Wine Map of the Cabardes

If you’re a normal person who is just looking for a fun wine blog to read, run away from this crazy dirt-drinking wino.  Or maybe think about pretending to be a wine expert.

Yesterday, I posted my thoughts about a confounding Vitisphere editorial that argues about the downside of digital communications.  What ensues is the obligatory publication of the author’s response to the responses to his response.

Remondat’s words that apply to yesterday’s blog post

Michel Remondat, the author of the editorial piece that sparked it all, has offered a few explanations on Vincent Pousson’s facebook photo.  Just scroll down through the 100+ comments (bless you, facebookers).  If you can’t be bothered to scroll down all those comments or if Vincent’s facebook photos don’t load for you, just scroll to the bottom of this post for the full text of Michel Remondat’s message.

I guess the important parts concerning what I wrote are:

- Un édito en 10 ou 15 lignes est forcément réducteur. Je regrette d’avoir offensé tes amis. Chaque semaine, Vitisphere essaie d’attirer l’attention des professionnels du vin sur un point, qui pèse ou pourrait peser, changer l’évolution de l’économie du vin…

and then later

C’est un produit commercial avec des contraintes techniques, œnologiques, de marketing et il faut de la formation, de l’apprentissage, de l’expérience pour l’évaluer.  Pour ceux qui croient à l’avis des consommateurs donné sur Internet. C’est vrai ça fonctionne pour l’hôtellerie, pas sûr que ça fonctionne pour le vin !

– Enfin, si j’ai parlé de « certifier les certificateurs », c’est parce que j’ai pensé aux agences de notation et leur AAA. C’était un peu osé et ironique ! – Pour finir : Depuis deux ou trois ans, les attachés de presse des salons de vins se flattent d’organiser un « autobus de bloggeurs ». Autobus et bloggeurs, vous ne trouvez pas ça choquant. C’était le point de départ de l’édito !

So rough translation:

“a 15 line editorial is by nature over-simplifying.  I regret having upset any of Vincent’s friends.  Each week, vitisphere tries to draw the wine trade’s attention to a topic that is relevant or may become relevant, to change the evolution of the wine economy…

“Wine is a commercial product enmeshed with technical constraints, oenological constraints, and marketing constraints, and you need training and experience to be able to evaluate it.   For those who believe in consumer opinons being published online, it’s true that it works for the hotel business, but I’m not sure that it will work for wine!

“Finally, when I mentioned “certifying the certifiers”, it was because I was inspired by the ratings agencies and their AAA system.  It was a bit much and said with a degree of irony!  To finish, for two or three years, press agencies of wine salons have taken it upon themselves to organize blogger buses.  Buses and blogs, you don’t find that shocking?  That was the starting point of the editorial.”

 Conclusion:

wtf?

I probably shouldn’t post this at all

After all, this sort of hyper-nerdy conversation about the ethics of wine criticism or the qualifications of wine drinkers to talk about wines online does almost nothing but scare away the usual visitors to my blog.

But at the same time, Michel has posted a response and it just makes sense to republish it here so that people who read my blog but don’t religiously follow facebook photo comments might also see his response.  And maybe it will make more sense to you than it did to me.  You know… blogger buses.

Here’s the full text:

