Friday, March 28, 2014

Word clouds of Putin Address

Yet another turn of events took place today with Putin phoning Obama to seek diplomatic solution to the international standoff over Ukraine. Neither side expressed much excitement so far, but dialogue during crisis is better than couple of monologues.

Meanwhile what drove Putin to reach out to Obama? Maybe he feels it's the time he holds all the cards? While easily guessing his cards are Crimea, military buildup on the border, and continuing instability in Ukraine, what would be the bargaining about?

I will try using simple text analysis give another perspective on Putin's campaign in Crimea. Russian president doesn't give speeches or  press-conferences often but always exceptionally prepared. There were 3 relevant appearances by Putin in last couple of months before and during Ukrainian crisis (all are official translations from his site):

  1. News conference following EU Summit on January 24th.
  2. Press-conference with media representatives to answer questions with regard to the situation in Ukraine on March 4th. 
  3. Address by President to State Duma on Crimea on March 18th.
So what is the Address on Crimea about:
Not surprisingly it refers to Ukraine, Crimea and Russia the most. These words could be excluded without loosing any insight: 
Now, cloud becomes all about will and people (supposedly applied to RussianUkrainianCrimean). Has anything changed since EU Summit when Putin made his address? One way to answer this is to place both transcripts into the text corpus and run TF-IDF statistic on the terms. This time our cloud is based on the TF-IDF scores (minimal frequency of term per document is 3) for the address and will reflect both frequency in the Address and importance compared to EU Summit (that is all other documents in the corpus):
The words above stand out when compared to EU Summit text. It's no surprise that Sevastopol didn't sound in January, but nor were Kosovo, residents, and law. To make it more convincing let's throw into the mix Putin's press conference on March 4th when he broke silence on Crimea. Now the text corpus includes 3 documents and this is the cloud of the highest TF-IDF scores for the Address document:

Again there are Sevastopol and city, but also importantly Russians, NATO, millions, ethnic, reality, Tatars, borders, and USSR are the words that stand out compared to what Putin said before. It is a clearly a mix of his concerns, goals, and, well, realities, but, it could be also about symbol of Russian glory - Sevastopol - at least to some degree? After checking his speech it is clear that he referred to Sevastopol each time Crimea, but there was one place where this city mentioned alone: 
"I simply cannot imagine that we would travel to Sevastopol to visit NATO sailors."
Would Putin roll back and yield to international condemnation? Very unlikely, but I cannot imagine at all he will give Sevastopol back.

Since Sevastopol was used along with Crimea which was removed from analysis the cloud below is version of last with Sevastopol excluded. Word clouds are always open to interpretation so I leave it here for the reader to make their own conclusions:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Deconstructing The French Laundry Wine List, Part II

Having more refined data than last time I focus on prices in this post.

Price Word Clouds 

Word clouds below use prices instead of frequency: size corresponds to average price of bottles of wine each term belongs to (hence, even if expression occurs only once but in very expensive wine it appears on top):

Let's remember that Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is less expensive than Château Petrus. Next, let's zoom in by splitting this into two clouds: for red and for white wines (some names will disappear from both because they don't belong to neither reds nor whites, e.g. Scion which belongs to fortified wines).

Red wine price cloud (1287 bottles total):

Now both Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Château Petrus are first among equals. The hint why the former improved lies in the white wine price cloud (539 bottles total):
The Burgundian estate is present here but not so for the one from Bordeaux. It'll be shown momentarily that the prices of whites are consistently below reds so averages tend lower when computed across the board. This effect is not present for Château Petrus as it doesn't feature whites at all.

Last cloud for today is whites price cloud without outlier Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Removing it makes viewing prestigious whites on The French Laundry list almost as pleasant as drinking (just kidding):

Gender Wine Inequality between Reds and Whites

Are whites cheaper than reds? Using population pyramid type of histogram we can compare them by price (think of white as female, red as male (or vice versa if you wish), and wine price as salary). And just like in population pyramid we have plots for each country (France, Italy, and US):

US makes the best case for inequality while France fares best for equality (longer history of wine democracy?). All 3 show consistent trends though: red prices are right skewed with fat tails, while white prices are more symmetric with lower centers of distribution. Of course, all results are subject to The French Laundry sommelier's bias in wine selection (and possibly the reason that Spain was heavily under-represented in whites so it didn't make this chart).

Compare median prices (dashed horizontal lines) across 3 countries: contrary to popular belief American wines are better value than European counterparts (assuming that all wines on the The French Laundry list are outstanding). American wines really represent the "budget" section of the list (prices under $200) while Europeans peak above $200. I will follow up on that in the future posts.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The French Laundry Wine List Deconstructed

Not that I surprise you but my little exercise in deconstructing The French Laundry wine list  may help with planning your trip there. This word cloud is from the wine list offered by the restaurant (available here):
It includes expressions parsed from the wine names. Terms that occur less than 5 times were excluded.

