The Society of Wine Educators

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The Society of Wine Educators is a membership-based nonprofit organization focused on providing wine and spirits education along with the conferral of several certifications. The Society is internationally recognized, and its programs are highly regarded both for their quality and relevance to the industry. 

The Mission of the SWE is to set the standard for quality and responsible wine and spirits education and professional certification. 

Harvest Report 2015 – Europe


Today we have the second part of a three-part series on the 2015 harvest, authored by Mark Rashap, CWE.

In a previous blog post, I outlined the 2015 harvest for the major growing regions of France, and described my method of remembering and mentally archiving vintages around the world by comparing them to the particulars of Bordeaux.  Through this technique, it is easy to draw similarities, such as in 2010 regions all over Europe followed Bordeaux with great phenolic ripeness with maintained acidity.  Likewise, in 2007 there was a lot of variability and many regions differed from the cool rainy conditions of Bordeaux with very hot and arid weather in Piedmont and Tuscany.  Perhaps, you remember and make sense of vintages in an entirely different way, and we would love to hear about it!

As for the chatter around the 2015 vintage for the rest of Europe, it seems like this year will go down as a relatively easy vintage to remember.  Most regions experienced conditions similar to those of Bordeaux, including extreme heat and drought in the summer months, which advanced ripening and harvest 1-2 weeks.  There were rains and a cooling off of temperatures in either late August or early September which saved the grapes from the raisin character and lack of acidity that afflicts very warm vintages, such as 2003.

The following reflects the pertinent info we should file away to remember in the coming  years when these wines are being released.


In Spain, Wines of Rioja reported that harvest was wrapped up officially by October 13th which makes this year the earliest harvest on record.  Alcohols were slightly above average, and the health of the berries and lack of disease and mold in the vineyard are making producers very excited.  Other than a short heat wave in the beginning of July, Ribera del Duero did not experience the extreme heat that Rioja did.  Rainfall was average, and the diurnal shifts in September were remarkable, allowing great phenolic ripeness.

In Galicia, La Voz de Galicia, a local newspaper, reported that 2015 is a year that many wineries were able to make noble rot and late harvest Albariño because of the perfect level of humidity.  There were adequate rains in the Spring and almost no precipitation during the summer which is rare for Galicia.  Quantities are the third largest in recorded history.

In Cataluña, the DO summarizes the same story: harvest 2 weeks early, heat in summer promoted phenolic ripeness, health of the grapes was perfect.

In Portugal, Quinta do Vallado published that the winter was drier than usual, and this continued through the summer.  There was not excessive heat through the summer, but the drought slowed vegetative growth putting the energy into reproduction, the berries.  Harvest was 1-2 weeks early, then Sept 15th saw rains which dried out quickly allowing an extended harvest.  2015 is expected to be a vintage year for Port.


In Piedmont, Pietro Oddero, seventh generation of the Oddero winery in La Morra, described how copious rainfall in the winter and spring was essential in supplying the water table to get through the drought and heat of June and July.  Skins were thicker and yields lower than normal years.   Rains in late August saved the Nebbiolo harvest allowing acidity to be maintained.  Comparisons are being made to the excellent quality of 2010.

In Tuscany, Francesco de Filippis, agronomist, owner of Cosimo Maria Masini, and biodynamics specialist agreed that 2015 has incredible potential because of the rains in September.  Francesco’s vineyards typically do better in warmer years because of the moisture retaining organic humus; however, his vineyards were incredibly stressed until the rains invigorated them.  July was hotter than 2003, and he could not remember a drier summer.

In Germany, often vintages do not reflect the rest of Europe, but in 2015 there were a lot of similarities.  The German Wine Institute declared that the grapevines were able to withstand the heat and drought of June and July.  Occasionally, temperatures were breaking the 40°C ceiling, but there were rains in early August that provided long needed relief.  Sugars are on average a lot higher than normal with no need to de-acidify.  Ripeness and quantity for Pinot Noir is exceptional, this might be the year for German reds to make their mark.

The 2015 report will continue with a review of North America in the coming week!

MarkPost authored by Mark Rashap, CWE. Mark has, over the past ten years, been in the wine world in a number of capacities including studying wine management in Buenos Aires, being an assistant winemaker at Nota Bene Cellars in Washington State, founding his own wine brokerage, and working for Texas-based retail giant Spec’s as an educator for the staff and public.

In August of 2015, Mark joined the team of the Society of Wine Educators as Marketing Coordinator to foster wine education across the country.

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!


Amrut and the Elixir of Life


India is a large consumer and producer of whisky. Many of the best-selling whisky brands in the world are produced and, for the most part, consumed in India. However, the definition and regulations concerning whisky in India are not the same as those used by the United States or the European Union. As such, much of the “whisky” produced in India is at least partially made with molasses-based neutral spirits. The best-selling brands of these whiskies include Officer’s Choice, McDowell’s No. 1, Royal Stag and Imperial Blue.

However, true whisky produced from grains and following standards equal to those employed by the United States and the European Union is produced in India and exported throughout the world. The first producer to make a true grain-based whisky in India was Amrut Distilleries. The company, located in Bangalore, was founded in 1948 by Neelakanta Jagdale.

In 2004, after producing rum and other spirits for several decades, Anmut Distilleries released a single malt whisky, made from 100% barley. Known simply as Amrut, it was ceremoniously first released in Glasgow, Scotland. This was followed by releases throughout much of Europe as well as Australia, North America, South Africa, and Asia.

