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.

Garrigue

Garrigue

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.

 

The Bartender’s Handshake

Fig 10-7 different brands of fernetThe beverage world abounds with spirit amari (bittered spirits), which may be classified as aperitifs, which are generally served in diluted forms as cocktails to stimulate the appetite, or as digestifs, which are often served in more concentrated forms to enhance digestion after a meal.

These amari contain botanicals with carminative properties intended to lessen gastric discomfort after rich meals. Just ask a bartender, a wine student, or a serious foodie you will hear them tell you its true: they work! Botanicals known for their carminative properties include angelica, aniseed, basil, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, ginger, hops, nutmeg, parsley, and sage.

One of the most popular Spirit amari is Fernet Branca. Fernet Branca was invented in Milan in 1845 by Bernardino Branca. It soon became famous worldwide and led to the founding of the Fratelli Branca Distillery.

Archives of the Boston Public Library

Archives of the Boston Public Library

Fernet has recently become quite popular in the United States as both a beverage and a hangover cure, but its popularity long precedes the craft cocktail scene. So popular is it among industry professionals that a shot of Fernet Branca has been called the “bartender’s handshake.”

In Prohibition-era San Francisco, fernet was legally consumed on the grounds of being “medicinal.” San Franciscans still drink it—over 30% of the fernet consumed throughout the entire United States is consumed in San Francisco.

Argentina consumes more fernet than any other nation. The beverage’s popularity is reflected in the fact that a leading  Cuarteto (an upbeat, popular dance-hall music genre) song is “Fernet con Cola.” 

The secret recipe for Fernet Branca is reportedly known by only one person, Niccolò Branca, the current president of the Fratelli Branca Distillery. It is said that Niccolò personally measures out the flavorings for each production run.

Fernet ValleyThe Branca brand, while definitely one of the better-known, is not the only producer of fernet. Fernet is actually a type of herbal-based bitter that is made by other producers, as well. Many Italian companies, including Luxardo, Cinzano, and Martini & Rossi, produce fernet. Fernet is produced internationally, as well, such as in Mexico, where the popular Fernet-Vallet is made.

Each brand of fernet has its own secret combination of herbs and botanicals. However, a good fernet is likely to include myrrh and saffron, both known for their “disgestivo” and antioxidant properties. Other ingredients rumored to be included are linden, galangal, peppermint oil, sage, bay leaves, gentian root, St. John’s wort, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and bitter orange.

Fernet Branca, as well as other versions of Italian spirit armai, French spirit amer, and various types of vermouth, quinquina, and americano that will be covered in the new 2015 edition of the Certified Specialist of Spirits study guide…to be released in January, 2015!

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

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Guest Post – The Power of One: The Wente Clone

Today we have a guest post from Amy Hoopes of Wente Vineyards. Ms. Hoopes give us a fascinating story of the history of the Wente Clone Chardonnay, as well as a preview of her conference session, to be presented on Friday, August 15th at the 38th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators.

 

Wente Clone Chardonnay

Wente Clone Chardonnay

The Power of One – The Wente Clone

When Ernest Wente was a student at the University of California at Davis in the early 20th century, the California wine industry looked a lot different than it does today. There was no established model, but the area and its wines were beginning to garner respect and attention around the country and the world for the potential quality of California wines. California was just showing the inklings of what it would eventually become – one of the world’s most respected wine making regions.

While at U.C. Davis and with the help of Professor Bonnet, Ernest Wente began researching the background of Chardonnay, which is now known as the unique variety responsible for making the best white wines of Burgundy, France. He fell in love.

With the help of Leon Bonnet, Ernest convinced his father, Carl H. Wente, to allow him to import some cuttings from the vine nursery at the University of Montpellier in southern France.  In addition, he acquired some promising budwood from Chardonnay vines planted at the Gier Vineyard in Pleasanton; vines which had been imported from Burgundy a number of years earlier by Charles Wetmore, founder of Cresta Blanca Winery, one of the other original Livermore wineries.

Over the next 30 to 40 years (even through Prohibition), Ernest selected vines that seemed to offer the best of all worlds—a strong, resistant vine that produced fresh, clean aromas and rich apple and pear characters when fully ripe.

Little did he know that he was changing the landscape of wine in America forever.

