Today’s words come to us from Dr. Maynard Amerine, former Professor of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis. Dr. Amerine taught, researched, and wrote extensively on the effects of climate on grape growing, and the sensory evaluation of wine.
Dr. Amerine’s research blazed a trail for the growth of the California wine industry after Prohibition.
So what did he do, exactly?
In 1944, Dr. Amerine and his colleague, Dr. A.J. Winkler, created The Winkler Scale (sometimes called the heat summation method), which is a technique for classifying the climate of wine growing regions, and which grapes are best suited for growing in each region. The system is based on mean temperature — specifically, the number of “degree days” above 50 degrees fahrenheit (the magic temperature required for grapevines to grow). There are a total of five regions, with Region 1 being the coolest (think Champagne and Pinot Noir) and Region 5 the warmest (think Northern Africa and Muscat). The Winkler Scale is sometimes criticized for not taking into account other factors, like rainfall, altitude, sun exposure, latitude, soil, or microclimates.
In 1959, Dr. Amerine and his staff created the Davis Scoring System (aka, the Organoleptic Evaluation Scoring Guide For Wine), as a method for evaluating wines. It’s a 20 point scale based on ten different criteria — appearance, color, aroma, volatile acidity, total acidity, sweetness/sugar, body, flavor, astringency, and general quality. I sometimes think about switching my mental wine evaluation to a 20-point scale (it seems simpler), but I came of age thinking about wine using the 100-point scale, and making that switch now is about as easy as switching from standard to metric measurements. I still can’t do it.
Anyway, without further delay, here are today’s words:
In theory, I agree completely with Dr. Amerine. Drink the book, not its cover. But in practice, I’ve been guilty (more than a few times) of buying a wine solely because of a label. Sometimes I get lucky and the wine under that label is good, and sometimes, it’s just a good label.