Saturday, 7 June 2008

A joke

What is the intermediate stage of political development between socialism and communism?


- joke told in former USSR, honest to god! ;)

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Taste? Or just keeping up with the Jones...

Just read a great article ( about how drinking pleasure is influenced by the cost of your glass of plonk - neuroeconomics at its best!
Now, everyone has encountered the restaurant mark-up -- a bottle of wine in a restaurant will cost you at least a third more than it would from a bottle shop: the price for ambience, a friendly sommelier and glassware usage, shall we say.
A price that actually does make us value, and even enjoy, the bottle more as it turns out, according to a recent study from Antonio Rangel of CalTech (pictured)...Rangel looked at the brains of 20 individuals using functional magnetic resonance imaging as they imbibed what they were told were five different samples of Cabernet Sauvignon, priced at £2.50, £5.00, £17.50, £22.50, and £45. The drinkers consistently reported preferring the £45 bottle to the £5 and the £22.50 bottle to the £17.50; indeed, for many of them their medial orbital frontal cortex, which is active when people experience pleasure, showed correlating activity with the tasting of the preferred, more expensive bottles.

There were further twists incorporated into the experiment, though - the "five" samples were actually only three: the £5.00 wine was actually the £45 wine, and the £22.50 sample also came from the same bottle as the £17.50 sample. The £45 wine was adored by all, the £5.00 not so much...and when the subjects were given all 5 samples without prices provided, the £2.50 sample was actually the overall favorite.

So basically, although the sample size was rather small, the conclusion one might take from this experiment would be that most people are better off with Parker points, and their concomitant pricing scales - if you think something is valuable, then you will be more likely to gain pleasure from it...and price helps us to appreciate our experiences more.

However, this maenad would beg to differ...PLEASE dear readers, drink enough wine so that you know what YOU like, what YOU value -- so that no matter what Parker points or price are attributed to your alcoholic grape indulgence, YOU know what you're appreciating. Independent indulgence is the only way...

Friday, 23 May 2008

Raclette Inspired

So I must link in to for references on the culinary goodness of the Raclette Experience...Raclette cheese is a de novo in and of itself, something like gruyere and emmenthal, except with a hint of smoke and spice and, dare I say, French "barnyard" experience - and it goes PERFECTLY with pinot noir.

Yes, Pinot Noir, a red grape. Sit back and hold your breaths in, as I am indeed about to prove my Raving Maenad heathen origins...There could be no better match for such a gorgeous meal - you could pair with the traditional high acid Riesling or Gewuerz, and you could even do a Sauvignon Blanc (either Bordeaux White or New Zealand passionfruit), but optimally you will be pairing your melted goodness with a red that sustains, endures and more thoroughly supplements such high fat ingestion with not only a high acid cut but also some lovely soft yet substantial tannins to lift this edgy cheese to a new level.

Burgundy does give the perfect cultural compliment, given the origins of raclette, as apparently a French-Swiss peasant farmer set his luncheon cheese down on a hot rock one day while out watching sheep, it melted, and he discovered the goodness of the melt on potatoes and veg; he then proceeded to spread the word throughout his valley and, well, the point tipped...That said, I can also highly recommend the New World for edgy Pinots to compliment such kaese-tater combos - New Zealand, Sonoma, Washington and Oregon all do lovely colder climate Pinots to further inspire cheese indulgence.

But the absolute best thing about such a pairing? That you can just open another bottle and yet again perfectly pair with a brilliant chocolate dessert...triple choc brownies were the call of that evening, but am absolutely convinced that further deep chocolate desires could not be matched with anything other - um, Lindt dark choc truffles anyone?

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Rawnsley Estate Chardonnay Central Ranges NSW Australia 2005 12.5%

A screwcap chard from Oz, I was expecting a violently vanilla offensive attack upon my palate and had culinarily paired my Rawnsley experience with a nice piece of seasoned chook. However I was pleasantly surprised (especially given the amount of poundage I spent on this one, a cool 5 quid) by the subtlety of this beaut, which possesses a tapestry of tropical goodness draped about a fine acid backbone. Drinking now, both with and without food (I abandoned the chicken for peachy pineapple passion…), but its acid would give it substance in 2-4 years time. 87 pts.

