Rest easy, wine lovers. Perception is easily fooled.

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 03-17-2015

CC0 Public Domain.

CC0 Public Domain.

As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I explain why wine enthusiasts shouldn’t worry about academic studies that call baloney on oenophilia.

Rest easy, wine lovers. Perception is easily fooled.

One glass of Cabernet Sauvignon was described as “powerful and heavy.” Another was described as “subtle and refined.”  The only difference? The music that was playing while people drank the wine.

A few years ago, Adrian North, a psychology professor at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, tested the impact of music on taste perception by pouring wine for 250 students. Some tasted the wine while listening to music identified by others as “powerful and heavy,” while others listened to music that was “subtle and refined,” “zingy and refreshing,” or “mellow and soft.” Other students drank without any music. After enjoying their wine for five minutes, the students were asked to rate how much the wine tasted like the musical descriptions.

The conclusion, as put simply in the British Journal of Psychology? “Background music influences the taste of wine.”

When North’s study came out, oenophiles were infuriated. Here was yet another academic calling wine appreciation into question.

Rest easy, wine lovers. Perception is easily fooled.

Widespread derision of wine criticism began in 2001 when Frédéric Brochet, a University of Bordeaux psychologist, poured one glass of red wine and one glass of white wine for 54 oenology students — and then asked them to describe each wine in detail. Students described each wine with the laundry list of descriptors one would expect for reds and whites. What Brochet didn’t tell the students? Both wines were the same. The white in one glass was simply dyed red.

Ever since, the media has jumped at any opportunity to call baloney on oenophilia. But psychologists have long known that humans are easily tricked, especially when relying on taste buds.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

In Its Greatest Moments, Wine Provides an Idealized Reality

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 03-03-2015

IMG_20150228_140315As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I write about the best California wine I’ve ever had — and what it teaches us about great wine.

In Its Greatest Moments, Wine Provides an Idealized Reality

Fifteen years ago, Stephen Tanzer, one of the world’s leading wine critics, described the Cabernet Sauvignon from Ridge’s 1991 harvest in Monte Bello vineyard as “among the top dozen made in California during the last 20 years.”

So when I tasted the wine on January 16, 2012, my expectations were high. A few friends and I had gathered at a local steakhouse to explore some of California’s top wines from the 1990s; bottles from producers like Seavey, Dominus, Chappellet, and Dunn were on the table. And the Ridge outclassed everything. The wine, grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains, exploded out of the glass with sweet, fleshy fruit, wild herbs, and graphite. It was concentrated but light on its feet. The finish lingered impressively.

The Ridge Monte Bello stopped us in our tracks. It was as if we had discovered the Holy Grail. Without question, it was the best California wine I’d ever had.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Investing Our Hearts in Champagne

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 02-17-2015

As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, by sharing a great love story, I explore why Champagne is such a special beverage.

Investing Our Hearts in Champagne

“Here you have this wonderful, miraculous thing, with hundreds of thousands of little tiny bubbles that are defeating gravity and exploding in this gentle fragrant foam on the lip of the glass. There is something beautiful — in a kind of giddy way — about just the sight of Champagne.”

It was slightly surprising to hear wine importer Terry Theise make this statement.

Since the dawn of global wine consumption, large producers like Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot have dominated the Champagne market. These companies purchase their grapes from thousands of growers across the region to deliver a consistent product each year — and spend millions trying to convince us that their wines are best enjoyed when celebrating.

Theise has spent the past twenty years urging Americans to ignore these companies and instead drink “farmer fizz,” or Champagne produced by the farmers who grow the grapes. And he’s worked harder than anyone to dispel the notion that Champagne should only be consumed on New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, and other special occasions.

But Theise recognizes that Champagne carries an emotional charge. There is, to put it simply, something special about Champagne. As Theise writes in his most recent catalog, “we invest our hearts in it.”

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Craft Beer Boom Benefits Wine Industry

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 02-03-2015

beermugAs regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I write about Super Bowl XLIX to explain why the boom in craft beer sales will benefit the wine industry.

Craft Beer Boom Benefits Wine Industry

About 50 million cases of beer were purchased on Super Bowl Sunday. It’s no wonder Anheuser-Busch, America’s largest brewer, purchased three and a half minutes of ad time during the big game.

Two of the beer company’s commercials were widely praised. Bud Light’s spot made virtually every viewer hope for an epic evening in a life-sized Pac-Man maze. Budweiser’s tale of a lost puppy finding his way home melted millions of hearts. But Anheuser-Busch’s third commercial, which mocked craft beer and the people who enjoy it, left a bitter taste in the mouths of many football fans.

