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Wines are getting stronger

Warming climate and changed growing techniques are combining to raise the alcohol level in wines

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Photograph: Katherine Rose for Observer Food Monthly

Two wines made in the same region, from the same grape variety, in the same vintage, at the same price. The only difference, as far as you can tell from the label, is the alcohol. One is 13.5%, the other 14.5%. Which do you choose? If, like me, you’ve learned that a single percentage point can make the difference between a bright new morning after and a sluggish one, you’re going to go for the lower alcohol option.

In the wine world a wine’s alcohol by volume (ABV) is more than a shorthand guide to how it will make you feel: it’s become a touchstone for a fractious debate about how it should taste. Lurking in the background of the dispute is the creeping rise in wine’s alcohol level: a 2% average global increase in the last two decades. The reason is that there is more sugar in the world’s wine grapes when they’re harvested – sugar which is then converted into alcohol during fermentation. The controversy surrounds how that sugar got there, and whether the effects it creates in finished wines are desirable.

Global warming has played its part: the warmer the climate – or vintage – the more sugar there will be in the grape. But wines have been made in hot regions for years, and yet you never used to find bottles with ABVs of 16% or 17% as sometimes come out of California and Australia. Similarly, there have always been warm vintages in temperate regions such as Bordeaux, but alcohol levels rarely broached 13%.

What has changed is the way grapes, particularly red grapes, are grown, and it’s here the controversy begins. At its heart is the concept of phenolic ripeness: the moment when the pips and stalks lose any trace of green. Over the last two decades winemakers became obsessed with techniques such as cutting back yields early in the year to concentrate on fewer bunches or waiting as long as possible to harvest. But the longer you wait for phenolic ripeness, the higher the sugar climbs, and the more acidity you lose. And so, the smooth tannins, and lack of green flavours tend to come with a side order of high alcohol, frequently at the expense of freshness and, some would argue, complexity.

The backlash against high alcohol wines has a militant, ideological edge. Many winemakers tell me they’ve drawn an imaginary line over which no wine should cross. Get much above 14%, they say, and a wine can never be truly fine. Some put the level even lower: I know of several independent retailers and sommeliers that avoid anything over 13.5%.

I can’t say I’m disappointed at this turn back towards elegance. But the move brings problems of its own. I wouldn’t go as far as Robert Parker, the powerful American critic famed for his enthusiasm for big reds, who dismisses the rush to lower alcohol styles as “essentially a phony, anti-California, anti-New World movement by Eurocentric self-proclaimed purists”. But I do think he has the ghost of a point.

Like Parker, I’m concerned that the obsession with an arbitrary acceptable alcohol level rules out some of the great warm climate wines, from Barolo to the Douro, from Roussillon to Napa, all of which tend to be around 14% or higher. The best producers in these regions don’t try to push ripeness to its outer limits. And tasting them you realise that what matters isn’t the number on the label, but a concept as elusive and subjective in wine as it is in life: balance.

Sourece: TheGuardian Read more

Sunday Art Fare

Something different today.

I am fascinated by fried eggs, here’s a collection:

Image: http://trendland.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/tjalf-sparnaay-hyperrealistic-food-paintings-5.jpg

Image: tjalf-sparnaay

tjalf-sparnaay

 

Image: Vic Vicini

Image: Vic Vicini

Vic Vicini

Image tjal

Image: tjalf sparnaay

tjalf sparnaay

 

Image:

Image: Kristine Kainer

Kristine Kainer

 

Image: Pinterest

Image: Pinterest

Pinterest

 

Image: F

Image: Fred Bromfield

Fred Bromfield

 

Image: Ylli Haruni

Image: Ylli Haruni

Ylli Haruni

 

 

Satireday on Fizz

funny-alcohol-drinks

What beer be this?

Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale

IMG_1375Black Sheep Brewery

This Is Disgusting

And the Food Sounds Gross Too

“It is by now generally understood, at least in the sound money community, that inflation is much higher than the government admits and that the true extent of the problem is being hidden in various ways. But the specifics keep getting more and more disturbing. Here’s a recent Phoenix Capital note (via Zero Hedge) on the adulteration of our “food.”
 
Last week we noted that inflation has already entered the economy. It isn’t showing up in nominal price hikes because it never does at first… As we noted last week… Let’s be clear here… inflation does NOT mean prices have to move higher in nominal terms. The reason for this is because companies cannot and will not simply raise prices overnight. Consumers will not simply put up with the cost of a good going up time and again.
 
So don’t look for the cost of an item to necessarily go straight up in nominal terms. This can happen, but more often than not, corporations engage in a number of different strategies to maintain profit margins without raising prices. These strategies include:
 
1) Shrinking the box/package of the good, thereby selling less for the same amount. 2) Not filling the package all the way; again selling less for the same amount. 3) Changing what’s considered a “serving size” or the quantity of good being sold. 4) Swapping in lower quality ingredients, thereby selling a lower quality good for the same amount.
 