Bonjour Vincent
Merci de m’avoir invité hier soir. Je suis rentré tard. Il n’y a pas que le vin et le Web dans la vie ! Difficile de répondre à tous ces mots et à toutes ces phrases. Ceci n’est pas une réponse, car je respecte trop les opinions de chacun. Juste quelques explications :
– Je m’intéresse depuis longtemps au vin, plutôt aux vins, mais ce que j’apprécie le plus ce sont les gens du vin.
– Un édito en 10 ou 15 lignes est forcément réducteur. Je regrette d’avoir offensé tes amis. Chaque semaine, Vitisphere essaie d’attirer l’attention des professionnels du vin sur un point, qui pèse ou pourrait peser, changer l’évolution de l’économie du vin. Je défends l’idée que les éditos ne soient pas signés car je préfère le nous au je.
– Le vin est aussi et surtout une activité économique, créatrice de valeurs. C’est précieux. Vitisphere a démarré il y a plus de 10 ans. Nous avons créé 12 emplois, sans subventions, grâce seulement aux efforts de l’équipe. Nous sommes très attentifs à ces notions d’économie, d’indépendance.
– A propos de « journalistes et bloggeurs ». Je ne suis pas journaliste, mais comme tout le monde, je constate les difficultés de la presse du vin. Il serait dommage que ce métier disparaisse. Vitisphere est du côté du numérique, et nous savons très bien qu’il y a du talent, de l’avenir et même de la modestie chez les bloggeurs.
Le vin n’est pas une œuvre d’art (même si certains défendent cette idée) dont la valeur serait corrélée à la force de la critique. C’est un produit qui permet aux vignerons, aux négociants de « gagner leur vie ». C’est un produit commercial avec des contraintes techniques, œnologiques, de marketing et il faut de la formation, de l’apprentissage, de l’expérience pour l’évaluer.
Pour ceux qui croient à l’avis des consommateurs donné sur Internet. C’est vrai ça fonctionne pour l’hôtellerie, pas sûr que ça fonctionne pour le vin !
– Enfin, si j’ai parlé de « certifier les certificateurs », c’est parce que j’ai pensé aux agences de notation et leur AAA. C’était un peu osé et ironique !
– Pour finir : Depuis deux ou trois ans, les attachés de presse des salons de vins se flattent d’organiser un « autobus de bloggeurs ». Autobus et bloggeurs, vous ne trouvez pas ça choquant. C’était le point de départ de l’édito !
Michel REMONDAT

As some of you know, I’ve been doing semantic analyses of wine reviews we receive online.  Mostly, I’ve used this data to make silly computer-generated wine reviews.  But today I’m going to use the data to talk a bit about word clouds and word frequency.

the most used words in 100 point parker rated wines, compiled by tom wark of fermentation blogRobert Parker’s most used words

Robert Parker is one of the most influential wine critics on earth and he popularized a one hundred point rating scale which dominates the US wine market.  An American named Tom Wark did some data gathering about Robert Parker’s perfect scored wines.  Basically, he looked at the 224 wines that had received a perfect score of 100 from Robert Parker.

Wark published the list of words that appear the most in tasting notes for 100 point wines.  This should give us some insight into what sort of characteristics appear in wines that Parker thought of as perfect.

For words like “Elegan” or “Intens”, the reason they cut off like that is because Wark grouped Intense, intensely, intensity, and other nearly identical words into one word group labeled simply “Intens”.  Fair enough!

What we get is that Parker uses the word rich a ton when he tastes a wine that merits 100 points out of 100.  Intensity, concentration and spiciness also come up a lot.  Minerality, massiveness, balance, complexity and length are also in there.

I think this is a really fun idea.  Because I’m a data nerd.

Customer comments – Tastes Like Wine

So Parker often describes “perfect” wines as rich, intense and concentrated.  What words do my customers use most?

wine tasting notes word cloud compiled by wordleYes, rather hilariously, the most used words are Taste Like Wine.  Not together mind you.

So I did an analysis of customer comments regarding Trah Lah Lah 2008 on Naked Wines, an online wine retailer that represents and promotes us in the UK.   The word cloud above is a graphical representation of the words used most frequently in reviews, and the most common words appear in larger font size.  I generated the word cloud above using wordle, although I did move some of the words around in a graphic program later on to emphasize the tastes like wine joke. But the size of the words is accurate!  I just moved them to the top of the cloud. Wordle also automatically removes definite articles, personal pronouns, possessive adjectives and certain other words that are more about syntax than meaning.

Now, there is a huge difference between what Naked Wines customers say about Trah Lah Lah 2008 and what Robert Parker says about wines he rates as 100 points, namely because very few of the comments wine drinkers left on Naked are in “tasting note” form.  Instead of striving for journalistic, objective tasting notes about richness or spice, people tend to write about their whole wine experience.  It seems pretty normal that the most used words include “taste” “like” and “wine”.  :D   Personal pronouns and possessive adjectives (I, me, our, its) appear much more frequently.

Here is a list of the words that got used most (I think I might have taken out all the definite articles and certain words that only serve syntax) and the number of times that word appeared.