The name Amrut comes from a Sanskrit word which may be translated as “nectar of the gods” or, as the company translates it, “elixir of life.” The story of the name, from Indian mythology, is as good as it gets: As the gods and the Rakshasas (the demons) churned the oceans using Mount Meru as a giant churner, a golden pot emerged from the waters containing the elixir of life. This elixir was called “Amrut.”  (Western cultures would equate the “elixir of life” as the “fountain of youth” or “infinity formula.”)

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Photo via:

Amrut is made from 100% barley. Most of the barley used is grown in India, however, for peated versions, some peated barley is imported from Scotland. The whisky is double-distilled in large pot stills before being diluted to 125 proof and aged in oak barrels for four years or longer. Surinder Kumar, the master blender at Amrut Distilleries, has estimated that because of climate differences, one year of barrel aging in India is equal to three years of aging in Scotland.

Amrut single malt whisky quickly became famous after being reviewed well by several well-known and respected whisky critics and publications. To name just one, Amrut Fusion Single Malt (based on a blend of Indian and Scottish barley), released in 2010, was named “World Whisky of the Year” by Malt Advocate magazine.

Amrut single malt whisky is now released in over 10 styles, including those aged in ex-Sherry barrels, those aged in ex-Bourbon barrels, peated versions, non-peated versions, cask-strength bottlings, and single barrel bottlings. There’s also a version called “Greedy Angels” (referring to the annual 10-12% “angel’s share” evaporation due to the tropical climate of the Bangalore distillery) that sounds amazing.

The distillery currently produces 4 million cases of liquor a year, including approximately 10,000 cases of Amrut single malt. Amrut is available in over 30 countries, including the UK, Canada, Japan, the US, and Australia. And for the adventurous traveler, the distillery tours look great!


Post authored by Jane A. Nickles – SWE’s Director of Education and Certification –

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!

Insights into Insightful Wine Writing


Today we have a guest post from Mark Rashap, CWE…

In today’s Information Age, online opinions, tasting notes, blogs, and general wine writing have become omnipresent. This is both good and bad for readers looking for reliable information.

There is such a broad range of quality in this collective literature – from bragging about tasting an iconic wine (which does the reader no good) to describing a conversation with a winemaker in a unique wine region (which can inspire and serve as an informational resource).  I’m not suggesting that everything we write and put into the virtual world must be ground-breaking or a brilliant philosophical essay.  However, I do think that we can demand more from our own writing, strive to improve our own appreciation of wine, and serve as insightful mentors for folks scouring the internet looking for answers to questions they didn’t even know they had.

When I teach a wine class, whether it is an advanced theme or basic wine appreciation, I am never content with students describing a wine simply in terms of “I like it” or “I don’t like it.”  This tells me nothing about the wine’s character nor the student’s tastes and experiences on which we can build; in effect, it stops the conversation.


Instead, I try to encourage students to be honest with themselves and get into the “why” and the “how” of what they’re describing.  In fact, for beginners, I believe that “I don’t know” is a much better thing to say in describing a wine than “I don’t like” because it implies that that there is an underlying “something” that, with practice and instruction, one may be able to grasp.

Perhaps even knowledgeable and experienced wine professionals could do a better job in writing about the why and how they think about a wine, a region, or a vintage, instead of rattling off 3-5 descriptors that are similar to the last ten wines described with the score being the only differentiating factor.  All wines—at least all of quality—have a particular fingerprint that makes them unique from the next, and it would be beneficial to the reader if the critic would attempt to penetrate that unique aspect.

In Matt Kramer’s recent publication True Taste (2015), he gives a succinct history of wine writing and offers some theories as to how we have become so homogenized when it comes to describing and rating wines.  He goes on to describe 7 abstract qualities around which he believes all wines should be judged: Harmony, Texture, Layers, Finesse, Surprise, Nuance, and Insight, which he correlates to writing tasting notes and overall wine appreciation.  As he defines it, “Experience + Thought + Synthesis = Insight.”  I think this is a brilliant way to judge wine writing, as well as interactions with the wine professionals who work in restaurants or retail outlets.  If one shows a high level of insight, I believe it is worth going back to that wine shop or that restaurant, or continuing to read that blog.


Kramer emphasizes that experience—although it is to some degree required—is not the only characteristic of someone worth listening to.  Visiting Bordeaux for 20 years straight and compiling 20 years’ worth of tasting notes simply provides us with a lot of data.  On the other hand, the thought process built around those notes—such as synthesizing soil variations with vintage character and the internal workings of the winery—now, that is the real juicy stuff a reader wants to digest.

As wine professionals, we must demand insight from ourselves, our writing, our teaching, and from others.  When teaching, I try to reinforce to young and enthusiastic wine lovers that experience is not everything, and that not everybody extracts the same amount of knowledge from each experience.  One year of critical tasting, with close attention paid to drawing correlations from all the factors that have gone into making a wine is worth more than a lifetime of drinking first growth Bordeaux.

Blogs, social media, and open source platforms for wine reviews allow us access to so much information that was previously unavailable.  We can now get news and harvest updates from wineries directly from their Facebook, Twitter, and blog pages.  However, there is a temptation to produce content just to occupy space in the social media sphere whether we have something to say or not.  Let’s collectively resolve to ask ourselves to delve a little deeper in describing wines and the condition of appreciating wine.  We will indeed learn more from asking these questions ourselves, and just might be able to nurture the younger and savvier wine community as well!

MarkPost authored by Mark Rashap, CWE. Mark has, over the past ten years, been in the wine world in a number of capacities including studying wine management in Buenos Aires, being an assistant winemaker at Nota Bene Cellars in Washington State, founding his own wine brokerage, and working for Texas-based retail giant Spec’s as an educator for the staff and public.

In August of 2015, Mark joined the team of the Society of Wine Educators as Marketing Coordinator to foster wine education across the country.

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!


