Planet of the Grapes
But that doesn't mean that high technology can't be pressed into the wine maker's service. From refrigerated fermentation in stainless-steel tanks to synthetic corks to such controversial chemistry-set technologies as manipulating wines with reverse osmosis through permeable membranes, science has come to the winery to stay.
And now the technology that put spacecraft on the Moon and Mars has arrived in - or over - the vineyard.
Researchers at the U.S. National Astronautics and Space Administration are helping growers improve wine quality by using remote-sensing technology to scan vineyards from high above California, NASA reported in a news release last week.
Using images taken from airplanes and satellites, NASA is mapping vineyards so grape growers can measure such important variables as ripening, disease, soil drainage and fruit quality.
With information gleaned from satellite photographs, scientists can pick out specific sections of vineyards where the vines are showing high, moderate or low vigor. That's important, Daniel Bosch, vineyard technical manager at Napa's Robert Mondavi Winery told NASA, because, "We now identify vine vigor to see weak and strong areas of growth in the vineyard, then we break up how we harvest. We can taste those differences in the grapes at harvest."
The winery's Tim Mondavi added: "For hundreds of years, winegrowers have known that grapes harvested from different areas in their vineyards can produce wines with unique flavors and tastes. We are now using NASA’s advanced remote-sensing technologies to understand the subtle nuances of our vineyards, and with astounding results."
The complete NASA press release is at http://amesnews.arc.nasa.gov/releases/2001/01_62AR.html. A collection of NASA photos of the grape project, including a sample satellite image, is at http://amesnews.arc.nasa.gov/releases/2001/01images/grapes/john/grapes.html, and a report on NASA's Viticultural Integration of NASA Technologies for Assessment of the Grapevine Environment (VINTAGE) project is at http://geo.arc.nasa.gov/sge/vintage/vintage.html.
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A "Fiasco" that's no fiasco
So this week I made a special effort to look for one of the Chiantis that still comes in the old package. Tasted "blind" against a similarly priced wine of the region, it stood up well enough in the competition: Nothing fancy, but more than adequate to wash down dinner.
Banfi 2000 Bell'agio Chianti ($9.49)
IMPORTER'S WEBSITE: http://www.banfivintners.com/
Rocca delle Macie 1999 "Rubizzo" Toscana Sangiovese ($9.99)
WINERY WEBSITE: http://www.roccadellemacie.com (In Italian only and requires "Flash.")
FOOD MATCH: While spaghetti with meat sauce or pizza might be the most traditional match, both these wines worked well with the earthy flavors of a quick lamb and onion "hash" in cabbage leaves on a fresh tomato coulis.
If you would like to sharpen your wine-tasting skills by comparing notes on a "benchmark" wine with an online group of wine lovers, just point your browser to http://www.wineloverspage.com/forum/wt101.shtml for information about the wine and this free interactive project.
"First growths" of Vintage Port?
For this week's Wine Lovers' Voting Booth, we invite you to participate in a similar, if unofficial, classification process, as we ask, "What are the five 'first growth' equivalents for Vintage Port?"
If you'd like to join in the fun, click to the Voting Booth, http://www.wineloverspage.com/votebooth. Once you've made your picks (you may select up to five Port houses from a ballot of 20), then you can compare your choices against those of other wine lovers around the world.
Judging will take place Oct. 2-6 at the competition's home quarters in the beautiful Blue Mountains outside Sydney. Top 1OO awards carry special weight, in my opinion, because it is the only major wine competition in which the winners are judged both in isolation and, as they are most often served in the real world, with appropriate food.
To enter commercial wines for consideration, click to https://www.top100wines.com/online_entry for the details. To read about the competition (including results and judges' reports from last year's deliberations, when it was my pleasure to serve as a judge), see https://www.top100wines.com.
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Vol. 3, No. 33, Sept. 2, 2001