Friday, July 18, 2008

Panic on the streets of Bristol

A bit of quick Google searching has focused my summer research project on question number 2 first. It seems that the wine trade between England and Continental Europe was in place from the early middle ages when Britons began drinking much more wine than their dismal island could produce. The vast majority of this came from Gascony and would help to explain the Bordeaux region's long domination of the fine wine trade and markets. I think it could be argued that what Bordeaux is today is a product of the emergence of wine as a global trade commodity and therefore the first "modern" winemaking (making wine with a specific customer in mind, as opposed to the culture of Meditterenean winemaking: wine that accompanies the food and culture of your village or town). Bristol, strategically located across the Chanel, grew very prosperous in the import/export business and you could read more about it here. But to summerize they were forced to find new products in the 18th Century when London began to dominate trade with Gascony. This is where Sherry and Port and Brandy and all sorts of other beverages that are both Iberian and British in their DNA began to dominate the world market. Of course many other wines were becoming availabe, but as we learned from the lab at Rational Denial, Jefferson could easily get sherry or other fortified wines but had to go through great trouble and expense to get his Y'Quem and Lafite shipped to the States.

So it seems that Britian has played a monumental role in shaping the wine trade and therefor, In my estimation, influencing how wine is made and consumed around the world today. I need to do more research in order to verify some of my gut instincts about the effects of the Medieval Wine trade on our Old World/New World debate and I'm trying to track down a cheap (free?) copy of Dr. Margery James's book Studies in the Medievel Wine Trade. Hopefully I'll find information about wine culture and trade in the Meditteranean regions while I do this and will then get back to question number 1.

The image, by the way, is from this blog, which asserts the divine power of the Monarchy in France and rejects all types of revolution. Very interesting.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What did wine taste like?

The lab over at Rational Denial is attempting something pretty marvelous: recreating (somehow) a wine that would be similar to what Thomas Jefferson drank. It's a very ambitious project and I'm pretty stoked about it. It has relevance to my Old World/New World research project so I'll be keeping an eye on the proceedings.

One note of interest: in my Julia Child cookbook she discusses the general types of wine (this is about 1960) that are available and gives very brief, general descriptions. According to her light reds are Cabernet, Gamay, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, and Merlot; full-bodied reds are Pinot (noir), Chianti, Burgundy, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and Hermitage. While this isn't completely backwards I think it is clearly not consistant with todays standards. Did the meaning of "full-bodied" and "light" change? Or was she mistaken? Or did these wines change that much over the last 40 years? I think the latter is most likely though maybe all explantions are somewhat true.

Traveled all over, wrote some books, drank some good wine. He was apparently partial to Chianti, but I'm sure he had plenty of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Barolo, and Rioja. And lots of Champagne. He probably drank Txacoli way before it was on the market and Brunello when it could have been a blend of anything but was probably just Sangiovese. I do wonder what these wines tasted like then, sure you can still find some bottles out there from vintages he could have enjoyed, but I haven't generally got that money and besides they would be different now. I don't know how he managed to know how good what he was drinking was w/out points or stars or detailed tasting notes, but I think somehow he did.

"Wine....offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than possibly any other purely sensory thing which may be purchased" ERNEST HEMINGWAY

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bring on the depths of Wikipedia!

As I mentioned earlier there was an ongoing discussion at enobytes about the Old World vs. New World debate. Craig camp is the moderator and his statement is here. This is an interesting question for me because it deals not just with the merits of individual wines but with questions of wine culture, tradition and, I think most importantly, the role of the consumer in contemporary wine marketing and the role of global markets and trade in the production and discussion of wine. Craig’s main point is that European (Old World) winemakers make wine that is inherently tied to the food of their region and that European wine drinkers consume wine almost exclusively with food. While I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule I think he’s pretty much spot on. In the U.S. he points to wine consumption being increasingly popular as a cocktail alternative to liquor or beer and that winemakers who wish to be successful in this market must make wines that are “enjoyable” by themselves; big, soft fruit flavors softened even more with oak and low in acidity and/or tannin. Again, I think this is basically correct. But it leaves a lot of questions for me and that’s what I’d like to focus on. So here’s a list of thoughts that I hope to address in future posts.

