While many think of the Belgian abbaye as a historic beer style, it’s really a 20th century invention. And Westmalle has the distinction being the the benchmark brewery that all others are judged by. Their Tripel is a delicate study in fermentation. Delicate spice and burnt sugar balance out orange oil and floral notes in a medium-bodied framework. An elegant balance that shows the richness of caramel with edges of fruit esters in the finish.
A bevy of news outlets are reporting that only wine professionals can taste complexity in wine:
Ever wondered why you can’t quite detect those hints of vanilla and cardamom touted in a pricey bottle of wine? A new study finds that wine experts—like the wine writer who likely informed you of that cardamom in the first place—simply have a better sense of taste than most of the rest of us. Hundreds of wine drinkers sampled a chemical that gauges a person’s reaction to bitter tastes, and the wine experts were found to be around 40% more sensitive than casual wine drinkers, NPR reports.
Of course, practice is one reason wine experts get so good at tasting nuances and subtleties. But the study fits with the idea, formulated by prior research, that some “supertasters” are simply more sensitive to begin with. “Wine shopping can be confusing and overwhelming,” one wine writer acknowledges. Wine ratings can help you narrow down your options, but “every critic has his or her own taste. So the same wine might garner wildly differing scores from a variety of critics.”
“Why You Shouldn’t Bother Splurging on Fancy Wine” in Newser
Ironically, about forty students at the Wine School of Philadelphia just proved that theory wrong. Under the eye of the school’s sommelier-instructors, this group of wine novices were able to taste like a sommelier after a single semester. The proof? In a double-blind tasting, nearly every student was able identify the wines by varietal and wine region, simply by either tasting or smelling the wine.
The study in question found correlation between the ability to taste bitterness and the likelihood of being a wine professional. This is easily explained by well-documented effects of neural adaptation: if a person is exposed to a specific flavor compound repeatedly, her sense of taste changes accordingly. Since wine professionals taste much more red wine (which has a high degree of bitter compounds), their taste buds are going to be more sensitive to those flavors.
The conclusion one can draw from the study isn’t that only experts can taste wine. Instead, it means that one can become an expert by drinking a lot of red wine. That’s a news story I can get behind!
The media is getting the story wrong because wine and wine folk are an easy target. They don’t make a fuss, and aren’t the type to point out that most wine that costs more than $15 is made by small family-owned businesses. Or that most wine under $10 is made by large corporate concerns. The idea that “wine is for experts and snobs” is one of those old tropes that gets dragged out when an Ivy League graduate needs to prove she still belongs to the 99%…. at the expense of small local businesses. Good going, NPR.
The Weyerbacher Brewing Company, located in Easton, PA (but considered a local brew by most Philly hopheads) is known primarily for two things:
- Full-flavored, high-alcohol beers that are complex and tasty
- Having the worst branding of any US brewery
Their current logo looks like it was created in Print Shop, and most of their labels appear to be pulled out of the clip art trash heap. To wit (the underlined text is the logo):
To beer lovers in this area, the awfulness of Weyerbacher’s branding is a long-running joke. I’ve always wondered, however, what the real story is. Do owners Dan & Sue Wierback have terrible taste, and not understand how bad it is? Or, if they know, do they not think branding is important, or do they just think it is funny to feature artwork that looks like it was created by a 6th grader?
Well, we now know that it wasn’t total ignorance; Weyerbacher made their new logo public on February 11, 2012:
It is most definitely an enormous improvement over the existing logo, but it still leaves me with unanswered questions. Is it all a big joke to Dan and Sue? Though the jester is part of their original brand identity, I have a hard time understanding why anyone other than one with an incredibly sick sense of humor would want an icon such as this representing their life’s work and passion. Are dudes who love big, scary beers also into scary clowns? Apparently the Wierbacks think so.
Incidentally, I am currently loving Weyerbacher Winter Ale, an anomaly in their line of big, bold beers. When I first saw this on he shelf, I instantly thought it’d be 8-10% ABV (Weyerbacher, Winter – it fits). Instead, they went in a completely different direction, offering a drinkable, malty treat that weighs in at a paltry 5.6%. Among the stouts and porters this time of year, however, this is a welcome diversion from the bigness. It’s impeccably smooth, with roasted chocolatey malts and hints of molasses – perfect for a Winter drinking session.
