Australian Rum Oil and reisling TDN?

[By the end of the post, connections start to be made that I didn’t have a good enough memory to make from the beginning. The existence of this paper was a tip from a particularly smart reader. The punchline may be that components of the mythic rum oil may come from at least two channels. The first is the splitting of glycocides by the enzymatic activity of yeast while the second may be from carotenoids present in the cane itself. Tons of work still needs to be done, but these are some good preliminary guesses of where to look. At the very least, they may point to realizing more terroir in rum, molasses based or otherwise.]

Here is a unique paper, Less Volatile alcohols Esters and Hydrocarbons in a Raw Australian Rum, 1975 (Bundaberg!), which may have a follow up if ILL can track it down. [The follow up is A new approach to the identification of flavour components in rum from the Australian Wine, Brewing, and Spirit Review, 1973. This brief paper was in the bibliography of the other and offers a great summary of what will follow.]

I read this after reading two different modern rum-GCMS papers which were kind of useless for the purpose of learning more about rum history or production. I’ve been aiming to highlight a unique thesis I found with some fantastic explanations of the evolution of chromatography, but I’m short on time and I think I may contact the author first to ask some questions.

In the paper, D.A. Allen reads two early (1966, 1970) rum-GCMS papers and wants to play along, but doesn’t have access to the same equipment. The authors used pentanes to extract congeners from very small samples of rums then analyzed them with GCMS to name volatile components. I’ve actually played with pentane extraction to produce artful creations, but that is another story for another day. Allen could not work with such small samples so he comes up with the novel idea of collecting fusel oil from the side stream of the Bundaberg production then toying with it. Allen’s idea is comparative to that studies that inspired it because most of the unique compounds everyone is looking for are less volatile. The paper ends a little bit abruptly, but he ends up finding the notorius reisling congeners TDN.

I’ll try to describe a little bit of the experiment, but what I should first note with disappointment is that Allen never organoleptically describes anything he is working on. Is he working with that peculiar, wonderful, desired rum oil or is this just low volatility junk? We never really find out here, but maybe we will in his other paper. The whole significance of this paper becomes the old fashioned extraction procedures he uses which may help the contemporary small scale fine producer. Another new possibility is that rum oil congeners may have appreciated in value enough (with our new found fine market) that it is now economically viable to harvest them from a formerly discarded fusel oil fraction. Maybe it is already done for the fragrance industry? Who knows.

Distillery oil, removed in litre quantities from the side of the still was shown to contain these compounds and can be considered as a concentrate of the higher boiling point flavour compounds of rum.

 

Fractional distillation of distillery oil produced « fusel oil » containing the higher alcohols (n-propanol, isobutanol, isoamyl alcohol and active amyl alcohol, BP to 132°C) and a residue termed « rum » oil containing compounds with a higher boiling point than isoamyl alcohol.  Only the analysis of the « rum » oil will be discussed.

Allen uses both a Lecky and Ewell still and a Bower and Cooke still to purify the fractions for analysis. He has citations for each still and it may be helpful to dig them up to see what they were like. A lot of this equipment is still very useful.

He has got an entire liter of rum oil and does not say how it smells. There are a lot of esters in the oil and they get hydrolyzed with sodium hydroxide to concentrate the remaining compounds. The hydrolysate gets fractionally distilled and the fractions analysed. Part of hydrolysate is alcohols that were liberated from the esters by the sodium hydroxide. Due to how the sample was separated from fusel oil, some compounds like acetals reported in rum oil by others may not have survived.

Allen goes on to perform continuous liquid-liquid extraction on multiple liter batches of raw rum. Its seems like he does five batches and winds up with 5 liters of pentane to distill from. The non volatile product is an oil and the volatile product is split into two fractions. The ethanol was in the first fraction and the second fraction was an oil-water azeotropic mixture. The oil was separated, dried with anhydrous calcium chloride and added to the water-free residue in the pot. It would be nice to know how they smell before he blended them together!

This oil gets redistilled in the same apparatus and separated into two fractions collected up to 132°C so everything is well over the boiling point of water. What isn’t clear is if pentane is used in this distillation. These days this distillation would be done under vacuum and a teflon coated spinning band distillation column would be used because holdup, or the clinging of liquid to the glass apparatus, starts to become significant. Descriptions of what is explicitly happening by now have become a little disjointed and I’m having trouble following the transitions.

This oil was redistilled in the same apparatus and separated into two fractions. The larger fraction, collected up to 132°C, contained the higher alcohols to isoamyl alcohol and was called fusel oil. The residue (100 mL) in the pot contained compounds with higher boiling point than 132°C and was called « rum » oil. After four more such distillations, the combined residue amounted to 500 mL.

If any of this smelled really good, wouldn’t he be likely to mention it? Wouldn’t he be likely to show it to a distiller and get some gears turning? Wouldn’t Bundaberg rum be less likely to be so lame?

In the next step, the specialized stills get some use which apparently feature vacuum and a series of 10mL sample were collected until the temperature hit a certain point. The pressure was dropped and more 10mL samples collected. This multi stage pressure drop to avoid decomposition may have been because the equipment was a little more primitive than what we commonly use today. All of the collected fractions see some spectroscopy to identify what they are.

The rum oil goes through some more hydrolysis with more sodium hydroxide with the products extracted into more pentane.

The paper seems to get cut short after Allen identifies 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene. Allen does not use the modern abbreviation of TDN, but this is a congener that is infamous in aged Reislings and is responsible for the petrol character which at the right levels is often prized. Allen drops a little bit of history on this compound but does not mention wine at all. I linked to this paper on TDN in the beginning, but here it is again if anyone wants a primer.

The entire work seems to be the basis of a masters thesis to which the next paper I’ve requested may add to.

I really don’t know what to make of the TDN discovery. Allen does torture his sample and we should remember that in continuous column distillates, this fraction is mostly discarded. Google searches for 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene +rum yield nothing.

But, when you read the AWRI paper, TDN is noted as related to carotenoids and extra smart blog reader Matt Power brought them up recently (Matt actually inspired the tracking down of this paper after mentioning 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene, but I did not immediately connect the dots):

Are components of rum oils microbiologically derived in these manners, rather than from the canes themselves? Carotenoid bio-decomposition is known to lead to a spectacular array of interesting chemicals

This comment come from the Arroyo’s Oidium post about ethyl tiglate and relates to my hypothesis that the peculiar character of rum oil comes from the splitting of glycosides by the enzymatic action of alt yeasts like Schizosacharomyces Pombe. Rum oil may be more complex and the product of more mechanisms.

Outlining the mechanisms may even unlock the potential for finding more terroir in rum from molasses. A rum can only tell us a story of a place if we learn to read it.

[It may be possible to take a modern GC-MS look at a heavy rum and try to categorize all the low volatility congeners found. This may give us a distribution of what channels they come from.]

Etymology of the Word Rum by Darnell Davis (1885)

A fun snippet from the files is this 1885 look at the etymology of the word rum. Judging by titles of his other works, the author, the honorable Darnell Davis, was quite the character, but so far I haven’t figured out if he was any kind of colonialist racist or not. Google has no full view of his essays, but I’ve yet to consult other resources (too busy at the foundry).

Davis’ work comes a whole 200 years after the birth of the word, rum, at a time that was pretty much the birth of modern rum with any stylistic identity (beginning of chemical and then later biological control).

Most enthusiasts today believe there are few works on the subject, but rum it turns out, has the most well documented history of any spirit category. This blog has become sort of a monument to and repository of that technical history.

Categorizing rum is all the rage, and lately in discussions, I’ve been promoting the top most categories of fine rum and commodity rum (which we will eventually sub categorize). This backs away from cliches like sipping and mixing as well as industrial and artisan. It is no revolution in rum categorization, but the words are semantically powerful and have been very valuable to understanding wine. Wine, we will repeatedly see, is where we should look when figuring out how to categorize and market rum.

My big point is that fine rums exist, and they are certainly out there on the market, but the category does not yet exist. We cannot have fine rums sorted from all the commodity junk until the complete history of rum comes out. We just went from thinking Jamaican rum was shrouded in mystery to finding out it has the most documented history of any spirit complete with time stamps, intimate anecdotes, and first names galore.

