Jun

3

NUS Alcohol Impact Project

By mthomas

A new initiative from the NUS (supported by the Home Office) is seeking to address problem drinking in UK Universities. The aim is to develop a new accreditation mark for a whole-institution approach to responsible alcohol consumption. It is interesting to note that it is ‘underpinned by social change theory‘ and focuses on promoting a culture of responsible drinking. To do this institutions need to meet criteria such as publishing a high-level statement on responsible alcohol consumption, restricting on/around-campus advertising and running awareness events.

One interesting ‘nudgy’ strategy is the need to evidence the promotion of  a ‘cafe-culture’. Presumably this will emphasise herb teas and intellectual debate rather than binging on sugar saturated caramel frappuccinos and caffeine drenched fizz. It is good to see  oppressive alcohol fuelled initiation rites being challenged in an informed and non-punitive manner. At the moment seven Unis are subscribed to the pilot but I expect many more to follow suit in future.

Link to the project website  here for more info.

Apr

27

Criteria for Accrediting Expert Wine Judges

By mthomas

Robert Johnson continues his systematic critique of judge’s consistency in wine competitions in characteristic style in a paper just published in the Journal of Wine Economics. It is based on findings from his statistical analysis of medals awarded by judges across competitions in the US (which demonstrates correlations not dissimilar to fish predicting financial markets). He proposes criteria for evaluating and accrediting  judges many would welcome, but some may not! The abstract follows;

A test for evaluating wine judge performance is developed. The test is based on the premise that an expert wine judge will award similar scores to an identical wine. The definition of “similar” is parameterized to include varying numbers of adjacent awards on an ordinal scale, from No Award to Gold. For each index of similarity, a probability distribution is developed to determine the likelihood that a judge might pass the test by chance alone. When the test is applied to the results from a major wine competition, few judges pass the test. Of greater interest is that many judges who fail the test have vast professional experience in the wine industry. This leads to us to question the basic premise that experts are able to provide consistent evaluations in wine competitions and, hence, that wine competitions do not provide reliable recommendations of wine quality. 

I guess there a few obvious criticisms that can be levelled, such as the idea that wines will ‘show’ identically across competitions. However, the fundamental notion that judges should demonstrate consistency if awards are to be viewed as meaningful is pretty unassailable. His empirical evidence, that even with vast experience they tend not to, somewhat undermines confidence in all those medals plonked on labels.

Johnson, R. and Jing, c. (2014 ) Criteria for Accrediting Expert Wine Judges  Journal of Wine Economics  Vol 9 No. 1 p62-74

A slightly more philosophical/polemic piece on wine expertise in the light of ‘the long tail hypothesis’ by Arto Koskelo can be found here

Mar

28

Plumpton Wine Centre

By mthomas

I recently visited Plumpton Agriculture College for a tour of the excellent Wine Centre. It was also a bit of a nostalgic trip because my mum worked there in the 70s and, as a small child, I used to go to all the open days. It has come on a lot since then and is now recognised as an outstanding wine education centre with an expanding curriculum on offer. What they teach goes beyond a focus on production and increasingly includes the business end of the wine trade.

Of particular  note is the Wine Consumer Behaviour module which  is part of the Wine business BA. It has the following learning outcomes for students;

1. Apply theoretical consumer behaviour models to practical wine applications
2. Demonstrate an ability to understand the psychological structures and processes involved in wine consumer choice
3. Provide a critical analysis of the literature on determinants of wine consumer choice.

This innovative course is run by Paul Harley (far right) who kindly showed Dr Paul Curran, who writes about wine and health, (pictured right) and me around the impressive facilities. These include state of the art labs and an excellent bespoke tasting room. Paul (H) is passionate about psychology and I hope to contribute to the course in future.

It would have been a shame not to pick up some of the wines produced at Plumpton and Paul (C) and I both ‘plumped’ for  one of the sparkling wines they produce there; The Dean (Brut NV) £22. An IWC silver medal winner in 2012 and likely to win more plaudits in future. It is crisp and refreshing with enough complexity to make you want to go back to it after the first glass. This and a visit to Ridgeview later in the day confirmed my view that Sussex will  deservedly increase its cut of Champagne’s market over the next decade.

The website is here if you want to look at the courses on offer, visit or buy wine.

Feb

26

Irrational decision making and wine

By mthomas

The work of two of my favourite psychologists, DanielKahneman (alive and thriving) and Amos Tversky (1937-1996) was featured on Horizon this week. The programme explored their Nobel prize winning work which showed that we have two decision making systems; one is fast and intuitive whilst the other is slow and logical. We mostly rely on the former and it is very unreliable. For example, people can be primed with information (a ‘meaningless number’) to pay more or less for a bottle of Champagne. This is because we make our way through our complex world using heuristics (rules of thumb) and these are riddled with biases. Heuristics are necessary because our ability to process information is limited and our world would be overwhelming if we didn’t have some quick ways to deal with events and choices (such as selecting a wine from hundreds in a supermarket). Watch the programme to see how they created behavioural economics which is redefining how our financial and intelligence systems are designed. Perhaps also reflect on wine purchases which tend to be about risk management, familiarity, labels and emotional states rather than laboured logical decision making.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03wyr3c/Horizon_20132014_How_You_Really_Make_Decisions/

 

Feb

2

Marguet Champagne

By mthomas

Lovely grower champagne from Marguet (made by Benoit Bonnerave 5th generation maker based in Ambonnay) care of the Wine Society. Its an elegant Blanc de Noirs (78% pinot noir and 22% pinot meunier). Unsurprisingly, given the black grape content, it’s slightly austere and less floral than most fizz.  It does have some really subtle russet apple flavours underneath its initially quite ‘manly’ (sic) style.