Montana Reserve Barrique Matured Merlot Marlborough New Zealand 2004 13.0%

I am currently on a mission to consume as many New Zealand reds as my budget will allow – as every red I have so far encountered that has been made by Kiwis, no matter what the grape, unfailingly displays the supple tannins and rich resplendent fruitiness that I crave in my wine drinking. Naturally, the wise New Zealanders began their exploration of red varietals with Pinot Noir, a grape well suited to their cooler climates, especially on the South Island…however of late I have been rather impressed by a number of Cab Sauvs, Syrahs, and Merlots that I have encountered of the Kiwi persuasion. One does tend to pay through the nose for these, but they are more likely than not worth every penny spent.

This Merlot was no exception – I was well-impressed with its intensity and length, full mouthfeel with supple satin tannins counterbalancing the thirst-quenching raspberries and blueberries on the palate. Great with pork and steak, but a stand alone bottle as well. 90 pts.

Barrique-matured simply means that it was aged in a Bordeaux style (French and US oak mix in this case) barrel. There are 3 main different sizes of barrel to choose from, if one does opt for barrel-aging (as most Old World producers do): Barrique/Bordeaux (225 L), Burgundy (228 L), and Hogshead (300 L). Barrel size tends to dictate surface area to volume ratio of wine/oak exposure, with smaller containers having a larger impact on how much oak character is imparted to the aging grape juice. More chemistry on this in a bit…

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Some Randum Reviews

Novas Winemaker’s Selection Emiliana Syrah 2005

14.5% D.O. Casablanca Valley

Very approachable for a beefy young Syrah from Chile, made with organically grown grapes. Cinnamon and redcurrants mingle with white pepper on the nose, and a smooth clean palate with deceptively moderate tannins. Great drinking with steak, but soft enough for spicy chicken as well. Gorgeous with chocolate. 85/100

Gran Villa Crianza 2001

13% D.O. Navarra

Rather cheeky, just like your favorite local Spaniard, 100% Tempranillo. Aged in US oak for 12 months, with raspberries and pecans on the nose and tight grippy tannins on the palate. Actually lovely with smoked salmon. 75/100

Little Mill Estate Founders Reserve Merlot Cabernet 2005

14.5% McClaren Vale

A single vineyard production aged in French oak, this is a lovely velvety example of a hot aussie style Bordeaux blend. Blackcurrant and vanilla coulis on the nose with hints of smoke precede a full fruity palate, with firm balanced tannins and a smooth long finish. True poetry alone or with roast. 89/100

Costieres de Nimes Patrick Lesec 2006

14% Rhone

Rather barnyard on first whiff, but opens out into cherries and smoke with hints of spice and leather. Palate is rather light (probably mostly Grenache!), but full with stringy tannins and high acid. Could do with a bit more time probably to settle down a bit. 73/100

Domaine du Tariquet Gros Manseng 2006

11% Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne

Beautiful sweet honey and white peaches on the nose, residual sugar makes for a dessert wine palate that could also be matched rather convincingly with some gingery Asian dish. A rather blousy yet pleasant experience for a Maenad with a sweet tooth. 85/100

