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Jul 28

Ethics and Integrity

This isn't a wine post. It's an ethics post.

You see, I just got back from BlogHer, where I was disappointed in a lot of things. In particular, I was a bit floored to find all these women wanting to have sponsored posts. Now, in all fairness, it wasn't everybody, but it was enough to turn me off. In session after session, this topic came up and well, I just don't understand it.

You see, pay for post or sponsored posts mean that someone is being paid (in either product or money or both) to write a positive review post about the product. In my mind, this compromises credibility.  I simply cannot comprehend why anyone would want to do that. With that in mind, I've signed the Blog with Integrity pledge, just to reinforce the Disclaimer & Sample Policy I already have for this blog.

And just so you all know exactly where I'm coming from, here are the key points of my review policy:

1. I do accept samples, as it's a great way to be exposed to new wines. However, I do not guarantee a positive review. I may hate it or just find it okay, not great. It's the risk someone takes when sending free wine into the blogosphere.
2. I may not get to the sample right away, although I'll try to be fairly timely.
3. I will always inform you – my readers – when I'm reviewing a complimentary meal or experience, or a sample wine.
4. I will not take payment for posting a review of any sort.
5. If a winery or company advertises on my site, I will not review their products during the time in which the ad runs. If the ad runs forever, I won't review their products at all.

I'm also a pretty big supporter of Creative Commons. That means that my blog is licensed under Creative Commons – Non Commercial. Aside from the Enquirer, to which I've granted special permission, you can use my content but you cannot edit it and you must credit me with the creation.

I use Creative Commons photos all the time. Previously I used any and all images licensed under CC, but since the Enquirer deal, I'll only use photos licensed for Commercial use. I will always provide attribution to the photographer as required under the license.

This all boils down to Don't Steal and Give Credit where Credit is Due.

Finally, you all are pretty timid in the comments, often preferring to email me. I've never really had any trouble. "Gentle readers" is a phrase that truly applies to you, and I appreciate that. But just in case, a quick reminder that we live by the Bill & Ted Rule here: Be Excellent to Each Other.

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Posted by Michelle at 2:23 pm in Current Affairs, Knowledge, Legislation, Life | Permalink | Comments (5)
Jul 21

Glassware Matters Part 2: We Can’t All Afford Riedel

I've written print articles on choosing the correct glassware. But I tend to focus on regular,
affordable glassware – not Riedel. It's important to note that wine
will always taste better in the proper glass, whether it's Riedel or
not. Riedel glasses just take things to a different level.

We can't all afford Riedel. If you're like me, you've got some Riedel, but you don't pull it out all the time for fear of breakage and the pain in the butt of cleaning it. So here are just some general glassware tips that apply even to those Joker glasses. Whether Riedel or not, glassware makes a huge difference in how a wine tastes and smells.

Admittedly, I've read articles and studies that dispute this, but when you think about it, it makes sense. A glass can direct where the liquid hits your tongue and you have vaguely different taste sensations on different regions of your tongue (although the tongue map itself has been debunked). The same with smell – it's common sense that a larger bowl will release more aroma than a closed in bowl. On top of that, we've tried this at home countless times. Cabernet doesn't taste as good from a Champagne flute, etc. Try it – you'll be surprised.

The differences in glass shape can be subtle and include the
depth, width and overall curve of the glass. The size of the bowl determines
how much or how little liquid can be swirled, affecting exposure to the air.
The shape and thickness of the rim directs the wine to specific parts of the
tongue with different taste sensitivities. Finally, the diameter of the opening
concentrates or expands the wine’s bouquet.
  • Red wine glasses are characterized by their larger bowls, often
    compared to the shape of a balloon. The wider bowl helps accumulate the aromas
    and aerate the wine.
  • A white wine glass often has a smaller bowl and straighter sides,
    shaped similar to a tulip. The smaller shape allows less air to circulate, and
    has less effect on the chilled temperature of the wine.
  • Champagne and sparkling wine are best drunk from flutes. A flute
    allows the wine to bubble from a single source at the bottom. The coupe, which is a flatter style glass
    with an open mouth, is not recommended as it lets air, and bubbles, escape the