Tasting Rooms Less Traveled: Colorado (Guest Post)


Today we have a guest post by an anonymous writer, who we will know by the name Candi, CSW. Candi has been visiting some of the lesser-known wine regions of the US, and has been generous enough to share her experiences with us! Read on!

Since obtaining my CSW certification in 2014, I have been looking forward to opportunities to apply my new knowledge and skills. One of my favorite ways to do this is to visit winery tasting rooms. This year was unusual for me, in that I was able to do tastings in two states which are among emerging areas for domestic wine. This post features a late spring trip to Colorado; next week’s post will discuss a fall trip to Arizona.

Grand Valley AVA: Palisade, Colorado

The town of Palisade is probably best known for its peaches, which are indeed fabulous. Palisade, however, is also the site of the fall Colorado Mountain Winefest. If my e-mail is to be believed, this event was a sell-out this year with more than 6,300 attendees.

My last wine tasting experience here was in 2003. At that time, I was much less well- informed and not quite the enthusiast that I am today.  I do recall that the white wines were pleasant enough, especially the Rieslings. And, to this day, I enjoy Colorado Rieslings. As for the reds, though, they were not especially memorable.

I had to make an unscheduled trip to Colorado in May of this year. A bright spot of that trip was a free Sunday afternoon. While I vastly prefer tasting during the week to avoid crowds, I had identified a few wineries for potential visits, just in case. I am blessed to have a tolerant designated driver. So off we went, our time limited to two choices.

My impression: what a difference 12 years makes! These wines, particularly red varietals, are growing up!


One stop was Plum Creek Winery, just on the outskirts of Palisade with vineyards nearby. Despite the fact that this was Sunday afternoon, there were only a few others tasting. Tasting five wines was complimentary. I chose two whites, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, as the former seemed unusual for Colorado and the latter more typical. Reds included Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. My developing palate was most intrigued by the reds, particularly the Bordeaux blend, “Grand Mesa”. This wine has limited distribution, which added to the attraction.

Another visit was Debeque Canyon Winery, conveniently located near a distillery. Hey, something for everyone. Again, the tasting room was relatively quiet, with a few apparent walk-ins. Tasting was complimentary, there were multiple choices, and it certainly seemed that the winery is focused on red varietals. Works for me. I tasted the Riesling, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wait a minute. Pinot Noir? One of my favorite varietals? In Colorado?

Most definitely, and a wine that made an impact. The current release is 100% Pinot Noir, a non-vintage blend of 2010 and 2011. The grapes are grown at a vineyard situated at an altitude of more than 7,000 feet. The climate is much less humid, with more diurnal temperature variation, than in some coastal areas where Pinot Noir is often found. These factors, along with the vintner’s special touch, may have contributed to a distinct, even concentrated palate impression, so to speak. This enabled me to identify the wine as varietally correct, balanced, and complex.


When we were preparing to leave Debeque Canyon, a gentleman entered, walked behind the counter and poured himself a full glass of wine as if he owned the place. Becoming a CSW has made me, ahem, more assertive in a tasting room setting. So I asked him if he was the vintner. Turns out I was about to meet Bennett Price, who did indeed make the wine. And, who, maybe, does own the place. My enthusiasm and Bennett’s connected in a way that we were invited to the back for a barrel tasting of the 2013 and 2014 Pinot Noirs.

Quiet, low-key tasting rooms enabled a leisurely experience. Many varietals from which to choose. Difficulty making purchase decisions due to quality. And, a personal barrel tasting with the vintner. All in just a side trip for the afternoon. We clearly plan to return to Colorado wine country.

For further information, please see Justin Gilman’s informative Guest Post: On the Wines of Colorado.

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!

Tasting Rooms Less Traveled: Arizona (Guest Post)

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Today we have another guest post by Candi, CSW. Last week Candi shared her trip to Colorado wine country, this week she has a story about the tasting rooms of Arizona. Read on!

Verde Valley Wine Trail: Northern Arizona

Our main destination for a September, 2015 trip was Wyoming, to revisit Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We were, however, within one day’s drive of Sedona, Arizona. Sedona, in addition to being a beautiful stop, has the advantage of being very close to one of Arizona’s three wine trails. So, of course, we added a stop in Arizona to appease the wine enthusiast of the family.

I had never tasted Arizona wine. My pre-trip research indicated that there are three geographically distinct wine trails, each of which has about a dozen wineries. The Verde Valley Wine Trail centers on several small towns in Northern Arizona. The trail is also near two national monuments, if you can tear yourself away from the tasting rooms.

We had just one afternoon in which to taste, which meant two tasting rooms before palate fatigue would occur. By the time we departed, I had done online research and chatted with staff at several alternatives. I believe that, since this area is newer for tourism than some, I had to dig more to get the planning information needed. That’s okay; all part of the fun of trip anticipation.

We arrived in Sedona on a Monday evening, in time for me to do a bit of pre-tasting reconnaissance at the nearest grocery store.  There was an entire aisle devoted to in-state wine, with wide price and varietal variation. This gave me clues to local distribution, and also identified wine that could be purchased at retail if I ran out of tasting room time. So far, so good.

On Tuesday afternoon, we were there at opening time for Arizona Stronghold’s tasting room in Cottonwood, Arizona. Cottonwood features several tasting rooms on its main street, along with other shopping and dining.

Within 15 minutes, this tasting room was busy – on a Tuesday in September, which I found surprising. But the efficient, friendly staff was able to accommodate all of us, from true enthusiasts who wanted detailed information to walk-ins who just wanted a glass of wine and relaxation.

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Arizona Stronghold has a well-organized tasting procedure, which I appreciated. You choose from one of at least four different tasting flights, five wines each. I had difficulty choosing among the four flights – so many varietals! My server graciously accommodated a customized list. Onward and cheers!

