By Allen Dale "Ole" Olson   |   Sunday, August 2, 2015 at 5:20 pm   |   Leave a Comment »

It took me half a century to learn the ins and outs of the appellation laws and customs that governed wine production in France and their variations around the rest of Europe. I finally feel somewhat comfortable with the American Viticultural Area designations. But my learnings are proving mostly for naught. Europeans are busy “clarifying” their designations and Americans are proliferating their AVAs faster than I can read about them.

It may be my age, but it’s also my palate reacting somewhat quizzically to seeing AOP on a French label (for appellation d’origine protegee) instead of AOC (for appellation d’origine controlee) and DOP on an Italian label. The regulators have also given us IGP for indicazione geographica tipica and the French bureaucracy would eventually replace Vin de Pays with indication geographique protegee. A German colleague confessed that his country’s labels are already so complicated that most consumers wouldn’t even notice. I can only add that at least the governing bodies are really working at creating a United States of Europe.

All this updating from what I learned some 60 years ago reminds me of my early fears when sampling wines in order to write about them. Like Martin Luther, who couldn’t see angels when he knelt in prayer as did his fellow monks, I couldn’t taste the peaches and strawberries and tobacco and licorice in the wines as did all the writers I followed. I still can’t.

Back label language has always puzzled me. It is always so positive, so hopeful. But it seldom squares with what I taste, causing me to wonder some times if maybe the bottling crew mixed up the papers. I have never tasted tar and can’t remember whether I have ever tasted eucalyptus, both common descriptors in wine speak.

As a really senior consumer, I need not apologize merely for liking or disliking a wine, calling it long or short, lingering or abrupt, fruity or bland, dry or sweet, acidic or savory.  It’s best to enjoy what the grape has brought us.


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By Allen Dale "Ole" Olson   |   Thursday, July 30, 2015 at 9:51 am   |   Leave a Comment »

In the summer of 1984 I was a guest at dinner of a lady in Bavaria who had been part of a group I had led through the Champagne country in 1969. During that visit, several of us bought Vintage 1964 Champagne at Domaine Couvreur because Madam Couvreur explained it was a fine vintage with much promise.

In 1969 I was still under the influence of those wine reviewers who insisted that white wines should be consumed young, that the best one should hope for would be three to five years in bottle. For the next couple of years, my wife and I went happily through those delicious 1964 Couvreurs.

In the early 1970s my friendship with Leonard Humbrecht blossomed, and often he would bring out a ten-year-old Riesling or Pinot Gris, explaining that he preferred white wines with a “little age.” Little by little, I observed that white wine producers in the Rhine Valley and in Burgundy generally touted the quality of older wines from specific vintages.

That 1964 Couvreur served in 1984 showed no evidence of a two-decade incarceration. It bubbled with verve and tasted of a very pleasant yeasty fruit. Of course, the Bavarian lady had kept it properly in a cool cellar. She had also kept it lying on its side, something my early mentors had advised against, claiming that Champagne should be stored upright.

Remember though, we were talking in Bavaria about  an especially fine vintage year. As with all other wines, some vintages will age better than others. Most Champagnes are not of a single vintage so there is some risk in keeping them a very long time. A good vintage, however, kept in a constantly cool dark cellar has longevity. How long? As with even the great clarets, there is no definitive answer.

But if you take care of it properly, you need not rush to use it and can comfortably hold it for that very special occasion some years hence.

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By Maria McKinley   |   Thursday, July 30, 2015 at 7:52 am   |   Leave a Comment »

Sulfites and wine are like peanut butter and jelly. You seldom see one without the other. Sulfites are a natural by-product of fermentation which is what happens in the bottle and winemakers often add more sulfites to act as a preservative, allowing a longer shelf life.

Meet Dr. James Kornacki, a graduate of Northwestern University with a PhD in chemistry. Dr. Kornacki has invented a product that claims to remove sulfites from wine. Ullo (pronounced Oo-lo) is a filtering device that “holds a porous polymer material that forms covalent bonds with sulfites,” Kornacki said for a recent Chicago Tribune article.

Much has been written about headaches and wine and many individuals blame sulfites. A small percentage of the population is allergic to sulfites but that manifests itself in more of a respiratory response such as asthma. But can you get a headache from drinking wine? Of course! Over-consuming alcoholic beverages will give you a headache due to the dehydrating effect of the alcohol and sugar. Drink water to counteract those symptoms. Aged foods and beverages can cause a release of histamines in some individuals, another headache trigger. Check with your physician to see if you can take an anti-histamine as a preventative. If you think sulfites in red wine are your headache culprit, you are mistaken. In fact, white wines often contain higher concentrations of sulfites than red. So it’s more likely tannins, a naturally occurring substance found in grape stems, seeds, and skins, and more abundant in red wine, that are the cause of your headache. In that circumstance, your only remedy at this time is to avoid consuming red wine.

Getting back to Dr. Kornack, the Ullo is a startup product from health tech company Matter and design shop Minimal out of Chicago. Kornack says the Ullo can also act as an aerator. The device is part of a crowd-funding campaign on a website called Kickstarter that allows creative projects to raise funds from ordinary citizen investors. In Ullo’s case, your funding is actually a pre-order for the project, not just a donation. Go to and search for Ullo to learn more about this innovative product.

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