Was 361 a Good Year?

I’d be afraid to touch it, too. It looks possessed.

Scientists want to study samples of the world’s oldest wine, currently on display at the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in the western German city of Speyer. There’s just one problem: everyone’s afraid to open the bottle.

The glass bottle, thought to be at least 1,650 years old, was found in a Roman grave near Speyer in 1867 and put on display at the museum. Since then, it’s been handled extremely carefully, and been on display in the exact same spot in the museum for 100 years.

Museum directors fear that a moment’s carelessness could shatter the bottle, destroying its priceless content. Though scientists would like to test it to figure out exactly how old the wine is and where it comes from, as well as perhaps seeing how it tastes – cracking it open is out of the question.

Please, Tip Your Waitresses

Ever wonder how much you should tip your bartender? Here comes the science, courtesy of Sailor Jerry rum and in honor of Bartender Appreciation Day, which apparently exists.

NEW YORK, December 1, 2011 – – December 9 is Bartender Appreciation Day (www.bartendersday.com) and, to celebrate the hard work and graft of bartenders across the country, Sailor Jerry, the iconic spiced Rum, has commissioned a survey to gauge the tipping habits of Americans, revealing some very interesting facts.  The survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of Sailor Jerry Rum from November 18-22, 2011 among 2,078 adults aged 21 and older, found that the majority of Americans (76%) value a good bartender more than a trendy or stylish décor in a bar, reflecting the important role bartenders play in today’s society.

As the holiday season approaches, bartenders are gearing up for their busiest time of the year and to commemorate the contributions made by bartenders across the country, Sailor Jerry conducted the survey to coincide with the first ever Bartender Appreciation Day on December 9.  The survey’s findings included:

  • The majority of Americans think a bartender is more important than the décor: 76% of U.S. adults agree that a good bartender is more important than how trendy or stylish the décor of the bar is, showing how crucial the role of a bartender is to a customer’s experience.
  • Americans are good tippers: 74% of U.S. adults who drink or visit bars tip a bartender 15% or more, reflecting America’s reputation as a nation of tippers.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, 74% of U.S. adults also believe that the better they tip, the better service they will receive.
  • The South has the best tippers, while residents of the Northeast are the stingiest: Those who live in the South and drink or visit bars (23%) are significantly more likely to tip a bartender over 20%, than those who live in the Northeast (13%).
  • Tipping is Sexy: 63% of U.S. female adults find people who leave good tips for bartenders more appealing, while 60% of U.S. men do.
  • Being a good tipper can be a dating deal breaker: 44% of U.S. adults agree that they would never go out on another date with a person if they did not tip the bartender.  Of this, women lead the pack, with 51% saying they would not go on another date, which was significantly higher than the 37% of men who agreed.
  • Young People are more likely to be higher tippers: Of all U.S. adults, those between the ages of 21-34 (34%) are significantly more likely to tip over 20% than those aged 35-44 (20%), 45-54 (10%) and those aged 55+ (7%).

“Bartenders serve a hugely important role in society, and we want to encourage Americans to take the time to appreciate that.” said Daniel Deephouse, Brand Manager for Sailor Jerry Rum.  “Bartenders can be friends, confidants and pillars of the community and, as the survey says, their expertise can help hugely improve the experience of being in a bar.  The time between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve is the busiest time for bartenders and with that in mind, on December 9th, we hope to see people across America digging a little deeper to show their appreciation!”

In addition to staging a series of events across the country on December 9 to celebrate bartenders, Sailor Jerry is also running an online contest, where bartenders are encouraged to amass virtual tips from customers for the chance to win a cash prize.

For more information, visit www.bartendersday.com.

So We’re Drinking More

Have economic troubles finally sent people back to the bottle?

Consumption of alcohol hit as 25-year high in 2010, with 67 percent of Americans reporting drinking alcoholic beverages, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup poll. That was a level not seen since the late 1970s, when 71 percent of Americans reported they imbibed….

New Englanders and people in the far West and the Upper Plains states drink the most, according to the Washington based trade group, the Beer Institute. The driest states are spread across the Deep South, Texas and the mid-Atlantic (except Washington D.C.).

New Hampshire takes the top spot as the state that drinks the most, more than double the national average. People in N.H. consumed an average 6.7 gallons of wine apiece, and 3.8 gallons of liquor in 2010.

Strawberries Save Stomach from Booze

Who knew the humble strawberry could be so impressive?

