Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Imbibing to Music

(A short sabbatical is in order - So, for the next few weeks, we'll take a look back at some older posts: This one is from 2012 about the affects of music on wine drinking.)

Music is said to have charms to sooth a savage breast, but did you know it could also influence what wine you buy?  And, it can also affect how that wine tastes to you, depending on what type of music is playing.

Numerous studies in the past twenty years have indicated that music and wine are closely linked, and that music can heavily influence a person’s decision about which wine to buy.  Wine, it seems, echoes our surroundings and our feelings.  This may be part of the reason that professional wine judging events are held in silence; to give the judges a chance to “hear” the wine and interact with it.

A study on the type of music played in grocery stores and how that influenced  what wines were purchased was administered by Adrian North and colleagues in 1997 at Leicester University.  Nearly 80% of shoppers in the study purchased the type of wine that corresponded to the kind of music playing in the background; When French accordion music was playing, 77% of wines purchased were French.   When traditional German music (Oomph music) was heard, 73% of the wine sold was German. But when 44 of the store customers were asked if they believed the music had affected their choice, only one person said yes.

The results of this study suggested that you would be 3 to 4 times more likely to purchase a wine that matched the music playing in the store as a wine that did not match it.

Stores and restaurants have known for quite some time that playing classical music will influence shoppers to purchase more expensive wines, and to spend longer in their establishments, thereby purchasing more wines and food.

The pace of the music can also influence how quickly and how much you drink.  Reports have shown that when faster, upbeat music is played, restaurant and bar patrons drink more alcohol, wine and beer.  But when slow, mournful music is heard, drinking slows, sales decrease, and the restaurant or bar gets (depressingly)quiet.

The rationale for this music-wine connection says that playing happy music with a happy wine, (Chardonnay or Muscato) will open it up more, making it more enjoyable. Chardonnay may be perceived as being confident and fresh when paired with pop music. 

A darker, moodier wine (think Cabernet or Syrah,) paired with low, brooding music will make both seem darker and morose.

Simply put, music can change our perception of the taste of the wine.  If the music and the wine have the same basic feel or values, they will pair well together and compliment each other’s vibe.

That means  music may help the wine seem even smoother or fruitier when paired with certain songs.  If paired poorly, the wine may test harsh or astringent.

Clark Smith, winemaker at Diamond Ridge Vineyards, has been testing these theories and drawing some interesting conclusions. According to Smith, “Red wines need either minor key or they need music that has negative emotion. They don't like happy music. With expensive reds, don't play music that makes you giggle. Pinots like sexy music. Cabernets like angry music. It's very hard to find a piece of music that's good for both Pinot and Cabernet.” “Red wines need either minor key or they need music that has negative emotion. They don't like happy music. With expensive reds, don't play music that makes you giggle. Pinots like sexy music. Cabernets like angry music. It's very hard to find a piece of music that's good for both Pinot and Cabernet.”

Adrian North (of the grocery–music study mentioned above) has also done a scientific study into the  wine-music correlation at of Heriot Watt University in England.   His latest research shows that background music influenced the taste of the wine by up to 60%.  Of 250 students studied, the results showed that the music did effect the drinker’s perception of the wine on a consistent basis.  Again, Cabernet lends its self to moody, heavy “powerful and heavy” music and a Chard responds better to “zingy and refreshing” songs.

North’s study offers four types of music, a song suggestion and the wine to pair it with.  Here are just a few examples:

Wine                           Type of Music             Song & Artist                          
Cabernet                  Powerful & Heavy     Won’t Get Fooled Again-Who
Syrah                       Subtle & Refined         Canon –Pachelbel                 
Merlot                      Mellow & Soft           Over the Rainbow – Eva Cassidy        

Chardonnay             Zingy & Refreshing         Atomic – Blondie

Want to try it yourself? Clark Smith offers a one-hour recorded seminar called Mysterious Resonances. “By utilizing brain scan technologies that enhance our understanding of music, Smith demonstrates how harmony in wine and music are linked”. The cost is $9.99  and the seminar is available at

The wine-music connection is intriguing.  It may someday encourage winemakers to recommend music selections on their wine labels to pair with their wines - A sort of balance in harmony.  Wine and music, just another way to enjoy!

