Harvest Report 2015 – Europe


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Amrut and the Elixir of Life


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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2015 Harvest Report – France


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Smoke Gets in Your…Wine?


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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



A Lime Thunderstorm – #SauvBlanc Day

“It’s like standing naked in a lime thunderstorm.”

38044013_lThat’s the way I described New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – one of my favorite styles of wine – for a long time. The phrase relates a myriad of sensations. First of all – the thrill of being naked outside (just admit it). Second, the crackle of lightning – makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, makes your entire body stand and deliver, and leaves a slight mineral scent in the air. The cold rain lashing your flesh – the whole point of being naked in this scenario is to feel the cold rain on your belly. Finally, the limes – exploding like flavor bombs on impact.

I’ve used that line for decades and it still rings true. However, the wine industry in New Zealand has matured a bit since the mid-1980s “Sauvignon Blanc shot heard ‘round the world,” when Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc was first introduced and immediately set the standard for a “new style” of Sauvignon Blanc. While I still encounter –and love – the “lime thunderstorm” style of NZ SB, nowadays you may also encounter a creamy wine with the influence of malo-lactic fermentation, a white Bordeaux-style blend, an oaked version, a wine with lees aging, or a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc as well.

Sauvignon Blanc has actually been planted in New Zealand since 1973, and was beginning to be produced at commercially-relevant levels by 1979. Sauvignon Blanc is grown in all of New Zealand’s viticultural regions, and accounts for the following super-statistics:

  • 67% of NZ Vineyard Plantings (by hectare)
  • 72% of NZ Wine Production
  • 86% of NZ Wine Exports

New Zealand SB grapes

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’s reputation as a tongue curler is well-documented – and much beloved.  This is not a wine for the wine newbie, the wine wimp, or the vinous faint of heart.

Even the New Zealand Winegrower’s Association admits it, and uses the following terms to describe their SB:

  • Pungently aromatic
  • Explosive flavors
  • Bell pepper and gooseberry
  • Passion fruit, tropical fruit
  • Fresh cut grass, tomato stalk, grapefruit, and lime…

By the way, one of the lovely things about standing naked outside in a lime thunderstorm is the way that the lively (to say the least) acidity of NZ SB pairs with food. Tastes and flavors in “trendy” cuisine seem to grow bolder and bolder every year, and I’ve 29900002_xlencountered some extremely acidic ceviches, salads, sauces, and marinades for seafood and other proteins. Acidic foods such as these can overwhelm many wines, but the zing of NZ SB holds its own and may even taste better (to some palates) when paired with crisply acidic food – the more snap, crackle, and pop the better.

For my #SauvBlanc Day, I’ll be indulging in a lovely Russian Jack Sauvignon Blanc (from Martinborough) – paired with some tangerine-paprika marinated tilapia served on a bed of lemon-asparagus risotto. What are your plans?

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

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Flash Détente: Making Red Wine Redder

Brenda flash 2Today we have a guest post from Brenda Audino, CWE. Brenda tells us about her brush with Flash Détente – very interesting!

I recently tasted a modest (read inexpensive) wine that had a bright purple hue and Jolly Rancher fruit aromas.  I enquired whether the wine had undergone Carbonic Maceration as it seemed to fit that profile.  It was explained to me that although the results are similar, this particular wine was produced using Flash Détente technology.  Being ever curious, I wondered what is Flash Détente; when, why and how is it used in the wine production.

To explain Flash Détente, we need to understand that one of the principal goals in producing red wine is the extraction of color and flavor from the skins.  This extraction is usually achieved by a combination of maceration and fermentation. Here is a review of three popular means for extraction including the new (to me) Flash Détente.

Classic maceration is achieved at low temperatures of 24-32°C (75-90°F) requiring extended contact between the juice and grape skins.  The fermentation process, while producing alcohol, also extracts the polyphenols from the skins.  One of the byproducts of fermentation is the release of CO2 which raises the skins to the surface forming a floating cap.  This floating cap is subject to acetic bacteria as well as other contaminates and, if left exposed to the air, can turn the entire batch into vinegar.  A floating cap also does nothing to extract further color and flavors into the juice.  It is therefore necessary to mix the skins back into the juice by one of many processes (punch down, pump over, rack and return, etc.)

Thermo-vinification uses heat to extract color and flavors from the skins.  The crushed grapes are heated to 60-75°C (140-167°F) for 20 to 30 minutes.  The must is then cooled down to fermentation temperature.  This process gives intensely colored must because the heat weakens the cell walls of the grape skins enabling the anthocyanins to be easily extracted.  This process can result in the wine having a rather “cooked” flavor.

