Through the grapevine: News from the wine industry

Champagne taste, two-buck budget
The California Institute of Technology conducted a vinous experiment on 20 students, offering samples of cabernet sauvignons from various price points. They tasted a $90 bottle marked with its real price and tasted the same wine again, this time with a $10 price tag. Another sample was labeled with its actual price of $5 and then with a $45 tag. Tethered to an MRI, the students’ brains registered more pleasure from the expensive bottles than from the cheaper ones, even though they were the same wines. Yet when no price was available, they preferred the taste of the $5 “Two Buck Chuck,” the affectionate name for California’s Charles Shaw wine brand. Go figure, but in a country obsessed with money and image, are we surprised?

Another one bites the dust
I mourn the recent sale of Rosenblum Cellars to Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, even though Kent Rosenblum will remain head winemaker. With more than 30 years in the business, I can’t blame Kent for wanting to bask in $105 million, but it still sucks to see yet another independently owned winery fall prey to the publicly traded mega wines of the world. The Diageo statement: “Rosenblum Cellars is a highly regarded, critically acclaimed brand in the dynamic premium zinfandel segment … and [we] will provide the resources necessary to take this brand to even new and greater heights.” Read: water down and mass market to boost profits. Lord help us … I’m depressed.

Full disclosure
In a proposal attracting hundreds of opponents, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau wants to mimic food-labeling laws that disclose how many carbohydrates, calories, protein and fat alcoholic beverages contain. Although no one is particularly questioning whether the information should be divulged, everyone is bickering about the definition of “alcohol serving,” from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (the organization pushing the hardest) to former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. Beermakers, liquor distillers and wine trade organizations are currently hashing out what defines a drink, which will make it easier for consumers to compare their options. But vintners may have an additional cost caveat — lab-testing each vintage can add up. Stay tuned.

New Chinese import?
Here’s a fresh trivia factoid — China has graduated to the sixth largest wine producer in the world. And it’s not all rice — they grow Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and many other grape varieties. In the 1950s, Chairman Mao told the Chinese to “make great efforts to develop the grape and wine production and let the people drink more wine” to promote good health and improve memory. The people apparently answered the call — the total acreage of grapes planted now rivals Australia’s. Coming soon to a wine shop near you — Chinese Chardonnay with peaches ‘n’ lead.

Are you serious?
In a report that makes me ask, “What the fuck?”, Australian scientists have uncovered the reason why some red wines sport a peppery aroma. Researchers actually spent five years trying to find the source of the apparently offending smell, found quite frequently in Aussie shiraz and syrah from all around the world. Researcher Mango Parker (real name, I swear) reported the stinky compound, alpha-ylangene, was so strong, “a single drop would make an Olympic-sized swimming pool smell peppery.” The reasoning for the study is to be able to control black pepper in the end product. Strange … I kinda like black pepper in my wine.


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