The Story of Barolo

Guest Author Nick Poletto tells us the story of Barolo…

BaroloBefore Italy, there was the House of Savoy.  The House of Savoy was formed in the early 11th century in the historical Savoy region, which included the modern day region of Piedmont.  The House of Savoy was a monarchy made up of Dukes, Princes, Kings and Emperors.  Through gradual expansion, it grew from ruling a small county in the region of Piedmont to the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 until the end of World War II. 

It was the leadership, strength and intellect of the House of Savoy that led them to unite all of Italy and rule for 85 years.  These same attributes led this nobility to desire and drink only one wine, which was anointed as “The Wine of Kings, the King of Wines – Barolo.”

The Place: Barolo

Located in the southeastern part of the region of Piedmont, the Barolo zone extends over an area of often sharply inclined hills all facing south.  Piedmont, as the name suggests (at the foot of the mountain) is surrounded by the Alps to the west and north, the Apennines to the east linking to the Maritime Alps in the south.  The region is 43% mountains, 30% hills and 27% plains.

Even though Barolo is almost three times larger than Barbaresco, it is only 5 miles wide at its widest point.  The original five communes consisting of La Morra, Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba make up 87% of total Barolo zone production.  The two communes of Barolo and Castiglione Falletto are considered the ‘heart’ and unofficial ‘classico’ areas of the zone.

Piedmont CroppedBarolo’s soil can be broken down into two types: Helvetian and Tortonian.  Tortonian soils are located mostly west of the steep slopes of the amphitheater of hills between Barolo and La Morra.  Tortonian soil has a bluish tint, is rich in magnesium and manganese, and is composed of 30% sand, 55% clay and 15% limestone.  Helvetian soils dominate in the area to the east on the rising hills of Monforte and Castiglione Falletto and across the valley at Serralung.  Helvetian soil is made up of many different types of sandstone, has a chalky beige color, and is rich in iron.   Both types of soil contain calcareous marls of marine origin.

Tortonian soils produce a more fragrant, elegant and early maturing Barolo requiring less aging, while the Helvetian soils produce stronger wines with more color, body, and tannins; requiring at least 12-15 years of aging to be at their best.

The Grape:  Nebbiolo

The Nebbiolo grape is one of Italy’s most revered varieties.  It is a very old variety with the first documented use of the name dating back to 1266.  It was of such high stature, that there was a 5 lire fine for anyone who cut down a Nebbiolo vine.  Repeat offenders had their hands cut off and in some cases were even put to death!

Nebbiolo is revered for its aromatic complexity, tannic power and exceptional aging potential.  It is a very vigorous vine which needs to be thinned with strict canopy management.  The vine is also unique in that is first 2 – 3 buds are infertile; this vine needs its space!

NebbioloThe name Nebbiolo is derived from ‘nebbia,’ the Italian word for fog.  This refers to the thick, natural bloom covering the ripe berries that look as if they are covered in a layer of fog.

The four distinct Nebbiolo clones are:

  • Nebbiolo Lampia: larger, longer bunches and reliable, balanced profile.  Most widespread.
  • Nebbiolo Michet: named after Michetta, or “bread roll” due to its shape.  Low yield, high concentration of phenolics.
  • Nebbiolo Rose: rarely found.
  • Nebbiolo Bolla: once widespread, today rarely as yields are quite high.

Nebbiolo is very unforgiving as it flowers in early April and ripens very late.  The key to success is a dry, warm September that allows the extremely late ripening Nebbiolo to develop for the late October harvest. In a normal decade growers expect to have two or three top vintages.

The Wine

While the Nebbiolo grape dates back to 1266, it is not until the 18th century that we find the first use of the word ‘Barol.’  Later, in the 1830’s, with the insistence of Giulietta Vitturnia Colbert di Maulevrier (the Marchesa), the wine of the region was named after its town of origin, “Barolo.”

The Marchesa was close friends with King Carlo Alberto and the wine Barolo was held in very high regard by all the wealthy and royalty of Piedmont.  The Marchesa owned massive Barolo Townamounts of land that encompassed Barolo, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga.  She grew her prized Nebbiolo in these towns and later hired the famous oenologist Louis Oudart from Burgundy, France.  Louis Oudart is credited with bringing a modern style of winemaking that was combined with the grape Nebbiolo to form Barolo as we know it.

With the passage of time, Barolo increased in popularity and was again reinvigorated in the early 1900’s with a new line of successful and famed Barolo winemakers, including Emilio Pietro Abbona, Cesare Borgogno, Giulio Mascarello and Battista Rinaldi.

The Barolo and Barbaresco Consortium was founded in 1908, but was not recognized by the Italian Government until 1934.  Today, the Consortium includes  Barolo,  Barbaresco, Alba Langhe and Roero.  There are 500 members, made up of small and large producers.  Traditions and traditional methods of production retain their place of importance, but with a keen eye on keeping up with modern techniques and styles.

As summer wanes and the chill of autumn air takes its place, the smell of wood fire and fermenting wine dances along the small villages of Barolo.  White truffles begin to arrive, shaved over pasta emitting the most captivating smells fit for a King and matched only by the wine of Kings, the King of wines, Barolo.

Click here for the study aid:  Fast Facts About Barolo

Nick PolettoNick Poletto, CSS, CSW, DWS has an extensive wine background that includes studying abroad in both Italy and Argentina, working a harvest season at a winery in Martinborough, New Zealand, and teaching the WSET at Johnson and Wales University. Nick started his career at Kobrand as the company’s Massachusetts and Rhode Island Area Sales Manager and was promoted to Kobrand’s Director of Wine and Spirit Education in January 2012.

