Category Archives: wine
Sep 07 comments
Sep 06 comments
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The “Who’s Your Daddy” series takes a brief look at the parentage of grapes, in order to get a better understanding of where particular varietals come from and how they are genetically related to one another. So far, we’ve covered: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Pinotage, Gamay, and Petite Sirah. Feel free to click on any one of the varietal names to read all about their parentage.
The subject of today’s “Who’s Your Daddy” post is Merlot, which along with Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular varietals in the world.
In relative terms, the Merlot grape has not been around very long. Some sources indicate that the first mention of Merlot came from an official in the Bordeaux region of France in 1784, though others say it wasn’t until the 19th century that Merlot had been noted in the record books. It has been said that this official declared Merlot some of the finest wine of its time. Today, Merlot remains one of the five major Bordeaux varietals, and has also seen widespread plantings throughout the world, including in the United States, Chile, Australia, and many others.
In the 1950s, a severe freeze had all but wiped out the Merlot (and Malbec) grape vines in France. French winegrowers attempted to replant the vines the next year; however those vines were subsequently destroyed by rot. Year after year, attempts to replant the Merlot were made, only to be met with year after year of failure and ruin. As a result of the physical and financial loss occurring year after year, the French government placed a ban on planting new Merlot vines in 1970, which was later lifted in 1975 due to increasing popularity of Merlot wines worldwide.
Rather than me telling you about the most recent history of Merlot, including its’ “death” and then it’s more recent comeback, I’ll leave it up to the clever folks at Gundlach Bundschu with this clever video:
Merlot is characterized by having loss grape clusters and large berries. The name Merlot; likely derived from the word Merle which means “blackbird” in French; is likely a reference to the dark color of the grapes (or perhaps to the fact that blackbirds are known to be very fond of the juicy berries). The Merlot grapes are a dark bluish color, and also possess relatively thin skins, which contributes to the relative softness of the wine.
Merlot grapes tend to be less hardy than other varieties, which results in greater risk of infection by molds, mildews, or rots. While it is more able to thrive in cooler climates than Cabernet Sauvignon, it still prefers to grow in a warmer growing environment.
Merlot does best when grown in clay or limestone soils, and ripens earlier than its’ Bordeaux cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon (2 weeks earlier, roughly). At harvest, Merlot produces higher alcohol and lower acidity than other Bordeaux varieties. These characteristics allow Merlot to calm the stronger tannins and structure of other Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, which allows it to function as a nice blending grape for that region. Of course, Merlot is also well known and able to function as a single varietal wine as well, though in the Bordeaux region of France and in regions where it is more difficult to grow, it is known primarily to be blended with other varietals.
In general, Merlot tends to be softer and fruitier than its cousin, Cabernet Sauvignon, though it does share some similar aromas and flavors. Of course, every bottle of Merlot is going to taste slightly different, depending upon where it was grown, what vineyard management practices were employed, and what winemaking techniques were used, though there are in general some common tones that resonate throughout the Merlot world. Some of these common aromas and flavors of Merlot are black cherry, currant, and cedar, as well as tobacco, licorice, and chocolate. Other aromas and flavors found in Merlot wines include black raspberries and plums, as well as jam and blueberries.
So, Merlot….”Who’s your daddy?”…
Enough of this chatter about the history, viticulture, and sensory characteristics of Merlot. Let’s get down and dirty…Who’s your daddy, Merlot?
In 2009, a group of researchers at the University of California at Davis cleared up some of the fog surrounding the Merlot parentage debate. Using inheritance analysis of DNA markers from thousands of grape varieties, the group was able to confidently answer the question of which grapes the Merlot grape originated from.
Without further ado, I present to you the parents of Merlot:
……Magdeleine Noire des Charentes
There you have it! This research also found several other relatives of Merlot, including Carmenére, which may be a sort of sibling of Merlot.
If you’d like to learn about the parentage of another grape variety, simply leave a comment below and I’ll see what I can dig up! Note: there are many grape varieties with unknown parentage still, but I’ll try my best to find data that may suggest particular relationships and origins. This type of genetic research is ongoing, so even if I can’t find information on a particular grape of your choosing today, that may change in the future!
Sep 04 comments
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Studies on olfactory influences on physiological and neurological responses are not new to science. It has been found that 80% of flavor sensations during eating in humans are attributed to the olfactory system (i.e. smelling). It is also well known that in humans, and many other living things with functioning olfactory systems, the sense of smell also acts as a sort of defense mechanism against possible threats.
