Archive for June, 2008

One more (not so) little update…

On Tuesday I’m off to Sicily for a few days of vacation — my first in many months (I’ve literally been working 10-15 hours a day, seven days a week!). I’m very excited. After all, all work and no play makes Doug a dull boy. But I had to make… just one… more… database… update… before heading out.

First, because I know you’re counting, we’re officially up to 37,882 sites indexed. Among the new sites are hundreds of producers, from small, hard-to-find producers like Château Nuit des Dames, Enzo Tiezzi, Eric Guerra or Fabril Alto Verde, to big, easy-to-find producers, like the new website of Constellation Australia (previously known as Hardy Wines). There’s also a plethora of new journalism sites, from big newspapers like the UK’s Evening Standard to personal sites of talented writers like Eleonora Scholes, Helen Savage, or Patricia Guy; Henrik Mattsson’s site about his book on Calvados; John Salvi’s Bordeaux Weather Report; Alessandro Bindocci’s new blog Montalcino Report, about life in, you guessed, it, Continue reading ‘One more (not so) little update…’

Wine Bloggers Conferences

\"At Paul Masson Vineyards luncheon, strolling troubadors perform the traditional affinity of troubadors with wine.\"

The beauty of blogging is that it can create virtual communities that span the globe, connecting people who have perhaps never met, but share a common interest. But sometimes it’s great to meet face to face, and do that old-fashioned thing: Talk. Drink wine. Spray milk out your nose when someone says something really funny. If you’ve got a wine blog, and want to meet with other wine bloggers, this year provides not one, but two great opportunities for doing so:

  • The European Wine Bloggers Conference, 29-31 August in Rioja, kindly organized by Ryan and Gabriella Opaz of Catavino and Robert McIntosh of The Wine Conversation. I am excited to say I’ll be there, and am very much looking forward to seeing friends, meeting new people (some of whom have already “virtually” become friends), and learning more about the European blogging community. If you can, please join us!
  • The American Wine Bloggers Conference, 24-26 October in Sonoma. Not to be outdone, the folks behind the Open Wine Consortium are organizing what looks to be a great event in the US. I’m hoping to make this one as well, if I’ve recovered from my Big Birthday a week prior!

…and there you have it. See, I can write brief posts. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Borgogno ’61 and a quartet of Montelena

1961 Borgogno Barolo RiservaI suppose I asked for it. No sooner do I lament the baking hot weather than I am punished by a day so cold I woke up to find the cats huddled up to the heater, which had come on during the night. Ah, back to true summer in San Francisco. But that’s just fine by me; it made Sunday night’s decidedly wintry food and wine fit right in.

I’m very lucky to have my friend Phil. Not only is he a great friend, he’s a great cook. As if that were that not enough, he’s been buying Château Montelena on release for decades and storing it perfectly, and every once in a while he’ll pull out a mini-vertical to share with a few lucky friends. His birthday last weekend provided just such an occasion; Phil kindly brought forth the ’86, ’94, ’95, and ’96 Montelena to pair with his braised lamb shanks. Oddly, Phil, who is Scottish (see the tartan tablecloth?), and another friend Phil, who is English, have the same birthday, exactly 10 years apart. I won’t give out the years, but I thought I’d average their two birthdays and bring a ’61. Oops, that did give away the years, didn’t it? Sorry, Phil(s)! After some rummaging around in the cellar, I came across a 1961 Giacomo Borgogno Barolo Riserva that I thought might do the trick. And here are the tasting notes. Continue reading ‘Borgogno ’61 and a quartet of Montelena’

Able Grape a threat to Google?

Pressoir Marmonie, from \"Vinification,\" P. Pacottet, Baillière & Fils, 1915.I noticed over the weekend that there were quite a few new visitors from the UK (welcome!), but I couldn’t figure out why — there were no new sites in my referer logs, suggesting that either something had appeared in print, or online without a link in it. Finally, I discovered the source. An article came out on Friday in the Telegraph called Google: Seven potential threats to its dominance, about how small, specialized search engines can sometimes be better than Google within particular domains. Sure enough, there on page 2 is a brief but kind mention of Able Grape, Google alternative number seven.

