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NorCal Wine Blog

Study: Researchers Discover New Taste

290px-Eating a Georgia peachResearchers in Australia claim to have discovered a new taste category. The human tongue's sensitivity to sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami flavors has been well-known for decades. Umami was the last of the five to be accepted scientifically as a basic taste. It is the sensation of savory flavors based on glutamates and nucleotides found in foods such as meat, mushrooms and soy. Its official recognition in 1985 unleashed a flood of conversations in the world of food and drink.

Now a new study has tongues wagging again. The research, conducted by staff and graduate students at Yarra University, Melbourne have identified something they call omimi. Omimi doesn't involve newly discovered taste receptors nor chemical triggers. Stimulating the known taste receptors in certain complex combinations and at varying levels of intensity opens up sensitivity to this new taste sensation.

“It’s like a combination lock on a door to another dimension of flavor,” said Dr. Sue-Ann Sauer, one of the study's co-authors, during a teleconference announcing the study’s release. “We can reproduce it, but don’t yet have a full understanding of the mechanism behind the reaction.

The study is not conclusive and it's authors warn both further investigation and peer review are required. "We are already beginning a new phase of trials,"said Ian Debacon, head of research in the Department of Food Science at Yarra University. "Fortunately, the new flavor profile is quite pleasant and we have no shortage of volunteers for current and future testing."

Debacon's optimism is understandable given published comments from some of the first study's volunteers. "I've signed up for other research in the past, because I need the money," said undergraduate Sheila Havanatha. "Most were boring or even painful. This was amazing. I put the flavor sample in my mouth and I couldn’t describe the flavors. All I could say was, ‘Oh, my, my! I want some more.’"

Inspired by Havanatha's exclamation, the research team dubbed the sensation omimi. The study has stimulated more than test subjects. Funding for additional research has poured in from domestic food and beverage companies and some as far away as France. They all want to learn how to stimulate the new taste sensation identified at the Australian university whose acronym, YUM, has never been more appropriate.

Enjoy your April 1st.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2014 NorCal Wine. Photograph of Grayson by Bruce Tuten. All rights reserved.

He Wasn't Talking To You, Mr. Outrage

Jon Bonné wrote a book. People love it. People hate it.

Some people who love it continue to enjoy the “lean, fresh and balanced” California wines they’ve already been drinking, perhaps a bit more proudly now that a respected writer is so publicly in their camp. Others who love the book are giving California wines a try for the first time in decades, or for the first time in their lives. They’ve grown up on lighter wines, probably Old World and probably from neither Bordeaux nor Chateauneuf-du-Pape. For any number of reasons, these folks have been unaware that some California wines suit their palates. I believe Jon Bonné wrote his book for these people.

320px-Angry tigerAmong the people who hate “New California Wine” are those who don’t like the wines it champions, who don’t make wines in that style, or who write about wine from the opposite point of view. They have been writing in blogs, magazines and message boards about about how horrible the book is, how it’s trying to fix something that isn’t broken and how unprofessional Bonné is for expressing his opinions.

Bonné wasn’t talking to them. He doesn’t think the whole California wine industry will change. He doesn’t think the sun will get colder, California rainier or that people who love rich, opaque, mouth-filling wines are going to suddenly switch to Trousseau Gris. What he wants is for “his” wines to get a little more attention and to find an audience. His book isn’t intended to destroy the California wine industry but to expand its sales by appealing to people who would never buy the opulent wines that Robert Parker, James Laube, et al praise.

Bonne’s been called self-serving. For expressing his opinions? If the book had diverged from the views he’s been expressing for years in order to grab attention, I could see that. It doesn’t. He's taken the perspectives for which he's known and sandwiched them between two pieces of stiff cardboard. And he isn't claiming to have "saved the world from Parkerization."

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I like wines of both styles. I’m a personal friend of neither Jon Bonné nor his detractors. But I’m fed up with critics who appear to think they’re the only ones allowed to express opinions. I’m surprised they don’t realize that, by sounding off against “New California Wine” in vehicles with substantial reach, they are only drawing more attention to that which they hope nobody will buy. And, as Robert Parker said just before launching into attack mode, I’m disappointed in the lack of civility.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. Angry cat photo by Guyon Morée All rights reserved.


16 North Coast Rhones to Try and a Toothsome #WineChat

rhone rangers logo

Join Randall Grahm, David White, Meg Houston Maker, Melanie Ofenloch, Tina Spina Morey, Jameson Fink, Elaine Brown, William Allen and me for a live #WineChat at 6pm Pacific on Wednesday, April 2. We’ll be tasting wines from Bonny Doon, Cornerstone Cellars, Kieran Robinson, Tablas Creek and Two Shepherds.

Sign up to tune in here. It’ll be a fun, informative warm up for the upcoming Weekend Celebration of American Rhones.

Last Sunday, March 23, I headed up to Yountville for the North Coast Chapter Rhone Rangers tasting. The quality of the wines made the lengthy drive more than worthwhile. There were some wineries who’d also been at the Oakland tasting. I didn’t re-taste wines from that event. Here are the wines that made the top of my list Sunday in the order I tasted them:

2012 Miner “Iliad” White Blend
It’s soft on the nose with pear, apple blossom and a hint of banana. The palate is full-bodied and silky. Flavors include white flowers, vanilla, peach and pear. Highly Recommended

2013 Cornerstone “Corallina” Rosé
A pale-salmon rosé of Oak Knoll Syrah picked specifically to make this wine. The nose engages with fresh cut strawberries, flowers, vanilla and cantaloupe. Medium+ body and creamy, then lightly silky in the mouth, it offers peach blossom and mineral flavors. Highly Recommended.

2013 Two Shepherds Grenache Gris Gibson Ranch, Mendocino
Pretty in pink with light aromas of blood orange, rose petal and mineral. Flavors of cherry water, mineral and peach appear in the juicy palate. Highly Recommended.

2012 Donelan Roussanne/Viognier
Native yeast fermented and aged 10 months in neutral barriques and puncheons, this creamy wine shows white flowers, chervil, and waxy peach. It’s gently tangy on the palate with a mineral finish. Highly Recommended.

2013 Petrichor Rosé
A small production, 50–50 blend of Syrah and Grenache that’s pastel pink in the glass and smells of just strawberry cake crumb, spice and cream. It’s medium-bodied with very fine grip and lingering juiciness. Highly Recommended.

2013 Kale Rosé
68% whole-cluster pressed Grenache and 32% saignée Syrah. A fresh, spicy nose of passionfruit and grapefruit lead to a creamy palate with medium+ body and intriguing flavors that remind me of Pimms Cup with cucumber. Refreshing and Highly Recommended.

2010 Prospect 772 “The Brawler” Syrah
Dense, meaty aromatics of earth, spiced game and black cherry. The palate is just barely medium+ in weight but is packed with the flavors above, plus black pepper. Tannins are moderate and fine-grained, the finish long. Highly Recommended.

2010 Kieran Robinson Vivio Vineyard Syrah, Bennett Valley
Complex on the nose with five spice, resin, and dark berries of mixed ripeness. These follow through on the tangy palate. Medium to medium+ body with fine tannins. Just 12.9% alcohol. Highly Recommended.

2010 Maclaren Judge Family Vineyards Syrah, Bennett Valley
Earthy blackberry, spice and espresso flavors and a medium+ bodied palate with chalk. Only 12.7% alcohol. Highly Recommended.

2011 Maclaren Stagecoach Vineyards Syrah, Napa Valley
Black pepper, five spice and briary blackberry on the nose and palate. Medium+ body with fine, grippy chalk. Highly Recommended.

2006 Barrett Vineyards Syrah
Medium+ body and fresh. Flavors of forest floor, plum and spice. Lightly chalky tannins. Highly Recommended.

2010 La Sirena Le Barrettage Blend Calistoga AVA
This nod to the Northern Rhone’s Hermitage region is opaque in the glass with intense aromas of dark spice, earth, black fruit, licorice and cherry. Approaching full body. Fine tannins, lovely balance. Highly Recommended+.

2011 Donelan Syrah Cuvée Christine Sonoma County
Lithe but full-flavored with spice and a blend of red and black fruit. Fine, powdery tannins provide a very nice mouthfeel. Highly Recommended.

2011 Donelan Syrah Walker Vine Hill
Dark fruit, spice and a grind of black pepper. Medium to medium+ body with tannins of fine powder and chalk. Highly Recommended.

2011 Petrichor Les Trois
Opaque, masculine and funk forward. Rich aromas and flavors of earth, iron filings and animal. Medium+ body, fine-grained and chalky tannins. Very Highly Recommended.

2011 Kale Kick Ranch Cuvée
A co-fermented blend of 70% Syrah, 30% Grenache. Slightly earth red and black cherries on the nose with milk chocolate. Medium+ body and tannins (fine grain and chalk). Highly Recommended+.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

Howell Mountain Spring Tasting Wrap Up

Dwarves, an old wizard and a hobbit “thief” battled ogres, orcs and a dragon to recover the Arkenstone of Lonely Mountain. The multi-faceted gem glittered brilliantly and, in the The Desolation of Smaug, shone like a beacon.

I wouldn’t send any of my readers up against a dragon, but the 2011 Arkenstone Sauvignon Blanc I tasted at the Howell Mountain Spring Tasting on March 19 is worthy of a quest. Speaking of desolation, it’s sold out. Fortunately, there were plenty of other excellent wines at the tasting.

Most of them were Cabernet Sauvignon, of course, and many of those from the notably cool 2010 vintage. I found the vast majority of these Cabs to be lighter-bodied and show more grape-derived complexity than those of more typical years. Accordingly, winemakers seem to have dialed back the proportion of new oak, letting vineyards shine through. Not every wine at the tasting was successful, but all of those below are special and many truly exceptional.

There’s been some debate about whether the more elegant style of 2010 will allow for longer aging. That’s going to vary from wine to wine and I don’t think blanket statements on the topic makes sense. However, I can happily say that all of these wines are drinking very well now. So, age them if you like or drink them while you’re waiting for the firm tannins and oak of other vintages to tame.


Highlights of the Howell Mountain Spring Tasting

(All wines are Howell Mountain AVA and listed in alphabetical order)

2010 Arkenstone “Obsidian” Cabernet Sauvignon, $135
Nose of sweet herb, black currant and black cherry. Long palate with sweet black currant, coffee and dark spice. Medium+ body, tannins of very fine grain and light chalk. Reminiscent of St. Emilion. Very Highly Recommended

2011 Arkenstone Sauvignon Blanc, $60
Powerful nose with bell-like clarity. Flowers, passionfruit and white peach aromas. Intense, nearly full-bodied palate that’s juicy and very long. Flavors match the nose and add grapefruit. Very Highly Recommended

2005 Atlas Peak Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, $65
Rich, developing nose of braised black currant, drying leaves and spice. Nearly full-bodied and long with plenty of light-grained and fine powdery tannins. Highly Recommended+

2006 Black Sears Estate Red Wine, $80
The last wine made for Black Sears by Ted Lemon. Mocha, spice and tart black currant on the nose. Nearly full-bodied with tannins of fine powder and chalk. Long, intense palate that echoes the nose but emphasizes juicy fruit over the mocha. Very Highly Recommended

2010 Black Sears Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $95
Intense nose and palate with mocha, dry currant leaf, and black currant. Acidity shows through the substantial, chalky tannins. Long. Very Highly Recommended

2011 Black Sears Estate Zinfandel, $57 Red, black and blue berries with sweet herb on the nose. Medium+ body with moderate, fine powdery tannins and flavors that match the nose but add the estates signature black pepper. Highly Recommended

2010 CADE Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $80
Very spicy on the nose with an herbal accent. Nearly full-bodied with corresponding texture of fine grain and chalk. Slightly tart black currant and dark spice flavors. Highly Recommended

2010 Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, $115
Bursting with coffee, tangy herb and zesty black currant on the nose and palate. Nearly full-bodied with a creamy, slightly sweet attack then fine, powdery tannins. Interesting and mouth-filling. Very Highly Recommended

2010 Cimarossa “Rive di Cimarossa” Cabernet Sauvignon, $65
An earthy nose with dry herb, moist soil and restrained black currant which show on the palate too. Medium+ body and tannins (fine powder and chalk). Medium+ length. Highly Recommended

2010 Cimarossa “Riva di Ponente” Cabernet Sauvignon, $85
Disciplined ripe black currant, blackberry, spice and licorice nose. Much more intense on the palate with the same notes. Medium+ body, tannins and length. Highly Recommended+

2008 Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon, $200/magnum
Nose of black and red cherry with cocoa. Medium+ body with slippery tannins of fine powder and flavors of mocha, cherries and spice. Highly Recommended+

2010 Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon, $80
Intense but disciplined black currant, oak and cocoa. Elegant, fine-grained tannins. Highly Recommended+

2010 Hindsight Bella Vetta Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, $60
Aromas of dusty mineral and brambly black fruit with underlying ripeness. Elegant, acidity-driven palate of sweet oak, spice and slightly syrupy tasting fruit. Highly Recommended

2010 Howell Mountain Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel, $45
Intense blue and black berry fruit, spice, dusty earth and dry herb aromatics. Creamy, medium+ palate with moderate, fine-powder tannins. Highly Recommended

2010 La Jota Cabernet Franc, $75
Pretty black cherry and vanilla scents lead to a nearly full-bodied palate with fine-grained tannins. Rich black cherry, red currant, milk chocolate and spice. Highly Recommended

2010 La Jota W.S. Keyes Merlot, $450/3-bottle gift box, Aromas of cocoa, red cherry and dry forest floor. All about texture (fine grain/powder) and balance on the medium-plus palate. Slightly creamy with mouth-coating flavors of tangy herb, red cherry and cocoa. Highly Recommended

2010 La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon, $75
Tangy black currant and sweet spice nose and palate. Nearly full-bodied and creamy with gentle, fine powdery tannins and lingering juiciness. Very Highly Recommended

2009 Notre Vin Cabernet Sauvignon, $150
A complex and lovely wine with lean currant fruit, spice and faintly herbal overtones. Medium+ body, acidity and tannins of fine grain. Very Highly Recommended

2010 O’Shaughnessy Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $80
Perfectly ripe yet dusty black currant and dry forest floor aromatics. Nearly full-bodied with tannins of fine powder and chalk. Sweet, zesty currant, spice and very attractive dry herb. Very Highly Recommended

2011 Outpost Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $75
Intense aromas of tangy dark berries, sarsaparilla, dusty earth and sweet herb. Medium-plus body and tannins of fine grain and powder. Long, unique and compelling. Very Highly Recommended

2011 Outpost Estate Zinfandel, $57
Dusty chocolate, sweet dried black fruit and savory herb. Intense, sweet berry fruit and spice on the palate. Creamy attack gives way to fine-grained tannins leading into the long finish. Very Highly Recommended

2010 Piña Buckeye Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, not yet released
Tangy black fruit, dusty mineral and a hint of herb. Medium-plus body tannins (fine powder, chalk). Richly flavored and long with balancing acidity. Very Highly Recommended

2011 Roberts & Rogers Cabernet Sauvignon, $71.50
Interesting aromas of horehound candy, black cherry, spice and herb. Fine, chalky texture with medium+ body and flavors of tangy black cherry, spice and coffee. Rich and toothsome. Highly Recommended

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

Of Tasting Notes and Photographs

274px-Sunbaker maxdupain nga76.54Tasting notes are often criticized. People complain about lack of context, too many flavor descriptors, confusing quantifiers (“medium-plus”) and over-the-top enthusiasm. Some consumers are turned off by tasting notes because wine, when they taste it, doesn’t always match what’s written.

There’s only so much a tasting note can do. There will always be missing details. And, because wine and our own perceptions change and are influenced by outside factors, descriptions that are wholly accurate when written will never again be as perfectly precise. Tasting notes are like photographs, portraying a subject at one brief moment in time and without a back story.

A picture can communicate a lot, a thousand words they say, but leaves just as much out. Black and white photos show form and texture, but reduce color to shades of gray. Color images may be more life-like, though bright hues in one area distract from subtle details in another. Depth of field focuses our attention by blurring the foreground or background.

Pictures rarely communicate much context. Only a trained eye can view a photo of a swimsuit model on a beach and know how much time was spent on hair and makeup or what complicated lighting arrangement was used. We don’t know what the temperature was at the beach, or the amount of humidity. Is her hair blowing because it’s windy or because someone trained an industrial fan on her? And then there’s Photoshop.

To me, photographs are actually more compelling because they don’t tell us everything. They make us ask questions and use our imagination or personal experience to fill in details. Some photos are impactful because their focus is so limited. They communicate just one thing, be it color, form or an emotion.

I think of tasting notes in the same way. Good notes are neither a compleat description nor some chemical analysis that might be more accurate than any conventional note but would tell us nothing about the experience of drinking that wine. They are a portrait of a wine at a particular point in time. You get the only the writer’s point of view and see only what they think is important.

The goal of a note is simple. Illustrate the wine just clearly enough for you to decide whether or not to try it yourself. You might be attracted to someone in a picture, but you can’t really know them until you’ve met.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. The 1937 photo "Sunbaker" by Max Dupain is in the public domain because it's Australian copyright has expired.