Think globally — and maybe get our government to act globally, too

As many of you know, I used to work in environmental advocacy, doing data analysis on all kinds of issues including global warming.  So when I saw a press release last week from the Champagne Bureau about a new, lighter champagne bottle, I was intrigued. 

The bottle was designed as part of a plan to help the Champagne region reduce its greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions.  The vast majority of ghgs from wine don’t come from making the product, but from transporting the heavy glass bottles.  Manufacturing the bottles themselves is the second largest source of ghgs.  (Although vineyards don’t make their own bottles, they often include the ghgs from manufacturing bottles in calculating their total ghg emissions for comparison purposes.)  Because of this, the wine industry has been working for a number of years to find lower-weight packaging, glass or not, that will consume less energy to make and transport.

Clearly, someone's happy about the new lighter champagne bottles

A few times a year I’ll read something about a new, lighter bottle design.  But champagne (and other sparkling wine) is a special case.  The glass is thicker to withstand the pressure inside the bottle and to protect the product during transport.  The difference between a champagne bottle and the average wine bottle is significant:  here at first vine central I did some weighing and found that our empty Champagne Bernard Mante bottles weigh 2.0 pounds, while the average empty wine bottle from the Rhône Valley weighs 1.2 pounds.  So the champagne bottle weighs 67 percent more than the wine bottle.

The Champagne Bureau claims that the new bottle meets industry standards for strength and durability, but weighs two ounces less than the old one.  That’s six percent lighter, which is no mean feat.  The press release didn’t say anything about the cost of these new bottles (and whether it also takes six percent less energy to make them, if they’re as easily recycled, etc.).  But all else being equal, it’s nice to know that it will take less energy and release less ghgs getting our champagne.

But then, the enviro part of me started thinking.  (Sorry, you can give the wonk a new job, but he’s still a wonk at heart…) Just how much ghgs is transporting the new bottle over the old one going to save?  One common way to look at ghg reduction projects is to compare them to the amount of ghg emissions from the average U.S. passenger car.  It’s also true about petroleum use, which is why we often see ghg reduction plans or plans to reduce oil consumption described as “equivalent to taking xx cars off the road.”*

In 2005, over 20.5 million bottles of champagne were imported into the U.S.  Using transport data from the American Institute of Wine Economics, I calculated that if these had been the new champagne bottles, the ghg reduction would be equivalent to taking 94 cars off the road.

Ninety-four cars is nothing to sneeze at, and the champagne industry should be congratulated on it.  We should all look for ways to reduce the ghg impact of our actions, no matter how small they seem, because in the aggregate, small actions can make a big difference.    

It also got me thinking about the potential impact of a couple of small actions our government could take, so I calculated them: 

 —  The average U.S. passenger vehicle gets 22.5 miles per gallon.  If the average were 23.5 miles per gallon – that’s only 1 mpg higher – it would be equivalent to taking 5.8 million cars off the road.**

 —  More than 50% of the electricity generated in the U.S. comes from burning coal.  If each coal-burning power plant reduced its emissions by just 1%, it would be equivalent to taking 4.1 million cars off the road.+ 

We’re not going to get those kinds of reductions just by changing champagne bottles (tempting though it is to think of drinking more champagne).  It’s true that any one of us could, with enough research, time, and money, buy a more efficient car or greener power.  But so far in a market economy, it has taken $4.50/gallon gasoline and an incredible amount of pollution from coal-fired power plants to make those things available to a small fraction of the population. 

I’m not going to get all preachy on you, but in addition to practicing conservation at home, we need to be working toward getting our government to act responsibly with a comprehensive, workable energy policy.  It’s sobering to think that the equivalent of taking those nearly 10 million cars off the road is only the beginning of what we’ll need to do to slow down and reverse the effects of global warming.  That means we have to take the problem seriously. 

Heck, if the French can build a better champagne bottle than the one they’ve used for 300+ years, then we can begin to tackle global warming in a systematic way, right?  😉

The Haft Seen is the traditional Persian table set for Novruz. Each of the objects is associated with life and rebirth.

Speaking of all things green, we celebrated Noruz last weekend; the nearly two-week-long Persian New Year holiday that begins on the first day of Spring and celebrates life, nature, and light.  It has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrian religion.  Today the festival of Noruz is celebrated in Iran and other countries in Central Asia, as well as in parts of India.  And, of course, it’s celebrated here among first vine’s friends and family!

This year we celebrated with vegetarian friends, so the centerpiece of the meal was Kookoo Sabzeh, an egg frittata with lots of fresh herbs, fenugreek, and currants.  But we also made Eggplant Mirza, a mix of roasted eggplant, tomato, and spices. 