My tasting included Viognier “No Mal” (they make one with, one without), rose’, a red blend (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Verdot), Syrah, and Nebbiolo. One smart feature: wines with wide distribution have a colorful label, while those limited to the tasting room and certain wine clubs have a more understated, discreet label. This is also the first tasting room I have visited that openly discussed the retail distribution of some of their wines. So I learned that the wines with retail distribution can be found in 23 states. How user-friendly is that?

As is often the case for me (pun intended), it was difficult to choose among the wines. But the limited distribution wines did have a practical attraction and made an impression. Overall, a solid introduction to the breath and depth of Arizona wines.

On to Clarkdale, Arizona, and the tasting room/cooperative that is Four Eight Wineworks. My understanding of the concept is that this facility provides a place for small production, start-up wineries to market and sell their product. The specific wineries change as some grow and move out. Upon reaching about a 1,500 case/year production level, wineries typically set up individual facilities.

I have always been intrigued by small wineries and tend to seek these out for my tasting trips. I believe that part of the fun of wine is the constantly evolving nature and the entry of new participants, which made Four Eight Wineworks an easy choice for the agenda.

We had this tasting room to ourselves, which allowed for plenty of discussion with our helpful server. I learned that Cochise County in southeastern Arizona is the site of many producers’ vineyards. Most wines featured here were, indeed, labeled Cochise County.

Four Eight offered a choice of two wine flights. Each flight included two wines made from grapes grown within Arizona, and two made from grapes imported from outside the state. My preference was to taste wines made from Arizona grapes, so again I requested a customized flight. Not a problem.


My flight included Bodega Pierce Chardonnay, Saeculum Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Bodega Pierce Petite Sirah and Saeculum Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. I had not previously experienced a tasting sequence in which Sauvignon Blanc was poured after Chardonnay, but after tasting the fuller body of the Sauvignon Blanc, I understood. I learned that not all New World Sauvignon Blancs are lighter in body. This wine was aged in oak; what an interesting example of southeastern Arizona terrior and vinification!

Saeculum Cellars is another label of Michael Pierce. My high school Latin was more years ago than I care to admit. Online dictionaries define “saeculum” as a long period of time, such as a generation or a lifetime. A bit of trivia, but I just had to know.

Both tasting room servers asked about our additional planned stops, and offered suggestions to promote others. There seems to be a spirit of cooperation here that I do not always experience. The wide variety of choices was another key impression. Along with Colorado, this will be another wine area to explore in more depth.

My perspective in terms of wines that I discuss with others has changed based upon what I consider to be introductory experiences in Colorado and in Arizona. Most people who wanted to hear about my trips, and have recently visited these states, did not know that there were even wineries to be experienced. As a CSW, I consider it part of my responsibility to spread the word about emerging wine areas. And I have been, most enjoyably. Cheers!

For further information, please see two SWE Conference Recaps: Getting High in Arizona by Gary Spadafore, CSS, CWE, and Paula Woolsey, CSW; and, Interview with Michael Pierce – Arizona Wines.

2015 Harvest Report – France


As wine professionals, we often get to field questions from either the public or colleagues about the state of the industry.  In the months of October and November, there’s no hotter topic than the quality of the harvest in the Northern Hemisphere.  Even though we won’t get to taste these wines from bottle for another couple of years (or maybe even more), there’s something rejuvenating and challenging about grasping how the climactic factors might be reflected in the wines.

As we all have our own techniques for compartmentalizing, comparing, and remembering the quality of vintage by region, I’ll lead you through my thought process, which does not follow the chronological flow of harvest, but digs into a few regions and compares them against the others.

For me, I understand and remember vintages starting with Bordeaux, mostly because there is a lot of good data due to the financial impact of the vintage (prices can vary drastically based on good or bad reports) and partially due to being passionate about the region.

Francois Thienpont, owner of the Négociant Wings and brother of winemaker Nicolás Thienpont, reported that conditions in Bordeaux were ideal during flowering, setting the stage for perfect fruit set.  The summer was incredibly hot, which advanced veraison and

harvest a few weeks earlier than normal.  Francois stated that very gentle rains and a slight cooling off of temperatures in August and September were just what the vines needed; the acidity was maintained unlike 2003 for the dry reds of both right and left banks.  Hugo Bernard, heir to Domaine de Chevalier (in Pessac-Léognan), reported that acidity was lower for dry whites, but ripeness and alcohol were excellent.  Hugo admitted these whites might see less time in oak while in the winery, but further tasting will dictate this decision.  Botrytis set in perfectly for the sweet wines of Sauternes.

In Burgundy, harvest was finished by early September, which is a few weeks earlier than normal. High temperatures in July and water stress thickened skins and promoted ripeness; gentle rains and cooler temperatures in August helped to maintain acidity. For the first time in 4 years hail did not affect the yields of the great vineyards of the Cotes d’Or; however, there was minimal hail damage in Chablis and surrounding areas of Auxerrois. Overall, quality is very high; quantity is low but not as low as 2011-2014.


In Champagne, all indicators point to a fantastic 2015. The CIVC published the pick dates a few weeks earlier than usual, as well as granting permission to some properties to harvest even earlier. Many producers are excited, claiming that this one of the best vintages in the last 20 years. The CIVC also published the lowest permitted yields in the past 10 years.

In the Rhône Valley, a very hot July gave was to a cooler August.  Domaine de Mourchon published that rains saved the grapes rather than promoting rot, with cool mornings in September making cold maceration easy.  There should be good concentration in the wines, with balanced acidity.

The Loire Valley follows Bordeaux with warm summer, rains in September that dried quickly and allowed the grapes relief and to finish ripening with good acidity.

