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Our latest round up of the drinks blogosphere takes in eco advice, a row over tasting notes and a bit of adulterous behaviour.

Dr Vino

As the wine industry hunts for ways to reduce its carbon footprint, Dr Vino draws attention to a Californian company which is providing an obvious solution.

Picking up on a profile in the Wall Street Journal, he highlights the mission of Wine Bottle Renew, a firm which cleans used wine bottles, allowing them to be refilled.

Referring to a paper he co-wrote on this issue, Dr Vino reports on the problematic environmental implications of the wine industry’s preference for glass packaging.

Indeed, he records: “We found that the manufacture and delivery of empty bottles to the winery accounted for anywhere from about half to three-quarters (depending on bottle weight) of the carbon dioxide emissions of a wine locally produced and consumed, taking into account all of production and delivery phases, including the vineyard and winery operations.”

On this basis, he advocates the refill initiative as a step forward from the more common recycling process, observing: “Recycling is good since it introduces a closed loop. But reusing is better since the energy demands are so much less than recycling.”

While this approach has yet to become mainstream practice, Dr Vino takes heart from the news that “industry heavyweights Kendall Jackson and Sutter Home have invested in the company, which may indicate eventual broader usage.”

Bordeaux Undiscovered

Nick Stephens has adultery on mind in his latest blog post but not exactly that sort of cheating. No, rather it is the adulteration of red wines through the addition of anthocyanins to improve the colour.

Apparently the splendidly-named E. Ferrari and his team at the Università di Modena e Reggio have found a way of determining if these are naturally occurring (as they are in Italian wines) or if they have been added using extracts from sources such as black rice.

Stephens explains: “Anthocyanins are water-soluble vacuolar pigments that may appear red, purple, or blue according to pH and are often responsible for the blue to red colours found in flowers, fruits and leaves.

“In grapes, they develop during the stage of veraison when the skin of red wine grapes changes colour from green to red to black.”

Some grapes lack these anthocyanins and so blending in wines from grapes that do is used to strengthen them.

The addition of darker, stronger wines to beef up weaker ones is well known (see one of the entries in our recent Top 10 Wine Scandals) however, as Stephens continues: “Adding black rice extract to a wine is a very different story to the adding of darker grape juice.

The Italian researchers found that by analysing the NMR data they were able to get an efficiency validation of greater than 95%.

“NMR stands for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and NMR spectroscopy is a research technique that exploits the magnetic properties of certain atomic nuclei to determine physical and chemical properties of atoms or the molecules in which they are contained.

Stephens concludes: “Given the scandal over the wineries that had to be shut down in China for making adulterated wines in December last year this research could prove to be very valuable for detecting what’s really in our wine.”

Mike Steinberger, Wine Diarist

American wine writer Mike Steinberger tackles the importance of tasting notes in his latest blog post, questioning their relevance and accuracy.

Last month, Eric Asimov of The New York Times urged the group of wine scribes he was addressing at a bloggers conference in Virginia to drop their floral proclamations, refrain from writing tasting notes for a year, and instead limit their descriptions to two adjectives: sweet or savoury.
Steinberger empathises with Asimov’s frustration. “Wine is difficult to describe, and most of the leading purveyors of tasting notes are not especially deft writers,” he says, bemoaning the fact that long outlandish descriptors are usually short on insight, hence the popularity of numerical ratings.

Despite his misgivings, Steinberger remains in favour of the traditional tasting note for its ability to give a sense of the way a wine tastes in a way a number never can.
The blog ends by inviting debate on the subject: “Are tasting notes a waste of words or do they serve a useful purpose?” Steinberger asks, adding, “Does a tasting note alone suffice, or do you need a score alongside it?”

Tell us what you think – are tasting notes futile or vital when considering a wine?

Boak and Bailey

Beer bloggers Boak and Bailey found themselves discussing Green King IPA in the face of criticism from certain quarters that the ale lacks flavour.

“To us, it’s the cask ale equivalent of Budweiser — brewed to be nearly flavourless, not too intoxicating and uncontroversial,” they say. “It was, in fact, for that reason that it was the first cask ale that Bailey got the taste for, many years ago.”

The pair, who have just returned from a holiday in Spain, disagree with fellow beer writer Zak Avery’s claim that the drink is a “neglected classic”, saying that “If faced with a choice between GK IPA and a cold Cruzcampo, we’d take the latter every time, and that’s saying something.”

Admitting they might sound a bit snobby, they write: “We recently described GK IPA, rather than ‘craft keg’, as the thin end of the wedge in the battle against crap beer: it’s got more in common with John Smith’s smooth keg ales than it has, say, an exciting brown bitter like Harvey’s Sussex Best.

“Which is not to say that people who enjoy it are wrong to do so, or that they’re not really enjoying it, just that it would be a shame if that was as far as they got. It’s like upgrading from Dairylea to mild cheddar and thinking you’re eating ‘proper cheese’.”

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