What's the role of emotion in the perception of wine?


One of the aspects I didn’t cover much in my discussions of perception in I Taste Red, is how emotion affects the perception of the world around us.

When we are consciously aware of things around us, we create a model of the world that is a seamless, unified representation that includes input from all the senses, joined together and combined during pre-conscious editing steps. What we know of the world is a representation that we have created, based on information that reaches us from our sensory systems, but which also contains input from us, most significantly the knowledge and experience that we have gained of how the world works.

In our infancy, we learned how to package together sensory input from different modalities about aspects of the world, in such a way that we became skilled at manipulating ‘objects’. For example, we recognize immediately a car, a tree or a house, and we have expectations about how these objects normally behave. This is even though cars, trees and houses come in many different types: despite this, we have some sort of filter that has extracted the essential features of these objects that has allowed us to learn to recognize them. This makes processing the world around us much faster, and without this sort of object processing the task of perception would require much more computing power, which would slow us down.

Object manipulation occurs with taste and smell. Take coffee: 800 different aromatic molecules, lots of different styles, but we recognize a coffee as a coffee. Think of an orange. It is a certain shape and colour (vision), plus it feels a certain way (touch), plus it has a characteristic flavour (taste, smell, touch and vision).

And without us generating our own version of reality, creating a model that the reality outside then shapes and constrains, we’d not be able to process reality quickly enough to deal with it. Hence consciousness is effectively a by-product of looking for computational speed and efficiency.

So where does emotion come in?

Classically, cognition (thinking, reason) has been considered as separate to emotion, with the two acting in opposition – the struggle between the mind and the emotion is a common theme in philosophy and literature through the ages. Are we going to allow our rational mind to overcome our base emotions, in order to make sensible, logical decisions?

But research suggests that we can’t make this dichotomy. Emotion is very much a part of cognition, and the two are not easily separated. If we think about how we are feeling right now, then as well as our perception of what is around us, there’s the emotional content that is blended in. The perception affects the emotion, and the emotional state we are in affects the perception. It’s very hard to tease them apart.

If you are tired, or feeling low, this almost acts as a filter through which perception passes. It changes the experience of the world. Likewise, if you are feeling happy or elated, this will change how the world seems to you. People with low blood glucose overestimate distance, for example (they feel tired and that path seems much longer than it is). Strap a heavy pack on someone’s back and they will overestimate the steepness of a hill.

When people experience strong emotions, it changes the way they see the world. In some cases, quite dramatically. Have you tried to reason with a depressed person? Sometimes emotion is so strong that the world looks incredibly bleak and hopeless, while to someone who is happy, it can seem full of opportunity.

One of the most difficult things we do consciously is to interpret the state of another’s mind. As humans, the social skill of reading people’s thoughts and intentions is an incredible bit of computing: something as small as the tone of voice, or a small change in a facial expression, can communicate someone’s mind to us.

Clearly, emotion plays a big role here. Not only are we trying to work out the other person’s emotional state, but also our role in that social interaction is strongly shaped by our own emotional state. How we interpret another’s intentions depends very much on our emotions. We even try to understand the emotional state of someone else through reading their words: this is especially true with social media, where people can take offense to something we say when we meant it entirely innocently. How many interpersonal conflicts have come from people reading ‘between the lines’ and projecting their own emotional baggage onto someone else?

Our emotions lead us to pay attention to different aspects of the environment. It’s possible for us to assign greater significance to certain things when we are in one emotional estate, versus when we are in another. If I am upset, just a small comment from someone else might be misinterpreted and seem like a big deal, when normally I would brush it aside and attach no importance to it. If I’m feeling hungry, the supermarket is a very different environment to me than it is when my belly is full.

What about wine? I think emotions are relevant to our perception of wine, because emotions are a part of perception, and it’s pretty much impossible to tease them out. They will affect our experience of taste and smell. More than this, wine itself contains alcohol, and as we drink, it changes our internal state. It has emotional content, in this very basic sense: as I drink, some of my social inhibitions are withdrawn. If I am in good company and good cheer, this effect is magnified. If I am morose, then I am in danger of plunging further into the pit. But there’s also the emotional content of place and company and our feelings towards the wine. If I’ve found a good bottle at an affordable price on a restaurant list, then there is emotion there. If I am with friends and looking forward to a good evening, this will change the way I perceive the wine, because the emotion is part of that very perception. If a glass of wine is a reward after a long day when the kids are safely off to sleep, this is also a strong emotional content that is part of the experience of wine.

We see emotion in tasting notes. A wine can be joyful. How? It’s an emotion. From reading tasting notes, there is ample evidence that emotion is an integral part of the perception that the writer is trying to capture verbally. Do colours have emotional content? I think so. Wines have colour.