Wine names usually do not include varietal, country, appellation, and other standard designations. But some exceptions do occur, so below is the same cloud with top exceptions removed:
Apparently, Domain de la Romanee-Conti is a big winner for Head Sommelier Dennis Kelly. This estate in Burgundy produces some of the world's most expensive bottles of wine.

What vintages are in favor at The French Laundry today?
I did hear that 2010 was a great vintage in California. Is it really American wines that contribute to 2010 success? Next 6 vintage clouds are by country:
Indeed, 2010 is popular in USA today, but so is in France, Germany and Austria. Noticeably, sommelier favors 1996, 2004, 2006 in Italy, 1994, 2004, 2005 in Spain, 2005 and 2009 in France, 1996, 2004, 2006 in Italy.

And, finally, let's see wine price histogram:
Selection peaks around $150 to $200, with plenty of choices in $250 to $500 range still. In case you started to worry, I removed wines with price tag above $2000 to improve this chart: there are plenty to choose above $2000, especially the wines from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.

P.S. Found nothing worth trying or prices are too high? Feel free to bring your own bottle of wine keeping in mind restaurant's published corkage fee policy: "Guests are welcome to bring wines that are not represented on our wine list; however there will be a fee of $150 for each 750ml bottle with a limit of one bottle for every two guests at the table."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Good Luck, President Medvedev!

Finally President Medvedev said it. Wait is over. No more 2d term for him. No more questions - skip election press conference, relax, do crazy things, vacation all you want, rename Red Army to White, move permanently to Sochi or Miami. Nothing can hurt you anymore because president of Russia never says something like vodka is evil and wine is as good as water or juice.

There are way too many problems with this.

Firstly, beer is the main fighter of vodka in Russia. Never mind beer became an appetizer to a lot of vodka drinkers: it will be a hard sell for wine to overtake beer.

Secondly, dry wine demands some sophistication from its consumers because wine is a foodie drink. Anywhere you go wine goes side by side with local type of food: Chèvre and Sancerre or Schnitzel with sauerkraut and German Riesling or BBQ and Zinfandel. Pairing typical Russian food is a challenge (if you have a good idea for pelmeni with sour cream please let me know).

Next goes simple price/reward ratio: choosing between wine with 11-14% alcohol level and vodka with 40% alcohol level for half or less the price. It’s no brainer.

But don’t stop there. How about selection: there are literally 100s types of different wines – not even brands – which leaves uneducated consumer daunted and lost. On top of that two decent, affordable and well known sources of wine for Russian consumer are Moldova and Georgia – both are banned for import for pure political reasons.

With all these problems I wish President Medvedev good luck. Because some day wine might turn out to be a cure for vodka-loving Russia. But I don’t see just 2 things today: how Medvedev can be a president after this and how Putin can jump on a wine loving band-wagon when he becomes president again. Because even fantastically overinflated credit Putin has won’t be enough to fight vodka in Russia. But maybe, just maybe, it is the one idea that can turn a lot of things around in this country…

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The chicken or the egg dilemma

It happens all the time. We procrastinate by ignoring it or effortlessly solve by not thinking about it. Higher education. Planning vacation. Dumping girl(boy)-friend. Changing jobs. Paying off credit cards. Each time there is a choice what decision comes first. Money for education or a degree to earn them. Plane tickets or hotel reservation. New girl(boy)-friend or breaking up. Job offer or letter of resignation. Buying more stuff or paying off a balance. And whatever choice we make will affect the other one that follows.

Here is another the chicken or the egg dilemma that people who like wines shouldn’t ignore: aging wines. It’s no secret that top 5-10% of (particular varietals of white and red) wines develop into superior versions of themselves with age. While young wine may exhibit some of its qualities the process of aging makes wine more complex and balanced, enhances its bouquet and lengthens its finish. Without climate-controlled cellar (the chicken) properly aged wine is unlikely to happen. And without experiencing the effect of aging (the egg) one is unlikely to commit to moderate to significant investment cellar demands.

Without a cellar you would
  • have to drink your wines almost immediately
  • never know how amazing your wine could have become after 2-5 years or more.

Let me guess that if you
  • are still reading this blog and
  • don’t have a cellar and
  • didn’t go to online shopping to buy one yet
then you are ignoring this dilemma.

How about solving it by having an egg without hatching it (it’s just fair because the egg was first indeed)? I can offer at least four ways in order from more to less expensive. And you are free to stick to them for as long as you can both afford and enjoy it or decide to start your own cellar.

