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9 Cool, Weird, and Wacky Wine Varieties

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Wine can get weird. When planning your next soiree, skip the conventional vino varieties and opt for a type that’s made from unconventional (or straight-up wacky) ingredients or a unique hue. Sip on some inspiration below.

1. ROSE PETAL WINE

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Located in West Sussex, England, the small, family-run Lurgashall Winery produces wines, spirits, and meads from fruit and natural ingredients like birch sap, brambles, honey, and walnuts. The Royal National Rose Society, a specialist plant society in England that focuses on rose care and cultivation, commissioned Lurgashall to make a rose wine from handpicked flower petals. The pink-hued vintage is reportedly aromatic and medium-dry. No word, however, on whether it tastes as fragrant as its parent plant smells.

2. METEORITE WINE

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In 2012, Ian Hutcheon—who then worked as manager of Tremonte Vineyard in Chile's Cachapoal Valley—merged his love of wine and astronomy: He released a Cabernet Sauvignon that was fermented in a vat with a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite, believed to have crashed into the Atacama Desert around 6000 years ago. Fittingly, Hutcheon named the vintage "Meteorito."

Originally, Hutcheon only sold the wine at his observatory, Centro Astronomico Tagua Tagua, which he opened in 2007. “The idea behind creating the wine was to blend astronomy with winemaking, and offer the wine as an entertaining product visitors to our observatory could take home as a souvenir,” Hutcheon told The Drinks Business in 2013. But the space-inspired wine ended up garnering international attention, and wine lovers from other countries—including the U.S.—clamored to try the celestial drink for themselves.

3. BLUE WINE

Gik Live

Wine is typically red, white, pink, or yellow. But thanks to a start-up composed of six young Spanish entrepreneurs, we'll soon be able to drink a blue variety. The company—and its wine—is called GIK, and its founders (who have no prior wine-making experience) partnered with the University of the Basque Country and the food research department of the Basque Government to make the cerulean beverage.

Gik's wine is made from a red-and-white grape blend, with a non-calorie sweetener added to the mix. Surprisingly, its vivid hue doesn't come from dye—it reportedly is the result of a natural pigment found in grape skin, combined with indigo from the Isatis tinctoria plant. You can buy Gik online in Europe, and it's also available for pre-order in the U.S.  

4. COFFEE-FLAVORED WINE

Know that feeling near the end of the day, when you're not sure if you need a cup of coffee to perk up or a glass of wine to unwind? Friends Fun Wine certainly does. The Florida-based company sells different types of canned wine, including what they bill as the world's first coffee wine. Currently, it offers Cabernet Coffee Espresso and Chardonnay Coffee Cappuccino, as well as non-coffee beverages like sangria and moscato.

5. PUMPKIN WINE

Not into pumpkin spice lattes? Give its alcoholic cousin—pumpkin wine—a try. Maple River Winery in Casselton, North Dakota, makes the seasonal drink from local pumpkins. According to staff, the autumnal drink is so popular that it sells out quickly each fall (hence it's not listed on their website). However, vineyard visitors can still sample other unusual flavors—including apricot, gooseberry, lilac, and strawberry-rhubarb—depending on their seasonality.

6. CAKE FLAVORED WINE


Birthday Cake Vineyards’ name gets straight to the point. The New York-based company makes wine that, according to them, tastes like birthday cake. Customers can choose among a variety of white wines that taste like strawberry shortcake, cheesecake, and cake batter, and reds flavored like coffee cake and black forest cake.

7. JALAPENO WINE

Cardinal Winery

Brave enough to eat a jalapeno pepper whole? Try drinking an entire bottle of them. Located 30 minutes north of Philadelphia, Cardinal Hollow Winery in West Point, Pennsylvania makes more than 25 different types of wine—including strawberry, blackberry, and dandelion—but one of their best-selling creations is jalapeno wine. If the idea of sipping alcohol made from fiery chili peppers seems more terrifying than tasty, you can still cook with it. Cardinal Hollow Winery recommends using it to marinate meat, sprinkle on salads, and adding it to other types of wine for an added kick.

8. BEER-WINE HYBRIDS

Dogfish Head

Drinkers typically identify as either “wine” or “beer” people, but a handful of breweries have blurred this line (and confused everyone’s taste buds) by creating a variety of unique beer/wine hybrids. Brewers will add grape juice, whole grapes, and must (a blend of skins, seeds, stems, and other grape products) to their product, or ferment beer using wine yeasts.

One notable example is Dogfish Head Brewery, the craft beer heavyweight in Milton, Delaware. One of their beers, called Noble Rot, contains two white wine grapes: pinot gris and viognier grapes. (The latter are infected with a "benevolent fungus" called botrytis, a.k.a. “noble rot,” to reduce their water content and maximize their sweetness.) Another brew, Sixty-One IPA, is made with Syrah grape must. And Midas Touch is a hybrid wine/beer/mead beverage inspired by ingredients found in 2700-year-old drinking vessels that archaeologists discovered in the legendary King Midas’s tomb.

9. VODKA WINE

In 2012, Absolut Vodka launched Tune, a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc spiked with vodka. (It reportedly had a 14 percent ABV, which suggests that the drink had relatively little actual hard alcohol in it.) The following year, Tune was recalled in 10 states after it was discovered that the brand didn’t disclose whether the wine contained sulfates. Eventually, Tune was discontinued, but a few online retailers still appear to sell it.

BONUS: WINE MADE FROM GRAPES GROWN IN SPACE (FORTHCOMING)

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In the future, humans may enjoy wine made from grapes grown in a plant growth chamber on the International Space Station. In 2015, officials announced that the commercial spacecraft SpaceX Dragon would deliver wine grape seeds to the habitable satellite on its upcoming commercial resupply mission that April. Turns out, wine grapes are perfect for space travel: they don’t require much water, they produce strong fruit, and they yield little waste.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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