We have downplayed the role of emotion. We have seen it as untrustworthy, and something that must be reined in and overcome. We have lived with the illusion that it is possible to overcome emotion and be rational, and that the two are separate, competing domains. But it’s now clear that emotion is very much part of perceptions. Emotions affect how we perceive, and what we perceive affects our emotion, so that the two are intertwined, and by the time we get this unified conscious perception which contains outside information, our own modelling, and input from our own internal state, they have been blended together in such a way that we can’t really unpick them.

Emotion is part of perception. Emotion is a big part of the perception of wine. It is perhaps no wonder that advertisers seek to place wine in the situation of its consumption, with the emotion of enjoying wine right at the forefront.

Champagne Piper-Heidiseck's new Cuvée Essentiel Extra Brut, and a review of their Vintage 2008


Last night I drank (with help, of course) two Champagnes. One was the impressive new Cuvée Essentiel, and the other the 2008 vintage, from Piper-Heidsieck. It’s a house I associate with forward, generously toasty wines, so it’s nice to see the Essentiel, which is a bit more serious and well defined.

Champagne Piper-Heidiseck Essentiel Cuvée Réserve Extra Brut NV France
12% alcohol. The idea behind this cuvée is that it’s the same base wine as the regular non-vintage that’s aged longer and has lower dosage. This was cellared in 2012 and was disgorged in June 2016, and has 5 g/l dosage. It’s really impressive: there’s fresh citrus and green apple fruit, with a faint twist of cherry and a bit of fruit sweetness. But this is kept in check by good acidity, and the lower dosage doesn’t cover over all the edges, leaving a bit of crispness and structure on the finish. There’s some of that Piper toasty generosity, with a twist of fresh-baked bread, but there’s some saline lemony briskness on the finish. Really assured and quite delicious. 92/100

Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Vintage 20018 France
12% alcohol. This is refined and very toasty with complex spicy, almost saline citrus fruits, together with a bit of peachy richness. This has an intriguing texture, because it’s rich, bready and toasty, but at the same time fresh and spicy with good definition. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, with delicious but restrained richness, and a complex, spicy finish. 91/100

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Gamay 33, Metrat Fleurie La Roilette Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2015

metro fleurie la roulette

Metrat is underrated as a Beaujolais producer. I visited him last year, and really loved the wines. This is one of his best, a Fleurie that comes from a special Lieu Dit, La Roilette. The crus of Beaujolais have a fair bit of soil variation, and there are some especially privileged sites, and now growers are beginning to put them on labels. This is an exciting move.

La Roilette is to the far west of the cru

La Roilette is to the far west of the cru

La Roilette cru sits on very deep black granite. Historically, Roilette used to be part of Moulin-à-Vent, which borders it to the east. In 1920, when Fleurie was demarcated, La Roilette ended up in Fleurie.

This wine comes from vines planted in the 1920s and 1930s, and it has amazing density and precision.

Domaine Metrat Fleurie La Roilette Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2015 Beaujolais
13% alcohol. This is superb. It’s dense and concentrated – hallmarks of the 2015 vintage – but it also has freshness, minerality and precision. It’s vivid with good acidity supporting the stony black cherry and blackberry fruit, with some tannic grip and lovely brightness and focus. This is a powerful, structured expression of Gamay, but it isn’t heavy or clunky. It coats the tongue with some fine-grained but grippy tannins, and there’s a hint of damson bitterness countering the sweet, intense fruit. Will likely develop well. 93/100

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For food and drink at the airport, forget the lounge, and let's rethink the flight experience


I had a good experience in Toronto airport this evening. Arriving quite early, I got through security, and then wandered around Terminal 3. Because I was flying WestJet (saving my client money!), there was no lounge access. This forced me to check out the various food and drink options in the terminal, and I found a brilliant craft beer bar called Beerhive. I took a seat at the bar, and there was power (a source of happiness when travelling). Bonus. I ordered off a tablet, which had a really user-friendly menu. I chose a Muskoka Tap Room IPA. The app then offered me some food options, so I ordered some delicious-looking tuna tacos. I paid with my card, and a few minutes later the beer and tacos arrived. They were tasty, so I made another order: some nachos and a different Muskoka beer.

It was a much better experience than going to a lounge. I had wifi, I had power, I had delicious craft beer and good bar food. Compare this with the food and drink in almost all airline lounges, which is second rate. This is the bizarre thing: nowadays, in decent airports, food and drink in the main terminal is better than you get in the lounge. But everyone goes to the lounge if they can, and eats and drinks badly (it’s free), when they could be having a better experience by not going in. And although it would cost some money, this amount of money isn’t a huge deal for anyone who has lounge access.

If I use a lounge, it’s because it is quieter and nicer than the main terminal experience, and I have access to power. But sometimes the British Airways Galleries Lounge can be really busy and you can’t find a power socket. I don’t usually eat the food there, because it is calories without pleasure. The beer is terrible, and the wine is rarely much better, so often I just end up drinking sparkling water. The coffee is never as good as the options outside the lounge either.

