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CONTROVERSIES

 

A chance to explore a few of the many contentious topics in the world of wine. I don't claim to have settled any of these issues, but I hope these articles will at least add something constructive to the debate.

  • Cult Californians
    They're really expensive, they get astronomic critic scores, and they're hard to get. But are Cult Californian wines any good, asks Jamie Goode?
  • Export approval
    How natural winegrowers in the new world can run into difficulties exporting their wines
  • Ditching screwcaps in favour of cork
    Klein Constantia winemaker Adam Mason explains his surprising switch in closure choice for his top wine
  • Wine tasting: subjective or objective?
    Jamie Goode tackles a thorny question. Most experts, when pressed, say that wine tasting is all subjective, but they behave as if they don't really believe this.
  • Interviewing Monty Waldin: tough questions about biodynamics
    Biodynamic viticulture is increasingly popular, but with its reliance on bizarre preparations and adherence to the celestial calendar it courts controversy. Jamie Goode inteviews one of the leading experts on the subject, and asks the tricky questions.
  • Rising alcohol levels in wine
    Alcohol levels have been gradually creeping up in most wine regions over recent years. Is it a problem? And, if so, what can be done about it? Jamie Goode reports.
  • Pesticide residues in wine
    A recent report shows seemingly alarming levels of pesticides in wines made from conventionally farmed grapes. Does this mean we should all switch to drinking organic wine?
  • What do you want from a wine critic?
    A look at the desirable (and not-so-desirable) traits in wine critics.
  • Clark Smith interview: the surprising juxtaposition of technology and natural wines
    He's the man behind reverse osmosis, a technique used to reduce alcohol, and an advocate of microoxygenation and other technological manipulations. Yet he's also making 'natural' wine. I meet Clark Smith.
  • Brettanomyces: a masterclass
    It sounds a bit nerdy, but the subject of Brettanomyces, a yeast that some people think adds complexity to red wines, while others think is always bad, is one of the most controversial and important topics in winemaking. Jamie Goode attends a masterclass with winemaker Matt Thomson to find out more.
  • Wine in PET bottles: will plastic ever replace glass?
    Sustainability is all the rage in the wine trade at the moment, and one of the proposed ways of lowering wine's carbon footprint is to move from glass to plastic bottles. What are the issues involved here? 
  • Defending screwcaps
    A recent series of newspaper articles in the UK have picked up on the idea that screwcaps may not be flawless in their performance. Jamie Goode argues that while there's a grain of truth behind these stories, they represent the science very badly and could mislead consumers 
  • Mercaptans and other sulfur compounds in wine
    Don't let the title put you off: this article is a readable, accessible introduction to some important flavour compounds in wine, which in the wrong place at the wrong concentrations can also be faults
  • The closures debate
    An edited transcript of the 2006 Closures debate at the London Wine Trade Fair, bringing together experts to discuss the latest developments in wine bottle closures
  • Authenticity
    Is it important that wine is true to type? Should Chablis taste like Chablis? And how much can wine be manipulated before it loses its authenticity?
  • The danger of fake wine
    So branded, industrialized, manufactured wines are grabbing an increasing slice of the market: should those of us with an interest in fine wine be worried? Yes, argues Jamie Goode: fake wines threaten the whole industry.
  • Clark Smith, Cheapskate and WineSmith: technology in winemaking
    How much manipulation is appropriate during the winemaking process? Isn't wine supposed to be a natural product? Jamie Goode tastes some wines made by wine tech guru Clark Smith 
  • The New Zealand Screwcap Initiative
    In New Zealand, the shift to screwcaps has taken place with startling speed: from a standing start in 2000, now 70% of this country's wines are sealed this way. Jamie Goode investigates the official initiative designed to help producers make this transition successfully, and to provide information on this type of closure. 
  • Integrity of content
    All the time, journalists are writing things that they don't really mean. They are giving their readers what they think their readers want. It's the same with a lot of wine writing. Jamie Goode tells us why he thinks readers deserve better than this.
  • Reductionism: how useful is this for understanding wine?
    The driving philosophy behind many scientific advances has been reductionism - the idea that a system is best understood by taking it apart and studying the components. But is this approach limited for helping us understand wine?
  • Boring wine
    A silent catastrophe is taking place on the supermarket shelves: all wines are beginning to taste the same. Jamie Goode investigates the rise and rise of boring wine, and suggests some antidotes to vinous tedium.
  • Naturalness in wine
    It's possible to make a wine without adding anything, but virtually no one makes wine this way, for good reasons. Jamie Goode asks, how much manipulation is acceptable? Is it possible or sensible to draw a line, or should anything be allowed?
  • Wine writers: lying to your readers
    This is a story that weaves together two themes: the changing UK marketplace and the way that mainstream critics push commercial wines at the expense of more individual, interesting offerings that are harder to find.
  • Regulating wines: why AOCEs aren't the answer for French wine
    There's a crisis affecting large segments of the French wine industry. Jamie Good argues that making more rules isn't the right way to tackle it. 
  • Adding flavour: a new South African wine scandal?
    There have been reports that some South African producers have been adding flavour chemicals to their Sauvignon Blanc. But in the absence of names and hard evidence, should this story have ever surfaced? 
  • Wine: it gets you drunk
    We talk about the varieties of flavour that wine can possess. We talk of grape varieties, yields and oak usage. We talk about terroir, how wine can convey a sense of place. But we fail, by and large, to discuss why most people drink wine in the first place. It’s alcoholic and it gets you drunk.
  • The price of wine: is it getting too expensive?
    As wine gets steadily more expensive, Jamie Goode asks 'Why?' 
  • Brettanomyces
    Brettanomyces is a common defect in wine, but controversy surrounds the subject. Jamie Goode sifts the available data and canvasses the views of world-famous winemakers to determine how widespread the problem is, and whether brett can ever be a good thing.
  • Blind tasting tests: compulsory for wine writers?
    By and large, wine writers are a self-selected group. Their ability to taste is never verified independently. You can have vast wine tasting experience, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you are equipped to benefit from it; thus even the most venerable, experienced tasters might not be making sensible assessments about the wines they are drinking. That’s why I think it would be a good idea to blind taste test wine writers. 
  • The two cultures: how the rise of the brands is changing the face of wine
    The world of wine as we know it has changed radically over the last couple of decades, and while many of the changes have been for the better, some are giving cause for concern. Jamie Goode introduces a new multipart series tracing the rise of the wine brands, and asks whether this could spell the beginning of the end for interesting, affordable wine. 
  • Biodynamic wine
    A major multipart series focusing on this supercharged form of organic viticulture that is increasingly popular with many of the world's leading producers, but which has caused a good deal of controversy among proponents of scientifically based viticulture.
  • Back to square one: the WSA musty taint survey
    With a fierce debate ranging in the wine trade over the validity of the Wine and Spirit Association’s research into cork taint, Jamie Goode raises doubts over the methodology employed and asks is it time to rip up the report and start again?
  • Appellations as brands: does it work?
    French producers need to regain market share lost to the new world brands, and in theory it looks like a generic marketing attempt based around appellations is a possible solution. How does it work in practice, though? 
  • Grain of Truth: Sabaté's Altec trial—assessing the performance of a controversial closure and shedding new light on the human perception of TCA
    By the end of the 1990s, Sabaté’s Altec closure was widely criticised for unacceptable levels of taint. After modifications, the French manufacturer invited experts from the trade and press to test the performance of its old and new closures. Jamie Goode analyses the research model’s openness, methodology and its surprising results. 