I was truly tickled to see the mention, and I sincerely hope that Able Grape, in its modest way, does help you find wine information better than Google. We’ve spent over three years building specialized, wine-specific search technology and growing our 13-million-page database of over 37,000 wine sites. There’s something I wanted to clarify, though. Continue reading ‘Able Grape a threat to Google?’

D*mn is it hot

2005 Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese \"Poggeto,\" La CasacciaThank heavens the servers for Able Grape are in an airconditioned data center, ’cause here at Able Grape world headquarters (a.k.a. my modest flat in San Francisco), it’s hot. We don’t have air-conditioning, the windows in my office face south, and on these old wooden buildings, the roof heats up, making the upper story something like 110˚F inside. I’m just sitting here baking, like a sweaty little gougère. Yes, it can get pretty darn cold if the fog rolls in, hence the apocryphal Mark Twain quotation “the coldest winter I ever saw was a summer in San Francisco” — but if Mark Twain were here today, we’d be out back at the barbeque and drinking a slightly chilled bottle of Grignolino. The bottle pictured has been one of my favorites this summer, the 2005 Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese “Poggeto,” from La Casaccia. It’s got a fairly intense aroma of wild strawberry, black pepper, and violet. Its light body, moderate (12%) alcohol, and refreshingly high acidity make it a great summer wine. The color is pale ruby, but the intensity of aroma, the pepperiness, and a zing! of tannin tell you this ain’t no rosé. It wants food (and so do I; all this writing is making me hungry).

If you’re curious about Grignolino, may I recommend Maurizio Gily’s great article “Grignolino, the anarchist of the Monferrato” (citing Luigi Veronelli’s apt description of Grignolino as an “anarchist”), on Wein-Plus, where he has also published a fine article on Dolcetto. On my last visit, Maurizio was kind enough to introduce me to the gracious Giovanni and Elena Rava at La Casaccia, where I tasted the ’06 of the Poggeto, and their lovely Barbera as well. An up-and-coming producer to watch — and a beautiful underground winery as well. Those are the stairs down into one of their infernotti on my profile page.

Now back to (attempting) work in my own inferno… (sadly, no final t on that one).

Wine geek site(s) of the week – Corsica

affiche mattei cap corse 1930There are some wine regions for which the web is just overflowing with great information. And there are some regions for which, well, there just isn’t much. Corsica is definitely one of these, though after much digging — it’s taken years! — I’ve managed to find a few good resources. I thought it would be fun to walk through how to find information about Corsica using Able Grape, and along the way share some of the great French wine resources we’ve found, as well as some tips for finding great wine information in general.

The first and most important choice you’ll make is what query to use. I always start with the most general: Just type Corsica (I recommend doing that now, otherwise the rest of this post won’t make much sense!). On other search engines you’d need to type Corsican wine to avoid general results about Corsica, but here you don’t need it, and it may even make good results go away (why? remember that the search engine will usually literally look for the words that you type, and that many good results might not be called “corsican wine,” they might just be called “corsica” in the context of a site all about wine, or they might be called “vins de corse.”).
Continue reading ‘Wine geek site(s) of the week – Corsica’

Why McDonald’s is bad for you

McDonald\'s Stock Certificate 1974Everyone has their pet peeves. Some of us geeky writer-types have our silly grammar pet peeves, like the use of the word varietal as a noun, instead of the perfectly good, and grammatically correct, variety (I won’t flog that dead pony here. That’s been covered by many a more talented writer; see below). One of my silly pet peeves is that most insidious of all grammar mistakes, the granddaddy (or gramma? ow, bad pun) of them all: Continue reading ‘Why McDonald’s is bad for you’

Largest, best database ever

\"Yeast makes happy drink,\" art installation with children\'s flashcards

Hmmm, the title of the post sounds like a Richard Scarry book — my favorite author when I was little. It’s a crazy day, so I’ll just make this quick. Those of you who were on Able Grape this morning around 8 AM PST probably noticed things were a little slow — my apologies. That’s because I was putting live a new database with about 13 million documents across 37,000 sites. The database includes some significant improvements to Able Grape’s relevance algorithms as well! You should see queries improved across the board, from results for Corsica, Chinon, or Aglianico to Press about Bordeaux 2007, blogs about Brunello, research about closures and reduction, or information about the 1999 Domaine de Trevallon.

