Thursday, May 31, 2007

I Love French Wine and Food - A Midi Syrah

If you are looking for fine French wine and food, consider the Languedoc-Roussillon region of south central France. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you'll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a local red Syrah.

Among the eleven wine-growing regions of France, Languedoc-Roussillon ranks fourth in total vineyard acreage. This area, which includes the Midi, (the home of the wine reviewed below) was traditionally known for producing ton after ton of mediocre table wine called vin ordinaire. But times change and in spite of global warming Languedoc-Roussillon has started to produce fine wine. Some say that visiting Australian winemakers are largely responsible for this improvement.

Languedoc-Roussillon is home to about three dozen grape varieties ranging from the widely known such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah to the quite obscure such as Aspiran Noir, Aspiran Gris, and Lladoner Pelot. If I ever get my hands on one of those rare grape varieties, I promise to review the wine. But I won't be holding my breath.

The wine reviewed below comes from the Carcassonne area. But a previous article (I Love French Wine and Food – A Midi Viognier) already reviewed this beautiful old city. So I thought why not examine the relatively nearby city of Toulouse, which strictly speaking is not part of Languedoc-Roussillon but is the capital of the neighboring Midi-Pyrénées region. Will that stop you from visiting it?

Toulouse, France's fifth largest city and the fastest growing metropolis in Europe, was once the capital of the Languedoc province of France before the French Revolution abolished provinces. It is the capital of the French aerospace industry. The University of Toulouse is the second largest University in France. In many ways this lovely city seems more Spanish than French.

Toulouse is known as a pink city for its redbrick buildings. Among the many sights to see are the Capitole/Hôtel de Ville (Capitol/Town Hall) which, unlike most city halls, is decorated with beautiful paintings. The Église des Jacobins (Jacobin Church) which was built almost eight hundred years ago also displays many art masterpieces and is the site of several music concerts in the summer. The city is home to quite a few beautiful mansions called Hôtels.

The Musée des Augustins (Augustinian Museum) was once a convent. You should see its collection of religious paintings and Romanesque sculpture. The Musée du Vieux Toulouse (Museum of Old Toulouse) lives up to its name. Fanciers of archaeology won't be disappointed with Musée St-Raymond (Saint-Raymond's Museum). As you can well imagine historic churches abound. Toulouse's best-known landmark is St-Sernin, the largest Romanesque church in the world. The list goes on and on. You may get an idea of the time scale in the older areas of town when you realize that the Pont Neuf (New Bridge) was built in 1632.

Before reviewing the Languedoc-Roussillon wine and imported cheeses that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring beautiful Toulouse.
Start with Garbure (Cabbage Soup with Poultry).
For your second course savor Cassoulet Toulousain (Bean and Pork Stew).
And as dessert indulge yourself with Violette de Toulouse (Violet Flower Crystallized in Sugar).

OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.

Wine Reviewed
Domaine de Salices Syrah 2004 12.5% about $13.50

Let's start by quoting the marketing materials. Grown on the vineyards around the gorgeous medieval town of Carcassonne, this Syrah is rich, ripe and very fruity. Aged for 11 months in oak barrels, the wine shows superb balance between the oak and fruit. Enjoy this delicious quaffer with grilled steaks, hamburgers, pasta with meat sauce or gourmet sausages.

My first meal consisted of slow cooked meat balls in a tomato sauce with potatoes. The wine was spicy, powerful, and mouth filling. It was tannic, but in a pleasant sense.

The next meal was whole wheat pasta with spicy meat sauce. The wine was round and powerful. I tasted pepper and black fruit.

The final meal involved store bought cold barbecued spare ribs with potato salad and roasted red pepper in garlic and oil. (I can't help it; that's the kind of food I savor, even more so with wines like this one.) The meat's congealed fat and thick tomato sauce made it very tasty. The wine did a great job of cutting the fat. It was very round and full, brimming with black cherries. The roasted red pepper brought out a tobacco taste in the wine.