Then there’s plane food. On WestJet, you have to order meals in advance if you want them, and if you want alcoholic drinks, you have to pay for them. There is no wine on board that you’d want to pay for, and the beer options are limited. But it makes you think: why do I ever eat airline food? Boredom? It’s terrible. On the way our I bought a really nice salad and a sandwich from Pret, and they were far better than anything I’ve been given for free on a plane, even in business class. On a recent Norweigan flight you had to pay for food, but you could order it from the touchscreen on the seat back and pay for it there with your bank card, and then the cabin crew brought it to your seat. This was quite cool: I had a lovely big salad and a lovely craft beer from Norway, and it was much more enjoyable than normal airline food. Maybe all airlines should stop giving out free food and alcoholic drinks, and instead stock some interesting options and offer them to passengers – I would pay good money for interesting booze, rather than being stuck with hideous cheap stuff that they now give me for free. Why not offer expensive options, and make some extra revenue? Some people want nice things and will pay for them, even in economy.

The WestJet entertainment system is good. You need your own device with the WestJet app, and then you can watch a wide range of films and programs. The quality on even a phone screen is better than most airline seat back screens. If you don’t have your own device, you can rent one for a few dollars. This saves a lot of expense and weight for the airline: installing seat back screens in every seat is insanely expensive and it all weighs a lot. And technology moves fast: the British Arways Highlife Entertainment System on the older planes in the fleet was groundbreaking 15 years ago but now is antediluvian. So maybe it’s time for airlines to rethink the whole flying experience. They could make more money and have happier customers, who tailor their own personalised flight experience through clever use of technology.

Stunning new releases from Domaine Queylus, Niagara, Canada

queylus wines

I’ve written about the wines of Domaine Queylus before. This winery, headed up by Thomas Bachelder, is making some of the most distinctive wines in the Niagara wine region. I met with Thomas and winemaker Kelly Mason to taste through the 2014s and the soon to be released 2015s. These are really impressive wines, and it’s always great to spend time with Thomas, who is a real thinker and has great insight into making terroir-expressive wines. ‘We try to render the vineyard into the glass,’ he says. And he means it. In 2015 Thomas and Kelly used less extraction, in response to shorter crops and more concentrated flavours in the grapes because of the very cold 14/15 winter. The 2014s are lovely wines, but the 2015s are potentially stunning.

thomas bachelder


Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Tradition 2014 Niagara, Canada
This is fine, supple and savoury with nice cedar spiciness under the fresh red cherry and plum fruit. Has nice structure and a bit of grip, with good acidity and nice elegance. Fine spices here. 92/100

Domaine Queylus Noir Réserve du Domaine 2014 Niagara, Canada
There’s some supple sweetness here with fine red cherry and plum fruit. It’s quite mineral with good acidity and nice structure under the fruit. Has some elegance, and fine savoury detail. Grown-up Pinot Noir. 94/100

Domaine Queylus Noir Le Grande Reserve 2014 Niagara, Canada
‘This has a coiled spring in it,’ says Thomas Bachelder. ‘You want to cellar it.’ Has the two eastern blocks of the home vineyard and a big slice of Neudorf. So fine. Has some raspberry and red cherry fruit with good acidity. This is all about elegance, with lovely precision and weight. There’s a lovely acidity here, with a juicy freshness to the red fruits. This needs time but it’s really fine. 95/100

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Tradition 2015 Niagara, Canada
Very fine aromas of red cherries, herbs and spice. The palate has lovely freshness with a density to the cherry and raspberry fruit. There’s real concentration here with dense fruit but also some elegance. Has good acidity and some structure. This is a big wine that’s lovely, but will need time to come round. 94/100

domaine queylus

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Réserve du Domaine 2015 Niagara, Canada
There’s some real elegance here with fine red cherries and plums. Supple and elegant with lovely focus, some fine sappiness and lovely integrated acid and tannic structure. This is really linear and focused with a lovely purity and potential for development. 95/100

Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir La Grande Réserve 2015 Niagara, Canada
This is beautifully focused and sweetly fruited with taut, compact, yet elegant red cherries and a fine silky texture. Everything is in focus, and there’s a real elegance. Such purity and focus here with a very fine structure. Massive potential. So elegant. 95/100

Domaine Queylus 7 Terroirs 2014 Niagara, Canada
A blend of all four grapes, just one barrel made, never marketed. Has some Chardonnay even! This is for the partners from Montreal, who wanted all the terroirs represented in it. Started with Pinot and added the other grapes. Spicy, cedary and dense with some warmth. Fresh with red fruits and some spiciness. Sappy and a bit herby. Grippy with some tannins. 92/100

Domaine Queylus 7 Terroirs 2015 Niagara, Canada
Lovely density with raspberries and plums and nice structure from the tannins and the acidity. Very lively and expressive. Lovely concentration weight and freshness with lots of everything. This is fun. A decadent wine. 93/100

Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc Tradition 2014 Niagara, Canada
The Cabernet Francs all have some Merlot in them. This is really fresh and supple with nice sweet cherries and plums. Nice acidity and some fine-grained structure. Has some raspberry and some sappy herb notes. Very juicy and lively, with real elegance. 92/100

Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc Réserve du Domaine 2014 Niagara, Canada
Juicy, fine, supple and elegant with fine red cherries and blackcurrant notes, with lovely juiciness and a hint of greenness that’s perfectly integrated. Nice raspberry freshness. Young but elegant. 94/100

Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc Tradition 2015 Niagara, Canada
Very fresh and fine with supple red fruits and a bit of blackcurrant. Very expressive and supple with some raspberry. Very expressive and elegant with purity and a hint of meatiness. Lovely fruit here. So fine and pure. 94/100

Domaine Queylus Cabernet Franc Réserve du Domaine 2015 Niagara, Canada
Lovely juicy, bright blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with some raspberry freshness. Pure and quite elegant with nice brightness but also substantial concentration and weight. A hint of meatiness. Lovely. 95/100

Domaine Queylus Merlot La Grande Réserve 2015 Niagara, Canada
Such finesse here: bold and structured with lovely cherry and raspberry, plus some blackcurrant freshness. Has grip and good acidity with very fine structure and keen acidity. Substantial but elegant with real purity. 95/100

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Tradition 2015 Niagara, Canada
Lovely freshness and purity with lemons, pears and fine spiciness. The oak (just 10% new) is well integrated and pure with lovely stony freshness and lemony precision. 92/100

Domaine Queylus Chardonnay Réserve du Domaine 2015 Niagara, Canada
Fresh, nutty and pure with transparent lemon and pear fruit. Has a nice mouthfeel with hints of wax, spice and fennel in the background. Nice purity and density here. Bright finish. 93/100

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Exploring the wines of Ontario, Canada


Yesterday I took part in a session for LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) product consultants, focusing on Ontario wines. This was held in Niagara-on-the-Lake, in the vineyards (we started off at Jackson-Triggs, went to Cave Spring, then finished at Flat Rock.) These consultants are the people who work in the government liquor stores as wine advisors, and the goal was to encourage them to take their local wine regions more seriously. We had a couple of masterclasses with Bruce Wallner MS, and my job was to give a talk highlighting the perspective of an outsider (I’ve visited the region a number of times over the past few years). These are my notes on the masterclass wines.

In the morning the focus was on the key varieties: Gamay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc for reds and Riesling and Chardonnay for whites.

Cave Spring Cellars Riesling 2015 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
Pure, intense and lemony with a hint of grapefruit pith and lovely fresh acidity. Dry with a great concentration of fruit. Lovely purity to this. 91/100 (CA$19)

Redstone Limestone Ridge South Block Riesling 2013 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
10% alcohol, 31 g/litre residual sugar. Biodynamically farmed on limestone soils. Off-dry with a lovely stony edge to the citrus fruit. There’s a hint of melon here, and nice acidity. Showing a tiny bit of nutty development, there’s lots of flavour here. Really expressive with great balance. 91/100 (CA$21)

Tawse Quarry Road Chardonnay 2013 Vinemount Ridge, Niagara, Canada
This is powerful and mealy with some nice spiciness. Has a savoury, nutty, cedary edge to the brisk, focused pear and white peach fruit. Lovely freshness with keen acidity. The oak is a bit too prominent at the moment, but there’s lovely freshness. 90/100 (CA$36)

Norman Hardie Chardonnay Niagara Peninsula 2015 Canada
11.9% alcohol. So fresh, expressive and refined with lovely spicy mineral notes on the nose. Lovely lemony brightness with a lovely brisk acid structure. This is superbly complex with lovely precision and purity, and a saline edge. Will age beautifully. 94/100 (CA$39)


13th Street Gamay Noir 2016 Niagara, Canada
This has beautiful sweet, vivid fruit. Wild, exotic red cherries and raspberries with a hint of jamminess, but also lovely freshness. So primary and pure, this has a great concentration of fresh, sweet fruit with a bit of crunch on the finish. Very enjoyable with a hint of seriousness. 91/100 (CA$20)

Chateau des Charmes Gamay Noir 2015 Niagara, Canada
Supple, expressive and sweet with a nice juicy brightness to the elegant berry fruits, but also a hint of vanilla and spice. Supple and easy with a generous personality. 88/100 (CA$16)

Flat Rock Cellars Pinot Noir 2015 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
15% new oak. Supple and quite elegant with some nice fine herby notes and red cherries. Has a slight green sappiness that works well with the lovely elegant red fruits. Very drinkable and expressive. Remarkable value for money. 91/100 (CA$21)

Norman Hardie Pinot Noir Niagara Peninsula 2016 Canada
11.2% alcohol. So supple and delicious, with primary red cherry fruit and some spicy structure. Has amazing precision and lovely fruit purity, with a bit of grip under the fruit. There’s a lightness and elegance to this wine that’s delightful, and it should develop well. 94/100 (CA$45)

Calamus Estate Cabernet Franc 2013 Niagara, Canada
Very interesting: there’s a lovely chalky, grainy texture to the sweet but focused blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, with a nice green leafy edge. Has a smooth mid-palate with nice weight and density. It’s really chalky and quite delicious. Drink now I reckon. Great value. 92/100 (CA$20)


Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013 Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara, Canada
This is beautiful, with real elegance and finesse. There is black cherry and blackberry fruit with nice acidity and spicy structure. So fresh with a bit of raspberry brightness. Really delicious and with potential for development. 94/100 (CA$32)

At lunch we looked at sparkling, Rosé, ice wine and a new category, orange wine. The first two are growing categories, while the ice wine is what put Canada on the international map. The last, orange wine, has just been recognized by the VQA in Ontario, and is at the moment a very small category.


