detail. That will have to wait until the journey home. So for now, some pictures will have to do.

Marcus and Gaironn at Matello

Marcus and Gaironn at Matello


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Steve Lutz at Lenne

Steve Lutz at Lenne

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Janie and Jessica at Brooks

Janie and Jessica at Brooks

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David Moore, Omero

David Moore, Omero


Chad Stock, Omero

Chad Stock, Omero

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James Frey, Trisaetum

James Frey, Trisaetum


Jay Somers, J Christopher

Jay Somers, J Christopher


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Steve Goff, Colene Clemens

Steve Goff, Colene Clemens


Josh Bergstrom, Bergstrom

Josh Bergstrom, Bergstrom

So what did I learn about the way I use language to describe wine?

So, following on from the previous posts, what did I learn from the grand seminar?

Josh Raynolds revealed a curious fact. Back in the 1920s and earlier, people used to kiss with their eyes open. Since the age of movies, apparently, this has changed: people began emulate screen stars, who were hamming it up (in their ecstasy they closed their eyes when they kissed) and so now everyone kisses with closed eyes. This fact has ruined kissing for me, and now I will be in doubt every time: should I open my eyes or close them?

It’s a bit like this with tasting notes, now I have taken part in this seminar. I am in self-doubt about the adequacy of my notes on wine. Do they accurately reflect my perception? Do they communicate effectively to others? If, say, I gave you six glasses of red wine and my tasting notes on each, could you pair them successfully?

I think I am going to begin to try to emphasize more global properties of wine, using figurative language. The wine is a whole, and I want to capture that. Of my colleagues, I think Victoria Moore already does this well. I’m going to shy away from the shopping-list of ingredients/reductionist descriptions that can so often fail to capture wine meaningfully. I want to be more creative. I want to be less lazy: I worry that when I’m faced with a Sauvignon or a Pinot, for example, I just pluck out a subset of the limited number of words I have for each of these varieties, rather than interrogate the glass more accurately.

This self-doubt initially made me feel a bit down about writing tasting notes at all. But then a description by Frank Stitt of the wine he’d brought to share really opened up the wine for me. As he described it, I began interrogating my glass, and began to see some of the elements he was describing that I wouldn’t have otherwise picked out. ‘Wine needs words,’ said Hugh Johnson, memorably. And Hugh is right. Words open up and enrich the experience of wine. Language changes perception, and one of the best things a novice drinker can do is to develop a vocabulary for wine.

Elaine Brown’s drawings have also made me consider non-verbal ways of sharing perceptions and capturing the essence of a wine. I’m not sure I can draw wines, but maybe I should try? Words can get in the way. This raises the question of synaesthetic descriptions of wine, but that is a story for another day.

The IPNC Grand Seminar, windows of perception

Josh Raynolds, Frank Stitt, Pascaline Lepeltier, Elaine Brown, Jamie Goode, Hall Newbegin and Steven Shapin

Josh Raynolds, Frank Stitt, Pascaline Lepeltier, Elaine Brown, Jamie Goode, Hall Newbegin, Steven Shapin and Jordi Ballester

I love this picture. It’s a group photo of our panel at the IPNC Grand Seminar, which we did twice, on Friday and Saturday mornings. We were discussing how we perceive wine, and then communicate this perception in words. Because I was moderating I didn’t take any notes, but I thought I’d share my impressions.

It was done chat-show style. I had a seat, and the seven guests joined me one by one on the two couches. So we had seven conversations, with each bringing their own unique perspective on this topic. They were all super, because we got to do this twice, we developed quite a bond by the end. And day 2 was a step up from day 1, as you might expect.

First up was Steven Shapin, who is a professor of the history of science at Harvard. The real deal. He has looked at how the way people describe wines has changed over time. The way we now speak about wine is a recent development,and it’s interesting to see how different the language of wine used to be. You can read a paper of his on this topic here. He’s a really cool guy.

Next, the fabulous Elaine Brown explained her unique approach to wine communication. One of the things she does is draw tasting notes of wine, and it was really good to hear about an approach to communication perception that avoids words. We experience a wine as a perception and then it’s easy for the words to get in the way of communicating this experience to others. This is her website.

Josh Raynolds was the third guest. He’s the assistant editor for International Wine Cellar, and rates 7000 wines a year for the publication. How does he describe wine? He has to be quite analytical, and can’t get away with flowery descriptions. Josh also described how much the wine world has changed since he started working in this field in the mid-1980s.

Then Frank Stitt, who is a chef and restaurateur from Birmingham Alabama. He owns four restaurants and is unusual for a chef in that he’s a wine person, and oversees the wine program. Frank talked about the importance of sourcing wines and getting to know the producers in the same way that he has relationships with his food suppliers. It’s a very integrated approach where the wine and food are brought together.

Pascaline Lepeltier is a recent MS who is wine director at Rouge Tomate in New York, a busy Michelin-starred restaurant. She has put together a 1200 strong wine list with a strong emphasis on organic, biodynamic and natural wines. She described how she has very little time to read the customer, understand what they want, and then make suggestions. The most important part of her job, she says, is to listen. It was really interesting hearing the sort of language for describing wine that a top sommelier uses with their guests, and also the sorts of terms that she finds her guests using to describe what they are looking for.

Back to academia for our next guest,the brilliant Jordi Ballester from the University of Burgundy in Gijon. He studies the cognitive aspects of wine tasting, and has recently published on the way we use the term minerality (everyone seems to mean something different by it, so we should be more specific). Jordi described a brilliant game he plays with his students. They face each other with several glasses of wine each. They have the same wines, but in a different order and numbered differently. The aim of the game is to match the wines from their descriptions of them. We discussed the way that we describe wine in words, which is a really interesting subject.

Finally, something very different. Hall Newbegin is a wilderness perfumer from California, and his company is called Juniper Ridge. He goes out into nature and selects botanicals that he the uses to produce natural scents with a sense of place, using traditional extraction techniques. Hall talked about our sense of smell and how we need to develop it – to learn to smell properly. And he’s just getting into wine, which with his advanced understanding of smelling is a very interesting journey.

Later, I’ll report on how taking part in this seminar has crystallized my thinking on the language of wine, and how I am going to try to change the way I talk about wine in response.