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Exploring Wine Perception with Jordi Ballester

Black Wine Glasses for Sensory Deprivation Tastingimage found: http://www.redcandy.co.uk/images/upload/productpics/artland-midnight-black-wine2.jpg

Jordi Ballester, professor at Université de Bourgogne, Dijon, led a special add-on seminar at International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) that happened this weekend in Willamette Valley, Oregon. Ballester has devoted his career to studying the perception of wine, and the cognitive processes behind it. The session highlighted the intimate influence of visual cues on our experience of aroma and flavor.

To open the session, attendees were presented with the following task. We were to smell the liquids in each of three black wine glasses (thus removing any visual cues for the liquid themselves) and then vote on whether or not each of the three liquids was a white wine, a red wine, or a rosé using only the aroma of the liquids (no tasting).

The black glass tasting we participated in was purposefully designed to remove the advantages or influences of our other senses, and make us focus only on our sense of smell. In previous studies, Ballester explained, it was found that both wine experts and novices judgments of wine are influenced by the appearance of the wine they are tasting.

It has been shown in studies that adding scentless red food coloring to a white wine will radically change the descriptors used by a panel of wine tasters (“The Color of Odor” Morrot et al 2001). In 2001, a study was done with a panel of 54 enology students tasting wine that they then had to describe. The first flight gave them all the same white wine. The panel members’ descriptors tended to hover around notes like lime, pineapple, and pear. The exact same white wine, except with the odorless red color added, was then served to them for the second flight. In that case, the exact same panel described the wine with descriptors like strawberry, or blackberry. In other words, when the wine looked like a white wine, hallmark white wine descriptors were used. When the wine looked like a red wine, classic red wine descriptors were given.

With such a study in mind, Ballester asked us to identify the color-type of the three wines just based on aroma. In our group of 49 participants the wines were largely identified correctly. Wine 1: 6 voted white, 35 voted red, 8 voted rosé. The wine was a Crowley 2012 Pinot Noir. Wine 2: 28 voted white, 13 voted red, 8 voted rosé. It was a Wooing Tree 2012 Chardonnay. Wine 3: 15 voted white, 5 red, 32 rosé. It was a R. Stuart & Co 2013 Big Five Dry Rosé. In formal studies, it has been shown that wine experts tend to succeed at such a task, predominately guessing the correct wine color-type based on aroma alone.

Ballester used this exercise to explain two types of cognitive processing that relate to wine tasting — Top-Down Processing, and Bottom-Up Processing. In Top-Down Processing, previous knowledge leads our expectations. So, in the case of the Morrot “The Color of Odor” study, it is as if seeing what appeared to be a red wine in the glass activated the participants’ knowledge of red wines, thus bringing to attention the range of descriptors for a red wine category. The range of fruits they could use to identify the wine, for example, went from hallmark white wine fruits like pear and pineapple to classic red wine fruits like raspberry and blackberry. In Top-Down Processing already established knowledge guides our interpretation of an experience.

Top-Down Processing appears in other ways through wine tasting as well. Ballester also gave the example of a tasting of chardonnay. The first flight the panel members were asked to taste and describe a young pale chardonnay. In the second the exact same wine had scentless golden color added to it. In that case, the taster panel went from giving the descriptors of a young chardonnay — fresh fruits — to giving classic descriptors for an aged white wine — secondary and/or tertiary aromas.

The second cognitive process mentioned is Bottom-Up Processing. In that case, knowledge is lacking, and thus cannot get in the way of how one describes a wine. One simply has the experience to describe, without expectations being informed by already established knowledge. As Ballester explained, there is no pure Bottom-Up Processing because any of us are always informed by previous experience. Still, the black glasses tasting experience removed layers of sensory information to lessen the ways in which such information can activate and direct our expectations.

To push the experience even further, Ballester then had us score a flight of five red wines in a simple way. We were to smell and taste each one and vote on whether or not the wine was from Oregon. The experience proved interesting for me for a couple of reasons.

