Friday, December 21, 2012
Perhaps it is hubris for me to assume- post 12:10 GMT- that we are all in the clear. Given the fact that the Mayans had no abacuses, TI-85's, crazy 80's Swatch watches, or even rudimentary search engines like Ask Jeeves!, I suppose they could have been off by a couple hours. As soon as I walk into my favorite local Quik-e-Mart to discover they have, indeed, run out of Tahitian Treat, then I will know that shit is going down and I exhaled far too soon.
But, in the far-more likely scenario that the Mayans- like any myriad doomsday soothsayers- were a bunch of wackadoos, I'm left on this brisk Friday morning with one burning question:
What the hell am I supposed to do now? I had an action-packed day planned of jumping over lava flows, escaping crumbling metropolises with my family in a conveniently hot-wired sports car (daredevil, hair-pin turns aplenty), and smashing zombie heads with whatever blunt-force objects were available.
Not to mention this extensive list of things I always wanted to do before I die:
- Punch the "Napa Know-How" guy in the face.
- Get a giant checkerboard, with one set of checker pieces being McDonald's "Filet-O-Fish" sandwiches, and the other set being Krystal cheeseburgers. Upon jumping over the opponent's checker piece, it is quickly consumed. When you get the other end and are to be "kinged" (since the captured pieces are already consumed), you instead get a high-five from King Curtis.
- Buy several intangible services (like massages and psychiatric evaluation), then ask to return the merchandise for refund, because I "have the receipt, and it hasn't been 90 days since purchase".
- Grow an impressive parsnip garden.
- Jump high in the air, fist pumped to the sky in celebration (as if at the end of a feel-good 80's movie), and have everything freeze-frame.
- Watch an entire episode of the WB's Reba.
- Throw a pizza like a frisbee to be fetched by a life-like robotic dog.
- Live to see if Svedka really is voted the #1 Vodka of 2033.
- Go to jail, and then when the biggest, baddest guy in the prison asks me to be his bitch, I slap him in the face with a fresh, dolphin-safe tuna, then yell "beep beep" and speed out of there like the Roadrunner.
- Finally finish that last, tearjerking chapter of Jesse Ventura's I Ain't Got Time to Bleed.
- Watch all the 2-D movies in existence while wearing 3-D glasses.
- Eat an entire, live pig in the manner a python would.
Well, I guess I can still do all this stuff. But, in the proud tradition of procrastination and regret, I suppose I will wait until the next doomsday prophecy.
Monday, December 17, 2012
There aren't many questions I cannot answer confidently when talking wine with a crowd of eager enthusiasts. Not that I'm the alpha-male of wine knowledge. Far from it. In fact, like any obsessive endeavor one jumps into, I've learned only how much I know I don't know, and the rabbit-holes of viticulture and oenology go on and on and on. Like the game of golf, or the world of Pokemon, wine expertise surely takes a lifetime to master.
That said, I think I can hold my own. So, when I really can't answer a question well, a need to investigate the subject-matter is ignited. One such instance occurred when I was presented with this humdinger a couple weeks ago at a tasting event:
"So, when you say this wine has good 'structure', what exactly do you mean?"
I found myself pausing, then coming up with an incongruent rambling, involving mentions of tannin, acidity, and blathering about the wine having "angles" rather than amorphous-ness. Whatever the hell it was, the question was poorly answered, and I probably left a wine lover- yearning for sense in this quagmire- more confused than before.
I guess I just took the concept of Structure in wine for granted. In the lexicon of the wine peddler/blogger/advocate/enthusiast, structure is just something we seem to know. Wines have it, or they don't. While generally regarded as a positive quality, digging into the "why" lends explanation. It wasn't until I came across an article from Wine Spectator's Matt Kramer (who is pretty much the only guy I care to read in that fish-wrapper) that things started to delineate for me.
The easy (and- according the Kramer- false) explanation of structure insinuates that a wine with lots of tannin has "good" structure. However, tannin is only one piece of the puzzle.
Let's think of wines as buildings. A straw hut, a teepee, a sand castle... none of these will hold up over time. However, an edifice built on a good foundation, with good materials and craftsmanship, can stand the test of time. Or huffing, puffing wolves, should you be a little piggy.
So, when considering that angle, a "structured" wine is a wine that tastes as if it has the ability to age. This could mean a wine has ample tannin, but the insinuation that tannin is necessary falls flat when we consider that many white wines are built to age (as tannins come from the skins, seeds, and stems of the vine, and- often to a lesser extent- the wood vessel in which many wines are aged). However, many age-worthy whites (fine German Rieslings comes to mind) spend little-to-no time on the skins, and never see the inside of a barrel. How, then, can they be structured; a concept determined necessary to cellar for long periods of time?
Rather, a combination of grape tannin, wood tannin, acidity (in the case of the aforementioned Riesling), residual sugar, alcohol, and phenolic ripeness comes together to provide the foundation for a wine. Sure, tannins act as preservatives, but so does ample acidity, sugar, and alcohol. When all these elements are in harmony, a wine is said to have good "balance".
To this end, "balanced" wines are "structured" wines, right? Well... not necessarily. With good reason, you probably want to punch me right now.
I've tasted excellently balanced wines that should not be aged. They drink at their peak in youth. Sticking to my guns, I cannot say that those wines are necessarily "structured", but they are "balanced". Good New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, many Beaujolais, and plenty of California wines fall into this category (to my tastes, anyway).
After distilling the information, here is the best way I can explain structure:
- Structure in wine- like a properly constructed building- is the foundation of elements within that will allow the wine to age elegantly over time.
- Some element of preservative- whether tannin, acidity, alcohol (in the case of fortified wines), sugar, or a combination of all- needs be present in good quantity for a wine to age.
- Structured wines should be balanced (or taste as if they will come into balance with age), but balanced wines need not necessarily to be structured.
With practice (meaning, tasting a lot of wine), one will be able to better understand if a young wine has the elements necessary to age well. This practical application should to a better understanding of structure. Especially since your palate is different from mine, or anyone else's.
Heaven knows that exercise will be more helpful than this sub-par attempt at explanation.