About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Turn to Tackle the Sulfite Myth

It’s almost a rite of passage for wine bloggers to tackle the subject of sulfites in wine and having published “Roger’s Grapevine” for over a year, I’m probably overdue. Today, I’ll attempt to tackle the subject with a recap of what I’ve learned from numerous sources over the past 4-5 years of reading and learning about wine.

The necessity for tackling the subject is the seemingly unending stream of people I talk to that ask me how to avoid sulfites in wine because it gives them headaches. If it’s not an issue of interest for you or a close friend that shares your love of wine, today’s blog might be worth skipping over. Otherwise, here goes my two cents worth on the subject:

Wine headaches, particularly red wine headaches, are of concern to a significant number of wine drinkers I talk to on a regular basis. Most of them are very quick to blame sulfites as the culprit. The truth is that there is more than a 99% chance that sulfites in the wine are NOT the problem. Here’s the skinny on sulfites:

All wine sold in the U.S. (regardless of where it’s produced) must contain a warning “contains sulfites” if the wine contains more than 10 mg per liter (1.25 standard bottles). It must contain less than 1 mg per liter to be labeled “no sulfites” (Note: this is much different than the often seen “No Sulfites Added” label.) While sometimes, sulfites are added to wine or absorbed into grapes from the soil, you should be aware that sulfites occur naturally within wine as part of the fermentation process. ALL wine, unless means are employed to extract them, WILL contain sulfites. Adding hydrogen peroxide to your wine can chemically alter and remove sulfites. I would guess, however, that it probably wouldn’t be very appealing to your dinner guests.

The “contains sulfites” requirement came into being after government health officials estimated that 1% of the U.S. population may suffer from sensitivity to sulfites. However, sulfite reactions are almost always either dermatological or respiratory in nature. You’re more likely to get a rash or shortness of breath than a headache. If you’re asthmatic or C.O.P.D. and you utilize steroids in treating your condition, and also happen to be among the 1% who of the population who have sulfite sensitivity, you could possibly suffer headaches after ingesting wine with concentrated sulfites. A 2001 study by H. Valley & P.J. Thompson showed that an asthmatic response in sulfite sensitive subjects first appeared at extremely high sulfite levels in the vicinity of 300 mg per liter.

The average sulfite content for all measured bottles of wine is 80 mg per liter and that drops to about 40 mg per liter for organic wines. In terms of the standard 750 ml bottle we’re talking 60 mg/30 mg per bottle or about 10 mg/5mg per glass. Keep in mind that the human body itself produces about 1000 mg of sulfites per day! It’s with a high degree of confidence that I tell you that sulfites are probably NOT the villain if you get wine headaches!

Need more convincing….try munching on about six dried apricots, drinking a couple of back-to-back glasses of processed orange juice or having a huge fresh salad from a restaurant salad bar for lunch. If you don’t get a headache from any of these, then quit blaming sulfites for your wine headache! Dried packaged fruits and processed orange juice have preservative sulfites and nearly all restaurants utilize a keep fresh spray on fresh salad bar items that contains sulfites, all in concentrations comparable to, or higher than those found in the average bottle of wine.

O.K. That bursts your bubble….you thought you knew where to place the blame for your wine headache and now you’re back at square one. So what’s the answer? Unfortunately, that’s very hard to determine and the answer is probably different for different people. Tannins, histamines and seratonins are among many compounds that occur in wine that could possibly cause headaches. And, of course, let’s not forget that the alcohol content itself can play a role. The percentage of the population sensitive to alcohol is many times that sensitive to sulfites and headaches are not an uncommon reaction to alcohol sensitivity.

If your headaches are mainly due to red wine, histamine may be the likely suspect. If they occur mostly with white wine, it might be seratonin. The fact is that you have to do a little intensive detective work to discover the cause of YOUR wine headache. Note the kinds, types, even the origins of wines that cause your headaches and also the ones that don’t. Keep a log and build a database. Once you established a number of wines that do and don’t, it should be possible to establish a pattern of what’s present and what’s absent in the various wines in order to narrow down what you’re reacting to cause the headaches.

When the headaches are strong and severe, I always suggest to my inquirers that they discuss and share their reactions with their doctor. Wines are complex beverages with many compounds that mimic other compounds. It’s part of the reason we get so many different wonderful aromas and flavors in wine. It can also, however, be a source of reactions for all the hundreds of compounds people develop allergies and sensitivities to or have interactions with because of regular medications.

Remember, there are hundreds, even thousands, of possible choices for you in the world of wine. Don’t waste time with the ones you don’t enjoy or which have side effects and discover the ones that give you pleasure and satisfaction.

Here’s hoping you get to discover and enjoy a glass of wine that’s just right for you!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Worldwide Trends in Wine

The gentleman pictured at the right is Claude Robbins, M.W.A. and Director of the International Wine Guild. The International Wine Guild is the organization through which I received my CWS and offers a plethora of courses for the wine professional, as well as the general public. As a Guild member, I receive regular newsletters and their most recent one included Claude’s recap of recent data released on wine growing, production and consumption. For today’s blog, I’ve decided to borrow and pass along some items of interest from that recap.