Fine wines tell a story, and that is largely their whole point, but we cannot read it unless we clearly know how they were produced. Things we don’t quite understand like the contribution of cane varieties cannot be pulled apart until the other variable are isolated by disclosure. We still have no wide acknowledgement of Schizosaccharomyces Pombe as a rum yeast. Giant holes exist in rum knowledge that would change any categorization system so I think a lot of people are getting ahead of themselves.

Fine rums cannot tell their story until we know more about them starting with their technical history and evolution. This has nothing to do with banishing caramel coloring or the arbitrary numbers attached to a solera system. Dwelling there will just set rum back. The future of fine rum literature will probably resemble Andrew Jefford’s writing on wine, but it is nowhere near there at the moment.

Darnell Davis’ 1885 etymology of rum is another step in telling the history of rum that will get us closer to the category of fine rum. Pulling these papers out is less about helping to produce better rum (like some of my efforts for new distillers) and more about helping to read rum. We need a continuous story from the birth of the word to the bottles we are currently enjoying.

Spirits get shaped by countless influences from the cultural to the philosophical to the scientific. Wars shape spirits and so do unique government programs like the various experiment stations or the infamous Rum Pilot Plant. The fine category begins with chemical and biological control to sculpt a spirit into an ideal and then the philosophical is free to take over.

Fine wine, we must remember, was born in the lab. The American winners of the Judgement of Paris were all lab technicians turned winemakers. This allowed them to follow the progressive process of incremental improvement for their wine. These producers, particularly Warren Winiarski, were deeply involved in the philosophical end of wine construction, but they also had the technical foundation to execute all their ideas.

Let’s quote Winiarski because it is wildly relevant:

That was also there. All of those things. We didn’t talk about the major ingredient, the accumulation of scientific information and things that people did at Davis. Maynard Amerine’s work with grapes and where they grow best –that bulletin of the Agriculture Experiment Station at the University of California that I used as a Bible, reading it in a devotional way. Every day you read a little bit of this, at night you read a little bit of that, getting intimately immersed in the contents. You read another chapter and tried to figure out what these must analyses could mean and what their significance was. The existence of such a rich body of knowledge was certainly another major ingredient. And I think the other thing was the people, among whom I count myself, whose taste and aspirations were formed elsewhere and who brought in the ability to actually accomplish the coming together of these several elements.

Maynard Amerine and the culture of that UC Davis era have always been a guide for the work at the Bostonapothecary. A Winiarski or a Grgich of the rum world will not come along until we assemble and digest all the literature. Also, notice that Winiarski et al. were studying texts meant for commodity wine production. These fine wine makers literally sat in (old school non degree sat in) the back of the class to learn anything that might help them produce fine wines. What are the differences between fine and commodity? Philosophy, scale, and compromise.

A big problem the new distilling movement has is a shoddy notion of philosophical ideals and absolutely zero chemical and biological control. With few exceptions, they have all pretty much only gotten as far as: “look mom, I made rum”. And of course it is not rum, which is a concept that pops up in the literature time and again, best reinforced by Arroyo. Not all things made from sugar cane products are rum and if they’re not rum, they are in the commodity category. The commodity category has things that aren’t fit to be called rum as well as things fit to be called rum, but not fit to be called fine. Right now we are seeing some of the most expensive commodity distillates ever produced hitting the market from the new distilling scene.

Skimmings communicate in a far greater degree than molasses the characteristic stamp to rum. A spirit made of pure molasses and water would scarcely be rum; and instances are familiar of molasses having been removed from one place and distilled at another, which, with different skimmings, have produced an entirely different rum. -J.S., 1871

Ideas evolved a bit and rum, according to Arroyo, starts with a rum yeast, and what is special about that yeast is that it takes advantage of precursors in the substrate to produce extraordinary congeners, of low frequency of occurrence, and of universal harmonic value, all the while limiting congeners like fusel oil which overshadow when in excess. Yet we’ve only learned all that recently by rediscovering literature that had been lost for decades.

Just like the chemical and biological aspects of rum production have a history, so too does the philosophical and that heritage goes back much further than anyone had recently thought. Just the other day, a paper turns up from 1871 with an author (J.S. also quoted above) describing the idea of forcing versus intercepting flavour. Though it is proto-philosophy, the concept sit parallel to the idea of wines of effort versus wines of terroir.

Only with recently revealed technical history could we read more of the story of the fine rums of Cape Verde because much of their unique character has to do with their sugar cane juice not being centrifuged and defecated like the rhums of Martinique.

Don’t forget that many of the fine rums of the last ten years from independent bottlers such as Plantation were not very conscientious nor produced with much enlightened philosophy. They were found art, accidentally over aged, and accidentally ending up extraordinary after missing their modest targets. Their architects weren’t part of contemporary culinary with their own twitter accounts, but were often government employees and at the most generous, many could be called outsider artists (brilliant and conscientious, but within a tiny bubble). The faceless nature and the way so many producers imploded is a big part of the intrigue for the sleeping relics they left behind. But on distilling day for the 1986 Barbados rum bottled by Plantation, if you said fine or asked about forcing or intercepting flavour, the Barbados boys would say: ‘the fuck you talk’n about?’ It was distilled like a brick house, but with commodity ambitions as the basis for some anonymous blend somewhere.

Anyhow, read Darnell Davis and marvel at his tracing the etymologies of rum and his tales of digging through the libraries of Europe to do it.

Ageing, Accelerated Ageing, & Élevage ==> Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics

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Aging, maturation, curing, whatever you want to call it, is a hot topic these days. Many labels across many spirit categories are dropping age statements because they cannot keep up with soaring demand and many new entrants to the market are considering fake ageing techniques associated with a bygone era. I thought it may be fun to take a look at Arroyo’s progressive musings on the topic as he attempted to reform the sprawling rum industry.

The chapter on curing in Studies on Rum is pretty spectacular. For this conversation, it makes sense to start at the end:

We shall now close this chapter on the maturing of raw rums by touching lightly on the matter of accelerated curing of the raw distillate. Not all, or rather few, of the rums in the market have passed through a curing process such as we have outlined above. Our era of acceleration and impatience in all affairs of human endeavor would not allow of an exemption in the case of rum making. On the other hand, the ever increasing demands of the trade, the lack of adequate working capital, the anxiety for immediate returns, immoderate and unfair competition, and many other influences of business, compel the manufacturers to place their products on the market in the shortest possible time. As a direct result of the above-mentioned conditions, accelerated or quick aging processes have been developed, and are being developed all the time. There exist practically as many “secret methods” of artificial curing of rum as rectifiers are engaged in the business. Judging from what has been accomplished thus far, and from the nature and quality of the “rums” thus produced, the writer’s opinion is that the results obtained are very mediocre and unsatisfying; leaving the problem of artificial rum curing an open question.

What was outlined in the chapter was pretty much ageing as we think we know it, but as claimed few practiced it as of 1945. Puerto Rico was not the typical rum producing island as pointed out by Peter Valaer in 1937 so the local products being sampled by Arroyo are no exhaustive survey of the state of all rum production. Other islands were exporting tons of product to be aged in Europe so what was left for domestic consumption was likely another story.

Processes for rapid curing may be divided into two general classes: (1) Those merely tending to accelerate the reactions and changes occurring during natural ageing, and in this way accomplishing maturity of the raw product in a short time; but without the addition to the raw of extraneous substances, the so-called carriers of taste, aroma, and body. (2) Those intended to accomplish the results mentioned under (1); but using besides these extraneous matters, imparters of taste, aroma, and body. The method used under (1) will fall into four main divisions: (a) moderate heat treatment or intense cold treatment; or alternate treatments of heat and cold; (b) treatment with compressed air; oxygen, hydrogen peroxide or ozone; (c) exposure to actinic rays; (d) electrolytic treatment and use of catalysis. Methods under (2) above, may include all of the methods under (1), besides the addition of flavoring and aromatic substances for development of taste and bouquet. Among these added substances we may mention; (a) various types of sweet wines, among which the various “Moscateles” and “Málagas” from Spain; and prune wines from Scotland are much in vogue; (b) infusions of herbs, leaves, barks of trees, roots, etc. etc.; (c) alcoholic and aged fruit extracts, among which peaches, prunes, figs and apricots are much used; (d) artificial  essences of rums or brandy; (e) various natural and synthetic essential oils, and flavoring extracts as cassia oil, oil of cloves, artificial or natural vanilla flavor, oil of bitter almonds (free of hydrocyanic acid); and various sugars, as sucrose, dextrose, sugar cane syrup, maple syrup, and bee honey.

