#SaturdaySWEbinar: From Willamette to Walla Walla


This Saturday, February 13th – 1at 0:00 am central time – we are pleased to offer a new SWEbinar: From Willamette to Walla Walla: The Pacific Northwest Wine Country – presented by Sam Schmitt. This session will cover the geography, geology and natural history of the Pacific Northwest, along with the grapes, wines, and AVAs of Oregon and Washington.

Our presenter, Sam Schmitt, CS, CSS, CWE is the wine manager for Fleming’s Steak House and Wine Bar in Peoria, Arizona, as well as an avid wine enthusiast and former wine bar owner with more than 20 years of experience in adult education. Many years ago a glass of Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, a sip of wine he describes as “a life changing moment,” ignited his passion for wine and interest in sharing his experiences and understanding of the art, science, and history of wine with others. Sam has traveled extensively through the wine regions of Italy, France, California, and the Pacific Northwest learning about each region’s history, geography, wine making practices and regional specialties. Sam is the founder and writer of “The Winaut” wine blog and is a part-time private chef.


SWE’s SWEbinar series is unique in that it is offered free-of-charge, and open to the public! We also try to accomodate all schedules by offering sessions on weekdays and weekends, as well as daytime and evening hours. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, or a time-of-day that would work for you, please let our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles know via email at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. There is no need to register in advance. Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date.

When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but its still a good idea to log on early!

  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).
  • If you are having any trouble with your Adobe Connect connection, please see our SWEbinar Trouble-shooting page.

Link: February 13th, 2016 – 10:00 am central standard time – From Willamette to Walla Walla: The Pacific Northwest Wine Country – presented by Sam Schmitt, CS, CSS, CWE (Link will go “live” a few hours before the scheduled date/time.)

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2016 SWEbinar Calendar

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

























What about Washington?


Today we have a guest post by an anonymous writer, who we know by the name Candi, CSW. Candi has developed respect for and enjoys the wines of  Washington State, and after reading her piece, we know you’ll have an appreciation for the wines of Washington State as well!

What about Washington?

When it comes to United States domestic production, many of us know that California continues to make the majority of our wine. And it’s easy to get caught up in the multitude of imports into the United States as well. But what about another key wine-producing state, number 2 or 3, depending on the source? I’m talking, of course, about Washington.

A Few Facts and Figures

Here’s an overview of the Washington’s wine “state of the state”. Please note that some of the information is based upon the 2014 Grape Crush Report.

  • Most of the industry has developed over the past 40 years, so it is relatively young compared to some areas.
  • Growth since around 1987 has been substantial. At that time, there were about 100 wineries. Now there are more than 850.
  • Wineries are predominantly small, family producers; these comprise about 800 of the 850 wineries.
  • Five varieties account for more than 75% of all wines produced. These include, in order of production, Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. More than 40 varieties are produced, however.
  • White wine production (53%) slightly exceeds red wine production (47%).
  • ...

    There are 13 appellations. The Yakima Valley appellation, established in 1983, is the oldest. The newest AVA, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, was recognized in 2012. By comparison, the Napa Valley AVA was established in 1981.

  • Grapevines are typically grown on their own rootstock. The state generally experiences a winter freeze that reduces the risk of some pests, including phylloxera.
  • The predominant soil, loess, is so fine-grained that many vineyards require cover crops to keep the soil in place.

Dominant Varieties: Key Impressions

I recently had the opportunity to taste the wines of more than 15 producers. More than 40 wines were tasted, representing the 2011 through 2014 vintages. My overall impressions, based upon the tasting, are listed below. This may give you are a few ideas on ways to  get an exposure to what Washington has to offer.

  • Consider Riesling. These presented as fresh, floral, fruity, sometimes with a hint of minerals. Further, Rieslings seemed consistently good.
  • Chardonnay was also impressive, and with citrus aromas and flavors predominant. The typical acidity would bode well for pairing with a variety of foods.
  • Merlot clearly expressed Washington and AVA terroir. These wines were generally bolder, and more full-bodied, than many California examples. Think wines reminiscent of Chilean Merlot and even Carmenère. Note: that comparison IS a compliment!
  • Cabernet Sauvignon has the broad range of appeal similar to the state’s Chardonnay. Unlike some new world Cabernets, this wine can be more subtle and softer than the Washington Merlot.
  • Syrah appeared to be more terroir-specific than some Cabernets. Frequently spicy, a bit smoky, and full-bodied.

