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New World Wine Maker Blog - wine

Middle-Aged, Moderate Drinkers May Be Less Likely to Develop Dementia

In a new British study, both nondrinkers and heavy drinkers exhibited higher likelihoods of experiencing the degenerative brain condition.

Middle-aged wine lovers might be helping out their future selves, a new study on alcohol and dementia suggests. Published this month in the BMJ, the study indicates a link between moderate drinking during midlife and a lower chance of developing dementia later on.

The findings are based on data from the Whitehall II study, an ongoing project tracking the health of British civil servants that were between the ages of 35 and 55 in 1985 (when the project began). For the new study, a team of French and British researchers gathered 23 years’ worth of follow-up data on 9,087 Whitehall II participants, including hospital records and self-reported levels of alcohol consumption.

The researchers classified participants who had fully abstained from alcohol, those who stopped drinking early in the study and those who infrequently drank during the study period as “abstainers.” Those who regularly drank were split into two additional groups: those who drank between 1 and 14 units of alcohol per week (the United Kingdom’s recommended intake for both men and women) and those who drank above that rate. (In this case, one unit is equivalent to 10 milliliters of pure alcohol, or a bit more than half of a standard 5-ounce glass of wine.)

Based on a total of 397 hospital-reported cases of dementia, the researchers found that the group that abstained from alcohol and the group that drank in excess of 14 units per week were both shown to be at a higher risk of developing dementia than participants who drank between 1 and 14 units. Additionally, among those who drank more than 14 units per week, every seven additional drinks per week increased dementia risk by 17 percent.

The study’s authors point out that the underlying causes for the increased risk are likely different for each of the two higher-risk groups. Abstainers, for example, were shown to have a higher prevalence of cardiometabolic disease (stroke, coronary heart disease, atrial fibrillation, heart failure and diabetes), which the study’s text explains could contribute to dementia development. The researchers also found that a history of hospital admission for alcohol-related diseases was associated with a four-times higher risk of dementia, thus supporting the idea that overconsumption confers a higher risk ….


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The world wide web is a weird, wonderful and as it turns out, wine-filled place to browse. There are a bunch of interesting reads when it comes to wine, so I chose to share a couple of gems.

If you are anything like me, at one stage or another you have wondered to yourself: “ What is the world’s most expensive wine sold directly from a winery?” Well, I have the answer…it is from the Australian winery Penfolds…the Penfolds 2004 Block 42. This little piggybank-breaker (or crusher) will put you $168 000 in the red or approximately R1 731 208 for us South African folks. Yes, there are more than six digits in that amount.

This beauty is sold in 750mL glass ampules, of which 12 is produced. This wine is produced from a single vineyard, from vines claimed to be the oldest continuously producing Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the world. So obviously the biggest question is…what does R1 731 208 taste like? Research has proven that people’s perception of what a wine tastes like and whether they enjoy it or not, is influenced by the price of the wine. The exact same wine marked at a higher price than its retail value, is judged to be more enjoyable and pleasurable by consumers.

This could possibly be explained by the fact that our enjoyment of wine is not only influenced by the actual way our taste buds perceive it, but also by social context. This means that the simple fact that you are able to afford and at that very second enjoy something that very few people in the world will ever do, makes you enjoy your R1 731 208 glass ampule of wine even more. Another reason could be that we as humans are a suspect species. “Why is this so cheap? It must mean it is not as good as that more expensive one?” As a result, our brains have come to form an intrinsic link between price and quality, or in the case of wine, taste. Concomitantly, we use the price of a bottle (or ampule) of wine to anticipate whether it will be good or not. The psychologist Richard Wiseman purchased a variety of wines from his local supermarket, ranging in price from $5 to $50 champagne. In a double-blind taste test subjects were asked to identify the more expensive wine. Shockingly, the 600 participants could only select the more expensive wine 53% of the time. This percentage is even less for red wines.

Alas, we are also a pretentious bunch and as a result have a hard time deciding whether we like a wine or not…so we just let the price and peer pressure decide for us. So in the end it is all really simple…sip and swallow and decide if you like it or not, whether you paid R20 or R1 731 208 for it. As easy as that.

