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.”)

Photo via:

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!

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)

photo via:

photo via:

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.

Photo via:

Photo via:

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.

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!

Photos of Prosecco bottles via:





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.

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

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 –

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



South Africa Expands its Wine Repertoire

Bo-kaap Neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa

Bo-kaap Neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa

South African wine is serious…serious about shedding its bulk/fortified/ co-operative-made reputation of the past, serious about producing world-class wines from modern producers, serious about protecting its heritage grapes, and serious about regulating its high-quality wines and spirits. (Try some South African pot still brandy for a real treat.)

South African wines are regulated and controlled via the WSB – the South African Wine and Spirit Board.  They regulate the grape varieties that may be used (102 at last count), the regions, districts, and wards that represent geographical indications (99 at last count), labeling requirements and other legalities, and – a true quality control if ever there was one – also taste, sample, and approve every product that earns the right to bear their seal.

THE WSB regulates and approves wines according to “class.” To be approved, a wine needs to meet the parameters of one of these 45 pre-defined categories. Some examples of these categories include dry wine, noble late harvest wine, sweet natural wine (in these regulations, “natural” means non-fortified), tank-fermented sparkling wine, and bottle-fermented sparkling wine. Categories that are somewhat unique to South Africa include Cape Ruby – a young, fruity, fortified wine and Cape White – made from non-Muscat varieties and oak-aged for at least six months.

View of Cape Town from the waterfront

View of Cape Town from the waterfront

Six new classes of wine, approved on August 21, 2015, are now among the 45 approved categories of South African wine. These newcomers were proposed to the WSB over two years ago by the Swartland Independent Group – a group of young winemakers working in the Swartland District. Swartland is a rugged district, despite being only an hour’s drive north of Cape Town. Swartland is one of the newer winemaking regions of South Africa, and has rapidly developed a reputation for unique wines in addition to high-quality wines of the more conventional styles.

For the record, the six new categories of South African Wine are:

  • Skin-macerated white: A white wine fermented and macerated on its skins for at least 96 hours, should be light golden to deep orange in color.
  • Extended barrel-aged white/gris: A wine produced from white or gris grape varieties, aged in oak casks at least 2 years, should show a golden or amber hue, and have a nutty, oxidative character.
  • Natural pale: An unfortified white wine matured in oak casks under flor yeast for at least two years.
  • Watsonia Tabularis - Unique member of the Fynbos (Cape Floral Kingdom) growing atop Table Mountain
    Watsonia Tabularis – Unique member of the Fynbos (Cape Floral Kingdom) growing atop Table Mountain

    Methode Ancestrale: A slightly sparkling wine made from fermenting must which completes its fermentation while stored in the bottle in which it is sold.

  • Alternative white/red: A dry white with a gold or amber color, or a dry red with a light red to deep purple color.
  • Sun wine: A white wine that has undergone maderization; must be pale gold to deep gold in color.

To download the entire set of regulations, which include the list of 99 approved grape varieties, the entire cast of categories and spirits regulations as well, click here for the: Wine and Spirits Regulations – South Africa WSB

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator –

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

Connecting the Bubbles: The Méthode Marlborough

image via:

image via:

The most successful people in the wine industry, whether they are conference speakers, teachers, or salespeople, are skilled at drawing connections and parallels within the world of wine.  Tying regions, styles, history, and current events together is thought provoking and shows a deeper understanding of the world around us.

On the surface, this post is about the newish Méthode Marlborough; however, the subject also brings into play the greater world of sparkling wine world, as well as the on-going debate of New World vs Old World.

The Méthode Marlborough is a society, created in September 2013, in order to promote the high-quality Traditional Method sparkling wines produced in Marlborough. The requirements for a Mèthod Marlborough sparkling wine include:

  • Produced using 100% Marlborough grapes
  • Made in Marlborough and exclusively produced using the Traditional Method of sparkling wine production
  • Made using the traditional Champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier
  • Aged in the bottle, on the lees, for a minimum of 18 months

There are currently 10 producers that are making this style of wine and have joined the club:

  • Allan Scott
  • Cloudy Bay Vineyards
  • Hunter’s Wines
  • Johanneshof Cellars
  • Lion
  • Nautilus Estate
  • No. 1 Family Estate
  • Spy Valley Winery
  • Summerhouse Wine Company
  • Tohu Wines
photo via:

photo via:

These wines are just now beginning to show up on store shelves. The first-ever Méthode Marlborough sparkler to be released was No. 1 Family Estate’s Assemblé, which was sabered in celebration on August 14th 2015.

