Tag Archive - food

Two wine apps – a brief review

I don’t spend long enough looking at apps for the iPhone and other smart phones, largely because so many of them are based around storing tasting notes and collecting wine information – and I think that too boring for words.

However, sometimes some off-the-wall stuff comes along that captures my imagination, at least for a bit. Neither of these two apps will necessarily divert you for long, but they are both free … and so are worth every penny!

UK Wine Tax Calculator

Screen capture of UK Wine Tax Calculator app

50.6% Tax - tastes funny

(App by APPetise)

A simple app. No tasting notes, no recommendations, no points.

Plug in the retail price you are paying for your wine, plus the alcohol level, and this handy little app will tell you what (MASSIVE) percentage is going DIRECTLY to the government in both VAT and Duty. Then you can sit back, enjoy your wine, and when you hear politicians say “We are all in this together”, you can toast them with your glass of tax-revenue-in-a-glass. You’ve done your bit!

An interesting development would be to add estimated values for certain other items, such as the packaging and supermarket retail margins, so you can get an idea of what percentage of that final price might actually be the cost of the wine itself! You’d be surprised!

Wine Tonight?

Screen capture of Wine Tonight App

Wine Tonight App - yes dear

(App by Whitespace)

Know anything about biodynamic wines? What about the theory’s application to a wine tasting calendar? No?

I’ve been monitoring the idea that as well as the wines being MADE following certain lunar and natural cycles, the wines taste different on a similar schedule. I bought a little booklet called “When Wine Tastes Best” for 2010 and always thought it should really be an app. And in 2011 they’ve obliged, sort of.

In theory, the days of the year fall into 4 categories; GOOD -Fruit & Flower and BAD – Leaf & Root. Don’t ask me how they decide, but if you look up a date it should tell you whether your wine will be showing itself at its best, or be having the vinous equivalent of a bad hair day.

I had hoped the app would allow you to link up to a calendar, maybe help you plan your wine dinners and tastings in advance. It doesn’t. It only tells you the status of TODAY. Click on “Wine Tomorrow?” and you get an ad for the printed booklet.

They’re REALLY missing a trick here. The physical booklet only costs £3.99 (or less) but there are printing costs, and delivery costs to factor in. SURELY they’d make a lot more money selling it on iTunes for £0.79 and encouraging a lot more immediate, impulse buys?

For the record, the calendar is hit-and-miss. I’ve not wholly bought into the concept, … but there are days where otherwise perfectly good wines just don’t taste right, so …

Have you spotted any other wine apps worth reviewing that are NOT tasting note stores or cellar management tools?

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It is so loud in here, I can’t hear myself drink

Interesting research reported on the BBC today:

The level of background noise affects both the intensity of flavour and the perceived crunchiness of foods, researchers have found.

It also makes me wonder about wines. We’ve known for a while that wines don’t taste the same in the air, and I seem to recall it was assumed it had to do with air pressure, but noise also makes sense. If any of your senses is being overwhelmed, then the others will naturally be affected.

I happened to run a dB meter on a recent plane trip (“there’s an app for that”) and it registered over 90dB – that’s as loud as a petrol lawnmower … and you sit in it for hours!

On the other hand, the research also seems to point to positive aspects – where pleasant sounds increase the intensity of flavours, which is backed by anecdotal evidence of “great wine moments” you have on holiday or with a great dinner partner.

Also in the group’s findings there is the suggestion that the overall satisfaction with the food aligned with the degree to which diners liked what they were hearing – a finding the researchers are pursuing in further experiments.

It seems that we have, at least partially, now got evidence that wine drinking is a pleasure that requires all your senses, not just taste!

Certainly, airplanes are not ideal wine tasting locations for many reasons, but there’s always a good reason to keep testing!

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Packaging: think green, but what about the wine?

I’ve often looked at innovations in wine packaging on the blog. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Innovations might appeal to the imagination of consumers and give them new reasons and opportunities to explore wine
  2. The wine business, like all others, needs to move with the times and ‘go green(er)’
  3. (and I quite like checking out new things .. oh, wait, that’s 3!)

When producers innovate with their packaging, moving away from heavy glass towards recyclable plastic or tetra-pack containers, or using new closures such as screwcaps or glass stoppers, we should applaud them for their concerns and their commitment.

But what about the effect on the wine?

Would you drink wine from a plastic bottle, can or carton?