Companies have been doing all of these since 2008. Most recently however, costs have risen to the point that these strategies won’t cut it anymore. Consequently, we’re starting to see prices going up across the board.
 
Regarding #4, Burger King was caught putting wood pulp in its burgers. There may be more fiber in your food than you realized. Burger King, McDonald’s and other fast food companies list in the ingredients of several of their foods, microcrystalline cellulose (MCC) or “powdered cellulose” as components of their menu items. Or, in plain English, wood pulp.
 
The emulsion-stabilizing, cling-improving, anti-caking substance operates under multiple aliases, ranging from powdered cellulose to cellulose powder to methylcellulose to cellulose gum. The entrance of this non-absorbable fiber into fast food ingredients has been stealthy, yet widespread: The compound can now be found in buns, cheeses, sauces, cakes, shakes, rolls, fries, onion rings, smoothies, meats—basically everything.
 
The cost effectiveness of this filler has pushed many chains to use progressively less chicken in their “chicken” and cream in their “ice cream.” McDonald’s ranks highest on the list with cellulose integrated into 14 of their menu items including their renowned fish fillets, chicken strips and biscuits, with Burger King ranking second on the list with 13 menu items containing cellulose. Moreover, many cellulose-laden ingredients (such as honey mustard, bbq sauce, and cheese blends) can be found in multiple items throughout the menu making the filler difficult to avoid.
 
One has to wonder… just how high are real costs that a food company substitutes wood pulp for meat?
 
One also has to wonder… just how accurate is the CPI or any government inflation metric that looks primarily at nominal pricing? The simple answer to that one is “not accurate at all.” Inflation is a reality. Firms around the world are doing whatever they can to maintain profits while keeping costs low. Using wood pulp instead of meat in burgers is just one more trick.
 
We’ll be seeing more stories like this in the coming months. I wouldn’t be surprised if food companies everywhere have been resorting to similar strategies.
 
Some thoughts: Anyone who eats (or allows their kids to eat) modern fast food pretty much gets what they deserve in any event. But it’s still upsetting to see it spelled out. And this, of course, is just the tip of a very big, very unappetizing iceberg. Click here for an amazing (but not surprising) example of Coca Cola Company selling “pomegranate blueberry juice” that has just 0.5% of those juices combined.
 
Companies have always tried these kinds of tricks, which is why even some libertarians accept the existence of truth-in-advertising laws. But lately the pressure on even generally honest companies (as opposed to those mentioned above) has become overwhelming, as the government generates real inflation in the 6% range while reporting only 2%. In this supposedly low-inflation world a store or manufacturer can’t raise prices sufficiently to cover its rising costs and is left with few palatable options. So a growing number of them are choosing lower quality, deceptive packaging and secrecy. This, in short, is yet another way in which an unlimited fiat currency printing press corrupts a society.”

Source: Running ‘Cause I Can’t Fly

 

Disaster in Britain

Pubs closing at rate of 31 a week

Camra blames planning loopholes for accelerating disappearance of British institution, of which fewer than 55,000 remain

‘Pubs are increasingly being targeted by those wishing to take advantage of the absence of proper planning control.’ Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

The rate at which British pubs are closing down has accelerated to 31 a week and 3% of pubs in the suburbs have shut in the past six months, the real ale group Camra has warned.

Campaigners are calling for an urgent change in the law to make it harder for pubs to be demolished or converted to supermarkets and convenience stores.

The peak closure period was between January and June 2009 when 52 pubs ceased trading every week, and there are now 54,490 pubs left in the country.

At the start of its annual Great British Beer Festival, Camra has launched a campaign calling for a planning application to be required before a pub is demolished or converted to another use.

Pubs can currently be converted to a range of uses without planning permission. Camra says that in most cases communities have been powerless to save their locals.

Tom Stainer, head of communications at Camra, said: “Popular and profitable pubs are being left vulnerable by gaps in English planning legislation as pubs are increasingly being targeted by those wishing to take advantage of the absence of proper planning control.

“It is utterly perverse that developers are able to demolish or convert a pub into a convenience store or many other uses without any requirement to apply for planning permission. It is wrong that communities are left powerless when a popular local pub is threatened with demolition or conversion into a Tesco store.”

Source: TheGuardian Read more

In Paris, the drink that drove Van Gogh mad

Famed for turning the cafes of Montmartre into a haven for booze-addled artists, the story of absinthe – and its current revival in Paris — is as thick and cloudy as the drink itself.

Absinthe: How the Green Fairy became literature’s drink

The green stuff     Absinthe, a green liquor known for its hallucinogenic effects and popular with legendary authors and artists, was banned for most of the past century. (Goran Heckler/Alamy)

The green stuff
Absinthe, a green liquor known for its hallucinogenic effects and popular with legendary authors and artists, was banned for most of the past century. (Goran Heckler/Alamy)

Absinthe has inspired many great authors of the last 150 years – and may have ruined some as well. Jane Ciabattari investigates the green spirit’s peculiar power.