In this guise, beverages are made that although more deserving of the name of cordials or liqueurs, are labelled with the name of rum. We believe that all of this is avoidable and unjustified, should more and better attention be bestowed on the different stages of rum manufacture, and especially on rum yeast selection. Governmental regulations and inspection of the rums produced and sold in the local and United States markets wold be a great help towards fostering the interests of the industry, and securing the genuine article for public consumption.

Well there wasn’t anything too new there, but it is a great organization of the concepts in the midst of when it was all going down by a scientist with a privileged vantage point. An item of trivia that I didn’t know about was that the prune wines came from Scotland. The paragraphs just tell semi specifics on fake aging and I caught most all of them in my investigation of Wired’s look at the Lost Spirits fake aging reactor. Not much has changed.

Lets back track to the beginning of the chapter and see if Arroyo gives anything helpful to frame rum maturation:

Is the expression “Aged Rum” equivalent to that of a “Matured Rum”?

We have observed that a great majority of persons use these two expressions as synonymous but they are mistaken. When one term is used as equivalent of the other we are merely confusing the end with the means, for really, maturity in the rum is the end sought, and ageing is one of the means employed towards the obtention of this end. Now then, although usually an aged rum is also matured, this sequence does not follow necessarily, nor there exists a definite lapse of ageing time at which the condition of maturity may be said to have been reached in all cases. On the other hand, a given rum may be matured without necessarily being what is commonly called an old rum. If the quality of maturity depended only, and exclusively, on the amount of time the rum had been kept aging, then perhaps the two expressions could be used indistinctly, but it is not so; ageing being only an important factor in the process of maturing. There are other, for instance, the potential capacity and adaptability of the crude rum or raw distillate to acquire the state of maturity. In our opinion, this factor is as important, or more perhaps, than that of ageing.

Profound! We want it so simplified, but it is not so simple. I am personally really enjoying the collapse of the age statements because it is really a test of the market’s ability to truly appreciate spirits. And, as usual, Hemingway would be siding with me. So far, can the market actually notice and evaluate maturity? No! Has it borrowed anything useful from wine appreciation? No!

With wine, we make our own pronouncement of maturity and as the age statement grows, so too does skepticism that it will be intact. We also value multiple levels of maturity. Luckily the bottle is its own curing vessel and we can leave our other bottles where they lie if they need more time. Wine gets too mature often and the majority of collected wines actually die in the cellar. I just drank an expensive Martinique rhum the other day that I thought easily spend too much time in wood. It was way too obviously tannic and that feature was a distraction from the aroma.

Notions of maturity will always be deeply personal (your own stance) and based on the idea that flaws only form when we have enough education to attach the symbolic tags of regrets or missed opportunities to specific sensory details. Maturity relates to the unsexy concept I use all the time that is the frequency of occurrence of sensory features. Wines become mature as they migrate from ordinary to extraordinary with a decreasing frequency of occurrence of sensory details. After a peak, they return to the ordinary but with a growing sense of regret and missed opportunity. With wine, many of us hold the same stance on maturity and there is consensus on what is truly great, but with spirits at the moment, few attain a vantage point to make sound declarations. Life is short, the art is long!

It may not be impractical to start differentiating a curing stage from an ageing stage and wine can help anchor the concept. Curing could be the stage when a wine or a spirit goes from inharmonious to a commonly accepted harmony. Wines cannot be enjoyed immediately upon the completion of fermentation and have to go through a stage (with its associated techniques) called élevage. Some will even say it is not wine, but merely fermented grape juice until it goes through the process. Ageing would come later and a true connoisseur should be able to appreciate the wine at multiple places in its ageing journey.

Spirits, some others maybe more so than rum, also go through élevage. This may most closely pertain to the transformation of specific congener like the reduction of ethyl acetate and acetaldehyde. Where lees contact or micro oxidation are techniques of wine élevage, charcoal filtration or as we just found out, specific watering regimens (if not also reflective fermentation adjustments) are among the techniques spirits employ. Its probably safe to categorize caramel and added sugar as a heavy handed élevage technique.

As an illustration, let us take up an imaginary case of two raw rums and called them “A” and “B” respectively. Both raw rums are set to age in the same kind, size, and quality of barrels, and under equal conditions of temperature and relative humidity. At the end of one year the two rums are examined by the usual tests for maturity and it is found that rum “A” has already acquired the quality and general conditions inherent to a matured rum; while rum “B” has not quite reached this conditions. Rum “A” is then bottled, and the ageing of the “B” is continued, till at the end of another six months we find that it also has reached the state of maturity previously observed in the case of “A”. Would it be fair to consider sample “B” as more matured than sample “A” for the mere reason that is has aged for a longer period? Could we be justified in acclaiming rum “B” as superior to rum “A” for the mere fact that it cost more time and money to impart the characteristics of maturity to it? Evidently not. If at all, we could say that “A” was superior to “B” in an economic sense since it acquired maturity in two thirds of the time required by sample “B”.

This might be the example that the average consumer, where they stand now, needs, but hopefully we can quickly grow a little past that. In Arroyo’s era, rums were naively being produced without knowledge of options while the aspirations of each rum were roughly the same. Wine went through this phase lasting decades after prohibition ended and Amerine, Tchelistcheff et al. filled the role of Arroyo and taught us our options.

Older practices, contrary to Arroyo’s, were not without merit, and that was only realized as the aspirations diverged to where there was a fine market alongside the commodity market. A big flag to be raised was whether anything was compromised by designing a rum to be matured quicker? And how does it compare to wine design? There is a wide spectrum between building a wine like a brick house that can age forever and building a wine like a FEMA trailer. Rum aspirations are finally solidly diverging and we can now reflect back on all the available options like the wine industry has done in the last leg of its renaissance. Some of Amerine’s teaching had staying power across all styles of wine while others were relegated to low risk, massive volume, jug wine production. Rum has gone through all the same phases, we just haven’t noticed. With enough scholarship, some day we will be able to get really specific.

This example has been presented so that the reader may clearly grasp the meaning of ripeness or maturity of product as distinguishable from that of age of product. It is not fair to use solely the time a rum has been in the curing barrel as a criterium of its goodness or of its pretended superiority over a similar rum that has been less time ageing in the curing barrel. Hence, any standard of rum quality based solely on the lapse of time the different products have been aged, would be not only unscientific and erroneous, but also decidedly unjust. It is not the age of the rum that is bought and paid for by the public, but the genuine characteristics of body, aroma and taste that on reaching maturity a rum acquires. The time required by different rums to reach this state of maturity during ageing will depend, other conditions being equal, on the type and the quality of the product as a raw distillate.

This is where we need to get to. We get stuck on age statements and then we get stuck on what type of still was used yet rarely delve deeper into the parameters of still operation. Sadly, we never get to fermentation parameters or yeast type. I was really surprised that when I started writing about Schizosaccharomyces Pombe as a rum yeast, not one enthusiast in my circle knew of it as an alternative to budding yeast.

But this is rum and its so varied, does any of this apply to Bourbon which is not so varied but losing its age statements? I do not know the answers but these are things we can start to think about. Bourbon has privately if not secretly seen astonishing technological advancements in the last twenty years. From what I gather, all the advancement were about monitoring traditional practices in an effort to stay consistent as production grew to meet global demands and hit sustainability targets. There may be a new effort from all the data to sculpt next generation products. Bourbon producers may have finally gone through all the Olympic trials with prospective yeasts as well as mastering congener creation to hit maturation targets faster. Bourbon producers may have taken the hard road, the Arroyo road, through massive research efforts and arrived at the 21st century.

Our researches on the question have demonstrated that great variations and difference exist in the capacity and adaptability of different raw distillates to acquire maturity. There are some capable of reaching this desirable condition in from one to two years of ageing, while others may require twice, and even thrice this time.

