Sunday, March 25, 2007

March 25, 2007. Wine lovers of the world unite to cure diseases!

Have you ever wanted to help out in understanding and perhaps even finding the cure to diseases such as Alzheimer's, Cancer, Parkinson's and others?

Well now you can.

The Idea

folding@home is a distributed computing effort organized by a nonprofit institution affiliated with Standford University's Chemistry department. Protein folding is involved in very basic biological processes. If we understand these processes and mechanisms better then a cure could be possible. In order to do this, computer simulations are required. On the other hand, the se simulation requirements are beyond even most supercomputers. The trick is to pool together hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of Desktop, Laptop, and now even the Playstation3 to cut the problem down to size. Currently, the combined computer power of this network could very well be the most powerful floating point computing unit globally.

The results are will not be owned or sold but will be submitted to scientific journals and available to everyone.

How to contribute
You can read all about it at their webpage: http://folding.standford.edu/

What is required is your own machine and a piece of software download from their website. This software works on a piece of the problem whenever the computer has "spare time". When computations are completed - the results are uploaded back to the server at Stanford. On a fast PC each work unit will most probably take a couple of days. On the new Playstation 3 system this takes ~8-9 hours!!!. In the last couple of weeks, an add-in has been included to enable PS3 machines to help in on this. The PS3 can complete a job in a fraction of the required time of a PC. At this stage, roughly ~20k PS3 units have signed up and the combined computing power has already matched all the available PC units in the network - globally. If you have one of these unites - why not put it to good use when idle?

Join Team "Bacchus"
Computation of these problems can also be organized into "Teams" for identification purposes (combined computation time, work units etc...) If anybody cares, I have set up team "Bacchus" (Team #59314) on the server. Let's show people that wine lovers care too!

March 24, 2007. Smorgasbord Tasting

1996 Jacquesson Signature Champagne.
Friends tried to pull a fast one and claimed it was a Salon. Certainly did not taste like something from Mesnil. Hints of green apple, toast/bread, good acidity. This will needs more time to settle down even now - A higher class version of the non vintage version. The grapes from Avize ( Chardonnay) seem to be quite prominent. 91 points now and should get better ( ~94pts) in 5-7 years.

2003 Coche Dury Bourgogne Pinot Noir
Very different from the last tasting. Aromas of minerals and pinot now in much better balance and more forthcoming. Caveat are the hints of slightly burnt pepper & grape smell that seems to be common many 2003's - not sure if this is a good thing. Certainly not typical of Burgundy character. Nevertheless, it has a medium body whereas it seemed thin and withered when it first arrived - fruit is abundant and the tannins are quite refined. Still it lacks the multi-layered dimensionality and finish that is required of a great wine. But hey it's just a Bourgogne. 89points.

2001 La Fluer Mongiron
Nose seems to be evolving and developing more complexity. However, the body seems to have hollowed out - didn't seems to have the "stuffing" like before. Not sure if it's starting to go downhill or entering a "shut down phase". If it was the later, it should have done this a while ago in previous tastings. 87-88 points.

2005 Joh.Jos (JJ) Prum. Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatslese.
Bright vibrant rich, good acidity and sugars. Like most 2005 arguably could be classified as Auslese in less gifted years. It has a good balance of sugars, acidity and concentration. Like most other 2005, mineral and petrol hints seem sublimated and hard to pick out because of the dominance of other characters - I'm sure they will surface with time. Definitely can benefit from a few more years in the seller but is seductively easy and good drinking now. 92 points.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

March 21, 2007. Champagne demystified

Much myth and disinformation exists around the wine and history. Perhaps it's better to start from the beginning. With annual production >300 million bottles a year - make double sure you are getting the real deal.

Champagne Trivia
#1 - Originally Champagne was not fizzy
Originally, Champagne at least up until the 17th century was probably more along the lines of a rose than the sparkling we know today.

#2 - Dom Perignon did not invent Champagne
That was more marketing blitz byMoet & Chandon in the early 20th century. Actually, it was the English who added sugar to still wine from Champagne before our famous Benedictine monk.