At first he was merely pleased with the vines’ performance in the vineyard. They grew well and were healthy and vigorous. And then came the wine. The family was so pleased with the results that they were the first to produce a varietally-labeled California Chardonnay, with the 1936 vintage—a practice that few pursued in those days.

chardonnayWente Vineyards Chardonnay soon grabbed the attention of others. As winemakers in the Golden State tasted Ernest’s Chardonnay, they quickly began asking for cuttings of the vines. And Ernest, ever a friend and colleague to his fellow winemakers, never turned anyone away. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s the Wente Clone (as it was now being called) began to spread across the state.

In fact, there were fewer than 150 acres of this varietal, then known as “Pinot Chardonnay,” in all of California in 1962. Then, the Guide Michelin declared that the Wente Chardonnay was the finest white wine produced in America, and the rush to plant this varietal began. By this time, three generations of the Wente family were involved, and they knew that they had something special in their vineyards.

The greatest vineyards and wineries in California began replanting their Chardonnay vines with the new clones, and the results were startling. Within a few years, the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, which featured a significant percentage of the Wente clone, won the Great Paris Tasting of 1976. This firmly positioned California Chardonnay on the worldwide map of fine wines.

And that was just the beginning; winery after winery crafted award-winning wines from those grapes. Sangiacomo Vineyards, Kistler, Kongsgaard, Ramey, and Paul Hobbs have all featured the Wente Clone in wines that have won widespread critical acclaim.

The power of one clone transformed California’s viticultural landscape, and in so doing, converted generations of American winemakers and wine drinkers to the glories of Chardonnay. Over 100 years and five generations, Wente Vineyards has made Chardonnay the most popular wine in the New World.

AmyHoopesbw_pp (1)Amy Hoopes will present “The Power of One: The Wente Clone” on Friday, August 15th at 8:45 am as part of the 38th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators. At this session, Ms. Hoopes will  tell the whole story of the Wente Clone. Attendees will have the opportunity to taste through a flight of wines from Wente Vineyards and its many relatives around California who have built their winemaking reputation on the Wente Clone.

As Executive Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer of Wente Family Estates, Amy Hoopes oversees all global marketing and sales operations for the family-owned wine portfolio including Wente Vineyards, Entwine, Murrieta’s Well, Double Decker, and Hayes Ranch, as well as for the lifestyle operations, The Course, The Restaurant and the Concerts at Wente Vineyards.

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Guest Post: Cab Franc…the Next “Big Thing?”

Red Wine BottlesToday we have a guest post from Houston-based Wine Educator James Barlow, CS, CWE – all about Cabernet Franc - and what some people think might be the “next big thing” for wine lovers. 

Everybody always seems to want to know… what is the next “big craze” for red wine?

In the early 90’s, Australia went through a glorious time with Shiraz and (how can we forget) “critter wines.” Then, South America made a huge splash on the market with Chile’s Cabernet and an even bigger splash with Argentina’s thick, fruity Malbec.  But the latest buzz says that Malbec’s popularity is waning, leading us to wonder…what’s next?

Some say Grenache, whether from Spain or France, will be the next varietal that tickles the palate of the American consumer.  It offers an abundance of fruit, relatively high alcohol, and can be mass produced at an affordable price point.  Sounds ripe for the picking, right?

GrenacheBut there are also believers in Cab Franc that are certain that Cabernet Franc should be the next red wine super-star in the hearts, minds (and shopping baskets) of the everyday wine consumer. After all, Cabernet Franc is one of the world’s oldest grapes and is the father of Cabernet Sauvignon. It can be described as having flavors or raspberry, red cherry, and cassis, as well as notes of black pepper, tobacco, bell pepper, and violet. No wonder it has quietly, but steadily, become the new favorite among critics, retailers, and sommeliers alike!

Cabernet Franc’s original home is believed to be Bordeaux, where it is used strictly as a blending variety. Although it is used along both the right and left banks of the Gironde River, it is more heavily favored on the right bank, giving the Merlot-based wines of the region some added spice and texture. Cabernet Franc is thin skinned and offers beautiful aromatics, peppery fruit flavors, low tannins, and medium to high acids to the blends.  In Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc has never gained much recognition. But, much like Malbec and Carmenère, the other blending grapes of this region, it is starting to garner attention in wine markets outside of France.