The data is from five year rolling averages and covers the period 2004-2008:

Wine Production:
The biggest news arising from the data was Italy moving past France into the number one ranking among wine producing countries. France remains in first place in total wine consumption.
Italy, France and Spain are the top three wine producing nations in the world and represent 48% of the world’s total wine production. The United States, Argentina, Australia, China, Germany, South Africa and Chile round out the top ten producers of wine (Only 60 countries are currently being tracked as wine producing countries).
Chile and China showed the largest percentage increases in wine production at 32.7% and 23.9% respectively.

Total Wine Consumption:
As previously mentioned France ranks number one in total consumption, followed by Italy and the United States in almost a tie for second. (Italy nudges out the U.S. by about 7 million gallons). Rounding out the top ten in total consumption are Germany, China, Spain, United Kingdom, Argentina, Russia and Romania. Together, these 10 countries account for 72% of the world’s total wine consumption. China’s advancement on both the total production and total consumption lists is significantly notable. The wine world’s interest in China is growing by leaps and bounds with some of the world’s top producers establishing footholds there. The aforementioned director of the International Wine Guild just returned from China after establishing and training a staff that provide wine education in that country. It’s also interesting to note the United Kingdom’s number seven rank in total consumption especially when you consider they rank #58 out of 60 countries in total production. This means the U.K imports 99.5% of the wine it consumes. That makes them pretty keen observers on the overall world of wine and is one reason I always try to glean regular commentary and observations from the British wine blogs and wine trade publications, particularly Decanter magazine.

Per Capita Wine Consumption:
Most people would probably guess France as the leader in this category and while they do rank high (#3 at 14.1 gallons per person annually), they are surpassed by folks from the Vatican (#1 @ 17.6 gallons) and Norfolk Island (#2 @ 15.2 gallons). Luxembourg, Andorra, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Falkland Islands and Croatia round out the top ten all at 10 gallons and more per person annually. The United States has moved up four positions in this category to #57 with a consumption of 2.56 gallons per person, a 14.5% increase since the previous report two years ago. The world wide average for 223 countries is 1.2 gallons per capita.

Total Wine Exports:
Italy France and Spain top the list, each exporting slightly more 30% of their total production (all are on the top ten list in total production, as well). Australia, another top ten country is total production comes in at number four in wine export volume. Its exports are a stunning 56.1% of total wine production. Chile, South Africa, United State, Argentina, Germany and Portugal round out the top ten exporters with both Chile and Portugal joining Australia as major producers who export over half the wine they produce. Moldavia ranks #12 exporting 29.6% of its production; but of even more interest is the fact that the taxes on exported wine provides 15% of the country’s total income!

Wine Imports:
As previously mentioned the United Kingdom is tops in percentage of wine consumption that is imported. Their total imports amount to over 300 million gallons. France and the United States join them in as huge importers. France imports almost 517 million gallons or about 38% of its consumption. The U.S. imports a little over 222 million gallons, or 29.2% of its total consumption. Together these three import over a billion gallons of wine!

The wonderful thing about exploring the world of wine is that there’s always growth, development and something new being added to a diversity of choices that is already seemingly unlimited. In short, there’s always something new and exciting to enjoy. Go ahead and do some exploration today!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pairing Wine with Food Isn't Hard!

Most neophyte wine consumers believe that pairing wine with food is difficult, requires intensive training, and needs to be handled by experts. Let me assure you that this simply isn’t the case. Pairing wine with food is adventuresome, fun, often exciting and can be successfully done by anyone with functioning taste buds, sense of smell and everyday common sense.

We professionals in the trade talk a lot about “organoleptics”. That’s the art of analyzing the tastes of things through the use of all the sensory organs (sight, smell, feel and taste). As professionals, it helps us to understand and learn about each wine we study. It applies, as well, to food and is an area of study and skill development for any serious chef. Applied to both wine and food together, it provides a basis for understanding the technical aspects of pairing food and wine.
For those of us who constantly want to learn and explore more in our beloved fields, it’s an important area.

Organoleptics isn’t required, however, to successfully pair wine with food. Those that believe that are the same ones who propagate the myth that for every food item, there is a “perfect” or “ideal” wine pairing. There should be many great wine pairings for each food item. Remember that wine IS food and has been the natural accompaniment to meals for over 4,000 years. It developed out of the need to have a safe beverage that would complement the food and make it safer and easier to consume.

The first hard and fast rule to remember is: Never pair food with a wine that you wouldn’t enjoy by itself. While it might be a terrific pairing for someone else, if you don’t enjoy the wine, you won’t enjoy the pairing. Always pair food with a wine you enjoy!