My first cheese pairing was with a French Camembert. I had the feeling that the Syrah was diluted by this cheese. It was still good, but not as good as on its own. The second cheese was a nutty tasting Swiss Gruyere that flattened the wine, reducing its flavor peaks. The final cheese was a soft German Edam. This last combination was the best of the lot. The wine was almost as good with the buttery Edam as it was on its own.

Final verdict. I like this wine and intend to purchase it again. But I won't bother much with cheese pairing.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hope on the global warming issue

I'm taking a great class right now - Energy Regulation and the Environment. For one of our last classes, one of my classmates Carla Peterman, who is getting her Ph.D. from the Energy and Resources Group here at UC Berkeley, gave a talk on "cap and trade" systems for carbon emissions. You may be familiar with this concept as it has been in place for years with sulfur dioxide (which causes acid rain) and NOx emissions. Basically, there is a cap on the amount of these materials that may be released into the air, and in order to release them you must have a permit. The permits are traded similarly to shares of stock - you buy shares on a market that correspond to the number of tons that you need to release in your industrial process. There are only so many shares to go around, so when the shares reach a certain price there is a monetary incentive to modify your facility such that you no longer release these materials. The program has been very successful.

So now the groundwork is being laid for this exact same thing to take place with greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). By far, the largest GHG emission is carbon dioxide. But other GHGs are much more efficient at trapping heat, molecule for molecule, than carbon dioxide. For instance, methane traps around 20X more heat than carbon dioxide, while the most potent GHGs can trap up to 20,000X as much. Fortunately the emissions of these compounds are low (SF6 and other perfluorinated compounds - refrigerants), yet extremely potent.

Currently, the United States does not regulate the emission of a single molecule of carbon dioxide even though the U.S. emits 25% of the world's carbon dioxide (with 5% of the global population). However, the Kyoto Protocol went into effect February 2005 and there are now eight carbon markets in Europe, the largest of which is the European Climate Exchange. The Kyoto Protocol uses a cap and trade system, with one share of carbon equaling one ton of carbon. The current cost of one share is 26.95 euros while the penalty for emitting without a permit is 40 euros. Slowly, the penalties rise and the number of shares decrease. This incentivises investment in energy sources that do not emit carbon (wind, solar, nuclear).

What's going on in the U.S.?
There is a multi-prong approach to this problem, taken on by the States, since the policy of the Bush Administration and the federal government is to do nothing.

A 7-10 state coalition (MD, PA, MA, and RI have joined, dropped out, joined again, etc.) in the N.E., called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), announced its final plans in January to create a cap and trade system. It will work similarly to the Kyoto Protocol.

California PUC
California has a very aggressive 45 year plan to reduce GHG emissions to 80% below those of 1990. California matters because only 9 nations emit more carbon than California alone. The plan was initiated by Gov. Schwarzenegger and is now being developed by the California Public Utilities Commission. The first stage goal is to attain 2000 carbon dioxide emission levels by 2010, 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. (Word document explaining goals and process).

8 States' Attorneys General have come together to sue the 5 largest carbon emitters under a common law action of nuisance (air pollution). This is one of the only options for now since the EPA will not enforce GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act (there are other significant lawsuits against the EPA in process right now too). The suit is making its way through the federal court system. At issue in the upcoming argument before the 2d Circuit is whether or not the federal common law claim of nuisance will succeed. I think that the argument is in June. Should that suit succeed it will put tremendous pressure on the emitters, who will then lobby the federal gov't to do something on a national level.

Update: article on the 10-state suit against the EPA

Of course these state by state approaches are terribly inefficient, but luckily we have some very dedicated people who are laying the groundwork for a system of carbon emissions regulation.

Remember the Ozone Hole? Well, its still there and will be for a long time, but it will eventually repair itself due to cooperative international efforts to completely eliminate chloroflurocarbons. Remember acid rain? We still have it, but not as bad as it could have been had sulfur dioxide not been regulated. With international cooperation we can do the same for global warming.

There is so much to be said on this issue - I have presented only the most basic overview of current efforts to overcome our polluting practices. My feeling is that there is hope on this issue - people are working hard, attitudes are changing, and eventually we will have a working system in place so that our grandchildren's world is not too hot (and all the consequences that go along with that - a whole 'nother can of worms).