a bit of science

glyphosate – ‘a gift from god’

By billn on August 13, 2018 #a bit of science

This is a very important principle.

Properly used, in the dosages recommended, there are no reputable scientific studies that point to a cancer link with glyphosate. Not yet anyway! The single study (in over 40 years of studies) that suggests a link between the two has been accused of cherry-picking some data and avoiding contrary data. That’s why there is peer review of science, not courts of law to decide such things. The recent award of almost $290 million is a travesty, sorry as the case of the individal is.

Let’s be clear about this, I don’t condone the use of Roundup where expensive wines are produced, it is not just lazy, it is indecently money-grabbing when there are so many alternative manual approaches. But this particular molecule has benefited millions, if not billions of people and animals when it comes to the production of basic foodstuffs. Monsanto are an easy target, indeed they are a deserved target for some of their approaches, practices, and some other of their products, but a CEO of that company once described Glyphosate as ‘a gift from god,’ and, so-far, there is no credible evidence to the contrary…

chardonnay – as you’ve never seen it before!

By billn on June 05, 2018 #a bit of science

Way back in 2010 I had a contact in Basel who did, and still does, some extra-ordinary work with his electron microscope. Dr Martin Oeggerli has been published worldwide by the BBC, National Geographic, Nature and so many others. See here: www.micronaut.ch

Having seen so a lot of his work with plants I asked if he would like to do the same with some pinot and chardonnay from Burgundy – we also collected some aligoté and gamay. I thought if the images were as great as I expected, then I could do a nice sideline, selling special fine-art prints of the images – they would have been expensive, but hey!

I recruited a certain David Clark, formerly of Morey St.Denis, to collect samples at flowering – and then passed on the phials to Martin in Basel.

As it turned out, for quite some time afterwards Martin was simply snowed-under with publishing work, then my own position became complicated after the company where I worked was acquired. I saw some interesting black and white images from Martin but colouration – and all such images that you see require many, many hours of colouration – was put on the back-burner and eventually forgotten – by me – but seemingly not Martin!

Today he sent me this great image – “Bill. Today, I finished a picture from a sample you originally provided back in 2010 (Chardonnay; enclosed)… hope you like it.” Now how cool is that?

We had a short conversation which I will include so that you may understand what you’re seeing:

Me: “Is that the tip from the flower, post fertilisation?

Martin: “Exactly. To me, the stigma looks pretty fresh. I guess, it is showing the tip of the pistil (with the stigma in red) during, or just very shortly after fertilization. One pollen grain has hydrated and grows a pollen tube across the stigma. Since I am working on a project on plant tissue I was digging in the archive…



By billn on December 23, 2016 #a bit of science

When even a (non-French) winemaker asks me what I mean by ‘agrumes’ in my tasting notes, then I realise that I’m using a ‘too Frenchie’ term in an Anglo-Saxon context, and I need to explain. I’ve added the following to my ‘Technical Glossary‘ page:

Agrume is the type of fruit that can range from orange to grapefruit – and everything in-between.* An agrume desert is normally a mix of orange, mandarin, grapefruit et-cetera. Agrume reduction or ‘noble reduction‘ (as is the current phrase-du-jour) is the Roulot style of white wine reduction that (everyone is trying to mimic today) has a grapefruit-style aromatic and even flavour, yet is (technically) closely associated with a modest reduction.
*Agrume fruits: Bergamot, Bigarade, Calamondin, Chedrat, Citrandarin, Citrange, Citrumelo, Clementine, Clemenvilla, Combava, Grapefruit, Kumquat, Lemon, Lime, Limette, Mandarin, Orange, Pomelo, Tangelo, Tangerine, Tangor, Ugli, Yuzu

[launch] üllo – wine purification?

By billn on July 22, 2015 #a bit of science#accessories

ullo-1Or maybe better – ‘sulfite removal’!

I had some PR puff about this, and normally I avoid gizmos such as this, like the plague, but as a former research chemist I was interested in what the process might be.