Buying a stemware set for each varietal can get expensive. In
fact, professional tasters and wine judges use just one type of glass. In an
all-purpose wine glass, you only need a couple of things:

  • Clear
    Clear glass, as opposed to tinted, allows you to view the color of
    the wine, which you often can’t do in the bottle. The color of the wine can
    often be a tip as to whether the wine has gone bad. For this reason, you also
    want to avoid cut-glass and heavy crystal. Save those decorated glasses for
    iced tea and water.
  • Shape.
    A glass with a tulip-shaped bowl is important. The curve helps hold the bouquet
    of the wine. The bowl should also be large enough so that you can swirl the
    wine without spilling. Generally, the opening of the glass should not be larger
    than the widest part of the bowl.
  • Thin rim.
    A wine glass rim should hardly be noticeable and should never impede the
    wine from reaching your mouth. A glass with a thick rim can get in the way of
    the wine. The rim, along with the shape of the glass, can help direct where the
    wine hits your tongue.
  • Stem.
    The breakable stem on a wine glass actually serves a purpose. It allows you to
    hold the glass without affecting the temperature of the wine. If you hold a
    wine glass by the bowl, the warmth of your hands will warm up the wine. The
    best wine glasses have stems that were obviously pulled from the bowl, which
    adds stability and strength, despite the fragile appearance.

No matter what wine glass you choose, take care when washing the
glasses. Wine glasses can hold the scent of your dishwashing detergent and the
detergent may also leave a residue. For your better glasses, eschew soap
altogether. Treat your  stemware as
you might a fine cashmere sweater. Wash your stemware by hand under hot water
and hang to dry.

When it comes down to it, you can drink wine out of a jelly glass
if need be. But to best expose the flavors and colors of the wine, you want to
pay a little attention to your glassware. A basic collection should include
several tulip-shaped, all-purpose glasses, as well as some champagne flutes. A
more tailored collection that won’t break the bank might include 2-4
balloon-shaped glasses for red wine, 2-4 tulip-shapes for whites, and several
champagne flutes.

Glassmakers at Riedel follow the maxim that content determines
shape, and form follows function. While the type of glass may enhance the
experience, remember that the contents of the glass is what is truly important.
A friend of mine made the comment that she will “drink my wine out of a dixie
cup if I must. What’s important is the wine!” Let’s raise a glass to that!

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Posted by Michelle at 8:15 am in Knowledge, Tastings, Wine Misc, Wine Tech | Permalink | Comments (6)
Jul 20

Glassware Matters (Part 1): Riedel Seminar

On our last day at sea on the Cruise Ship, we took a Riedel (rhymes with "needle") glassware seminar. It was actually a really interesting seminar, just in the way they forced you to compare the glasses.

The ship team of sommeliers all participated in the presentation, and
one of the first things they said was the clearest: Glasses are the
loudspeaker of the wine, instruments to increase your enjoyment."

We started out with 5 different glasses spread out in front of us. Four of those were from the Riedel Vinum set (Chardonnay, Burgundy/Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Bordeaux). The fifth glass was labeled as the Joker glass (ie, generic) and is the wine glass that was standard throughout the cruise ship and was not Riedel. It's worth noting that every time I've judged a wine competition, we've used similar generic glasses.

We received the wine one pour at a time, starting with the Sauvignon Blanc and then we started pouring and tasting wine as follows:

1. Sauvignon Blanc in the Sauvignon Blanc glass
2. Sauvignon Blanc in the Joker glass
3. Chardonnay in the Chardonnay glass
4. Chardonnay in the Sauvignon Blanc glass
5. Sauvignon Blanc in the Chardonnay glass
6. Chardonnay in the Joker glass
7. Pinot Noir in the PN glass
8. Pinot Noir in the Chardonnay glass
9. Bordeaux (in this case, Shiraz) in the Bordeaux glass
10. Bordeaux in the Pinot Noir glass
11. Pinot Noir in the Bordeaux glass
12. Bordeaux in the Joker glass

Needless to say, with all the pouring and switching going on, you really had to pay attention.