This is a pleasure on its own but magical with a hard cheese. It’s seriously good stuff that knocks the spots of some equivalent price big brands. The Wine Society keep rooting out gems like this and I am gradually working my way through their range of grower champagnes because the quality is consistently high and there is wonderful variety amongst the range. This would be a great place to start;

Champagne Marguet Blanc de Noirs The Wine Society £22

Jan

22

Latest Journal of Wine Economics

By mthomas

I have been very George Clooney towards social media in 2014; neglecting my blog, twitter etc. etc. ad nauseum and ‘doing stuff’ instead. However, the latest issue of the Journal of Wine Economics here has a few papers that might be of interest.

One telling contribution, a paper from Orley Ashenfelter and Gregory V. Jones, suggests that the demand for ‘expert opinion’ on wines from Bordeaux is not just about a thirst for accurate information. The abstract is below;

In this paper, we use unique data from the market for Bordeaux wine to test the hypothesis that consumers are willing to pay for expert opinion because it is accurate. Using proprietary indicators of the quality of the vintage, which are based on both publicly and privately available information, we find that additional publicly available information on the weather improves the expert’s predictions of subsequent prices. This establishes that the expert opinions are not efficient, in the sense that they can be easily improved, and that these opinions must be demanded, at least in part, for some purpose other than their accuracy.

Yet more evidence of the prevalence of pundits wearing ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ and charging punters for the pleasure of admiring them.

Dec

2

All About Albariño; The Rias Baixas Mini-Fair

By mthomas

I love Albariño (and the Portuguese version Alavarino) so did not want to miss this ‘Mini Fair’ held at Glaziers Hall. I also didn’t want to fail to write it up as it definitely deserves a bit of time and energy. Firstly, because the wines were really enjoyable. There was quality across the range as well as more than a few outstanding tipples. There was also real coherence, despite a variety of styles from the aromatic and peachy to the salty and austere.

Secondly, the Masterclass led by Peter McCombie was excellent. He is knowledgeable and enthusiastic without being gushing. He also shows a bit of humility and reminded the audience that ‘taste is individual’. When he got the year of a wine wrong he put his hands up rather than try and blag it as some experts do. He facilitated rather than lectured which is what people need from a tasting like this. The wines shown were;

Adegas Condes de Albarei Pazo Baion 2012 £20

Adegas Morgaido Morgaido 2012 £14

Bodegas Agro De Bazan Contrapunto 2012 £13

Bodegas del Palcio de Fefinanes Albarino 2012 £18

Bodegas Marques  de Vizhoja Senor de Folla Verde 2012 £20

Bodegas Terras Gauda Terras Gauda O Rosal 2012 £17

Eulogio Zarate Zarate 2012 £23

Grupo Vincola Marques de Vargas Pazo san Mauro 2012 £14

Hermanos Vazquez Abal Sete Cepas 2012 £12.50

Bodegas Maior de Mandoza 3 Crianzas £14

Pazo Barrantes 2012 £18.50

Bodega Pazo de Senorans 2012 £17

Bodegas Coto Redondo Senorio de Rubios 2012 £10.75

My benchmark for Albariño is Fefinanes from the Salnes appellation (orange on the map above) which showed well. It combined lightness with complexity. Lots of green herbaceous notes and a bit of consensus around ‘baked apple’. They also make an aged version but I am not convinced by aging beyond a year or two or by the addition of oak (although there are exceptions to every rule and the ambitious 2010 Comtesse from Pazo Barrantes at £40 is impressive).

Another consistent producer from Salnes, Zarate, had trademark salinity as did the Pazo Baion. I loved the Mendoza example which would wash down Pate Negra really well. I am a fan of the saltier less fruity style but if you like more weight of fruit go for the wines from Condado do Tea (blue on the map above). The blend from Vizhoja had a slight cannabis aroma some might enjoy and the Coto Redondo didn’t taste like the cheapest wine being shown but was (at £10.50).

The prices are retail guides and the lack of accents because it is a pain to put them all in!

These are superb food wines and the table of tapas from Iberica was just what the doctor ordered. Standout was a Pulpo Empanada with a bit of a chili kick. I could happily eat a plateful with a bottle of any of the above.

Nov

20

Lapostolle Altitudes

By mthomas

I led a tasting and wine quiz in Sussex at the weekend in aid of the Children’s Respite Trust and Sussex Air Ambulance.  Apart from being fun and raising a few quid for both charities it meant that I had to prep by setting quiz questions that would challenge the geeks in the audience but also be accessible and entertain those with a bit less knowledge. So there were ‘guess the price of a magnum of 1971 DRC’ type questions as well as Champagne quotes which most people know were care of Winston Churchill.