At this year’s SWE Conference in Orlando, Nick will be representing Barolo as he goes up against Don Kinnan in their session “Barolo vs Brunello – A Clash of the Titans.” If you’d like to hear Don’s side, click here for the Story of Brunello.  The Clash of the Titans is scheduled for Friday, August 2nd, at 4:45 pm.  See you there!

 

Protection for Prošek?

Diocletian Palace in SplitProšek is a traditional wine made in the region of Dalmatia on the eastern coast of  Croatia.  The history of the wine in this region has been traced back as far as 305 AD, when the area was still part of the Roman Empire.  In that year the Emperor Diocletian, weary and ill, became the only Roman Emperor to ever voluntary leave the position.  He abdicated his throne and went to live in Dalmatia in the city of Split, where his ancient palace still stands.  Written records tell us that Emperor Diocletian was a big fan of the sweet local wine, Prošek.

Prošek is still made throughout Dalmatia, both in the coastal areas and on many of the hundreds of islands that make up the region. The wine holds a traditional place in the family life of many Croatians, who make a batch of the wine when a child is born, and put the bottles away to be opened on the child’s wedding day.

Primosten Vineyards in CroatiaProšek is a sweet wine made in the passito method.  After harvest, the ripe grapes are spread out on straw mats and allowed to dry for several days to a few weeks, concentrating their sugar and flavors.  The wine generally has 12% sugar and 15% alcohol.  While there is no set formula for the wine, which is loosely regulated as a “specijalno vino” or specialty wine, typical grapes include the varieties Bogdanuša, Maraština, Grk, and Vugava, which are all native Croatian white grapes. Some versions, especially those considered to be the highest quality, use Plavac Mali in the blend. Due to its high sugar content and long aging tradition, the wine is often loosely compared to Vin Santo or Sherry.

Croatia, after some tumultuous times in recent history, gained its independence in 1991 and is scheduled to become the 28th member of the European Union on July 1, 2013.  While this certainly is considered progress in the positive sense, EU membership brings with it a host of regulations.  Croatia currently has a system of regulating its wines, and classifies its wines as Vrhunsko Vino (premium quality wine), Kvalitetno Vino (quality wine), and Stolno Vino (table wine).  These categories surely will undergo changes soon, as have the wine regulations of most EU members.

prosekOne facet of entry into the EU that might be a bit harder to love is the current EU quibble with the term “Prošek.”  Being a wine enthusiast, one of the first things that most likely came to your mind upon reading this article was the similarity between the name “Prošek” and that of Italy’s popular bubbly, Prosecco.

The name “Prosecco” has protected designation of origin (PDO) status and can only be used for wines from the desginated Prosecco region, so much so that the name of the main grape recently had to be changed from “Prosecco” to “Glera.”

While Prošek and Prosecco-the wines themselves-have little in common, one being a light, dry bubbly from Italy and the other being a sweet, passito, still wine from Croatia; the two words sound too close for comfort for the EU authorities, who have ruled that after July 1, the Croatian wine cannot be labeled using the term Prošek.

Croatia’s Ministry of Agriculture filed an application to protect the term Prošek, but the European Commission requested that it be withdrawn.  For the time being, it is up to Croatia to get the ban lifted. Perhaps they can find a way to protect Prošek before it is too late. Best wishes to all involved…

 Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org

 

The Winds of Wine: The Zonda

TArgentina Vineyard Malbechey call it Huayrapuca, “the witches wind.”  It sends birds flying, makes the sun appear brown, and knocks down trees. When they feel it approaching, people complain of sleeplessness, anxiety, a suffocating feeling, and depression. It usually starts up between noon and six pm, can last anywhere from one to 12 hours, and sounds eerily like a human whistling sound.

They also call it the Zonda wind, “viento Zonda.”  Technically, the Zonda wind is a type of foehn wind, that is, a dry, down-slope wind that occurs on the lee (downwind) side of a mountain range. The Zonda is a regional term used for this type of wind as it occurs over those parts of western Argentina tucked into the slopes of the Andes, including the wine regions of Mendoza, La Rioja, and San Juan.  The wind is especially brutal in these areas due to the high altitude of the mountain range it must climb over (and swoosh down.)

The Zonda forms as a result of humid air rising off the Pacific Ocean, where it travels up and over the Chilean side of the Andes.  In the winter it helps the snow build-up in the high elevations of the Andes, which provides the much-needed melt-off  to the vineyards of South America each year.

Argentina Andes ValleyIn the spring and summer, however, the Zonda can create havoc as it descends down the Argentine side of the mountains.  It loses its moisture, becomes warmer and warmer, and gathers up large clouds of dust.  The Zonda generally rushes off the mountains at 25 miles per hour (40km/h) but can reach speeds of 120 miles per hour (~200 km/h). The Zonda can raise temperatures by as much as 54°F (30°C) in just a couple of hours; and the wind event is often followed by a freezing cold front.  No wonder people go crazy!

While this unique weather phenomenon is a necessary part of the terroir of the region, it can also be disastrous to the vineyards.  A Zonda in the spring can wind-burn a vine’s leaves and shoots or shake them right off the vine. The cold front that often follows the hot, dry wind can bring with it the risk of severe frost damage.  For an interesting, short interview with a winemaker in his vineyard after a Zonda, click here.