Alsace often has different conditions than does Bordeaux  – such as in 2007 and 2011 which were difficult for Bordeaux but excellent for Alsace.  For 2015, the CIVA reports huge ripeness and potential alcohol and are allowing acidification for the first time since 2003.  Many grand cru vineyards reached sugar levels that will not be possible to ferment to dryness.  Botrytis is also very scarce, meaning than many producers are opting for passerillage (drying the grapes or passito) in order to make sweet wines.

Stay tuned for a continued 2015 harvest report for the rest of the great regions of the Northern Hemisphere.  We would love to hear how you remember and file away the quality of the vintage by region.  Do you need a system, or can you just remember the particulars?  Do you use Burgundy as your anchor for comparison?  Do you remember regions as they are harvested chronologically?

MarkPost authored by Mark Rashap, CWE. Mark has, over the past ten years, been in the wine world in a number of capacities including studying wine management in Buenos Aires, being an assistant winemaker at Nota Bene Cellars in Washington State, founding his own wine brokerage, and working for Texas-based retail giant Spec’s as an educator for the staff and public.

In August of 2015, Mark joined the team of the Society of Wine Educators as Marketing Coordinator to foster wine education across the country.

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!


A Primer on Prosecco

Prosecco outsideA guest post by Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSE…

At a recent gallery opening, I was offered a glass of Prosecco. A stroll to the bar showed that they were pouring Cava! Is Prosecco – the lovely, frothy bubbly wine – turning into a generic? 

The reality is that since 2009, there has been a progression of steady changes and classifications in this wine from northeast Italy, starting with the creation of a classic area – where the existing DOC wines became DOCGs – and the balance of the areas remained DOCs. These newly-classified wines began to arrive in the US market in 2011. 

There are now 3 Prosecco appellations; 2 DOCGs are located in the center of the northern hills – Colli Asolani DOCG, which is very small, and Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, another small zone. The third appellation – the Prosecco DOC, is located mainly in the province of Treviso. 

prosecco 2At least 90% of Prosecco comes from the larger DOC area, which contains 556 municipalities. While most of Prosecco is produced in the plains, there is a lot of overlap. Many wineries produce under more than one designation, crossing regional boundaries. 

In addition the DOC/DOCGs, there are a few other Prosecco designations you might like to know. One of these is the 265 acre (107 hectare) Cartizze vineyard, located in the western side of the DOCG area of Valdobbiadene. Cartizze, officially a sub-zone of the Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG is also designated cru. Its ancient soils are a combination of moraines, sandstone and clay, said to give floral notes to the wines. Villa Sandi “‘la Rivetta” Brut, imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, is an elegant example. 

The next area you should know about is Rive, which in local dialect means “steep sites.” These sites are located within the in the Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, and considered to be almost as prestigious as Cartizze in the scheme of special sites. The grapes must be hand-harvested (which is impossible to do otherwise in those hilly villages), production is limited, and the wines are all classified as Superiore.  

At a recent tasting conducted by Alan Tardi, the US Ambassador of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG (a new position created by the Consorzio), I tasted three different Rives of increasing sweetness, showcasing different styles.

  • prosecco adami col credasAdami’s “Col Credas” Brut, from Dalla Terra Imports, was the driest and had a very fine bead.
  • Masottina’s Extra Dry, from Vin Divino, coming from an area where the temperatures are above average, was off-dry and had jasmine notes.
  • Védova (the widow) from Orvino Imports had the most sweetness; it was labeled “dry” as these designations follow the terminology used in Champagne. Its unique terroir also gives it a touch of salinity.

All of these DOCG Proseccos were closed with corks (crown caps and twist offs may only be used in the DOC appellation) and open with the requisite pop. The pressure categories are similar to those in Champagne. The highest pressure is spumante, followed by a slightly lower pressure known as frizzante. There is an even softer category called tranquillo, which has no pressure and no bubbles. Nino Franco produces a single vineyard example, from Terlato Wines International – a Brut made from 100% Glera grapes. It is so unique that the IGT examiners couldn’t say it was typical, and refused the designation!  

Speaking of the Glera grape, the minimum amount is 85%. Other varieties may be Verdiso, Bianchetta, Perera, Glera Lunga, as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. Glera is actually the ancient name of the Prosecco grape. As was explained to me by Pierluigi Bolla, President of Valdo, from Pasternak Wine Importers, the name “Prosecco” was starting to appear in places like Romania, Brazil, and China. In order to protect the name, the region was named “Prosecco, thus forbidding its use by others. Once that happened, the informing grape needed a new name, and that new name was its old name – Glera.

Click here to visit the website of the Prosecco Consorzio for more information on the designations of Prosecco, click here.



Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSE is a prominent wine and spirits educator. She is president of the renowned Wine & Spirits Program, and revised and updated the textbook Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits. She was the Director of the Wine Department for The New School University for 18 years. She may be contacted at

This article was originally published in the article was originally published in Beverage Dynamics Magazine – reprinted with permission!

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!

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Smoke Gets in Your…Wine?


This year has been rough in terms of wildfires in and around wine country. Most notably, harvest was interrupted in mid-September by the third in a series of devastating wildfires around Lake County.

As such, we’ve had quite a few questions directed our way about how this might affect the wines of the regions affected by these fires. We’ve all heard of smoke taint – so is this something we need to be worried about?

It is a relatively new area of study – in 2003, wildfires in Eastern Victoria, Australia motivated researchers to begin studying the chemical backdrop and the variables associated with this increasingly dangerous phenomenon.  The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) and Washington State University (WSU) have led the way in publishing the most up-to-date and applicable research on this topic.  Although much of this research is geared toward the winemaker/ producer, it is of interest to wine educators and other wine professionals as well.