(images via Weyerbacher.com)
The first wine bar to exclusively feature wine from Pennsylvania is about to open in a few days. This is a significant moment for local viticulture: PA wineries have never been accorded this level of economic support and visibility in a major city. It would not be overstating that this is a historic first for our local wine industry. And it has been met with a limp silence from the media.
Why the silence? Because it’s common knowledge that Pennsylvania wines suck. They are sweet or taste awful. Or both. Local wineries are held to ridicule, and no one with aspirations of refinement and culture would ever speak well of a local winery. How do we know this? Because everyone says so!
So, Terry McNally opens the Paris Wine Bar (2303 Fairmount Avenue) without much fanfare. McNally is the owner of London Grill next door to the new wine bar. She is one of the first Philly restaurateurs to embrace the “Farm to Table” ethos, long before it was trendy.
The idea that Pennsylvania cannot produce good wine is bullshit, to be frank. The region has similar weather patterns (Köppen climate classification Cfa) as the Piedmonte in Italy. That, along with the long band of limestone soil that runs through the Brandywine valley, you have the foundation of high-quality viticulture. Add to that a decent amount of air flow, a few hills of degraded friable schist, or even a sandy valley, and you have the makings of top-shelf wines. Just make sure the vines have southwestern exposure, and that’s terroir in a nutshell.
What’s keeping local winemaker’s back? It’s all about the cheddar, baby. Unlike other east coast wine regions like Virginia, the state doesn’t invest much in the state’s wineries. Tellingly, Pennsylvania offers a wealthy of grant opportunities to farms, except for one’s growing wine grapes. This keeps funding for research and development of the PA wine industry continuing at a snails pace.
The other reason is you. And by “you” I mean in aggregate, the millions of wine buyers in the region. You buy Chardonnay and Merlot and rarely anything else. If you do buy a local wine, it is going to be a sweet one. For a local winemaker, this sucks. The grapes that work well here are not the ones people will buy.
There is a legend in the local wine trade about a hotshot young winemaker who came here from California and crafted what was probably the best wine ever to be made in Pennsylvania. Every sommelier and winemaker who tasted it agreed it was going to change the face of winemaking in the state. It was amazing. It was shipped to the wine stores, but no one would try it. Very few people were willing to give a Cabernet Franc from Pennsylvania a chance. Only a few hundred cases were sold. It was a total failure, and the end of the poor bastard’s career.
SO, until the cheddar start to flow, the PA wine industry will continue to tread water. Until then, amazing wines made from grapes like Bonarda, Barbera, Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc will remain theoretical. That is why a wine bar in Philadelphia means so much, it may mean the beginning of a new era for local winemakers. It very well could change how you perceive our local wineries.
It’s not just about drinking well. A recent report from Virginia showed that the local wine industry added $747 Million to the state’s economy every year. Most of that from a grape that few people have heard of: viognier. Drinking local brings in the cheddar, baby.
I am going out onto a limb and be the first one to say it in print: FooBooz is dead and gone. It’s not a long limb to climb out on, though. Yesterday’s unveiling –after months of speculation– of the Philadelphia edition of Eater pretty much puts the nails in the coffin. This after a year of Philly-style hate built up against FB and its fryboy editor Jason Sheehan.
Everything went wrong Philly Mag bought FooBooz from Art Echells. His laizze faire attitude, gigantic readership, and insider track with all the major PR firms in the city meant that it was the place to get the buzz about Philly food and booze scene. There was plenty of criticism that he was a flunky for the 1%ers in the city, but in the end everyone loved Art. After all, he was just a regular Philly guy who loves hockey and managed to be at the right place at the right time.
Philly Mag, on the other hand, is just another big-money institution. Rather than hiring local talent to run the blog, they hired an outsider from Seattle. From the very beginning he was doomed. In one of his first pieces, he called Moma’s ”a sad looking vegetarian restaurant doing no trade” and then turned around and praised Village Whiskey to high heaven. It’s well known that both restaurants are top of their game (burger and falafel, respectively). Many folks found it was interesting that he only praised the one with a high-powered PR firm.
Jason may be a great guy, but his writing seems to be out of step with Philly. His writing often comes off a touch too belligerent and condescending. Compare that to the new editor of Eater, Collin Flatt. A longtime favorite who has run Phoodie and NBC’s TheFeast Philadelphia, Collin is a smartass local boy who has more connections than a heroin addict. With Eater’s credo of take-no-bullshit and Collin’s insider knowledge of the scene in Philly, it’s only a matter of time before FooBooz is turned into a giant billboard for Cook. Wait, it already is.