For example, something very foul smelling may trigger a defensive response, as the smell may indicate danger or poison if ingested. Evolution has taken advantage of these responses over time, which can be seen in the example of the Fulmar bird. The Fulmar, which is closely related to the Albatross, is an extremely foul-smelling bird, with even smellier eggs. This provides the bird with protection against most predators, as the stench will nearly always trigger a danger response in the predator thus leaving the bird and/or eggs unscathed.
I realize I’m getting away from wine quite a bit, however, it is important to note that responses to olfactory cues (i.e. the aroma of that wine you have in your glass) have an underlying evolutionary and physiological origin that is common across many different living systems. Also, I’m kind of a geek and love sharing my random knowledge of science.
Anyway, I digress….
It is known that olfactory cues from food can alter one’s impression of the food. Does it smell good to you? This may trigger a positive response in your brain. Does it smell like rotten eggs? This may trigger a warning signal in your brain to not eat it due to possible danger. Olfactory triggers in the brain are distributed via two major pathways: through the limbic system and the frontal cortex. The first pathway, through the limbic system, influences the signals made by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain, and by which olfactory responses can alter mood and behavior without the individual being consciously aware of the change. The second pathway, through the frontal cortex, is where the conscious decisions occur and are processed with past memories and experiences to help make a determination of the identification of the odor.
Earlier this year, a team of Japanese researchers set out to study the decision-making process for selecting one’s favorite wine by using olfactory cues as well as physiological and neurological markers. To tell you the truth, I had a hard time with this paper, which I think can be partially blamed on the poor translation. Several times, what I was reading was not coherent sentences, which forced me to interpret what they were trying to say. Though the paper in and of itself was not the most properly edited, the topic is one I don’t see come up as often as others and so I wanted to share it with you all today.
Experiment I: Mental Impressions of Wine
For the first part of their experiment, the researchers had subjects smell wines to determine certain characteristics without tasting them. They recruited 24 students with no wine knowledge, and divided them up into a wine lovers group, and a non-wine lovers group. Subjects were asked to smell the wines, then answer a questionnaire in which they had to give the wines one of five criteria: “refreshing”, “amiable”, “favorite”, “delicious”, and “poised”.
The research team used analytical hierarchical process (AHP) to analyze the qualitative and quantitative aspects of a decision made on the wines, which according to the authors, has not yet been used in this type of experiment with wine. AHP is a mathematical technique that is used for multi-criteria decision-making processes. The decision problem is presented as a structure hierarchy, with the overall goal/decision positioned at the top. The next level of the hierarchy consists of criteria relevant to this overall goal/decision, while the bottom level are the alternatives being evaluated (the different wines in this example). This method of analysis, coupled with Principle Components Analysis (PCA) allowed the researchers to determine the subjects’ preferences for each wine.
Experiment II: Neuro-physiological responses to wine aromas
For this experiment, 16 subjects (8 wine lovers and 8 non-wine lovers) were seated in an environmentally-controlled room with the edge of a wine glass placed on a stand 10 centimeters under the nostril for the subjects to sniff. Subjects were presented with a non-odor solution, an alcoholic solution, and seven different wines. Solutions and wines were presented to subjects for three minutes at one minute intervals in a random order. Each subject underwent this experiment twice. Blood-oxygen levels were also measured, which were done so by using NIRS and EEG measuring caps.
|Figure 2 from Koike et al, 2012.|
As an aside, I wanted to point out an example of the awful translation/editing done on this paper. Figure 2 shows an image of the experimental set up for Experiment II. Notice anything odd in this picture? Wine by the Grass? Really? I swear, I did not alter this photograph in any way shape or form. Here is the icing on the cake: to describe the image in detail, the text read something like this: “…the edge of a blade of grass kept on a stand was placed under 10 centimeters from the nostril for the subject to sniff the wine aroma”. I’m sorry, but was there not a single person that could speak any English editing this translation? You can’t make this stuff up.
Again, I digress….
So what did this study find?
- This study found that for wine lovers, the criteria of “Favorite” was rated of highest importance in both empty and moderately empty stomach conditions, while the criteria “Poised” was rated lowest.
- Not surprising, “Amiable” and “Delicious” were rated higher in empty stomach conditions than in moderately empty stomach conditions.
- For wine lovers and non-wine lovers, the highest ranked wine was Wine #3 and Wine #5 for both stomach conditions.
- For wine lovers with the moderately empty stomach condition, Wines #3 and #5 at first significantly increased blood-oxygen levels compared to the non-odor solution in the left and right sides of the subjects’ foreheads, respectively.
o Wine #3 significantly changes blood-oxygen levels at 2 and 3 minutes compared to the non-odor solution.
o For non-wine lovers, blood-oxygen levels remained unchanged.
