. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: January 2008

Friday, January 18, 2008

Is The Brain Taste Worst Enemy ?

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine sent me an email with an article about how certain cerebral information can (and almost always will) impair your taste judgment.
The article, written by Kathryn Westcott, can be found on the BBC website.
The piece explains in some noteworthy depth that scientific studies have proven tasters' judgment to be influenced by numerous unrelated factors about a wine, not the least of which is the bottle's price tag.
Back in November, I wrote a post about how corruptible and flaky the palate can be, and this study of the California Institute of Technology confirmed a great many of my suspicions. Those suspicions were further legitimized by a musing from the uber-taster, his eminence Robert Parker, when he stated:

"I really think probably the only difference between a 96-, 97-, 98-, 99-, and 100-point wine is really the emotion of the moment".
"The emotion of the moment," huh? Well then, I suppose my question is this: why do people still listen to wine experts, if the pinnacle of taste has more to do with our feelings than our palates? Perhaps we should be asking our shrinks instead.
In all seriousness: I'd like to first say that a price tag's influence on judgment of quality is no surprise. It is a byproduct of capitalism that occurs not just with wine and food, but with most of the goods we buy. Studies show that brands are better recognized when they are associated with higher prices. Secondly, the test was carried with 21 volunteers, but the group's mean level of experience was not known. And, as a car expert can determine the value of a car by inspecting its various parts and assessing its general condition, or a watch expert is capable of telling a fake timepiece from a real one, a wine expert will look for certain information coming from the wine itself when rating it. An average consumer or buyer of cars, watches or wines might not have those capabilities.
I was recently invited to a tasting with a blind format. I sat on a panel with much more experienced palates than my own, and collectively, the comments and ratings of the wines were so precise as to put them in a price category; one wine in particular, I recall was very good, all-around, and at the same time, we said that probably was among the less expensive of the bottles at the tasting. And, as a matter of fact, it was the cheapest one.
In addition to experience, the format of the tasting should also be examined. I can say (from experience) that there are many ways to taste, depending on the goal of the tasting. Blind format is good for honing the palate and removing biases of appellation and label.
If my goal is to evaluate the aging potential of a wine, I open a bottle and try it several times over a few days, and the wine's vital statistics (vintage, house, and price) are just used for reference. But as a merchant, if I'm tasting to buy a wine I like to have information, included the price, in order to weigh the price-quality ratio. From that standpoint, a wine could be uncommonly good if costs $6, but middling or average if it goes for $12.
So it is true, taste is often challenged by information, and it plays a large role in making decisions about what to buy. But the "experts," if I may be so bold, have different tools, experiences, and methods to taste a wine - memories of flavors and textures, and historical, geographic, climatic and geological instincts that will help provide an accurate and more precise judgment.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Joe Stone Crab Miami

Well, I did it - I finally took 3 days off , I closed the store and spent some time in Miami.
This was my first time there, and I must say that I thought it was a really beautiful place. I stayed in South Beach and had the chance to get some sun and swim the ocean before it got crazily cold... as a matter of fact, the low temperature on January 3rd was 38 degrees (does it get that cold regularly in Miami?). I had 3 priorities the first was to relax at the beach, which I did extensively on my first day (and briefly on the second one, as well). The third day, unfortunately, was too cold to even think about getting half naked, much less going outside and laying around.
The second priority was a visit to El Rey de la Guayaberas in the Little Havana district; the Guayabera, a style of shirt, was originally from Cuba but is widely used in the Caribbean islands, especially on "Spanish" ones.
I completed that task on the last day, but it was 47 degrees and, like I said, definitely too cold to lay on the beach anyway. I didn't meet "El Rey" Ramon Puig, but there were two lovely Cuban ladies that adopted me and chose the perfect size and shape of Guayabera, and in my favorite colors!
The third priority was a dinner at Joe Stone Crab!
The story of this famous joint started in 1913 when Joe Weiss moved to Miami and opened up a small restaurant when Miami was still an insignificant and quiet backwater town. After running a lunch stand at Smith's Bathing Casino, he and his wife bought a small bungalow on Biscayne Street and set up eight tables on the front porch; that was the year 1918.
Joe was in the kitchen while Jessie, his wife, tended to the eight tables, their specialties were Pompano, Mackerel, Snapper and some meat dishes. Things got busy quickly for them, partially because they had no competition, but mostly because of the tremendous fish sandwiches Joe's diligently made. They started to use their living room to put more tables up and they opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The famous Stone Crabs came around few years later, in 1921 when James Allison opened an aquarium near Joe's restaurant. Jessie, Joe's son, used to go for fun, and check out their research on the local crabs, called Stone Crab. One day James brought 4 crabs to the restaurant and asked Joe to cook them, and after few arguments on how they should be prepared, grilled, broiled and so on Joe just took and threw them in boiling water and that was it. They were exquisite and Joe, who hadn't believed that the crabs could sell, hit the jackpot... because Biscayne Bay was full of them.
Today fishing Stone Crabs is regulated in order to keep a healthy number of them around. I had Joe's Stone Crabs several times in New York. They actually ship it next-day air, and very well packed, so they're always fresh. But the experience of being there is another story. The place was packed and the wait was up to 2 hours; my good friend Luciano, thank god, knew somebody that knew somebody else that had a table ready for the 4 of us. We got the infamous crabs paired with some Alaskan king crabs and some hash browns, Joe's style, deliziosi!!!
The claws were juicy and filled with meat, they were sweet and yet you could taste the sea, creamy and slightly salty, delicate and persisting. They were a real treat, and in fact, I'm salivating just thinking about it.
To drink, Luciano played it safe ordering Laurent Perrier Rose`. Pale orange reflections with very small and light bubbles, scents of berries and citrus with a lingering finish went great with the crustacea and also with the mayonnaise and mustard-based dipping sauce. The dinner finished with a tray of dessert, the highlight of which was the Key Lime Pie made with limes coming from the keys, hence the name, that had unique sweet citrus flavors.
It was so good that the next day I went to their take-away side and got a box with 5 pounds of claws, and proceeded to fight them through the almost ridiculously tight airport security and Continental Airline rules and regulations about transporting ice, just to have them again back in NYC.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti