The Coffee Test

How do you like your coffee? Black? With Milk?

Coffee Test

That may sound a strange question on a Wine Blog but one man doesn’t think so. I was watching an episode of ‘The Wine Show at Home’ on You Tube recently and the presenter, Joe Fattorini, mentioned Master of Wine Tim Hanni’s ‘coffee test’. I’d not heard of it before but Tim believes that, depending on your answers to 5 simple questions, you can find out the type of wines you ought to be buying. I was fascinated, so googled the questions:

  1. Do you prefer your coffee/tea black?
  2. Do you like the taste of scotch?
  3. Do you prefer salty snacks over sweet snacks?
  4. Do you prefer semi-sweet dark chocolate to sweet milk chocolate?
  5. Do you think that cream/sugar in coffee/tea ruins it?

For every ‘yes’, score 2 points, for a ‘sometimes’ or ‘maybe’ score 1 point and for ‘no’ score 0.

Then add up your points. The higher you score (maximum 10), the more tolerant you are likely to be of intensely flavoured or tannic wines (or, similarly, powerfully flavoured foods). So, if you are up around 7 – 10 points, you’ll enjoy strongly flavoured foods but also big, rich, flavoursome wines.  You may find lighter wine styles quite insipid.

Scores between 4 – 6 show some sensitivity to tannins, bitterness and acidity in wine. You’ll probably prefer smooth reds and lighter whites, although may grow to appreciate some fuller flavoured reds or whites. As for foods, you’ll be happy with a range of tastes.

If you scored 3 or fewer, you are hyper-sensitive to tastes (and, as a result, would be a very good wine taster). Tannins, bitterness and acidity in wine will all hit you hard and you’ll prefer more delicate reds, lighter, more subtle whites and will delight in elegant, restrained food flavours.

My wife and I both did the test. I scored 4 which is, perhaps, a bit lower than I might have expected, but Hilary’s score, 7, is almost the opposite of the truth.

So, based on this very limited sample, I have some doubts, but do try the coffee test for yourself and I’d be interested to hear how it works for you.

Wine Glass Almost Empty!

Glass almost emptyAn almost empty wine glass – not the way I usually head my Bristol Wine Blog! – but that was my first thought when I read recent newspaper reports that a global wine shortage is in prospect.

Research carried out by Morgan Stanley suggests that wine lovers worldwide will soon be drinking more wine each year than is produced, resulting in shortages. They blame increased wine consumption, particularly in China and the United States, coupled with some poor harvests in several of the major wine producing countries in 2012 and 2013.

Just 10 years ago, things were very different. Over 7000 million bottles of wine a year were remaining unsold. Not surprisingly, producers cut back in an attempt to shift their surplus stock and some growers would have decided that their vineyards just weren’t economic any longer. As a result, output fell by almost 10% – and that was before the poor weather that has reduced crops in many parts of Europe this year and last.

At the same time, demand for wine in China has risen at a remarkable rate, quadrupling in just the last 5 years (albeit from quite a low starting point) – a trend that is almost certain to continue. And in the United States, too, wine drinking is becoming much more widespread.

But, read on! Things are not as bad as the headline would lead you to believe – are they ever?

There may be a few short-term problems as the historic surpluses disappear and we depend more on wines from the 2012 and 2013 vintages; prices are almost certain to rise a little. But those two poor years are very much the exception. If the weather in 2014 is better and normal levels of production resume across Europe and countries like South Africa and Chile continue to plant new vineyards, we’ll very soon forget any talk of a shortage.

And I’ve only mentioned China in terms of the population consuming rapidly increasing amounts of wine. The country is also becoming a very significant producer. Indeed from almost nothing 20 years ago, China is now thought to be No5 in the world. Not much is seen outside China yet, but, within the next few years, I expect that to change.

So, yes, we may find some of our favourite wines missing from the shelves for a little while; personally, I’d take that as an opportunity to try something different. But longer term, I see a rosier picture: my wine glass being half full – at least!

Ungrafted Vines: A Taste of History

Wine labels. Do you ever really look at them? Yes, you probably notice an attractive design, take in the fact that the wine is made from such-and-such a grape or comes from this place or that. But how much else? Is there anything useful or interesting on the label or is it just the result of a marketing department somewhere?

I do read labels – well, yes, I would, wouldn’t I? Often, it’s just marketing speak, but there’s usually some information about what’s in the bottle.  And occasionally, I find out something fascinating about the wine I’m about to drink. And that was the case a few days ago. I had just opened a bottle of De Martino El Leon from the Maule Valley in Chile, made from the southern French grape Carignan, when I saw the words ‘ungrafted vines’ on the label. I was tasting a piece of history! Let me explain.

In the late 1800s, a terrible disease attacked Europe’s vineyards. It was called phylloxera. It originated in America and consisted of a microscopic bug that attacked vine roots and eventually killed the vine. It was first seen in southern France but quickly spread through much of Europe and beyond. At one time, it was thought that the entire wine industry was at risk of being wiped out. It took almost 20 years for the cause of the problem to be identified, but, even then, the cure remained elusive. Eventually, it became clear that most American vines were immune to attack, only the European vine, vitis vinifera, which is genetically different, is vulnerable.

So, problem solved: let’s plant American vines. Unfortunately not. All the great wines of the world are made from European vines; Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz – all are vitis vinifera – and nothing could stop the phylloxera bug from munching its way through their roots. Except, what if you could somehow attach a European vine to the roots of an American vine? The roots would be immune to attack and you would still have the Chardonnay or Merlot or whatever grapes that you wanted.

And that is exactly how virtually all the grapes for the wines we love are grown these days – attached (grafted is the technical word) to American vine roots. So, to find a wine made from ungrafted vines – vines that are still being grown on their own roots – as I did, is something unusual – and only possible in a few places in the world, in this case in Chile which, because of the isolation of some of their vineyards, means that no American vine has ever been grown there.

And what did our wine taste like? Wonderful! Intense, rich, full flavoured. And the fact that I was tasting a piece of history made it even more special.