Zakynthos, Verdea, and Skiadopoulo

Map of the Ionian Islands (via Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain

Map of the Ionian Islands (via Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain)

Zakynthos, Verdea, and Skiadopoulo…if it all sounds like gibberish to you, it you are not alone. However, as convoluted as these words may sound (to the unaccustomed ear), they are meaningful to aficionados and students of wine. Read on to find out the meaning of these terms!

For starters—Zakynthos: If you know your Greek geography, perhaps you recognized Zakynthos (also known as Zante) as one of the Ionian Islands. Located in the eastern part of the Ionian Sea, Zakynthos is about 12 miles (20 km) west of the Greek mainland. The island is said to have the shape of an arrowhead, and is about 25 miles (40 km) long and 12 miles (20 km) wide. The island is a popular tourist destination, with over 76 miles (123 km) of coastline and a mild, Mediterranean climate.

The island’s climate and topography (a mountainous plateau to the west and flat, fertile plains interrupted by isolated hills in the east) also provide for an abundance of lush agriculture. Olive oil, citrus fruit, wine grapes (more on this later), and the eponymous Zante currant are among the island’s leading agricultural products. Zante currants are the dried berries of the small and seedless Black Corinth (vinifera) grape variety. Greece produces over 80% of the world’s currants and Zante currants (Stafida Zakynthou) are a PDO product of Greece.

FYI: The Ionian Islands are traditionally called “the Seven Islands” (although the group includes several smaller islands in addition to the seven main islands). Zakynthos is the third largest of the Ionian islands; the others include Kerkyra (Corfu in English), Paxi (Paxos), Lefkada (Lefkas), Ithaki (Ithaca), Kefalonia (Cephalonia), and Kythira (Cythera).

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Next up—Verdea: Wine lovers surely recognized the name of several of the Ionain Islands, as wine production is a main part of the islands’ history, traditions, and economy. Kefalonia (Cephalonia), the home of the Robola OPAP (PDO) region, is perhaps the most well-known of the seven islands in terms of wine production.

However, Zakynthos has its own claim to fame as the birthplace of Verdea, a Traditional Designation (onomasía kata oínos [OKP]) white wine produced on the island since the nineteenth century. The name “Verdea” is thought to be derived from verde, the Italian word for green (Zakynthos was once a part of the Venetian Empire). Verde is both a description of the color of the grapes, as well as an indication that under-ripe grapes were often used in order to produce a high-acid wine.

Traditionally, Verdea was a very acidic, dry white wine that was extensively aged in oak barrels—to the point where the wine was amber in color and oxidized. In modern times, the wines are produced in a more moderate style while still (in most cases) maintaining the oxidized “edge.” Verdea must be made from grapes grown on the island of Zakynthos and must be produced on the island; however, it may be bottled off the island. Verdea received its OKP designation in 1992.

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There are only two Greek wines entitled to the PGI category of onomasía kata oínos [OKP]: Verdea and Retsina (the traditional pine-scented wine of ancient Greece). The OKP designation protects both the name and the production method of these wines.

While Verdea is by far most important wine made on the island of Zakynthos, a small amount of red wines (primarily made with Avgoustiatis and Xynomavro grapes) are also produced. Lianoroidi, a sweet white wine made from a range of grapes, is another specialty of the island.

Finally—Skiadopoulo: Verdea is based on a blend of grapes. An ancient list contains up to 34 varieties that are (or were) planted on the island of Zakynthos. While all of the white grapes planted on the island are permitted to be used in Verdea, the majority (minimum 50%) must be of the Skiadopoulo variety. Skiadopoulo is a vigorous, high-yield vine that is capable of producing very sweet, ripe grapes. It is grown throughout the Ionian Islands and used in a range of white wine styles. Other grapes that are most often a part of the Verdea blend include Pavlos, Robola, and Goustolidi.

References/for more information:

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

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And then there were Twenty (Côtes du Rhône-Villages subzones)

..As of just a few days ago (November 25, 2016) the National Institute for Appellations of Origin (INAO) of France announced the promotion of three communes (villages) within the Côtes du Rhône-Villages AOC area to the status of “Côtes du Rhône-Villages with a specific subzone indication” (or, to put it more simply, as new official subzones of the AOC). The new subzones are: Sainte-Cecile, Suze-la-Rousse, and Vaison-la-Romaine. With this change, there are twenty approved subzones of the Côtes du Rhône-Villages AOC. Most of the twenty subzones produce red, white, and rosé wines, although a few are only approved for red and rosé.

The newly designation subzones will be able to market their qualifying wines with the term “Côtes du Rhône-Villages” followed by the name of their commune and the “AOC” designation beginning with the release of the wines of the 2016 vintage.

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The last such change in the specific geographical designations allowed for use with the Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation occurred in 2015, when the former subzone of Cairanne was promoted to a separate AOC designation (announced by the INAO in March of 2015 and approved by the EU in June of 2016 for the 2015 vintage onward). This change lowered the number of Côtes du Rhône-Villages AOC subzones from 18 to 17.