ChinonThere are two major areas in the world currently making the case for Cabernet Franc.  The first and oldest advocate of the varietal is France’s Loire Valley, where Cabernet Franc, locally known as “Breton,” is grown in the Touraine region, with towns such as Chinon and Bourgueil leading the renaissance.  Both Chinon and Bourgueil have similar soil structures of limestone tuffeau and sand.  This allows vine roots to dig deep into the soil and offers a unique terrior profile to the wines.

Both Chinon and Bourgueil will use up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon to add breadth to the wine’s body and structure. Although the last several vintages have not been particularly kind to the region, Cabernet Franc has thrived and is showing an abundance of fruit that it lacked in years past. This is due to new winery technology and young, upstart winemakers.  The final result is wines with riper fruit balanced by racy acidity, light tannins, minimal oak, and an earthy terrior in keeping with other wines true to the region.

Domaine Bernard Baudry in Chinon uses state-of-the-art technology to produce rich, precise wines that offer beautiful elegance and balance.  Yannick Amirault is one of the rising stars of Bourgueil, as well as the neighboring town of Bourgueil-St.-Nicolas, and produces some of the more opulent Cabernet Franc styles.

Other towns in the Loire Valley make exceptional wines from Cabernet Franc as well. Champigny, in the Saumur region, touts some of the best and most age-worthy Breton in the world, as evidenced by the classic producer Clos Rougeard.

Cab Franc CuteCabernet Franc is becoming a regional super-star in Washington State as well, particularly in the loamy soils of the Columbia Valley AVA. Although Washington State is somewhat northerly, its summers are quite hot and the early ripening Cabernet Franc has no problem achieving phenolic ripeness. There are many similarities between climates surrounding Loire River and the Columbia River, so it is no surprise that this variety could thrive in both areas.  The Walla Walla Ava, a sub-region the Columbia Valley AVA, offers a sleek expression of Cabernet Franc, with large tannins and an affinity for oak.  It has an almost feminine Cabernet Sauvignon-like structure, but with more finesse and softer tannins.

The Cab Francs of Washington State generally have a richer, fuller mouth feel and more of a “blueberry” flavor than their counterparts in the Loire Valley.  Several boutique wineries are taking the lead in the production of quality Cabernet Franc in Washington.  Andrew Will is blazing a trail in the Columbia Valley and has garnered high praise and points from the most discerning of wine critics.  Andrew Will is a part owner of the prestigious and high quality Champoux vineyard, located in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Champoux produces some of the highest praised Cabernet Franc in the world.

red wine one glassAnother note-worthy producer in the Columbia Valley is Owen Roe winery, although, like in the Loire Valley, there are numerous Washington wineries that are now producing stellar Cabernet Franc.

All this being taken into account, will Cabernet Franc become the next “big craze” in the world of red wine? It has its challenges – for one, the grape is not mass produced in any country, causing higher prices and lower production. There is no conglomerate that pumps out Cabernet Franc at record pace.

The grape’s small production, though, might just end up becoming a blessing in disguise. It has the versatility to appeal not only to Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers, but also to those that prefer Pinot Noir. Modern American wine consumers are actively seeking out the more obscure, “wine-geek” wines to add to their expanding palates. This fact might bring Cabernet Franc into the “seek out” category, but production and price point will most likely keep it out of the “mass market.” As a wine lover, I don’t think that’s a bad thing!

Our guest author, James Barlow, CS, CWE, is a wine director of over 6,000 wines labels for a  store owned by Spec’s Fine Wines and Liquors in Houston, Texas.   He is also the  author of the widely recongized wine blog thewineepicure.com.  James is also a recent recipient of the CWE Certification (Congratulations, James!) and as such has taken on the duty of teaching the Certified Specialist of Wine course to fellow employees in hopes  of having the best educated staff in the state of Texas. Way to go, James!

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Chartreuse, “Elixir of Long Life”

ChartreuseChartreuse is a spirit with a long and fascinating history. The story begins in 1605, when the monks of the Vauvert Monastery, a branch of the Carthusian Order located in a suburb of Paris, were given an ancient document by Hannibal d’Estrées, a Marshall of King Henri IV.  The manuscript was a formula for an “Elixir of Long Life,” most likely the work of a 16th century alchemist with a great knowledge of herbs and plants in the treatment of illness.