The simplest way to try a good aged wine is spending extra $100-200 at the restaurant on older vintages of Pinot, Syrah, etc. (Cabernet will likely command larger premium). Share your plan with sommelier so that she can offer best choices and you won’t end up with overpriced label instead. Of course you would have to find a restaurant with respectable wine list but advantage is that such places usually offer excellent food as well. Remember that even latest vintage is always behind current year, e.g. today we are seeing new releases of 2007 Syrah and 2009 Pinot Noir. This means that you need to go back to 2003-2007 vintages or older.

Next option is library wine tasting at a winery or buying a bottle of library wine from them. Library wine tasting commands higher fee than regular tastings but way less than a bottle of wine at the restaurant. Make sure it is a library wine and not a premium or reserve wine. The latter are for current releases of select and limited wines produced at the winery. If you buy a bottle and have it shipped you don’t have to travel to a wine country near (or not so near) you.

Similar option is finding good aged wine at a wine store or a wine bar where you live. You’ll get a sound advice (I hope) that way too.

2000 Twomey Merlot
and 2005 Rubicon Estate Cask
can age for 10 years or more in cellar
And lastly, if you have a friend (or friend of a friend and so on) who has a cellar (even better winery) then go for it: tell him or her how interested you are in tasting aged wine before starting your own cellar. People don’t drink their wines alone – at least people keeping wine cellars. Just remember to bring nice food pairing when invited.

Chances are you will discover whole new world in aged wines  and 5 years will never taste the same.

P.S. No need in a big investment into wine cellar that occupies half of your place or make you move to a cave. Small kitchen appliance or built-in wine coolers will suffice. You can even rent a wine storage instead. It’s yet to be proven that 100% of people starting that way end up with wine cellars occupying better part of their house but I wouldn’t bet against it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My problem with Napa: Where is a picnic table?

To me Napa became “Disney World” of wine country: huge wineries with crowded tasting rooms, overhyped wines and overpriced tasting lists. But these are the things people expect from Napa nowadays: wine tasting has become secondary to winery design, collection of art, wine club tiers or celebrity chef nearby.

My problem with Napa is actually simple: give me something little that I don’t have to pay for. For starters, give me a picnic area where I can eat my lunch and drink your wine if I liked it.

View of Napa from the deck of Opus One Winery in Oakville:
vineyards and parking lots all around
Driving by Highway 29 in St. Helena you can stop by Dean & De Luca Market to grab a sandwich (Have you seen a deli without a table? No? This is the place!). Fine, noisy and dusty highway doesn't make for nice relaxing spot. I’ll go to one of the wineries south or north and enjoy it in tranquility of the garden or vineyard. What, I can’t? Wineries need a permit? And they don’t care to have one (except for those like V.Sattui where picnic area is huge place to consume goods sold at their deli). Things came full circle to crowded overhyped places where I have to pay to have a picnic (by paying I mean buying their food - not glass of wine).

When I come to Napa I do it on a weekday and for one day. I pick a historic winery that also offers tours to visit (like Rubicon Estate, Beaulieu Vineyards, Beringer, Charles Krug to name a few) and leave Napa behind back to its nicer sister wine country – Sonoma.

P.S. To be fair there are few wineries in Napa that offer picnic area - some alcohol-free, some are appointment only and some are not conveniently located. Plan your picnic in Napa using this map. And don't forget: their picnic table - their wine.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Opus One Winery: missing pieces miss the mark

Opus One is a Napa icon, cult wine, part of American winemaking history. It is founded by two men forever linked to Old and New World wines: Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton Rothschild and Robert Mondavi of Mondavi family. The idea was to create a Bordeaux style blend from Napa Valley: New World grape made by Old World rules. After Mondavi flagship winery became a prototype for so many Napa ventures he wanted to differentiate once again. Opus One became his next venture.

View from the front of the Winery
When you drive on Route 29 in Oakville it’s across from original Robert Mondavi Winery – take a look. My advice is this is all you need. Do not stop. Your time and money are better spent elsewhere. If you are looking for piece of history stop by Rubicon Estate: Mr. Coppola, its owner, did an amazing job of preserving and recreating original Inglenook estate. If you want view of Napa check out Rutherford Hill with its amazing sky high view. If you want tasting then choices are too many… For example, Mondavi other brother - Peter - offers more choices for much less money at Charles Krug.

Their wine didn't register with me. I am not big Bordeaux fan but 2 years later I still remember how good 2000 Twomey Merlot tasted. This didn’t happen with their Cab. If not for vertical tasting of 2006 and 2007 cabs I wouldn’t appreciate 2007 as much (please, excuse my French, if you drink and love French-made Bordeaux).
View from the deck

And, one more thing, WTF is Opus One architecture? I have no idea how they came up with this kitschy, cold, confusing building. It is round but you can’t drive around it. It is 2 story but they hid the stares. It is big but it has few places to sit. The whole thing looks and feels like Stalin mausoleum (if it ever existed) – rather sober tribute to winemaking…