First of all, the group vote was predominately wrong for the first wine, split for the second, and then predominately correct for the final three wines. Wine 1: 31 voted as from Oregon. 19 not. It was actually an Akurua 2012 from New Zealand. Wine 2: 29 voted Oregon. 21 not. It was Adelsheim 2008 from Willamette (Oregon). Wine 3: 8 voted from Oregon. 42 not. It was a Domaine de l’Arlot Nuits St George 2007 Clos des Forrets St Georges (France). Wine 4: 16 voted Oregon. 34 not. It was Kosta Brown 2006 Amber Ridge Vineyard (California). Wine 5: 13 voted Oregon. 37 not. It was a Domaine Michel 2005 Laferge Volnay Les Mitans (France).

The fifth wine at first look stood out as strange while fascinating. Once the wines were revealed, however, and thus the fifth wine had a context behind it, it moved from merely strange and fascinating, to also pleasurable. The wine being given its appropriate context of information helped shift expectations for it to more pleasurable. Two of the wine experts sitting beside me described a similar sort of experience.

As Ballester explained, for this sort of tasting test, experts tend to identify wines correctly to broad location categories, where as novices are less likely to do so. This makes sense as experts have more experience to draw from in order to identify such wines.


Thank you to Jordi Ballester.

Thank you to Amy Wesselman, and all the people that make IPNC happen.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com


Thank you to Eric Asimov for mentioning this write-up in the July 31 edition of The New York Times Diner’s Journal “What We’re Reading.”


Meeting Jacques Lardiere, Understanding Biodynamics

“We never have the same number of wines every year. Some vintages are less. We reduce the amounts to focus only on the very good villages. We think for our customers to have only the best.” –Jacques Lardière, Maison Louis Jadot

Yesterday afforded the opportunity to listen to Jacques Lardière discuss his philosophy of wine making, as it connects to an entire system of understanding about the differences between Grand Cru, Premier Cru, and Village wines, via the metaphysical forces Lardière recognizes through biodynamic principles. Following is my understanding of Lardière’s discussion.

“On a good vintage, you work less because it matches you. It matches your stomach, it matches you.” –Jacques Lardière

Lardière explains that at Maison Louis Jadot the goal is to focus on a broad range of areas within Burgundy. The focus includes varying places to grow grapes and make wine from as a way to both support the house financially, but also to understand the life of the vine, and making of the wine from different locations. Towards these ends, then, Jadot depends upon two levels of wine making practices. First, the house farm harvests and makes wine from their own land in Burgundy. Second, however, and Lardière emphasizes the importance of this, they also have contracts with vineyards throughout the region. As Lardière explains, Grand Cru and Premier Cru are very small portions of the area. Besides making these more developed styles of wine, he states that it is important also to “make simple wine.” One of the primary reasons includes that in being able to sell it quickly for more immediate consumption, you can support the financial base of the winery. But the reasons are greater. The other sites also offer, what for Lardière is not just a learning experience but also a spiritual opportunity. As he puts it, “we can work on it. It can reveal the mother form.”

Repetition of the word power is at the center of Lardière’s discussion of what wine can do, and where it comes from. In considering where the distinctions between Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village, etc levels of wine distinction arise, Lardière describes what he calls “lines of power” present throughout the planet. The lines of power seem to fall along geologically important intersection zones, sometimes volcanic, sometimes from tectonic plates rubbing together, or from other forms of land movement and development. As Lardière explains, in such activities the rocks warm, and more mineral molecules are released, thereby being available to the plants in a fuller way. But he says too that there is a sense in which people can feel these lines of power. As he describes it, there are times when you may be walking along a line of power feel its benefit, then as you walk away the positive effect becomes less and less, as you go back, more and more until you are on top of it, like an energetic version of the children’s game Hot/Cold/Warmer.

In Lardière’s view, the Grand Cru sites are directly along these lines of power. The vines are able to work less along these zones to simply receive the benefits of this energetic line, and thereby produce wine that has less undesirable flavor or sediment. But in Lardière’s view the flavor potentials of Grand Cru wine should not be seen as held only at that high level of quality. Instead, his approach to making wine is to study how Grand Cru wine best shows its potential, and from that insight to then turn to less elevated classes of wine. “We start by understanding the top, and then go to the other ones to work with them.” He explains.

In describing how Grand Cru can reveal the potential of other classes of wine, Lardière first describes his view of what impacts a wine’s potential. The place is the first most important aspect of what goes into the wine, as Lardière understands it. But what he also knows is that Burgundy itself is one terroir. The region as a whole offers a similar sense of place. The different villages within Burgundy all live within this terroir, this unique place, but then offer their own differing potentials for aging. The Village is a fine tuning of the terroir as a whole. Then, third, there is the climate that impacts the quality of the wine from year to year. Finally, there are the Grand Cru and Premier Cru sites, which are the most subtle shifts in the development, and potential of the wine.

What happens in the growth of the vine, as Lardière describes it, is the movement of molecules from the ground, up into the plant, and finally out in the flowering. All of life is vibration, he says, as we know from physics. Vibration is how the plants grow, how they exist, what they are, how we receive from them, and what we are, as well. “If you plant the flower, you move the star,” quoting an unreferenced poet to illustrate. The ground, as we know, is full of minerals, but in planting we release the minerality (which Lardière continually references as the power itself). Minerals, Lardière explains, are the life. The quality of the mineral that the plant is able to receive and grow from is what determines how much life the wine will have–both in terms of age-ability in the bottle, and in terms of how well the wine does after the bottle is opened. This is a distinction to be found between the wines of the Grand Cru, and those Village wines, but it is also an insight that can be taken in the handling of making Village wines. The Grand Cru sites, according to Lardière, “match” the plants better. They simply receive what they need, and so grow with this life. Then, the wine, in turn, matches us, as humans, and we receive what we need too. Wine, in general, he reminds us, has medicinal properties. When he was growing up, he says, if a child fell and hurt themselves the parents would give them a small glass of wine. This is true of all wines, but Grand Cru helps us to better recognize it, and so then to know how to make all wines better.

As Lardière describes, it used to be that people only planted in the right places, where plants were best served by the ground. But now people plant in zones that offer not only the purer power of the minerals but also in places where the plants take up aspects that are not healthy for them or for us. What is absorbed in these areas is a denser matter that weighs the expression of the wine down in the glass. What you taste is more of a heaviness, rather than the freedom of the wine. Here one must allow the wine more time before it can be ready to show what it has to offer and, as he puts it, to release the life–the most beautiful wine.

The flavors and quality possible from a wine are the life, according to Lardière. Not all wine is treated in a way that allows this life to be released. It is easier, as he says, to make a wine that has only a couple hundred flavoral components, rather than to take the risk of allowing a wine to have four thousand. It takes time “for the molecules in the wine to be digested, to become mature and deliver the life” of the wine. But to give the wine this time is a genuine risk. To allow it to happen depends on letting the wine close in the barrel, to turn in on itself and hide, in a way. In letting the wine close down, it has the opportunity to work through what is in it and to release the sediment that is denser and not part of the pure expression of what the wine can be. In giving the wine time to work on itself, so to speak, you are taking the risk of having to wait, of losing the wine for a time without knowledge of what it will be when it comes back after. But it will come back, Lardière claims, it will come back having found its freedom by releasing the sediment that had weighed it down. The wine’s freedom is its fuller expression–its life with four thousand flavors.

The process of allowing the wine to transform itself reveals to us, Lardière says, important aspects of our own mortality, and potential. We are almost entirely minerals. “When I pass away” he says, “I will be only minerals, (laughing) oh, and a few other small things. It is important to remember that.” The wine making, it is “a process of transmutation, and it could also be a process of transfiguration,” when you allow it the time to find its freedom and its full expression. The process of the ground growing the vines, the vines then giving the fruit, the fruit then turning into wine–these are all processes of transformation, of one thing turning into something else. But our own involvement in wine making is actually a kind of spiritual training for us as well. In the earliest stages of our spiritual development we are there as the grapes turn in to wine. In this moment, Lardière tells us, “you forget the grapes.” They are no longer there as fruit, we recognize them now as wine. But this is no small thing, he says. In forgetting the grapes, “you become something that has a name.” We recognize the beverage in front of us as a particular type of thing. But our doing so also reflects a stage of our identifying the world around us, and so too ourselves. We are no longer just beings having experiences, we are also interpreting the world around us, that is, naming those experiences. But, this, according to Lardière, is an early stage in our development. It is necessary, but we come to see it is early in our own process of finding our own freedom.