In the meantime, I will be here in the corner enjoying my very delicious bottle of wine that did not cost as much as a house, thank you very much. And I will be drinking it with the soothing, smooth sound of some music in the background. Why you might ask?

Just imagine the infinite number of sounds that your ear can hear, anything from 20 to 20 000 Hz. The human ear is capable of responding to the widest range of stimuli than any of the other senses. The amount of different textures and temperatures you can distinguish purely by the sense of touch. The human eye can distinguish perhaps as many as 10 million colours. In comparison to all your other senses and organs and their perception abilities, the tongue is quite embarrassingly crude in its simplicity. Five. That is how many different taste sensations your tongue is able to detect. Five.

The reality is that up to as much as 90% of what we perceive as taste, is in fact odour. Why else would that stupid cold and sniffles you walk around with make everything taste like cardboard? The aroma of a glass of wine prepares us for what is to come and whether it delivers or not is decided by the tasting experience as a whole…smell and taste.

A number of studies have shown the inadequacies of the tongue…wine critics confusing cheap and expensive wines, beer (unknowingly to the taster) laced with balsamic tastes better than the real thing and there is very little to distinguish between dog food and pate. Pedigree flavoured pate anyone? In a similar scenario, en experiment conducted by Frederic Brochet at the University of Bordeaux in 2001, wine experts were required to describe two glasses of wine, one red and one white. Of course the red wine was described in poetic language as having characters of “jamminess” and “crushed red fruit”. The catch? The two glasses contained exactly the same white wine, one ‘enhanced’ with red food colouring.

Because the tongue is so subpar in its ability, we require the input from other extrinsic factors, for instance colour, to help us make decisions (albeit misinformed at times). Another study by a group from the Heriot-Watt University, led by Adrian North, looked at the influence of background music being played on our perception of wine during a tasting. Two hundred and fifty students took part in the study, tasting a red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon) and a white wine (Chardonnay). One control group drank the wine without any music playing, while separate groups tasted their wines listening to the following types of music (described in a previous study): powerful and heavy, subtle and refined, zingy and refreshing, with mellow and soft as the final category.

After the wine tasting, the participants were asked to describe the wine using the descriptors given to the different music categories they were listening to. It was found that the music had a consistent effect on how the students perceived the wine. They tended to describe their wine according to the qualities of the music playing during their tasting. The students rated the change in taste by up to 60% depending on the melody heard. Cabernet Sauvignon was most affected by ‘powerful and heavy’ music and Chardonnay by ‘zingy and refreshing’ sounds. The white wine was rated 40% more zingy and refreshing when that music was playing, but only 26% more mellow and soft when music in that category was heard. The red was altered 25% by mellow and fresh music, yet 60% by powerful and heavy music. The music sets up the brain to perceive the wine in a certain way. This is the same group that conducted the supermarket research where the findings suggested that people were five times more likely to buy French wines if accordion music was played in the background. If an oompah band was played, the German product outsold the French two to one. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika playing in international wineshops anyone?

It is important to realise that tasting a wine is an experience…a sum of all the physical (the wine actually hitting your taste buds) and all that your brain adds (the sound of the music playing, the price on the bottle, the colour of the label, the annoying squeak of the shopping trolley as you were purchasing the wine and the chatter from the sales lady about the terroir and vineyard soil type). All of this just goes to show that enjoying a glass of wine is not just about the glass of wine, but the friends and family you share it with and your favourite music playing in the background.


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Beaujolais, Freed From Clichés

Article by Eric Asimov of The New York Times

Wine School, a monthly column, invites you to drink wine with Eric Asimov. In each installment, Mr. Asimov chooses a type of wine for you to try at home. After a month, Mr. Asimov posts his reaction to the wine and addresses readers’ thoughts and questions.  This assignment was Beaujolais; Mr. Asimov shares his thoughts on this wine below.

Because wine can seem so arcane, and because it offers an experience that can be difficult to articulate, it becomes easy to fall back on conventional wisdom.

“What is that odd whiff in the glass of older riesling we’ve just poured?” you may wonder. Chances are, somebody will respond, “Petrol,” a dead giveaway that the assessment came from some secondhand description of the wine. (Most Americans wouldn’t use a British term like “petrol,” unless they were repeating something they had read or heard.)

