Wonderful Wednesday Links

Advertisements

Seredipitous Sunday Links

What tree is that?

You can identify most trees by studying their leaves, seeds, and fruit. This animation from the National Arbor Day Foundation can help you learn to identify these characteristics and take a “step-by-step” approach to arrive at the name of your tree. It’s a pretty cool tool for all ages, so be sure to share it with your kids and get them out on the trail with you soon.

read moredigg story

Five Star Links

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

New Technology Turns Food Leftovers Into Electricity, Vehicle Fuels

Starting today, tons of table scraps from the Bay Area’s finest restaurants will be turned into clean, renewable energy at a new UC Davis research and technology demonstration facility.

read more | digg story

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

It’s our fault

Choosing bonehead technology over trees. Where are we headed from here?

Choosing technology over trees.
Where are we headed from here?

I’ve been reading some of the posts on Cutter’s blog. In one of them, Whose fault?, Cutter, with reference to a Nature Conservancy study, examines why there’s been a nine-year decline in visitation to our National Parks. He raises such questions as “Are we distracted too much by toys and technology?” and “Is it a case of today’s generations going soft and lazy?”

Says Cutter:

“We’ve become afraid of the outdoors. And worse, we have no patience for it. In the process, we’re driving out our natural need to remain connected to the outdoors.”

I have heard — yes, even felt — that siren call of the outdoors for so many years that it’s almost hard for me to grasp that most other people don’t hear it. So Is Cutter’s pronouncement true? Sadly, I feel that it is. Just look at today’s trends — we as a global society tend to admire style over substance, as if being fashion-conscious rates higher than exploring our natural surroundings.

As parents, it’s our fault — we’ve failed to honor the relationship with Nature that we once enjoyed as kids. We’ve failed in our commitment to pay it forward.

Nature giveth. Nature also taketh away. Which is why we need to remain connected to Nature.

But time accelerates. It’s not a case of “need to” — we MUST. We must place less emphasis on our supposed need for toys, set them aside often, and realign ourselves with what’s really real out there. We must honor the real and the tangible (the real rock.) We must continually strengthen our natural connection with our one-and-only Mother Earth, and do it as a matter of course — as part of our educational system, and as part of educating each other, young and old.

It’s either that or hurtle pell-mell toward oblivion because we can’t persuade enough of the next generation that this planet — whether in the macrocosm of global warming or the microcosm of local disappearing species — is worth saving. If we as a society choose to lose our connection to Nature, the consequences are deeply foreboding.

Tell your friends to “go take a hike.” Better yet, take them by the hand, and lead them. I can help

~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

57A9T3NQTUUX

Why “Leave No Trace”?

Many of us have taken a pine cone or rock, veered off the trail to dodge mud puddles, gotten too close to wildlife, or tossed an apple core into the woods. While these actions may seem harmless at the time, until we learn to reduce our impact, the quality of our outdoor experiences and the recreational resources we enjoy are at critical risk. Also at risk is our continued access to wildlands, [since] land management agencies sometimes take restrictive action to protect the resources they manage. Unless, of course, education catches up with behavior, and we all learn to leave the outdoors as unchanged as possible by our presence.

While these impacts are widespread and the causes are complex, the solution is simple: change behavior through education, research and partnerships one person at a time.

‘Leave No Trace’ is not a set of rules or regulations. Nor is it simply about remembering exactly what minimum impact skill you can practice in every outdoor situation – how far you should camp from water sources, where to pitch your tent, how to build a minimum impact fire, using no charcoal lighter fluid, or if you should build a fire in the first place. Rather, it is first and foremost a [fundamental] attitude and an [evidentially mandatory] ethic [that we should be teaching all of our children].

‘Leave No Trace’ is about respecting and caring for wildlands and doing your part to protect our limited resources and future recreation opportunities. Once this attitude is adopted and the outdoor ethic is sound, the specific skills and techniques become second nature.

Folks, those are not my words – except for the bracketed embellishments. Nevertheless, I heartily believe in them. They comprise the mission statement of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, a non-profit advocacy and educational group headquartered in Boulder, Colorado.

The following is a list of The Center’s Principles of “Leave No Trace” when spending time in the outdoors.

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

There’s so much wrapped up in these principles. I hadn’t been aware of this organization until recently. And yet I’ve been practicing these principles – to a greater more than lesser degree – ever since I learned them from one of my high school teachers, an avid backpacker named Don Carre, a man whom I wish there could be 10,000 copies of.

As a matter of fact, one doesn’t have to spend time in a campground or natural oasis to practice Leave No Trace principles. It’s quite worthwhile to consider one’s impact when grilling on one’s backyard barbecue. Or driving on the highway. Or walking down the street.

Or tossing a cigarette.

How ethical are you outdoors?

How ethical are you outdoors?

It’s been said that cigarette smokers represent the largest segment of litterers on the planet. I challenge anyone to refute me on that statement with a sound, well-reasoned rebuttal.

Better yet…

I challenge everyone who reads this post to share it with 10 people (or 100) whom they think could stand to be educated about Leave No Trace principles. If those folks have already seen Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” (or the blog), that’ll make your convincing them a whole lot easier.

We still live on one finite planet. It’s the only planet we have. And each of us who lives upon it still has one definitive chance to make their mark by not leaving one.

~winehiker