Brenda flash 1While I was researching these technologies, I recalled a previous visit to Château de Beaucastel where I learned that make their iconic wine using a modified process of Thermo-vinification.  At Château de Beaucastel, the grapes are de-stemmed and the uncrushed grapes are passed rapidly through a heat exchanger at 90°C (194°F) which only heats the surface of the grapes, not the juice.  The heat is sufficient to weaken the cell wall of the grape skins enabling for easier extraction of anthocyanins, since the juice is kept cool the wine is less likely to have any cooked flavors due to this modified process.

Flash Détente is essentially an evolution of the traditional thermo-vinification method.  The process involves a combination of heating the grapes to about 82°C (180°F) and then sending them into a huge vacuum chamber where they are cooled.  During this cooling process the cells of the grape skins burst from the inside making a distinct popping noise.   Similar to traditional thermo-vinification, this process enables better extraction of anthocyanins and flavor compounds.

The Flash Détente process creates a steam that is diverted to a condenser.  This steam is loaded with aromatic compounds including pyrazines (vegetal, green pepper and asparagus).  Because vapor is removed, the sugar level increases in the remaining must.  The winemaker can choose to work with the higher sugar levels or dilute back down by adding water.  Most winemakers discard the condensation or “Flash Water” as the aromatics are usually highly disagreeable.   The winemaker now has multiple choices.  The flashed grapes can be pressed and fermented similar to white wine, the must can be fermented with the skins in the more traditional red wine production manner, or the flashed grapes can be added to non-flashed must that underwent classic maceration and then co-fermented.

Flash technology differs from traditional thermo-vinification because the traditional method does not involve a vacuum and there is no flash water waste produced.  Winemakers who are familiar with both methods have noted that the tannin extraction with thermo-vinification is less than Flash Détente.  Winemakers also note that Flash technology is better for removing pyrazine aromas.

Brenda flash 3In Europe during the early years of flash technology, it was mainly used for lower quality grapes or difficult vintages that had problems needing fixed.  Now the use of this technology is expanding its application to all quality levels of the wine industry.

According to Linda Bisson, a professor of viticulture and enology at UC Davis and one of the researchers working on the project, enologists are looking at what characteristics are lost or retained per grape variety.  They are also looking at the character and structure of tannins in flashed wines.  Bisson states that turning flashed grapes into a standalone wine is possible, but most winemakers see it as a tool for creating blends.  “It’s something on your spice rack to blend back in.”

The use of Flash Détente can be surmised as “It’s an addition to traditional winemaking, not a replacement.”

What are your thoughts on technology in the wine industry?  Does technology improve the wine or make it more homogenous?  

Photos and post by Brenda Audino, CWE. After a long career as a wine buyer with win Liquors in Austin, Texas, Brenda has recently moved to Napa, California (lucky!) where she runs the Spirited Grape wine consultancy business. Brenda is a long-time member of SWE and has attended many conferences – be sure to say “hi” at this year’s conference in NOLA!

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

Have You Heard About Furmint?

Today we have a guest post from renowned Wine and Spirits Educator Harriet Lembeck. Read on to hear Harriet’s take on Furmint!

If you haven’t already heard about Furmint – Furmint is the grape that makes the famed sweet wine Toakaji.

Aszu (‘dried up’ or ‘dried out’) grapes

Aszu (‘dried up’ or ‘dried out’) grapes

When Samuel Tinon, a sweet-wine maker in Bordeaux, decided to move to the Tokaji region of Hungary, he was ready to make wine from its Aszu (‘dried up’ or ‘dried out’) Furmint grapes — grapes attacked by the desirable botrytis cinerea, or noble rot. These grapes are so concentrated that they have to soak in vats of young wine to dissolve their flavors. But when Tinon moved to Tokaji, botrytis was decreasing in his newly chosen region.

Expecting to make Aszu wines at least three times in a decade, the number of opportunities dropped to a little more than two times in a decade, and sometimes less than that. Due to climate change, a great deal of rain meant either no crop at all (as happened in 2010), or harvesting all of the Furmint grapes earlier — not waiting in the hopes of harvesting Aszu grapes — and therefore making dry white wines from earlier-picked grapes instead.

Asked about an apparent climate change, Tinon says: “We can’t see warming. What we see are erratic vintages with severe or extreme conditions — hot or cold, wet or dry. In the past, Tokaji Aszu was harvested at the end of October and the beginning of November, with botrytis and high sugars. This is still happening, but more often we have to change our production to dry Furmint wines without botrytis with an earlier September harvest, bigger crop, more security, more reliability and with a chance to get your money back.”