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Champagne Thiols

Had some French bubbly last night, Laurent-Perrier and Veuve Cliquot, both Non-Vintage (NV)…disappointed in the Veuve, very sour relative to the smooth LP, and priced higher. Hmm. Regardless, have become inspired to divulge some more science…
Back in 2003, a rather reputable gentleman out of Bordeaux reported on the isolation and characterization (chem.-speak for “they proved that the molecules isolated had the structure that they thought they did, and were the molecules they thought they were”) of 3 key thiols present in reputable aged champagne (yes, we’re talking Cristal people). These 3 key thiols give aged champagne its characteristic “empyreumatic” (this is a French word meaning “the range of odours that are given off by organic matter that is heated, burnt or distilled (e.g. roast coffee, hot chocolate, jam, cooked fruit, burnt rubber, etc)”) nature, and thus distinguish it from young champagne…indeed they are not present in significant quantities in young champagne and are only formed in the bottle with aging. Now this initially leads us to the question of what thiols are in the first place – thiols are rather smelly chemical compounds familiar to most of us as the cloying smell of garlic or a skunk’s spray. Obviously our noses are rather sensitive to them and the reason they smell the distinct way they do is due to the presence of a sulfur atom in the midst of hydrogens and carbons, e.g. H3CH2CSH, which looks like:
Now, these 3 thiols that this reputable Frenchman isolated as representative of grand old bubbly smell of roasted coffee beans, cooked meat and smoked meat respectively, and can be structurally depicted as:

So basically, when you’re drinking your next bottle of old Cristal and remarking on how well it has aged, remember that it’s all about the stinky thiols!

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Drink More Strawberry Daquiris!

Just a quick one for you…So apparently the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) and researchers from Kasetsart University in Thailand have gotten together and decided that volatile compounds (chemicals that boil really easily and are often found as gases at room temperature), such as ETHANOL, can ENHANCE antioxidant and free-radical trapping capacities of the proanthocyanidins and phenolics present in strawberries and blackberries. Extrapolation readily brings this Maenad to assuming that the same goes for grapes; thus those big beefy high alcohol wines coming out of CA and Oz these days may be beasts, but they are actually better for us (??)…Not that I really need excuses!

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Burns Night Whisky Tasting

"O my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June:
O my Luve's like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune." - Robbie Burns

Burns Night Whisky Tasting

Burns Night is one of those special occasions that you don’t really find out about unless you’re super literate or you’ve lived in the U.K. January 25th, the birthday of the infamous Scottish poet Robbie Burns, is used as a grand excuse to ingest excessive amounts of fine Scottish whisky and that strange and wonderful culinary delight known as haggis. Haggis is a uniquely Scottish phenomenon, consisting ofsheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs), onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, salt and stock – and all this goodness is traditionally boiled in a sheep’s stomach prior to consumption. The haggis is such a hallowed dish that before it may be eaten, a poem (written by Burns) must be recited, in a fine scottish brogue, in its honour. Often the revels are followed by a ceilidgh (pronounced “kay-lee”), which is much like the country dancing one encounters in grade school or at line dancing events.

I did not end up dancing this year, but have enjoyed such pleasures in the past, which are only enhanced by the abundance of kilts and fine scotch legs. Instead I enjoyed a good range of the following alcoholic delights:

A Lowland, Bladnich 1991, Provenance

The nose on this was peach, honey and buttered toast, and I was delighted to discover cardamon and nutmeg on the palate. Very smooth and mellow, for a chilled out evening.

A Speyside, The Singleton of Dufftown 12 Year Old

This was all about caramel and burnt toffee, wet wood and walnuts, and when “nosed” (water added to bring out volatiles) gave off a nice honey lemon odour. The palate was quite sweet, but tended to focus on the back of the tongue and was less than satisfactory.

A Highland, Old Pultenery 12 Year Old

This is known as “the Manzanilla of the north”, and most certainly lives up to its name – apples, pears and sawdust on the nose and a bitter pungent palate that smoothes out quite nicely for a quality finish.

An Orkney, Highland Park 8 Year Old

A very simple, straightforward whisky, vanilla and almonds with hints of smoke on the nose lead to a woody, heathery palate.

A Springbank, Longrow 14 Year Old

This was one of my favorites, very smoky with smells of oranges and pecans mingling with a BBQ chicken note. A beautiful sweet full palate, very pungent and peaty.

An Islay, Bowmore 12 Year Old

This was another simpler one, with all the heather and peat one comes to expect of an Islay whisky. Hints of walnuts and a nice, smooth palate.

Another Islay, same distillery, Bowmore 17 Year Old

This was my other fave, toffee intermingling with oranges and pecans; the smoke and peat onkly came out on the palate, which was amazingly complex and finished with a breath of salty sea air, made me think of the salt water taffee one can buy at the shore.