In an experiment on rats, European researchers have proved that eating strawberries reduces the harm that alcohol can cause to the stomach mucous membrane. Published in the open access journal Plos One, the study may contribute to improving the treatment of stomach ulcers.

What then does this mean for strawberry wine?

Why People Get Tanked at the Office Party

Ever wonder why demure Katie gets so wild at the annual office Christmas affair? Blame it on, well, the office. Per the Daily Mail:

Drinking in environments not traditionally associated with alcohol leaves us far less able to control our behaviour, [researchers] claim.

While alcohol does lower our inhibitions, over time the brain learns to compensate for this effect – but only in familiar drinking environments such as a pub or at home with friends.

In an environment such as the workplace, where people are normally sober and focused, the brain is not as tolerant and drinkers lose control of more inhibitions.

Cork vs. Screwcap: Here Comes the Science

There’s nothing quite like the sound of a cork popping out of that fresh bottle of wine, indicating it’s time at last to drink. The “click” of a screwcap seal being broken… well, it just doesn’t do the same thing for the senses.

If Hogue Cellars has its way, you’re soon going to be willing to put the corkscrews away for good. Hogue has long been a screwcap champion, to the point where it has spent tens of thousands of dollars bottling wines with a variety of closures just to see what really works best. It released a study in 2004 that backed screwcapped wines over cork-stoppered ones, and another, even bigger, study released this year, according to Hogue, seals the deal. In fact, it is now moving all of its wine production to screwcap closures permanently.

That may be a hard sell for some, so Hogue showed up in San Francisco recently to try to prove its case firsthand. But first, some science. It turns out not all artificial closures are created equal. The company evaluated seven different types of screwcaps and three artificial (plastic) cork-sized stoppers to figure out, well, that some are great and some are crap.

The details were long enough to fill a two-hour presentation, a 40-page PowerPoint, and an entire website about the issue, but it boils down to this:

  • In the long-term, screwcaps with plastic (aka Saranex) liners were best at maintaining a wine’s flavor (as judged both by expert tasters and SO2 measurements): Other screwcaps (including those with tin liners) let in too much oxygen.
  • Most synthetic stoppers are junk.
  • Natural cork isn’t bad — but it suffers from unreliability; bottles vary quite a bit from one to the next.

If only it were that easy: Even different Saranex screwcap manufacturers vary in quality. And then there’s the issue of headspace — the air trapped in the bottle after the cap is put on. In a corked wine, there’s very little air in there, but in a screwcapped wine, there’s quite a bit: There’s no cork filling up the space that is now empty and full of ambient air. You can fill this space with nitrogen or just let it breathe. (Hogue tested that too and now does that latter.)

The highlight of this event was Hogue putting its money where its mouth is: We tasted a vertical series of six Hogue Chardonnays ($11 bottles), all screwcapped, from vintages 2004 to 2009. Now I’ve had old, cheap, California Chardonnay before and it’s invariably been swill once I uncorked it. Hogue, however, proved this doesn’t have to be the case. Its 2004 was rich, buttery, and just about perfect — reminiscent of lightly aged Burgundy. I liked the ’05 to ’07 bottlings the least, but none of them were bad, proving pretty clearly that screwcaps can truly stand the test of time.

We then turned to reds: Five 2003 Genesis Merlots, all the same wine except for the stopper. Tasted blind, the crowd was asked to pick favorites. Most liked the A and B bottlings best, which were the screwcapped versions of the wine (one with nitrogen added and one without). But two of us (myself included) preferred D. It turned out to be, you guessed it, stoppered with natural cork.

Why did I like it? The A and B wines tasted too young, though a 2003 Merlot should be perfectly drinkable today, this was still tight and tannic, and tough to sip on… even after aerating for hours in the glass. The cork-stoppered wine, however, had a little age on it. Oxygen isn’t always a bad thing, and here it had done a little magic by giving the wine more austerity, more restraint, and better balance. I wasn’t surprised to hear that, but it was disheartening that half the group felt the wine was bad: The bottle their samples had been poured from was corked. Such is life in the world of natural cork, and it’s a sad fact that makes it clear why Hogue has gone the way it did.

So, is a screwcap better than cork? Not necessarily, but it’s certainly nothing to fear. A good cork will work just as well as a good screwcap (look for a white liner inside instead of a metal one) — and there are bad versions of both. How you figure out what you’re getting without opening the bottle, well, that’s a problem for another day.