Wines, especially Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet, seem to be available in a wide range of prices. A bonus: wines often over deliver considering their price, so they appeal to those, like me, who seek value. And these varieties would make great party wines, too!


For those seeking “splurge” or special occasion red wines, look to Red Mountain AVA for Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and red blends. A splurge for white wine lovers: Bordeaux Blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

May I Recommend?

The next time seafood is on the menu, think of a Washington Riesling if the dish is light. Something a bit heavier, maybe fatty fish? Consider a Washington Chardonnay.

When you want to pair a wine with strong cheese, lamb chops, or beef, look into a Washington Merlot, Cabernet, or red blend.

Cheers, and enjoy!

Guest Post: Why Wine Educators Should Study Emerging Regions in the U.S.

Today we have a guest post from Dr. Dwight Furrow, a Professor of Philosophy, wine educator, author (and more) who lives in San Diego. Dr. Furrow is here to sing the praises of the new, unusual, and lesser-known wine regions of the United States.

Portugal's Douro River, with Oporto in the background

Portugal’s Douro River, with Oporto in the background

Wine is fascinating for many reasons but the stories of how wine regions continually adapt to the vagaries of nature and the inertia of culture to improve quality are among the most compelling aspects of wine. The story of France’s recovery from the phylloxera epidemic, the birth of the Super Tuscans, Napa’s transformation into a quality wine region after prohibition and their surprise showing at the Judgment of Paris, the dangerous trek down the Douro River to bring Port to market before locks were built, the heroic struggle to make wine in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley—all great stories that inform our wine lore.

Most of us who study wine have focused on the famous, established regions and for good reason as that is where the quality is. It takes many years to find the right match of soil, varietal, climate and cultural knowledge to make quality wine and many of these regions have had centuries to experiment.

Yet, as I travel around the U.S. visiting lesser known wine regions there are fascinating stories developing that may provide insight into the production of quality wine. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley last summer after many successive days over 100 degrees, the talk inevitably turned toward what to do if their climate keeps warming. Of course, every wine region in the world is asking this question but Oregon has placed a big bet on spare, mineral-driven, cool climate Pinot Noir. Will they be happy with 14.5% alcoholic fruit bombs or will they be ripping out Pinot Noir and planting Syrah in 5 years?


The American South is an unlikely climate for growing wine grapes. The high humidity means rot and Pierce’s disease will destroy vitis vinifera vines. Yet these challenges have led to the development of non-vinifera and hybrid varieties that can thrive in warm, humid environments. Will Blanc deBois and Lenoir produce wines to compete with Chardonnay and Cabernet? They have a long way to go but quality is rapidly improving helped along by careful site selection, better vineyard management, and pest and disease research at local universities. Some Virginia and Missouri wineries are committed to developing the indigenous Norton grape into something lovers of European wines will crave. I have tasted several that might pass for an off-beat Syrah of modest quality in a blind tasting. Careful oak-aging seems to be the key to controlling vegetal and nut aromas that can taste odd.

Texas wine regions have to deal with deep winter freezes, scorching summer heat, acidic soils in some parts of the state, humidity in the East and drought in the West. Can Cabernet Sauvignon find its place amidst that adversity? Perhaps. A Texas winemaker told me that current experimentation with clonal variations will establish Cabernet Sauvignon as the go-to grape in Texas.

Can you grow wine grapes in the desert? In Southern Arizona’s high desert where temperatures drop off a cliff at night, varietals such as Tempranillo, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Sangiovese, which thrive on long days of full sunlight and large diurnal temperature swings show great promise. Here, one of the challenges is to get vines to carry a smaller fruit load in order to restrict yields.