Sample bottles

When it comes to some changes, such as the use of screwcaps instead of cork, research has already demonstrated the many potential benefits to the wine itself (in certain conditions). It has actually also helped to improve the cork business and fostered innovation there too.

However, plastic bottles are another issue, and one that has not been explored scientifically until now (that I know of).

So, why use ‘plastic’ bottles? The main arguments are:

  • They are MUCH lighter, so transport costs (and therefore the ‘carbon footprint‘ of the bottle) are much reduced
  • Certain plastics are less energy intensive to produce and recycle than glass
  • The demand for recycled green glass is not high (in UK), so let’s focus away from it
  • Usually used where wine is shipped “in bulk” to modern plants near where the wine will be bought, and not in inefficient small lots in wineries around the world
  • Better from a health & safety perspective (fewer bits of broken glass)

If all else was the same, then it would seem sensible, right?

The problem, all else does not seem to be exactly the same, but until now wine experts could be accused of being ‘snobbish’ about these bottles if they criticised them. However, the Institut des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin (ISVV) in Bordeaux are conducting a long-term study on the effect of different wine containers on the same red & white wines.

The ISVV packaged the same wines in large & small bottles of glass, two types of plastic bottle (single PET and multi-layer PET) and also in a 3L Bag-in-Box. It is still early days, but there are some key and obvious results already after 12 months. If you are interested, the overview presentation is included here (but I list some key observations below)

For white wines, the cheapest and lightest plastic (single-layer PET) shows dramatic deterioration compared to glass. This is confirmed by the ISVV tasters observations and scientific analysis (and my own tasting). In fact, for the smallest bottles (187ml) the damage starts after only 3 months with oxygen levels increasing (oxidation) and the protective SO2 (sulphur dioxide) levels decreasing rapidly after 6 months. In summary, it would seem that these bottles are really not suitable for white wines for more than a few weeks, not months.

The situation is not much better for more expensive multi-layer PET or bag in box, but in any case there is a marked difference of all alternatives compared to glass.

The results are less conclusive for red wines – so far. It does look like a similar pattern will hold true, but it takes longer to be noticeable on red wines I guess.

The ISVV could not include other alternatives such as tetra-pack or wine pouches as they could not put the same wine they used in the study in these formats.

I can’t say any of these conclusions comes as a great surprise to me, but it is good to have some sort of numbers and ‘evidence’ to point to. Thinner plastic bottles that flex more are more likely to create opportunities for gasses to get in/out of the bottle, and wine is a very delicate product. Smaller bottles will suffer proportionally more as the volume of wine is smaller. A delicate white wine will suffer from oxidation faster than a more robust red.

So, should we simply stop experimenting and stick to glass?

Not at all. We need to continue to innovate and look for opportunities to make changes that will help consumers, be better for the environment and be better value for producers. However, the wine itself should not suffer.

So, next time you are shopping for wine (for example, see below for announcements by M&S), will you be tempted by the plastic bottle? What would make you try them?

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Sizzling steaks and beefy blokes

Simon Majumdar profile

I don’t claim to be a food ‘expert’ in any shape or form – whether as a taster or cook. However, I do enjoy good food when I am offered it, and especially when I have friends with me who know more about it than I do, and help me learn something about it.

I have met Simon Majumdar, one half of the Dos Hermanos crew, on a couple of occasions. Simon puts on what are probably the most stunning events I know of for bloggers such as myself, under the banner of “Dine with Dos Hermanos” (I strongly urge you to join their facebook group and read the blog to stay in touch with them).

… these guys are DEDICATED TO BEEF!

In the process of talking about wine and food matching at these events, Simon invited me to lunch along with another mutual friend, William Leigh – another accomplished foodie and writer.

Lunch was to be at Goodman, an American style steak house not far from Oxford Circus, and what a lunch it was. 4 ENORMOUS steaks of different provenance and different ages, cooked perfectly, and accompanied by a very nice bottle of Cahors from the wine list (Cahors is the home to the Malbec grape whose more recent incarnation as the ‘signature’ grape of Argentina is generally considered a great match for steak).

However, what really opened my eyes was when we were given a “behind the scenes” tour of the kitchen by Head Chef John Cadieux. Words are not enough to explain this, so thankfully I remembered to bring along my video camera! Do check out my short summary video as John explained the meat, the ageing, the grill and even the charcoal – these guys are DEDICATED TO BEEF!

