If you’ve noticed that it’s been a while since I posted to The Oxford Wine Blog, that’s because I’ve been posting new wine content over at jamesflewellen.com. I will keep the Oxford Wine Blog up as a repository of all the posts I’ve put up over the years, but to stay in touch with all my new work, head along here to subscribe to newsletters for my new site.
Some of my recent gems include a report on a masterclass with one of the top winemakers in Georgia, the crossmodal interplay between choral music and wine tasting, and a brand new way of scoring wines.
I’m also continuing to run tastings and events – primarily in the London area, but also in France and further afield. Have a look here to see the latest.
Ancient Shiraz vines in the Barossa – some of the oldest in the world.
Readers of this blog will know I have a lot of respect for Australian wines. While the image of Aussie wines in the UK is often associated with bottom-of-the-barrel supermarket specials, the country produces quite incredible wines at all price points. A tasting trip to South Australia in 2012 opened my eyes to the heritage of the region – with some of the oldest commercial vines on the planet, the diversity of the grape varieties available, thanks to the diversity of geography and climate, and the increasingly sharp focus Aussie winemakers put onto regionality and terroir. The region is made up of a number of separate wine-producing areas and offers everything from cool, breezy Riesling to full-bodied, punchy Shiraz. The state is responsible for producing over half of the entire country’s wine; correspondingly many of the southern hemisphere’s major players are based in South Australia, including perennial crowd-pleasers Jacob’s Creek and Australia’s ‘first growth’ Penfolds Grange.
Our sense of taste arises from specialized sensory cells in taste buds on the tongue, palate, soft palate, and in the throat. There are around 5,000 taste buds in the mouth, each with 50-100 sensory cells or chemoreceptors. These sensory cells are responsive to one of five groups of chemicals, with each chemical within a group interpreted as one of the five fundamental tastes: alkaloids as bitterness, sugars as sweetness, ionic salts as saltiness, acids as sourness, and amino acids as umami or savouriness. Although some parts of the tongue are more sensitive to certain tastes than others, the ‘tongue map’ that divides the tongue into discrete tasting areas very much overstates the case. Chemical sense of taste is supported by the physical and chemical sensation of the liquid in the mouth. The physical sense of touch, which is responsive to dissolved particles as small as three microns, transmits the temperature and texture (or ‘mouthfeel’) of the wine. The prickle of dissolved carbon dioxide is transmitted by chemesthesis, the same sense or sensibility by which chemical irritants such as chilli or mustard register their fieriness.
Schematic of a tastebud.
Thought I’d share a link to this wonderful comic story with pithy and artistic reminders about why we all love wine!
One of the joys of wine is looking for balance.
I came across this wonderful infographic recently that conveys the essence of the English (and Welsh – and soon to be Scottish!) wine industry. While viticulture in England dates back to Roman times – with vineyards found as far north as York – it is still a tiny player on the world stage, with most production set for domestic consumption. Still small can be good – very good in the case of English Sparkling Wine, which can rival champagne – and there is no shortage of enthusiasm.
There are now 1,500 acres of vines planted in the UK – more than ever before. While most of these are concentrated in the south east of England, there are vineyards in Devon, Cornwall, Gloucestershire, Wales and (from 2014) even Scotland!
Here’s a sample of the infographic. For the full version, click this link.
Comparing the effect on colour of oak aging wine. Both are Penedès region Cabernet Sauvingnon 100% varietals; on the left, a two-year-old cosecha; on the right a six-year-old crianza. As the wine matures, its colour shifts from deep purple or crimson to a lighter brick red, taking on a more graduated appearance in the glass as it ages. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Over the last few weeks I’ve been writing a series on the structural elements of wine for the Rambling Epicure blog. I’ve assembled the seven posts here as a series of links, which constitutes a concise overview of the elements of wine we experience on the palate, but can’t necessarily put a name to as a ‘taste’ or ‘flavour’.
Regular readers of this blog will know that with my focus on blind tasting, I like to get to the bottom of ‘what makes a wine a wine’ and how a particular region is expressed in the wines that come from that region. I recently got back from a tasting trip to the Rheingau in Germany – famous for its Rieslings – and have been thinking about the essence of Rieslings from that region.
Copy of an old map of the Rheingau showing the Rhine river’s westerly turn and the site of the vineyards.
Mature Tempranillo grape cluster with characteristic blue-black color (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What are your top ten grape varieties? It’s an academic question but one that throws into focus why it is we like the wines we like.
My consideration of the question is split into whites and reds available on the Rambling Epicure site. I’ve tried to consider grapes in terms of the wines they are capable of producing when managed in the right hands, as well as their commercial importance and how widespread they are.
There are many of the usual suspects – Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling – but also a few less well-known varieties. With over 1300 grape varieties used to make wine around the world, perhaps a more interesting question for the future is: What are your top ten ‘unusual’ grape varieties?
Richard Feynman was one of the twentieth century’s greatest physicists and free-thinkers. Here’s his take on wine, illustrated by the folks at Zen Pencils, from whom you can buy prints.
by Neel Burton and James Flewellen
Following previous posts on the history of champagne and the geography of the Champagne region, in this article we cover the method of champagne production.
Like many sparkling wines, champagne is produced by the traditional or classic method, which is characterized by a second fermentation in the very same bottle in which the wine eventually comes to be sold. Although the traditional method is usually thought of as the best method for producing sparkling wine, it is the only method that does not require expensive, bulky equipment, and hence the only method that is available to the small producer.
The grapes that go into making champagne require both high acidity and phenolic ripeness, a combination that is much easier to achieve in the cool Champagne region than in warmer climates. So as to preserve acidity, grapes are harvested early at a low must weight. This comes at the expense of sugar content, which is made up for by the subsequent addition of sugar in the form of liqueur de tirage and liqueur de dosage and also, in some cases, by initial chaptalization (see later). In black grapes it also comes at the expense of colour, which for champagne is in fact a benefit.
A bottle of undisgorged Champagne resting on the lees. The yeast used in the second fermentation is still in the bottle, which is closed with a crown cap. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)