To complement food, wine doesn’t have to match perfectly in flavors. In fact sometimes, a contrast works very well. What the wine and food must do to one another is to enhance and highlight the key positive flavor characteristics of each other. They should not enhance or highlight any negative flavor characteristics nor should the key characteristics of one overpower and totally overshadow the other. How do you know when that has happened? Your taste buds will tell you! Trust them to be your guide just as you’ve trusted them to choose your favorite foods and beverages all your life.

The second rule to remember is: to know if a new experience is suitable for you, you have to try something new. Since it’s your taste buds involved, it really is mostly a trial and error process and pairing suggestions should be considered as guideposts or starting points to discovering the wine pairings that work for you.

Asking for advice and help is fine, but always make sure the wine professional you seek advice from does the following:
1) Gets a sense of the kind of wines you normally like to drink.
(This helps insure his recommendations are more based on your taste preferences than his.)
2) Asks how the item to be paired is being prepared.
(Additional flavors from preparation, spices and sauces may impact the choice of wine.)
3) Offers multiple pairing options for you to choose from.
(I personally love restaurants that will list more than one suggestion for each item when they do suggested wine pairings on the menu and generally mistrust them if they only list one.)
4) Advises what you should avoid in selecting a wine to pair and gives the reasons why.
(You’ll probably learn more about good wine pairing and develop more of your own pairing common sense from this advice than anything else.)

The final rule to remember is: YOU are the best judge. The purpose of pairing wine with food is to enhance the enjoyment of both. If it doesn’t work for you, then it simply doesn’t work! Seek another pairing that will.

O.K. it’s time to go forth and try some pairings. Make it fun by inviting friends over to sample 3-4 different wines. Try pairing each one with several different food appetizers and rating each combination on a 1 to 5 point scale. With each wine, try the same appetizers. Have your guests see which appetizer scored highest (and/or lowest) with each wine and discuss why. It’s fun and you’ll learn a lot.

If you would like to have some examples to use as guideposts, here’s some wine pairings that The Wine Guy has enjoyed:

Pasta with meat or mushrooms and red sauce:
Almost any good Italian red is worth trying but my favorite is a good Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo. The earthiness of this wine serves it well in pairing with red sauce pastas.

Shrimp stir-fry:
Good crisp, dry white wines with subtle fruit flavors work well. My most frequent choice is a Chenin Blanc, preferably from South Africa.

Mexican Bean Dip:
The Wine Guy makes his own with refried beans, cheese, green onions, cilantro and salsa. I’ve tried a lot of combinations that were so-so but had my socks knocked off when I paired the dip and good quality tortilla chips with a Spanish Cava.

Baked Halibut:
This light and delicate fish can be easily overpowered but still needs a wine that will bring some flavor accent. On someone else’s suggestion, I tried my halibut with a Spanish Albarino and it’s been my first wine of choice for this dish ever since.

Grilled Hamburgers:
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot come to most people’s mind (unless you’ve got a good Trappist Tripel Ale in hand). While they work, given the choice, I’ll pour a good Carmenere from Chile.

French Onion Soup:
We tend to think of entrees for wine pairings but certain soups are regular meals for Mrs. Wine Guy and myself. With this one, we enjoy having a good French Viognier especially if it’s been lightly aged in oak.

Sweet & Sour Chicken (or Pork):
With sweet teriyaki, sour pineapples, meat green peppers, etc, there’s a lot going on for a wine to stumble over. Some of the traditional Asian food whites (Riesling, gew├╝rztraminer, et al) have a tendency for me to over accent the sweet side. My trial and error led me to try a rose’ of pinot noir and it was a delightful pairing with both the wine and the dish becoming more enjoyable than they would have been on their own!

The above example is what you’re hoping to find as you explore pairing wine with food. Lots of wines will go with almost any dish you choose but when you discover a pairing where both the dish and the wine taste significantly better together than they would on their own, you’ve hit the bulls eye!

Happy exploring and good luck with your pairings!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Little Wine Math from The Wine Guy

The next time you hold a glass of your favorite wine in your hand, you may want to do a little math.
That glass of wine represents about 75 grapes, which is approximately the number of grapes contained on the average grape cluster. The typical vine will contain about forty clusters of grapes so each vine will produce slightly less than a case of wine.

There are about 400 vines to the acre. Those 400 vines typically produce 5 tons of grapes which will fill just over 13 wine barrels, the equivalent of slightly less than 4,000 bottles of wine or just over 330 cases. That means the acre of grapes that produced the glass of wine you’re holding probably produced over 17,000 additional glasses of wine.

Each of the above barrels required about 1200 clusters of grapes or roughly about 90,000 single grapes. That represents less than 10% of the yield from the average vineyard acre.

Oh, did we mention the barrel is probably oak. Out of the hundreds of species of oak, less than 2 dozen are suitable for barrel making and less than 10% of those are utilized for high-end wine barrels. The average age of a French oak tree utilized for wine barrels is 175 years old.

That’s a lot to think about as you sip!