Chateau D’Yquem: Because It’s There by Thomas Levenson

While I get to finishing my post on the much-ballyhooed ScienceOnline’09 winetasting, I’d like to share with readers a fantastic wine essay by MIT Professor of Science Writing and multiply-decorated journalist, Thomas Levenson. Tom also writes The Inverse Square Blog where each post includes at least one illustration as beautiful as his writing. Tom is also author of the upcoming book, Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist, currently scheduled for release on 4 June 2009.
I had the lovely pleasure of sitting between Tom and Rebecca Skloot (Culture Dish) together with James “give me $250 so I can buy a vowel” Hrynyshyn (The Island of Doubt) for dinner at the conference where we, not surprisingly, shared some nice wine.
Tom had previously sent me the following article he wrote for an airline magazine several years ago that has disappeared into the ether; with his blessing, I am reprinting it here for your enjoyment as this week’s edition of The Friday Fermentable. I try to write about price-accessible wines but I think we all wonder if those three-digit prices for legendary wines are really worth the experience.
Tom Levenson describes his experience as no one else can – thanks, Tom, for allowing me to share this with my readers.
Because It’s There
By Thomas Levenson

There’s always Everest if you are looking for a peak human experience – but even with the available package tours very few of us will or should ever go there. For a soprano brave enough to risk the Queen of the Night’s arias in the Magic Flute, the cheers after the last notes fade must thrill the soul — but most of us can’t muster the combination of talent and effort required. Albert Einstein trembled with joy when he first glimpsed one of his great discoveries – but he was Albert Einstein, and I am not.
So what? Even though I, now past forty, have long since relinquished my dream of crushing a seventh-game winning home run, I have just had my own personal experience of the best there is. I have now drunk my first glass of Chateau d’Yquem – and that, my friends, is a taste of the sublime that no one can take away from me.

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The Friday Fermentable: The Family Free-Ride on Fermentation and Distillation

Like many of my readers, I am continually blown away by the parenting skills and science education abilities of my friend and colleague, Dr Janet D Stemwedel (aka Dr Free-Ride). Among her many gifts is her Friday feature with her family documenting how kids learn about science. And like her commenters state, I’d love to see these posts compiled into a book.
As an aside, having children returns one, whether one likes it or not, back to the days of asking “why” about everything (or, more appropriately, being forced to answer why about things you’ve taken for granted for 20 or more years). One of our top ten posts here came from when PharmKid asked me where helium came from. Many of us try to keep this childlike curiosity in our daily research lives but, sadly, funding pressures require that we be more focused.
So, I refer you today, Dear Reader, to Adventures in Ethics and Science’s Friday Sprog Blogging: fermentation and distillation.

Younger offspring: Why do they call booze “spirits”?

I assure you that you learn far more there about fermented beverages than we have offered here over the last three years.

The Friday Fermentable: Vote for Your Phavorite Pharmboy by George Aldridge

Aldridge Pharmboys 515px copy.jpg
As I alluded in last week’s post, a friendship struck up with Australian wine writer, Philip White, led me to the outstanding artistry of George Grainger Aldridge. I asked Philip how I might engage Mr Aldridge in designing the official avatar for The Friday Fermentable series and he set me up with George. I sent George two, real-life photos of me appropriately enjoying a Thorpe Estates McLaren Vale Reserve Shiraz (as he is also in South Australia) and suggested that he read the blog a bit to get a feel for my personality. Within two weeks, Mr Aldridge sent me these three drawings.
I was absolutely ecstatic and amazed that a well-recognized artist halfway around the world could capture various aspects of my personality so accurately. I guess that’s why he’s a pro, eh? Anyway, I couldn’t wait to share these with you.
Now, I have to admit to liking each one for different reasons. But I ask you, Dear Reader, to vote in the comments as to your favorite drawing that best represents how we convey our love for wine (almost) every Friday.
George, you are the king – I hope that the devastatingly hot weather cools back a bit over the weekend and that all is otherwise well in Gawler. A cheque will be in the mail shortly.
And if you wish to commission Mr Aldridge with sketches that you desire, please feel free to e-mail him at aldridge_george [at] yahoo [DoT] com [dOt] au.

The Friday Fermentable: Philip White, Drinkster, and George Aldridge, Artist, Cartoonist, and Illustrator

Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, is a place that many have told me I must visit (although perhaps not now as they are experiencing record heat). In fact, a twist of science and friendships nearly brought me there for my sabbatical before I had a big change in my life. The University of Adelaide is outstanding (and home of colleague and Astroblog blogger, Ian Musgrave), the surrounding wine appellations are world-famous, and the mountains to the northwest would be a combination I’m told I’d be certain to enjoy.
Therefore, I was delighted to receive the following e-mail on 3 January from renowned Australian wine writer, Philip White, who was attracted by my pseudonym:

Dear Dr.,
There’s a lot to be said for ersatz monikers, especially if they’re cleverly constructed, which drew me to yourn.
You made me laugh – I glued you in my regulars, which is the place to be.
I started writing so long ago my cover was blown by the time I was six, so I’m envious.
I do however answer to Fellici Bianco, and to various other appellations.
I was Filth at school. My black mates call me Whitey.
I’m sitting inside my French windows in a beautiful vineyard in McLaren Vale, South Australia. It’s about 38 degrees Centigrade outside … the cutting horses are dozing neath the eucalypts, and all the wee berrudies are taking their arvo nap. I’m sposed to be writing about geology for money, but, well, you know, it’s Saturday, the riesling is cold, I’m too lazy to cook, and sometimes a mind sets a ramblin and takes a stroll through the big cob web. Anything to do with drugs and drinking immediately attracts my attention.
So thanks for the humourous break you gave me.
Keep in touch,
Philip White.

With that fantastic imagery, it will be no surprise to you that Mr White keeps a blog of wine stories at d r i n k s t e r, and an incredible wine-tasting notes archive at Drankster.

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The Friday Fermentable: A Liveblogging Wine Tasting at ScienceOnline’09

Let’s face it, after the holidays I’m not terribly interested in drinking any beer or wine for the next two weeks.
scionline09%20small.jpgHowever, two weeks from today will mark the beginning of ScienceOnline’09, the online science communications unconference being held in our little ol’ neck-o-the-woods. Being as how I’ll have the chance to meet so many of you then, I’d like to throw out the idea of having a live Friday Fermentable.
On the evening of Friday, 16 January, conference attendees will be gathering at the Radisson RTP headquarters hotel bar and Sigma Xi conference center between returning from laboratory tours at 4 pm and the 7 pm reception preceding Rebecca Skloot’s much-awaited talk, “Women, science, and storytelling: The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks (a.k.a. HeLa), and one woman’s journey from scientist to writer,” on behalf of Duke’s Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) organization.
My proposal is this: I’d like to host about 20 of you for a private, free-of-charge winetasting from 6 to 7 pm, Friday, 16 January 2009 at the Sigma Xi center with the only obligation that you liveblog the event. With the help of my advisors at the Wine Authorities and with the input of readers like DrZZ and guest blogger, Erleichda, we’ll select three or four fine offerings, talk about the wines, drinks the wines, then write about the wines.
The wiki page is growing a little cluttered for a signup list. So, if you are attending the conference and want to spend a little time enjoying some fine fermentables with other like-minded bloggers, either 1) drop your indication of interest in the comments below and/or 2) send a note to fridayfermentable [booga-booga] gmail [unga-bunga] com.

Feel free to also suggest a theme of wine varieties (e.g., same varietal from different parts of the world, two whites/two reds, random selection. I look forward to seeing y’all.

The Friday Fermentable: Post-holiday cheer

For as good of an attitude as I normally seem to have on the blog, I just simply don’t do well with the end-of-the-year holidays (but condolences should be sent instead to my dear friend who suffered a true loss earlier this morning). While it may take some therapy to truly understand my blahs this week, let it suffice to say that the return from our vacation and a continued mystery leak in our basement may have made me a bit more irritable than usual. After spending part of Christmas and much of today ripping out drywall and trying to diagnose the cause of basement flooding, you’d think I’d be drinking like a fish. However, I’m just not really in the mood.
So, let me leave you with two Friday Fermentable selections:

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NPR cancels News & Notes, Day to Day; cuts 7% of staff

fchideya.jpgDriving home tonight, I learned that NPR is cutting staff and canceling two shows produced at NPR West: News & Notes with Farai Chideya and Day to Day with Madeleine Brand. (Full memo at HuffPo)
Farai put up a blog post late this afternoon entitled, We Love You! (And, Yes, We Are Cancelled). I don’t know if I’d have the gut and optimism to be so gracious in the face of having my show terminated effective 20 March 2009. The companion blog post at Day to Day certainly lacked this optimism. But Farai has many, many things going in her favor despite this setback:

Chideya, who was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, and graduated with a B.A. from Harvard University magna cum laude in 1990, is also the founder of, an online journal for younger Americans based at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications. Chideya and have won awards including a MOBE IT Innovator award, being named one of Alternet’s New Media Heroes, and ranking in’s worldwide survey of “25 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics.”
Chideya has published three books. Don’t Believe the Hype: Fighting Cultural Misinformation About African Americans (Plume Penguin, 1995), is now in its eighth printing. . .

. . .and so on. Read the rest of her bio here.

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Wine Authorities wine guys on local NPR today (Obama pre-emption; postponed ’til tomorrow)

Salamanzar and the Grand Poobah Wine Swami (Seth Gross and Craig Heffley) of the nationally-recognized wine merchant and community resource, Wine Authorities, will be appearing today on the local NPR affiliate.
Here is the official word from the boys themselves:

Frank%20Stasio.jpgWow! This coming Monday, the 24th, we’re going to be on the air with none other than Mr. Frank Stasio on WUNC/NPR’s “The State of Things” radio show. This is possibly the highlight of our professional careers thus far! We love this show. So tune in online or on the radio this coming Monday (November 24th @ 12 noon) of Thanksgiving week on WUNC. What could be next for us, Oprah? Letterman? 60 minutes? Click the photo to hear the show Monday or after.

Rest assured that they’ll be making some wise recommendations for keeping the Thanksgiving table free of corporate plonk and proletariat swill.
UPDATE: 24 Nov 2008, 12:10 EST (1710 GMT)
The State of Things is being pre-empted today by President-elect Barack Obama’s press conference, in which he is expected to introduce his new economic leadership team. We will carry live coverage of the event beginning at noon.
Neal Conan will host our coverage. He will be joined in the studio by NPR’s Senior Washington Editor, Ron Elving, and NPR’s Economics Correspondent, John Ydstie.
Today’s scheduled program for The State of Things, “Meet the Wine Authorities” will air tomorrow (Tuesday, 25 November).

The Friday Fermentable: Mediterranean and Nearby Island Wines, by Erleichda

Recent Wine Experiences – Mediterranean (and nearby) Island Wines
by Erleichda

Sweetpea and I enjoy (gentle) hiking vacations, and we share this fondness with a small group of other likeminded hiker friends. I attempt to steer our selected destinations to places where grapes grow, and this has brought us, so far, to Sicily and the Greek islands. So when the theme for the latest gathering of Jim’s Disciples were wines of the Mediterranean and nearby islands, I was excited by the opportunity to explore some wines not heretofore tasted, and whose origins might provide the basis for future hiking destinations.
The group was also meeting at a new French BYOB restaurant, and we were not to be disappointed. While French food per se is not one of my favorites, it does provide a good palate for wine tasting. While we were all perusing the menu and catching up on Holiday Season news and gossip, I passed along two of the three white wines brought to the dinner and set to chill upon our arrival.

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The Friday Fermentable: figuring out chords while drinking wine

PE_Viognier_sm.jpgMuch hubbub is to be had today over the work of Dalhousie University mathematics professor, Dr Jason Brown, in solving the mystery of George Harrison’s opening chord of The Beatles, “A Hard Day’s Night,” played on a Rickenbacker 360/12 guitar. The PDF of Prof Brown’s report is available online.
As the report and article show, The Beatles did indeed record this in one take with no overdubbing such that Harrison could not have played the chord alone. We now learn from Brown’s work and others that Harrison and Lennon played two different guitars but the nice flavor was added by producer George Martin playing a piano chord.
The link to The Friday Fermentable is that I am enjoying a particularly flavorful 2006 Peirano Estates Lodi (CA) Viognier from their Heritage Collection ($14.99 USD) while composing this post after a lovely dinner of Thai takeout while sitting here with the two young ladies who define and enrich my life.
I was very lucky to have had a high school history professor who looked like John Lennon with whom I played in my first band in 1980-81. Fortunately for me and no surprise, he was a huge fan of The Beatles and taught me a few rally neat guitar tricks – he also had great confidence in me that I could successfully learn the opening bass and guitar line of “Daytripper.” So although I was born at the unclassifiable junction of the end of the post WWII Baby Boom and beginning of Gen X, I had some limited but workable chops for early rock.

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