Tokaji vineyardWith winters becoming a bit warmer like in 2014, the fruit-fly population is able to ‘over-winter,’ and begin reproducing very early in the season, causing the spread of bad rot. This was told to me by Ronn Wiegand, MW, MS and Publisher of ‘Restaurant Wine,’ who is making wine with his father-in-law in Tokaji.

Ironically, Comte  Alexandre de Lur Saluces, owner of Château de Fargues and former co-owner of the fabled Château d’Yquem, said that although his area is getting warmer and drier, he feels that “global warming could be a help for Sauternes, and enable any of those who chaptalize these wines to avoid the practice.” He continues, “Many people in Sauternes are  producing dry white wines. Their production is increasing, and even Château d’Yquem is producing more dry wine.”

Hungarian winemakers from Tokaji are increasing dry white wine production as well. A new website, www.FurmintUSA.com, was created by 12 member wineries that presented a Furmint tasting in Sonoma, CA in November 2014. The Blue Danube Wine Company, which imports many wines from all over Hungary, has six producers from Tokaji that are producing dry Furmint wines (many from single vineyards). Martin Scott Wines imports Royal Tokaji’s dry Furmint wine, coming from the company co-founded by Hugh Johnson and Ben Howkins, in London. These wines are all delicious, showcasing the minerality of volcanic soil.

Considering that in 2014, Hungary abolished the categories of Tokaji Aszu 3 and 4 Puttonyos (baskets of Aszu grapes), leaving only the sweeter 5 and 6 Puttonyos examples, the door has been opened for Dry Szamorodni. This rich, dry white (amber colored) wine produced from Furmint grapes has a portion of grapes which have some botrytis co-fermented to dryness, and also uses some flor yeast, giving the wine some fino or amontillado Sherry-like flavors.

This wine is very laborious and time consuming to produce. The 2007 Tinon Dry Szamorodni is the current vintage in the market, released after a minimum of 5 years of aging. This is a unique wine, a keeper, and is important to the history of Tokaji, linking the modern dry wines to the traditional Aszu wines.

If you haven’t tried it – you should!

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

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

The Vodka War

Vodka and red caviarPlease don’t throw sour grapes at me for saying this: it is merely a quote. But here goes, “Would the French like Champagne to be distilled from plums, and would the British accept whisky from apricots?”

The answer is “obviously not” – but the question was asked in earnest by Richard Henry Czarnecki, a member of the European Parliament representing Poland. The time was 2007, and the occasion was the end of a heated debate in what is now known as “The Vodka War.”

Vodka has, for centuries, been produced and consumed by the countries of the “vodka belt” – Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia; the Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania; and the Nordic states of Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland – many of whom are now members of the EU. These vodkas are traditionally made from grains or potatoes, with the majority made from a mix of grains; and some of the finest examples are made from potatoes – particularly Poland’s unique, high-starch Stobrawa  variety.

Then along came Cîroc – a unique French beverage distilled from grapes, produced in a neutral style, and branded as vodka. In response, the European Union proposed to revise their regulations on distilled spirits, and split the vodka product group into several categories based on raw materials and in some cases, flavor.

European ParliamentThis did not go over well with some members, and on February 20, 2006, Poland – with the backing of the EU vodka belt countries and Germany – demanded that the EU definition of “vodka” be restricted to those spirits produced from grains, potatoes, or sugar beets.  Vodka, they claimed, was entitled to the same protections as to base ingredients and manufacturing processes as those awarded whiskies and brandies, and as such, should be granted the same assurances as to the quality and originality of the product.

Alas, this was not met without resistance, and the other EU producers of vodka, such as France and the UK, not to mention the non-traditional vodka producers of the rest of the world, countered with an argument that said that such restrictions would dissuade innovation and competition, and could be seen as an attempt to monopolize the vodka market by the Vodka Belt countries. The United States even threatened a trade war via the World Trade Organization.

Horst Schenllhardt, MEP from Germany, suggested a compromise: the EU definition of vodka could be written so as to include those products distilled from (1) cereals and/or potatoes, and/or those produced from (2) “other agricultural raw materials.” Those vodkas produced from “other agricultural raw materials” – such as grapes, carrots, or onions – must be labeled with a statement “produced from grapes” (or whatever the raw material may be). This proposal, referred to as the “The Schnellhardt Compromise,” passed, and is the law of the European Union today.

The Vodka Belt

The Vodka Belt

Poland, however, is not appeased and has responded by forming the Polish Vodka Association. The PVA, under the leadership of President Andrzej Szumowski, vows to protect the legacy of Polish Vodka. As of January 13th, 2013, a Polish law was passed defining Polish vodka as a product made exclusively in Poland, from Polish-grown grains or potatoes. Bottles meeting these criteria will be able to display a “Polska Wódka/Polish Vodka” symbol on their labels, as well as the official PGI for Polish Vodka.

