Sometimes after we’ve had a bit of wine, we think about the environmental impacts of the wine we’re drinking. (Actually, it takes more than just a bit…) And sometimes, when we sober up, we actually do a little research. The folks at the American Association of Wine Economists think about this when they’re not drinking, and commissioned a study on the carbon impact of wine – that is, the amount of greenhouse gases generated by growing grapes, producing wine, and bringing it to market. Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, released into the atmosphere as a result of man-made activities are the leading cause of global warming (global warming itself is changing wine production worldwide, but that’s a topic for another newsletter).
Guess what? AAWE concluded that if you live in the eastern United States, it turns out that you’re doing better environmentally buying French wine than California wine. That’s because most of the greenhouse gas impacts of wine come from transport. Most French wines come to the U.S. by ship, while wines from California come east by truck. Transport by ship uses 40% less fuel per mile per bottle than truck transport. Even though French wines travel by truck once they reach eastern U.S. ports, you’d practically have to live in Chicago before the greenhouse gas emissions for transporting bottles of French and California wines even out.
Wine-related greenhouse gases don’t just come from transportation, but the rest are much smaller in scope, and aren’t necessarily much different between France and California. Some fuel is used for harvesting, and until recently, vine cuttings were burned after harvest, releasing carbon dioxide. Fermentation of grapes generates carbon dioxide, but unless one wine is significantly higher in alcohol than another, the impact will be about the same. Making the bottles is a high-temperature, energy-intensive process, but even this pales in comparison to transporting the wine-filled bottle (although the authors note that there is some correlation between the price of a bottle of wine and the mass of glass used in the bottle, so higher-priced wines create more transportation emissions than lower-priced wines). The authors note that changes in land use from forest to viticulture, which releases the carbon dioxide stored by the trees, happened much earlier in France than in the U.S., and that the expansion of wine-producing land in the U.S. will have an impact on future greenhouse gas emissions, although these were not considered in the study. The study also didn’t include any discussion of buying local wines rather than French or California wines.
A few other things you might not know about producing wine: most French wine grapes are grown in soil and on terrain that wouldn’t support other types of crops. The grapevines are never treated with pesticides or fertilizers, and no irrigation is used. And as more farmers move to no-till practices and maintaining grasses or other native plants between the rows of vines, they get closer to truly sustainable agriculture. So while we can’t argue that drinking wine over tap water is better for the environment, wine itself is a fairly low-impact product. It’s nice to know that we here in the eastern U.S. can choose a high-quality French wine that’s not only less expensive than one from California, but has less environmental impact as well.
This week’s recipe comes from the quiz two weeks ago, where we asked you to name opera diva Luisa Tetrazzini’s rival. The answer? Australian soprano Nellie Melba, another absolute first-rater with a sensationally beautiful voice and what might be the best trill on record (and, in diva personality, gave as good as she got). It would have been a hard choice deciding which of these two to go and see on a particular night, one we unfortunately don’t have today. The legendary chef Escoffier created Peach Melba for Dame Nellie, an ice cream lover who reportedly was afraid of harming her vocal cords from the cold. (He also created Melba Toast for her, to eat when she was ill.) The warm peaches create a lovely soup with the ice cream and raspberry sauce. No doubt Dame Nellie’s first taste was with fresh fruit, but the intervening century plus has provided challenges and opportunities. Use fresh fruit if you have it, but since the peaches get poached, you can use good-quality frozen ones too, and you don’t have to bother thawing them first. (You do have to thaw the raspberries for the sauce if you use frozen ones). We’ve adapted this recipe from Nigella Lawson’s; appropriate since Nigella is rather diva-like herself. It’s easy to make, and looks beautiful.
This is an elegant dessert, and deserves champagne. (That’s probably how Dame Nellie ate it, although it’s odd that she would have been concerned about the ice cream and not the acidity of the champagne…) Try it with our Champagne Bernard Mante Brut Grande Reserve, complex, yeasty, and delicious. Put on a little Puccini – Melba sang into the 1920s, championed his opera La Boheme (the words “Addio Senza Rancor,” from Act 3, are on her tombstone), and was instrumental in solidifying its popularity. That alone is reason enough to raise a glass to her, and to happy holidays for all!
4 fresh peaches, or the equivalent amount of sliced frozen peaches (about one package, depending on size; more won’t necessarily hurt, and you can use leftovers for smoothies)
One and a half cups water
One and three-quarters cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
One and a half cups fresh raspberries, or a 10-ounce package of thawed frozen raspberries
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
One and a half teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Good quality vanilla ice cream
Toasted sliced almonds or crushed Amaretti cookies (optional)
Put the water, sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract in a wide saucepan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar, stirring occasionally. Bring the pan to the boil and let it bubble away for about 5 minutes, then turn the heat down to a fast simmer.
If you’re using fresh peaches, cut them in half, and then each half into three slices, removing the pits. Poach the peaches in the sugar syrup for about 6 minutes or so depending on the ripeness of the fruit, stirring occasionally. If you’re using frozen peaches, add them to the hot liquid and poach. Test the cut side with the sharp point of a knife to see if they are soft, and then remove them to a plate with a slotted spoon to cool slightly. You can do these ahead and let them cool to warm-ish in the liquid as well, or even reheat them in the syrup. In either case, keep the liquid and let it cool, then freeze it for the next time you need to poach peaches. Peel the peach slices if you like.
To make the raspberry sauce, puree the raspberries, confectioners’ sugar, and lemon juice in a blender or a food processor. Strain through a fine strainer to remove the seeds.
To assemble the Peach Melba, divide the warm peaches among four small serving bowls. Top with vanilla ice cream and the raspberry sauce, and then garnish with the almonds or cookies if you’d like to use them. Serve immediately.