Tim's Wine

The Fact(s) about Arsenic in Wine

by timswine on Tuesday, March 24, 2015

glass of wineIn case you missed it on the evening news or your FB feed, last week a class action suit was filed against the producers of inexpensive wines claiming they were dangerously high in arsenic.  The initial comments on my FB newsfeed all went the way you would expect, “glad I don’t drink those wines” to my favorite, “arsenic is the last thing you have to worry about killing you in Two-Buck Chuck”.  The fact is arsenic levels exist in all wine just like it does in all the fruits and vegetables grown in California or anywhere else for that matter.  Before everyone goes into a panic it is time to examine the only fact(s) we know about this case.

1. The person who filed the suit, Kevin Hicks, owns the lab, BeverageGrades, that has “discovered” this conspiracy against the wine drinking public.  While he is positioning himself as the consumer advocate he is simultaneously marketing his lab services to wineries as well.  Nearly all wineries use labs to check levels of all sorts of things that relate to the quality of the finished product. Do they even check for arsenic?  I doubt it.  Why check for something that no government agency requires to know and does not affect the quality of the wine. To me this smacks a little of extortion or at the very least it is self-serving.

2. The government has never set levels of acceptable arsenic in wine, or any food product for that matter, only drinking water.  Why?  Because the levels exist in all foods but at such minuscule amounts that it would likely never be a problem.  The levels set by the EPA for drinking water are 10 parts per billion (ppb).  It is worth noting that the acceptable level is an arbitrary number.  Canada sets their limit at 100 ppb and Japan at 1000 ppb, which are 10x and 100x the US levels.  Most community water systems lie between .1 and 1 ppb.  Mr. Hicks claims levels in some cheap wines run as high as 50 ppb.  The recommended amount of water to consume is 64 ounces per day, or eight 8 oz. glasses.  The recommended amount of wine to drink is 5-10 oz. per day.  In order for you to consume a dangerous amount of arsenic (which again is a questionable level) you would need to drink 3 liters of wine per day, the equivalent of 4 bottles.  The take away of this is that if you are afraid you should move to Japan where you could then drink 300 liters per day and still not consume a dangerous level of arsenic according to their government.

3. BeverageGrades figures have not been independently verified.  Since no one is concerned about the level of arsenic in wine there is no long term study to substantiate his claim.  Hicks claims to have tested 1300 wines but has not published this data nor offered for another independent lab to examine his methodology.  His attorney claims they have had another lab verify their results but has not produced any evidence. Since the story broke a couple of labs have run their own small studies and have not found levels as high as BeverageGrades, with levels mostly 1 to 3 ppb.

    The only fact that is credible in this consumer scare is that there is arsenic in wine, just like virtually every vegetable, fruit, grain and meat you consume as well.  Did you give up rice because of that arsenic scare last year?  Do you still eat tuna even when it has been shown to contain dangerous levels of mercury?  Most studies are mixed about the potential threat of these substances, claiming that you may die of cancer due to lifelong exposure.  The truth is we will all die of something. I am far more concerned about being hit by a train while crossing the railroad tracks to get to my car after a long day of wine tasting.

Sunday Night Dinner – At it’s best

by timswine on Tuesday, March 3, 2015

As I have often written in my weekly newsletter and club offerings, Sunday is my big cooking night and it usually means something special is coming out of the cellar.  This week we had an additional reason to celebrate, our son came home for spring break from UF. It gave me the chance to finally cook the veal shanks I purchased in Atlanta a couple of months ago (kept frozen of course.)  They were big, meaty, gorgeous examples, that were almost two inches thick, like the ones you see in cookbooks.

The preparation would be ossso buco, using the Cook’s Illustrated version.  The only difference is I prefer to take the braising liquid and mirepoix and puree it into a sauce, not serve it like a stew.  I also am a purist and prefer saffron risotto to their polenta.  If you want to see the meal then visit our Facebook page for a pictoral explanation.

IMG_2989My wine pick, from deep in the cellar, is the 1999 Sandrone Barolo “Cannubi Boschis.”  This is one of the great cru sites of the region, produced by one of the top winemakers in the Piedmont.  Sandrone, who produced his first vintage in 1978, was one of the vangards of quality Barolo in the 1990s and remains a top producer to this day. While wines made from Nebbiolo are not everyones cup of tea, as my description below will show, but if you tire of wines that are little more than oak laden fruit bombs then you might find them quite exciting.

The Cannubi cru is located in the commune of Barolo and like all the best sites faces south-southeast.  Nebbiolo is finicky when it comes to ripening so producers have to plant the grape in the perfect exposition to the sun to coax a few extra degrees of ripeness each year.  What makes Sandrone so unique is that he was one of the first to perform a “green harvest” in his vineyards.  This entails passing through the vineyard after veraison and dropping those clusters of grapes that are not perfect.  Sandrone actually performs this twice on this vineyard, an expensive process not only in time but also it greatly reduces the vineyard’s yield.  The result is a level of concenatration in the final wine that makes most others pale by comparison.

The important part of this meal was the wine, which was stunning.  (Actually dinner with my family, but you get the idea) After an hour in the decanter it showed classic notes of road tar, porcini mushroom, Mr. Lincoln rose petals, violets, sour cherries and a wisp of strawberry jam.  The tannins were soft, almost completely transparent, and the finish would not stop.  Overall a great wine at the prime of it’s drinking window.  I would encourage anyone interested in this wine to check out the New York Times Wine School for February, where they featured Nebbiolo.

The current vintages of Barolo, 2009, are very good, on par with the 1999s.  I would encourage anyone who enjoys great wines to slide a couple of bottles into their cellar.  The 2010s will arrive soon, touted as one of the greatest vintages ever in this region.  For those with a lot of patience you may want to grab a few of those too.

Is Parker Still Relevant? –
Reprinted from Reserve Club, Spring 2012

Thursday, June 12, 2014

   My stand against scores is well known, right down to the sign in my stores that says, “Scores don’t mean “sh%@!.”   While my choice of language is designed to grab attention, my logic is quite sound.  Using critical … Continued

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Travel the World with Tim – Italy, Part 1, the North

Thursday, February 20, 2014

From the French border with the Piedmont to Venice, Northern Italy produces many of the most iconic wines of the country.  This tasting will examine the wines of the Piedmont, Alto Adige, Veneto and Friuli, showing that while the reds … Continued

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Wine U Two, ITALY Save the Date

Friday, July 12, 2013

By popular demand, this is advanced Wine U.  Focus on Italy.  All Wine U grads are encouraged to attend. Four weeks, meets weekly on Thursday evenings starting  July 10th.  All classes meet 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.  

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Your Beverage Dollar

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The article below was published last week in Palm Beach Illustrated and it started me thinking about the buying trends of our customers, not just in our stores but in restaurants too.  I have added it below but I have … Continued

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