Wine, when allowed to truly go through its process of closing down, so that it can come back later opened up again in its fuller expression, points us to the greater reality of our lives. When the wine is given the opportunity to go through its full process it comes back from its stage of closing down, and has changed its molecules–sediment has settled out, and above it is a purer wine. In Lardière’s view this is when the wine is beginning to deliver its power, and to give the life. It has become something more than we could make. We began the process but to be witness to this greater expression, we had to, in a sense, let the wine go beyond us. In doing so, the wine comes back to show us the insight of the process–it becomes something greater than merely what we have named it to be. It becomes a thing that can out live us, and that carries with it a power that extends beyond whether we, as the wine maker, or any particular individual, are even present. In Lardière’s view, this is when the wine has become even more than us.


Thank you to Alder Yarrow for hosting Lardière’s presentation.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

IPNC Day 1: Vineyard Tour: Yamhill Valley Vineyards

The International Pinot Noir Celebration includes a day of vineyard tours in which attendees are split into small groups that then take a personal vineyard and winery tour, including tastings from four Pinot Noir producers, and a seminar on wine. The focus of the seminar is on helping participants understand the full steps of the process from vine to glass, including the decisions made by the wine maker.

Today, my sister (who is attending IPNC with me–pictures to follow) and I were on a vineyard tour of Yamhill Valley Vineyards, which included a wine maker panel with Yamhill as well as Cristom, Tyee, and Felton Road. Following are wine review comics of the Pinot panel wines presented.

Felton Road 2008 Block 5 Pinot Noir

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“The truth is, we didn’t really have any genius when decisions had to be made. The problem is, the idea of making decisions focuses on the concept of better or worse, and the idea that the wine is on a trajectory of better or worse. But wine is actually multifaceted, and dynamic. So, instead, we tried to focus on critical moments. And, when there is a time to make a decision, to decide to do nothing, and also to avoid doing things differently, and it turns out we like it quite a lot. It’s turned out to be our philosophy and we’re big proponents of it as an approach.

“The decision to do something, or to not is a challenge because if you do something you can tell yourself that you tried your best. But resisting that decision, and deciding not to do something is much harder. You must be patient.

“The process of not making a decision. When thinking about wine, there are three factors that are going into the making of an individual wine. There is the place, it is a fixed fixed thing. There is one rule, and that is that you can’t move your vineyard. Then there is the weather that year. It is a fixed variable in that you can’t do anything about it but it changes from year to year. Then there is the viticulture and the wine making and we combine them because really they are one thing.

“The weather, you can’t do anything about it, but it effects the place, and you might change your viticulture and wine making choices in response to it. But, if you muck around in your viticulture and wine making due to weather, then when you taste the wine you can’t pick apart the effects of the place from the effects of the weather and what you have becomes just a beverage, not a complex interesting wine. So, we make wine from a fixed variable. We try to make it the same every time, to keep our wine making choices consistent so that what you taste is the place, and the vintage, the weather.” –Nigel Greening, Felton Road

Cristom 1998 Marjorie Vineyard Pinot Noir

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“We believe that handling the wine as little as possible is a benefit. We had early experiments to see what worked, and over time saw the less we handled the wine the better it was. So, when it comes time to make a decision [in the wine making], we try not to do something. It can be awfully hard. Especially when faced with data that tells you you are out of the box. But, that is what comes from experience–knowing when to go ahead and not do anything or when to jump in and try to do something.

“[I brought the 1998 because] the Estate vineyard, it was a difficult decision that year. It was a very low yield year, with low moisture, and pretty warm, and it didn’t have a lot of hang time. So, I wanted to leave the fruit out longer. We had 85 days that year, and normally we have 115, 125. It was a hard decision to pick, but we had to before the sugars got to high.