Arthur Rimbaud called absinthe the “sagebrush of the glaciers”  because a key ingredient, the bitter-tasting herb Artemisia absinthium or wormwood, is plentiful in the icy Val-de-Travers region of Switzerland. That is where the legendary aromatic drink that came to symbolise decadence was invented in the late 18th Century. It’s hard to overstate absinthe’s cultural impact – or imagine a contemporary equivalent.

The spirit was a muse extraordinaire from 1859, when Édouard Manet’s The Absinthe Drinker shocked the annual Salon de Paris, to 1914, when Pablo Picasso created his painted bronze sculpture, The Glass of Absinthe. During the Belle Époque, the Green Fairy – nicknamed after its distinctive colour – was the drink of choice for so many writers and artists in Paris that five o’clock was known as the Green Hour, a happy hour when cafes filled with drinkers sitting with glasses of the verdant liquor. Absinthe solidified or destroyed friendships, and created visions and dream-like states that filtered into artistic work. It shaped Symbolism, Surrealism, Modernism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Cubism. Dozens of artists took as their subjects absinthe drinkers and the ritual paraphernalia: a glass, slotted spoon, sugar cubes – sugar softened the bitter bite of cheaper brands – and fountains dripping cold water to dilute the liquor.

Absinthe was, at its conception, not unlike other medicinal herbal preparations (vermouth, the German word for wormwood, among them). Its licorice flavor derived from fennel and anise. But this was an aperitif capable of creating blackouts, pass-outs, hallucinations and bizarre behaviour. Contemporary analysis indicates that the chemical thujone in wormwood was present in such minute quantities in properly distilled absinthe as to cause little psychoactive effect. It’s more likely that the damage was done by severe alcohol poisoning from drinking twelve to twenty shots a day. Still, the mystique remains.

Muse in a bottle

Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Emile Zola, Alfred Jarry and Oscar Wilde were among scores of writers who were notorious absinthe drinkers. Jarry insisted on drinking his absinthe straight; Baudelaire also used laudanum and opium; Rimbaud combined it with hashish. They wrote of its addictive appeal and effect on the creative process, and set their work in an absinthe-saturated milieu.

In the poem Poison, from his 1857 volume The Flowers of Evil, Baudelaire ranked absinthe ahead of wine and opium: “None of which equals the poison welling up in your eyes that show me my poor soul reversed, my dreams throng to drink at those green distorting pools.”

Rimbaud, who “saw poetry as alchemical, a way of changing reality” Edmund White notes in his biography of the poet, saw absinthe as an artistic tool. Rimbaud’s manifesto was unambiguous: he declared that a poet “makes himself a seer through a long, prodigious and rational disordering of all the senses.” Absinthe, with its hallucinogenic effects, could achieve just that.

Guy de Maupassant imbibed, as did characters in many of his short stories. His A Queer Night in Paris features a provincial notary who wangles an invitation to a party in the studio of an acclaimed painter. He drinks so much absinthe he tries to waltz with his chair and then falls to the ground. From that moment he forgets everything, and wakes up naked in a strange bed.

Contemporaries cited absinthe as shortening the lives of Baudelaire, Jarry and poets Verlaine and Alfred de Musset, among others. It may even have precipitated Vincent Van Gogh cutting off his ear. Blamed for causing psychosis, even murder, by 1915 absinthe was banned in France, Switzerland, the US and most of Europe.

Cultural hangover

The Green Fairy faded as a cultural influence for most of the 20th Century, to be replaced by cocktails, martinis and, in the 1960s, a panoply of mind-altering drugs. There were occasional echoes of its power, though mostly nostalgic.

Ernest Hemingway sipped the Green Fairy in Spain in the 1920s as a journalist, and later during the Spanish Civil War. His character Jake Barnes consoles himself with absinthe after Lady Brett runs off with the bullfighter in The Sun Also Rises. In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan brings along a canteen of the stuff. In Death in the Afternoon Hemingway explains he stopped bullfighting because he couldn’t do it happily “except after drinking three or four absinthes, which, while they inflamed my courage, slightly distorted my reflexes.”

Hemingway even invented a Death in the Afternoon cocktail for a 1935 celebrity drinks book: “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

In the late 20th Century, absinthe became a decadent reference point among a new generation of writers based in latter-day Bohemian outposts like San Francisco and New Orleans.

“The absinthe cauterized my throat with its flavor, part pepper, part licorice, part rot,” wrote precocious New Orleans horror writer Poppy Z Brite in a 1989 story, His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood. The narrator and his boyfriend, jaded grave robbers, have found more than fifty bottles of the now-outlawed liquor, sealed up in a New Orleans family tomb. By the end, the narrator is fantasising about his first bitter kiss of the spirit from beyond the grave.

Source: BBCNews Read more

Sunday Art Fare

The Kitchen Sink

The Kitchen Sink

Source: A Farnsworth Day

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