Drips and dregs | TheUnion.com

Drips and dregs

High scoring wines, posh restaurants and trips to Tuscany often steal the headline wine news. But what’s really going on? Here are a few recent stories that will keep you on the cutting edge.

The man with the golden cellar

On October 26, 11,474 bottles of some of the world’s best wines went up for auction in New York City. The wines, with an estimated value of 18 million, came from the cellar of a single Bay Area collector. But lest you worry that the poor fellow will have nothing left to drink, it only represented half his total collection.

It created a lot of buzz with approximately 92% of the wines selling generating a gross of $15.5 million. In case you’re kicking yourself for not getting in on this action, here’s a smattering of what you missed:

12 bottles 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild $133,100.

1 Methuselah (8 bottles) 1999 Domaine de la Romanee Conti $127,050.

12 bottles 1961 Chateau Latour $102,850.

12 bottles 1982 Chateau Petrus $66,550.

In case you think only the rich can play in this league, you could have snuck out at the lowest end with a bottle of 1880 Madeira for the pocket change of $581.

OK, so you just dropped 50 grand on six bottles of wine. How do you know they’re any good? Meet your new best friend.

Gadgets to detect oxidation and cork taint

Gene Mulvihill is a collector with a cellar with about 50,000 bottles of wine. Tired of worrying about them, he began funding research to come up with a device that would test the quality of fine wines without opening or damaging the bottles. Chemists at U.C. Davis developed a wine scanner using MRI technology that could determine whether or not a bottle of wine was spoiled by oxidization.

Unsatisfied, Mulvihill continued to work with UCD to create a cork taint device that can detect the molecule 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) to determine a bottle’s mustiness to 1 point per trillion. The normal level at which humans can detect TCA is considered to be 3 to 4 parts per trillion. “People are paying for good wines,” he said. “Now they have the technology to make sure they are good.”

Unfortunately the devices are the only ones of their kind in the world.

What’s new in something we could actually afford?

Want a straw with that wine?

“Normally I’m a traditionalist,” said Michel Raymond, cellar master at Bordeaux Château Lagrange. “But if it works, why not?” That’s a new attitude for the French where declining sales are stimulating new thinking.

Tandem Wine, packaged in shiny recyclable Tetra Pak cartons, (think juice boxes), is being tested in Belgian supermarkets by Bordeaux négociant Cordier Mestrezat. Bordeaux in a box is a big enough challenge but what about the straw?

Tandem Wine comes with a special straw with four holes around a sealed top that send individual streams of wine onto the tongue, recreating the sensation of drinking from a glass.

I wonder if it will fit in my lunch box?

In a Chardonnay-driven world the times they are a changing.

Global demand for Riesling outstrips supply

According to the latest figures from Wines of Germany, exports of Riesling reached their highest level ever in 2006. The UK continues to be the largest export market for German wine but U.S. sales increased over 15% last year.

The funny thing is, in Germany itself, red wine drinking is on the rise, currently standing at 54% of all wine consumed. Production is also changing with red grape varieties now accounting for 37% of German plantings.

With a few more years of global warming maybe we will be drinking German Cabernet.

Had enough of those cute critter wine labels?

Tired of blind moose, leaping lizards and bouncing kangaroos? Andrea Lunardelli has a “historic” line of wines with labels depicting Ché Guevara, Mussolini, Winston Churchill and Karl Marx. In September, Italian police confiscated 20,000 bottles of Lunardelli’s latest labels featuring images and slogans of Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goring and other Nazi politicians on the basis that they represented “a glorification of the perpetrators of crimes against humanity”. But according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Lunardelli was able to convince the judges that he had no political agenda. The wines have been released and can now be marketed.

Now that you’ve got the wine, where’s the entertainment?

Merlove: The Movie

Remember the movie Sideways that kicked Merlot’s butt all the way across the silver screen? Now Californian documentary filmmaker Rudy McClain is fighting back, making Merlove, a tribute to Merlot. “People are putting one Merlot on a wine list today in Napa, where there would have been four before Sideways,” McClain said. “This is the universal story of championing the underdog.”

Other wine movie news

Bottle Shock, a film about the 1976 Paris Tasting where several California wines beat out the best French wines in a blind tasting, has finished shooting and will premier at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Bottle Shock tells the story of the Barretts, son Bo and father Jim from Chateau Montelena, whose 1973 Chardonnay beat four Burgundies and half a dozen American whites in 1976.

Meanwhile, another movie, The Judgment of Paris, is based on the same 1976 Paris tasting. The relationship between the two projects has already been characterized by bad feeling. In July The Judgment of Paris team threatened to sue Bottle Shock for misrepresentation and defamation, claiming it was fictionalizing the event.

Where’s the love? Evidently it’s not all fizz and foie gras in France.

Fire bombs set off in south of France

Once again wine industry activists have attacked retailers in the south of France. The attacks appear to be the work of CRAV (comite regional d’action viticole), a group of wine sector protestors known for its aggressive tactics. The group calls for more protection of the French wine industry, including restrictive tariffs on imports, subsidies and other measures to stop the erosion of France’s share of the global wine market.

Is all this news giving you indigestion? Instead of giving up on wine maybe you can just take it in another form?

Wine used in anti-cancer pill

Resveratrol, a chemical compound found in red wine will be used in a pill developed by scientists at the university of Leicester in England to help stop cancer. The pills are predicted to be on the shelves by 2010 and the researchers say they could be “highly effective” as a means of preventing breast, colon and prostate cancer.

Let’s toast to that!


Rod Byers is Director of Marketing at Nevada City Winery, is a CSW certified wine educator, teaches wine classes at Sierra College and is a California State Certified Wine Judge. He can be reached by e-mail at wineonpine@sbcglobal.net or by phone at 530-913-3703.

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