And so it is with Beaujolais, the subject of this installment of Wine School. It’s a wine trapped too often by clichés, confined by expectations, held back by a checkered past that leaves many hesitant to embrace all that the best bottles have to offer.

The purpose of Wine School is to shed those expectations that can shape our responses and limit the growth of confidence and ease. Together each month we will explore a particular type of wine. The idea is to drink, not taste, with curiosity and attention, then to share thoughts and insights. The hope is that in time this sort of considered wine drinking will lead to an understanding of what you like, what you don’t like and why, and that it will encourage all of us to sharpen our observations and re-examine our assumptions.

Few wines require such a re-examination more than Beaujolais. Here is an example of why:

“The beauty of Beaujolais for me has always been its simplicity and its price point,” said one reader, Al Jiwa of Toronto. “These days, however, the price point is so much higher than it used to be while its quality, as enjoyable as it may be, is straightforward, offering very little complexity not to mention offering no ageability.”


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2014 Bloom Progress

May 15th and we are at the end of a string of near-100° days — a pattern that has set in for the time being here in the North Bay: 3-4 hot days followed by 3-4 cooler, “normal” days. The picture above illustrates the start of bloom in the Syrah at our Estate vineyard. I also noticed a few flowers in the Roussanne and the Cabernet. No flowers yet in the Tannat, while the Mourvèdre and the Counoise look to be weeks away yet.

All the cane-pruned blocks of Pinot are in full bloom, though I don’t see any set and beginning of berry sizing in any of them. I speculate that the heat is holding back development a little. About half of the clusters in the cordon-pruned Pinot are in flower, compared to none five days ago. The big surprise for me was to see that about half of the clusters in the Grenache are flowering:

As my daughter would say, comically and with a full understanding of how silly it sounds when others say it (thankfully!) “that’s totes cray-cray!

John Kelly is the owner and winemaker of Westwood Wines, Sonoma California. This blog was originally published on his blog: “notes from the winemaker” .

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Consumer Perceptions of Sulfites in Wine: How this Perception Influences Purchase Decisions


For many years Sulfur dioxide has been used as an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent in wine. Interestingly enough there is only about 1% of the population that has a true allergy to sulfites despite the wide-spread perception that sulfites cause negative health effects in a large number of people. Science has yet to prove a connection between sulfites and headaches even though some consumers insist their headaches or migraines are a result of drinking red wine.

 This exaggerated misconception has led some wineries to produce and market “low-sulfite” wines, which are essentially wines with little to no extra sulfites added. Organic winemaking is known for producing these types of wine, as added sulfites is not allowed in the production of organic wine.

Recently published articles argue that if consumers are truly concerned over sulfites in wine, then how much would they value a low-sulfite wine, and how many of them would consider this quality important in their purchasing decision process? The researchers have consequently created surveys as well as performed “best-worst” experiments in order to determine consumer preferences and attitudes toward sulfites in wine; their willingness-to-pay for low or no-sulfite wines; and to identify a particular group of which low-sulfite wines could be successfully marketed.


Participants were recruited via an email subscriber list at a wine and spirits retailer in northern Colorado. These surveys were completed over a couple of weeks in March 2012, with a total of 223 participants completing the surveys.

It was noted that the participants in this study do not represent the national average, as they tended to have higher incomes and higher education than the average American.

97% of the participants claimed to have purchased at least one bottle of wine during a typical month, while 32% of the participants claimed to have purchased between 4 and 6 bottles every month.

These surveys asked questions about demographics and alcohol purchasing habits. The participants were also asked if they have ever experienced a headache after drinking moderate amounts of certain types of wine. If participants answered yes to this question, they were then presented with further questions aimed at determining what they thought were the cause their headaches.

The participants were then given information with respect to the role of sulfites in wine, as well as the current state of knowledge on the role of sulfites in human health issues. The information stressed than only 1% of consumers actually have a true sulfite allergy, and that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that sulfites cause headaches in more individuals than that.