For the record, the twenty subzones of the Côtes du Rhône-Villages AOC (as of December 2016) are as follows:

  1. Chusclan
  2. Gadagne
  3. Laudun
  4. Massif d’Uchaux
  5. Plan de Dieu
  6. Puyméras
  7. Roaix
  8. Rochegude
  9. Rousset-les-Vignes
  10. Sablet
  11. Saint-Gervais
  12. Saint-Maurice
  13. Saint-Pantaléon-les-Vignes
  14. Sainte-Cécile
  15. Séguret
  16. Signargues
  17. Suze-la-Rousse
  18. Vaison-la-Romaine
  19. Valréas
  20. Visan

References/for more information:

  • http://www.syndicat-cotesdurhone.com/static/upload/5/img_58413fcd625db.pdf
  • http://www.vitisphere.com/actualite-84055-Trois-nouveaux-Cotes-du-Rhone-Villages-avec-noms-de-communes.htm

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

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

Guest Post: Cruising from Barcelona to Châteauneuf-du-Pape

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Today we have a guest post from SWE’s president, Barry Wiss. Barry writes to us from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, during a stop on a wine-themed river cruise!

Like most professional wine educators, I love to travel to all of the world’s amazing wine regions. Luckily, my wife and I have found a way to combine our love of wine with our love of travel, and for the past six years; we have served as wine hosts for AMA Waterways’ wine-themed river cruises.

In prior years, Kim and I have cruised some of the world’s greatest wine regions via some of the world’s greatest rivers, including the Rhine, the Mosel, the Danube, the Seine, the Douro, and this year, the Rhône.

We started our wine adventure in Barcelona where we enjoyed some amazing vintage Cavas. We rented an Airbnb; it was amazing. We thoroughly enjoyed the tapas and the rest of the Barcelona dining scene,  and had a local chef teach us how to make real paella. (Hint: it’s all about the saffron.)

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A few days later, we arrived in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Kim and I have been to many (too many to count) wineries over many years; the best are the small no-frills family operations. We just visited one—Domaine le Pointu.

This is a small (27-hectare) estate owned by Patrick Coste and his wife Karine. The estate is located in the commune of Courthézon (one of the five communes that make up the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC).

The estate produces several different versions of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, including a blanc (white) version, but do yourself a favor and do not try to find this one outside of the local area!

After a warm welcome at the estate, we began our tasting. The first wine we tasted was their rich and perfectly balanced Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, made from a majority of Grenache Blanc and a bit of Clairette; both from 90-year-old vines. This delicious wine was aged for one year in used Château d’Yquem barrels. What a beautiful wine, full of memorizing aromas of ripe red apple, pear, and honeysuckle. I could drink this wine all day…no joking.

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This was followed by a vertical of the Domaine le Pointu 2007, 2009, and 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds…2008 was sold out, of course. These red wines are all produced using Grenache Noir grapes, with a bit of Cinsault. The wines are between 90 and 105 years old. All the reds were spectacular, but the 2009 is coming home with me.

Domaine le Pointu also produces a range of Côtes du Rhône AOC wines in red, white, and rosé. These are based on the younger vines of the estate—some as “young” as 50 years old!

Wine-themed river cruises by AMA Waterways scheduled for 2017 include Provence & Spain, Melodies of the Danube, the Enticing Douro, Paris & Normandy, a Taste of Bordeaux, Port Wine & Flamenco, and the Enchanting Rhine. For more information, visit the website of AMA Waterways.

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

Guest Post: The Lone Star Burns Bright for Texas Wine (part two)

This is part two in Elizabeth Miller’s tale of touring and tasting through the Texas Hill Country. For part one, click here. 

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Rivers and lakes are known to form great wine regions, and for the next visit in our Texas Hill Country tour, we headed out to Lake Travis, just northwest of Austin.  Perched on the lake is a parcel of land, an amphitheater like valley with gently sloping land, with a creek running from north of the property and ending in Lake Travis.  That creek’s namesake, Flat Creek Estate Winery and Vineyard, calls this area home.

I met with owners Madelyn and Rick Naber who lived in several regions of the US, including California, before setting in Texas. Once in central Texas, they began to notice that the pace of housing development was accelerating drastically, with developers snatching up premier property in the Lake Travis area.  In 1998, the Nabers purchased an idyllic 80 acres on the lake, with a commitment to maintain its use as a sustainable agricultural endeavor.

For the Nabers, April fool’s Day in 2000 became a legend (but in this case, it was no joke). On that day, 60 people planted 6,000 vines on 6 acres, thus beginning commercial grape growing at Flat Creek Estate.  Later, the endeavor grew to 20 acres of vineyards, a wine production facility, a wine tasting room, and a restaurant.  Many of the varieties planted at Duchman—including Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Tempranillo—also thrive at Flat Creek Estate, along with several Portuguese Port varietals.

photo of Flat Creek Estate via: http://www.flatcreekestate.com/flat-creek-photos.html (Peary Photography)

photo of Flat Creek Estate via: http://www.flatcreekestate.com/flat-creek-photos.html (Peary Photography)

Madelyn and Rick sat down with me to share their wines, popping their 2014 Super Texan.  This wine is based on the Italian Super Tuscan concept and features a blend of Italian and non-Italian grapes.  At Flat Creek, they start with Texas Hill Plains AVA fruit, blending Sangiovese with Tempranillo and Syrah (although the blends may vary by year).  The Nabers shared with me that their 2003 Super Texan was awarded a Double Gold in the San Francisco International Wine Competition, marking the first time a Texas red wine was awarded this prestigious accolade.