1. What is the historical role of wine as commodity? Before the emergence of global trade was wine still often produced to be sold (bartered) or was it simply meant for consumption by the producers and their family or village? And was there always a food/wine connection? What about wine producing regions in Europe that aren’t part of the Mediterranean culture; Germany, Russia, Hungary etc.?

2. When Europeans began to trade globally did wine immediately enter into this or was it exported only for consumption by the traders? (The Madeira story comes into play here). What is the role or legacy of British wine trade and culture in the U.S.?

3. What’s the real story in the exportation of vitas vinifera vines to the New World? What about the indigenous vines of America?

4. Craig mentions that 30 years ago or so wines in California were hard to distinguish from European ones. Is this true? Or was there already a natural occurrence of more fruit flavors and less structure and was this what led to events such as the Judgment of Paris and the rise of critics like Parker? This is a chicken vs. the egg question but still an interesting one.

5. This discussion often focuses on the U.S. consumer and their palate vs. the European one and how winemakers cater or don’t cater to this. But what about other wine producing regions? What are the wine cultures of Argentina, Chile, Australia, South Africa or even Canada like? We know that what these places export here falls almost exclusively into the cocktail wine category, but what about what is made and consumed in their own backyards?

6. When Hugh Johnson coined the Old World/New World phraseology was he identifying clearly noticeable differences in approach and style or was he simply engaging in a bit of British/European wine colonialism?

Clearly all of this will take some research so any help or suggestions or tips on good references will be greatly appreciated. I’m limited in time and money so I’ll be relying heavily on the old internet and the few encyclopedias and wine books I have lying around. But a trip to the library may be necessary at some point. Sorry if this seems tedious and uninteresting, I’ll try to use as much brevity as possible and break up posts with more entertaining ones on occasion. If you find these questions to be a bit juvenile because you already know the answers feel free to clue me in or just move on to another blog. But I’m interested in this and I think it’s a good summer project. If anyone knows someone or some school who wants to give me money to do this as a PHD dissertation please let me know.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wait, Wait, Wait!

After I plugged Gary Vaynerchuk I went to his website and saw his most recent video. Oh no, no, no. He's got Jim Cramer on and they're discussing wine and comparing it to oil. Supply and demand, the investment possibilities of '05 Bordeaux, trusting in talking heads when making decisions about money. It's making me feel light headed. Surprise, Cramer loves oaky fruit bombs. Apparently Chinon is like utility stocks--out of style. I never took Gary too seriously but now I'm pretty sure he may be someone to take very seriously. He's gonna take us to the promised land of making money on Chateau Latour. It's one thing if Cramer buys up all the Screaming Eagle or Quilceda Creek out there, but when he's got a majority of the 2005 DRC wines and vast holdings in vintage port we'll have Gary Vaynerchuk to thank. Cramer, by the way, isn't spitting but that's not so fun because I think he's drunk all the time anyway. Goddamnit.

Meanwhile, in the Blogosphere

Deb Harkness has an interesting post here about attending a wine blogging conference and how the online community of wine bloggers and enthusiasts is influencing the wine business. Basically she says we ARE INFLUENCING the wine business in a pretty major way. Awesome. It's a real populist movement to promote the desires and the palates of wine geeks everywhere. We have the power, not Wine Spectator or Southern Wine and Spirits or Inbev.

At the conference she mingled with other online wine personalities like Gary Vaynerchuk whose Wine Library TV is really very entertaining. But just once I'd like to watch him do a bit (maybe about Amarone) w/out spitting. You know, watch him slowly get his buzz on, but I guess that wouldn't be professional. Too bad.

I really am working on a long, tedious discussion of Old World vs. New World but as you can see I just wanted to post something with as many links as possible.

Breaking News!

InBev, the giant, global beverage company just bought Anheuser-Busch. Now Budweiser, Beck's and Stella are all on the same team. HOORAY! They will save the world.