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

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The Goddess and the Roasted Grape

ErbaluceThe goddess Albaluce – the love child of the Sun and the Dawn – was not happy. It seemed many of her followers in the enchanted land of Caluso were desserting her in favor of a new religion known as Christianity. As she sat down and shed her tears, a grapevine grew and brought forth sweet grapes with a bright copper hue. Eventually, these grapes became known as Erbaluce in her honor.

Great story, isn’t it?  Or perhaps we should simply refer to it as what it is – a legend, that, while surely fiction, does at least let us know that Erbaluce is an ancient grape. We also know – somewhat for sure – that the grape is native to Piedmont, which has written records of the grape dating back to 1606. These days, it rarely ventures far from home, and is an allowed variety in just a handful of DOC/DOCGs – all of them in Piedmont.

Erbaluce’s unique copper color – sometimes accompanied by pink highlights as the grape ripens – has given rise to the nickname Uva Arrostita, or “roasted grape.”  Modern science, through DNA profiling, has revealed that Erbaluce is closely related to another Piedmont native, Cascarolo Bianco, although who exactly begat whom is not clear.

Erbaluce is cultivated in a variety of provinces in and around Turin, but is most associated with the town of Caluso. Even here, however, it is a rarity – at last count, there were less than 800 acres – and its wines are seldom seen out of the region.

erbaluce 2Erbaluce di Caluso was granted DOC status in 1967, and was promoted to DOCG in 2011. The disciplinare allows for dry white wines, sparkling wines, and sweet wines – all produced with 100% Erbaluce grapes. The dry white wines go by the name Erbaluce di Caluso, while the sparkling wines, appreciated for the fresh fruit character and mineral aromas – are known as Caluso Spumante.

But the real star is Caluso Passito – a sweet, dried grape wine with a minimum of 7% residual sugar, 12.5% alcohol, and 36 months of aging (48 for the Riserva).  Caluso Passito is known for its aromas of apple, vanilla, citrus, honey, and almonds –and while I’ve only had it once  – I’m betting it would make an excellent match with a simple dessert of gorgonzola, dried fruit, and hazelnuts.

Note: Erbaluce is an allowed (majority) grape variety in the following wines, all produced in Piedmont:  Canavese DOC, Colline Novaresi DOC, Coste della Sesia DOC, Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG, Piedmont DOC

The website of Azienda Vitivinicola Giacometto Bruno has a lovely description of their Caluso Passito.

A Tale of Tibouren

Clos Cibonne Tibouren

Clos Cibonne Tibouren

Tibouren…it is a grape that is highly regarded, and with a historical precedence for use in the rosés of Provence. And yet, many of you have – perhaps – never heard of it!

The Tibouren grape is appreciated for making earthy, expressive wines redolent of that “wild, herbal, somewhat floral” aroma known as garrigue – named after the wild underbrush that grows in the limestone-rich soils of Provence and other regions around the Mediterranean basin. It is approved as a principal variety (allowed up to 90% of the blend) in the red and rosé wines of the Côtes de Provence AOC; it is approved as an accessory variety (allowed up to 20% of the blend) in the reds and rosés of the Coteaux Variois en Provence AOC.

The Clos Cibonne estate, located on the coast between Marseille and Nice, has one of the largest and oldest plantings of Tibouren in the world, and on occasion produces varietal wines from Tibouren in both red and rosé versions. The Tibouren vineyard at Clos Cibonne is almost 40 acres, much of it planted in 1930 or earlier.



Tibouren has avoided becoming too well known for several reasons – the first being that, despite its excellent reputation for making interesting wines, it is not widely grown.  France has a total of just 1,100 acres, with more than half of those planted in Provence. The main reason for the small showing of the grape is – despite its being quite hardy in regards to pests and most vine diseases – that the grape has a tendency to early budding and susceptibility that pesky condition known as millerandage. CSW Students will recognize millerandage as a condition known as “abnormal fruit set” that results in grape bunches that have a high proportion of small seedless berries mixed in with normal, larger, seed-bearing grapes.

Like most vinifera grapes, Tibouren has an interesting and not-quite-verified history. It is said to have been introduced to the area around St. Tropez by an Italian ship’s captain named Antiboul. The grape first went by the name Antibloulen, which later led to the name “Tibouren.” Recent DNA testing, as reported by Jancis et al in their amazing book “Wine Grapes,” has shown it to be identical to the Rossese di Dolceacqua grape of Liguria. This would make sense, according to the story of the Italian sea captain!

Rossese di Dolceacqua (aka Tibouren)– 662 acres of it – is still grown, very close to the French border, in Liguria.