So, overall, a nice spread, covering all the major Scottish regions (Lowland, Speyside, Highland, an island – Orkney, Springbank, and Islay). Of them all, I would recommend 1 and 5 for novices of whisky tasting, as these two will allow the beginner to get a feel for the differences between regions and styles…and for the discerning adept, get yourself some Bowmore 17 and find a friend and a smoky fireplace and settle in for an evening of philosophy and inspiration.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

To Pash or Not To Pash

I know, it’s taken me a while – got distracted by visa issues and transatlantic travels…
So here it is, my diatribe on passion fruit. But a quick note first on “pash” – this is actually a verb in Australian slang, and to pash means to make out with someone passionately. Thought I’d throw that in simply because the one place in the world where passionfruit is most popular is Oz. That said, though, both purple and yellow passionfruit are grown throughout the world; the passionflower prefers a more tropical climate, but is currently cultivated in a number of locations (Brazil, the Caribbean, Australia, Africa and some areas of the southern United States). Passion fruit by itself tends to taste tart. It is usually used with other types of fruit in recipes to lighten its tangy taste. Passion fruit, as well as its flower, are known for their aromatic scent. Because of its sweet smelling fragrance, passion fruit is sometimes added to food simply to enhance its aroma.
Passion fruit is often used in gourmet cooking, its tart flavor and sweet fragrance often chosen to optimize odor and palate. It is used in desserts, jams and cocktails, and is often found enhancing a seafood dish. Unfortunately, as I mentioned my brother getting upset about, true passionfruit flavoring is not as abundant as some yogurts and juices would have you believe and pay for – and there is a definite difference between the real and the contrived passionfruit smells and tastes, so be wary of purchasing the synthetic flavors, as they will lack in the rich bittersweetness that is true passionfruit. Indeed, they will also be deficient in the abundant medicinal properties that real passionfruit possesses. Passionfruit has been used to lower blood pressure, control spasms, treat asthma, expel worms, kill bacteria and enhance libido. Passion fruit extracts have been demonstrated to kill cancer cells in developing fetuses and the fruit and leaves have sedative properties. In 1975 a number of harmala alkaloids were isolated from the fruit, including harmane, harmol, harmin and harmalin – these are all MAOIs (Monoamine-Oxidase Inhibitors) which basically means that they are quite powerful antidepressants. Harmala alkaloids have been demonstrated to be psychoactive and harmin and harmalin are key constituents of the sacred drink of the Amazonian shaman, Ayahuasca.
There is one major compound that constitutes true passionfruit scent, 6-(but-2'-enylidene)-1,5,5-trimethylcyclohex-1-ene, shown below:

Some other minor components are: (Z)-hex-3-enyl butanoate, hexyl butanoate, ethyl (Z)-oct-4-enoate and beta-ionone. Of interest is the fact that yellow and purple passionfruits demonstrate a difference in chirality in their key component volatiles: for example, one possesses a “left-handed” version of heptan-2-ol, whereas the other possesses a “right-handed” version…More on chirality and its effect on our perceptions of smells and tastes later.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007


My father brought this along to share these holidays...After thoroughly enjoying the complexity and length on this puppy (at least a minute on the palate, moving through fruit to that gorgeous nutty subtlety that colheitas possess), my father the heathen then proceeded to declare the superiority of a tawny produced in Oz by Yalumba called Galway Pipe. Now, Galway is pleasant, drinkable, a nice simple finish to an occasion, a nonvintage with 12-15 years on it...but cannot hold a candle to a colheita.
I should step back, however, before I get into the beauties of colheitas and explain a bit about tawnies. Tawny ports go "tawny" and develop their nuttiness as a result of extended aging in oak barrels and oxidative exposure. They are nonvintage, a blend of years to maintain the house flavour; Reserve has been aged at least 7 years in oak, but other options are 10, 20, 30 or 40 year olds. And then, THEN, one has colheitas, tawny ports produced from a single vintage. These are rather special, rather particular, rather beautiful. A definitive 92.