Vineyards in New York's Finger Lakes AVA

Vineyards in New York’s Finger Lakes AVA

And of course the Northern tier states from Idaho to New York are experimenting with ways of dealing with hard freezes and late frost. In short, there is rampant experimentation going on, each region a crucible of innovative research all driven by a dedication to producing the quality needed to compete in an increasingly competitive wine market. In the future, all this experimentation will lead to new flavor expressions.

Is the quality there yet? No, at least not consistently. There are pockets of excellence and oceans of mediocrity. All of these emerging regions face a shortage of grapes to keep up with the growth in wineries as well as public perceptions that quality wine grapes can be grown only in California. But given their energy and enthusiasm, and the skyrocketing advances in wine science, it’s reasonable to expect that some of these regions will prove capable of consistently producing wines of great character.

The traditional wine regions are justly famous for their fully developed wine traditions. But there is no reason to think that we’ve already discovered all the best wine regions or that traditional wine regions will remain so. At any rate, climate change is likely to scramble the wine map in unpredictable ways.

For wine educators interested in the nuts and bolts of viticulture there may be no better classroom than these emerging regions of the U.S.

DwightDwight Furrow is Professor of Philosophy at San Diego Mesa College specializing in the aesthetics of food and wine, and owner of the blog Edible Arts.

He is the author of American Foodie: Taste, Art and the Cultural Revolution and is Senior Wine Educator for The Sommelier Company, a company of wine professionals that provide a variety of services to the food and beverage community.

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


Welcome to the World, Los Olivos District AVA!

One of the windmills of Solvang, California

One of the windmills of Solvang, California

Today, the TTB established the approximately 22,820-acre Los Olivos District viticultural area in Santa Barbara County, California. The new AVA, which becomes “official” on February 22, 2016, is wholly located within the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, and is positioned in the area between the Ballard Canyon AVA (to the west) and the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA (to the east). The towns of Solvang, Los Olivos, Ballard, and Santa Ynez are within the boundaries of the new AVA.

There are currently 47 commercial vineyards and a total of 1,120 acres of vines within the new AVA.  The area is mostly planted to Bordeaux and Rhône varieties, as well as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There are 12 bonded wineries in the area, including  the Brander Vineyard,  Beckmen Vineyards, and Roblar Winery.

Fred Brander of Brander Vineyards spearheaded the effort to get the AVA approved, submitting a revised, 26-page petition in March of 2013. According to the petition, the “distinguishing features” of Los Olivos as compared to the surrounding areas include its topography, soils, and climate:

  • Topography: The Los Olivos AVA is mostly flat terrain, with a gentle sloping southward towards the Santa Ynez River. The surrounding area has higher elevations and steeper hills.
  • Climate: The flatter topography of Los Olivos allows the area to have higher amounts of sunshine (due to less fog) and rain (due to the lack of the rain shadow effect that the surrounding areas experience). The region, being 30 miles inland from the ocean, is quite warm duriless influenced by the morning fogs and cooling influence of the coast, allowing Los Olivos to become warm during the day and cool at night.
  • Firestone Vineyards in the new Los Olivos District AVA

    Firestone Vineyards in the new Los Olivos District AVA

    Soils: The majority of the soils in the Los Olivos AVA are well-drained alluvial soils, mostly fine sandy loam and clay. The soils of the surrounding areas are less fertile, drain faster, and are of a different soil class.

The petition contains a good deal of information in the “name evidence” section, including a connection with the historic Rancho Los Olivos. Additional name evidence cited includes the historic Hotel Los Olivos (now known as Mattei’s Tavern) , the Los Olivos Grand Hotel (Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn), the Los Olivos Café and, of course, the connection with the 2004 Academy Award winning movie Sideways.

Click here to access the new AVA’s Docket on the TTB Website.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE, CSE, MBA…your blog administrator

Tasting Saké from a … Champagne Perspective

Today we have a guest post from Mark Rashap, CWE. Mark has some insights about tasting saké in the context of the language of Champagne, and shares some of his adventures from his latest trip to Japan.


Saké has always been sort of an enigma for me.  I’ve liked it and attended many classes and conference seminars on it; however, there’s something utterly confusing about the dizzying Japanese characters and multitude of production techniques.  It has always seemed like I’ve lacked the vocabulary for describing the subtle and elusive flavors, as well as not being able to correlate those flavors to a particular place or terroir.

Here’s where the enigma deepens: is this not essentially our goal as wine tasters? We try to see how the terroir speaks to us out of the glass, discern whether it is typical or atypical of that region, attempt to understand why by digging into the growing and production techniques, and the world goes on.

Saké, however, abides by different rules and should be thought of more in terms of “house style” instead of terroir, not unlike the large negociant houses in Champagne.  In fact, the more I thought of saké in terms of Champagne, the more insight I gained in understanding this ethereal beverage. With this understanding, I was able to develop a vocabulary around which to describe sakes previously elusive aromas and flavors.


This is not to say that a sense of place is not important in sake. Granted, the rice, albeit from specified varieties grown for saké, does not have to come from any region in particular and is often shipped all around the country.  However, certain saké breweries (Kura) have congregated around areas known for pure and reliable water supplies, such as the Fushimi area in south Kyoto and the mountainous area of Niigata.  Additionally, there is some regional component to the Saké brewer (Toji) guilds.  Nevertheless, there are no AOC–type rules to preserve regionality or history, and we can confidently say that the mark of the Toji is the most defining factor in the quality and subtlety of the final product.  This is not unlike the Negociant houses of Champagne priding their flavor and style around the blending skill of Chef de Cave or their unique house yeast strain.

Real Japanese Saké, or Nihonshu (technically “saké” is just the Japanese work for alcohol in general), has an identity crisis in the US.  The process is most similar to brewing beer; however, the lack of carbonation, alcohol content, potential complexity of flavors, and ability to pair with various food align more with wine.  However, when we start seeing descriptions such as nuts, red fruit, flowers, and yeastiness in describing a clear and pristine liquid, it is all to reminiscent of Champagne.  I’m particularly talking about Junmai, which does not have alcohol added and consists of only rice, water, yeast, and kōji (the mold that converts the starch in rice to fermentable sugar), and Ginjōshu, meaning the rice was polished, removing 40-65% of the outer layer of rice (this is where the impurities are found).


John Gaunter, one of the best resources on Saké in the English language, writes in his Saké Handbook, “A vast number of words describe the kaori, or fragrance of a saké.  These are often simple fruit, flower, or rice-like sensations, with esters, earthy tones, and herbal notes as well.”  Additionally, he frequently uses terms such as “austere” on one end of the spectrum and “gentle and soft” on the other, Krug vs Perrier Jouët perhaps?

In relationship to acidity in sake (which is much lower than in the world of Champagne), Gaunter writes, “a higher acidity often makes a sweeter saké taste more dry, while a lower acidity can make a saké seem heavier on the palate.”  Sounds like the acidity/dosage balance that Champagne winemakers strive for come disgorgment time.  In the Saké Handbook, Gaunter gives over 50 recommended sakés with descriptions and for each and every one, you could replace the word saké for Champagne, and it would still make sense.

This link to Champagne really helped me in a recent visit to the Fushimi district of Kyoto, where I tasted almost all of the 17 breweries there.  I am constantly befuddled and enamored by the sakés (and Champagnes) that show the red fruit and plum aromas commonly found in the villages of Aÿ, Ambonnay, and the greater


Montagne de Reims.  I found the Shoutoku brewery with their famous Junmai’s to pertain to this style.  Furthermore, I tasted many sakés that showed an austerity, earthiness, chalkiness, and white flowers that is haunting and quintessential of Les Mesnil Sur Oger and the greater Cotes de Blanc.  Kinshi Masamune pertaining to this camp.  Practically ever saké I tasted reminded me of something in the world of Champagne, either a village or producers or flavor I tasted once upon a time.

As wine professionals, we should strive to continuously improve our vocabulary in the way that makes sense for us.  Whether this means using Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel or Matt Kramer’s intangibles of insight, harmony, and surprise.  In my opinion, studying Champagne and learning to describe it, which should be an absolute pleasure for all of us, trains us to bridge these lexicons and identify the tangibles of yeast, nuts, floral and fruit components as well as speaking in metaphor, because there is an undeniable other-worldliness of Champagne.  To my knowledge, I have never read of the saké-Champagne link before and can consider it an original concept.  My only hope in writing about this is that it helps you engage in the world of saké with a certain familiarity and comfort, ultimately allowing you to further explore its complexity of flavors and aromas.  I’d love to hear if you agree!

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!


Welcome to the World, Eagle Foothills AVA!

Approximate location of the Eagle Foothills AVA

Approximate location of the Eagle Foothills AVA

Welcome to the world, Eagle Foothills AVA!

The Eagle Foothills AVA, which was announced via a notice by the TTB on November 25, 2015, is officially the first AVA to be located entirely within the State of Idaho, effective today—December 28th, 2015.

While serious students of wine will note that Idaho already has an AVA within its boundaries—the large  Snake River Valley AVA—a portion of that AVA is shared with the state of Oregon. The Eagle Foothills AVA is the first AVA Idaho can claim solely for itself.

The new AVA, located entirely within the Snake River Valley AVA, is spread across approximately 50,000 acres of land. Tucked up against the eastern edge of the Snake River Valley AVA, the southern border is located approximately 25 miles north/northwest of Boise, Idaho’s capital city. The new AVA encompasses the area between the towns of Eagle (to the south) and Emmett (to the north) in Gem and Ada counties.

A main feature of the Eagle Foohthills AVA is its proximity to Prospect Peak, a mountain in the Snake River Range that reaches over 4,800 feet in elevation. The hills that form the best vineyard areas in the AVA are south-facing slopes that enjoy afternoon sunshine coupled with evening shade.

The Snake River hear the Idaho/Oregon border

The Snake River near the Idaho/Oregon border

The climate is cool overall, thanks in part to the elevation, along with the down-sloping winds coming off the mountains and foothills. These combine to make the climate in the Eagle Peak AVA significantly cooler than the surrounding area. The degree days at 3 Horse Ranch Vineyard (currently the only winery operating in the new AVA) average  2,418—making this a Region I area according to the Winkler Scale.

There are currently just over 70 acres planted to vine, with a total of 16 vineyards in the area. There are plans for more than 450 additional planted acres in the near future. Grapes planted in the area include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne, and Sauvignon Blanc.

The establishment of the Eagle Foothills AVA is a credit to Martha Cunningham, co-owner (along with her husband, Gary) of 3 Horse Ranch Vineyard. The Cunninghams bought their ranch and began planting grapes nearly two decades ago. A few years ago, Martha happened to read a suitability analysis written by Dr. Greg Jones of Southern Oregon University for the Idaho Wine Commission. She realized the area in the Eagle Foothills had a unique terroir, and with the help of Dr. Jones and Dr. Clyde Northup (of Boise State University) filed the original AVA Petition in February of 2013.

The Eagle Foothills AVA is the fourth new AVA to be established in 2015. Do you know the other three?

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


2015 Harvest Report: North America


Today we have a guest post from Mark Rashap, CWE. Mark completes his three-part series on the 2015 harvest with a report on the harvest season in North America.

In two previous blog posts, we discussed the 2015 harvest in France, as well as the major regions of the rest of Europe.  In these posts, I described my method of remembering and mentally archiving vintages around the world by comparing them to the particulars of Bordeaux.  Through this technique, I find it is easy to draw similarities between regions. For instance, in 2010, regions all over Europe has results similar to those found in Bordeaux—which led to great phenolic ripeness with maintained acidity.

However, in 2007, there was a lot of variability and many regions differed from the cool rainy conditions of Bordeaux—in particular, there was very hot and arid weather in Piedmont and Tuscany.

Perhaps, this method of “compare and contrast” will help you remember and make sense of vintages. Or, perhaps, you approach the topic in an entirely different way—in which case we would love to hear about it!

This final installment of our three-part series on the 2015 harvest will cover the Americas and beyond. As such, there are certainly many parallels in the quality and nature of the 2015 harvest between North America and the great regions of Europe.  Most notably, this is one of the earliest harvests in recent memory.  Grapes came in 2-3 weeks early in most regions of California and Washington State, but only about a week early for Oregon and the Finger lakes.  As far as quality, almost all regions reported an excitement about balanced ripeness, tannin, and acidity.

  • ...

    Napa Valley:  The California Wine Institute reported that Napa Valley saw one of the earliest harvests of the last 30+ years.  Very little rainfall during the entire summer sped up ripeness.  Yields were extremely low, in part due to the drought, but mostly due to a cold and wet May which disrupted flowering.  The past 3 years have been quite productive for the vines, so this year was somewhat due for a light crop. In some cases the crop was 25%-50% lighter.  Cameron Perry, winemaker at Groth Vineyards and Winery, noted that the quality, however, for Cabernet is exceptional with big fruit flavors, ripe tannin, and high color pigmentation.

  • Sonoma County: The Russian River Valley was no different with harvest starting as early as August 14th.  Ripeness for the Pinot Noir was excellent with moderate retention of acidity.  The Zinfandel in Sonoma and Mendocino, in particular, benefitted from the mild nighttime temperatures.
  • Paso Robles: In Paso Robles, Tablas Creek Vineyard published an average yield of 2.01 tons/ acre, which was similar to 2009.  The intensity and quality was similar to that vintage as well.
  • Southern California: Vineyards throughout Santa Barbara saw the same story of very low yields due to drought and poor fruit set, but very high quality.
  • Oregon: Oregon’s Willamette Valley saw a different story altogether with healthy yields all around. Chehalem Wines reported a 150% crop load over last year.  In some cases, the valley’s Pinot Noir ripened in a typical “California style” with potential alcohol surpassing 14 degrees.  A very dry summer gave way to light rains in August which revitalized vines.  Perhaps, the vintage will be criticized for low acids.
  • ...

    Washington State: According to Tim Narby of Nota Bene Cellars , 2015 was a year when everything became ripe at once.  The summer was extremely hot and berries were very small, but vines did not seem to balk with minimal “raisinated” berries and total yields for the state setting the record for largest in state history.  Many wineries I spoke with were very excited about the quality, rich flavors, phenolic ripeness, and balanced acidity of the grapes.

  • New York: In the Finger Lakes, Cornell University Extension reports there is a lot of hope despite the tough year, which included a brutally cold winter, late frosts, torrential rains in June, and a hot July and August. Thankfully, conditions for harvest evened out, which created an excellent possibility of even ripening and extended hang time.  On Long Island, a dry harvest season has minimized fear of rot and allowed grapes to evenly ripen.
  • Texas: In Texas, winemakers are excited about a quality harvest after a very difficult 2013 and 2014.  Yields are healthy despite severe flooding in May and June bringing danger of molds and rot.

I hope that you have enjoyed and appreciated looking at a wide array of regions in a summary format.  Of course, it is up to us to delve deeper into the variability of what occurred in each microclimate and terroir as these wines reach the market and we are either selling them or teaching using them as examples.  I hope you’re excited as I am to taste these 2015 wines as they are released!

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!



The B side to the B side: The white wines of Puglia


Today we have a guest post from Mark Rashap, CWE, who tells us about the lesser-known white wines of Puglia!

As I was preparing for SWE’s first ever Certification Summit focused on the lesser known regions of Italy, I delved into the great wines of Puglia.  And now, as I’m reflecting on that research, I’ve realized that my focus was heavily based on red wine production; well, that’s what Puglia is famous for, right?  It is indeed the color that is most prominently regarded—with the four DOCGs of the region being from dark skinned grapes (3 for the Riserva versions of Castel del Monte, and one for the sweet Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale).

Many of the 32 DOC/DOCGs on the “heel of the boot” allow for red and rosé production primarily, while only 3 focus on white wine. This is despite the fact that white wines occupies  40% of the total production.  My interest was further piqued when I saw minimum percentages for the foreign Chardonnay written in the law for multiple DOCs.  This contradicts many other regions that might allow Chardonnay in the blend but almost never require it.  I think that this not the only thing that is backwards in Puglia.  All of which makes the production of white wine in Puglia and interesting topic!

Puglia—which is extremely flat, sundrenched, and fertile relative to the other areas of Italy—is evolving from its historic culture of bulk production and co-ops to become an area where there is great opportunity.  Producers from Tuscany and abroad are investing in Puglia and experimenting with their native grapes as well planting the international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay.  In the context of white wine, native Puglian grapes include Bombino Bianco, Verdeca, Bianco d’Alessano, Impigno, Francavidda, Pampanuto, Fiano, and Moscato. International grape varieties include Chardonnay (as previously mentioned) as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Bianco.


To understand the wine production, we must first talk a little geography.  I like to think of Puglia split into 3 broad zones. They are:

  • The Daunia: Located in the north and encompassing the province of Foggia; characterized by the pre-Apennine mountains
  • The Murgia: Located in the center of the state surrounding the capital city of Bari; may be further divided into Upper and Lower Murgia
  • The Salento Peninsula: Located on the Adriatic Coast

Puglia’s Valle d’Itria area (which corresponds to one of Puglia’s 6 IGPs), located on the Adriatic Coast/Salento Peninsula just south of Murgia, is home to the area’s most historic and productive white wines. This valley features clay soils sprinkled with stones. Here, both the Locorotondo DOC and the Martina Franca DOC focus solely on white and sparkling wine based in the tart, vegetal indigenous Verdeca grape variety. Production is quite high. The ancillary grapes of these DOCs are Bianco d’Alessano and Fiano di Puglia. (Note: Fiano di Puglia has been renamed to Minutolo and is not the same grape as Fiano di Avellina).

Just a bit further south, we find the area around the city of Ostuni and the eponymous Ostuni DOC featuring the Impigno grape variety. Impigno is thought to be an offspring of Bombino Bianco—an interesting local white variety occupying the majority of production in the northern areas of Puglia. Bombino, considered to be native to Puglia, has a genetic fingerprint similar to Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.  This is supported by its flavor profile, soft acidity and medium to light body.  The most notable DOCs for Bombino are Castel del Monte Bianco and Gravina and is often blended with Pampanuto and Chardonnay.

map via http://www.winesofpuglia.com

map via http://www.winesofpuglia.com

When we move to the Salento Peninsula in the far south, surrounded by the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, we find that Chardonnay is a requirement in many of the DOCs.  Most notably, it must make up at least 70% (85% if listed on the label) of the blend of white Salice Salentino, normally know for the dark and spicy Negro Amaro.  Other DOCs in Salento that focus on Chardonnay include: Galatina (55% min), Squinzano (90% if listed on label), Leverano (85% if listed on label), and Coline Joniche Tarantine (no minimum).

Finally, we find a DOC that is solely based on Moscato, Moscato di Trani DOC.  The DOC requires 100% Moscato Bianco, which is the same as the Moscato Bianco from Asti and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.  Locals call this Moscato Reale to differentiate from the Moscato Selvatico which is a cross between Muscat de Alexandria and Bombino Bianco and found elsewhere in Puglia.  There are only sweet wines made in this DOC, one Dolce Naturale made from dried grapes and a fortified version.

The whites of Puglia are quite obscure and perhaps justifiably overshadowed by the reds. However, I think that as the overall quality of the wine in Puglia continues to improve we will see interesting things emerge from the white segment.  Verdeca can show similar to Vinho Verde and provide an acidic backbone to a blend, Bombino Bianco is improving in quality and growing in acreage, and Chardonnay will continue to proliferate and find its place in the export market.  Hopefully, someday we can all visit the beautiful landscape of Puglia and taste these grapes with the incredible seafood served on the typical Puglian table.


  • Wine Grapes, Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz, 2012
  • Vino Italiano, Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch 2005
  • winesofpuglia.com official trade association site

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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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: http://www.amrutdistilleries.com/

Photo via: http://www.amrutdistilleries.com/

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 –  jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

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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.

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