  1. I   94
  2. wine    52
  3. not    32
  4. really    23
  5. bottle    22
  6. we    21
  7. again    20
  8. you    20
  9. good    19
  10. very    18
  11. like    18
  12. some    18
  13. my    18
  14. taste    18
  15. buy    15
  16. french    15
  17. red    14
  18. more    14
  19. me    13
  20. just    13
  21. if    13
  22. well    13
  23. quite    12
  24. one    12
  25. first    12
  26. bit    10
  27. better    10
  28. too    10
  29. all    10
  30. wines    10

Is there a meaningful difference between Parker 100 tasting notes and Naked Wines customer comments?

So there is a huge difference in which words appear the most.  But is this a meaningful difference?  Well, for the most part, this is not a good comparison.  But it is a very fun comparison and it inspires certain ideas.

For one thing, why are tasting notes built the way they are?  Why do wine critics try to objectively describe flavors and odors in wines?

When they do try to refer to the overall experience of the wine, why does their vocabulary focus on richness, depth, complexity and so on? Wine drinkers don’t think this way (at least not according to this small sample from Naked Wines customer reviews of Trah Lah Lah 2008).

Again, this isn’t really a fair comparison because tasting notes aren’t the same as customer comments.  Tasting notes are specifically built to describe the experience of a wine.  Customer comments can be anything.  They can be about an overall experience, they can be about a specific pairing the person tried, they can be simpler statements (eg I liked it, I didn’t like it), they can be congratulatory or simply grateful (eg Thanks!, Good job, guys!).   This means that customer reviews won’t limit themselves to particular vocabulary like tasting note jargon.

Now, even if we limit the analysis of customer comments to only the descriptive words (like rich, intense, etc.) we get a list that’s pretty far from Parker’s. The most common are Really, Very, Good. :D  Of course the statistics can be a bit misleading since Not is even more common than those!  The first descriptive words that appear on the list which might be described as more precise are “French” and “Red”.  :D

Also, I’m only using the 100 point scores from Parker but I’m using all comments for my Trah Lah Lah 2008 on Naked Wines. One might argue that the reason Trah Lah Lah comments don’t have the word rich is because the wine is not 100 points.  So I will admit right here and now that this is bad science.  This is not a perfect comparison.  However, it still illustrates my notion that wine critics use a vocabulary that is actually somewhat foreign to the average wine drinker.

You can also argue that wine drinkers lack the refinement or courage to say things like “intense and deep” while it’s very easy to say “tastes like good wine”.  But I think that’s my point.  Regular wine drinkers don’t necessarily understand or relate to tasting notes like “unctuous”.  Maybe wine communication should use vocabulary more familiar to wine drinkers.  How would most drinkers react if the back of a bottle said “This is a French red wine and it tastes good and could use some food”?

Apology and shaking my fist at Stephen Colbert

I was going to post these word clouds later with a lot more analysis of Parker’s reviews.. I would also like to do word clouds of Parker’s ediotrial content (instead of straight up tasting notes) and even do some for other critics and journalists.  But Stephen Colbert recently beat me to the punch and I hate it when Stephen Colbert steals my ideas!!! :D

I promise to talk about all of this in more depth and with more rigor if I get chosen to present at SXSW in Austin next year. The talk I suggested is about data analysis, reinterpretation, visual representation, infographics, and all sorts of other stuff that might help people in non-verbal jobs like wine communicate with the rest of the world online.

Do you ever get the feeling that wine critics are making up words or inventing fruit you’ve never heard of to describe wine?  This morning, I took a sidestep in my computer-generated wine reviews project.  Instead of generating whole reviews, I am now generating new words to describe wines.  Here is a list of words that the computer generated to describe O’Vineyards Trah Lah Lah 2008.  The hope is that they all sound vaguely real.