Another outstanding wine and indicator of Flat Creek’s full viticultural and winemaking potential is their Port VII.  The Flat Creek Estate Port is crafted from traditional Portuguese port wine grapes grown on the estate specifically for this purpose.  Each vintage is aged in oak barrels and then added to the Port Solera which includes multiple vintage years spanning 2002 through 2014.  Bottled in 2015, the Port VII is rich dark chocolate, blackberry, sweet spices and prunes.  What a winemaking undertaking!

The Future of Texas Wine: All of my conversations at Duchman Family Winery and Flat Creek Estate hovered around the current state of Texas wines.  What are the challenges?  How do they overcome these challenges?  What is the fullest potential of Texas?

photo of Flat Creek estate via: http://www.flatcreekestate.com/ (Peary Photography)

photo of Flat Creek estate via: http://www.flatcreekestate.com/ (Peary Photography)

Even though Texas is one of the top ten wine-producing states in the United States, it is still grappling with an underdog status.  Much of this is self-imposed, because when the industry started anew after Prohibition in the 1970s, many producers were pushing for sweeter profiles and easier sells like Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet—and in Texas, many of these varieties suffer from climate challenges you’d never find in Napa Valley.  Today, Texas winemakers are focusing more on terroir appropriate varieties, and learning how to manage weather challenges that seem to be the norm.

These days, the Texas wine industry is about unlimited possibilities.  With 170+ million available acres in a state the size of France, there are so many places to make great wine.  The current acreage is likely to explode in coming years.

However, as any Texan will tell you, Texas’ greatest asset is its people.  Those who make wine are bold and ambitious in a young industry.  Those who promote wine are realizing the fullest potential of Texas wine.  As Rick Naber wisely told me, “Until you get sommeliers to wrap their arms around Texas, nothing is going to happen.”

Learn about Texas and other emerging wine regions in Elizabeth’s December 7th SWEbinar: Wednesday, December 7, 7:00 pm central time – Emerging Wine Regions of the US – presented by Elizabeth Miller, CSW, CSS.  Who knew that Texas had such a long history of wine production, and that the state grows more Vitis species that any other region on earth?  Or that one of Virginia’s oldest wineries is exporting its wine to China.  Did you know that Idaho has some of the highest elevation vineyards in the country, or that one of the best domestic Méthode Champenoise wines comes from New Mexico?  This webinar covers the lesser known wine producing states, their terroirs, grapes and future growth.  Elizabeth Miller is a retailer whose home state of New York is a successful emerging wine region.

 

Guest Post: The Lone Star Burns Bright for Texas Wine (part one)

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Today we have a guest post from Elizabeth Miller, CSS, CSW. Elizabeth tells us about her recent trip to the Texas wine country.

“Nature seemed to have intended Texas for a vineyard to supply America with vines.” -Stephen F. Austin

The “Father of Texas” saw the potential…. the future of Texas wine.  Stephen F. Austin came to Texas with the first colonizing families in the early 1800s.  When he made that statement, he likely didn’t expect two centuries would pass until the Texas wine industry would begin to reach its full potential.

Today, a tourist can drive just a few miles out of the city of Austin, the namesake of Stephen F. Austin, and find a burgeoning wine scene… not quite there, but on its way to becoming a major American wine region!  I took that drive recently to visit the bold new producers that are making Texas one of the most exciting and underrated wine destinations in the country.

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

There is another timely impetus for my Texas travels: I am presenting a SWEbinar on December 7th “Emerging Wine Regions of the US.”  In the webinar promo, I tease: “Who knew that Texas had such a long history of wine production, and that the state grows more Vitis species that any other region on earth?”  I had research to do, and my curiosity was piqued!

A Long Lone Star History: With most of today’s Texas producers under a decade old, it’s easy to forget that the history of the Texas industry dates back to the 1600s!  One of the earliest vineyards planted in North America lies in Texas, planted by Franciscan priests in 1662.   As European settlers followed, the industry developed, and by 1900 Texas had more than twenty-five wineries.  However, just like everywhere else in America, Prohibition brought an end to this momentum.

It wouldn’t be until the 1970s that Texas would witness a revival of its wine industry.  It was a bit of a later start, compared to California, but commercial vineyards and wineries started popping up.

On my journey into Texas wines, I was happily led to Duchman Family Winery and Flat Creek Estate. These two wineries are among the 350-plus Texas wineries that are changing that are, slowly but surely, changing the public perception about Texas wines.

Duchman Family Winery: To begin our visit, we left the pavement of urban Austin for the rolling hills and ‘peaking’ vineyards of Driftwood, Texas.  For our first stop, we arrived at Duchman Family Winery’s beautiful Italianate villa and were greet by Jeff Ogle, the estate’s General Manager. The Duchman winery story began, Jeff told us, in 2004 when Drs. Stan and Lisa Duchman founded the winery with an aim for world-class winemaking.  They hired Dave Reilly—a native Texan—as their winemaker, and quickly started seeing their wines medal in some of the most prestigious wine competitions.  They have become one of the most renown and quality minded producers in Texas.

