April 29th, 2005


Tasting in terms of musical composition, or: Amplitude

muckefuck links to an article on mustard and ketchup in his blog today. It's a fascinating read.

When jcoldrey and I were tasting the component wines that will go into the 2004 Clonakilla shiraz viognier, Tim Kirk, the winemaker, talked about those base wines in terms of a musical composition. The first barrel was all ethereal perfume; the third was huge, chocolate-y, heavy. When he puts them all together, you end up with a wine that is absolutely stunning: a seamless range of sensory experiences ranging from the beautiful to the intensely physical.

Apparently 'sensory experts' use the word 'amplitude' to describe exactly this sort of experience:

After breaking the ketchup down into its component parts, the testers assessed the critical dimension of "amplitude," the word sensory experts use to describe flavors that are well blended and balanced, that "bloom" in the mouth. "The difference between high and low amplitude is the difference between my son and a great pianist playing 'Ode to Joy' on the piano," Chambers says. "They are playing the same notes, but they blend better with the great pianist." Pepperidge Farm shortbread cookies are considered to have high amplitude. So are Hellman's mayonnaise and Sara Lee poundcake. When something is high in amplitude, all its constituent elements converge into a single gestalt. You can't isolate the elements of an iconic, high-amplitude flavor like Coca-Cola or Pepsi. But you can with one of those private-label colas that you get in the supermarket. "The thing about Coke and Pepsi is that they are absolutely gorgeous," Judy Heylmun, a vice-president of Sensory Spectrum, Inc., in Chatham, New Jersey, says. "They have beautiful notes--all flavors are in balance. It's very hard to do that well. Usually, when you taste a store cola it's"-- and here she made a series of pik! pik! pik! sounds--"all the notes are kind of spiky, and usually the citrus is the first thing to spike out. And then the cinnamon. Citrus and brown spice notes are top notes and very volatile, as opposed to vanilla, which is very dark and deep. A really cheap store brand will have a big, fat cinnamon note sitting on top of everything."
This makes perfect sense, I think. Even last weekend, it was clear that the difference between the most basic wines and wines of better quality begins with the number of different notes in the composition [and, by inference, the very best wines are the ones with both a wide range of notes as well as excellent integration]: the Fetzer gewürztraminer was nothing more than orange or rose petal with sugar, whereas the Lindemans Bin 65 at least had distinct oak and buttery characteristics, whereas the much better Neil Ellis sauvignon blanc had an interesting, if still limited [hey, it's only $10] range of notes, with herbal, grassy, mineral, acidic, and finally black peppery notes ringing through.

In which that whole 'Shop locally' thing results in dismal failure, again

Many of my closest friends are, for lack of a better word, liberals. This is fine. I'm one myself.

Still, there's one thing most of us have in common that I don't. It's hard to describe. Generally speaking, it can best be summed up by the words 'shop locally.' That is, many people I know will go out of their way to spend money at a business which, I don't know, feels like spending your money there will not disappear to Bentonville, Arkanasas, or otherwise completely exit your local community. I kinda sorta understand how they feel, but at the same time part of me always balks at subsidizing inefficiency.

Because many of my friends are, as I am, voracious readers, I occasionally listen to a debate that goes something like this: Buying books from Amazon.com is evil because it's always better to buy books from local bookstores, which contribute culturally to our communities. Barring that, at the very least, you should buy from Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, because they're the closest thing to Amazon.com except that they're not corporate.

So, from time to time, I try to shop at Powells.com. After all, if you're spending a lot of money on books, there's a small [very small] chance you may save money there. They're typically more expensive than Amazon.com [or Barnes & Noble, even!], but because they're in Oregon, there's no sales tax. [As a Washington resident, I pay sales taxes on everything from Amazon.com.] If you're spending more than $50, they'll even waive shipping charges [although, unlike Amazon, they ship USPS media mail, which can take a long time - over a week, usually - to get here from Portland, which is really weird because they're practically right next door].

Two weeks ago, I placed an order with Powell's for the new Richard Feynman book, but largely because Dan wanted a copy of Freakonomics. I figured if I bought both, I'd get free shipping. Last night, the guy what wrote Freakonomics was on The Daily Show, which reminded me that I hadn't received my copy in the mail yet, and that I should check my order status online, which I did.

Here's what Powells.com had to say:

Huh. Their online help has this to say: Items which were unavailable are marked as 'Not found.'

Even more interestingly, I see that they've charged me $2.50 to ship the Feynman book - cancelling the other book resulted in the total order being less than $50, therefore I've been charged for shipping.

So, Powell's: bite me. I don't care how un-corporate you are: what I care about is low pricing, fast and free delivery, and above all at least a frickin' E-mail if you're not going to ship me the book I ordered. I mean, come on! It's the #3 best selling book on Amazon.com - it's not like it's obscure or hard to get. And hell, you're asking $21 for it, when Amazon.com is asking $17.13. Remind me again why I should pay you $4 extra for the privilege of your never actually shipping the book, and not even notifying me about your failure to do so?