From the website and the linked Kickstarter page it probably works like an ion-exchange resin – i.e. similar in mode to the standard filter that you may use to make your water a little more palatable, assuming you live in a hard-water area; here in Europe Brita water filters are one of major brands.

If the video is anything to go by, the filter works amazingly fast – so I expect it’s a mock-up – but I’d be really interested to see how ‘selective’ this ‘solution’ is, or whether it neuters the wine in any way. I also expect some blockage (blinding) due to the sediment in older wines – but maybe sulfites are not an issue with older bottles, so (in this case) the gizmo isn’t required. I’d also be interested to know how much volume, and of what type of wine, is required to ‘exhaust’ a filter – for instance sweet wines have much more sulfite to preserve them.

A fair question, though, is ‘how many people are really affected by this?’ I’m aware, anecdotally, that many are, and particularly for those who drink white wines, though in today’s market for ‘healthy living’ I’m sure this has great potential for sales, regardless of whether they drink Richebourg, Sauternes or Yellow Tail. Let’s see.

I assume though, that the company won’t be using the following data in their marketing campaigns, much as I know some people also have problems with dried fruit!


wine faults seminar 15th may in london…

By billn on April 25, 2014 #a bit of science#ladypyrazines

It seems that half a dozen places are still open for this seminar, so if you’re both interested and available, please directly email andrea.warren at btinternet.com

“Pyrazine in the Burgundy: could it really be the ladybirds?”

Bill Nanson has had derision and support from winemakers in almost equal measure for his theory about the ailment that affects 2004 and 2011 red Burgundies, and the basis of this will be explored and no-doubt extensively challenged during this discussion. But it seems that a minority of people can taste and smell this aspect of those vintages – or is that simply because they haven’t been properly introduced to it(?) During this discussion we may find out, with four examples from very well-known and admired producers, some false positives, and some fun exhibits that may or may not support Nanson’s contention…


Bill Nanson’s “Wine Faults” seminar

Date: Thursday 15th May, 2014

Timing: 1.30 pm to 3.30 pm

Venue: WSET, International Wine & Spirit Centre

39-45 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3XF

Cost: £15 per member (£35 for non-members)

poor padmé

By billn on January 22, 2013 #a bit of science#other sites

Worth your time:

Burgundy_ the wine that makes grown men cry – Telegraph
Darth Vader is My Lover_ Revelations About Brettanomyces in Wine – Palate Press


By billn on January 14, 2013 #a bit of science#ladypyrazines

Prompted by Mark over in our forum:

Perhaps I should invent a ‘hashtag’ – #ladypyrazines anyone?

(2011) coccinelle

By billn on January 12, 2013 #a bit of science#ladypyrazines#other sites

I’m not so naive that I didn’t expect that I might put a few noses out of joint with my vintage 2011 commentary. But I’m spending quite a bite of time fielding questions and having to justify myself – and to be honest it’s getting a bit too time consuming to keep up with, and that’s without the various ‘forum threads’ that currently populate our planet. Therein, are a significant number of regurgitating challenges and questions that come around, and around, and around, (time and time again!) – people could of-course just read what I have written in 2008, then they wouldn’t need to ask all those questions (again!) 😉

Here, culled from my inbox, I’ve put a few observations together, and added a little more discussion – I will leave it like that, as I have a real job: Of-course if 2,000 of you kind souls each club together to pay me €100 a year to keep writing, and promise to keep subscribing for at least 5 years, I might consider otherwise and pretend to be a professional who ‘owes’ somebody something 😉