For starts, smoke taint is the general term given to a host of volatile phenols, with the most important being as follows:

  • Guaiacol (smoky)
  • 4-methylguaiacol (spicy)
  • Eugenol (clove)

These same phenolics can be introduced into wine via ageing in heavily toasted oak.  Typical recognitions thresholds for these molecules are quite low; we can pick out the “ashtray” and “camp fire” aromas at concentrations as low as 23-27 micrograms/L or parts per billion (ppb).


Complications can arise due to the fact that these molecules can be present in a wine in bound form, meaning the smoky character may not reveal itself until after alcoholic fermentation, malolactic fermentation, or even after extended bottle ageing.  In addition, once this smoky character shows, it will always intensify with time in the bottle.

Studies concerning smoke in the vineyard have so far been inconclusive, and have yet to determine the minimum exposure time and concentration of smoke that vines can tolerate before it noticeably affects the wine.  However, it is known that the flavors collect in the skins and the flesh just below the skin in addition to translocating from the leaves.  This greatly influences winemaking techniques once the fruit is brought into the winery.

When – in the growing cycle – the vines are exposed to smoke has proven to be one of the most important factors in pin-pointing the risk.  The AWRI has identified three categories for the sensitivity and likelihood of smoke uptake throughout the growing cycle:

  • During and before flowering there is little risk;
  • From early fruit set to three days post-verasion there is low to medium risk;
  • Post-verasion to harvest there is high risk.


It has also been proven that there is no risk to carry over smoke taint from one growing season to the next, and that the smoke character does not vary with smoke from different types of wood or fuel.  Studies originally showed that the smoke uptake varied by variety, with Merlot and Sangiovese being more susceptible.  However, recent studies under controlled conditions have shown that variety does not matter.

Berries and wine can be tested for levels of smoke taint, and there are several techniques that can be implored to minimize the effects.  These include the following:

  • First and foremost, fruit must be hand harvested and leaves must not enter the fermentation vessel.
  • Skin contact must be limited, as this is where the volatile compounds are found.
  • Cold soak, extended maceration, and aggressive pressing should be avoided.
  • Fruit must stay as cold as possible.
  • Reverse osmosis is often used to reduce smoke taint, but has been found to be not entirely reliable as it does not address the “bound” form of the chemicals.
  • Other techniques such as aggressive filtering are useful to a degree, but need to be used with caution in order to avoid stripping the wine of desirable flavors as well as the unwanted smoky character.
  • There is some anecdotal evidence that the use of flash détante may allow guaiacol to volatize and burn off.

Most wineries will keep the tainted wine separate, then either blend back in a declassified wine program, or bottle separately marketing the wine as having a smoky character – which some customers appreciate.


As drought becomes more endemic in a variety of wine regions around the world, the risk for smoke infected wine – and its financial impact on the wine industry – is on the rise as well.  As industry professionals, we must be aware of the regions and vintages where there was a verified risk of smoke taint.  These include:

  • Victoria, Australia: 2003 and 2007 were devastating, and 2009 saw traces of smokiness.  2008 in Mendocino County, California: Effects were noticeable in 2008
  • Washington State: 2012 and 2015 were fiery years for Washington State, particularly the Lake Chelan AVA
  • Lake County: Most recent, and near to our hearts, 2015 saw harvest interrupted and substantial damage to vineyards around Guenoc. Thankfully, it appears that the major growing areas around Clear Lake were spared.

We’ll keep trying to learn more and lessen the likelihood that wild fires will taint our wine.  In the meantime, we’ll trust our favorite winemakers and producers not to put defective wine in the bottle.


MarkPost authored by Mark Rashap, CWE. Mark has, over the past ten years, been in the wine world in a number of capacities including studying wine management in Buenos Aires, being an assistant winemaker at Nota Bene Cellars in Washington State, founding his own wine brokerage, and working for Texas-based retail giant Spec’s as an educator for the staff and public.

In August of 2015, Mark joined the team of the Society of Wine Educators as Marketing Coordinator to foster wine education across the country.

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Guest Blog: Exploring Germany’s Mittelrhein



Today we have a guest blog from Lucia Volk, CSW, reporting from Germany, where she is visiting the lesser known wine regions.

If you are a fan of Riesling, you undoubtedly know the Rheingau. The Rheingau is home to  Germany’s prestigious, over 1,000-year-old Schloß Johannisberg, where late harvest (Spätlese) was allegedly invented. You probably also know the neighboring Rheinhessen, Germany’s largest and most productive wine area.

Next to those Riesling wine super-powers, the Mittelrhein region, which the German Wine Institute ranks second-to-last by size – only Hessische Bergstrasse is smaller  has to struggle to be noticed. It does not help that regional wine advertisement budgets in Germany are pegged to acres cultivated, or that the Mittelrhein extends into the jurisdiction of two German states, Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine Westphalia, that do not always agree politically. Depending on the size of the harvest, the Mittlerhein region contributes somewhere between 0.3 and 0.5% to Germany’s wine total. Let’s face it: even within Germany, Mittelrhein Riesling is an insider wine.

Castle Reichenstein

Castle Reichenstein

Most of this lesser-known region – almost 85% – consists of terraced slate slopes that require manual labor, and yields are low. Because of the extra labor hours required per acre cultivated, it can be difficult to find a successor for a Mittelrhein winery after a vintner retires. The overall area under wine has fallen from 1,800 acres in the early 1970s to approximately 1,100 now.

Fortunately for wine lovers, the numbers are beginning to hold steady.  About 70% of grapes planted are Riesling, another 10% go to Müller-Thurgau and Kerner combined, 10% to Pinot Noir, and the remaining 10% to Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Dornfelder, Portugieser and others. In other words, the Mittelrhein is primarily a place for white wine lovers, although Pinot Noir acreage is on the rise.