It is perhaps fitting that No. 1 Family Estate, owned by Daniel Le Brun, was the first winery to release. Le Brun is, after all, part of a Champenois family, and has produced this style of Traditional Method sparkling wine from the three Champagne grapes in Marlborough since the winery was established in 1999.

This is impressive coming from a region that specializes in – and stakes its reputation on – Sauvignon Blanc. In fact, 77% of all the vineyards in Marlborough grow Sauvignon Blanc, and some of it is used to create delightful (if, admittedly, simple) Charmat method sparkling wines.

As lovely as these Charmat method sparkling wines are, it is just this type of wine from which the Méthode Marlborough producers are trying to distance themselves. South Africa was the first new world region to recognize the need to differentiate their quality sparkling wines, and, in 1992, created the Cap Classique Producers Association. However, Cap Classique rules are a bit less stringent that those of the Méthode Marlborough is attempting to do: Cap Classique can come from anywhere in the large, diverse Western Cape Geographical Unit, the lees-aging requirement is only 12 months, and they allow the use of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc in addition to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

image via:

image via:

Perhaps – and this is where the “Old World/New World” aspect of this discussion begins – a set of Old World-style quality controls is ever more important in a category of wine where the production methods can be elusive, the grapes in the blend are a mystery, and vintages are rarely discussed or disclosed. Time spent on the lees, which is a major component of a finished sparkling wine’s flavor, is also not discussed. Essentially, we’re missing the what, where, when, and why of the wine. (Thankfully, the who is published on the label.)

Controls such as these are built into the production standards of the DOCs and the AOCs of the Old World, so the customer at least has a good idea of what they are getting in the bottle, and adherence to their standards is mandatory if the producer wants to use their “stamp of approval” on the label. However, in the case of New World producers bonding together for a marketing and consumer-driven end, admission to the club is voluntary.  As such, there will always be “rebels” who refuse to join – perhaps because they believe their brand is stronger that of the association – such as Kim Crawford’s “Fizz,” produced using the Traditional Method from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The topic brings up many questions. Will these New World quality alliances that imitate Old World appellations will stand the test of time.  How much do we rely on the Canadian VQA or the San Rafael DOC in Mendoza over individual brands? Will more regions around the world band together to “guarantee” quality in the nebulous world of sparkling wine?  (I’m keeping my eye on England, Brazil, and Tasmania.)

We wait with curious minds and palates as the ten producers of Méthode Marlborough captivate our attention – and we promise to bring the bubbles, no matter what.

For more information:

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.







Uisce Beatha Eireannach Goes Legit!

Dunguaire Castle, County Galway

Dunguaire Castle, County Galway

Ok, for the record, Uisce Beatha Eireannach – Irish whiskey – has always been legit! However, soon, the legal standards that regulate the spirit will be greatly expanded and enhanced.

As every good CSS student knows, Irish whiskey has been defined and regulated since 1980 by the Irish Whiskey Act.

The Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 is a fairly concise document – no more than one page long – and states that Irish whiskey must:

  • Be distilled in Ireland from a mash of cereal grains
  • Be distilled to an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% alcohol by volume (189.6 proof)
  • Be distilled in such a way so that the distillate has an aroma and flavor derived from the materials used
  • Contain no additives except for water and caramel coloring
  • Be stored in wooden casks in Ireland for no less than three years

The act further goes on to define blended Irish whiskey as a spirit which must be comprised of at least two different distillates. And that’s it!

However…as of October 30, 2015, a new set of technical standards will be implemented in accordance with the European Union requirements for the PGI status of Irish whiskey.

These standards expand upon the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 and include the following regulations:

  • Irish whiskey must be bottled in Ireland or, if not bottled in Ireland, it must be shipped off the island in inert bulk containers and subject to company controls and strict verification to ensure the safety and integrity of the product.
  • Irish whiskey is not allowed to be exported from Ireland in any type of wooden container.


These new regulations also provide definitions for the following types of Irish whiskey: 

Irish Malt Whiskey: Irish malt whiskey must be made from 100% malted barley. The wort is separated from the solids before fermentation. Irish malt whiskey must be distilled in pot stills. The traditional practice is to use smaller pot stills in order to encourage complex flavors and a full, oily texture, however, there are no requirements as to the size of the still.  Irish malt whiskey is traditionally triple-distilled, although double distillation may be used.

Irish Grain Whiskey: Irish grain whiskey is produced from a mash containing a maximum of 30% malted barley. The remainder is made up of unmalted cereal grains – typically maize, wheat, or barley. The mash typically does not undergo any separation of the solids from the liquids before distillation. This type of whiskey is continuously distilled using column stills.  Irish grain whiskey may have either a light or a full flavor profile, depending on the cut points and other techniques employed by the distiller.

Irish Pot Still Whiskey:  Irish pot still whiskey is required to be produced using a mash containing a minimum of 30% malted barley and a minimum of 30% unmalted barley. The remainder of the mash may be either malted or unmalted barley, and may include up to 5% other unmalted cereal grains (usually oats or rye). The wort is separated from the solids before fermentation. This type of whiskey must be batch distilled in pot stills. The traditional practice is triple-distillation in large pot stills, although double distillation may also be employed and there are no requirements as to the size of the still. 



Blended Irish Whiskey: Blended Irish whiskey is a blend of two or more different whiskey types, which must be made in accordance with the standards stated above, and which may include Irish malt whiskey, Irish grain whiskey, and/or Irish pot still whiskey. The whiskeys that make up the blend may also be chosen from different distilleries, ages, types of cask finish, and flavor profiles in order to achieve the desired flavor and consistency.  Blended Irish whiskey tends to be smooth and mellow with a range of flavors, and a light, silky mouth feel.

So on October 30, 2015 (and maybe every other day of the year), raise a glass – of Jameson, Tullamore DEW, Kilbeggan, or whatever you choose – and toast your friends “Sláinte mhaith!”

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator

For more information:

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

The AVA Shuffle: Introducing the Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA!

The 2015 harvest at Sierra Peaks Winery - via

The 2015 harvest at Sierra Peaks Winery – one of 3 wineries in the new Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA

There’s a new AVA in town!!

Officially established on September 8, 2015, the Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA is located in California’s San Joaquin Valley and snuggled safely into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

But before we move on, let me clarify a few things that this AVA is NOT:

  • Despite the name Squaw Valley, this is NOT the famous ski resort, host of the 1960 Winter Olympics (The ski resort of the same name is actually located about 300 miles away, near Lake Tahoe).
  • Despite the fact that the AVA is indeed located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, this new AVA is NOT part of the Sierra Foothills AVA.  The southern end of the Sierra Foothills AVA is actually about 50 miles – and at least two counties – away. (Keep in mind that the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is over 400 miles long.)

So now we can turn to a few things that are indeed true concerning this new AVA:

  • The new viticultural area covers approximately 44,690 acres in Fresno County, California. The area is mostly rural and located in the foothills about 40 miles to the east of the city of Fresno.
  • Approximate location of the new Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA

    Approximate location of the new Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA

    The AVA is located along the highway to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National parks. (Sequoia Sequoia National Forest is the home of the giant Sequoias, considered to be among the largest trees, and the largest living organisms, on earth).

  • The area currently has 2 wineries and 3 commercial vineyards totaling about 7.5 acres, including Sierra Peaks Winery , Riffelhoff Winery, Buttercup Vineyards,  and Purgatory Vineyards. The region grows mostly warm weather varieties.
  • The topography of the AVA varies from the gentle rolling hills of the lower elevations to steep and rugged hillsides covered with boulders and oak woodlands as on travels east.
  • Elevations range from 1,600 to 3,500 feet with slope angles measuring from 15 to 40 percent, which generally requires all vineyard work – including harvesting – to be done by hand.
  • Other distinguishing features of the AVA include cooler daytime temperatures and warmer nighttime temperatures than the surrounding San Joaquin Valley, and significantly more rainfall than the surrounding valley (but less than the forest to the north).

You can catch the full details – straight from the TTB – just click to read the document concerning the:  Establishment of the Squaw Valley-Miramonte Viticultural Area

Welcome to the world, Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA!

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator.