Going to the high country? Eat your liver & onions first.

Today may be #NationalPiDay, but it’s also #ThrowbackThursday. With apologies to my vegan and vegetarian friends, I dig back into the winehiker witiculture archive to bring you a post I originally published in September 2006:

“Going to the high country? Eat your liver & onions first.”

Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

~winehiker

Winehiker Witiculture

So you want to ramble the ridges, shred the bowls and bag the peaks? And you want your body to deliver peak performance under more extreme environmental conditions than you’re used to at sea level? And you want to impress your friends, too?

Ever hear of “hypoxia?” Some call it mountain sickness. Call it what you will, it’s the effect of reduced atmospheric pressure at altitude coupled with an insufficient supply of oxygen to the body. Every person can have different symptoms when suffering from hypoxia; some of the common symptoms are lightheadedness, dizziness, and reduced vision. When your purpose is to enjoy some backcountry beauty on foot, ski, or bike, you don’t want your body to fail. So how do you compensate for reduced oxygen and air pressure levels? You make sure you give your body what it needs before you go to the high country.

It’s been documented…

View original post 315 more words

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Are “Five Star” Wine Rating Systems Too Simple?

Before Robert Parker Jr. introduced the 100-point wine-rating system to the world back in 1978, wine tasters, if they used any scoring method at all, would generally use a simple “five star” scale to rate their wines.

You can apply stars to wine, or you can actually learn something about wine.

You can apply stars to wine, or you can actually learn something about wine.

This five star (or five point) system is best understood as:

1  Poor
Fair
3  Good
4  Excellent
5  Outstanding

Naturally, it is simplicity that differentiates a five-star system from Parker’s system. After all, what budding connoisseur intrigued by wine would not choose to begin their lifetime of passion de vin with something elemental, readily grasped? And who among us can really tell the difference between an 83-point wine and an 84-point wine?

While there is much that is ludicrous about the Parker scale (e.g., a 76-point wine can be just as undrinkable as a 38-point wine), it’s much easier to understand the five-point system because we can readily identify with it – it corresponds with the letter-grade system many of us grew up with in grammar school. A simple system, yes. But very, very dull! Fortunately, other ardent wine rating personae have tackled the notion of dressing up this simple little system with rating thresholds of their own.

Jon Bonné, lifestyle editor for MSNBC.com (and Amuse-Bouche wine blogger) expands the aforementioned scale to the following:

1.0, Undrinkable: Major flaws that make the wine too bad to drink.
2.0, Marginally drinkable: You’d drink it if stranded on a desert island, but not otherwise.
3.0, Acceptable: Wine free of any major flaws, but not otherwise worth mentioning.
3.5, Good: Decent and drinkable wine, competently made and enjoyable to the average drinker.
4.0, Very good: Highly pleasurable wine with excellent qualities, the product of top-notch winemaking.
4.5: Excellent: Wine that excels in every aspect, true to its terroir and origin and of exceptional quality.
5.0, Extraordinary: Classic wine of rare and unparalleled quality.

Bonné suggests that:

“Wines below 3.0 aren’t worthy of consideration at all, and 3.5 is a decent starting point for wine worth buying. Beyond that? It’s really a matter of personal taste and preference.”

Deceptively simple. Yet notice how the five-point scale is already stretching out to something beyond five points. In his defense, Bonné only bases his ratings on a five-point system. But whoa – he’s willing to rate incrementally by half-points. Perceptively tedious!

Erin over at Grape Juice quips that she has her parents to thank for her growing alcoholism. Her wine rating methodology goes beyond the five-star rating system, too, though I’d have to say it’s more of a five-bar raving system. Or raging system – take your pick:

Not Even On Pain of Death: I’d pretty much run screaming from this wine if I ever saw it again.
I Wouldn’t Make Faces: Not my choice, but if someone were to serve it to me at a gathering of some sort, I wouldn’t turn up my nose.
I’d Hit It: A good wine, but not necessarily mindblowing. I’d consider buying it again.
Repeat Offender: I’ll be buying this one again. A wine with a certain “je ne sais quoi”.
Bet Your Bottom Dollar: A sure-fire hit. Even your mother-in-law would like this one.

Hmmm, I wonder how Erin can taste wine with her tongue in her cheek like that. Come to think of it, if I had a mother-in-law, she’d probably only drink white zinfandel. At the other end of the wine-scoring spectrum, Rod Phillips at Worlds of Wine suggests a 1,000-point wine-scoring scale.

Methinks Rod jesteth overtly. But yikes!! Talk about tedious. Well then, could there be a wine tasting methodology that isn’t boorishly elemental, deceptively simple, flagrantly tedious, or mincingly ambiguous? Something that goes beyond “trite” yet doesn’t have you mired in point-shaving schemes?

You bet. It’s a moderately sane 20-point system, and it’s freely available to all. If you like wine but want to know why you like it, or if you would choose to educate yourself further about wine, then here’s a little guidance, some developmental history, and a place to download the winehiker’s scoring sheet for nearly everyone.

~winehiker

Why it’s hard to imagine living without wine

Alder Yarrow over at Vinography confesses that one of his recurring prayers is “May there never be a time when wine loses its magic for me.”

With wine and friends, we celebrate the magic in our daily lives.

With wine and friends, we celebrate the magic in our daily lives.

Amen, Alder, amen.

Alder goes on to say much that I concur with:

“Sometimes this feels vaguely religious. I have such faith in the mystical conversion of simple grapes into something that transcends its origins, even as it transcends fruit itself. I give thanks for the magic of aromas of honeysuckle, caramel, mint and chocolate created solely by wood and grape juice.”

I don’t believe in much beyond rock, tree, sky, cloud, and friends, but here’s some magic I can believe in. After all, every bottle I open offers the delightful promise of uniqueness, the chance to taste something new. Contrast that to beer, which I also love. But with beer, I have different expectations – it’s supposed to be the same taste with every bottle, year upon year. The big breweries indeed spend untold sums ensuring that aspect; it’s an integral part of the brand.

Not so with wine.

Because with wine, it’s the prospect of subtle and pronounced variations in flavor, body, aroma, color, and finish that attract the lover of wine as well as the winemaker. As weather patterns and winemaking techniques change each season, so does a wine that may otherwise come from the same vineyard. As a drinker of wine, you want to switch brands if you want to open yourself to discovery. (But you don’t have to – that’s part of the allure.)

“Sameness” may have its place – after all, we buy cases and caselots of wine if we truly like it – but sameness may have more to do with the buying patterns of the jug-wine set than the pursuits of those (like me) who would tease and tempt their palates with a bounty of possibilities.

For this reason, and for the anticipation of the next bottle, Alder is right in suggesting that there’s a spiritual connection between us humans and the ephemeral fruit of the vine in which we discover, and rediscover, uncommon and extraordinary magic. It’s an Earth/body connection that continues to grow stronger within me – a connection and a magic that I can’t comprehend living this Life without.

~winehiker

When liking a wine is not enough

There’s a lot of debate out there in the Great Blogosphere about wine scores and wine-scoring systems. Some suggest that wine tasting is too subjective a practice to quantify with objective numerals. Seasoned wine tasters would have you distrust someone else’s (e.g., Robert Parker’s) seasoned palate. Yet I’ve learned that knowing that I like a wine is not enough – I want to know why I prefer one wine over another. Because other people do, too, I believe that’s where a wine scoring system can help.

I had a lot of help from my wine-tasting friends developing a 20-point scoring sheet that I use quite frequently. We’ve found that a 20-point system is definitely more manageable than a 100-point system such as Parker’s and others – I think they’re too difficult to attempt by most people who would taste wine. A 5-star system, I’ve found, is just too simple, because it doesn’t offer any real educational value.

The winehiker’s 20-point wine scoring sheet for individuals and groups.

The winehiker’s 20-point wine scoring sheet
works well for both individuals and groups.

This wine scoring sheet is broken into seven criteria with numeric values assigned to each; sample descriptive adjectives are offered within each tasting criterion (aroma, body, finish, etc.). It also is two-sided, allowing input for individual wine scores for seven wines, as well as space for tasting notes and group scoring on the second page to aggregate a group’s individual ratings. A third page includes instructions for how to use it.

Jeff Stai, owner of Twisted Oak Winery remarks:

“While it can argued as to whether “taste/flavor” should be 4 points and “finish” only 2, the winehiker’s system can be a big help for people who want to learn to taste more thoughtfully by breaking a rating down into more manageable chunks.”

Most of my guests are new tasters who want to learn why they like a wine (or why they don’t); many return for follow-up tastings. That’s a vote of confidence, indicating that they derive value from this scoring system.  Perhaps you will too!

————————— ♦ —————————

Have you scored any wines using this or any other 20-point wine scoring sheet?
If you have, please let me know what you think.

If you haven’t used it, this scoring sheet can be
a valuable learning tool to help you train your palate.
Try it at your next tasting!

————————— ♦ —————————

~winehiker

Going to the high country? Eat your liver & onions first.

So you want to ramble the ridges, shred the bowls and bag the peaks? And you want your body to deliver peak performance under more extreme environmental conditions than you’re used to at sea level? And you want to impress your friends, too?

Ever hear of “hypoxia?” Some call it mountain sickness. Call it what you will, it’s the effect of reduced atmospheric pressure at altitude coupled with an insufficient supply of oxygen to the body. Every person can have different symptoms when suffering from hypoxia; some of the common symptoms are lightheadedness, dizziness, and reduced vision. When your purpose is to enjoy some backcountry beauty on foot, ski, or bike, you don’t want your body to fail. So how do you compensate for reduced oxygen and air pressure levels? You make sure you give your body what it needs before you go to the high country.

It’s been documented that beef liver is chock-full of iron, but it also contains Vitamin B12, a vitamin that has been proven to combat anemia. These are just the very building blocks your bone marrow needs to create more red blood cells. And extra red blood cells are precisely what you’re going to need (not just want) as you work your body up there under the clouds.

Wait a minute – you don’t like beef liver, all smothered in sauteed onions, mushrooms, and gravy with garlic Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, a little fresh chopped >BAM!< Italian parsley?

Liver and onions!  Mmmmm... tasty.

Liver and onions! Mmmmm… tasty.

What, did you think a plate of steamed broccoli was going to get you up that high rocky windswept slope?

The answer is: eat all of the above the night before you venture to the high country. Don’t refuse it because you think you won’t like it – eat it because you’ll immediately enjoy the beneficial effects the very next day at altitude.

(Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do in order to do what ya wanna do. It’s kinda like crawling that 500-foot sewer pipe in the Shawshank Redemption: freedom awaits when you emerge from the other side.)

OK, so you’ve never had a good plate of liver before. There’s a right way to prepare a liver dish and a wrong way. If you grew up in an English/German-influenced family like I did (boil it some more – there’s still some flavor in it!), then you’ve probably experienced the wrong way: high heat, done in 90 seconds, tougher than a biker’s beard after a mudstorm. If you want a good recipe for beef liver, ostensibly because you want to beat all of your friends to the top of the mountain, then leave a comment, and I’ll be sure to post it online here for all to raid their supermarkets for.

See you at the top!

~winehiker

Tasting Wine Made Easy

Who's ready for easy?

Who’s ready for easy?

If you love wine but are not sure why you prefer one wine over another, you can learn to identify what your palate is telling you. The best part about learning to separate wine into its aroma, flavor, body, and other attributes is that it is very fun to do! Plus, when practiced in the intimate atmosphere of a small group, all participants can interact with each other in a manner that promotes discovery, friendship, learning, and above all, joy!

At a typical tasting event, a host may choose to announce one grape variety, such as Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, or Chardonnay; he or she may also decide to choose a geographic region, such as Australia’s Hunter Valley or France’s Bordeaux region. A simple objective would be to pour and taste six wines of this varietal or from that region. As you taste your wines, follow a “blind comparison” format to prevent label bias, and use a wine scoring sheet that includes space for notes; be sure to keep it for reviewing later when you plan to purchase wine.

Though there are a number of ways to approach a blind comparison tasting, I believe the best way is to involve each participant in the purchase of the wine they bring to the tasting. As such, shopping for wine can comprise online research, prior tasting knowledge, consulting with a wine merchant, or just plain old eeny-meeny-miney-moe.

The main thing is: a blind (comparison) wine tasting is for everybody who wants to learn about wine. You don’t have to know anything about wine other than the notion that you want to learn more. Before long, you’ll come to understand that the world of wine is not nearly so intimidating as it is fun!

~winehiker

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Free wine scoring sheet

In my wine tasting rounds, I’ve often used wine-scoring sheets that were supplied by the proprietor of a tasting room or something a friend found on the Internet. I had often scoured the Internet searching for a tasting sheet that delivered a fairly comprehensive approach to scoring wine – something that displayed more than just six circles and a dozen straight lines. I often came up empty-handed.

So back in 2005, I decided to develop my own wine scoring sheet. And then I tested and tweaked it with the help of a group of friends that I regularly taste wine with. Since I loaded it onto this blog*, hardly a day goes by that someone else isn’t searching for a wine scoring sheet and finds mine.

Based on the Davis 20-point scale, this Wine Scoring Sheet is meant to be used primarily for comparative blind tastings. It will serve both individuals and groups with its two-page approach. The first page is designed so that each individual in a group can score up to 7 wines. The second page allows a 12-person group to rank all wines based on the results that are tallied on the first page. There’s even room for adding your own notes.

Using the Wine Scoring Sheet, a typical blind tasting follows these 7 tasting criteria:

  • Appearance
  • Aroma
  • Balance
  • Body/Texture
  • Taste/Flavor
  • Finish
  • Overall Quality

The Wine Scoring Sheet also includes a third page that lists a simple set of instructions for its use.

So if searching around the ’net for a simple-to-use wine scoring sheet has left a bad taste in your mouth, consider trying the winehiker’s free Wine Scoring Sheet. If you like using it, please add your comments to this post – I’d love to read them.

~winehiker

Related Posts:
When liking a wine is not enough
Tasting Wine Made Easy

*As of February 2009, you can also find my wine scoring sheet on DocStoc.