List of Computer Generated Wine Terms

  • extremendously
  • bracked
  • erfect!
  • O’wonder
  • O’people
  • disappeal
  • commend
  • Motherwise
  • elsewhereas
  • vraiments
  • uncompliments
  • cracket
  • astounder
  • disting
  • uninspirits
  • recomments
  • curiositive
  • tastinctive
  • tremember
  • rangerous
  • astonight
  • definish
  • brilli
  • nothink
  • cours.
  • massic
  • changerous
  • differench
  • vinegativity
  • extremember
  • complemendously
  • cherritory
  • reminish
  • measive
  • gravinter
  • recontaste
  • Treal
  • tong….
  • complicious
  • refunky
  • greal
  • perfectar
  • Dangue
  • mell
  • superspecisitate
  • charaction,
  • afraisitate
  • boood
  • rephoune
  • memememe
  • whypecomplavound
  • suppoottle

To spice things up, today I’m highlighting computer generated words rather than whole reviews. This means the n gram analysis focuses on letter pairs and letter triplets instead of word pairs and word triplets. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, refer to the simplified explanation in my first post about computer generated reviews.  Basically, the computer looks at what letters commonly appear together and it makes up words based on the statistical probability of random letters appearing near each other.

The list starts with words that strictly follow the analysis (high similarity to actual letter pairs in real reviews of Trah Lah Lah 2008) and it slowly descends into the bowels of vaguely human-sounding language (low similarity to actual letter pairs).  All capitalization and punctuation was generated by the algorithm.

Perhaps of special interest, the computer generated the word “commend” even though that never appeared in the reviews.  It also got a couple of real french words like “vraiment” and “cours”.

I definitely want to add some of these automatically generated words to my wine vocabulary.  I wonder how long it will be before somebody calls me out for using made-up words like vinegativity, mell and bood.

This wine is quite differench. Extremendously bracked attack. Midpalate is dominated by gravinter with some notes of refunky vinegativity. Mell with a measive finish that reminds me of cracket cherritory.

I’m still tweaking the parameters for my computer-generated wine reviews.

Some computer-generated reviews:

“Delicious, deep flavours.”

While this is in no way funny, it’s sort of spectacular.  Nobody actually used this exact phrase in the wine reviews.  But somebody said “Delicious, deep and dusty. It should cost more.”  And somebody else said “Rich deep flavours and a long finish.”  And the computer sussed out that it could say “Delicious, deep flavours.”  It even got the punctuation and capitalization correct.  It’s fun to focus on the zaniest reviews the computer generates.  But some of these boring ones are actually much more impressive.

“really, really solid quaffing red. It tastes True again. Nice wines. Thanks again. Good effort”

I like this one for all the reasons mentioned above.  The simple parts are remarkably accurate.  And the note that a wine tastes True again is amazing.  You could actually get away with saying that in a review.  Although I think  if I had a greater respect for line breaks, there would have been a big gap betweent tastes and True.  I’ll look into that.

“The 2008 Trah Lah Lah Lah Lah Lah Lah. No, sorry.”

Lest you think the computer only generates positive reviews of my wine… :D  Aside from being a hilariously curt negative review, this also demonstrates one of the most amazing things about recursive analysis.  My wine is called Trah Lah Lah.  So the computer has about a 50/50 chance of saying the whole brand name any time it decides to say Trah.  Trah is always followed by Lah.  And Lah is followed by Lah about half the time.  And by a period or another word about half the time.  So you see a lot of Trah Lah and a lot of Trah Lah Lah in the generated reviews.  But occasionally, you get lucky and the computer just strings together a ton of Lah Lah’s.  If I were using trigrams, this probably wouldn’t happen as often.  But for now, here we are.  And actually, in this particular negative review, it sounds like they’re making fun of the name of the wine.. so it’s perfect!

“Gorgeous fruity New World Wines, with their ‘old fashioned’ flavour”

Program I used

I’m using Gibberizer for now.  I might write something on my own later, but for now it’s all thanks to this beauty: http://code.google.com/p/gibberizer/

The settings are

  • Read input as: Lines
  • BatchSize: 1
  • Similarity: 7
  • Persistence: 5
  • Disallow input echo
  • Disallow duplicates

What changed since the last post?

If you read the last post on this subject, you’ll probably notice that these reviews are much more sensical.  So what’s different?

First and foremost, I changed the data input.  Instead of feeding the last 100 comments I received on Naked Wines, I submitted only tasting notes for the 2008 Trah Lah Lah.  That’s 113 reviews.  They tend to be a little shorter than comments, so the data file is about the same length, but all the language is about drinking wine.  This means that the computer generates fewer comments about technical aspects of the website like the MarketPlace and the vineshare program we’re running.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to generate comments of that nature too.  But I just need way more data for that to work.  Tasting notes are easier because even the real ones sound a bit like gibberish… and people often get so drunk while tasting the wine that the reviews tend to be a bit slurred by the end.

I should also mention that lots of the reviews are still total gibberish.. for example:

“A bit tannins as well. As a Rhode Islander to breathing” for a good :) will buy again.”

Work in progress!

“Drank lots and lots of depth, it won’t disappoint”
–computer generated review of O’Vineyards wine

I’m playing with some software that will allow me to analyze all the comments O’Vineyards wines have received online.  One of the sillier, fun applications of this analysis is that my computer can generate comments on its own now.  :D

Some of you might be familiar with the silly tasting note generator or similar sites, but these use slightly different technology.  I’m working with n-gram analyses of the reviews I get from Naked Wines customers.

What is an n gram analysis?

Basically, the computer counts every word and then it counts every word pair and then it counts every word triplet and so on.  This data lets the computer draw some conclusions about what words tend to appear together.  So if I do an n-gram analysis of the phrase “I went to the movies”, the word pairs are:

  • X I
  • I went
  • went to
  • to the
  • the movies
  • movies X

The X’s indicate the start or end of a phrase.

The word triplets in the same phrase would be

  • X I went
  • I went to
  • went to the
  • to the movies
  • the movies X

How does the computer generate new sentences?

The more data you feed into the computer, the more n-grams it collects.  And it can eventually draw some relatively accurate conclusions.  Imagine if I do a larger sentence like “I went to the movies and had to wait in the longest line ever to buy some popcorn”, the program would notice all the previous word pairs as well as the new pair: “to buy”… and the computer might conclude that it’s normal to say “I went to buy some popcorn.” and that is actually correct!  Of course a lot of the time, the computer tries hard but just spouts gibberish.  Like “I went to the longest popcorn ever to buy some movies.”

This differs from the silly tasting note generator mentioned above because that generator works more like a mad lib.  It has long lists of words that are manually categorized as modifiers, nouns, verbs, or other parts of speech, and it uses pre-written sentence structures.  It makes more sense given very little data, but it is limited to what it has been taught.  What I’m working on could eventually be applied to any body of letters (even a language I don’t speak) and generate reviews based on an n gram analysis of that text (so I could do this for Japanese reviews even though I don’t even speak Japanese!)

Gibberish examples

Most of the time, the computer generated reviews are total gibberish.  The syntax can be terribly wrong.  Here are some fun examples of typical gibberish reviews:

This is a very good black-red with onions, sauteed pots with our Les American than Languedoc and complicated, dark fruitiness notes, but this achieved the lower they called it loved it. Even my 81 year when the wine, we had to open the duration is elastic, then essentially the oven as it needs taste when the tasted some mixed cases now decreased to say about to email the sale this bottle

lot of purple. Very floral with the market Place right-hand drive!

Got through fruit and Joe are in the minimum quantity !

Wouldn’t spoil something else on my anatomy. I do buy wine is not in favour of the buyer, and less fun!

I found it was a please passed over the price and my guests both gave it 5 out on it! I really want it?
Big (not one a couple of days when we got back?

Almost there are dark plum tang and can under for anything wrong with Sunday lunch – open the last remnants post-food start to see how this aspect of the price, in recent trip to Carcassonne and price.

If you’re looking to hear your tounge without food and you at the Trah Lah Lah Lah was reminiscent of view it is dashed good! Which we found it interesting last remnants post-food start to show the silly name it’s frigging fantastic price. Remember if it was a 2008 or 2009 vintage) compares to taking decanted, and do under for anything. I was very intense, a good time favourite of the best wishes for a while to get the two, i sense a marketplace (the 2006 is supposed to be missing out of 5 others one not to everyone (that’s just slid down and Joe) may be more than a Merlot) Cabernet blend, or from her tasting and it was subtle and give the producer an enjoyed this is due to financial constraints, and you are missing out of 5 others one changing to see how those 5’s ! :)”

It’s clear that the words are related to wine (and the computer does manage to group brand names like Trah Lah Lah, and mention my region, vintages, and other things that make this sound like a tasting note). So it sounds like English. But then when you actually look at the whole paragraph, there’s no sense at all! :D

Computer-generated wisdom

Sometimes though, the gibberish words line up just right and there’s a strange sort of wisdom in the computer’s misuse of the English language.

