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Tradition is a guide and not a jailer

More about tradition . . .

The headline is a quote from W. Somerset Maugham and the following paragraph from winemaker Annette Hoff:

. . . a philosophical struggle I have been dealing with the last few years, and that is the idea that can a wine be made traditionally in modern times? How could it truly be “traditional” when made with modern equipment, commercial yeast, in stainless steel or plastic bins, with modern manipulation, technological know-how, bottling lines, etc. etc.? A “traditional” wine, in my mind at least, would seem to have been made by folks who are more in touch with nature, the soil and the seasons, than most folks are today. But, in spite of all of this, I truly believe I’m making a traditional product, but my problem was that I haven’t had a whole lot of evidence to back this idea up, even to myself.

Just substitute the word beer for wine and give it a little thought.


Worth considering whether you are arguing about lambic or considering an American (Imperial-Double-India) pale ale with more hop flavor than any other beer in history.

Promoting beer knowledge vs. snobbery

Now the New York Times has written about the city’s first beer sommelier, a already discussed here a couple of months ago.

This will lead to a whole ‘nother round of posts in various blogs, and probably touch upon some more interesting ideas (including still more discussion if sommelier is a wine specific word). I promise not to beat you over the head with too many pointers, but here is an interesting thought from Roger Baylor:

This is the part that I’m having a problem embracing:

“We don’t aim towards pub people,” he said. “We’re about the beer geeks, people who want to try a new experience.”

Whether or not there is a word that accurately describes the function of ordering and recommending beer — a beer sommelier — how can it be so blithely divorced from the consciousness of pub people?”

In my experience, that’s where the “geeks” came from in the first place.

Beer knowledge is important, and to disseminate it through the experience and wisdom of a “beer sommelier” is something worthy of praise, but to imbue it with pretentiousness is both unnecessary and potentially self-defeating.

It’s hard enough going out there every day and having to un-do the incessant dumbing down of beer perpetuated by a half-century of megabrewing theory and practice without mimicking the excesses of wine snobbery.

Feel free to discuss.

Machine vs. wine tasters

What happens when university students use a machine to compete against a panel of wine experts in predicting the price level, region and quality for a number of wines?

Chemie.DE News-Center reports they came quite close to the experts’ judgment, especially when predicting region and quality level for wine at lower prices. Both the panel and the wine analysers had problems when predicting the price of the more expensive wines, but the expert’s ability to judge the finer points of the wines allowed them to get closer to the actual price.

However, the students and their machine easily won when it came to delivering speedy results.

I’m not sure that a beer tasting contraption could do as well.

But are they describing the flavor?

Relative to the ongoing discussion about the need for better vocabulary when tasting beer, an amusing comment from a wine blog. In this case, Mark Fisher asked, “What do you think the best Wine 101 class would include?”

The first reply was this:

I’d like to know if wine critics can really taste “a hint of raspberry dipped in chocolate and wiped away with old socks.” I think a wine should be judged on smoothness and depth. Cheaper wines can be smooth but better wines also have depth. I think wine reviewers make up all the descriptive language because they’ve got to fill the space with something.

Could it really be that simple?

No, beer is the poor cousin

Some things are a matter of perspective.

At Wine Sediments, Andrew Barrow asks “Why do newspapers treat wine like poor cousin?

He’s talking about wine coverage in the UK. On the other hand, during a recent visit to London, Peter Haydon of Meantime Brewing talked about how little coverage beer receives in newspapers despite the fact that it accounts for 80% of alcohol sales in England.

“There’s a huge amount of snobbery against beer,” said. “If you open the Sunday paper it’s wine, wine, wine.”

Gooden apparently isn’t lamenting how much is written, but what.

Why is it that these magazines seem fine to review a restaurant with the final bill coming in at £60+ (US$110) per head, but the wine column on the same page is suggesting £3.99 or £4.99 (sub US$10) wines?

He’s not talking just about restaurants. He points to a story that “recommends a beauty cream that retails for £56 a tub and an eye-shadow at £15 (US$27)” while noting that wine writers mostly stick to suggesting lower prices wines.

Then he asks a more complicated question:

Restaurant reviews are often “bad.” [To summarize, wine reviews seldom are.]

In fact I don’t think I have ever read a poor wine review. They are always positive. Perhaps the limited copy space for the humble wine writer restricts them to writing up the good stuff.

Why are wine and wine critics dealt with so differently from other critics in newspapers?

Good question, and probably one that should be asked about beer as well.

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