Historically, the Rhine river separated the Roman Empire from the realm of the Gauls. The Romans planted the first vines in the region, and they built the first fortifications, a tradition that was adopted by German nobility in the Middle Ages. Fortresses, castles and and customs towers – the Rhine river was an important trading route – line the hilltops.  These historical remains – many carefully restored, others in ruins – create the backdrop for the “Romantic Rhine.“ Tourists can book river boat trips, with scheduled stops for guided castle tours and subsequent wine tastings. Because of its cultural and historical significance, the Mittelrhein valley was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2002 , thirteen years before Champagne and Burgundy received similar badges of distinction.

The Rhine River is responsible for the favorable growing conditions in most of Germany’s northern latitude vineyards. Already at its source, close to Lake Constance, grapes are under cultivation, and if you follow the stream you will be able to taste, in succession, Baden, Pfalz, Rheinhessen, and Rheingau wines, before you reach the wine growing limit (for now) at the Mittelrhein. Mild winters allow for early buds in spring and extended sunshine permits ripening into October, resulting in unique aromas that are difficult to replicate in Riesling vineyards elsewhere.

Bopparder Hamm, part of the Mittelrhein’s Loreley Bereich (photo by Lucia Volk)

Bopparder Hamm, part of the Mittelrhein’s Loreley Bereich (photo by Lucia Volk)

The picturesque Mittelrhein geography was created at the end of the Devonian Age – 360 million years ago – when what used to be the bottom of the prehistoric ocean rose up all at once, and the water subsequently had to cut a path through the rocks. The Anbaugebiet  Mittelrhein is divided into two districts (Bereiche): the larger Loreley** between Bingen and Koblenz in Rhineland Palatinate, characterized by slate and greywacke soils, and the smaller Siebengebirge between Neuwied and Bonn in North Rhine Westphalia, which also contains volcanic rock and loess.

Eleven larger sites (Großlagen) are divided up into 111 vineyard sites (Einzellagen). The soil is nutrient-poor and well-drained, so roots go deep.  With the exception of irrigating freshly planted vines, most Mittelrhein winemakers dry-farm, although irregular rainfall over the last decade has some winemakers worry about the increasing stress levels of their vines. A quarter of the harvest turns to Prädikatswein, and the rest to Qualitätswein.  Deutscher Wein or Landwein production is negligible.

You can still find cooperatives that produce Mittelrhein wines, a tradition that dates back to the late 1800s, when phylloxera devastated most of the region’s vineyards.  But more commonly, you now find small family wineries that trace grape production back for several generation, as well as new ventures of enterprising young winemakers.

Photo Credit: Lucia Volk

Photo Credit: Lucia Volk

For instance, Peter Jost and his daughter Cecilia today run the Toni Jost winery, named after Cecilia’s grandfather.  Their prized Einzellage is the Bacharacher Hahn, which overlooks the Rhine outside the town of Bacharach. The word Hahn translates to rooster, which decorates the Jost label, but the vineyard’s name probably stems from Hain (=grove). Founding members of the VDP – Verein Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter – their estate comprises 40 acres, not all of them on the Mittelrhein, and they produce almost 100,000 bottles a year, predominantly Riesling.

Following VDP regulations, their vineyard sites are ranked according to their potential for excellent, terroir-specific wine. Additionally, Cecilia recently introduced Devon-S (S for Schiefer=slate) Riesling that brings white flowers to the nose, offers stone fruit in the glass, and finishes with pronounced Mittelrhein minerality. If you do not know what rock tastes like, Devon-S will take you there.

In the middle of the Mittelrhein, Florian Weingart makes his wines in premium Einzellagen between Boppard and Spay, especially Engelstein  and Ohlenberg. Dedicated to the local soil, he searched historical records for documentation of former vineyard sites – areas that had gone wild – and spared no effort to rehabilitate the most promising among them.

Florian Weingart on camera for Terry Theise’s Leading between the Vines documentary (photo by Lucia Volk)

Florian Weingart on camera for Terry Theise’s Leading between the Vines documentary (photo by Lucia Volk)

On 11 acres, he produces around 45,000 bottles of wine in a regular year.  In 2014, when late rains and pests ruined much of the Riesling crop, it was closer to 30,000. He coaxes each of his wines to develop his own character, using ambient yeast, if possible, and he allows them to finish fermenting early, if that is what the yeast decides to do. If his wine cannot obtain a certain (legal) quality level, because of it, he will rename (and effectively declassify) it. A philosopher in his spare time, he has started writing a Modern Ethics of Wine based on his “less is more“ winemaking principles.

The town of Leutesdorf in the Siebengebirge Bereich of the Mittelrhein claims to be the last big bastion at the northern Riesling frontier. Here, wine technician Marc Josten and enologist Torsten Klein acquired vineyards in the famed Einzellage Gartenlay, where they produce both Riesling, and, in a bold move, Sauvignon Blanc. Their first wines were introduced in 2012, when they were still a garage winery in Remagen, operating out of rented space.

Lucia 4For their Sauvignon Blanc and some of their Riesling, they employ traditional, large oak barrels. While Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc comprise 75% of their total production, they also grow 25% Pinot Noir in vineyards in the neighboring Ahr region, a red-wine stronghold. Altogether, they work about 14 acres. They focus exclusively on dry wines, and promote food pairing events jointly with local restaurateurs. Josten & Klein were the prestigious Gault&Millau Wineguide’s 2013 Discovery of the Year.