It is really amazing the little importance that is generally conceded to the quality of the raw distillate in most rum distilleries. Instead of trying to produce a raw spirit that would need the least trouble in treatment during rectification before finally bottling the product, producers spend their energies and efforts in finding new, more complicated, and laborious methods of curing the defects of poorly fermented and worse distilled raw spirits.

This may still be the case, but that will change when we all go post-Kavalan! I promise to some day elaborate.

And yet, to our view, the future of the rum industry is dependent, in its technical aspects at least, on the production of better raw spirits, raw rums that on account of their well-balanced chemical composition and excellence of physical and organoleptic characteristics, will require but little ageing time to acquire maturity.

Towards that goal a great part of our efforts have been directed, and we have found that the obtention of maturity is not due to one single cause, as for instance ageing; but that this final result is obtained through a happy combination of many factors which begin operating with the choice of fermentation agents and raw materials and end with the bottling of the product for public consumption. Every one of the different stages through which the product must pass before reaching the bottle, shall impart to it favorable or unfavorable conditions and characteristics towards the obtention of maturity. Hence, the final success or failure will depend on the manufacturer’s ability to employ those methods and technic that better and more efficiently contribute to the rapid acquirement of maturity.

Of some such methods we have been treating in the past chapters, and in this one we shall consider the phase of rum manufacture that supposedly bears the greatest influence on the subject under discussion.

Having thus obtained the rum in the raw state through the process of distillation it becomes necessary to develop to the utmost the inherent characteristics of a good product. This is secured by the process known as curing or maturing. Here we wish to state emphatically that by this process we do not mean converting a bad product into a good, wholesome one. Not by any means. The rum which is bad in its raw state will continue to remain so, no matter which is done with it, or to it. Proper rum curing is not a process to change or transform, but to develop and further enhance the latent qualities already existing in the right kind of raw distillate. Of course, a poor raw rum may be made to improve, but it will never be converted into a first-class beverage with distinctive seal of excellence through the curing process, whether the natural or slow, or the artificial or rapid curing be employed.

We all know, not all wines are age worthy. I probably don’t need to say much more so it is probably safe to stop there.

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10,000 Grapes for a New Grand Cru at Popelouchum

Recently I attended a wine maker luncheon with Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard, where he briefly discussed his plan to produce a more extraordinary fine wine by producing new grape varieties. He currently has an IndieGoGo campaign to finance the project that I urge readers to support.

“The discovery of a new Grand Cru brings more happiness to humanity than the discovery of a new star.”
-Randall Grahm

Initially, I couldn’t completely wrap my head around the idea, but I remembered that Dr. Harold P. Olmo’s California Oral History interview was on the subject of plant genetics and new grape varieties and it helped contextualize Randall’s project perfectly. When I read most of the oral history series on wine long ago, it was one that I only skimmed. Unlike Randall, I didn’t truly understand what challenges wine faced or more importantly what was possible.

I just read the entirety of Dr. Olmo’s 1973 interview by Ruth Teiser and it may be the most exciting of the whole series (As a resource, the oral history series is epically useful). Asking Randall about Dr. Olmo on twitter, he noted that they had sat down and talked new grape varieties over the years. Dr. Harold P. Olmo passed away in 2006. [see Harold P. Olmo wikipedia for more background]

For those not completely up on the new grape varietal particulars of Randall Grahm’s Popelouchum plan, I hope to use Professor Olmo’s ideas to show that it is pretty much the only path left to make wines more natural. It is also very much feasible and has a big dormant tradition supporting it. Randall Grahm is probably the only American wine maker that can pull it off. The time is now!

It is not common knowledge, but grape hybridizing and other forms of varietal improvement have been staggeringly important to viticulture over the last century. We tend towards an illusion that varieties like Pinot Noir, consumed in the U.S., are the same as those in Europe, and that they’ve been the same for centuries, but that isn’t exactly true and a passage by Dr. Olmo tells the story of how clonal variation was noticed.

But after a few years of records and just working with these vines, one could even stand at the end of each block and look down the rows and know that the selections were different. In some cases the leaves would redden slightly earlier in the fall, and in some cases the canes would tend to arch over and others not. There were differences that were evident to even an inexperienced person. Once you had enough replications from this original vine you could see differences that you couldn’t see before. (p. 94 selecting within a variety)

Selecting within a given variety can only take a grape so far and its probably done because we are clinging to the legacy and symbolism of varietal names as well as forcing varieties into sites that they aren’t acclimated enough to. Overall weaknesses are made up for with vineyard interventions like irrigation, pesticides, fertilizers, and then even further in the cellar.

And in essence this is what I was thinking about, that basically, unless you have the quality in the raw material, all of the manipulation that you can do is not really going to improve it. Now, can you take the poor grape and make an excellent wine out of it, even with all the technology we know of? – Olmo coming to the same conclusion as Peynaud (see p.135-6)

Dr. Olmo came the conclusion that the only way to improve wines was to improve the grape and this is precisely the dormant tradition Randall is continuing. A difference is that Dr. Olmo and others were working on commodity wines and Randall Grahm is tackling fine wines which have a different set of aspirations. South African Pinotage, among the most famous hydrids, is a commodity grape and the same is true of the other enduring California hybrids like Carnelian and Ruby Cabernet. There has yet to be a fine wine hybrid used for a Grand Cru and it just may be the only path to getting there in the New World.

In Dr. Olmo’s day, California fine wines didn’t exist like they do today and there was no established demand that could lead anyone to tackle supply problems. Olmo specifically acknowledges this point and spends time smartly discussing the marketing of wine and the acceptance of new varieties. For those interested in naming their Popelouchum varietal, there are also spectacular passages on the topic. Other passages on naming reassignment, as the UC Davis teams set out to correctly identify and trace the lineage of grape varieties at the outset of prohibition, are wildly interesting. These were long term projects of tremendous foresight whose value was hard to realize at the time and the Popelouchum project is yet another one. The return on investment for kickstarting new fine wine varieties could prove phenomenal (if you have the patience of a wine maker).

Only now with momentum for natural fine wines, and under the specific guidance of Randall Grahm (who else has 300k+ twitter followers?) could the market handle new fine wine varietals and that is why the ideas have never been common conversation before. When a wine maker truly becomes a terroirist he can start to transcend mere grape varieties. The New World also does not have the legal restrictions of the Old World so there is opportunity in California to actually set an enviable precedent for what terroir in wine can actually be.

Olmo and Peynaud had no large concern for intervention like we do now. They simply recognized there was a ceiling to how good wine could be with the technological pursuits of the day and they wanted to push through it. Having seen the industry adopt uniform practices and watching uniqueness disappear, they had to promote another route.

I feel, for example, that with many of our white wines, despite the fact that our varieties are very different, that the technology is such, the cold fermentation, the way it’s filtered, the way it’s handled, that the refinement of the wine has given us a mediocrity. They’re good wines but they’re pretty much alike. (p. 137)

We now have large symbolic objections to certain interventions because we understand the environmental consequences or that they strip uniqueness we’ve come to prize. The natural wine movement has made large strides in making sound expressive wines while minimizing intervention, but advancement like recognizing the value of polyculture will only get you so far, the next step is in the nursery and the road is long.

A vineyard with 10,000 genetically different varietals might be hard to imagine for some people so lets consider imagery from Dr. Olmo’s Guggenheim sponsored trip to Persia where he encountered a unique valley of almonds:

Of course, they plant most things just from seeds, so there’s a tremendous variation. And literally, for example, any variety or any type of species you want to mention. Almonds, for example. In the northwestern part of Iran there are villages there that have literally millions of almond trees. They’re just planted all over the place. They’ll cover whole valleys. And every tree is different from every other tree. It’s a fantastic amount of variation. And somebody could go over there just about find all of the variation that you’d want to find. (p. 76)

This is all at odds with American agriculture as currently practiced. Planting from seed which creates a hybrid from two parents as opposed to grafting clippings is what leads to the diversity, and big numbers allow for the finding of synchrony to weather conditions and resistance to diseases that are inherent to a site. We typically think of site acclimation as picking varietals that will achieve adequate yields and oenological ripeness within the rhythms of a site. We can also define acclimation in terms of disease and drought resistance without intervention and this of course has a spectrum. Ten thousand new varieties gives that many chances to push for higher levels of acclimation and that is towards terroir.

For commodity wines, because of their vast scope and economic importance, finding disease resistance was of grave immediacy. Foresight and investment was needed to stave off the next catastrophic epidemic. Phylloxera was not a one off event and other diseases lurked in the vineyards of the world. No one could noxiously spray their way out of Phylloxera, the only path was disease resistant root stocks.

More than a decade ago, Randall Grahm had a run in with Pierce’s disease on a vineyard planted with Pinot Noir that has shaped his career and likely the vision for the Popelouchum project. He knows cautionary tales first hand. In Pierce’s Disease, a bacterium rapidly kills all the vines by blocking the vine’s vasculature. Dr. Olmo had done a lot work with the disease, achieving resistance from it for certain types of non-fine wine grapes. (More recently, Dr. Andy Walker of UC Davis has also immersed himself in developing Pierce’s-resistant varieties.)

Back in the 1930’s, Professor Olmo actually had a research vineyard that was at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Veteran’s Avenue in a ritzy corner of the UCLA campus. According to the Oral History tale, the property had astounding real estate value so it was only in use for short period before being developed (in the grand scheme of agricultural time). The property was unique because Pierce’s Disease was predictably carried to the site by all the insects that inhabited the shrubs of the stately homes surrounding the small inner city vineyard. Dr. Olmo’s team kept planting hybridized varieties hoping for resistance and when they died they would start over and try something new. There was a fear that if the disease spread it could be as catastrophic to California as Phylloxera was to Europe.

As I understand it from Olmo’s Oral History interview, Pierce’s disease was the reason Vinifera grapes could not grow in southern states like Florida. This was overcome by the hard won discovery that the wild Rotundafolia “Scuppernong” grape could produce disease resistant hybrids (Supposedly Andy Walker has made more really big advancements here using Vitis Arizonica and getting non-Vinifera character to disappear). Such discoveries opened doors to grape cultivation further south that we enjoy today. Breeding grape hybrids is a powerful tool but it has never been aimed at fine wines.

Dr. Olmo’s work gives us a template and a realistic timetable of what to expect from the Popelouchum project. New vines can take almost a decade to become productive and further years are necessary to identify vines that are truly more acclimated to the site than others. This means Randall Grahm is giving the world of wine a big gift. He is undertaking a project that is clearly longer that his working life and sound financing and a community of interest are paramount to making sure the advances never disappear.

Part of being a Grand Cru is endurance. Will we be able to enjoy the fruits of a vineyard over a 100 years and many different stewards? Again, acclimation is at the heart of it all. It will take decades of experimentation to create a Grand Cru level of harmony between the chosen varieties and the land. The bond is measured by the lack of intervention in the process. A relationship is pursued that won’t be interrupted by drought or untimely rain or calamitous local disease. A bond where the site gives the grape its most extraordinary expression.

Wine and the vision of the winemaker teach us all about foresight. Dr. Olmo started projects requiring decades long commitment that helped change the world of wine. The torch has been passed to Randall Grahm whose Popelouchum project is going to expand our understanding of what is possible in our new world of fine wines. We have been given the opportunity to participate and I urge people to join in, your personal return on investment could be spectacular.

“The discovery of a new Grand Cru brings more happiness to humanity than the discovery of a new star.”
-Randall Grahm

I urge you to donate!

Vino Endoxa: Fine Versus Commodity Distinctions

A part of the wine description system I’ve been creating relies on an initial distinction between commodity wines and fine wines. I’ve never come across another writer’s attempt to really differentiate the properties of the two, but it is very important. As far as sensory values goes, commodity wines are simpler and have relatively less focus on aroma than fine wines. Less description parameters (categories) are necessary to capture them than fine wines of serious depth so why confuse people if its pretty obvious its a simple commodity wine?

Vino Endoxa is about consensus. That is what endoxa means after all, so if a user wants to request more options to describe a commodity wine it can be elevated organically by the crowds. This will start with the super users initially inputting wines in the system and if enough users request additional descriptive options it can be permanently flagged as a fine wine. Distinctions about fine versus commodity wines can be correlated to all sort of other potential data sets very usefully and that in itself can be of spectacular value.

An issue that needs to be tackled is that we may have to get over a stigma of commodity wines. Not enough people realize quality for purpose is a thing. Even though I’m a wine buyer and I have sophisticated tastes (whatever that means), I know I need affordable commodity wines in my life when I’m entertaining large groups and need to keep the party moving. My geeky passions have no place in certain situations. Typically, in my commodity wines, I want the driest wines possible with the least dense aromas. As a skilled wine buyer, I typically need the most help navigating the lowest priced wines because these aren’t well documented in books or conform to historical styles. Conversely, because we must always recognize the polarized market, others want the roundest, smoothest wines, and often densest wines. The market has room for all styles if we can get the right wine to the right person.

Helpful to framing a commodity/fine distinction might be to take a step back and examine the emerging divide between commodity cocktails and fine cocktails in the bar world. Most people like to lump everything under craft or not, but that distinction hasn’t proven useful. A lot of commodity cocktails use fresh ingredients like citrus juice, but they are also very conscientious of price and ease of construction. It is obnoxious when a new neighborhood spot opens up and all they serve is fine cocktails and don’t realize there is a significant need of well made commodity drinks. Conversely, its sad when some people can’t grasp the possible purpose of a $20 fine cocktail with decadent ingredients and custom fabricated serving vessel. Its not an every day thing, but there is noble purpose reaching far to cement a memory or burn down complacency. Everywhere in between is lots of shit like anything else. Too many bartenders are the Thomas Kinkades and Damian Hirsts of the commodity and fine drink scenes, respectively. Please do not mistakenly think you didn’t sort them correctly, they just sucked and missed the mark.

My favorite new Boston trend is bar tenders becoming actually comfortable being commodity cocktail bartenders. Now some are finally trying to be the best at it and they run awesomely fun bars. Where I work, we only make commodity cocktails, and though I construct overly elaborate, highly conceptual drinks at home for fun, I don’t think I’d like to do it at work. I’ve just seen too many instances where a commodity drink out classes a fine effort. Misaligned quality for purpose is painful to see and eventually painful to pay the tab for.

This philosophizing eventually translates to sensory features and specific descriptive requirements which I’m not willing to fully elaborate yet. But making the distinction between commodity and fine successfully is paramount to the success or failure of a wine categorization system.

Vino Endoxa is delectable and then some

I haven’t written a Vino Endoxa post in a while though I’ve been privately working on one of its related projects which might really excite some people (still a secret). Last week I read an article in the New York Times and was motivated to spend more Endoxa time. The article that caught my eye was on the increasing popularity of the wine app Delectable. I haven’t followed the wine app space too closely and instead choose to have it filtered through my restaurant regulars. So I only check them out if they tell me about them, though no one has mentioned Delectable. I guess its not exactly mainstream yet.

Delectable has been attracting serious attention. They were able to raise three million in series A financing according to Tech Crunch. The money, according to the founder, is to tackle the large challenges I’ve described before. “Building the data set of every wine and ensuring highly accurate label recognition are just the beginning of enormous challenges we are addressing. This round of funding enables us to continue building the most talented team of engineers to ever work in this space.”

They are headed in the direction I want to be, but do they have any real vision? Do they know what is possible? It is hard to say from their various PRs. The app as it stands is very limited and I see its functionality being casually duplicated by google unless they can carve out more of a niche. One thing PRs mention is curated content from sommeliers. This can be great, but one problem is that sommeliers don’t always recognize quality for purpose or the polarized tastes of drinkers. Somms just don’t seem to understand commodity wines which are the bulk of market and are of staggering economic significance. An app just can’t focus on the top 1% of all wine. I also suspect some of the best content will arise organically from amateur super fans who want to support their beloved wines. A trick to engaging the super fan, I still feel, is gamification. Are you the mayor of Borolo? Trading content for the bragging rights of mayorship is key.

Something unique that supports my original premise is how valuable something as simple as location data can be. Are Orange wines that we keep reading about really a thing? Oh wow, they are, and they are truly drinking them in every major city. Oh they’re not and it doesn’t look they like they’re getting out of Williamsburg Brooklyn. This data alone can be worth the price of a modest subscription for a producer, and there are countless producers. Previous consumption data hasn’t been that reliable and wine writers have likely started trends rather than reporting on trends that were emerging organically. The entire nature of wine trends could possibly shift if an app hit critical mass.