~ Joy

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

To Cork or Not To Cork ...

(A short sabbatical is in order - So, for the next few weeks, we'll take a look back at some older posts: This one is from 2012 about wine closures.)


The purpose of a wine closure is to keep the wine in and the air out.  When a winemaker decides on a closure s/he considers many elements including, regulations, tradition, style of the wine, cost, and consumer perception.  Cork has been the favorite wine closure for hundreds of years, but other options exist and studies have been conducted throughout the world, trying to pinpoint the one that is best.

Here are just a few options with their benefits and their peccadillo’s.

Corks have been used to seal wine since the seventeenth century when Champagne maker, Dom Perignon used them.  Cork is a natural, flexible material that seals well and lends an air of tradition and sophistication to a bottle of wine.  But due to the extensive demand for cork, another viable closure would help to easy the demand on the cork oak tree.

While cork has been an easy closure to work with and does a relative fine job of sealing wine, there are some problems.  The main one is cork taint.  This happens when TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) contaminates the cork.  The result is a mold that grows on the bottom of the cork and leaches out into the bottled wine. Cork taint gives a musty smell, and a ‘wet-dog’ or moldy taste to the wine.  This is referred to as a “corked” bottle. Research indicates that between 5 to 10% of all bottled wines spoil due to cork taint.

A major advantage of the cork closure is that it is porous and lets some oxygen interact with the wine.  This allows for better aging by letting the wine develop secondary characteristics like new aromas and flavors. This is especially desired with reds that are to be cellared for years.

Cork is also seen as the ‘greener’ solution for wine closures since it is biodegradable.  And, let’s face it, there’s romance, tradition, and a bit of drama all wrapped up in the presentation and sniff of the cork, as well as that resounding ‘pop’ when a bottle is opened!

Synthetic Cork
Synthetic corks are made from high-grade polymer plastics.  While it is a suitable alternative for natural cork for the short term, synthetic cork has not fared well in keeping oxygen out for longer periods of time.  Since it does not retain its seal over the years, it is suggested synthetic corks be used on wines that will be consumed within five years of bottling.

Synthetic corks are used in less than 10% of all commercially bottled wines in the world.  In Italy, synthetic corks are used mainly for white wines.  Natural corks are used for red wines and the more paramount wines that require aging.

Overall, consumers have grudgingly accepted them.  While they do not crumble or break apart in the bottle, synthetic corks do not provide any clues about the wine such as freshness or aroma.  They do, however, provide the required “pop’ when pulled!

Screw Cap
Screw caps, made from aluminum, were developed in the late 1960’s and used commercially in the 70’s. Most U.S. consumers equate them with cheap wines and find screw caps to be unacceptable.  But in other parts of the world, screw caps are slowing gaining in popularity, thanks in part to New Zealand and Australia.

At the beginning of 2000, winemakers from Australia and New Zealand decided to end their problems with cork taint by using screw caps on their wines.  In 2001, 1% of New Zealand wineries were using screw caps.  By 2004 it had risen to 70%.  Australia followed suit and now the majority of non-sparkling wines in Australia use screw caps.  Even the United Kingdom is learning to embrace them.  In 2003, 41% of consumers viewed a screw cap wine as acceptable; that number is up to 85% as of 2011. (Just over 10% of Americans find a screw cap to be acceptable on wine.)

Some advantages to screw caps include easy of use and no tools required. Other countries (Spain, Italy and France) are also reconsidering the screw cap for wines that are to be consumed while young.  A screw cap also helps a wine retain its fruitiness, freshness, and aroma. For wines that are to be consumed within 3 to 5 years, screw caps are fine.

But for wines that are to be aged, screw caps are not the answer. Since they do not allow any air into the wine, which aging reds need, that can reduce certain sought-after qualities. And, that ritual “pop” of the cork is missing.

There are two other alternative wine closures that are being used in the market.

The glass/plastic closure is known as Vino-Seal or Vino-Lok.  The stopper has an inert o-ring that creates an airtight seal, thus preventing oxygen from getting to the wine.

The glass closure was introduced into the European market in 2003 and has been used by over 300 wineries.  While easy to use and attractive, there are some drawbacks for use in the U.S.

Unfortunately, compatible bottling equipment is only found in Europe, so to use it in the U.S. would require hand bottling, or a major investment in new bottling equipment and shipping it over here.  Also, one topper cost 70¢ - a tremendous expense compared to other closures.

Zork is the newest wine closure on the field.  Launched in 2010 in Australia and New Zealand, the closure is made from 100% recyclable food-grade polymers.  The closure is similar to a screw cap expect that it “pops” when opened. 

To open, you pull the tear tab at the bottom and unwind to the T-top.  Once opened, the closure becomes the T-top with its reusable cork.


New research, the “Bottle Aging – Closure and Variability Study,” is now being conducted by the University of California, Davis, in partnership with the PlumpJack Group.  The study, which was announced in June, will compare the effectiveness of natural cork, synthetic cork, and screw caps on keeping a wine at its utmost quality. 

Two hundred bottles of Cade Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, crafted by a winery owned by the PlumpJack Group, will be used in the study. The study will establish what the range of differences is for each closure. Findings are expected to be published at the end of 2013.

In Conclusion
For alternative wine closures to really catch on, they will have to first gain the trust of winemakers and producers.  These are the people who know and understand wine science, and want to use the best closure available for each of their wines.  That may mean that a winery or producer might use two or three closures; each wine topped with the best closure suited for it.

Considering that most wines bottled today are meant to be consumed within three to five years, screw caps may make sense to many wineries and producers, especially those targeting a younger wine drinking crowd who are more versatile and more accepting of change.

Then there are those of us who love the tradition, the romance, and that exciting sound when you pull out the cork – the “pop” that just says “Relax and Enjoy!”

~ Joy


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Do Wine Competitions Really Matter?

(A short sabbatical is in order - So, for the next few weeks, we'll take a look back at some older posts: This one is from 2012 about wine competitions.)



A wine competition is an organized event, usually held by a state, an organization, the media, or the wine industry.  Wines are entered by the producing wineries, which pay a fee, usually from $40 to over $100 PER entry, and send anywhere from 2 to 12 bottles of each wine to be judged.
To submit a wine for consideration in these competitions, a winery fills out a competition form indicating the grape variety or proprietary name, where it was grown, the year made, the percentage of residual sugar and the current price charged for the bottle.  This helps the competition staff to place the wine in the correct categories for judging.

The wines are judged by professionals in the industry, peers, or consumers.  Awards are given and may include medals or ribbons to signify bronze (3rd place) silver (2ndplace) and gold (1stplace.)  A double or Concordance gold means that every judge at the competition gave that wine a gold medal.  These competitions usually have a “Best of Class” category and a “Best of Show” award, as well.

Wineries enter what they consider to be their best wines in these competitions, hoping to medal so that they can claim a Gold, Silver or Bronze in that competition.  It’s an impressive selling point for the wine and is a great marketing tool for the winery.

Judging for wine competitions are done ‘blind.’ This means that the judges do not know who made the wine, where it was produced or the price it sells for.  This is done to prevent any bias, so that the wine is judged on its merits alone.

Wines are usually arranged in flights.  A flight will include wines from the same vintage year or same type of grapes but made by different wineries. A tasting flight is a selection of wines, usually three to twelve, to be reviewed.  Judges at the same table are served the same wines in each flight.  They use a judging form to evaluate each wine in its own merits.  Each judge scores the wine, signs the form and turns it in.  After the forms are picked up, judges can discuss their opinions.