A relatively recent initiative specific to the region is the Mittelrhein-Riesling Charta. Participating winemakers agreed on a unified front label for their bottles, which shows the Charta grape symbol, the names of one of the categories – Handstreich, Felsenspiel and Meisterstück – and the two words: Mittelrhein and Riesling. Winery-specific information can be found on the back label. If the categories remind you of an Austrian classification system, you are correct. The Mittelrhein group consulted with Wachau wine producers who use similar designations and production guidelines for a variety of their wines.


Rather than focus on terroir (i.e. Bacharacher Hahn) or ripeness category (i.e. Kabinett or Spätlese), the Mittelrhein-Riesling Charta promotes flavor profiles: light, easy-to-drink, food-friendly (= Handstreich, metaphor for “spontaneous, quick action”); medium, balanced, expressive, good on its own or with a meal (=Felsenspiel, “rock play”); or full-bodied, quite dry, deeply aromatic and lingering (=Meisterstück, “master piece”). With this approach, the Charta members avoid the traditional sweet, medium-dry, or dry labels that suggest sugar (and alcohol) levels matter most in wine. Think of the Charta as a new generation of Mittelrhein winemakers jointly re-thinking and re-branding what they think is important about a segment of their Riesling production. All of them continue to offer traditionally labeled bottles.

Next to well-known German Riesling exporters Leitz, Dönhoff, Dr. Loosen, Deinhard/Von Winning, or Schloss Johannisberg, winemakers along the UNESCO world heritage valley have an undeniable underdog status. You will not find Mittelrhein wine in many stores in the United States, but what wine drinker does not like the occasional treasure hunt for a rare bottle? For an authentic Mittelrhein Riesling experience, book a boat trip down the Romantic Rhine, open a bottle on the sun deck, and count the castles as you go by.

**The name for the Bereich Loreley derives from a famous promontory on the Rhine river near St. Goarshausen. Because of the narrow fairway, accidents were not infrequent before modern navigation technology. Poet Heinrich Heine turned the site of captains’ misfortune into a metaphor for unrequited love: the beautiful, blond Loreley perched on her rock, singing her siren’s song, while forever staying out of reach, caused men to lose their bearings, if not their lives.  In English, it sounds like this.

Lucia Volk, CSW, is working on a manuscript on the lesser known wine regions of Germany. This summer, she discovered vineyards in Berlin, excellent Pinot Noirs along the Elbe and the Ahr, and phenomenal Riesling wines on the Mittelrhein. Her first SWE blog described the re-emerging wine region of Saxony.

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What’s New in Ningxia?

Photo of Helan Mountain vineyards used with permission of Indigo Communication

Photo of Helan Mountain vineyards used with permission of Indigo Communication

The Ningxia Hui (pronounced Neen-sha H-way) Autonomous Region of China is located about 500 miles west of Beijing. The Ningxia region has proved to be one of China’s most promising areas for viticulture and wine production, and as such is the focus of significant investment. China’s first official appellation, the Eastern Foot of Helan Mountain Wine Region is located here, and several international companies have interests in this zone.

Ningxia has, by some counts, over 50 wineries making a range of wines using Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Gernischt (the local name for what has recently been confirmed to be Carmenère), Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah,  and other grapes. This includes some of the highest quality wines in China, some of which are starting to win medals at international competitions.

The area is basically an alluvial plain of the Yellow River, situated on the eastern edge of the Gobi Desert, south of Mongolia. Due to centuries of agriculture, the soil here has been depleted to a fine type of loess soil, highly susceptible to wind and water erosion. Viticulture is encouraged due to its affinity with such marginal conditions, and to help prevent further erosion in this area.

Thoroughly landlocked, Ningxia has a true continental climate, with significant day/night and summer/winter temperature variations. Summertime temperatures into the 80s F (upper 20s C) are assuaged by the altitude of the vineyards, which typically approach 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) above sea level. The winters are long and very cold, however, which means that many vines must be buried under an insulating layer of dirt in order to survive.

Map of China - Wine GrowingThe months of December through February also see negligible precipitation; rainfall is concentrated in summer months, reaching only 8 inches (194 mm) annually. Irrigation is necessary for agriculture, and early methods to divert water from the Yellow River, which flows through much of Ningxia, were developed during the Xia Dynasty (2100 – 1600 BC) and expanded in later periods.

In 2013, Ningxia established a classification modeled after the 1855 Classification of Bordeaux. There are five classes or “growths.” The first ten properties have been selected as so-called 5th growths; these wineries will be eligible for promotion to a higher rank every two years. The stated intention is to have wines at all five tiers in due course. The classified properties must adhere to Ningxia’s regional regulations requiring that only 75% of the grapes must be grown in the region, and that 85% are to be from the vintage and grape variety stated on the bottle (as reported by Wine Spectator).

Moët Hennessy’s newly completed Chandon winery, which released its first wine in 2014, is located in Ningxia, and provides a notable exception to the dominance of still red wines in Ningxia and throughout China. The regional government has announced an ambitious development plan for Helan Mountain East, increasing acreage to 165,500 acres (67,000 hectares) by 2020. There are possibly as many as 100 leases that have been granted for new wineries in various stages of construction. The companies in this locale include Xixia King, Helan Mountain (Pernod Ricard), Helan Qing Xue, Chateau Yunmo, Silver Heights and Changyu.

China recently was confirmed to have the second largest vineyard acreage of any country in the world, following Spain and ahead of France and Italy. By last count (according to the 2015 report of the International Organization of Wine and Vine (OIV)), China now ranks #5 in consumption and #8 in production of wine, worldwide.

It’s yet to be seen what’s on the horizon for Ningxia – and the rest of the Chinese wine industry as well!

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles – SWE’s Director of Education and Certification –

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