“Those who utilize sensory science make better wine.” I recently recalled this matter of fact phrase once made by my sensory science professor during a lecture.
What did she mean by that, and why did she phrase it in that “this is truth” manner? Was she suggesting that if you wear lab coats, conduct consumer preference studies, and accumulate descriptive analysis to help understand wines, then we will make better wine? I don’t think so. Besides, that methodology helps you make a type of wine, not necessarily better wine. If the statement is true in that sense, it would only apply to wineries of such a size as could afford to conduct sensory science studies, and I don’t think that was the implication.
I think the statement cuts to the heart of this question: What is sensory science? What are the principles of sensory science and how can we apply these principles to our small, Continue reading
Think you want to work a harvest? Want to find out what that really means? Follow our intern, Sarah Green, as she chronicles her experience as a first time cellar rat. This entry highlights the experience of her taste buds.
Lately we’ve been spending a lot of time with our ferments. It’s like working at a wine preschool. They need a lot of attention and maintenance because they’re babies. They don’t act like finished wines, and they don’t taste like them either. They taste like raw juices – a little rough around the edges and murky with grape matter.
We taste these ferments several times a day – as we pump them over and punch them down, before we leave for the day, before we start a day. Because this is how Tyler and Joe judge how they’re progressing, project where they’re going, and decide how to approach them at every stage.
So it’s surprising when we sit down to a blending trial of wine that’s almost finished – wine that will be bottled in the next few months. It tastes smooth, delicate, clear, and structured in ways that fermenting wine can’t quite yet. As we made this transition from sampling to blending trial the other day, Joe said, “Harvest is like boot camp for your taste buds.”
Which got me thinking. About how much tasting really goes on around here. Continue reading
One of the beauties of this job is that Joe Donelan not only gives us the freedom to take the initiative in winemaking to deliver the quality he looks for, but he allows us to opine about things that bemuse us – wine, of course, or anything else. We are all multifaceted people and as wine industry members we often focus on more than wine: food, too, and travel. One food worth any travel is vanilla ice cream.
I chose the words “In defense of vanilla…” because I (Tyler) have begun to bemoan the use of vanilla to describe something as plain or bland. A recent assault on the San Francisco 49ers preseason offense described them as “vanilla.” While I understand the connotation, I feel compelled to defend my most beloved ice cream flavor and the standard by which all true ice cream shops ought to be measured.
Vanilla ice cream – at its best – is like a fine wine: beautiful, subtle, incredibly textured, and enticing. Great vanilla is not to be confused with vanilla that is good enough (under ripe Pinot Noir anyone?), or just a base for other things (Cabernet?), but it is about the ethereal mix of pure flavor expression with rich, subtle texture (great Pinot Noir? Great Syrah?). Mock me all you want, but great vanilla ice cream needs nothing more than a deft touch of ripe red fruit or perhaps a sprinkle of shaved chocolate, or even – in one epic dessert in Seattle – an ever-so-slight infusion of Szechuan pepper with a Rhubarb broth. These bring out the beauty and centrality of great vanilla rather than taking away from it, for great vanilla does not need hiding (Ben and Jerry, you’ve lost your way) but merits a pedestal!
For great tastes in the Bay Area there are – as with many culinary delights – numerous options. For a creamy, richly textured, nearly custard-like vanilla, Double Rainbow is the vanilla standard. After recently reading about Smitten’s made-to-order (literally!) vanilla I dragged the family to Hayes Valley in San Francisco to taste: beautiful, creamy but not too creamy, and subtly long in its finish. Another favorite is Straus Family Ice Cream: very pure vanilla with a slightly lighter texture than the previous two examples. Its less custard-like nature may appeal to ice cream purists and is excellent.
So with all this greatness, please, please halt the derogatory use of my beloved cream. I know it can indicate “plain,” but the best vanillas are far from just plain. The best vanilla ice cream, like the best wine, can nearly bring you to tears. In my short tenure as a human being, it has been the cream – not wine – that has actually made me tearful (athough wine has made me equally jubilant, for some reason the tears have yet to be jerked). Once, after touring through several wonderful Domaines in Burgundy, ending with the local favorite Le Tontons in Beaune, and after tasting some of the finest wines made in the world, we capped a lovely four-course meal with housemade vanilla ice cream that captured the good things in life and brought a single tear of joy: purity, substance, softness, and quality. That’s my definition of vanilla and I’m sticking to it.