- For wine lovers with the empty stomach condition, blood-oxygen levels increased in the third minute when Wine #3 was given.
o For non-wine lovers, blood-oxygen levels remained unchanged.
So, what does this all mean?
The primary result of this study was that both wine lovers and non-wine lovers identified Wine #3 as their “favorite” wine, followed by Wine #5. The study also found that blood-oxygen levels significantly increased for wine lovers in the third minute of exposure to the wine aroma for Wine #3 compared to non-odor and alcoholic solutions. However, for the non-wine lovers, this increase in blood-oxygen level was not found, and instead no significant changes were noted. According to the authors of this study, these results indicate that there is a discrepancy between the psychological expression and the physiological response when smelling wine.
Some studies have found that there is a differing cortical response to the expectation of eating food when the subject was hungry versus full. This study found that blood-oxygen levels decreased from seconds in empty stomachs to minutes in moderately empty stomachs, possibly indicating that the reward response to the wine aroma was decreased and satisfied. In other words, smelling the wine on an empty stomach more quickly satiated the subject than smelling the wine on a fuller stomach, since a fuller stomach is already more satisfied.
It is important to note that this blood-oxygen response was only found with wine lovers. With non-wine lovers, there was no significant change in blood-oxygen levels when presented with wine aromas. According to the authors, this may indicate that non-wine lovers are satisfied by wine aroma. In other words, they may not feel any sort of pleasurable emotion when smelling wine.
“The Big Reveal”
Which wines were Wine #3 and Wine #5, the “favorites” identified by the subjects in this study. Wine #3 turned out to be wine made from Niagara grapes, and Wine #5 was made from Campbell Early grapes; both grapes belonging to Vitis labrusca and having sweet aromas and sweet tastes. The other wines not ranked as highly by the study subjects were Vitis vinifera and dry. The authors suggest that the sweet aroma of the two “favorite” wines for subjects in this study could be leaving a psychological positive impression on them.
What do I think?
Perhaps is preference again due to the evolutionary development of a scent-based defense mechanism. Maybe a sweet smell triggers a positive response that there is something good to eat present, while an astringent or bitter smell (as one may find in some dry wines) may trigger a more negative response indicating to the individual that poison or danger may be afoot.
Overall, while the results may be interested from a purely scientific standpoint, they can in no way be extrapolated to any other population. The study subjects were (assumingly) all Japanese students, the age of which I am assuming is relatively young. The study subjects are all very inexperienced in wine. Also, the sample size was extremely small, with only 16 subjects participating in Experiment II. The results of this study can only therefore be interpreted for this tiny subset of a population and cannot be assumed to be the reality for other populations. Would the results of this study be the same as if it were repeated on French wine experts? I highly doubt it (though I could be wrong…).
I am also very disappointed with the quality of editing and the translation of this paper. Some of the mistakes are cringe-worthy (see Figure 2 above) and should absolutely have not passed through the editors without so much as a “hey, that doesn’t make that much sense…”. I’d also like to see the study repeated using a larger and more diverse population (including not only wine novices but also wine experts and general wine enthusiasts). Finally, what about taste? Though olfactory cues are a huge player in determining preferences, one cannot forget about taste. Do decisions made solely by olfactory cues change when taste is introduced?
I’m certain there are many other things that could be improved in this study, but I’ll leave that up to you all to suggest in your comments below. What do you think about this topic and this research? Please feel free to leave your comments below!
Koike, T., Kamimura, H., Shimada, K., Yamada, H., and Kaneki, N. 2012. Determination of Favorite Wine from Comparison of Wine Aroma Attributes. Kansei Engineering International Journal 11(1): 41-50.
http://www.fivesenses.com/Documents/Library/5%20%20Future%20Olfactory%20Research.pdf Accessed 09/03/2012
http://listverse.com/2010/12/23/10-birds-with-truly-odd-defenses/ Accessed 09/03/2012
I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!
Aug 23 comments
This post is two of a two-part series that briefly summarizes my experiences at the Wine Bloggers Conference in a light-hearted manner. These posts will be followed later by a more academic/scientific analysis of specific events of the conference, as well as my plans for expanding The Academic Wino blog.
As you may or may not recall, Friday night, “The Night of Many Bottles”, was not attended by yours truly, as my body had pretty much completely shut down after the sleep deprivation from my travels and only slightly due to the copious amounts of wine consumed throughout the entire day. Granted, I spit nearly all of the wine I was offered, save for the wine served at dinner, however, alcohol is still absorbed through the pores in the tongue thus likely contributing to my fatigue at the end of the evening! Anyhow, sleep found me and I was very quickly taken away to “la la land” for some much needed rest.
I realize I promised Part II the day after I posted Part I, but alas, all this traveling has made me slightly ill and I did not have the energy to complete the post in time! My sincere apologies! I’m still feeling a bit under the weather, but hopefully I’m well enough to make this post somewhat coherent! Click here to read Part I of this summary series.
|Tasting wine with Luke from Wine Country BC |
(photo courtesy Jeff from Conscious Wine)
Waking up Saturday morning, I had surprisingly had enough energy to venture out on a quick run along the river. I enjoyed seeing all of the runners, walkers, and cyclists out for their morning routines, and caught a quick glimpse of what life could be like in the great city of Portland. I only wish I had more time to experience the pleasures this city had to offer!
Feeling refreshed after my run, I launched back in to conference mode. I was really excited about Saturday’s agenda, as this was the day my inner nerd would shine! Before lunch, I attended two breakout sessions: 1) “Are We Wine Writers or Wine Bloggers?”; and 2) “Research on Wine Bloggers”. The first session elicited much debate over whether or not we can call ourselves writers, or if we’re only bloggers, the conclusion of which was left relatively uncertain. Is “wine blogger” to “wine writer” as “bartender” is to “sommelier”? Should there be more strict rules in regards to who can call themselves a wine blogger/writer? How does one shift from being a wine blogger to a wine writer, or are these terms one and the same? There were many answers and many opinions, and the debate will surely rage on for the foreseeable future.
The second breakout session, “Research on Wine Bloggers” was a very fascinating look at an ongoing research study investigating the motivations of blog creators as well as the perceptions and motivations of blog readers. The researchers contacted hundreds of bloggers and blog readers and asked them to fill out a survey was many questions aimed at answering the aforementioned questions (I was one of the bloggers that participated!). The preliminary results of this study have found a few important factors that most influence wine bloggers: including helping others, community building, self-promotion, and career-building.
The study also aimed to address the importance of blog characteristics for readers, as well as what influences reader satisfaction. This study is still actively recruiting blog readers to complete the survey, as the sample size is not yet large enough to perform statistical analysis on the results.
ATTENTION BLOG READERS!! If you are interested in participating in this research and contributing in the name of science, please spare about 15 minutes of your time and complete the survey at the following address: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Oregon2012 . Please help in the name of all things science!
After lunch, which was spent with some of the lovely ladies from Women Wine Writers at some of the famous food trucks of Portland, I really got my nerd on by attending and thoroughly enjoying the breakout sessions entitled: “Neurology of Wine Tasting”. A more detailed post regarding this session will come later, for certain, though I’ll start now by saying I was blown away with the information that was presented at that session. Our brains are incredible organs, and the connections create extremely fascinating mechanisms for learning and retaining certain information. Specifically, we learned that certain visual pathways are tightly connected to wine tasting, and that even the position of your eyes during the tasting makes a huge difference in how you perceive the aromas and flavors of the wine to be. I’ll leave you with that little teaser, and present a more detailed analysis of this topic in a later post.
The final breakout session I attended was the “Monetization” session. More self-serving and much less nerdy, I was curious to see how others were monetizing their blog, and how I could even grow my blog regardless of if I made any money off it. The idea of creating a book was discussed in great detail during this session, and is an idea that I am strongly considering for The Academic Wino. Perhaps a book highlighting the state of research related to wine, splitting up the chapters into different areas of research. This idea is currently in the brainstorming stage, thus will be quite some time before a book coalesces, but alas, stay tuned!
|Tasting a 1964 Faustino |
(photo courtesy Palm Bay International)
The other point that stuck with me the most during this session was the point about promoting yourself and not simply your blog. When I first started The Academic Wino, I thought I would remain relatively anonymous as a person. However, after attending this session and after meeting with and talking to many other bloggers, it appears as though it is very common to tie the blog with the person relatively tightly. My first step to start promoting myself as The Academic Wino, instead of being The Academic Wino without an image, was to use my own photograph as the avatar on my Twitter account, instead of simply using my logo. I’m sure it’ll be difficult at times to promote myself more than or as much as The Academic Wino, as some of you might know already I tend to be relatively modest and undersell my own personal successes and talents. This is definitely something that I’ll continue to work on as I grow the blog.
After the breakout sessions, we listened to an amazingly entertaining keynote speech by Rex Pickett, author of the novel “Sideways” and the new novel “Vertical”. In a question-and-answer session, moderated by Alana Gentry from Girl with A Glass, Rex Pickett proved to be an amazing entertainer and a person I surely will never forget!