Hi Sandy, you get what you pay for what does she know ha ha ha.

Swirl it intense, a good with the yanks in men, what I had, but the wine, but not quite quick). This wine front of her, was an open it was quite French.

I have bid? – I thinking wine. Rich and can understand the base proposition of those tannin heavy so a good with food… Lamb medallions, sauteed pots with onions, snow peas, and body from naked wines and as we worked our way throughout our stay. Ryan and dirty with food… Lamb medallions, sauteed pots with the seller can extending that basis I have order, you wanted us to the extra years in the vineyard and as always the sale this remarkable wine in the front of parma violets are they used to make a lot of purple. Very floral smell of Lilies and lots of flavour packed the grapes and Edinburgh and less fun!

Ya, I still need to work on it.

Totally unrelated to wine

Sometimes, the reviews seem totally unrelated to wine!

I found as always the last night.

Big (not one a couple of days when we got back?

I’d been toying it!

Why the heck am I doing this?

If you know me at all, you really should get used to me doing strange stuff all the time.  But there is actually a reason for this.  It’s raining outside and the paint is drying in B&B room #3 (codename: the Cabardes Room).  So it’s a perfect opportunity to further my research in data visualization and analysis.  I’m going to try to broach this subject with my technical audiences much more often in 2012 (including but not limited to a potential SxSW talk on data analysis for non-verbal experiences like wine drinking).

I love it when cool science labs stray into the world of wine just enough for me to write about them.  Finally an excuse to let my inner lab geek roam free on this blog.

Some superconductivity researchers in Japan were getting a little tipsy after successfully running a lab in which they measured the superconductivity of antiferromagnetic compounds soaked in water, ethanol and a mixture of the two.  They had a variety of commercial alcohols at their party and thought it would be cool to run the test with all the booze at hand.  Or so the story goes.  The official lab report on “Superconductivity in FeTe1-xSx induced by alcohol” is a little bit drier.

But both versions of the story end with an amazing conclusion:
superconductivity lab results

“We found that hot commercial alcohol drinks are much effective to induce superconductivity in FeTe0.8S0.2 compared to water, ethanol and water-ethanol mixture.”

“We found that the superconducting volume fraction of the Red wine sample is the largest.”

Awesome.  They don’t know why.  They have some ideas.  I’ve got some too.

But this is really just a stepping stone.  Now other labs can try to recreate the results with different kinds of red wine to try to figure out what parts of red wine facilitate the induction of superconductivity.

What the hell is superconductivity?

Incidentally, some of you are probably wondering what the hell superconductivity is.  Well, oversimplified explanation: materials that conduct electricity have a certain level of resistance which might be raised or lowered by changing the temperature (colder environment means less resistance).  Superconductivity is achieved by lowering this resistance to zero.   This is crazy because conventional conductors like copper never reach zero resistance (even in absolute zero, the coldest temperature possible). But some materials like the iron compound used in this lab can reach zero resistance at relatively high temperatures.

What the hell does the wine have to do with it?

It’s going to get a little more complicated here, so you might just want to skip this section.  You’re all familiar with ferromagnetics.  That’s just when iron (or some other compounds) are attracted to a magnet.  It’s the most easily observed magnetic force in the world.  And on an atomic level, it happens because neighboring electrons spin in the same direction and their magnetic fields combine to form a strong magnetic field.  Well, there’s a thing referred to as antiferromagnetism that is (huge oversimplification bordering on misrepresentation!!) a different kind of magnetic order where electrons start spinning in different directions than their neighboring electrons.  The individual power of each electron’s magnetic field is as powerful as in ferromagnetism, but because they’re all going in opposite directions, they cancel eachother out and you can’t feel the force the same way as you can feel ferromagnets.

