May 24, 2012

Osaka Eclipse

By pure luck and no planning on our part, we managed to be almost directly under the shadow of the moon during the eclipse on May 21. This was the first time for any of us in the house to be so close to the path of total occlusion, and a bit of mania overtook us as the moment of totality approached.

Using my father's recipe, we set up a pin-hole mirror to project the image onto a darkened wall.
A mirror is covered with paper in which a single hole (the aperture) has been punched. The reflection is aimed at a wall/screen in a dark corner of the same room.

The size of the hole dictates the focus of the image. Here, the lower image is the one coming from our one-hole-punch "pin-hole". It is out of focus and over-exposed because the hole is too large and too close to the wall/screen. The upper image is coming from a tiny crack between the covering paper and the edge of the mirror frame. The focus is much better, but the room is too bright to see it very well.

With more time to plan this, we could have set up multiple mirrors to direct the image to a much darker room. The word for "room" in Italian is, of course, "camera".

Outside in the garden, the camphor tree was doing a better job, making pin-holes with the gaps between its leaves.

We took quick glimpses of the full corona through a darkened piece of x-ray film, in direct contradiction of the warnings being broadcast on NHK at that very moment. Luckily, we had a doctor with us, although he was just as excited as we were.

May 10, 2012

Vermont Things To Do, Things To Drink

Driving from Montréal to Stowe, Vermont, we took a scenic route down a chain of islands in Lake Champlain.

Aya had never seen ice fishers before, and had certainly never seen cars and trucks parked out on a frozen lake.

We stopped here for a couple of photos. And then, to our surprise, we did this:

The Vermont woods still had very nice snow, especially in the first few days. This is from when it was wetter, but still wonderful.

This calf seemed warm with its long hair.

Its mother hovered close by with her long horns.

The hot tub was a real treat. When we got too hot we rolled in the snow to cool down, then jumped back in.

Aya and Dad teamed up in the kitchen and produced a rich, dark beef stew and some amazing cheese soufflés to replenish our strength.

Thirsts were met by Vermont's excellent selection of local beers. Here, in no particular order, are some that we remembered to take photos of.

Howl black lager by Magic Hat

Circus Boy wheat beer by Magic Hat

Raison d'Être Belgian brown ale by Dogfish Head was particularly good

Demo dark IPA from Magic Hat

Otter Creek's black IPA was a real hit

A straightforward, flavourful ale by Long Trail

As tasty as their beers were, you may notice that we did not provide links to Magic Hat's website. Designed by and for people who attend way too many outdoor concerts, we wouldn't feed its navigation system to our worst dog.

Suffice to say that the menu is a doodle-pad of incomprehensibility that refers to their beers as "Elixirs".

Never mind. The beer is really quite delicious.

Did we miss any Vermont brewing gems? What should we look for next time?

May 5, 2012

What Does Modern Wine Taste Like? Descriptor Statistics

We have mentioned British Columbia's governmental branch of liquor distribution before. One of their excellent products is their quarterly Taste magazine. Loaded with articles, reviews, recipes and information, it is a very well designed magazine that covers a lot of ground in 160-odd pages. And it is free.

They include a huge amount of product reviews in every issue, most of them squeezed into 1/12th of a page and reined in at a succinct 40-50 words. In the Spring 2012 issue, we counted 137 separate wine reviews (red, white, rose, sparkling, and sweet), not including beer and spirits.

Why did we count them? Because we read them all, and the concentrated blast of adjectives describing taste and aroma sometimes makes our heads swim. After a few pages, our minds swirl with images of black cherries, herbs, chocolate, mineral, honeysuckle and spices (Christmas, baking and Asian) and it can be a bit overwhelming.

We realized that knowing the frequency of the descriptors packed into each issue of Taste would give us an indication as to what wine styles dominate the market. So we counted every adjective in the latest issue to find out what BC is currently drinking.

We started with the aroma descriptors for red wines (click to enlarge):

Vanilla comes from oak exposure, so its strong showing is no surprise in the red section. Spice looks like the front runner, but notice how some entries were broken up, like cherry and cherry (black). They combine for a total of 19 mentions. Fruit (dried), fruit (black) and fruit (red) combine for 16.

Let's take a look at the descriptors used for red wine flavours:

Fruit flavours have a very strong showing. When combined, they outrank even oak and spice.

White aromas show a similar breakdown: vanilla, toast, oak, caramel and browned butter could all indicate barrel influence, but the fruit descriptors dominate.
White wine flavours also show fruit of all kinds leading the descriptor list.

So what does this tell us? Mostly it confirms what should be obvious: most wines on the market these days are made in a modern, fruit-forward style, often with some oak influence, and are intended to be consumed within a year or two of release.

And why not? Fruit-forward wines are generally inexpensive, popular and are easy to drink on their own or paired with simple meals.

These numbers could also suggest that some winemakers are following specific trends, creating products that meet existing expectations rather than reflecting regional or varietal flavour profiles.

These statistics certainly reveal the bell in the curve: red wines overwhelmingly taste like cherry, plum and spice, whites like apple, citrus and mineral.

Knowing this, we can start to hunt around the edges of the data for wines whose flavour profile is out of the ordinary, maybe even surprising, rather than aiming for familiar territory.
Web Statistics