Back to getting the data. One of the most powerful methods of getting the data is creating a tool that is useful to importers, distributors, and sales teams themselves. They see the wines first and many of these players are juggling over 20,000 skus (And often drowning in 20,000 skus). Simple input by one member of that group can benefit hundreds of super user employees within a single firm.

Many of my sales reps are specialists and only intimately know certain chunks of all their offerings (life is short and the art is long). They often don’t know what something in the catalog is like. When this happens they typically just offer to pull a sample and taste you on it. If more was known about the wines through reliable new description systems I’ve been positing, sampling costs could decrease significantly. The amount of savings could allow money for subscription costs and every incentive to input wines complete with descriptions by multiple professionals.

Business Insider noted how Delectable is built on a technology used to fight terrorism. In my previous Vino Endoxa posts, I claimed my technologies would be built on boundary pushing research used to data mine the phenomenology of perfumes. Perfume firms are large enough to conduct types of research wine firms cannot, but luckily they focus on similar types of problems. The latest and greatest ideas in perfumology are the secret to advancing wine.

The app space is getting interesting and I can’t wait to follow the progress. Who knows maybe I’ll give up distilling and join a wine startup?

Vino Endoxa
Vino Endoxa: The Categories of Affect versus Sensation
Vino Endoxa: Three new categories and Pamela Vandyke Price
Vino Endoxa: Freedom and Confinement

Vino Endoxa: Freedom & Confinement

[This post is tied to my earlier works where I’m developing next generation tasting notation ideas and a wine recommendation engine. You need to write this kind of junk to organize your thoughts so you can push forwards.]
Vino Endoxa
Vino Endoxa: The Categories of Affect versus Sensation
Vino Endoxa: Three New Categories and Pamela VanDyke Price

For my next generation wine tasting description system (and recommendation engine) I thought I should take the time to explore both the freedom the system affords and the possible confinement people might use to condemn it. I sort of see the system easily being adopted by amateurs eager to learn but likely receiving an uphill battle swaying professionals because of any totality they assume it comes with. The system is comprehensive and does push boundaries, especially in recognizing non language and aroma illusions, but there certainly is no totality.

The teaching aid that is the Wine Aroma Wheel has achieved wide acclaim and its success points to a warm reception from any attempted system that can teach someone to better detect contrast and keep track of experiences. Vino Endoxa is in effect an extension of the wheel. It investigates the deeper theories of why the Aroma Wheel is so successful and tries to build on them. The aroma wheel is definitely confining because its so finite, but it is also only a starting point. Vino Endoxa is also a starting point but one that can be taken further from amateur all the way to professional use where it can be used in the wine industry to better keep track of the world of wine (so many merchants juggle 20,000 skus).

To be liberating, relative to the confines of other ideas out there, Vino Endoxa intends to articulate and expand upon the way people already think, especially when using non language, which often ends up being private, so that others can learn and benefit from these powerful contrast detection mechanisms that do not make it into most tasting notes or courses on wine.

Olfactory illusions have become an increasingly popular search term (according to my blog analytics) and they will always put a limit on describing an experience. When we taste a wine and try to describe it, we are not only describing the wine but also in large part describing our own very personal recollections. This doesn’t mean we should throw our hands in the air and say everyone tastes differently then give up. We all do have unique realities, but patterns exist within the bounds of our subjectivity that can make tasting descriptions valuable, data mineable, and capable of providing recommendations.

From my vantage point in the industry, wine professionals are likely to resist massive amounts of change that might alter their role in the industry. Could Vino Endoxa change the role and productivity of the wine professional? Maybe, but hopefully for every professional that resists or dismisses the project there is another that sees an exciting new tool that can increase their productivity and ability to represent more wines. At the heart of Vino Endoxa is the same core goals of so many wine professionals and thus can be a large asset to them.

Through providing recommendations and recognizing acquired tastes in wine, Vino Endoxa can promote and preserve diversity in the wine world. Diversity has been considered at risk for years as evidence by discussions of the Parker Effect, the loss of many indigenous varietal plantings, and the proliferation of low risk manipulated wine styles. Wine marketing has not been able to handle the long tale economics of a diverse wine world or the polarized tastes of wine drinkers. Uniting the right wine with the right person has so far been elusive but that could change with new tools.

One very liberating thing data can do is provide a memory that can help capture the journey, growth, and development of a drinker’s palette. This journey is too easily forgotten and taken for granted but shepherding it to cultivate taste and create a market for diverse, authentic wine styles is at the heart of most all wine professional’s mission.

Applying heavy amounts of data where there wasn’t much reeks of attempts at totality, the inevitability engine, or stripping the romance out of wine but that isn’t the case here. We only reach endoxa by degrees. The recommendations never get guaranteed, they only get better by degrees and eventually improve to a point where there is enough satisfaction to continue seeking them out.

The mystery of wine never unravels. Rather, we only corral and encircle the mystery, rounding up more and more of it to be enchanted by. Not everyone recognizes the therapeutic mystery of wine. Too many people simply drink wine for inebriation or low level relaxation. Exposure to new styles by recommendation or exposure to recognizable styles, but from never before experienced locals, may seduce more and more people with the mystery & romance of wine.

A recommendation engine does not want to create predictability in wine. There is a subset of potential user that will say: “I like these wines and they are all similar, please recommend for me a wine from this country I will also like.” That type of query is looking for predictability but its not a bad type because we did get them to explore a new region and they found they can enjoy wines from all over the world. Or another subset will say: “I like outliers and I can handle a lot, please recommend a new adventure for me.” All that we are predicting is that the wine will be an outlier with uniqueness and singularity. But again, no forces acted to homogenize the world of wine. It could be said that the wines were liberated to be themselves and just matched to the right people at the right time in the cultivation of their tastes.

One big limiter of the world of wine as we know it is the language problem. Countries like Greece and Slovenia make comfortable wines and exciting singular wines, the entire spectrum, but they lose out in the American market because of the language on their labels. If wine makers pander, tradition and integrity is sacrificed, but systems like Vino Endoxa can help us conquer exploring wines across the language barrier. When exploring new territory, no one needs a high degree of predictability but enough to avoid a sweet wine when you want an dry wine or an unoaked wine when oak isn’t your thing.

Vino Endoxa needs a collection of minds to advance itself from masters of wine to cognitive linguists to data scientists. Hopefully I paint a picture of a comprehensive but liberating project attractive and useful to great thinkers that love wine. The financial rewards for such a project are also very great and I should probably leave it at that.

Vino Endoxa®: Three new categories and Pamela Vandyke Price

In Adrienne Lehrer’s Wine and Conversation I discovered the incredible writings of Pamela Vandyke Price and was inspired to pick up her book The Taste of Wine (1975). Not many people give older wine books a thought, but I’ve had a lot of fun reading the editions of Anthony Hogg’s Wine Mine of the same era so I gave it a chance.

Vandyke Price was one of the first women to break into the wine world and in quite a major way. The torch was pretty much passed to her from legendary wine merchants Allan Sichel and André Simon. In busting the chauvinistic barriers of the industry she imbued her ideas with an egalitarian anti-pretentious slant that opens up the world of wine to new drinkers. It is not too easy to recognize this from the great place we currently stand but when you look at other literature, both before and after, it becomes recognizable. Another big achievement of Vandyke Price that was picked up by Lehrer was the language that she used. PVP collected, created, and popularized a lot of the modern tasting language in place today. This might all have been due to her not fitting into the good ol’ boys club and needing to carve out her own niche, but it has endured.

As a person that has read a lot of wine books, I whole heartedly recommend The Taste of Wine and think it could be a valuable part of any education, especially within a restaurant program, and especially because used copies are virtually free on Amazon. If anyone really wants to tests the skills and articulation of PVP, flip immediately to her sublime writings on vermouth and the other fortified wine and you’ll immediately have complete confidence. Her writing is pretty much timeless.

Vandyke Price is a having a large influence on the Vino Endoxa project. Three major categories for wine language she proposes are language that explains what the wine is (dry, medium dry, sparkling, red, wine, etc.), language that details its attributes, and language that will tell you what the wine is like.

