Friday, 21 June 2013

Poverty, both intellectual and actual.

I'm slightly ashamed that one of my favourite things to do is laugh at the French. I have lots of Friends there and love the country and yet their foibles amuse me no end.
At present, I'm not laughing. In 1991 anti alcohol fundamentalists managed to get a law called EVIN passed. This basically made all advertising of alcohol illegal in an attempt to reduce alcoholism. In the years that followed the law was upheld quite aggressively, famously an article in Le Parisiene entitled Le Triomphe de Champagne was deemed to be too positive and therefor was considered advertising and thus illegal. Many publications and journalists were warned that articles were overstepping the mark (though rarely was this contested in court).
Michel Reynaud 
Things may be about to get worse. Michel Reynaud, the author of a proposed revision to the law, wants to ban pretty much all internet based wine sites. Stating 'We need to formally ensure that no media about alcohol can be aimed at young people, or potentially seen by young people, including the internet (except producer sites) and social networks.’
His justification cites a supposed finding that 13 to 17 year olds who have access to smart phones, the internet, social networks and the like are three times more likely to have consumed wine than those that don't.
Exactly. I'm pretty certain that I made the same face too.
France, as of 2012 has a 79.6% Internet penetration, so we're looking at one in five teenagers (I'm assuming for the moment that distribution across the population is even, despite my guess being that there is a bias towards the elderly segments of the population within the non connected) being three times less likely than the other four to have consumed wine.
Right now lets think about what might cause this quite significant difference in consumption behaviour. Access to web based wine criticism, or poverty? Does France have a large North African Muslim population? Are they generally at the lower end of the income scale? Does Msnr Reynaud take this into account? To be honest, I don't know for certain, all I see is what looks like a spurious statistic being shoehorned into furthering an oddly fundamentalist approach to dismantling one of France's best known industries.
I really don't want to shout correlation not causation because it would make me sound like a twatty first year student. But I'm going to none the less. Mnsr Reynaud, sod off.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Tokaj food camp

Tokaj is a wine region in the North East of Hungary. A couple of years back I rather fell in lover with the place.

The meandering Bodrog river, all early morning mists and darting dragon flies. Winding your way around the Zemplen foot hills, admiring the patchwork of vineyards that adorn the slopes, the multifold shades of green that turn an intoxicating mahogany and gold come harvest time in the autumn.

As a wine region it's just watching the second modern (post Soviet) generation really get their teeth stuck into the perennial questions of terroir. This for me makes it a wonderfully exciting place to explore. On the one hand you have the established large wineries who set about rewriting the quality rules twenty odd years ago. Then on the other you have people like Istvan Szepsy and wine growers of Mád who decided to ask different questions. Disregarding the iconic sweet wines that had defined the region for hundreds of years, they instead focused on single vineyard dry wines, each one offering a different spyglass look into the multifaceted geology of the region (it rivals Alsace for geological complexity). Subsequent visits saw me falling further for the energy of this younger generation. Each time I went back, my new friends would foist bottles with new names on me, their wild eyed enthusiasm testament to the degree to which the Hungarian's are proud of their countries gift to the world of wine.

Back in the UK I managed to fall in with the sort of crowd who thought it'd be a good idea to spend a weekend butchering a whole pig and eating it. While this was not only great fun it pitched me into the orbit of Florian Siepert (the inspiration behind our pig day), Florian fast became a good friend and I ended up going with him on one of his food camps, to Essouaria as it happened, late one night (almost certainly after a lot of beer) I suggested that we should do the same thing but to Tokaj.

So the Tokaj food (and wine) camp was born. With much help from another friend Gergely Szabo (a fellow night of Tokaji) we harangued, pestered and generally annoyed the good folk of Mád (the iconic village of the region) until we came up with what we think is a pretty awesome itinerary.

So without further ado: I give you, hunting trips for wild boar and moufflon (like wild sheep) with the town's mayor (he's president of the hunting club), foraging in the hills, fishing in the hill streams, fishing in old fashioned style wicker traps in the rivers, visits to some of our favourite wineries (of which more later) including the best Sherry style wine you'll ever taste (yes, I rank it as being better than anything from Jerez) from Samuel Tinon, vegetable shopping from the villages market gardens, fresh geese, a mangaliza pig slaughter and traditional butchery/preservation. Basically, everything you've ever wanted to do in an idyllic wine region. With communal dinners every evening where more of our winemaker friends will come to join us.

The main wineries we'll be off to are Szent Tamas (wines made by Istvan Szepsy junior), Orosz Gabor the genial genius from Mád and Samuel Tinon, French born perfectionist who also, in his Szaraz Samorodni, makes the most incredible Sherry style (aged for six years under flor yeast) that you'll taste outside of Jerez (or Vin Jaune).

There'll be lots of Palinka, probably lots of sausages and only the occasional bone shattering land rover trip across steep hillside vineyards.

Incidentally if anyone is particularly interested in wine rather than wine and food. We've got a sort of parallel itinerary arranged that will take in visits to your selection out of:


So, if you want to join us in Tokaj for the food/wine camp. Go to OpenTrips and either book, or register to follow any updates we have on what's happening.

Friday, 7 June 2013

n gram action

I noticed recently that google had added a facility to search their full corpus of scanned literature and archived web pages for specific search terms.
Known in computer science as n grams these are essentially a natural language searches, they're a core part of machine translation systems and have many other important uses.
I'm not going to be as useful. What I am going to do is plot the relative mentions of various wines/regions in the literature corpus so that we can finally answer some of the more pressing vinous questions.

Bordeaux or Burgundy?

Which of the First Growths really deserves the accolade of first amongst equals? Obviously taking 1855 as our starting point.

I think it makes for a rather beautiful little graph. Almost certainly of no real use what so ever, still. Here's the link to their n gram search page, let me know if you come up with any good ones.