#3 - Napoleon's favorite Champagne house was Moet & Chandon.
Jacquesson came in 2nd - the medal awarded to the house was for the grandiosity of the cellars.

History
In 1728, the law forbidding shipment of wines in bottles was revoked. Soon after, many Champagne houses began to appear. Among them Ruinart, Moet, Cliquot, Heidsick and Jacquesson to name a few. It was only in the early 20th century that the practice of disgorgment arrived (i.e. removing the sediment by freezing the wine at the neck). Prior to this, Champagne always had sediment due to the lees. Over the years different Champagne houses "targeted" different markets. The houses of Cliquot and Roderer looked at Russia while the houses of Bollinger and Krug looked to Britain.

The Grape & Wine
Three types of grapes are used in the making of Champagne (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay). Two of these varietals are what Burgundy is famous for. In Champagne however, the northerly location and hence cooler climate gives these varietals a higher acidity - a key component to longevity in a great Champagne. Very often Champagne is a blend of these grapes. Non vintage Champagne (NV) would be this and a blend of various vintages to maintain a "house style". This requires the wine maker to have an expert knowledge of blending. The NV tends to get the 2nd rate juice is frankly less interesting than vintage Champagne. The Pinot Noir in the blend is supposed to give the wine structure while Chardonnay is supposed to add acidity and bouquet - both have good aging potential. Pinot Meunier is a very hardy grape and was probably prized for that rather than any inherent qualities over the other two varietals. Blends with this grape are purported to be shorter lived - perhaps unbalancing the other components over time.

When to Drink
IMHO Vintage Champagne is usually opened too early. If you like the fizz open an NV - Vintage Champagne needs age especially the good ones. Now comes subjectivity and personal preference - I like mine (especially Blanc de Blancs) north of 10 years. The balancing point between youth, complexity & maturity (without going over the hill) is where I like it - in other words guesswork. For Vintage Champagne from good producers in good years 10 years is way too young... The 1990 Vintage is only coming into adolescence.

Types of Champagne
  • NV or Non-Vintage Champagne. A blend of many vintages to form a consistent style.
  • Demi-Sec/Sec. Sweet or semi Sweet Champagne (usually the worst juice goes here).
  • Vintage Champagne. Usually offered only in good vintages but not adhered by many.
  • Blanc De Blancs. "White from white". Wine from Chardonnay grapes only (usually). Best examples need age
  • Blanc De Noirs. "White from Black". From Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier. Probably needs more aging than Blanc De Blanc. Aromas can have vegetal and animal nuances - bit like a mature red Burgundy. Not to everyone's liking.
  • Special bottlings. Usually the best and most expensive juice the house has to offer. Examples are Dom Perignon, Roederer Cristal, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, Bollinger R.D. , Pol Roger Winston Churchill, Salon "S", Krug Clos De Mesnil etc...

Notable Champagne Villages
  • Ambonnay - Pinot Noir 80%, Chardonnay 20%
  • Avize - Chardonnay 100%
  • Ay - Pinot Noir 86%, 4% Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay 10%
  • Dizy - Pinot Noir 29%, Pinot Meuinier 41%, Chardonnay 30%
  • Epernay - Mainly because most Champagne houses are represented
  • Mareuil-sur-Ay - Pinot Noir 82%, Pinot Meunier 9%, Chardonnay 9%
  • Le Mesnil-sur-Oger - Chardonnay 100%
  • Reims - Pinot Noir 31%, Pinot Meunier 38%, Chardonnay 31%
  • Verzenay - Pinot Noir 90%, Chardonnay 10%
  • Verzy - Pinot Noir 80%, Chardonnay 20%

Favorite Champagne Houses (Value, Quality or both)
  • Billecart-Salmon
  • Bollinger
  • Charles Heidsck
  • Jacquesson
  • Krug
  • Piper-Heidsik
  • Pol Roger
  • Salon

* Reference material from Richard Juhlin's excellent book "4000 Champagnes"