recent poll on eRobertParker
about the amount of money we hobbists spend on wine
caused me to reflect about where my wine hobby is really
going. First off, I don't really wanna hear about
this stuff! But, they say the first step is to admit that
you have a problem... er, I mean a hobby. The questions
seemed innocent enough; but, the answers were more telling.
How long have I been "collecting" wine?
(These would be wines that I've sought out, generally low
production wines that are not intended to drink right away.)
I've been buying nicer wines since about 1983. I bought
run-of-the-mill stuff before that, but didn't develop an
appreciation for finer wines until a trip to Santa Barbara
County in 1983. After that, I began reading lots of books
on the subject, and attending instructive tastings.
2) How many bottles do I buy per
year? Probably about 200 or so. This could obviously
vary with the number of offerings made by wineries or things
I "discover" in my travels. In addition, there
any number of white or sparkling wines that I might buy,
that are not included in this number. Hey, that's cheating!
How many bottles do I have cellared?
About 450-475, and this number is fairly constant, because
I have a stand-alone cellar in my garage that will only
hold about 450 bottles. This means that I have to store
the excess wine that won't fit in the cellar, somewhere
in the house. I don't intend to rent an off-site storage
unit to cover any overage, so this alone keeps me pretty
much in tow - almost.
buying habits have changed only slightly over the years.
I've always bought wine in small multiples - usually 1-3
bottles. I prefer to purchase wines in breadth, rather than
depth, so I can try many more wineries' offerings. Once
in a great while, I will buy 6 bottles of a given wine,
but this is a rariety. Lately, I find myself buying only
1-2 bottles of a particular wine. This is due somewhat to
the current price of wine, as well as a desire to buy finer
(read more expensive) wines. In the long run, I'm hoping
this psychology will produce a reduction in the quantity
of bottles purchased, and may effectively reduce what backstock
I have in the house. Then again, I'm probably just fooling
was able to sit in with the GrapeRadio
guys (Brian Clark and Jay Selman), discussing with guests,
"The Wines of Hungary," and Wine Education, with
emphasis on the Master of Wine (MW) degree.
Wines of Hungary
made a morning call to Hungary (time difference is 10 hrs)
to interview Lazlo Meszaros, Director of Disznoko
winery in Tokaj, Hungary. Disznókõ (dis-NOAK-yew
- "Boar Rock" in Hungarian) might be the standout
winery of about 80 producers in the Tokaji-Hegyalja region,
about 250 km NE of Budapest. Wine has a history here from
the middle ages, but the area is most famous for Tokaj,
the sweet botrytised wine.
was no problem (at least for Lazlo, as he is fluent in English
and French, as well as Hungarian.) On the other hand, pronouncing
Hungarian words was a little more challenging for us. Lazlo
told us that Disznókõ was part of an older
estate that fell into disrepair during the years of communism,
re-emerging in 1992 after significant investment by the
owners, the French consortium AXA. The area had 10,000 hectares
of vines before WWII, now have about 5,000 hectares, or
12,500 acres. The soil is a combination of volcanic and
clay, lending a nice acidity and minerality to the wine,
and the region apparently gets a lot of mist or humidity
- significant enough that most of the grapes easily develop
grape varieties are used in Tokaj: Furment (60%) and Harslevelu
(30%), with Yellow Muscat and Zeta making up the balance.
The vineyards are less than 20 yrs old, owing to the fact
that commonly these varieties are re-planted roughly every
15 yrs. Interestingly, the previous plantings had much less
density of vine, owing partially to the use of Soviet equipment,
as well as the desire to produce more quantity than quality.
Harvesting is very labor-intensive - the grapes are picked
by hand (by the cluster for the dry wines; one grape at
a time for the sweet wines) during several passes through
makes a dry as well as several sweet wines carrying different
levels of residual sugar. Aszu is the name given to the
highly concentrated wines made from the effects of a combination
of the Noble Rot (botrytis) and shrivelling due to over-ripening.
More botrytised and less shrivelled grapes are usually macerated
in wine, while the more shrivelled and less botrytised grapes
are macerated in fermenting must, giving them more extraction
and viscousity. This concentration, caused by increased
residual sugar is classified in terms of puttonyos (pu-TUNE-yosh).
The more concentrated wines are called Aszu Eszencia, with
the highest level called Eszencia, at something more that
450 g/l of residual sugar. Because of its low alcohol (3-4%),
the wine really can't be called a wine - its really more
of a nectar. The Aszu wines are aged in oak (mostly Hungarian),
usually for 3 years, in miles of caves with walls covered
in black mold - essentially living off the vapors. Production
is about 5,00 cases and they're bottled differently too,
using 500ml bottles, rather than the usual 375ml.
instructive interview about some wines that I knew very
afternoon session was an interview with Dr. Patrick Farrell,
a Master of Wine from Huntington Beach, CA. Dr. Farrell
is Board Certified in both Internal Medicine as well as
focus of our discussion was to get an idea of why and how
someone might want to become a Master of Wine (MW) - attaining
the highest level of wine knowledge possible. Until just
recently, becoming an MW was limited to only those in the
wine industry. There are currently only about 278 MW's scattered
over 20 countries, though the vast number of MWs are located
in the United Kingdom. Seem surprising? Well, the credential
itself was conceived in the United Kingdom, and at the time
the first examinations were held in 1953, Britain was the
largest importer of fine wines. The British had been very
involved with the Bordelais for hundreds of years, and had
essentially founded the Port trade. At the time, most wine
was purchased and imported in barrel, to be bottled by the
wine merchants at a later date.
wine trade was always consider very prestigious in Britain.
Those permitted to take the test were either UK wine merchants,
or in some other capacity in the UK wine trade. The Institute
of Masters of Wine was founded in 1955, and took over the
annual examination. It wasn't until the 1980s that the first
non-UK examinations were held for those in th eworld-wide
wine trade, with the first candidate succeeding in 1987.
Since 1992, conditional admittance has been made occasionally
to applicants who are not making their living in the wine
road to obtaining an MW is long, hard and expensive. Several
years of wine industry experience is considered a prerequsite,
and the 2-year preliminary education program is not designed
to teach a student everything needed to pass the examination.
As Patrick pointed out, one must have a very high degree
of motivation and self discipline to succeed. Another difficulty
that Patrick related is that because the examination is
held only in English and relies so heavily on essay-type
questions, it becomes quite difficult if English isn't one's
first language. Frequently, one must try multiple time to
pass the examination.
admitted to the program, education seminars and examinations
are held annually over a 4-day period in London, Napa, and
Sidney. The Theory part of the exam requires one to write
four papers on the subjects of the Production of Wine, the
Business of Wine, and Contemporary Issues. The questions
are very open-ended, such as: "Medals from wine shows
and competitions are not worth the paper they are written
on. Discuss." The Practical part of the exam consists
of three papers written after blind-tasting three 12-bottle
flights of wine - from white to red to dessert and sparkling.
With all that writing, it's no wonder that some MW's have
familiar names: Michael Broadbent, Jancis Robinson, and
are currently no 'continuing education' requirements to
maintain the credential, but the IMW is considering the
second part of Patrick's visit was devoted to tasting us
on a new device - the Wine
Enhancer! This device contains magnets
- yes, magnets and fits over the neck the bottle, allowing
the wine to pass through a magnetic field. Were we skeptical?
Of course! We even chided Patrick about how this reminded
Jay of methods to extract gold from salt water. Patrick
explained that he too was initially skeptical. But, after
trying it out, he bacame an investor. This prototype looked
similar to a bar pouring mechanism, only it fit over
the neck, pulling on and off easily. As Patrick told us,
the purpose was to somehow affect the long-chained tannins
in a wine - primarily wine that has seen heavy oaking, and
soften it by converting the long tannin chains to short
to be Guinea Pigs, we tried side-by-side comparisons of
two wines and a whiskey. All the samples poured through
the magnetic device were indeed softened, especially through
what might otherwise have been a bitter finish. Notably,
the device works better on wines that receive their oak
doses in chips, rather than staves. That is to say, it works
better on less-expensive wines, and is not as useful on
older or more expensive wines. The device will be marketed
by BevWizard, and sell for about $30.