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

Given the infant state of Texas, Duchman’s motto is not to be taken lightly:  100% Texas Grapes, 100% Texas Wine…and 100% Texas Farmers.  A day will come, hopefully sooner rather than later, that all Texas labeled wines will be from 100% Texas fruit.  Texas is not quite there yet, as the demand for grapes exceeds the current acreage of the productive vineyards (which is growing, but not quite there yet).

Duchman is growing grapes in two of the state’s 8 AVAs: Texas High Plains and Texas Hill Country.  The Texas Hill Country AVA is one of the largest AVA in the US, covering 9 million acres and as such, it has a number of unique microclimates. Many wineries and a good deal of wine tourism are located within this area. The Texas High Plains AVA is located up in the Texas panhandle, where the climate is very cool and dry, with an elevation of 3,000-4,000 feet.

Back in the tasting room at Duchman, we started with the 2015 Duchman Family Vermentino, crisp, nuanced, truly a world class palate.  Another Italian variety, Montepulciano, has been produced at Duchman since almost day one.  In tasting the 2012 Duchman Family Montepulciano, I realized why it’s one of the most popular wines in their selection, with balanced acidity, rich blackberry, plum, and aromas of vanilla and spice.  There is no true consensus on which grape is the grape of Texas, but tasting these varieties would stand the test in a global blind comparison!

Parting from Duchman was not without another Texas lesson: the wine growler.  That 2015 Montepulciano walked out the door with us in a 750ml growler.  Growlers typically make us think of beer, which has historically been approved by federal regulations.  In Texas, Whole Foods has been a promoter of keg wine and in reusable containers, and helped pave the way for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to rule in favor of wine growlers.  Only two states, Oregon and Texas, specifically allow retailers and wineries to fill growlers with wine for sale off-premise.  Personally, I hope this legislation comes to New York State.

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

Our Duchman Family Winery growler traveled quite a bit and proved the quality of Duchman’s winemaking.  After the tasting room, we immediately headed to the nearby Salt Lick BBQ, a Texas Hill Country BBQ restaurant with recipes that have roots back to the wagon trains in the mid-1800s!  That Montepulciano shined with the rich slabs of barbecue.  Surprisingly, we didn’t finish the growler, and some Montepulciano accidentally made its way back to New York in our checked suitcase, where a few days later, it was discovered and tasted.  Would you know, the Duchman Family Winery Montepulciano held up through the travels, and it was delicious!

Learn about Texas and other emerging wine regions in Elizabeth’s December 7th SWEbinar: Wednesday, December 7, 7:00 pm central time – Emerging Wine Regions of the US – presented by Elizabeth Miller, CSW, CSS.  Who knew that Texas had such a long history of wine production, and that the state grows more Vitis species that any other region on earth?  Or that one of Virginia’s oldest wineries is exporting its wine to China.  Did you know that Idaho has some of the highest elevation vineyards in the country, or that one of the best domestic Méthode Champenoise wines comes from New Mexico?  This webinar covers the lesser known wine producing states, their terroirs, grapes and future growth.  Elizabeth Miller is a retailer whose home state of New York is a successful emerging wine region.

Check back in a few days for part two of Elizabeth’s tour of Texas Hill Country wineries!

New Zealand Wine Regions: It’s (almost) Official!

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If you are a fan of crisp, clean, cool-climate wines, you no doubt adore New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. You might even be able to tell the story of Cloudy Bay Vineyards, founded as recently as 1985, as one of a small group of wineries to venture into Marlborough and quickly establish one of the leading wine-producing areas in the New World while practically “inventing”  a new style of Sauvignon Blanc along the way.

As a true New Zealand wine aficionado, you can probably tell the story of the establishment of vineyards in the Gimblett Gravels area of Hawke’s Bay, where the combination of the soil, the geography, and the climate create one of the few areas in this small, maritime nation where thick-skinned, heat-loving red grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah can ripen consistently.

If you are really into New Zealand wine, you can probably tell the story of “sunny” Nelson (located on the western side of the Southern Alps), Gisborne (the “Chardonnay capitol of New Zealand”), and Central Otago Pinot Noir, produced in the southernmost commercial wine-producing region in the world.

But did you know…all of the wine regions of New Zealand are “unofficial”? Winemakers certainly use them, and serious students of wine study them, and in 2006 the New Zealand Parliament, via the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act of 2006, created a registration system and scheme for wine and spirit geographical indications. However, the act was never brought into force and the geographical indications remained “unofficial.”

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That began to change last night—November 16, 2016—when the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Amendment Act was passed by the New Zealand Parliament. This new law will enter into force during 2017, allowing for the registration of a set of internationally recognized and protected geographical indications in New Zealand.

According to Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, “the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act will be a significant advance for the New Zealand wine industry. Our Geographical Indications—the names and places where our wines come from— are at the very heart of the New Zealand wine story and this new law provides an additional level of protection for them.”

New Zealand wine regions—it’s almost official!

For more information, see the website of the New Zealand Winegrowers

post authored by Jane A. Nickles…your blog administrator

Welcome to the World, Appalachian High Country AVA!

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On October 27, 2016, the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) of the United States government approved the country’s 239th American Viticultural Area (AVA): The Appalachian High Country AVA. The new AVA, which encompasses some segments of the famed Appalachian Trail, includes portions of northeastern Tennessee, northwestern North Carolina, and southwestern Virginia; encompassing eight counties across the corners of the three states. The AVA will be effective as of November 28, 2016.

The new AVA covers a 2,400-square-mile area and currently contains 71 acres of planted and producing vines, 21 commercial vineyards, and 10 wineries, including the New River Winery, Spencer Mountain Winery, and Watauga Lake Winery. The new AVA is not located within any established viticultural area, but it shares a portion of its eastern border with the Yadkin Valley AVA of North Carolina.

According to the petition, the Appalachian High Country AVA is a unique wine growing area based on the following characteristics:

map via: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=TTB-2016-0003-0003

map via: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=TTB-2016-0003-0003

Elevation: Elevation in the new area falls between 1,338 and 6,260 feet above sea level, with the majority of the planted areas in the 3,000–6,000 foot range, with an with an average vineyard elevation of 3,206 feet.

Climate and weather:  The area within the new AVA is significantly cooler; the average annual temperature of the proposed Appalachian High Country AVA is, on average, between 2 degrees and 8 degrees (F) cooler than the surrounding areas.  The proposed AVA is classified as a Winkler Climate Region I/II; the Yadkin Valley AVA to the west is classified as a Winkler Region III/IV.

Soil: There are 26 different soil types found within the new AVA; of these, two (Watauga-Clifton-Chandler and Clifton-Chester) are found only within the proposed viticultural area. In layman’s terms, these soils feature a deep, loamy, well-drained sub-soil over granite and gneiss bedrock.

Over 24 different grape varieties are currently grown in the area which include vinifera varieties (led by Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Viognier); and hybrids (led by Marquette, Marechal Foch, and Seyval Blanc).

Welcome to the World, Appalachian High Country AVA!

To read the original petition, as well as all amendments and comments regarding the establishment of the Appalachian High Country AVA, click here.

post authored by Jane A. Nickles…your blog administrator

Guest Blogger: High Altitude Wines and Shangri-La

The Altura Maxima Vineyard photo credit: http://www.bodegacolome.com/

The Altura Maxima Vineyard photo credit: http://www.bodegacolome.com/

Today we have a post from JoAnn DeGaglia, CSW, CS. JoAnn takes us on a trek to some high-altitude vineyards, and even to the legendary land of Shangri-La.

Mountain vineyards have numerous challenges. To get a feel for this, consider the typical challenges faced by all vineyards—such as like power supply, water, and environmental impact, erosion—and multiply them. Then, add in the fact that everyone is working on the side of a steep, difficult (and maybe dangerous) site, and that the complex climate conditions affecting a vineyard site are amplified in the mountains above the fog line. On the brighter side, high elevation sites do receive much more sun with lower heat accumulation and but higher diurnal temperature fluctuations. But then there’s this: pressure from insects, birds, rodents and wild animals is much more intense in remote mountain locations. Like I said—it’s a challenge.

The highest vineyards in the world are in Argentina in the Salta region located in the Altura Maxima vineyard at 9,849 feet (and some claim it is even higher). This “extreme” vineyard produces grapes with a very think skin, resulting in rich, tannic wines with complex flavors. The first vintage of Altura Maxima wine was released in 2012 by Bodega Colomé (part of the Hess Family Estates). That wine—Colomé Altura Maxima 2012—is 100% Malbec and priced at $125. It might sound like a lot—until you realize that only 165 cases (six barrels) were produced. Bodega Colomé also grows small amounts of Torrontés, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in their ultra-high altitude Altura Maxima vineyard.

The Winery at Bodega Colome - photo via http://www.bodegacolome.com/

The Winery at Bodega Colome – photo via http://www.bodegacolome.com/

Here in the U.S. we look to areas like Lake County AVA (with vineyards at 2,000 to 2,400 feet), Howell Mountain (1,600 to 2,400 feet), Spring Mountain (2,000 feet), Mount Veeder (400 to 2,600 feet), Atlas Peak (1,400 to 2,600 feet), Diamond Mountain (1,200 to 2,200 feet) and Sonoma Mountain (600 to 2,400 feet) as examples of high altitude viticulture. Howell Mountain was designated as Napa Valley’s first sub AVA, and is well-known for its high-altitude Cabernet Sauvignon. The region’s volcanic ash–red clay soil, delightfully infertile, produces intense wines from small berries. In the end, the altitude and rocky, dry soil conditions create complex, tannic and concentrated wines with firm structure, incredible varietal intensity, and excellent aging properties. Cabernet Sauvignon is King of the Mountain but Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay excel as well. Who is up on Howell Mountain? Charles Krug, Cade, Cakebread, Duckhorn, Robert Foley, La Jota, and Pine Ridge—to name a few.

The world of wine evolves and changes with each passing year with more regions discovering wine, both as consumers and producers. Each of these new areas brings a new dimension to the world of wine. One in particular caught the eye of Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible enough to make her declare that “the Book of Cabernet has just been rewritten.” The wine she is talking about is made in Shangri-La. Really. The wine is 2013 Ao Yun (Tibetan for Proud Cloud), produced in the Himalayas just 50 miles from the border of Burma. This area is within the Yunnan Province in the far southwest of China. The areas “Three Parallel Rivers” region (now a National Park) was made famous as the mythical Shangri-La in James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon. The Vineyard is at 8,500 feet, and the air is so thin that fermentation doesn’t quite work like it does as we may know it. Karen MacNeil described the wine like this: “Drinking it makes you feel like you’ve been pulled down into the dark body of the earth itself. There is a sense of delicious corruption to the wine.”

Ao Youn is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cab Franc, bottled at 15% alcohol by volume. It should be (or will soon be) available at Sherry Lehman’s in New York and Wally’s in Los Angeles.

We can never overestimate the contributions made by the pioneers, innovators and artists of the wine making world. So get out there and open that mountain wine—climb high, my friends.

JoAnn DeGaglia, CSW, CS works at Brotherhood Winery, “America’s Oldest Winery.” In addition, she teaches wine appreciation classes at libraries all over the Hudson Valley as well as with Ned Towle at the Westchester Wine School. JoAnn’s writings may be found on Facebook on the “The Wine Lovers Journey through the World of Wine” page.

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Guest Post: Montefalco Sagrantino

Montefalco, Italy

Montefalco, Italy

Today we have a guest post from Steve Armes. Steve is a wine-loving artist who resides in Irving, Texas. In this article, Steve takes us along on a trip to Montefalco, in Italy’s Umbria province, where he discovers the lovely countryside and architecture of the region – in addition to the area’s wine.

“In the horse race that is the Italian wine scene, the field is populated by the usual suspects. In the straight, Brunello di Montalcino leads by a length, followed by Amarone and Barolo in a dead heat. You can bet across the board on these. But my money is on a dark horse that is on no one’s preferred list: Montefalco Sagrantino.  Focus on the backstretch and look for this wine to finish in the money.

Montefalco (mountain of the hawk) is a small town tucked away in central-eastern Umbria, half way between Spoleto and Assisi. Encircling this walled city are 250 magical acres where God, man and Mother Nature collaborate to produce a little-know grape that is about to shift our wine paradigm: Sagrantino.

Although the origin of the grape is unclear, with some researchers attributing its birth to Asia and others to Greece, this variety is quickly becoming Italy’s next rock star. We know that behind every great grape is a sublime terroir, and this is no exception. Montefalco is surrounded by the Apennines, and its playground is an admixture of clay with limestone and sand. The hot summers there are ameliorated by a cooling breeze known as la tramontana (the north wind). The grape is ancient, but its reputation is young. How, in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately wine universe is this possible? The answer is one of vinification.

57044157 - italian vineyard in autumnal foliage and sagrantino grapes

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Unlike Brunello di Montalcino, which was sitting around in the cellars of Tuscany waiting for enologists to stumble upon it in the late 70s and make it an overnight sensation, Sagrantino languished in obscurity. Vintners often made Sagrantino in the passito style, drying the berries on straw mats prior to fermentation, making them raisin-like, which increased the sugar and the resulting alcohol content—the latter often exceeding 14%. But as wine cognoscenti will aver, the 1970’s brought a great change to the juice universe and tenacious growers of this region were determined to bring out the grape’s full potential. Discarding the older methods, visionaries of vinification began to make the wine in the secco or dry style, transforming it from a sweet wine into a bold and tannic contender. The wine would earn DOC status in 1979, and DOCG status in 1992. The Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG is approved for both dry (secco) wines and passito wines with between 80 and 180 grams/liter of residual sugar.

Sagrantino, with its deep garnet color, foretells a nose of blackberry, violets, and other floral scents. The palate reveals itself to be full of plum, lingering earthiness, and spice with a finish that will make tannin-lovers go wild. In its dry (and most popular) form, it can be a big, big wine. The grape is one of the most tannic of extant varietals, and will pair with a range of dishes as well as with spicy entrees. Or, savor it alone and decipher its amazing complexity and balance. It cellars well for at least a couple of decades, and in most versions, can profit from being opened and allowed to breathe for hours.

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Those of us who have sipped our way through Italy know that the best Italian wines can be costly. But the manna from heaven in this promised land called Italy is that these premiere wines are also produced in a junior version which is made affordable by either an admixture of lesser grapes or a shorter aging period. Examples are Amarone/Ripasso, Brunello di Montalcino/Rosso di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano/Rosso di Montepulciano. Following suit, Sagrantinos await the wine enthusiast in 3 forms:  The passito style, which is still available, the secco Montefalco Sagrantino , both of which contain 100% Sagrantino, and the Montefalco Rosso DOC, which contains 10-15% Sagrantino blended with Sangiovese or other grapes. The dry Sagrantino di Montefalco is aged for 37 months, including 12 in oak. The sweet version is also aged for 37 months (with no minimum requirement for oak). Montelfaco Rosso DOC has a minimum aging requirement of 18 months (30 for the Riserva, which includes at least 12 months in oak).

To trek through Italy is to make un giro di gusto, a taste tour. In Montalcino, the world revolves around Brunello. In Montepulciano, vino Nobile flows from the tap. And anyone who has taken an excursion through Tuscany is familiar with the strada in chianti, and the tour bus from Florence to Siena that stops in Greve so tourists can consume Chianti Classico, the delectable poster child of Italian wine. But the people of Umbria have been taking notes. What they have learned is that tourists long to travel through the rustic campagna to discover for themselves the next great culinary Arcadia. It seems that the Umbrians know what is coming, so they have created La strada del Sagrantino. All roads leading to Montefalco host signs with the best logo I have seen of all Italy’s strade del vini (wine trails).

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As you encounter the fare in the area, you will find that their world revolves around the grape (as in Montalcino). There are lenticchie (lentils) soaked in Sagratino, cheeses produced in similar fashion, so that the rind is the garnet red of the wine, even Sagrantino jelly. Walk into a shop in Montefalco, and they will be only too happy to offer you a sample of Sagrantino, but will also force upon you salumi e formaggi  (salami and cheese). Typically, shops will have about 15 to 20 different bottles of Sagrantino di Montefalco and 8 to 10 rossos. We saw few passito or sweet versions, but they are certainly available. As we gravitated toward the rossos, we were quickly told that they were misti (meaning “blends”), and we assured them that we understood. The rossos start at around 12 Euros, and the Sagrantinos begin just over 20 Euros. The 250 acres that spawn Sagrantino do not allow for a large yield, so the wine will likely stay in limited supply. And even though some prescient grapesters are experimenting with it in Tuscany, it will perforce be a different wine, for the elements that make up terroir differ  from mile to mile, if not from acre to acre.

As I wade through the travel magazines and blogs, I see that Tuscany is no longer the destination du jour, and that Puglia and Sardegna are the new hot spots, which is fine in my opinion, for I will continue to frequent Tuscany, hoping to find fewer tourists there. But the unavoidable truth is that Umbria, and Montefalco in particular, is going to be on the short list of savvy travelers. This region, known for such attractions as Lake Trasimeno, a popular sporting destination, and Assisi, the best-preserved medieval walled city in Italy, is poised to become the next Mecca for eager globe-roamers. Information is available from the Associazione Strada del Sagrantino, Piazza del Comune n.17 06036 Montefalco, telephone 0742 378490, email info@stradadelsagrantino.it.

Although it is unimaginable now, growers of Sagrantino nearly plowed the vines under, intending to replace them with more profitable varieties. But they didn’t. And thus they have given us Sagrantino di Montefalco, the best Italian wine you have never heard of, saving it from being the best Italian wine the world would never know.

Come to think of it, the Italian wine world really isn’t like a horse race. Horse races are loud, frantic and fast. Italian wine is more like a leisurely afternoon stroll through the dappled sunlight on a dirt path that separates the olive groves from the vineyards, the breeze carrying the ancient aromas of growth, fruit, and rebirth. And the Italians have caught it all and put it in a bottle.

Copyright Steve Armes 2009

Steve Armes is a classically trained painter who travels to Italy to paint the landscape. He is an ardent student of wine, with a particular interest in Italian wines. You may see his work at www.stevearmes.com. He lives in Irving, TX.

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Guest Post: A Trip to the Ramona Valley AVA

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Today we have a guest post from SWE member Jan Crocker. Jan has just completed our CSW Online Prep Class and is planning on taking her CSW exam next month. Wish her luck!

Jan works on the “front line” of the wine industry as a beverage steward in an upscale grocer in Southern California. Read on as Jan shares about her recent trip to the Ramona Valley AVA.

Whenever I discuss California wine with wine shoppers at work, nearly all mention Temecula, since it’s extremely familiar to oenophiles in Orange County, California. I can also count on several folks each day singing the praises of the Napa Valley (“isn’t that where the greatest wines in the world come from?” they invariably comment), as well as Paso Robles and Sonoma.

However, because I relish exploring obscure wine varieties and regions—that’s why I’ve been a wine nerd for more than 15 years, after all—I’m genuinely excited about watching the emergence of a certain young American Viticultural Area that’s fast gaining acclaim among local wine writers, professionals and judges.

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With that, I’ll present the 162nd AVA in the United States: the Ramona Valley AVA.

As the third AVA in the sizable South Coast “super AVA” at 33.1 degrees north, the Ramona Valley celebrated its 10th anniversary in January 2016. The region itself is 14.5 miles long and nine and a half miles wide, and is home to 25 bonded wineries within its 89,000 acres over 139 square miles. (Note to wine nerds everywhere: the other two AVAs located within the South Coast AVA are the San Pascual Valley, founded in 1981, and the Temecula Valley, founded in 1986.)

Located about 35 miles northeast of San Diego in north-central San Diego County, the Ramona Valley is a destination famed for its balmy climate throughout the year. On the other hand, the area is no stranger to scorching summers, with daytime temperatures often above the century mark. Winters, by contrast, are brisk, with afternoons reaching the mid-60s and nights often dipping below freezing. Small wonder: Ramona is exactly 25 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, and 25 miles west of the Colorado Desert. Rainfall is moderate, with roughly 16 inches each year.

Julian, the historic burg famed for its apple pies and winters with light snow, is a mere 22 miles east of Ramona and more than 4,200 feet above sea level.  (That’s why I describe the Ramona Valley’s climate as “Mediterranean, with an asterisk.”)

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Grapes thrive as a result of the Ramona Valley’s vineyard elevation: about 1,400 feet above sea level. At least two of the region’s wineries sit at nearly 2,000 feet at elevation.

Indeed, the Ramona Valley’s neighboring mountains, hills, and rocks are a force in defining the character of the region’s wines. The Cuyamaca Mountains, Mount Palomar, and Vulcan Mountain are the “high points” of the steep inclines surrounding the valley. At the western portion of the region, 2,800’ Mount Woodson does its part as a rain shadow by keeping the Pacific Ocean’s trademark fog and chill at bay.

Let’s get back to those rocks.

During each of the four visits my husband and I have made to Ramona, we’ve never failed to be wowed by the huge boulders and striking rock formations along picturesque Highway 67, the only path leading into the region. On our first trip in early 2015, I hummed “The Flintstones” theme as we approached those monster rocks, since many of them resemble Bedrock, the cartoon’s setting. The closeness of those boulders, however, kept us alert: We fervently hoped that we’d be spared one of our home state’s signature earthquakes during our drive.

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Granite dominates the geological landscape, either in its original form as rocks or boulders or within the region’s loamy soil as decomposed granite. (During our four days in the region this August, we also spotted milky and rose quartz, as well as some tiny flakes of pyrite, during our “personal tours” of the 11 vineyards we visited.)

Granite’s presence also makes itself known in Ramona Valley wines: Of the 100 or so wines from the region that my husband and I have tasted in the last year and a half, all have an elegant flintiness and a backbone of minerality that’s riveting.

Southern California’s “soft chaparral” is the garrigue that shows up in Ramona Valley’s wines, reds especially. Many of my tasting notes include “sage and rosemary,” so it’s no mystery  to find that flora in the region’s natural landscape, along with wild oak, toyon, chamise and numerous species of cacti.

Local winemakers embrace the Ramona Valley’s terroir, planting varieties that develop deep flavors as they echo the area’s climate, soil types and ever-present breezes. John Saunders, the proprietor/vineyard manager/winemaker at Poppaea Winery, mentioned that a few local enologists have identified “at least 11 different microclimates” within the 139-square-foot valley, so the range of wine grapes compatible to those potential “mini-AVAs” is broad – and speaks to the stunning diversity of the region.

Red varieties flourish, especially those with their roots (no pun intended) in France, Italy and Spain. To that point, two wineries – Poppaea Winery and Principe de Tricase – are planted to white and red varieties spanning the length of Italy. Not surprisingly, Tempranillo craves the region’s sunshine and wide diurnal swings.

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Other growers and winemakers opt for Rhone varietals, as Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier flourish in similar conditions in the Ramona Valley: rocky and barren soils, ample sunshine and a steady, moderating breeze, albeit without the destructiveness of the mistral. Woof ‘n Rose Winery was planted to Grenache Noir in 2004, with consultation from fifth-generation winemaker Marc Perrin of Château de Beaucastel—as well as Grenache rootstock from the French vineyard. Ramona Syrahs showcase a brooding, deep style much like their Cornas or St. Joseph cousins; those from Ramona Ranch Winery and Eagles Nest both offer elegant, haunting scents and flavors with earthiness and garrigue.

Wine fans searching for varieties above and beyond their tried-and-true classics will have a field day with offerings from the region. During our four days in the Ramona Valley, my husband and I visited 11 of the region’s 25 wineries, tasted 82 current releases – and had the good fortune to try six varieties we’d never before had the opportunity to taste: Alicante Bouschet, Refosco, Aleatico, Fiano, Sangrantino and Bolizao. Tannat, the pride of Madiran, is a featured variety at Ramona Ranch Winery, one of the wines my husband and I enjoyed thoroughly.

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There’s no wonder why proprietors Marilyn and Steven Kahle at Woof ‘n Rose take pride in their Alicante Bouschet, the gorgeous teinturier: It’s generous, opulent, complex and undeniably enjoyable – and, my husband and I thought, a varietal that red fans would love if they tried it.

Speaking of Refosco: When was the last time we wine fans tasted one other than from their original northern Italian homes of Friuli or Trentino? Mike Kopp, proprietor/vineyard manager/winemaker at Kohill, offered us a barrel tasting of his signature Refosco, which nearly brought us to our knees.

Although heat-loving red varieties have a joyous home in the Ramona Valley, many whites do as well. Wine fans who enjoy their Chardonnays most when they’re flinty and zesty will appreciate the mineral influence of Mount Woodson and the nearby Cuyamacas; the elegant Chards featured at Lenora and Eagles Nest showcase that sculpted, sinewy quality as a counterpart to the variety’s richness.

Our Guest Blogger: Jan Crocker!

Our Guest Blogger: Jan Crocker!

It’s impossible to overlook how well Mother Nature took care of us during our four days during the first week of August. During each of our visits to the 11 wineries, every proprietor, winemaker and vineyard manager gushed over the gorgeous weather that week—sunny, of course, but with soft breezes. It’s usually blazing hot, “about 100 degrees at this time of year,” our winery hosts pointed out. “But it’s only in the high eighties. Isn’t it beautiful?”

We couldn’t have agreed more. And the Ramona Valley AVA’s future looks equally gorgeous – with the distinct likelihood that California wine fans will soon discover its current excellence and stunning future.

Photo Credits: Jan Crocker

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