  • Wine diversity is under threat
    What's the problem? Well, wine production is increasingly being driven by the needs of the supermarket and high street wine buyers, who claim that their requirements are driven by what people will buy. There is therefore a huge commercial pressure towards bland, ‘commercial’, branded wines produced in large volumes to hit the right price points. The diversity – and the link to geography – that makes wine so interesting are under real threat.

  • Yet more on corks: towards a balanced perspective
    While everyone is probably fed up with the subject of cork taint by now, it's the issue that won't go away. This article is an attempt to forge a balanced position on the basis of good data—and not just anecdotal accounts, strongly held beliefs and murky conflicting interests.

  • Alternative closures for fine wines
    Should synthetic corks or screwtops be used to seal wines intended for long-term ageing? Not yet, argues Jamie Goode. We need to wait for the data.

  • Consumer's advocate, not wine trade PR
    Exactly what are wine writers supposed to be doing? And whose side are they on? Sometimes it's hard to tell...
  • Fighting cork taint: are screwcaps and plastic corks the answer?
    Jamie Goode analyses the results from an significant independent study on the effectiveness of wine bottle closures. This scientific paper, published in July 2001, has thrown up some surprising results, and the ongoing trial it describes promises to answer the key question of whether alternatives to cork are suitable for long-term ageing of wine. 
  • Chasing the points
    Jamie Goode finds himself in a bit of dilemma about Robert Parker's ratings, and has a close encounter with insidious influence of the point-chasing mentality himself.
  • Biodynamic wine: interview with James Millton
    Biodynamics is a controversial agricultural system that's becoming increasingly accepted in the wine world. Jamie Goode poses some thorny questions to one of the most well known new world proponent of these techniques.
  • Terroir revisited: towards a working definition
    It's hard work discussing a concept that means different things to different people, so I thought it might be worth trying to nail down some sort of working definition for 'terroir'. Here's my attempt!
  • Alcohol and health: can drinking wine really be good for you?
    The wine anorak teams up with Dr Chris Kissack to present a series of articles investigating the potential health benefits of wine.
  • Where the new world got it wrong: the quality triangle of grapes, soil and winemaking
    The typical new world approach to wine has one major flaw, argues Jamie Goode: you can't forget about the soil if you want to make truly great wines 
  • Why old world wine is better than new
    Nick Alabaster and Jamie Goode discuss the relative merits of old and new world wines in this fascinating debate.
  • Scoring wines: does it measure up?
    The anorak turns the spotlight on the controversial practice of assessing wines by means of a numerical rating. More gripping than a Parker 97-pointer! (See also: regular columnist Nick Alabaster's article on 'Rating wines'.)

 

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