FeTe, at low temperatures will exhibit antiferromagnetism.  And here’s a tricky part. The scientists figured out that if you suppress that antiferromagnetism by substituting the Tellurium with something else (a dopant like Sulfur), then the compound freaks out and becomes a superconductor (I am butchering science here; sorry).

Anyway, the key is to substitute the Te with some S.  But this is hard to do in open air.  It’s more successful when the compound is immersed in water.  And it’s even more successful when the compound is immersed in wine.  Could it have to do with the free sulfur in wine?  Could it be related to the ease with which wine oxidizes?  Send them a pallet of wine and they will let you know the results.

;D

Why are they wasting red wine?

I promise it’s totally worth it.  Superconductors allow us to make really powerful magnets (the kind in MRI machines and particle accelerators) and there would be lots of other applications if we could induce superconductivity less expensively in the future.

So how much of China’s wine production will get imbibed and how much will go to powering crazy futuristic flying trains and building space elevators?  Only the future can tell.  All we know for now is that scientists are ridiculous (and awesome).  And that there’s some kind of a joke to make here about … hmm.. lemme see.. “Scientists finally prove that wine lowers resistance to zero, something I have known for a long long time.”

;D

After reading hilarious ironic praise for poorly designed restaurant websites, I feel inspired.

First, I’m going to start making blog posts for some of the restaurants around Aude. Some of them have no websites. A few have the sort of crappy, flash animation intro, easy listening muzak-laden, unreadable font colors, and generic sounding mission statements that we love to hate.  And some of them actually have great websites.  Anyway, I’m going to make short posts with the restaurant’s name, the opening hours, the reservation policy, address, and phone number. And I bet this will be exceptionally useful to all the foodies in Aude.  Or maybe I’ll just be like a second rate tripadvisor.  I don’t know. But it’s worth trying out.

Second, I’d like to mimic this tumblr’s “How to make a less horrible website” instructions. Let’s determine some guidelines to make a tiny winery website that actually answers the needs of an online visitor. It won’t be as simple as the restaurant since almost everybody visits restaurant websites for the same reason… But we could at least come up with some basic guidelines.

People often cite the fact that ancient Greek and Roman winemakers burned sulfur to help preserve wine.  It’s actually difficult to track down any real evidence (depending on what languages you read).  So I have some secondary sources.  I don’t have a translation of the primary sources, so I encourage you to continue researching and send me more information that you might find.  I will gladly add it to this article.

I saw a lot of articles about the history of sulfites in wine in which the author would allude to ancient use of sulfur burning many many times without citing a source.  So I put a call out on Twitter.

While @ElieSl did some research in French and found sources that reject the claim that ancients definitely sulfured their wines.  The author insists that the first explicit mention of the use of sulfur fumigation in wine was in a 1487 German decree that authorized the burning of sulfured wood chips inside of wine barrels.

La première mention explicite de son usage dans la vinification remonte à un décret royal allemand de 1487. il autorisait les vignerons à brûler des copeaux de bois soufrés dans les tonneaux utilisés pour conserver le vin.

@ZevRobinson had the good sense to redirect my question specifically to @Vintuition of the Fine Wine Academy.

Here’s his answer with a secondary source:

@mroconnell @zevrobinson Re. sulphur fumigation | On application of the fumarium [sulphur fumes] by Romans see Ch 4 (4) http://bit.ly/gTODA1

Admittedly, this book seems to be from a trade press.  And what’s more, an evangelical trade press… so it’s open to debate, but the passage in chapter IV of “Wine in the Bible” specifically addresses my question and cites references to primary and secondary sources:

Ancient Use of Sulphur. The use of sulphur to preserve wine was known in the ancient world. In a chapter devoted to various methods used to preserve wine, Pliny speaks of Cato who “mentions sulphur.”81 Horace alludes to this practice in a poem dedicated to the celebration of a glad anniversary: “This festal day, each time the year revolves, shall draw a well-pitched cork forth from a jar set to drink the smoke in Tullus’ consulship.”82 The next stanza suggests that this fumigated wine was unfermented, because a hundred cups of it could be drunk without causing “clamor et ira,” that is, “brawls and anger.”83