I also put up a first version of an improved filter interface (and I’d like to thank UI designer Jonathan Bruck of Xoopit for his suggestions). It’s still got some rough edges, which I should be refining in the coming days, but it should work on all supported browsers.

Give the new database a whirl — and as always, if you see something that could be better, please let me know! (And if you really really like it, you’re allowed to say that, too!)

Je me marre avec Marre…

Défendez Votre Estomac, Francis Marre; 1911, Malet, ParisFrancis Marre, that is. Marre was an expert chemist at the Appellate Court of Paris, and in 1911 wrote the encyclopedic, amusing, and at times scary book Défendez Votre Estomac Contre les Fraudes Alimentaires (Defend your Stomach from Food Fraud!), because (and pardon my clumsy translation)

Acheter des aliments devient un art de plus en plus difficile à notre époque où l’habileté des falsificateurs est si grande qu’il a fallu, pour la combattre, créer toute une formidable organisation de surveillance et de répression… Buying food is becoming an increasingly difficult art in our time, where the scam artists are so skilled that we have had to create a powerful organization to monitor them and crack down …

The 600-page book details the signs of quality in every type of food imaginable, with tips on how to avoid a frightening array of unappetizing, cheap, or even downright unhealthy scams, from cats passed off as rabbits (“..but in the case when the cat and the rabbit are mixed in a common ragoût, Continue reading ‘Je me marre avec Marre…’

Grape geek site of the week

Ampelografia, Prof. Girolamo Molon, 1906Maybe it’s my engineering background, but I get excited when I see a site that’s got good data about grape varieties. There’s so much fuzzy and contradictory information out there that I never know what to trust. Much of what’s written comes from talented writers based upon the wines that they’ve tasted, but how do they (or any of us, for that matter) separate out what characteristics are due to the grapes themselves versus the common viticultural or enological practices of the regions whence those wines come? If all you’ve tasted of Gamay is Beaujolais, how do you separate the true aromas of the grape from those due to carbonic maceration? It would be easy to conclude that Gamay smelled like bubblegum. The problem is compounded when later writers simply borrow the misinformation from earlier ones, and spread the confusion. For example, when I searched on Google just now, four of the top five results claim that Dolcetto is a grape with mild tannins, but is that because the grape is poor in phenolics or because of the way the wine is usually made? The answer, to the best of my researching abilities: Dolcetto (Able Grape results) is a very tannic, low acid grape with such intense color that most producers can get away with short fermentations to make a soft wine that’s drinkable young.

So whom should we trust? I’ve always thought that grapevine nurseries should have great varietal and clonal information — after all, that’s what they sell — but in practice, only a few have either gone to the trouble to compile this information or are web-savvy enough to share it. One such nursery is Chalmers Nurseries. For twenty years Bruce and Jenni Chalmers have dedicated themselves to bringing new varieties into Australia, most of them Italian grapes from Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo (another of the few web-hip nurseries) and Matura, but a few are from further afield, like Georgian Saperavi. What’s wonderful is that they’ve compiled detailed information about each clone they supply, including data and pictures from each stage of the growing season, from Aglianico to Schioppettino. And if you want to know which variety has lower acidity, or ripens faster, or makes more alcoholic wines, well, just look at the numbers. Mmmm, data. Yum, yum. Almost all of the best information on Italian varieties is in (surprise, surprise!) Italian, but this site is a fantastic exception. Check it out.

Able Grape, a wine information search engine