“Proudly a macro beer, [Budweiser is] not brewed to be fussed over,” the spot began. “It’s brewed for drinking. Not dissecting. The people who drink our beer are people who like drinking beer . . . Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale. We’ll be brewing us some golden suds.”

In this narrative, craft beer drinkers are fussy hipsters who dine on Brussels sprouts and chicken liver mousse at cerebral, trendy restaurants. Budweiser fans, by contrast, are blue-blooded men who drive trucks and hang out at packed bars — and don’t give much thought to what they drink.

The motivation for this commercial, aimed at making Budweiser synonymous with manliness? Fear. Americans have been abandoning Budweiser for more than 25 years. While the company sold nearly 50 million barrels of its iconic beer in 1988, it sold just 16 million in 2013. Many Americans have moved to light beer, but Budweiser is most worried about the rise of craft beer, especially among 20-somethings.

Among 21- to 27-year-old drinkers, more than four in 10 say they’ve never even tried Budweiser. In this demographic, craft beer makes up 15 percent of beer purchases, compared with 10 percent for older generations. This trend is accelerating. That’s great news for craft brewers, obviously, but it’s also a positive development for small wine producers.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Are Modern Sommeliers Educators? Absolutely.

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 01-20-2015

taste vinAs regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country. These columns are hosted by Grape Collective.

If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I praise the educational approach favored by today’s top sommeliers.  

Are Modern Sommeliers Educators? Absolutely.

I was out past midnight one recent Wednesday, despite a meeting early the next morning. When I headed home, my route took me through Washington, D.C.’s popular 14th Streetcorridor, where a few bars and restaurants were still open.

As I passed Doi Moi, a trendy Southeast Asian restaurant, I noticed that virtually every table in the front half of the restaurant was full. Odd for so late on a weeknight, I thought. I then realized that the tables were packed with staffers. The team had assembled, with notebooks and glasses in hand, to learn from wine director Max Kuller. He holds seminars twice each month to teach his team about wine.

Kuller represents a new generation of sommeliers, one that has rejected the exclusivity and stuffiness of yesteryear in favor of an approach that values inclusivity and education. Kuller is more comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt than a three-piece suit. And while his list includes a handful of expensive trophies, it mostly offers offbeat, wallet-friendly wines that work well with Doi Moi’s cuisine. Thanks to regular gatherings, Kuller’s team is familiar with Doi Moi’s full list. And Kuller works hard to make sure his colleagues take the interaction of wine with food seriously.

Spotting the late-night wine seminar was refreshing. Earlier that evening, I dined at La Chaumiere, a French bistro in Georgetown that opened its doors in 1976 and has hardly changed since. 

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Three Wine Trends to Watch for in 2015

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 01-06-2015

One hallway (of many) in the cellar at Krug.

A hallway at Krug.

As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country. These columns are hosted by Grape Collective.

If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I make three predictions about the year ahead.

Three Wine Trends to Watch for in 2015

2014 will likely go down as the year that powerful wine critics lost their grip on the marketplace.

Last year, many retailers stopped using points to sell wines. Instead of “shelf talkers” advertising reviews from publications like Wine Spectator, shops offered handwritten notes praising certain wines. Many restaurants, too, removed points from their menus in 2014. Instead, they decided to educate their servers about wine — and hire fun sommeliers to chat with guests. Thanks to popular mobile apps like Delectable, wine consumers moved away from critics like Robert Parker and toward fellow enthusiasts with similar palates.

This year, look out for three big trends.

Champagne will find a spot at the dinner table. Oenophiles have always talked about top Champagne with the same reverence they reserve for the finest wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy. But for most of the past 50 years, everyday Americans poo-pooed Champagne. The good stuff was too expensive and rarely seemed worth it. And the imitations served at weddings — think Cook’s and cheap Prosecco — was, well, gross.

Today, however, consumers are falling in love with Champagne. Shipments to the United States have been climbing steadily since 2009.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

War, Wine, and Giving Thanks at Christmas

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 12-23-2014

From Wikimedia.

From Wikimedia.

As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country. These columns are hosted by Grape Collective.

If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I look at the history of wine and war at Christmastime — and offer an important holiday message.

WarWine, and Giving Thanks at Christmas

One hundred years ago this week, France launched its first major offensive against Germany in WorldWar I. The fight took place in the winegrowing region of Champagne, which the German army had invaded just weeks after hostilities broke out. Nearly 200,000 lives were lost in the three-month battle.

Champagne witnessed some of the war‘s heaviest fighting. The region’s two largest cities — Reims and Epernay — were bombarded for three years. Locals took shelter in the caves under houses like Veuve Clicquot, Krug, and Taittinger. The vineyards became battlefields.

Yet production continued. Where bombs could be avoided, women and children harvested grapes. Famously, Jeanne Krug sought winemaking advice via post from her husband, Joseph II, who was a prisoner of war. Praising Krug as a “brave lady,” the British sales representative for the Champagne house would later remember selling “the entire cuvee of 1915 in record time.”

A full century has passed since the Battle of Champagne. But wine remains inextricably tied to conflict. And the bottles that survive continue to offer a window to other times and places.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Delectable: A Wine App That Could Revolutionize Drinking

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 12-09-2014

delectableAs regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country. These columns are hosted by Grape Collective.

If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column,I explain how Delectable could revolutionize how Americans purchase wine.

Delectable: A Wine App That Could Revolutionize Drinking

Alexander Niehenke began to appreciate wine ten years ago. But for the first four years, it was simply a beverage he enjoyed with dinner from time to time, especially when cooking at home.

But then he put his nose in a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from Justin, a winery based in Paso Robles, California. He was at a bachelor party, where few attendees were paying any attention to the wine inside their glasses. But for Niehenke, the aromas were intoxicating. Something clicked. So he promptly dove into the world of wine.

For the next five years, Niehenke’s passion for wine grew steadily and predictably. As a resident of San Francisco, weekend trips to Napa Valley and Sonoma were easy — so he started driving north regularly. He began attending tastings, reading wine publications, and even collecting.

Then he discovered Delectable, a mobile wine app. Since downloading the program last fall, Niehenke has been moving towards oenophilia at lightning speed.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

Rethinking the Tasting Note

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 11-25-2014

wine-tastingAs regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column,I explain why the baffling rhetoric of tasting notes intimidates consumers and stands in the way of wine appreciation. And I urge wine enthusiasts to change the way we talk about wine.

Rethinking the Tasting Note

“This first wine is a fighter; he’s loud. The second wine is pensive; she has a dark side.” This past Saturday, as I led a seminar in Chevy Chase, Maryland, one of the participants offered these tasting notes while comparing two wines.

We were exploring Pinot Noir from California and France. I offered more typical descriptions to highlight the differences — dark, ripe cherries on the Sonoma example versus earthy, tart cherries on the one from Burgundy — and several students pushed back.

At least half the room admitted that they find tasting notes bewildering. Others acknowledged that they scoff at wine descriptors. Many confessed that such notes intimidate them.

At first, I defended the standard wine review. I collect wine, so I pay close attention to people whose palates are similar to mine, like Eric Asimov of the New York Times. And I read reviews from critics like Stephen Tanzer and Antonio Galloni of Vinous to glean information about a wine’s general flavor profile. With Chardonnay, for example, I’m interested in wines that are high in acid and offer aromas of tart citrus fruits. I’m rarely excited by a heavy Chardonnay with notes of ripe tropical fruits, butter, and oak. Basic descriptors like these help describe a wine and its style.

But I could sympathize with my students. Communicating effectively about wine shouldn’t demand an encyclopedic knowledge of rare fruits and bizarre aromas; after all, wine is just fermented grape juice. Thanks to mass-market wine magazines, however, we’ve come to expect gobbledygook.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!

With Priest Ranch, Craig Becker Is Betting On Honesty

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 11-11-2014

Courtesy of Somerston Wine Co.

Courtesy of Somerston Wine Co.

As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns are hosted by Grape Collective. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

In my latest column, I profile one of Napa Valley’s most successful winegrowers, Craig Becker. His business plan for a new project is particularly noteworthy, as it relies on nothing more than good grapes and honesty!

With Priest Ranch, Craig Becker Is Betting On Honesty

“No one needs a new wine brand,” explained Craig Becker, a veteran Napa Valley winegrower, over breakfast one recent morning. We were discussing the market for expensive Cabernet Sauvignon.

Even though Napa Valley produces less wine than most people realize — it accounts for just four percent of California’s yield — the region produces plenty of high-end offerings. Napa Valley is home to more than 500 wineries, and the average price for a bottle of “Napa Cab” shipped directly to consumers exceeds $80. Yet Becker is betting that one of his latest projects, Priest Ranch, will thrive.

His blueprint is simple: it relies on good grapes and honesty. Considering Becker’s track record, his plan will almost certainly succeed.

Check out the rest of the piece on Grape Collective!