Flat Rock Riddled Sparkling 2010 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada
12 g/l dosage. Really lively and bright with citrussy acidity and some toasty richness. Lovely sweet fruit with quite a high dosage evident, but the acidity means the wine can carry the sweetness. Finishes sweet and appealing. 90/100 (CA$30)

Jackson Triggs Entourage Brut 2014 Niagara, Canada
9 g/l dosage. Lovely fruit here with a slight pithy edge and nice pear and citrus fruit, with subtle toast. Has lovely weight and a bit of sweetness on the finish. Very attractive and generous. 89/100 (CA$30)

Huff Estates Cuvée Peter F Huff 2011 Prince Edward County, Canada
10 g/l dosage. Powerful and complex with toast, quince, baked apple and nuts. Very rich, bold and showing lots of autolytic character, but avoids heaviness. Lots of flavour. 91/100 (CA$40)

Malivoire Vivant Rosé 2016 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada
Pale salmon pink in colour, this has lovely smooth texture in the mouth, with a sort of stony minerality. Dry and appealing with pear and red cherry fruit. Has lovely balance. 90/100 (CA$20)

Megalomaniac Pink Slip Rosé 2016 Niagara, Canada
Full pink colour. Sweetly fruited and jellyish with lovely spiciness. Very expressive and pretty with a bit of spiciness. Lovely sweet fruit here. 87/100 (CA$20)

Featherstone Estate Rosé 2016 Niagara, Canada
Fruity, rounded and cherryish with nice sweet jelly-like fruit. Full pink in colour, this is really pretty and accessible. 86/100 (CA$16)

Lake View Cellars Vidal Ice Wine 2015 Niagara, Canada
Sweet and appealing with lovely melon, apricot and tangerine notes. Really concentrated with a jellyish edge to the fruit. Has great balance and richness, and is really accessible. 90/100 (CA$22)

Peller Estates Vidal Ice Wine 2014 Niagara, Canada
Complex, lively and sweet, with nice candied citrus fruit, melon and table grape. Sweet, concentrated and balanced with high acidity offsetting the sweetness. Very lively and appealing. 92/100 (CA$27)

Southbrook Skin Fermented Vidal 2016 Ontario
9.8% alcohol. Skin-fermented whites is a brand new category in Ontario, and was launched in July. Full gold colour with spicy, phenolic, grippy notes. Structured with some marmalade, spice and fresh lemon notes, with firm tannins. So distinctive and quite extreme, with a savoury personality. 90/100 (CA$30)


The afternoon session focused on blends and also grape varieties not in the big five.

Fielding Estate Bottled Pinot Gris 2016 Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara, Canada
Has a bit of colour. Dry and stony with refreshing citrus, pear and table grape. A little bit smoky. Attractive and refreshing with a hint of tangerine on the finish. 89/100 (CA$22)

The Hare Wine Co. Crown Land White 2016 Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada
A blend of Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Floral, textured and pretty with lychee aromatics and nice grape and pear fruit on the palate. Refreshing with a hint of spicy sweetness and nice weight and balance. 90/100 (CA$18.50)

Stratus White 2013 Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada
Semillon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc with a twist of Viognier. Rich and spicy, with pear and peach and vanilla notes. Has some cedary savouriness. Has a combination of sweet ripe fruit, a bit of grapefruit freshness, and also quite a bit of oak. 88/100 (CA$38)

Peninsula Ridge Beal Vineyard Reserve Merlot 2015 Beamsville Bench, Niagara
13.5% alcohol. Spicy and a bit meaty, with sweet berry fruits. A bit chunky with some grip under the substantial berry fruits. Structured. 88/100 (CA$16)

Creekside Estate Syrah 2013 Niagara, Canada
12.5% alcohol. Fresh and peppery with a minty, black pepper character imprinting on the lush sweet black fruits. Has some grip. Very distinctive and peppery, and great value for money. 89/100 (CA$16)

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Baco Noir 2015 Ontario, Canada
13% alcohol. Aged in American oak. Lovely vivid, intense berry fruits with some floral notes, a bit of tarry grip, and some spice. A little bit smoky, but some lovely spicy berry fruits here. Has edges, in a nice way. 89/100 (CA$25)