In his book on Roman Antiquities, T. S. Carr says that “the application of the fumarium [sulphur fumes] to the mellowing of wines was borrowed from the Asiatics; and thus exhalation would go on until the wine was reduced to the state of syrup.”84 In its comment on this statement, John Kitto’s Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature says: “When the Mishna forbids smoked wines from being used in offerings (Manachoth, viii. 6, et comment.), it has chiefly reference to the Roman practice of fumigating them with sulphur, the vapor of which absorbed the oxygen, and thus arrested the fermentation. The Jews carefully eschewed the wines and vinegar of the Gentiles.”85

Those numbers are all footnotes:

  • 81. Pliny, Natural History 14, 25, 129.
  • 82. Horace, Carminum Liber 3, 8, 9-12.
  • 83. Ibid., 3, 8, 6.
  • 84. Cited by John Kitto’s Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, 1845 edition, s. v. “Wine,” vol. 2, p. 956.
  • 85. Ibid.

I will try to look these up later when I have some time.  The Pliny checks out but is a very casual reference to the effect of “Cato says winemakers do this, that and the other thing. Oh and Cato mentioned something about sulfur too.”  A light reference, but a solid one.

Otherwise, feel free to do your own research and send it in!!

Thierry Desseauve is a really cool dude.  He’s obviously had a huge role in creating the contemporary wine scene that exists in France.  He’s come a long way since his departure from RDF and I’m glad he had time to talk at Vin 2.0 (a conference I talked about previously) since he’s usually busy with the multitude of projects that he spearheads with Michel Bettane.

Actually, with the Grand Tasting right around the corner, I was very surprised to learn that he’d be presenting at Vin 2.0 on the same panel as me.  We bookended it.  I started with a talk on how a winemaker can use social media to build a brand, and he finished.  And this was a great boon because he was able to address a lot of what I said in his presentation.  Several parts of his speech are addressed to me, and I think that in some sense, I was a proxy for all the world’s winemakers making good wine and looking for solutions.

I said some things in my presentation that he could have taken the wrong way.  About the high cost of live events and conventional advertising.  But instead he acknowledged that he as a media man has the important job of finding the people who do value old school marketing while simultaneously placing himself in the arena that folks like me value.

He’s talking about his efforts to change the focus of the wine business.   So that everybody focuses on the drinkers instead of each segment catering to some other middle man without ever thinking about our consumers.

I enjoyed the presentation.

And a big thanks to Isabelle from Vizioz Communication who filmed Desseauve’s presentation and put it on youtube.

Oh wow, I forgot how much I love maps.

I’ve been playing around in Google Maps and it’s really fun.  Some of you might know that I’m working on a book about the AOC Cabardes and the wines north of Carcassonne.  And so I’ve built a big directory and I’m defining certain climactic zones.  Blah blah blah.  But I took a few hours here and there to plot it down onto a 3D terrain map in Google Earth.  And it’s gorgeous.

google earth screenshot cabardes wine map

I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to use Google Earth maps in my work.  I’ll have to scour Google Permissions later.  But what I can do is share the work so far.

To view in Google Earth, you have to download Google Earth and then use it to open Cabardes.kml

To view the less awesometastic version, just look at my customized google map of the Cabardes.  You won’t need to download anything.  It’s set so you can make modifications, but don’t do anything cheeky.

Making wine maps is pretty sweet.  If you have any ideas on how to format it or what I should add or anything else, feel free to speak up.  Oh, I took out three of the cooperatives because they produce very little Cabardes and are on the outside of the AOC zone.  If you know the location of the vines that contribute to the Cabardes of those cooperatives, please let me know and I will gladly add the vines to the map.

If you’re wondering what the big splashes of color represent, those are different zones within the Cabardes.  An explanation of this map or one like it will be included in the upcoming ebook Introduction to Cabardès along with a directory of these producers and an introduction to the region’s wine and history.

How to find us

Domaine O’Vineyards is just a few kilometres north of Carcassonne. GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387

Domaine O’Vineyards
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910

  1. Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou until the D118 (the last straight road) and the Dyneff gas station on the roundabout.
  2. Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
  3. Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which goes up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire.
  4. At the last juction, bear left at the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
  5. After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.