“In the cellar normally we don’t get a lot of sulfites, but in 1998 we were plagued with it. When that happened, I figured if we have this thing, I’m going to try to learn from it. So I dealt with it in a bunch of different ways. I racked some barrels. I sulfured some. I added silver to some, which is illegal but I tried it not to sell but to see the effect. I did nothing to some. It turned out that the sulfites, it resolved itself and no method did any better than any other. So, that reaffirmed the philosophy of my not doing anything.

It was a vintage where I was not happy with the hang time, but I was pleased with how the wine finally turned out. But, originally, I didn’t have high hopes for it. Sometimes wines surprise you. It can be the other way too. Wines you think you did a good job on can turn out not great in the long run.” –Steve Doerner, Cristom Wines

Tyee 2009 Estate Barrel Select

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“My family has owned the farm since 1885. I am a fifth generation farmer. I was born in 1974, the first year my parents planted vines. Then they planted more in the 1980s, so I helped with that. It is a small family owned farm, with hazelnuts. We had sheep for a time, hay, grass seed. Even if I’d left there, then I would still come back for harvest every year. In 2004 I became vineyard manager. Then in 2006 I became the wine maker, that was my first vintage.

“Our old winemaker used to say, ‘Stand back. Don’t touch anything!’ And that’s actually a reasonable approach to wine making.” –Merrilee Buchanan Benson, Tyee Wine Cellars

Yamhill Valley Vineyards 1994 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

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“There is no formula in my mind to making Pinot Noir, from growing it, to picking it, to turning it into wine. That’s probably why I’m still in it.” –Stephen Cary, Yamhill Valley Vineyards

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com


Honoring Jacques Lardière, International Pinot Noir Celebration

In it’s 26th year, the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) brings together 70 Pinot Noir producers from all over the world to meet in Willamette Valley, share their wines with each other and the public, and to learn from each other the intricacies of the delicate, elegant grape.

This year Maison Louis Jadot stands as a featured Burgundy producer as its famed wine maker, Jacques Lardière, prepares to retire. Recognized as one of the best of his generation in Burgundy, Lardière brings with him to IPNC a vertical retrospective reaching from 1989 through 2005.

To open the IPNC 2012 celebration, Salud! offered a fund raiser dinner that included two vintages of Lardière’s wines, along side a meal from Nostrana chef Cathy Whims, and Pinot Noir wines of Oregon and California.

After the meal, Jacques Lardière spoke.

“The 1990 vintage, it was what we knew we could work with. People made very good wine. 1993 though, no one expected it to do anything. It was like 1983 had been. In 1983, we had a crazy Spring; maturation, planting was very bad. It was hard to know how much to take off, and how much to keep. So, we make these wines.

“But, time, it is something important to prove. In it we will know these wines. [How they do] it is something about the ground. In Burgundy, we do not speak about the grapes. We speak about the ground, the place where the grape grows.

“Then, whether the decision works. When you have something, wine, coming all from one place, the decisions you make, they come to the top. If it shows like that, it means you missed something along the way. But in the vineyard, with the place, you have the full decision along the way in the process, and then you do not add [to the wine after]. So, the wine, it shows your decisions.

“Tasting a vertical, it is to understand this work about the wine making process. From what place the wine is coming. It is the ground, the place. The more you have the minerals [in the ground, and in the wine], the more you have the life in the wine.”  –Jacques Lardière

Maison Louis Jadot 1990 ‘Clos St. Jacques’ Premier Cru; Maison Louis Jadot 1993 Bonnes Mares Grand Cru


Northwest grassfed beef bresaola, Ayers Creek loganberries, figs, minted crème fraiche

Tails and Trotters porchetta in arista, salsa verde, gigande beans, roasted summer squash


Thank you to Jacques Lardière.

Thank you to Cathy Whims, and to her chef staff. Also, to the IPNC Maitre d’Hotel Captains, and serving staff.

Thank you to Donna Morris and Bill Sweat of Winderlea Vineyard and Winery, to Milla Handley of Handley Cellars, and to Salud.

Thank you to IPNC, IPNC staff and volunteers, and specifically Amy Wesselman.

Thank you to Lindsay Coon.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com