The first category is pretty straight forward and can resemble many things we read off a restaurant wine list or a label such as 2011 Sangiovese, Fattoria Colsanto “Ruris” (Umbria) $40 [restaurant list price]. The vintage and the region can possibly tell us many things to expect. Was it a hot or cool year in that region or not? Off hand most people don’t remember that information but it can be looked up and a centralized hub of wine information like Vino Endoxa can remember those details easily. Many other things are implied like the wine in question is dry and un-carbonated unlike other curve balls such as the Lambruscos of the world. Encountering that rare sparkling red can be implied at the last minute by the shape of the bottle or the enclosure.

Before I continue with the other categories, I should note the relationship of price to the categories which unfortunately is far from straight forward, but it an ideal world should work as follows. As you pay more, a wine should have more definition (a PVP word). This parallels the terroir concept and also relates to risk. Ideally the more expensive the wine, the more it says where it comes from and reflects the year and the site and the ownership. Risk taking and involvement reveals this. Definition and terroir also relate to the concept of the extraordinary and the ordinary. Also to flaws which are regrets and missed opportunities. Deep involvement in the wine making process systematically explores the options so that a wine can be its most extraordinary for its budget class. Flaws are systematically eradicated so that there are no missed opportunities and this has a strong partnership with science.

Where price does not become straight forward, is when stuff like new oak gets involved. The use of new oak is very expensive and has a propensity to overshadow singularity and extraordinary character in a wine, making it taste like it came from relatively anywhere. The wines become more ordinary (frequency of occurrence of sensory attributes) despite the rise in price due to both expense and a willingness of certain market segments to pay. I surmised in the past, after hearing the lecture of Maynard Amerine, that the chicken that came before the egg was that new barrels were so much easier to take care of as opposed to the skill and attention necessary for re-used barrels that this shortcut led to the new barrel fad which really grew wings when it aligned with consumer tastes. Multiple similar phenomenons obfuscate the relationship between price and definition in the wine world.

The sensory attributes category is the one that Vino Endoxa has be striving to advance the most. This is the realm of metaphor. The acidity is sharp, it has a particular acuteness. There is a roundness overall. The fruit expression exists in a space between rhubarb and raspberry. If aromas can be sweet (olfactory-sweetness due to sensory convergence and non-linguistic contrast detection), they can also be olfactory-bitter and olfactory-umami. Rare aromas in wine, without clear convergence, often described as barnyard, earthy or sensual, might best be described by effect rather than sensation which was touched upon in the last post. Sensual leads into the erogenous which is a common category in perfumology.

“A plane is a fragment of the architecture of space” (Hans Hoffman) and the language of sensory attributes is the nitty grittiest and probably has the most to gain from going post language by using hypertext controls. To differentiate experiences (and data mine that), we need a scale. Linguists recognize scaler adjectives, but for most sensory experiences common linguistic scales are not graduated well enough and have little consensus or endoxa. Will any of my hyper text endoxa ideas work and create a higher degree of useful consensus? Who knows at this point!

The last category of language used by PVP conveyed what a wine was like. It might be fair to say this is the realm of simile and possibly the realm of useful, artful, oversimplification. That Sangiovese from Umbria, described above, is a like a Bordeaux as opposed to like a Burgundy or like a Chianti. A lot of complex hard to articulate facets are summed up with single words. When you speak the same language this works really well and helps people explore beyond the beaten path. When you don’t, things get tricky.

In hip restaurants these days we don’t serve Sauvignon Blanc by the glass and simile helps make this somewhat possible. When I compare a Vermentino to a Sauvignon Blanc I have a generation of older drinkers that understand the simile and an emerging generation of servers who do not because life is short and the art is long and they’ve never had enough S. Blanc to develop a gestalt to exploit. In numerous texts for new wine drinkers, there is often advice to experience these definitive types.

Just like new oak messing with prices, the rise of a meaningful simile like Claret, Burgundy, or Chablis comes with its corruption. Jug wine producers are quick to swoop in and market a wine with a simile, such as the Peter Velha Chablis (not from Chablis) which undermines the comparison. This happens all over the wine map such as with Muscadet, or Lambrusco. There was a time where too many Americans though Riesling implied sweetness and the wine world spent considerable effort educating this public that it was also often dry and well worth knowing about.

These similes can also be strung to together to create something like a scale or rather just a set of options. The Chablis, Mersaults and Montrachets have definition and identity, but when we come across a Chardonnay being made in Italy or California where do we put it? Lageder, in Italy, can make numerous Chardonnays and one might be closest to Chablis because of the freshness while another could aspire to be more like a Mersault. California Chardonnays could develop enough consensus of style that they warrant their own use as a simile (often synonymous with butter and new oak) but then one could buck the trend and we’d be quickest to compare it to a French appellation.

For a wine recommendation engine, it is useful to consider similes, but how should they be handled?. For the type of drinker I am, I want to know if a California Chardonnay is like its prototypical type. If it is I want to avoid it, but if it isn’t I want to give it a go and be a patron of the region. Or the recommendation could just be straight forward. Maybe someone just likes prototypical California Chardonnays but they want to be a patron of another region and see if there are any wines of the same prototype out there in their price range that maybe they should try.

If there is a consensus of similes I can get a recommendation easily, but how do I test consensus? Does a user pass a test where they associate types with salient sensory values? Do they prove they’ve experienced these types? Are they a super user or one that has participated enough with the system? I suspect a game might be the best way to explore these language categories.

Should the Chablis type simile be handled carefully? I suspect yes. The world of wine faces homogenization and the loss of styles. The power of conveying meaning with the simile may prevent a vineyard from ripping up Vermentino and planting S. Blanc because its more marketable to Americans but on the other hand it risks suppressing the pursuit of individuality or the exploration of new techniques. Hopefully there use in Vino Endoxa will help drinkers get off the beaten path both via there use and there avoidance. If a wine fits no known type, you know I’d be itching to try it.

Vino Endoxa: The Categories of Affect versus Sensation

If I think I’m going to make any progress creating a next generation wine description system, it might help to take a look at the current work about aroma in other disciplines. One of the great required readings is Adam Jasper & Nadia Wagner’s Notes on Scent from Cabinet magazine in their winter 2008/09 issue. They weave a beautiful narrative through philosophy into different aroma classification systems and between delicious factoids about smells & smelling.

Secondly, for more heavy duty reading, The Impact of Expertise in Olfaction was really interesting. Papers like this are important to the distiller because the distiller is an expert due to their unique sensory experiences and this impacts countless decisions they make day to day. Expertness implies a unique reality because unique contrast detection skills and very personal thresholds of perception of aroma compounds because of repeated exposure (contrast enhancement phenomena). So in effect, expertness can even be a handicap to creating consumer products in certain cases.

Solo organoleptic evaluation isn’t always valuable because of the expert phenomenon so its useful to construct tasting panels and this great paper, Sensory Analysis in Quality Control: The Gin as an Example, is a wonderful primer. To my knowledge, most new distilleries are not correctly using tasting panels or maximizing what they could do with them. The new American distillery is a busy, overworked and on the go place. Staff pretty much need to set up little assignments for other staff members as quality control procedures so as many minds as possible can be brought into the process.

Lastly, the paper that is blowing my mind is Understanding the Underlying Dimensions in Perfumers’ Odor Perception Space as a Basis for Developing Meaningful Odor Maps which is fairly cutting edge being from 2009. The paper is sort of dense and takes a lot of concentration and repeat reading to get through. Odor perception space refers to the points of tension that exist in odor perception. The paper analyzes multiple databases constructed by researchers and perfumers then performs multi variate analysis to cross examine existing aroma categorization ideas and maps proposed by other researchers and professionals. This sort of analysis would be at the heart of the Vino Endoxa project and would be at the heart of more deeply understanding the botanical formulas that make up spirits categories like gin, absinthe, or vermouth. I pretty much should take the time to dissect the paper in its own post, but I’m pressed for time and I’m too interested in tracking down references in its bibliography and pursuing those.

The first major split in organizing flavor language or more specifically categorizing aromas is to differentiate descriptors that relate to affects and descriptors that relate to sensations. Refreshing pertains to affect and while acidic pertains to sensation, yet they both typically pertain to the same stimulus. I haven’t yet determined if the term balance pertains to affect or sensation but I’m leaning on affect.