The great news is that I can put my new-found expertise to good use in about a week when a group of us will gather in Goodman for “Blokes Eat Beef” – so do expect a lot more posts and photos about the food from others too.

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Would you like a dash of natamycin with that?

Chemicals
Image by stepbar via Flickr

“There could be a hint of natamycin in your wine.” Should you jump for joy, or jump away from the glass?

What if I told you there may be a trace of resveratrol? Drink up or Throw up?

What about knowing that isinglass, bentonite and copper sulphate had possibly been used in the making of your wine? Would that make you think: “Ooh! The wine maker cares that I get a fresh, clean and clear bottle every time, I’ll buy it!” or “Cripes! This wine is adulterated and manipulated. I couldn’t possibly drink this“?

There is a bit of a story brewing concerning the first item – Natamycin. This is a “fungicide and anti-microbial agent” that is allowed in some food stuffs in the EU, so at low doses is deemed to be fine for your health. Except, it is not listed as an allowable ingredient of wine, and therefore by (EU) definition is “banned”. It now appears that new testing methods, developed in Germany, are able to detect it, and they’ve identified it in several wines from Argentina, so the law says they cannot be sold.

[Poor Argentineans! Every time we think we might see more of their wines on sale, something happens to dash their hopes (I for one will continue to buy and drink Argentinean wines).]

So where does it come from and what does it mean? Who knows!?! (the source of this may be the real story)

I (personally) am going to operate on the assumption the ban is a mainly bureaucratic issue, that the substance is safe (at low levels) and that the issue will be more about wine making processes (and who might be cutting corners) rather than any real health scare.

But what about the bigger picture?

The bigger issue relates to those other items I mentioned. Which of these are good, and which are bad? Is the average consumer going to know? Or care?

There is a movement in the wine business that says that all wines should carry ingredient labelling (see what Bonny Doon are doing) just as most other food & drink products do. The question will be, will any consumer understand those ingredients, what they mean, and what the effects are? Are we defending the consumer, or simply confusing them “for their/our own good”?

Wine is a strange beast. In principle it is simple.

You take some grapes. You crush them. You let the yeast turn the sugar into alcohol. You filter the resulting alcoholic liquid and put it into bottles. You drink it.

Except the modern consumer demands certain reliable, high quality, clean wines, clear and without funny ‘floaty bits’, harmless or otherwise. Unfortunately, to achieve that, most wines go through a few processes that may leave mere ‘traces’, for which we need to invent new tests just to know they are there, of certain substances. Does the wine drinker need to know that? I’m not sure. As long as it is safe and fair (all wineries do more or less the same), is it necessary to know as long as it isn’t actually hidden?

I’m all for educating and informing consumers that want to know more, and 110% behind the idea of analysis to ensure what they drink is safe, but after that … ?

When the EU law changed and wines had to say “contains sulphites” I personally received several calls and emails from concerned consumers that their favourite tipple was now adulterated and “gave them headaches” when in fact nothing had changed, just the label.

In the near future, wine bottles will be “encouraged” (though I don’t think forced) to carry the pregnant-women-should-not-drink-alcohol symbol, a “responsible drinking” reminder, the usual legal source and content information, and the reminder that “this wine contains sulphites/sulfites”. I wonder how much further this will go, and whether, in a few years’ time, there will be any space left for the name of the wine maker and the name of the winery?

I hope that the reaction to this particular ‘event’ is not too bad for the Argentinean wine industry, and I also hope that common sense prevails. The rules in force are strong, the tests are in place and consumers are protected – let’s also hope that bureaucracy, even if well-intentioned, does not damage the wine industry for no particular gain.

What do you think? Would you like to see ALL ingredients listed on a wine label, or are you happy as things are? Do you trust the tests to keep you safe? What would you do with the information if it was provided? I look forward to hearing what you think of this issue

<end rant>

For the record:

  • resveratrol is, in theory, good – it is associated with positive effects on the heart … but there is the rest of the body to consider!
  • isinglass is used (by some) to get “bits” out of your wine, and all of it falls out of the wine (actually called ‘fining’) or is filtered out
  • bentonite is a clay that is a good filter for wine, nothing stays in the wine
  • copper sulphate is a bad substance on its own, but in tiny quantities can remove “off odours” (stinky, bad egg) from wines and is itself them removed too
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