The evening wrapped up with another Live Blogging session (this time with reds), the Wine Bloggers Awards (congratulations to all the winners!), and finally an amazing 5 course dinner with wine pairing by King Estate Winery. They truly know how to serve and entertain, and I thank them a thousand times over for being there and serving dinner to 350 wine bloggers! After dinner, I surprisingly had enough energy to attend a few after parties, where I sampled amazing wines from all over the world, most notably the 1964 Faustino which was brought to us by Palm Bay International Fine Wines and Spirits.
Attending the Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, Oregon was truly an amazing experience, and I am eternally grateful to all of the donors who contributed to the Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship this year. Without your generous donations, I would not have been able to attend this life-changing event, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Thus ends the “brief” summary of my experience at the Wine Bloggers Conference 2012 in Portland Oregon. Stay tuned for selected detailed posts surrounding specific talks at the conference in the coming weeks!
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Aug 21 comments
This post is one of a two-part series that briefly summarizes my experiences at the Wine Bloggers Conference in a light-hearted manner. These posts will be followed later by a more academic/scientific analysis of specific events of the conference, as well as my plans for expanding The Academic Wino blog.
The Academic Wino is back from the Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC12) in Portland, Oregon! All I can say is; “holy sleep deprivation, Batman”! Thanks to a scholarship from the WBC Scholarship, I had such an amazing time at the conference: I made a lot of new friends, learned a wealth of information both related to blogging and wine, and tasted literally hundreds of amazing wines from all over the globe!
I plan on writing more detailed posts on some of the more interesting parts of the conference from an academic standpoint in the near future, however, since I am still recovering from all the traveling, today I will simply summarize all of the fun times that were had and share a few pictures!
The weekend for me started off at 3:45am EDT in Charlottesville, VA. Being the cheap person that I am, I ended up with 2 layovers: 1 in Charlotte, NC, and the next in Phoenix, AZ before landing in Portland at 1pm PDT. After unpacking my things in the hotel room, which I shared with another Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship award winner, Nannette Eaton of Wine Harlots, I decided the most logical thing would be to go for a run in along the river in the great city of Portland! I’m certain this added to my fatigue, but seeing as how I’m training for my next marathon, it needed to be done!
The kick-off to the conference was the Welcome Reception Thursday night, hosted by the Oregon Wine Board. Here I met Jeff Weissler from Conscious Wine and Luke Whittall from Wine Country BC, and tasted the night away sampling wines from several Oregon wineries, including many that were biodynamic and/or organic. Barely able to stand any more, due to exhaustion and not inebriation (hey-I was spitting!), I called it a night in hopes that my body would shift over to Pacific Time instead of working on Eastern Time!
|Just one of the many wines consumed over the weekend!|
Feeling somewhat refreshed Friday morning, I decided to go for another quick run before taking part in the registration and trade show. My hunger was satisfied later in the morning at the Argentine Food and Wine pairing brunch, which was full of amazing Argentinean morsels and equally delicious wines. A fun little extra during this brunch was the live Argentinean dancers entertaining us with their body poetry.
The Conference officially opened with the key note speech by Randall Graham, which was both inspiring and downright hilarious. Immediately following Graham’s speech was the first Live Blogging session of the conference. I have to say, this sort of thing was new to me, as you know that tasting and reviewing wines does not fall along the lines of the mission of The Academic Wino. Of course I’ve tasted many wines in my life; however I’ve never talked about any specific wines in particular in a blog post. Regardless, I tasted all 10 wines that made their way to my table, made notes, and thoroughly enjoyed this new experience.
|Tasting wines overlooking Phelps Creek Vineyard|
Following the reception, we took a short tour of the vineyard and then made our way up to the crush pad for an amazing 5 course dinner with wine pairings. The food and wine were absolutely amazing, and will surely be an experience I will never forget. After dinner, we got back on the bus and made the hour-long trip back to Portland.
Of course, being on Eastern time and after having wine all day in the 100 degree sun (I swear, I spit almost the whole time!), I was utterly exhausted and called it quits once we got back to the hotel. This decision resulted in me missing The Night of Many Bottles, where everyone brought at least one bottle from their home region or cellar. I brought the 2010 Festa di Bacco Super Tuscan-style blend from Afton Mountain Vineyards, though since I didn’t attend the event, I have no idea what people thought of it! Wine bloggers: if you remember tasting this wine, please let me know what you thought! ;)
Stay tuned for the remainder of the summary tomorrow, and also a brief summary of what I learned regarding growing my own blog in addition to how I plan to expand the blog in the coming months.
Thank you again to all those who donated to the WBC Scholarship, as well as all those involved with putting this conference together. It was a truly amazing experience, and I am eternally grateful for all that I have gained from my time in Portland.