Riedel uses the idea of a Tongue Map to prove that glassware matters, and that directing wine to a particular part of your tongue makes a difference in what you taste. Now, the Tongue Map has been debunked, although it does have its roots in accuracy. From what I've read, while your tongue isn't strictly laid out in the maps areas, certain taste buds are slightly stronger in these areas as compared to other locations. So while you might pick up acid all over your tongue, it's strongest on the sides. As a general guide, our sommeliers told us that we pick up more acidity on the sides of our tongue, harshness/bitterness towards the back, and sweetness in the front, with weight of a beverage landing in the middle. 

So did it make a difference? Of course. Keeping in mind that holding a feather-weight, lovely glass in your hand can also influence your perceptions. However, the Estancia Chardonnay tasted soft, with less oak, and full of vanilla when I tasted it in the Vinum Chardonnay glass. When it was moved to the Sauvignon Blanc glass, it  had more compressed flavors and higher acidity. I didn't care for it. In the Joker glass, there were no aromas and what had been a decent wine before was suddenly harsh and poorly balanced. It made me consider that perhaps I would like Chardonnay a little more if I drank it out of proper glassware on a regular basis.

Perhaps the one that stood out the most for me was the Kendall-Jackson Pinot Noir. I'm not a huge Kendall-Jackson fan, and I admit I scrunched my nose up when they poured the Pinot Noir into my Burgundy glass. The Pinot had soft aromas of earth and vanilla. Supposedly, the glass sent the wine directly to the center of my tongue, so I tasted a Pinot Noir reminiscent of what I smelled: softness, earth, vanilla, with just a hint of oak. Later, the KJ Pinot Noir ended up in the Joker glass and I hated it. I commented to Kevin that this was what I'd expected the Pinot Noir to taste like from the beginning. Again, maybe I should break out my Riedel glassware more often.

Another interesting note was on the Bordeaux glass, which we used for an Aussie Shingleback 2005 Shiraz. The Bordeaux glass is what our sommeliers said can serve as the Riedel All-Purpose glass. But they also called it the Tannin Tamer and I experimented with that later at the wine bar. Dump any tannic wine into this glass and it does lessen them to a certain degree – at least in compared to the Joker glass.

Although I'd been sold on the concept of glassware making a difference before the Riedel seminar, this excellent demonstration rather drove the point home. I do believe there are elements of visual expectation and psychology involved in it, and I'd drink wine in a paper cup if you gave it to me that way, but glassware does matter.

Tomorrow I'll talk a little more about general glassware tips. After all, we can't all afford Riedel. (Luckily, Kevin and I each got a set included with the seminar.)

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Posted by Michelle at 10:08 am in Knowledge, Tastings, Wine Misc, Wine Tech | Permalink | Comments (7)
Jul 09

Guest Post: An Italian Wine Primer, Part 2

While Kevin & I are in Alaska, we've asked some friends and
colleagues to post on their wine loves, wine experiences and more. For
this post we welcome back Kevin Keith, continuing his post from last week.


Welcome back, it’s Kevin Keith, your friendly neighborhood
wino from Liquor Direct, back with more Italian primer – this time we
take a brisk walk through the Italian wine landscape, starting at the top of
the boot, with the tiny region of the Valle d’Aosta.

Image Credit

Valle d’Aosta is
the smallest of the Italian wine regions, bordering Switzerland to the north,
France to the west, and Piedmont to the south and east.  An ancient growing region, grapes have
been cultivated since the Roman days, with around 22 varieties authorized for
growing, including Picotener (the local name for Nebbiolo), Neyret, Vien de
Nus, Fumin, Mayolet, Prie Route, Petit Rouge, Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), Gamay,
Dolcetto and Syrah for the reds, and Moscato Bianco (also called Moscat de
Chambave), Pinot Grigio (also known as Malvoisie), Blanc de Morgex, Prie Blanc,
Muller-Thurgau, Chardonnay and Petit Arvine.  There are no DOCG wines from this area.