For the select experiments, the researchers looked at 4 different quality levels, a “no-sulfites” wine label versus an “organic” wine label, and 4 different price levels. Quality levels were determined by scores from the Wine Spectator. Prices of wine were listed anywhere within $1.50 of three different “base prices”; $10.49, $20.49, or $30.49. Each consumer was randomly assigned to either a Chardonnay or a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Basically each participant experienced different price levels, quality, and no-sulfite/organic labeling, while the price range and the type of wine varied across participants and not within a single participant.

Participants were given 12 choice tests with 3 wines each and were asked to select their “most preferred” and “least preferred” in each set. Participants were allowed to select “would not purchase” if none of the options presented appealed to them.

After the preference selection, participants were then asked if they would actually purchase the wine they chose as “most preferred” …


This blog was published in The Academic Wino by Becca Yeamans on 9th September 2013


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A List of Details


I’ve often said “There are only two processes to winemaking. Flavours are created in the vineyard and extracted in the winery. The rest is only details”.

Every time someone speaks of a great new winemaking process such as cold maceration or délestage, it’s time to ask yourself “Is this consistent with the style of wine I want to make?” Will this improve my process or handicap it? Will this create a greater risk of something going wrong? Break the process down into its individual elements and consider the effect of each element on flavour development. For example, a prefermentation cold soak selectively extracts water soluble compounds whereas extended post fermentation contact selectively extracts alcohol soluble components. The influence of aeration is affected by the stage at which it occurs. An early aeration can oxidize tannins and diminish their solubility whereas later stage aeration will diminish tannin astringency but may contribute to bitterness.

In some ways there is less flexibility during white grape extraction, so winemaking is more affected by grape flavours. If you wish to suppress flavour extraction, for example when working with over ripe grapes whose cellular structure has begun to break down, then you may resort to a whole cluster press. This occurs when making the typical big alcoholic Chardonnays that are left to hang until the berry begins to become flaccid. If the typical destemming were used, then tannin extraction would be a problem. This style of winemaking typically occurs at an elevated pH and runs the risk of developing bitterness in the presence of higher tannin extraction. Whole cluster pressing is also used when making a sparkling cuvée. The first, gentle press will have very little tannin extraction and is considered to be the premium part of the cuvée. Each subsequent pressing will have higher tannin content and should be kept separate, and perhaps treated with isinglass or gelatin to precipitate the tannins.

 When working with aromatic grape varieties the strategy is completely different. In this case the objective is usually to maximize flavour extraction. There is a hierarchy of aggressiveness that can be used. The most common technique is to simply run the berries through a destemmer and then press. The aggressiveness of pressing and the thoroughness of crushed berries affect the level of extraction. Flavour extraction is also affected by berry pH and sulfite. A more aggressive extraction can be carried out by using cold maceration prior to pressing. A convenient timing for cold maceration is to destem and crush in the afternoon and press the next morning. Again, the amount of air contact and presence of sulfite affect flavour. If tannin extraction is expected to be a problem, then a small amount of gelatin or isinglass can be dispensed into the crushed berries after destemming. An even more aggressive extraction of white berries can be made by adding pectinase during maceration. In this case it is highly recommended that gelatine or isinglass be added during the maceration. Tannins will tie up pectinase and inactivate it.

With aromatic varieties much of the aroma is often present as non volatile terpenes. These compounds can only be detected by the nose after they are converted to the volatile form. Many yeast contain a beta glucosidase that can carry out this reaction, but if you’re wanting more aroma, you can buy the pure enzyme preparation from suppliers.

The way in which you extract berries can also affect the stability of the resultant wine and its eventual sulfite requirement. Pre fermentation oxygen contact causes browning, especially noticeable in white wines. This results in wine that has a lower bound sulfite and is more heat stable without treatment. The down side is that you may also diminish varietal character if your oxidation is too aggressive.

I haven’t touched on the ways in which a vineyard can be manipulated to develop flavours nor have I suggested ways of blending different varieties. I’ve heard it said that if an identical batch of grapes were split among a dozen winemakers, they would still produce a dozen different wines. Even winemakers with the same training eventually develop a preferred pattern that results in recognizable differences. The potential process variations are essentially infinite. Every time the winemaker touches the process he leaves his fingerprint.

 Gary Strachan is an expert consultant and planner for the grape and wine industry. He can be reached at

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