Local supplier Noble Wines provided a selection from the Lapostolle Altitudes range. Founded in 1994 by the Marnier-Lapostolle family who own Grand Marnier and Chateau de Sancerre. They are “French in essence, Chilean by birth” according to the blurb. They have some decent Green credentials with lighter bottles made from recycled glass and sustainable paper sources.

The four Altitudes wines tasted were all technically sound if nothing to write home about.  All 100% varietals, the Chardonnay was easygoing with a slight petillance. Lacking complexity and, to my mind, inoffensive, it would be an easy food match. I was surprised how the crowd of 60  had such diverse responses to it. I was less surprised the Cabernet Sauvignon was equally divisive, with the ‘big red brigade’ satisfied by the tannins but those less into ‘puckering’ damming it mercilessly.

The Carmenere was more successful. A pleasing crimson colour, not really the deep purple they suggest on the bottle. Good fruit and spicy notes. I gave a bit of spiel about the history of the grape and the relationship to Merlot (having made the effort to prep some notes). What confused me was the tasting note on the bottle citing ‘white chocolate’ which none of us could detect (even when suggested!). I think this may be a clever(?) bit of marketing…

The best of the range was the Sauvignon blanc. It had surprising body and as one astute granny commented ‘there’s nothing thin about it’. Fresh rain on grass and some intriguing asparagus and nettle notes. Almost too complex to function as an easy aperitif it needs goats cheese and a hunk of bread. A very good alternative to overpriced NZ SB. They all retail at about £7.50 and come in at 13.5% alcohol.

Click here if you want to make a donation to support respite care for disabled children, or to keep the Sussex Air Ambulance flying click here.

 

Nov

2

Supermarket Picks

By mthomas

People often ask me what my picks from supermarket shelves are. As a Psychologist I am generally opposed to giving advice because it is often a poisoned chalice. I also don’t particularly like helping supermarkets shift wine and generally prefer supporting smaller independent outfits. However, there are some really decent wines available on the shelves and some of them are made by thoughtful and skilled producers. So, here are some I think of as good value for money (i.e. technically sound, relatively cheap and probably enjoyable for most drinkers). They can often be found in more than one supermarket and prices vary depending on offers etc.

For fizz Cremant de Jura Chardonnay 2010 £6.99 from Aldi is hard to beat. If you want the real stuff Blanc de Noirs Brut Champage £22 Sainsbury’s ticks my boxes (especially when discounted).

For whites I really like M and S. Their Palataia Pinot Grigio (with a bit of Pinot Bianco), a refreshing, tangy and easy-drinking example from Pfalz £8.49. M and S also stock a great alternative to NZ Sauvignon Blanc; Secano Sauvignon Gris £9. It’s made from an ‘interesting’ and under utilised grape and is very consistent across vintages. However, the outstanding supermarket white has to be Hatzadakis Assyrtiko Waitrose £12. Whenever they discount by 25% for 6 bottles (as they are at the moment) I buy this wine because it is ‘great’ in every sense of the word. A really fine wine with a wonderful heritage, it slips down as an aperitif, goes with food and can spend a bit of time in the cellar doing interesting things. All for £10 a bottle.

I don’t think there is an equivalent ‘great’ red but there are some really pleasing gluggers out there. I often wax lyrical about various Chilean Pinots inc. pretty much all the Cono Sur range which Burgundy simply can’t compete with under £10. France can do it in other areas though and there are lots of decent reds from the Languedoc and Rhone. Villages Seguret Cotes du Rhone 2011 Morrisons £5.99 is a crowd pleaser. I often recommend Vina Mayu Sangiovese Asda £5.50 but it seems to be getting a bit oakier which I don’t really like (but lots of people do). I could mention a few Malbecs but am finding the bog standard supermarket versions a increasingly tedious. However, there is no doubting Argentina, like Chile offers value. If anyone knows a decent Italian red outside Italy for under a tenner do let me know.

My number one supermarket tip at the moment would be… Sherry! Asda Fino at £5.50 is a steal and the rest of the range is worth trying to find the one you like (you will like one!). Sherry is deeply unpopular with most people and a hard product to shift despite its high quality. Supermarket buyers seem to like it though and take it seriously. The new wave of sherry bars opening in London and the consistent whispering of the cognoscenti are yet to impact on popularity (and prices) though so fill your boots whilst you can.

Oct

16

The Wine Gang Live

By mthomas

‘The Wine Gang’ (pictured) contacted me to announce an offer for winepsych readers on tickets to their forthcoming wine events. These are being held in November in Bath (2nd), London (9th) and Edinburgh (30th). There are lots of exhibitors, masterclasses and a pop-up shop to buy some of the 600 wines available for tasting. The Gang are an engaging and knowledgeable bunch who will be on hand to advise during the fairs. If you want to attend at a discounted price  (£12 instead of £20 entry as well as 10% off masterclass tickets) then simply pay a visit to www.wineganglive.com and use the code BLOG40 when booking.