Harvey Steiman Decodes Critter Labels

Plus, a new alternative to vineyard labor, new German wine regulations and James Suckling’s blind tasting method
Apr 1, 2010

• There is a secret to the so-called “critter wines,” a genre of wine common to Australia that features images of cute animals on the labels. Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator editor at large, discovered the hidden meaning one day when he realized he was eating the animal depicted (in this case a chicken) on the label of the wine (The Chook). The match was seamless. After rigorous experimentation, he has found that critter labels are actually a secret code for wine-and-food matching. He put his theory to the test by opening a wine with a very rare animal shown on its label with a chop from that very beast. The results in the accompanying video lay bare the coded message.

• Unfiltered reported this past summer that baby-doll sheep were grooming vineyards in New Zealand, and it’s no secret that horses have long been used to plow between vineyard rows. And last week we told you about baboons that had moved into many South African vineyards. It turns out that the baboons are actually being trained to harvest the grapes themselves (the trick is keeping them well-fed so that they don’t do any on-the-job snacking). It’s all part of the latest viticultural movement known as FaunaDynamics, in which human labor is all but eliminated in the vineyard. Zoologists at the San Diego Zoo claim their 100 percent FaunaDynamic teaching vineyard will be online by 2014 (rhesus monkey-directed draft horses have just completed plowing a 4.1-acre parcel). Peregrine falcon nests surround the vineyard to protect it from grape-hungry starlings, and several of the zoo’s primates have been sent to the Cape to learn harvest methods from Stellenbosch’s simians. Not surprisingly, PETA has already announced plans to protest the first harvest.

• Germany’s winegrower association, the Verband Deutscher Prädikats-und Qualitätsweingüter e.V. (we’ll just call it the VDP), announced plans today to modify Germany’s wine label requirements. Despite the objections of many of its member vintners, the new regulations are expected to make the labels even more informative to those fluent in winespeak (as well as further alienate confused neophytes). The new German wine labels will be required to display appellation, vintage, variety, prädikat, AP number, alcohol percent, vineyard, date and hour of harvest in Greenwich Mean Time, German shepherds owned by vintner (listed alphabetically), a minimum of two schnitzel-pairing suggestions and the lyrics to the vintner’s favorite David Hasselhoff song.

• Finally on this first day of April, we bring you an exclusive video of Wine Spectator senior editor James Suckling’s blind tastings in Bordeaux. He is currently tasting the potentially classic 2009 Bordeaux vintage from barrel, and he shared with us his tasting process. Here is his firsthand account:

I prefer tasting blind. I have been doing so for almost my entire career at Wine Spectator. It helps me focus on the real quality of each wine. It better enables me to concentrate on what’s in the glass and not what’s on the bottle.

So to take it even further, I decided a few days ago to completely blind taste while on a tasting road trip. I didn’t want any exterior factors to influence my tasting experience, even things like architecture or beauty. I had to go to taste at the cellar of the well-known garagiste winemaker Jean-Luc Thunevin (you probably know about his large garage wine, Valandraud in St.-Emilion, as well as his swimming-pool wine, Carraudes de Valandraud), so I wanted to be as free as possible in my mind to taste his wine in freedom or liberté, as the French would say.

Luckily, a friend of mine had an extra sleeping eyeshade in his suitcase. Otherwise I would have had to use a scarf, or a tie or something to blindfold myself for my morning tasting in the beautiful (I mean … uh … plain … uh … nevermind) town of St.-Emilion. Check out the video:

Unfiltered

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