Heavy Bottles, Oak, Alcohol




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Bar El Xampanyet, Barcelona. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2004.

Tyler Colman on his Dr. Vino's Wine Blog had a very interesting post on April 16, 2010 Tony Soter sheds some weight [carbon footprint] on Oregon winemaker (and long-time California winemaker-consultant) Tony Soter.  Soter had recently decided, according to Dr. Vino, "The Oregon vintner shipped his 2007 Pinot Noirs in bottles weighing 900g, more than the 750g of wine in the bottle. But for his 2008s (which were to be released soon), the bottles will weigh 600g (both bottles, pictured right). Needless to say, the reduced packaging mass greatly reduces the carbon footprint of the wine."

“The time has passed that you can try to impress people with the substance of the bottle as opposed to what is in the bottle,” he (Soter) said.

No kidding, Tony? (Back in the day, I used to sell Soter-made wines, which I quite liked.)!  What gave you the first clue that maybe you and the rest of the winemakers in Oregon--and in California, Spain, and elsewhere--should have been considering substance and content over form in the first place? 

Maybe more new wave (now old and very tired wave) Parkerista-bent winemakers from around the world should consider the words of star chef Thomas Keller (The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon and an original, charter member of The Chefs From Hell Acrobatic Unicylcists and Winetasters Club of New York) from the Wall Street Journal yesterday (April 15, 2010).  Keller was quoted as saying, "We do what we believe in, not what our guests want us to do." 
(Sounds akin to the philosophy of the Spanish Artisan Wine Group!)

 
Thomas Keller at jamón Ibérico de bellota producer Joselito's hospitality suite at San Sebastián Gastronomika 2010. (Joselito: "Declared the best jamón in the world." 
Photo by Gerry Dawes ©2010 / gerrydawes@aol.com

How unique!  Maybe some wineries--those who are always telling me that their overblown, overripe, high alcohol/new oak-trashed wines (many put up in hernia-inducing bottles)--are "what the market is asking for!," should hire Keller as a consultant.

This was my comment in response to the Soter "heavy bottle" piece on the Dr. Vino Wine Blog:

"Isn't it amazing how people who ought to have known better in the first place change their thinking when the wind starts to blow from a different direction. Now, in addition to getting rid of super-heavy bottles (duh, the shipping costs alone for such pretentiousness ought to have been their first clue!), we will soon see a massive shift away from the “new French oak” religion, not because the inexpert use of new oak screws up the taste wine, but because new oak designer barrels cost too bloody much.  

Having their wines taste like someone had just dragged a new piece of lumber from the midnight shift at the sawmill over the drinkers was not enough for winemakers--toadying up to wine reviewers, who must have been moonlighting as raw furniture reviewers--to abandon their embrace of laying the wood to the fruits of their labors.  No, it is not the impact of oak on the taste the taste of wine isn't the reason the oaky monster crowd of winemakers is going to less and less new oak.  After all many of them preached "good" (read expensive) wood over good winemaking as a religion.   It is the impact of the falling dollar against the Euro laying the wood to their wallets that is causing this sudden change of heart.  Follow the money trail, folks, in wine, politics, even religion.
 
But, I digress.  As long as we are on the subject of heavy bottles, my partial solution to the outrageously high alcohol levels in the wines of California--and of Priorat, Ribera del Duero, Toro and other place–besides stopping the harvesting of irrigated fruit allowed to overripen, sometimes a necessity because the grapes are on the slow-drip tit–is to put these charicature trophy wines in 500ml bottles. 

A half liter (500ml.) is about all two people can drink of these high alcohol monster these days anyway, especially in restaurants (from which many customers have to drive), so that would stop customers from leaving a fourth to a third of the bottle un-drunk on the table.  Also, when you stop to think about it, a wine with 15% alcohol is not just 2.5% higher in potency than a wine of 12.5%, it actually has 20% more alcohol than a .750ml. normal bottle at 12.5%, which makes the experience almost like drinking a full liter of wine. 

Half-liter bottles would allow producers to simultaneously drop their price per bottle by about 25% and make more bottles available to the public for wineries who have tight allocations (the few left who do).  Sure, they would still keep bottling in 750ml. for collectors and wine aficionados who want to cellar those wines.

And, while we are at the carbon footprint thing (Dr. Vino's Wine Blog), how about doing away with plastic stoppers, which are going to end up in those huge floating plastic trash dumps in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean? And the carbon footprint on natural cork (News on Spanish wine and food- Qué se dice del vino y alimentos de España) is so far above that of the horrid screw-top closure that, now that TCA and bad corks* have generally been brought under control there is not real excuse for continuing the screw-top madness. (Yeh, I know they are easier to open, just don’t slice your finger on that aluminum that is going to end up in the landfill and create pollution.)

*Of the samples I am sent to taste for articles about Spanish wines, I seriously can’t remember when the last cork-tainted wine turned up.

Cork harvest, production and quality control at Amorim in Portugal.


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About Gerry Dawes

Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià.

In December, 2009, Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés.

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 



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Gerry Dawes can be reached at gerrydawes@aol.com; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected): gerrydawes@gmail.com