Pelee Island Winery Meritage Vinedressers 2012 Ontario, Canada
Very spicy with some mellow berry fruits. Has a bit of grippy structure. Sweet with a soft edge to the berry and cherry fruits and hints of earth and spice. Nice weight and structure. 88/100 (CA$25)

Malivoire Stouck Meritage 2013 Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara, Canada
12.7% alcohol. Lovely weight here: supple and smooth but with some structure hiding under the ripe cherry and berry fruit. Has hints of spice, coffee and chocolate, but the fruit is the dominant theme. Structured and fresh. 92/100 (CA$25)

Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2012 Short Hills Bench, Niagara, Canada
14% alcohol. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc. 60% new oak. Dense and rich with structure, and rich, vivid, chunky blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, together with some mint and spice. Chunky and bold. 89/100 (CA$40)

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A major award for I Taste Red


I’m so thrilled that I Taste Red, my latest book, has just won an a major award. Last night, at the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards, it was successful in the Wine Book of the Year category. Unfortunately, I had to fly to Canada for some work yesterday so I wasn’t there. But my good buddy Daniel Primack received it for me. [I must check that he hasn't drunk part of the prize...]

It’s a book that was fermenting a long time, but then was written quite quickly. I had the idea for it shortly after writing Wine Science. The subject of perception has always interested me. Back in my science editor days, we held meetings and produced books from them, and one of these was on consciousness, and other was on the molecular basis of taste and smell – it was exposure to this sort of science that made me start thinking about how we perceive wine. Indeed, one of the first paid commissions I had as a wine writer was on wine and the brain. In that piece I remember introducing the wine world to the concept of super tasters/non-tasters that Professor Linda Bartoshuk was working on, and discussing the concept of multimodal perception, in which are sensory inputs are combined at a pre-conscious stage to create a unified perception. [I recently revisited the topic of individual differences in an article in Meininger's, in which I report newer research indicating that the super taster story isn't as important for wine tasting as some people have claimed.]

This book idea remained dormant for a while, but a couple of years ago the editor who dealt with Wine Science, Hilary Lumsden, got in touch with me seeing if I had any ideas for new books. I Taste Red got commissioned and I had four months to write it, at the end of 2016. This was a complicated time for me, but the book proved an ideal distraction, and I worked like crazy to get it together. It was a brave book, bringing together lots of fields of study, including psychology, physiology, neuroscience, linguistics and even philosophy. I really enjoyed writing it, and I’m gratified that it has been so well received.

Wine is so interesting. I can’t think of any other subject where we share our inner perceptions in such an extensive way. It can be enjoyed on so many different levels. And this book has led me to explore the nature of perception itself. What is reality? How does our experience relate to reality? Is reality something each of us creates for ourselves? What is our level of sharing of reality? These questions are pretty fundamental, and wine tasting acts to help uncover the doors of perception.

Judging the Wines of Argentina Awards 2017

The judges and trophy winners

The judges and trophy winners

For the last week I have been in Mendoza, Argentina. This is the heart of Argentina’s wine industry, and it is by far the largest region, with 156 000 hectares of vines, which constitutes 75% of the country’s vineyard area. This is a lot: it’s about the same as the area under vine in Australia, and a third again the size of South Africa’s vineyard surface.

I was here to judge the wines of Argentina awards. This year, the judges came from Argentina’s three key markets: the UK, China and the USA. We judged in teams of three, each jury with two internationals and a local judge.


Over all 594 wines were entered, and each wine was judged by two panels. If there was a discrepancy of more than a couple of points between the panels, then the wine was re-tasted by a team of seven to decide which medal it should be awarded. After this, there was a trophy round, where the gold-medal wines were all re-tasted in categories, to pick out the stars. This time, everyone tried all the wines.

I was judging with Martin Kaiser and Peter Granoff

I was judging with Martin Kaiser and Peter Granoff

Following the judging, we all took part in a seminar for winemakers, held at Salentein’s impressive Killken visitor centre and restaurant in the Uco Valley. Each of us was asked to talk for 10 minutes, covering our own domestic markets, and also talking about wines that we had chosen to show the Argentine winemakers. These were wines that had some success in our local markets, and which we felt had something to say to the locals who were interested in how they can succeed with exports. And then, after a lunch, there was the awards ceremony, where the results were revealed and trophies were handed out.

In total there were 12 international judges, four each from China and the UK, three from the USA, and Paz Levinson, who’s an Argentine sommelier based in Paris. [We are all listed here.] After spending a week together, we really gelled. It felt like a family. It often works this way: put wine people together and they will find common ground, and despite the differences in our backgrounds, ages and personality types, we really forged some nice connections. Everyone joined in and made an effort to get to know their fellow judges, and we even had a lovely late night drinking Fernet Branca and swapping road stories.

What about the judging process itself? The challenge here was dealing with stylistic preferences, and also for many, this was the first time they’d judged a lot of wines like this in blind conditions. Judging wine blind isn’t the easiest thing to do, and the temptation is to reward the outliers in any flight. Often, this means that ripe, sweet wines with lots of concentration do well. If you have judged quite a bit, you are less likely to fall for the big wines, and search for elegance and beauty instead. But there’s also the danger of rewarding wines for what they are not. A wine can’t get a high score just because it isn’t big and ripe. It has to have positive attributes of its own.

The problem comes when people have different notions of what constitutes quality in a wine. There are certainly cultural differences here. Some people have grown up in a culture that celebrates ripeness and concentration, and that doesn’t mind lavish use of new oak. It’s very difficult to come to a consensus if you have different notions of quality.

But it is possible to separate out preference and judgements of quality. Experienced judges are able to assess quality separately from liking, recognizing good examples of varieties or styles that they don’t care for. This is the real challenge of judging consistently and fairly. Being a judge doesn’t give you a chance to punish wine styles that you personally dislike.

I’m going to be publishing my notes and scores on the wines that I tasted over the next few days. It’s always interesting to compare these with scores, given blind, with the scores I give sighted. Most of the time I’m reassured that producers who make wines I like get good scores from me when I taste the wines blind. It’s a nice calibration exercise.

The results are here.

What are my views on Argentine wines after this tasting? There’s lots of reason for excitement, but there are still a few concerns. I really like the inexpensive wines, which generally show direct, pure fruit and give a lot of pleasure, with freshness. Malbec is very strong, Cabernet Franc is strong, Cabernet Sauvignon is struggling a bit. Blends of Malbec and Cabernet Franc are exciting. Bonarda is massively underrated and can yield delicious wines even in the warmer regions, such as east Mendoza. The Uco Valley produces some wonderful wines, while Patagonia shows a lot of potential. And the north also has the potential to make excellent high altitude reds. Whites haven’t really grabbed me yet, although I have tasted a few very good Chardonnays and some stunning Semillon (though not in this competition). I struggle to get excited by Torrents. The concerns? Still too much winemaking at the top end: picking late, making dense, sweetly fruited wines that are then given too much new oak. That’s not the future for Argentina. I also had a few nice sparkling wines here, which showed a lot of promise. I’ll be keeping tabs on Argentine wine over the next few years because it’s at an interesting phase.

Dinner at Edy's with some great people and wines, including some Argentine stars

Edy del Popolo

Edy del Popolo

Had a lovely dinner last night at Edy del Popolo’s place, along with Sebastien Zuccardi (winemaker), Paz Levinson (sommelier), David Bonomi (winemaker and partner of Edy in Per Se) and Andres Rosberg (sommelier). They opened a lot of very good bottles, including some very serious Argentine wines.

David Bonomi

David Bonomi

Andres Rosberg

Andres Rosberg

Paz Levinson and Sebastien Zuccardi

Paz Levinson and Sebastien Zuccardi

Sebastien Zuccardi

Sebastien Zuccardi

We began with some Chardonnay.

Catena Alta Historic Rows Chardonnay 2015 Mendoza, Argentina
I think this is referring to vine rows rather than epic historical disputes, and it’s a pretty sharp wine. Fresh and linear with subtle toast and spice, as well as some pear fruit, over the top of keen citrus notes. There’s a mineral egde, too. Very fine. 92/100

Viña Cobos Bramare Los Arbolitis Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 Mendoza, Argentina
14.7% alcohol. From Paul Hobbs. Very rich and intense, and also quite textural with pear, apple and spice notes. Mealy and detailed with some warmth and a slight sake quality. 91/100


Sandhi Rita’s Crown Chardonnay 2014 Santa Rita Hills, California
This is a lovely taut wine with matchstick reduction skilfully integrated into the linear pear, peach and citrus fruit. This is such an expressive wine with concentration, minerality and drive. Quite beautiful. 94/100

Zuccardi Valle d’Uco Fósil Chardonnay 2016 Mendoza, Argentina
From the 1400 m San Pablo vineyard, which has sand/silt over stones with chalk. 70% concrete egg, 30% third use 500 litre barrels, no malolactic. It’s a very cold site that is more silty with deeper soils that Gualtallary. This is linear, fruity and pure with tangerine and lemon notes, supported by keen acidity. Pure, focused and bright, with just a hint of green tea. This is quite special. 93/100


Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre 2014 Burgundy, France
Very linear and fine with pure citrus fruit. This has substance and concentration, yet it also shows real finesse. Lemony and fine with very subtle dairy notes in the background, and great potential for development. 95/100

Norton 1959

Norton 1959 white – almost 60 years old!