The world of cocktails seems to be in love with affect and so does my earlier writing where I explored concepts like emotional content that I borrowed from abstract painting criticism. Emotional content, for me, was the spectrum spanning elation to repulsion and typically looked at the tension between multiple sensations like sweetness and acidity. It seems like as we juggle multiple sensations an overall effect is more salient that the individual, challenging to parse, sensations.

I remember reading a book long ago called Aphrodisiacs and Anti-aphrodisiacs that examined the affects of certain food sources. This book broke aphrodisiacs into more categories than just one, which would make you horny, but rather multiple which were typically grouped in trilogies to arrive at a horny conclusion. Camphorous mint or spicy chilies would flip your temperature getting you hot and bothered while coffee or chocolate got the heart racing and cinnamon or saffron got blood flowing to the genitals. Coffee and chocolate can both be categorized as bitter but they can both also be categorized as stimulating and that effect might be more salient and easy to articulate than the bitter sensation.

Cocktails have been promoted by effect since the beginning. They used to be mustache twisters, eye-openers, corpse revivers, or anti fogmatics. Affect makes better adcopy than describing the individual multi-variate sensations. When I developed the craft keg cocktail way back when, the proof of concepts were quickly coined as panty droppers and party killers. Besides the new keg format, I was also exploring freeze concentration methods to increase aromatic extract which lowered or perhaps overshadowed the perception of alcohol. So should I have been dispensing high extract sours or should I have been dispensing panty droppers? And what the hell should Vino Endoxa include?

Affect seems like it is less data-mineable than sensation, but then it might just be the best way to categorize sensations in wine that just can’t be grounded in other common sensations. When wines have that highly regarded stink, is it more helpful to call them olfactory-umami or to call them erogenous? I’m suspecting for aromas that have no strong co-experience, categories of affect might be the way to go.

Vino Endoxa

First I have to recycle that Marshall McLuhan quote: “I don’t explain—I explore”. I don’t exactly know what I’m doing but I hope by trying to explain it I might further my understanding of the project. I suspect I’ll have to do this over and over.

I’m trying to build a new wine description system that probably best compares to cantometrics, Alan Lomax’ specialist language for describing music. Lomax worked on it for decades while other musicologists just didn’t get it and ultimately was bailed out by the creators of the Human Genome project to create the Music Genome Project which is now Pandora.

I’m calling my project Vino Endoxa (name is negotiable) and I’m hoping to excite wine professionals, cognitive linguists, neuroscientists, et al. into participating with its development. Introduced to me by cognitive linguists, endoxa is a Greek term that is synonymous with consensus which is paramount to creating meaningful and perhaps data mineable descriptions of wine.

Many people have tried to do this in academic contexts, very notably at UC Davis, so what makes me think I can do any better? For starters, my effort is post Metaphors We Live By and also post Neurogastronomy. It is post hypertext, post crowd sourcing, and post iPhone. I’ve also learned that I can introduce people to new metaphors and ground them between known values. Between-ness is something I’ve explored for years now.

Take for example the gooseberry comparison. On its own gooseberry has irked a lot of the wine crowd because they have never experienced the fruit for themselves, but gooseberry can be grounded between other known values like tart tropical fruits and grapefruit. Crowd sourced scales can be created and refined similar to the G. Septimus Piesse’s Odophone:

odophone

The comparison of perfume aromas to musical notes in the odophone helps ground unfamiliar values between other values that are likely more familiar. With this technique its possible to create higher degrees of consensus, but the question remains; will it be enough?

One significant challenge of working with object comparisons when describing wines is that olfaction is subject to illusion and wine might be the greatest realm of olfactory illusion. We may say that perception is the meeting point of incoming sensation and outgoing recollection, so we are always completing a wine just like an optical illusion.

When we describe a wine with tasting descriptors, especially object comparisons, we aren’t exactly describing the wine, we are pretty much describing our own recollections. For some people this idea might be liberating and for others it will be another wino WTF.

Well knowing that, what the hell do we do? Before we move along we should probably make it even more complicated. The bounds of subjectivity are governed by a penchant for illusion, but they are also governed by significantly different contrast detection skills among drinkers. Some people are pretty much aroma blind just like some are color blind, so when they say it all tastes the same to them, for many facets it just might. This is not exactly a case of genetics, it is rather, in most cases, a lack of development due to a lack of categories.

Categories are how we tell blue from green and they have to be created, though that is easy to take for granted. Language helps create categories and that is a big part of the emphasis to turn wine into words. If a system of describing wines gives people more categories, and therefore a better chance of detecting contrast, it will somewhat level that playing field.

Another way to overcome the specific proprietary object comparisons that recollection can generate is to go beyond lofty symbolic language into the very much grounded territory of non linguist thought. This is where colors can be warm or cool, aromas can be sweet or angular, and to cross into yet another modality, aromas can even be umami. Neuroscientists and cognitive linguists are only starting to explore this territory but poets have been at it for ages. Many thinkers have confused non linguistic thought with synaesthesia but they are different phenomenons though likely related. Co-experience has a very significant impact on non-linguistic thought and just being raised human is enough to give strong consensus to non linguistic metaphors.

The non linguistic ways we detect contrast are where hyper text and the iPhone come in. Previous thinking on describing sensations was pretty much constrained by the printed page. Hyper text allows us to use pictures and moving controls to describe sensations. How angular or acute is the acidity of the wine? Previously, people have just said, its tart, sharp, zippy, or zinging, but that doesn’t allow for much of a sensitive data mineable scale and it also allows hedonic value judgments to creep in which compromises palate growth and the acceptance of acquired tastes, which is central to preserving the worlds wine styles. Instead of selecting words, a control could be moved to visually describe the perceived angle of the acidity. Will this seem intuitive and create higher degrees of consensus? There is only one way to find out! More significant consensus on tannin might be found by using pictures of possible shapes than by using words alone. These shapes of course can be grounded in parallel with words.

Many people have been known to taste shapes, some as full fledged synaesthetes and some not. An important shape taster to highlight might be Pamela Vandyke Price who wrote The Taste of Wine (1975) and was brought to my attention by Adrienne Lehrer in her boundary pushing text, Wine and Conversation.

Many people find it helpful to think of wines as having a shape. Some immature wines often seem to be angular, other seem straight up and down in slightly unripe vintages. A round wine has its skeleton (the alcohol) adequately and pleasantly covered with flesh (the fruit) and is enhanced by a good skin (the fragrance). Excess rotundity show a lack of proportion, but many young wines posses a type of puppy fat which they shed later. How round a wine ought to be depends on the quality it should ideally attain; a great wine at is peak should be only gracefully curved, a good youngish wine in the medium ranges can be rather more curvaceous. Roundness is sometimes felt as the wine passes over the palate and is held momentarily in the mouth. (p. 183)

If a wine can be round, it can also be angular, and it can also be other organic shapes. If poets can be quick to say aromas can be sweet, or sour, sometimes bitter, they can also be umami. We have bass notes and flatter notes and no one really questions any of these nor expands upon them. The pattern that runs through this all, in regards to what we have metaphors for and what is incomplete or very seldom used, is that sweetness leads the pack because it is reinforced by the highest nutritional reward. This is followed by acidity which is an acquired taste and likely part of a warning mechanism. Umami is the category that lags in usage and the problem may be in translating non language to language. Round shapes and angular shapes are basic but organic shapes are more complex. A shape for Umami escaped the ancient Greek Democritus:

“Sweet things”, according to Democritus, were “round and large in their atoms,” while “the astringently sour is that which is large in its atoms but rough, angular, and not spherical.” Saltiness was caused by isosceles atoms, while bitterness was “spherical, smooth, scalene and small.”

This might all seem like its going in a non scientific direction, but in Neurogastronomy, Gordon Shepherd, explains the spatial perception of smell. All these shapes and then winespeak, like linear, are the language and categories of space. I was once told of an adage that “so many failed architects go into the wine business.” These architects no doubt have exercised that spatial muscle and it gives them some sort of advantages in the trade. But can any of these ideas ground metaphors, facilitate contrast detection, and ultimately help us reach higher levels of endoxa?

I think I’ll take a break. Next time I’ll come back and explain what is possible once you have a new wine description system.