  1. WHO. I’m being taken to task for what I’ve written by many people – either directly, or indirectly through various ‘wine fora’ – if I take out my very large magnifying glass, it seems that almost exclusively they are in the business of selling wine. But let’s not pre-judge anybody’s motives…
  2. YOU SHOULDN’T BE DOING THIS. I started Burgundy Report as something I would like to read, which wasn’t available – and I still write it for me, travelling to ‘unpopular’ villages to keep learning. I write what I see and I write what I taste – to do otherwise would be a level of dishonesty that might even make Natalie Maclean blush. There is no subtext for me, I am independent; I have (long!) demonstrated that I spend more on wine than I should; I like wine; so I am not going to lie, for anyone!
  3. SUBSTITUTE THEORIES. There are a couple, and from good people too – though seemingly with little real chemistry/theory to back them up. And we should note that if they know/knew the problem, then why are some of their own 2004s tainted? – I haven’t tasted either of the domaines’ 2011s. As a trained scientist*, I expect any theory (mine is no more than that, yet I think it robust) to be tested to destruction. There could indeed be an alternative ‘solution’ to pyrazines in 2004 and 2011, BUT (I emphasise) please ensure that any alternative theory takes account of both vintages, not just 2004. This has not been demonstrated by any alternative theory put forward so far (that wouldn’t besmirch every vintage in living memory). When you have that, I will rejoin the conversation. (I hope you don’t fall-back on the one about spraying a lot – that could get 2012 off on a very bad foot!)
  4. TAINT IN 2011 IS STILL JUST CONJECTURE. No it’s not, I’ve just come back from the Côtes, and to add to my notes in the summer and autumn issues, yet again I have seen a ‘taint’ rate of about 50% at new addresses. Note I’ll continue to publish my notes on my timetable!
  5. BUT THERE ARE LOTS OF WINEMAKERS WHO SAY THERE WERE NO COCCINELLE IN 2011. After first referring you again to point number 1 (above), I totally accept that any natural phenomena is unlikely to be homogenous – how often were the vines treated (and with what), differences north or south, or low-lying vineyards versus top-slope vineyards – but no vigneron can honestly say more than ‘I saw none in MY grapes’. I will avoid the temptation to link the many, many photos showing grape waste and even fermentation vats showing bugs. Interestingly one (very honest) en-primeur offer (from the UK) quotes Thierry Brouhin of Lambrays noting that there were lots of the bugs ‘but we were ready, and removed boxes of them with the vibrating table’ – I see that this is a wine of some conjecture on the various fora – but I haven’t tasted it. I have other pictures from Morey with very many bugs below the triage table, but some other producers in Morey say that they saw none – it could be – if they managed their vines differently and the food supply for the bugs was more limited. NB And for those that say ‘if it’s bugs, it can’t be limited to just two vintages as they are around all the time’ I have exceptional bottles from other vintages too (1978, 2000, 2009) that show exactly the same character. Based on the 1978 plus published studies, pyrazines (it seems) are not for fading.
  6. OKAY, BUT THE ‘CHARACTER’, WHERE PRESENT, IS ON A MUCH LOWER LEVEL THAN 2004. Yes, most of my notes show ~P2 when noted – but at this stage seven years ago NOBODY was talking about such a taint (including paid for critics that still don’t see it). There are two potential explanations for that; either the taint is actually worse in 2011, or we are now looking for it. Anyway, the character of 2004 took some time to peak so neither you nor I know where this will end up – it could even diminish(?) – You see I dismiss nothing!
  7. *I graduated in Chemistry in 1988 and was elected a chartered member of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1993 (I lapsed when I stopped paying the subscription ;-)) and was an active research chemist in ‘industry’ for 13 years, and continued to direct research projects as late as 2007.

Discussion: For every vigneron that doesn’t like the bug theory, there are as many others that believe it to be the root cause – those ‘in the business’ rarely seem to quote that latter population. I won’t list them all to save them embarrassment, etcetera, (but you can read about many of them in my book – both persuasions are represented, I support a broad church with my cash!) I anyway don’t need to call on any gurus to try to dismiss or underline what I’m writing, because it is simply observation and inference; remember I just write what I taste and see because I love doing it, there is no financial motive.

Today I discussed the subject, over lunch, with ‘the boss’ of the home domaine where I’ve harvested (triaged the fruit) each year since 2004; he felt that there actually were more of the bugs in 2004 than 2011, that said, he spent more time in the vines, I spent more time at the sorting table – my impression was the reverse. Many people have noted that the wines of the ‘home domaine’ were largely free from the 2004 taint (there were a few wines with some character, but not too aggressive – I remember at least a Latricières) – with total modesty I declared that this was down to my triage efforts 😉 But what could be the explanation?

As Claude Kolm has noted in the forum of this site, vibrating tables are more common now than in 2004. At our home domaine we have a pretty effective vibrating table before we sort the fruit; in 2011, as previous images have demonstrated, it was very effective at removing the critters – though I still saw some in the fermentation tanks (of-course, they fly!). Partly I think this table could have been less effective in 2004 because of the wetter, stickier, more rotten fruit that needed so much triage – the vibrating table would have had to work much harder to dislodge them – potentially more ending up in the fermentation tanks. And if you didn’t have such a table…

The boss also notes that at his ‘other domaine’ there is no separate vibrating table, rather the whole triage table itself vibrates, and he thinks that (maybe) this is less effective in removing the bugs(?)

Anyway, I think a domaine hoping for clean wines absolutely had an advantage if a vibrating table was part of their set-up in 2011. I should start asking. As a side-note, the boss (who has a sensitive nose!) thinks all the reds currently clean at the home domaine, but one wine hasn’t escaped (according to him, not me) and it’s a white which came in as must: It’s the only wine which we didn’t put through the vibrating table and probably everything was pneumatically pressed – flora and fauna!

astounding scientific discoveries of great import to vougeot!

By billn on April 01, 2011 #a bit of science

Okay, I know it’s blatent product placement – but today, at least, Boisset worked hard for it 😉

clos-blanc-de-vougeotThe secret of Le Clos Blanc de Vougeot revealed:
Its taste comes from “moonstone”

A mystical and mythical wine, at once full-bodied and with good minerality, the celebrated Vougeot Premier Cru Le Clos Blanc de Vougeot today lifts the lid on the mystery of its origins.

This Domaine de la Vougeraie monopole in the shadow of the celebrated Clos Vougeot is one of the oldest vintages and can trace its history back as far as 1110, when it was the wine used at mass by the monks of Cîteaux. Since the French Revolution and the separation of Church and State, this vineyard covering two hectares has never been subdivided and remains in the same configuration it had in the Middle Ages: A large triangle which opens to the East and points towards Musigny in the west.

Thanks to the winter planting, the soil at Le Clos Blanc recently revealed a secret that has been buried for some 1500 years. The team of vine workers made an astonishing discovery, which could revolutionize the very notion of terroir for the appellations of Burgundy.

Initial analyses carried out by the government research organization, the CNRS, has confirmed this startling find: The sub-soil of Le Clos Blanc contains a substance not previously recorded on Earth. It is an amalgam of limestone from the Bajocian age (around 170m years ago in the Middle Jurassic), interspersed with stripes of a yellow rock which at first glance look like gold, but when crumbled breaks up in contact with oxygen. Scientists have dubbed it “moonstone”, because it gives off a faint glow in the light of the full moon.

After extensive tasting, it has now been demonstrated that this strange rock is indeed the origin of the inimitable terroir flavor that is usually referred to as “mineral”. This suggests that one could now safely say the taste of the wine grown in Le Clos Blanc is truly eternal, pending further investigation into the mysterious origins of this stone. A “divine” concoction, whose secret the monks of Cîteaux kept closely guarded for 900 years!

It should be noted that other theories – some of them quite far-fetched – have previously been put forward to explain the miraculous properties of the local soil, including a subterranean Fountain of Youth. It is no doubt no coincidence that this “golden” triangle, the most revered in the vineyards of Burgundy, symbol of eternal life for pre-Colombian and Egyptian civilizations, is also the coded sign of many religious orders. In any case, it is imbued with strong mystical connotations.

The vine may choose one day to yield us more of its secrets, but in Burgundy, truth is often found at the bottom of the glass.

Press Release April 1st 2011.

Burgundy Report

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