Norton White 1959 Argentina
This is a varietal Semillon, and it has aged incredibly well. As you might expect, it’s a full yellow/gold colour, but shows remarkable purity and freshness, with complex notes of pear, tangerine, marmalade and wax, with a lemony finish. Good acidity and structure, showing a citrus core with some warm, waxy, spicy notes. Just beautiful. Almost perfect. 96/100


Zuccardi Poligonos del Valle d’Uco Cabernet Franc 2016 Mendoza, Argentina
This comes from San Pablo in the Uco Valley. Fermented in concrete and aged in 2500 litre foudres. So fresh and supple with fine red cherries. Elegant and fine with lovely precision and drinkability. I love this style of Cabernet Franc. 94/100


Franck Balthazar Cornas Chaillot 2014 Northern Rhône, France
Such a taut, compact wine with tar, spice and black pepper. Reductive and intense with bold black fruits. Firm and compact, showing some tannic structure and good acidity. So primary but with amazing potential. 94/100

Until the late 1980s there were only two types of vineyards in Argentina: they were Criollas (the local mission varieties) or Francesas (French varieties imported later). So this next wine is named Francesa as it’s a field blend of French varieties.


Per Se Francesa 2014 Chacayes, Mendoza, Argentina
A field blend of Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, from Chacayes in the west of the Uco Valley. Very fresh yet with great concentration and fine-grained tannins. There are some pepper hints. Ripe and sleek yet fresh and balanced with some wild herb notes in the background. 94/100

Per Se La Craie 2014 Gualtallary, Mendoza, Argentina
This is Malbec (80%) and Cabernet Franc (20%), co-fermented, 1300 metres altitude. Aged for 16 months in second-fill oak. Concentrated and intense with bold, ripe, sweet black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Fresh and expressive but with lovely concentrated, silky black fruits. Has a really fine, chalky, mineral edge to it. 95/100

Per Se La Craie 2012 Gualtallary, Mendoza, Argentina
65% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Franc, from a warmer vintage. Beautifully gravelly and chalky with sweet, fine red and black fruits. Very fresh and supple with nice tannic structure. A warm vintage, but this wine has lovely focus. There’s richness, but also complexity and freshness. 94/100


Zuccardi Finca Piedra Infinita 2014 Paraje Altamira, Uco Valley, Argentina
This is a special vineyard, named after a poem called Piedra Infinita written in 1932, but also referring to the 1000 truckloads of stones that had to be removed when this vineyard was planted. It’s at 1100 metres in the Uco Valley. Lovely supple wine with fine gravel and spice notes as well as sleek black cherries. So pure with real freshness, showing expressive fruit. Lovely structure. 95/100

Viticultores de Gualtallary Volare de Flor NV
From David Bonomi and Edy del Popolo. This is very fine and expressive. It’s really complex with minerals, spice, citrus and some saltiness. Really spicy with a core of citrus fruit and minerals and complex herbs. Tangy. 94/100

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Visiting the stunning monastery vineyard in Gualtallary, Mendoza, Argentina


Edgardo and Paz

Edgardo and Paz

Edgardo (Edy) del Popolo and Davi Bonomi took Paz Levinson and I out to see their Monasterio vineyard, high in Gualtallary, in the Uco Valley. Here, at 1500 metres on the ridge of a hill there are some amazing soils, with a very high proportion of active limestone. It’s this combination of extreme altitude plus special soils that make this potentially such a superb site. [Edy and David both have day jobs, but have collaborated to make the remarkable Per Se wines.]


The land is owned by a monastery, and when Edy first saw it he knew that he had to plant a vineyard here. In Gualtallary there are some areas with quite a bit of limestone, which in these very dry areas slowly accumulates in the soil as calcium carbonate is formed (see an explanation of this process here), and slowly increases in concentration because it isn’t washed through in the arid conditions. In these alluvial soils, with large river pebbles and stones, it accumulates on the surface, forming a white crust. This is the most obvious sign, but aside from these white stones, you also get some accumulation in the soil, and frequently a white pan forms.



Normally in the region the areas near the river have no calcium carbonate in the soil, but as you move further away it begins to show up: it accumulates over time. The typical range in the area is 0-6%, but in Edy’s vineyard, it is 14-40%, which is an enormous concentration.






But it’s not just limestone. As well as the chalky bits, there are a wide range of other bits and pieces in the soil, including some soft, decomposed granitic stones that just crumble in your hand, different sorts of clay, and small and large alluvial stones. It’s pretty interesting.



The bush vine part of the vineyard


He’s planted 1.5 hectares already, with Malbec plus some Cabernet Franc. The vines have so far had two harvests. They are individually staked, and in a small part of the vineyard they are left as bush vines. Edy and David visit three times a week and do most of the work themselves. Edy says that this way you get to know the vines: this is the way viticulture should be, he maintains. With a vertically shoot positioned vineyard you can lose this connection.



They are planting another hectare and a half, and have been ripping down to 1.5 metres before planting, removing lots of stones in the process, which the monks have piled up according to their size with a view to using them as material to help construct a winery. They also have a small vineyard on their property, but the soils there are very different, with deeper sandy loams.

There is irrigation here, but in 2016 it wasn’t needed: there was enough rain to dry grow the vines. This is their goal, but in some years irrigation will be needed. Weed control is manual, but they are not organic or biodynamic. Yields so far have been very low, but they are thrilled with the wines that they have so far made. They have a very distinctive personality, apparently, which is what you’d hope for when so much care has been taken establishing this vineyard.