This was my first time making mirza, and so I consulted a variety of recipes.  Many call for adding paneer, or fresh cheese, cut into small cubes.  You can substitute extra-firm tofu, which gives the right texture and absorbs flavors nicely.  Or if you’ve got a Middle-Eastern grocery nearby, you can buy pressed paneer and use it.  (Dare posted about making fresh cheese, and you certainly can do it if you want, but you’ll have to press more of the liquid out to use it in the mirza.  Instead, you can add a half teaspoon of caraway seeds and salt to the warm curds, continue to drain, and you’ll have a delicious appetizer.)  Or you can leave it out entirely.

A few of the mirza recipes wistfully described roasting the eggplants over a wood or charcoal fire to give them a smoky flavor.  Most of us won’t want to do that, and in fact you can cook the eggplant in the microwave to save time if you like.  Cy suggested I try adding hot Spanish smoked paprika, called Pimenton de la Vera, and it gave a nice light smoke, plus a little zing.  I used baby eggplants because I didn’t want to salt and drain them, which also saves time.  Finally, one recipe I saw used only tomato paste and no tomatoes, so I decided to add a little tomato paste to beef up the flavor of winter tomatoes.  In the end, we had a great dish that we’ll make again anytime.

The eggplant and the spices make the mirza a natural for a light-bodied red, like our new Cave la Vinsobraise Ambre ($12).  It’s one of the five cru red wines from the cooperative in Vinsobres, and it’s delicious.  Although it’s 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah, it has a great light fruitiness to it that makes it perfect for spring.  Novruz lasts for 13 days, so there’s still time to celebrate the new year!

Nooshe Joon (that’s Bon Appetit in Farsi)!


*  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. passenger vehicle got 22.5 miles per gallon in 2007 (the latest data available) and was driven 12,293 miles.  Using EPA’s estimate of 19.4 pounds of carbon dioxide released per gallon of gasoline, this means that the average U.S. car emits 4.81 million grams of ghg per year.

**  Again, using the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data for cars in 2007, and the DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics‘ estimate of 135.9 million passenger cars on the road in 2007, and dividing the result by the ghg emissions of the average car (calculated above).

According to EIA, coal-fired electric power plants emitted 1,979.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2007.

Eggplant Mirza (serves 4)

1-1/2 pounds eggplant (I use 3 baby eggplants, see the note at the end if you use one large one)

2 plum tomatoes, cored, dropped into boiling water for 3 minutes, then rinsed in cold water, skins peeled off, and the flesh coarsely chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons tomato paste

About 1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon hot smoked Spanish paprika (or more to taste)

¼ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

4-6 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into small cubes

1 large egg

Prick the eggplants in several places with a fork and roast them on a baking sheet in a 400-degree F oven for 40 minutes to an hour, until they are quite soft and nearly collapsed.  You can also cook the pricked eggplants on high power in the microwave on a microwave-safe plate for 10-14 minutes, depending on the power of your oven.  Let the eggplants cool until you can handle them.

Cut off the tops of the eggplants, then split them in half lengthwise and scrape out the flesh with a spoon.  You want to get as much of the flesh off the skin as you can, then roughly chop the flesh and set it aside.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet until shimmering hot.  Add the garlic and stir, preferably with a heatproof spatula, for 30 seconds until the garlic is fragrant.  Add the turmeric and cook for a few more seconds.  Then add the eggplant, tomato, cinnamon, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper, stir well, and cook over medium heat until the mixture is nearly dry, about 10 minutes.  Clear a space in the center of the pan and add the tomato paste, cook it for about a minute to toast it – it should get dry and look like it’s starting to stick to the pan.  Then stir it into the rest of the mixture.  Gently stir in the tofu, then clear a space in the center of the pan again and turn off the heat.  Crack the egg and drop it in the clear spot, use the spatula to scramble the egg and keep stirring until it’s about half-cooked.  Then stir the egg into the other ingredients.  Taste for salt, pepper, and smoked paprika, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Note:  If you’re using a large eggplant you may want to salt it to make sure it’s not bitter.  Cut off the top and cut the eggplant in half lengthwise.  Score the flesh with a knife without cutting through the skin.  Salt the cut surfaces and let them rest cut-side down in a colander for an hour to drain.  Rinse the eggplants and dry them with paper towels, then roast the halves cut-side up in the 400-degree F oven until soft.

This entry was posted in Cave la Vinsobraise, Côtes du Rhône Wines, Champagne bottles, Eggplant Mirza, Food, french wine, Global Warming, Musings/Lectures/Rants, Novruz, recipes, Tom Natan, wine delivery washington dc. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Think globally — and maybe get our government to act globally, too

  1. Pingback: They say “La Virginie” in French, ya know « Vine Art … from the palate of first vine wine online

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