The formula, containing over 130 ingredients, was so complex that it was never fully used by the monks at the Vauvert Monastery.  However, in the early 1700’s, the monks sent the manuscript to the Grande Chartreuse – the head monastery of the Carthusian Order.  The apothecary for the Grand Chartreuse undertook an exhaustive study of the formula and, by 1737, had unraveled the mystery and designed a practical formula for the preparation of the elixir.

The monks began production of the formula, which was sold in the town of Grenoble and other villages located close to the Grande Chartreuse Monastery.  The elixir had a natural, clear green color, and from the fame of the liqueur, the color became known as “chartreuse.” Today, Chartreuse still bills itself as “the only liqueur to have a color named after it.”

The monks protected their secret recipe throughout the centuries, including the tumultuous time surrounding the French Revolution when all religious orders were Char Yellowexpelled from France.  The Chartreuse monks left France in 1793, but one monk remained behind with a copy of the original manuscript.  Another monk secretly retained the original; shortly after leaving The Grand Chartreuse Monastery he was arrested and sent to prison in Bordeaux.  However, he was not searched and eventually passed the original document to a friend, Dom Basile Nantas.  Dom Basile was convinced the Monks of the Grand Chartreuse would never return to France, so he sold the recipe to Monsier Liotard, a pharmacist in Grenoble.  The pharmacist, however, never attempted to produce the elixir.  When Monsieur Liotard died, his heirs returned the manuscript to the Chartreuse Monks.

The Monks of Chartreuse were allowed to return to their Monastery in 1816, and resumed the production of their Chartreuse elixir.  In 1838, they introduced a sweeter version of “Yellow Chartreuse” flavored with saffron.

In 1903, the French government expelled the Monks once again, and the Chartreuse distillery was nationalized. The Monks fled to Spain and built a new distillery in Tarragona where they produced a liqueur they called “Une Tarragone.”

In the years following the nationalization of the distillery and Monastery, the French government sold the Chartreuse brand and trademark to a company who set up an operation known as the “Compagnie Fermière de la Grande Chartreuse.” The company went bankrupt in 1929. Upon the announcement of the bankruptcy, friends of the monks Char VEPpurchased the remaining shares and gifted them back to the Monastery.

After regaining ownership of their brand and trademark, the Monks returned to their distillery located in Fourvoirie, not far from their original Monastery, and resumed production of authentic Chartreuse liqueurs.  When, in 1935, the Fourvoirie distillery was severely damaged by a landslide, the Monks moved to Voiron, where the production facility still exists today.

The selection and preparation of the “secret” blend of over 130 herbs is still done today in the Monastery.  Once prepared, the ingredients are taken to the production facility in Voiron where they are macerated, distilled, and aged in oak casks for several years.  In addition to “Green Chartreuse” and “Yellow Chartreuse,” a special bottling known as V.E.P. Chartreuse (“Viellissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé”) is produced.   V.E.P. is aged longer than the other two products, and is packaged in a reproduction of the bottles used in 1840.  Each bottle of V.E.P. is individually numbered, sealed with wax and presented in a wooden box.

Since 1970, a company known as “Chartreuse Diffusion” handles the packaging, marketing, and distribution of Chartreuse products. However, the Carthusian brothers still prepare and produce the liqueur, and to this day, remain the only people who know the secret formula for their “Elixir of Long Life.”

For more information, visit the Chartreuse Website.

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Plymouth Gin

Photo by Gernot Keller

Photo by Gernot Keller

In the late 1700′s, at the time the London Dry Gin style was becoming wildly popular,  distillers in other English cities developed their own styles of gin as well.  Plymouth, Bristol, Warrington, and Norwich all had their unique styles. Plymouth Gin, produced since 1793, is the only one of these historic gins still produced today.

The building which was to become the Plymouth Gin distillery was originally a Dominican Monastery inhabited by an order known as the Black Friars. In 1536, at the time of the Reformation, the Monastery was dissolved and the building was put to other uses, including a debtor’s prison and a meeting place.  Legend has it that the Plymouth pilgrims who sailed to America aboard the Mayflower spent their last night in England here in 1620. The next morning, they made the short walk down to the harbor, ready to set sail to America and found a “new” Plymouth. The Mayflower ship forms a part of Plymouth Gin’s trademark label today.