The Legend of the Zonda

Legend holds that a Calchaqui Indian named Huampi was an arrogant hunter who spared no creature on his frequent hunting trips.  He killed every creature in his path, from the tiniest wood birds to the majestic llama.  His hunting prowess earned him great respect and he enjoyed being revered and even feared.  However, his hunting was out of control to point that all of the region’s animals were on the brink of extinction.

dust stormOne day, as he was returning from the hunt, Pachamama, the earth goddess, appeared before him in a blinding light and said, “Humapi, villainous child of the earth! Do you intend to kill all the animals? Who will feed you when there is no meat, and who will clothe you when there is no wool?”  And then, in a flash, she was gone.

As Huampi slumped against a tree and tried to calm himself, he heard a strange whistling sound.  He felt his face lashed and burnt by the wind.  All around him, trees crashed to the ground, flowers and fruit swirled over his head, and he was blinded by the stinging dust in his eyes.  Pachamama’s revenge was upon him, and since that day, as the Zonda screeches through the Andean valleys, it cries out with a human voice, causing all in its path to stop and pay respect to the power of mother earth.

For more information on “the winds of wine,” see our posts on The Mistral and The Roaring 40’s.

 

 Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org
 

 

Is Virginia “The Bordeaux of North America?”

Guest Author Jay Youmans, MW, CWE, dares to ask the question!

Is Virginia the “Bordeaux of North America?”

MonticelloI know that this is a bold, if not outright outrageous, question to ask about an East Coast wine region that is relatively unknown to most of the country. But before you start pelting me with your Napa Cabs and Your Washington State Merlots, hear me out!

I truly believe that some of the red blends being produced in Virginia are closer stylistically to Bordeaux than the vast majority of wines being made in California, Washington, or Oregon.

I was recently honored to be the Judging Director for the Virginia Governor’s Cup Wine Competition. This was a large and prestigious wine competition, with 377 Virginia wines entered and 43 accomplished wine judges from all over the world.  If you have attended SWE Conferences before, you might know two of our superstar judges – Shields T. Hood and David Denton, both CWE’s.

At the upcoming SWE Conference in Orlando, I will be showcasing the top 12 wines from this year’s Governor’s Cup Competition, and I find it very interesting that 11 of these wines are blends of grapes you would find in Bordeaux and Southwest France.  Here is a list of the wines we will taste:

  • Cooper Vineyards – 2010 Petite Verdot Reserve
  • King Family Vineyards – 2010 Meritage
  • Lovingston Winery – 2009 Josie’s Knoll Estate Reserve (Meritage)
  • Philip Carter Winery – 2010 Cleve (Petite Verdot/Tannat)
  • Pollak Vineyards – 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve
  • Potomac Point Vineyard and Winery – 2010 Richland Reserve Heritage (Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon/Tannat/Petite Verdot)
  • Rappahannock Cellars – 2010 Meritage
  • RdV Vineyards – 2010 Rendevous (Meritage)
  • RdV Vineyards – 2010 Lost Mountain (Meritage)
  • Sunset Hills Vineyard – 2010 Mosaic (Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/
    Cabernet Franc/Petite Verdot)
  • Barboursville Vineyards’ 2009 Octagon 12th Edition (Meritage)
  • Trump Winery – 2008 Sparkling Rose (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir)

Shanandoah Valley MerlotAccording to the Virginia Wine Marketing Board’s “Virginia 2012 Commercial Grape Report,” the most widely planted red grapes in the Commonwealth are Bordeaux varieties:  Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot, in that order.  The number 5 red wine grape is Tannat, a variety found throughout southwest France.  The only other red wine grape with much presence in Virginia is Pinot Noir…and it trails pretty far behind.  As a matter of fact, Virginia grows 20 times more Cabernet Franc and 10 times more Cabernet Sauvignon than Pinot Noir.  (Virginia is definitely NOT the Burgundy of North America.)

Fast Facts About the Virginia Wine Industry:

  • The Jamestown settlers had high hopes that Virginia would become a major source of wine for the British Empire…so much so that in 1619 they passed a law requiring each male settler to plant and tend at least ten grapevines.
  • In 1774, Thomas Jefferson, along with Florentine Viticulturist Filippo Mazzei, established vineyards using vitis vinifera grapes on a plot of land adjoining Jefferson’s house at Monticello.  Unfortunately, they had very little success, and soon gave up their efforts altogether due to the revolutionary war.  In 1981, a new venture known as Jefferson vineyards began growing grapes and making wine on the historic site.
  • George Washington, at Mount Vernon, also attempted to grow European grape varieties.  However, every attempt to grow vinifera vines by the colonists met with failure.  Now, almost 240 years later, we know that the main culprit was Phylloxera, as well as other unknown pests and diseases in this new environment.
  • Beginning in the 1800’s, Virginia wines made from Native American grapes were very successful. So much so that, in 1873, a Virginia wine made from Norton, a native American (Vitis Aestivalis) grape variety, was named the “Best Red Wine of All Nations” at the Vienna World’s Fair.
  • At 230 wineries and counting today, Virginia is the fifth largest wine-producing state in the union after California, New York, Washington State and Oregon.
  • Virginia currently has 6 AVAs.  Click here for a list of The AVAs of Virginia .
  • The modern wine industry in Virginia has its share of interesting characters:  Dave Matthews (of the Dave Matthews Band) is the proud owner of Blenheim Vineyards in Charlottesville, and Donald Trump (yes, that Donald Trump) bought the former Kluge Estate Winery in 2011.  Now producing wine under the name Trump Winery, one of their specialties is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Merlot/Petite Verdot blend called “New World Red.”  It seems The Donald might think Virginia is “the Bordeaux of America” as well!