Piedmont means
“at the foot of the mountains.” 
This region is by far one of the most recognized regions in Italy.  It is the second largest region and has
the most DOC wines (over 40) and DOCG wines (7).  Most of the production of wine originates in the heart of
Piedmont, the Po River Valley. 
Here you will find Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara and Moscato
d’Asti.  The first three I
mentioned are all made with the Nebbiolo grape, and the last mentioned is from
the ancient Muscat grape.  Dolcetto
and Barbera are also widely planted red varieties, as well as Freisa,
Grignolino and Brachetto.  The most
popular white grape is the Cortese, used for the DOCG wine, Gavi.  Arneis (nicknamed the “white Barolo”)
and Erbaluce di Caluso are also grown. 
Another important wine product produced here is Vermouth, made with at
least 70% wine, and fortified and flavored with various roots, spices, herbs
and wood – this is what is known as an “Aromatic” wine.

Lombardy sits in
the semi-circle created by the Alps that enclose Italy to the north.  The mountainous north and the flat Po
River Valley in the south define the topography of the growing regions, which
are divided into three:  the
Valtellina in the North, the Oltrepo Pavese in the southwest, and the
Franciacorta in the east. 
Nebbiolo, known locally as Chiavennasca, is the primary red grape grown
in the Valtellina.  The Oltrepo
Pavese is known primarily for Pinot Nero. 
And the greatest sparkling wines from Italy come from the Franciacorta,
and is derived from Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and/or Pinot Nero.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by Michelle at 8:30 am in Guest Writers, History, Knowledge | Permalink | Comments (1)
Jul 07

Guest Post: Wine & Your Health

While Kevin & I are in Alaska, we've asked some friends and
colleagues to post on their wine loves, wine experiences and more. Last week, David Lazarus offered a post and today, we get healthy with his wife, Jan Lazarus. Jan is a registered dietitian with a specialization in diabetes. This is timely, considering all the comments we get on our Slender wine posts. Thanks Jan!

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Being a dietitian and diabetes educator I receive many questions on the use of alcohol.  Since this is a wine blog I will focus on my attention to the consumption of wine and its benefits and detriments.

The one myth that I really would like to debunk is the number of carbohydrates in a glass of wine.  On average a 5-ounce glass of dry wine contains 110 calories, 5 grams of carbohydrates and 13 grams of alcohol which accounts for 91 of the 110 calories.  It is extremely frustrating to attend a function and overhear someone talking about falling off the low-carb diet wagon while having a glass of wine.  This is a perception created by a good marketing firm. 

Wine or any alcohol is metabolized in the body as a fat not a sugar; that is why excess drinking can add extra pounds of fat even when you are consuming a low-fat diet.  Wine is fermented and does contain some residual sugar, but a very small amount. 

There are positive attributes to wine especially red wine. This wine contains components that can increase your good cholesterol “HDL” and it also acts as an anti-coagulant preventing platelets to stick together and decreasing the chance of blood clots. On the flip side, over-consumption can lead to high blood pressure and increased triglycerides, not a good fat. 

For those with diabetes, alcohol actually lowers the blood sugar for up to 10 hours. This can result in a hypoglycemic state especially if they haven't eaten or are on certain medications. But this is not the recommended method for controlling blood sugar, I have had clients who have tried with unfortunate outcomes. 

Now how much is a drink?  Women should only have 5 ounces of wine per day and men no more than 10 ounce per day. (No, you cannot save them up and have them all in one day.  I get that question a lot.)  Moderate drinking can be very beneficial to your health, but when you go over the daily recommendations then the detrimental effects may occur.  The key to remember is, too much of a good thing is never good.

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Posted by Michelle at 8:30 am in Guest Writers, Knowledge | Permalink | Comments (1)

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