Wines may be judged on a combination of the following elements:
1)  Appearance – The wine should be clear and bright without dullness or particles.
2)  Color – The color of the wine will depend on the type of grapes used.  A white wine that shows amber tones or a red with bronze edges indicated oxidization.
3)  Aroma & Bouquet – This can include many things but a wine that smells moldy, dirty or corky will loose points.
4)  Volable Acidity – Does the wine smell like vinegar? If so, 0 points.
5)  Total Acidity – This is felt in the mouth.  If the wine is judged to be too flat or too sharp, points are deducted.
6)  Sweetness/Sugar – Sugar and acid should be balance.
7)  Body – This is the mouth-feel.
8)  Flavor – It should correspond to the grapes used.  Anything metallic is not good.
9)  Astringency – This accounts for bitterness.
10) General or Overall Quality – This is the one category that is subjective.

Wine judges may use a 20 point scale when judging a wine.  This scale was developed in 1959 by Dr. Maynard Amerine at the University of California at Davis.  The UC Davis scale allots points in the following categories:
Appearance – (Up to 2 points)
Color - (Up to 2 points)
Aroma & Bouquet - (Up to 4 points)
Volable Acidity - (Up to 2 points)
Total Acidity - (Up to 2 points)
Sweetness/Sugar - (Up to 1 point)
Body - (Up to 1 point)
Flavor - (Up to 1 point)
Astringency - (Up to 1 point)
General Quality - (Up to 2 points)

Each wine is sampled and the judge scores it in each category from 0 to the maximum number of points allowed, based on a theoretical standard.

The UC Davis 20 point rating is scored as:
0 - 5 points - Objectionable
6 - 8 points - Deficient
9 - 11 points -  Acceptable
12 – 14 points – Average (Bronze)
15 – 17 points – Above average (Silver)
18 – 20 points – Outstanding (Gold)

After years of using this system, the American Wine Society created a different version of the 20 Point Scale.  The AWS version assigns points in these categories:
Appearance  (Up to 3 points)
Aroma & Bouquet - (Up to 6 points)
Taste & Texture - (Up to 6 points)
Aftertaste - (Up to 3 points)
Overall Impression - (Up to 2 points)

The AWS 20 point rating is scored as:
12 – 14 points – Good  (Bronze)
15 – 17 Excellent  (Silver)
18 – 20 Extraordinary (Gold)

The AWS scale is now being used by more and more competitions as the standard.  Wine judges are told to try to be objective, and somewhat restrained in their negative evaluations. 

Wine competitions are held around the world.  In the United States, there are several wine competition held annually, including:
Critics Challenge International
Finger Lakes International
International Eastern
San Francisco International

Most competitions are sponsored by those in the wine industry, state fair associations, or newspapers and magazines.  The Finger Lakes wine competition is different.  It is sponsored by Camp Good Days and Special Times, a not-for-profit 501 corporation that provides a camping experience and other benefits for children with cancer.

There is also a unique competition that is judged by select wine loving consumers. The Wine Lovers Consumer Wine Judging participants attend seminars on how to judge wine objectively, and are guided by an experienced advisor. This competition is held annually and sponsored by the Tasters Guild.

Keep in mind that small and medium sized wineries, those not located on the West Coast, and those that craft non-standard wines will probably be hard pressed to ever get a wine rating from a wine critic.  Wine competitions however are open and available to all commercials wineries to enter.  This is a chance to level the playing field for the small wineries and give their wines a chance to be noticed and shine.

So the next time you’re selecting a bottle of wine, don’t be so quick to look for the big name wines or the wine rating numbers. Instead, check out some of the wines offered by local and regional wineries.  See what awards they have won and take a chance on that gold, silver or bronze medal winner.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised with what you find.  Enjoy!

~ Joy