Jay Youmans, MW

If you have an opinion about whether or not Virginia is “The Bordeaux of North America,” would like to, or would like to try these wines and judge for yourself, be sure and join me at this year’s SWE Conference!

Jay Youmans, MW, CWE, owns the Capital Wine School in Washington, DC, www.capitalwineschool.com; and Rock Creek Wine Merchants, a sales & marketing consultancy. In addition, he is a partner in Manse Field, a Pinot Noir vineyard in Martinborough, New Zealand.

Jay will be presenting his session, “Is Virginia the Bordeaux of North America?” at the 37th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators in Orlando on Wednesday, July 31st at 4:45 pm.

Click here for more information on the SWE Conference.

Le Pays Diois

Clairette VendageAs the legend goes, more than two thousand years ago, in a land called Le Pays Diois, a shepherd lowered a jug of wine into the icy waters of the Drôme River to cool it down.  The wine was forgotten and left in the cold water over the winter.  The shepherd returned in spring, and to his surprise found the wine right where he left it.  When he opened the jug, he discovered a light sparkle to the wine…what the French call pétillance. For centuries afterward, Gallic tribes left jars of wine in the river over the winter, to recover them in the spring…

Many years later, distant relatives of that first Gallic shepherd can drink the same type of wine, now called Clairette de Die.  The vineyards of Die are located about 30 miles east of the Rhône River, at just about the spot where the Northern and Southern sections of the Rhône Valley meet.  This section of the French département of the Drôme, actually part of the Rhône Valley wine region, is home to four distinct AOCs.

France-Rhone ValleyThe vineyards, somewhat isolated in an area of otherwise very little wine production, are planted at altitudes of up to 2,800 feet, making them among the highest altitude vineyards in France.  Planted on the slopes of the Vercors Mountains, the vines are sheltered from morning frosts in the spring.  The chalky argilliferous soil, rich in clay, helps to retain rainwater, which helps the vines survive the long, hot, dry summers.

To make authentic Clairette de Die, the grapes are pressed immediately after harvest and placed in vats to ferment at very low temperatures, replicating the process used in ancient times when jugs of wine were kept in the icy waters of the local rivers.  After one or two months of slow fermentation, the sweet, still-fermenting wine is bottled.  The bottles are kept at a constant temperature of about 50°F and the wine is allowed to continue fermenting for another four months.  Fermentation ends naturally when the wine is still slightly sweet.  The wine is usually clarified by being emptied and quickly re-filled (this is the ancient method, after all).  This method of making Clairette de Die, based on the tradition founded 2,000 years ago, was officially recognized as the “ancestral dioise process” in 1941, and considered unique to this area.

There are four AOC’s in the Pays Diois:

clairette de dieClairette de Die AOC, the most famous of the wines, is a low-alcohol (about 8%), semi-sweet, slightly sparkling wine made using the officially recognized “ancestral dioise process.” Clairette de Die is made from the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (75% minimum) and Clairette (25% maximum) grape varieties. Look for aromas and flavors of apricot, peach, tropical fruit, citrus, honeysuckle and white rose.

Crémant de Die AOC, a Traditional Method sparkling wine, historically produced from 100% Clairette, is now made with a Clairette/Aligoté/Muscat blend.  This wine is dry and crisp with aromas and flavors of apple and green fruit.

Coteaux de Die AOC is a still, dry white wine made from 100% Clairette grapes.  The annual production is quite low…only around 1,500 cases, so you’ll most likely have to take a trip to the Diois for a sip!

Châtillon-en-Diois AOC is a still wine made in white, red, and rosé.  The red and rosé versions, produced from Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah, are only made in the vineyards immediately surrounding the village of Châtillon-en-Diois.  The more widely available white version, made from the Aligoté and Chardonnay grapes, is produced throughout the Pays de Diois region.

And please…pronounce it as in Diois (“dee-wah”). Say it right, and you’re halfway there.

 

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org

 

The Grands Crus de Bordeaux of 2010

Guest Author Paul Wagner takes us along as the Grand Crus de Bordeaux of 2010 travels to San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Washington DC, L.A. and beyond…

san franciscoThe Garden Court at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco began life 140 years ago as an open-air courtyard for horse-drawn carriages. Modeled on the Paris Opera House, the Palace enclosed the courtyard in 1904 and covered it with a glorious expanse of Belle Epoque stained glass. The Garden Court normally serves breakfast and lunch to hotel guests, but on January 18, 2013 the Garden Court is closed for a private event.

Twenty-four hours earlier, more than 110 owners and winemakers of the top chateaux in Bordeaux left their homes to promote the wines of the great 2010 vintage. The tour is a combination of military logistics combined with the grand opera of great wine.

By eight o’clock the next morning the Garden Court is a flurry of activity. Fifty-five tables are draped with sparkling white linen and crystal arranged throughout the room, each to be shared by two of the chateaux. In the center of the Garden Court, a small army of highly trained staff is given a briefing to prepare for their roles in the show.

red wine tasting line up of glassesAt 12:50 the chateau owners begin to arrive at the Garden Court, and the staff takes up its stations. Outside, a crowd of more than 200 importers, distributors, restaurateurs, retailers and media have already registered and are anxiously waiting to get in. The last few chateau owners push their way through the crowd and take their positions at their tables. It’s show time.

The critics are raving about the 2010 vintage.  The Domaine de Chevalier white is described by Gilbert and Gaillard as “Fleshy, polished, very fresh attack with clean, clear-cut aromas. Full, long and ethereal.”

The Wine Spectator describes the Smith-Haut Lafitte red as “Gorgeous, with alluring black tea and warm ganache notes that unfurl slowly, while the core of intense steeped plum, anise, blackberry compote and black currant confiture sits patiently in reserve.”

The buzz in the room is audible. Every chateau seems to have its share of fans and old friends. The chateau owners are now opening more bottles.  Robert Parker says of the Canon La Gaffaliere, “On the palate, the wine is dense and full-bodied, with stunning concentration, purity, texture and length.”  Decanter says that the Pomerol of Petite Village is “Impressive wine this year. The best ever? Dense, complex nose. Explosive fruit on the palate. Velvety texture.”

SauternesNear the end of the tasting, the crowd slows its pace and packs the space in front of the Sauternes tables. A top distributor puts his arm around the shoulders of a famous restaurateur and leans in to share a story. A winemaker from Napa buries his nose in a glass of Suduiraut and then slowly shakes his head in wonderment. His companion chuckles. Exhausted, smiling, with teeth stained black from scores of red wines, the tasters slowly walk out of the Garden Court into the night.

Early the next morning the chateau owners leave for Los Angeles, where they pour at a consumer tasting for more than 2,000 people that afternoon.

The Wine Enthusiast raves about the Cantemerle: “A great success for this southern Médoc chateau, this is fine, elegant and perfumed. It bursts with a black fruit flavor, balanced by smooth tannins and acidity.”

James Suckling says of the Chateau La Lagune, “What a lovely texture to the wine, with super soft and supple tannins and blackberry and currant character.”

new york mapSunday is a travel day to New York, followed by a tasting in the ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square on Monday, with more than 900 in attendance. It’s time to focus on the Médoc itself, from Margaux to St. Estephe. “Shows serious, well-embedded grip, and the core of fruit is spot on. This has the range, length and cut for the cellar,” the Wine Spectator notes of the Chateau Giscours.

Stephen Tanzer loves the Branaire-Ducru: “Bright ruby-red. Floral aromas of fresh red cherry, redcurrant, violet, gunflint and minerals. Suave on entry, then pliant and sweet, with a plush texture and a smoky quality to the redcurrant, blackberry and floral flavors.”

Jancis Robinson says that the Beychevelle is “Inviting, savoury dark fruit. Wonderfully juicy in the middle of all that tannin structure. Chewy and dense and then a chocolate sweetness at the very end.”

chicago mapIn Chicago, the legendary Drake Hotel sets up the Gold Room the night before in preparation, but a malfunction in the fire sprinkler system soaks one end of the room in the middle of the night. The staff works through the night, and by 11:00 a.m., when a few Bordelais arrive to inspect, the dark red carpet and marble floors are flawless. The grapevine motif in bas relief  glitters on the gold pillars that line the room.

Berry Bros. & Rudd sing an ode to the Pichon Comtesse de Lalande: “Silky, creamy and lush, it has a killer body and a spectacular finish.”

Farr Vintners is enchanted with the Phélan Ségur: “Layered, opulent, ripe and fleshy, this beauty should drink nicely for 10-15 years.”

The group leaves early the next morning to fly to Washington, DC, for their fifth tasting in six days.   While 2010 was a stunning vintage throughout Bordeaux, perhaps the greatest wines are the Sauternes. And like the wines, the reviews are effusive.

dc mapThe Wine Spectator says that the Coutet “Offers a bright inner core of honeysuckle, pineapple, star fruit and white peach flavors, coated for now with heather honey, marzipan and mango notes. Fresh and racy through the finish, this is an elegant beauty, showing terrific cut and precision”

Chateau Suduiraut got the attention of the Wine Enthusiast: “Richly textured, with an opulent feel, concentrated, the fruit buried in the dense flavors. It makes for a big, powerful wine, looking to a long future.”

James Suckling notes the Chateau Guiraud has “Ripe lemon peel and orange. Some honey and vanilla with loads of new wood. Dense and very sweet on the palate with nice pure fruit and firm tannins from the oak that still needs time to soften.”

As they fly home, the Bordelais leave lasting memories of both their wines and themselves. Clyde Beffa of K&L wines notes, “We are told that the 2010s will be long lasting wines. One journalist said that the wines would age for a century… it was another monumental vintage from a magnificent Bordeaux decade.”

Indeed it is. And sixteen days later, one hundred and five chateau owners fly to China. There are other worlds to conquer.

1 paulwagner1 12 11 (3)Paul Wagner is president of Balzac Communications & Marketing and is also an instructor for Napa Valley College’s Viticulture and Enology department and the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. He is a regular columnist for Vineyards & Winery Management Magazine, and contributes to Allexperts.com in the field of wine and food.

Paul is a founding member of the Academy of Wine Communications, a member of the nominations committee of the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintner’s Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the Spadarini della Castellania di Soave in 2005.

In 2009 he was honored with a “Life Dedicated to Wine” award at the Feria Nacional del Vino (FENAVIN) in Spain. He is also a member of the board of directors of the SWE.

The Story of Brunello di Montalcino

Guest Author Don Kinnan, CSS, CWE tells us the story of Brunello di Montalcino

Don - BrunelloThe story of Brunello embodies man’s quest for perfection.  It begins with the discovery of a special grapevine on a steep Montalcino slope in 1842.  That vine’s subsequent propagation by its founder, Clemente Santi, resulted in the creation of the Brunello wine.

Today, Brunello is considered one of Italy’s greatest wines and a supreme example of Sangiovese at its best.  It has also become Italy’s most recognized premium wine, internationally.  With a total production of 750,000 cases (9L), 65% finds its way into the world’s finest restaurants and connoisseur wine cellars.  The United States has become the largest importer of Brunello, embracing 25% of the total production.  Brunello’s international prominence was recognized by the Wine Spectator when it was selected the “Top Wine of the Year” in 2006.

Now, the rest of the story…

The Place:   The Montalcino zone takes its name from the town, which sits high on a hill as a fortified citadel with commanding expansive views in all directions.  The zone encompasses 8,000 acres of vines, 4700 of which are dedicated to Brunello.   The name, Montalcino derives from the Latin, “Mons Ilcinnus”, or mountain of holm oak.  These oak trees grace the commune’s logo.  Vineyards, while extensive, only cover 15% of the land, with forests, pastures, and fields of grain making up the rest.  Indeed, Montalcino is like an elevated island amidst a sea of undulating wheat fields and pastures.  The scenic beauty of the place won it a coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site award in 2004.

Don -Lying some 27 miles south of Siena and 27 miles east of the Tyrrhenian Sea, Montalcino enjoys a much warmer and drier climate than its Chianti Classico neighbor to the north, and Montepulciano to the east.  This, together with diverse soils (including rocky “galestro,” limestone, marl, clay, and sand) make for growing conditions which consistently ripen its finicky Sangiovese grapes earlier the either Chianti Classico or Montepulciano.  In Montalcino, harvest is normally completed by late September, usually before the arrival of the October rains.

The Montalcino Zone resembles a square formed by 3 perimeter rivers: the Ombrone on the north and west, the Asso on the east, and the Orcia on the south.  It rises from the perimeter to a crest at the Poggio Civitella (2168 ft), a short distance south of the town, Montacino.  There are presently four notable wine production areas.

  • Just southeast of the town, the highest vineyards in the zone are located on steep terrain at an elevation of 1,300-1,600 feet.  The site’s cool conditions favor slow ripening, producing wines that are more austerely structured, but are very age-worthy.  Biond Santi’s “Il Greppo” estate is located here.
  • Northeast of the town, on lower slopes, near Montosoli and Canalicchio, the terroir allows the wines to show fuller, riper qualities to complement their structure.
  • Don - Brunello MapFurther north, toward the perimeter of the zone and at slightly lower elevations, the soil contains mainly clay with deposits of marl and sandy limestone.  Areas such as Altesino and Catiglione del Bosco produce a more forward style of Brunello in this area.
  • Recent plantings in the southwest corner of the zone, near Sant’Angelo in Colle, Argiano, Pian della Mura, and Camigliano, have produced impressive wines with balance and structure.  Here, sandy clay soils are often mixed with limestone and “galestro” at the higher sites.  This area is closest to the sea and has a warmer microclimate.

The Grape: The name Brunello, meaning “the brown one,” came from the description of the Sangiovese Grosso grapes at harvest time – a dark colored, dusky brown berry.  Brunello was the local name given to this type of Sangiovese Grosso, originally identified in 1842 by Clemente Santi.  Today, the term is officially reserved for the name of the wine.  Sangiovese grown in Montalcino has comparatively thicker skins, compared with grapes grown in other regions, and excellent anthocyanins. Both of these factors contribute to Brunello’s deep tannic structure and rich hue.

Sangiovese is Italy’s most planted single grape variety.  It comprises 67% of the Tuscan vineyard acreage and is the main grape in 25 DOC(G)’s of Toscana. Sangiovese is an ancient grape, believed to have resulted from a spontaneous crossing during the Etruscan period.  Recent DNA evidence reflects its parentage as a crossing between Ciliegiolo and Calabrese di Montenuovo.

However, there is significant diversity within the grape variety.  Sangiovese tends to be genetically unstable and very adaptable; thus, many clones exist.  Banfi Vineyards has documented over 600 versions of Sangiovese on their estate alone!  Currently, as a result of extensive clonal research trials, the best clones are being propagated.  Most estates are using multiple clones in order to add better balance and more complexity to their wines.

Don - SangioveseThe Wine:   Brunello di Montalcino projects an image of majesty and mystery that heightens its allure.  This aura was cultivated by the Biondi Santi family.  For 100 years, they were the only producers of the wine.  The Biondi Santi estate “Il Greppo,” where Brunello was born, has been called Italy’s first “grand cru”.

However, the wine remained somewhat of an Italian secret until the 1960’s, when word began to spread about the tastings of the extraordinary Biondi Santi vintages of 1888 and 1891.  Soon, the wine world turned its attention to this special place and its remarkable wine.  The Biondi Santi family, led by Franco and his son Jacopo, carry the flag and continue to produce age-worthy Brunello at the family estate.

A growers’ consortium was established in 1967, and has become one of Italy’s most effective with 98% of today’s 208 producers being members.  The consortium has guided a smooth growth in production, while advancing quality standards.

There is, however, growing internal controversy.  Some “modernist” producers would like to shorten the 4-year aging requirement prior to release of the wine.  Some also argue for the right to use small amounts of non-Sangiovese grapes.  These changes are opposed by the “traditionalist” producers who have successfully, thus far, resisted these changes; aside from agreeing to reduce the required time in oak from 4 years to two years.

The Future: The path to wine stardom for Brunello has been like a “shooting star.”  The influx of quality investment over the past 50 years continues and serves to accelerate and reinforce its meteoric rise to prominence.  There are no “industrial” producers among its wine estates.  Although there have been a few bumps in the road, the prospect for continued success is excellent.

Click here for the study aid:  Brunello Fast Facts

Don KinnanDonald P. Kinnan, CSS, CWE has been in the fine wine trade for over 30 years.  In 1985, after a successful military career, he joined Kobrand Corporation as a sales manager and, in 1992 was promoted to Director of Education.  As such he was responsible for Kobrand’s wine and spirits education programs nationwide for over 20 years.   Don is a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Wine Educators and currently serves on the organization’s Executive Committee.

A frequent top-rated presenter at the Annual SWE Conference, he will be co-presenting “Barolo vs Brunello – A Clash of the Titans” on Friday, August 2nd at this year’s Conference in Orlando.

 

Champagne Riots!

champagne harvestToday, the Champagne region is a glorious place to visit.  Just hop on a train in downtown Paris, and in less than an hour you can find yourself surrounded by rolling vineyards, gorgeous cathedrals, and miles of underground tunnels lined with millions of bottles of resting Champagne!

It has not always been so serene, however.  As a matter of fact, on April 13, 1911, the headlines of the world’s newspapers read “Blind Fury of the Mob…Incendiarism and Loot…Riots in Champagne!”

The Champagne Riots that erupted in 1910 and 1911 were the result of a series of problems and frustrations faced by the grape growers of the region, whose livelihoods depended on the Champagne production houses who purchased their grapes.

One of the first problems they faced was the Phylloxera epidemic, which had begun its rampage of the area, resulting in disastrous crop losses and years of devastatingly low income for many of the families working the vineyards.

Another issue was that some producers of Champagne had begun to import grapes.  The development of an efficient French Railway system, while undoubtedly a boon for business, had provided Champagne producers access to inexpensive grapes Champagne Riotgrown outside of the Champagne region.  It was a well-known fact that many Champagne producers had begun to buy grapes from the Loire Valley and the Languedoc.  Some even brought in grapes from as far away as Spain and Germany. These grapes reportedly could be had for less than half of the price of the local grapes.  There were even reports of some producers buying Rhubarb from England to make into wine.  We can only hope that rumor was false!

At the time, there were no AOC laws in place to protect the grape growers or regulate the wine.   In 1910, however, the grape growers petitioned the government to put laws in place limiting the use of these “foreign” grapes in Champagne.  The government responded and passed a law requiring that a minimum of 51% of the grapes used in Champagne be grown in the region.  However, the use of unapproved grapes continued unabated, with many houses using 100% imported grapes. At the same time, many of the Champagne Houses banded together to drive down the price of locally-grown grapes.

In January 1911, the frustrations of the grape growers reached a peak and riots erupted in the towns of Damery and Hautvillers.  Farmers intercepted trucks loaded with grapes from the Loire Valley and pushed them into the Marne River.  They marched upon the Champagne warehouses, smashing bottles and throwing barrels into the River.  The owner of the house of Archille Princier had his house set aflame by an angry mob chanting “A bas les frauders!” (“Down with the cheaters”)!

champagne vineyardsThe worst of the riots occurred in the sleepy town of Aÿ, located just three miles north of Épernay.  An angry mob descended on the city, ransacking the homes of Champagne producers and private citizens alike.  After a fire started to spread and the entire village was burning, the government intervened and sent in 40,000 troops.  Soldiers were stationed in every village and town.

This first round of riots was soon followed by more and more trouble.  The French Government, in an attempt to quell the violence once and for all, attempted to create a true definition of “Champagne” and define its region of origin.  The first version included a geographical delineation of the area that included just the villages of the Marne Department and a few from the Aisne Department. This blatantly excluded the Aube region and its capital, the village of Troyes. Riots broke out again as the growers from the Aube district protested their exclusion.  This prompted the government to create a second zone within the Champagne appellation for Aube, which in turn lead to more riots as the producers in the Marne District lashed out against the loss of their exclusive status.  Once again, vineyards were burned, houses were ransacked, bottles were smashed, and barrels were tossed into rivers. Violence, riots, and attempts at negotiation were still underway up until the beginning of World War I, when the region and country faced much bigger problems and internal hostilities ceased.

CelebrateFinally, in 1927, the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée standards for the Champagne region were agreed upon.  The regulations declared (thankfully) that geographical boundaries of the region included the Marne, The Aube, and parts of the Aisne departments; and that only grapes from those regions could be used in the wine now known (and loved) as “Champagne.”

Click here for SWE’s Map of the Champagne Region

For more information:

The New York Times Archive:http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9A00E3DD1031E233A25755C1A9629C946096D6CF

The Argus/National Library of Australia Archive:  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10894733

 

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org

Heaven and Earth

Hermanus HarborIf you are ever lucky enough to make a trip to South Africa, as a wine lover you will most likely tour dozens of the gorgeous wineries of Stellenbosch, make an excursion to Groot Constantia, take the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain, and spend a few nights on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town.  That would make for a wonderful trip!

But if you could extend your trip for just one more day, you might find yourself in a place that deservedly calls itself “Heaven and Earth.”  Here’s how to get there:  Rent a car and drive 70 miles southeast of Cape Town.  Stop in the town of Hermanus, a former fishing village built alongside Walker Bay that rivals the beauty of any beach-front Riviera in the world, complete with umbrella-tabled wine bars lining the sand.

Hermanus Whale CrierHermanus has many a claim to fame, including the fact that it employs the only full-time whale crier in the world.  The town’s centerpiece, Walker Bay, is a breeding ground for the Southern Right Whale and in 2001 was declared a whale sanctuary – meaning no boats or water craft of any kind are allowed in the water from July until November.  During season, the whales can be seen from the cliffs along the shore, and when the whale crier sounds his kelp horn people pour out of their homes to watch the show.

Just before the entrance to Hermanus you’ll find the turn-off to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.  It is a valley of indescribable beauty, the name, after all, is Afrikaans for “Heaven and Earth.”  Hemel-en-Aarde is home to the southernmost vineyards in South Africa, and due to its proximity to Walker Bay and the South Atlantic Ocean, some of the coolest as well.

Part of the Walker Bay Wine District, there are three wine-producing wards in Hemel-en-Aarde.  Hemel-en-Aarde Valley begins less than a mile from the shore.  A few miles inland, along the scenic Hemel-en-Aarde Road (R320), resides the second ward, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.  Extending 11 miles into the valley formed by the majestic Overberg Mountains, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge is the furthest inland.

hermanus vineyardThere are currently just over a dozen wineries in Hemel-en-Aarde.  The pioneer in the area’s wine history is undoubtedly Tim Hamilton Russell, the founder of the Hamilton-Russell Estate.  Tim purchased his 170 hectare property in 1975 after a ten-year search for the ideal spot in which to plant cool climate grapes in South Africa.  Soon thereafter, the estate began producing world-class wines; one of which won the 2003 International Wine Challenge as the best Pinot Noir in the world.  This success paved the way for other wineries in the region.

Another Hemel-en-Aarde Winery that might sound familiar is Bouchard Finlayson. Established in 1989, Bouchard Finlayson is a boutique winery located on a 125-hectare property with just over 22 hectares under vine.  The remainder of the property remains a conservatory dedicated to the pristine, indigenous “fynbos” flora of the Western Cape.  The leading wine of Bouchard Finlayson is Galpin Peak Pinot Noir, grown in the Bokkeveld Shale and clay-based soils of Galpin Peak Mountain, at an elevation of 2,000 feet.

hermanus vineyards bouchardOther outstanding wineries of Hemel-en-Aarde include Creation Estate, Southern Right, Newton Johnson, and Jakob’s Vineyard, but, alas, they are hard to find outside of South Africa.  You’ll just have to make that trip…

For more information:

 

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org

 

Extreme AVA’s

vernaccia san gimignanoAccording to the website for the TTB (the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau), an AVA is defined as “a delimited grape-growing region having distinguishing features, a name, and a delineated boundary.”  The website goes on to state that “these designations allow vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in an area to its geographic origin.”

 

Anyone, including a winemaker, landowner, or interested party may file a petition for the recognition of an AVA.  The petition must include:

  • Evidence that the proposed name of the AVA is “directly related to the location” and that the name is locally or nationally known to refer to the region.
  • USGS maps with the boundaries of the proposed region clearly marked.
  • An explanation as to why the geographic boundaries are drawn where they are as well as a description of the distinguishing features such as climate, geology, elevation, or soils that differentiate growing conditions from the area outside the proposed AVA’s borders.
  • While there are no size restrictions, proof must be provided that either total acreage or a broad distribution of viticultural activity across the region is enough to constitute both a “grape growing region” and “an area in which viticulture exists.”

Cabernet TopOnce an AVA is established, at least 85% of the grapes used to make a wine must be grown in the specified area if an AVA is referenced on its label.

While of course I agree with the official governing body, I also like to think of The American Viticultural Areas like a big, unruly political family.  Someone, it seems, is always trying to take the helm or grab all the attention as the biggest, the newest, or the always-and-forever reigning patriarch. I’ve been trying to keep up with it all since the AVA system since it began back in 1980.

As of today (March 13, 2013), here are the contenders:

Oldest AVA:  Augusta – Located near the town of Augusta, Missouri, the Augusta AVA was approved on June 20, 1980.

Smallest AVA:  Cole Ranch – Located in Mendocino, California, the Cole Ranch AVA spans just 62 acres.  That’s less than one quarter of a square mile.

Largest AVA:  The Upper Mississippi Valley – The Upper Mississippi Valley AVA, approved on July 22, 2009, covers 29,914 square miles and includes parts of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

077Runners Up:  Coming in at #2, The Ohio River Valley AVA covers 26,000 square miles.  Third place goes to The Columbia Valley at 26,000 square miles.

Happiest AVA Names (Just for Fun):  Fair Play, Happy Canyon, Horse Heaven Hills, High Valley, and Rocky Knob.

Best Use of an Abbreviation:  Sta. Rita Hills

Most Mysterious Names:  Linganore, Lime Kiln, and Jahant (Comment below if you know what they mean!)

 

For more information:

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org