In 1697, the building became the Black Friar’s Distillery.  Part of the distillery is housed in what was once the rectory of the monastery and retains a hull-shaped timber roof built in 1431.  This makes it one of the oldest buildings in Plymouth and a protected national monument.  With records of a “mault-house” on the premises dating to 1697, the distillery also claims to be the oldest working gin distillery in the world. The distinctive Plymouth Gin began to be produced in 1793, not long after the business became known as “Coates & Company.”

plymouth ginIn 1896, Plymouth Gin was mentioned in what is considered to be the first documented recipe for the drink that would become known as the dry martini. The recipe, under the name “Marguerite Cocktail,” appeared in a book published by the Excelsior Publishing House in New York known as “Stuart’s Fancy Drinks & How to Mix Them,” by Thomas Stuart.  Plymouth Gin is listed as the key ingredient, along with “French Vermouth and a dash of orange bitters.”

Plymouth Gin, still produced in England, has been awarded a Protected Geographical Indication by the European Union.  The PGI technically pertains to any gin distilled in Plymouth, although the Black Friar’s Distillery is the only distillery currently operating in the town. The style of Plymouth Gin is crystal-clear color in color with a full-bodied texture, fruity aromas and a very aromatic juniper berry profile.

For more information, visit the Plymouth Gin website.

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Of Roads and Négrette

The Coat of Arms of Fronton

The Coat of Arms of Fronton

The year is 100 BCE…the Romans are continuing their northward expansion into southern Gaul – the land which will become modern day France.  Everywhere the conquering Romans go, they make their mark with the two main defining elements of the Roman Empire – roads and wine.

It is believed that the first vines in The Languedoc-Roussillon were planted around this time, as was Fronton – another, smaller area to the west .

Located just north of Toulouse, Fronton, now an AOC, features rustic red and rosé wines.  Known as Côtes du Frontonnais until 2005, the region has rocky soils and a very dry, warm climate.  The main red grape of Fronton is Négrette, an ancient Gallic variety that is related to Malbec.  This was recently determined through genetic testing of Négrette which unfortunately disproved the traditional story of the grape:  that it was originally from Cyprus and was introduced into the area by the Knights Templar, returning from the crusades.  While it is true that the region was taken over in the 12th Century by the Knights Hospitaler, a monastic military order similar to the Knights Templar, it seems the grape was in the region before the Knights.

Almost 85% of Fronton AOC wines are red, which must contain a minimum of 50% Négrette.  The other 50% may include a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Malbec.

Négrette at Harvest

Négrette at Harvest

Négrette has a very distinct character and profile, featuring aromas of anise and red fruit.  Some people describe the wines as “foxy.” On the palate, the wines can show strong dark and dried fruit flavors with very little tannins, lending the wine a pronounced suppleness.  Winemakers making blends based on Négrette have to blend carefully with other grapes, as the delicate characteristics of the grape can be easily overpowered by more tannic varieties.

There are scattered plantings of Négrette found throughout the world, perhaps most surprisingly in the San Benito AVA, located in the Central Coast of California.  In California it was known as Pinot St-George until 1997.  There are some plantings of Négrette in the Loire, notably in the Fiefs Vendeens area.  In the Loire, Négrettecan legally be called “Ragoutant.” 

Viticulturally, Négrette does best in warm climates, as it is very susceptible to gray rot and odium.  The wines are best consumed within a few years of their release.

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Post authored by Ben Coffelt  – bcoffelt@societyofwineeducators.org

Noble Rot…Ale???

noble rot dogfish headBeer’s gone wild!

With the growth of micro-breweries over the past thirty years and a diverse consumer base, brewers are on the lookout for new ideas, ingredients, and styles, and aren’t afraid to push the boundaries of what beer can be.  Beer has been flavored with fruit for centuries, so it doesn’t seem odd that brewers would turn to their cousins in viticulture to find Beer’s new frontier.

Dogfish Head Brewery in particular has built their reputation courageous experimental beer styles.  Based in Milton, Delaware; Dogfish Head was founded by Sam Calagione in 1995. Originally building their reputation with a series of increasingly hoppy India Pale Ales (IPA), the brewery has proven itself to be fearless when it comes to making beer.  They produce a wide variety of ales with an even wider variety of ingredients.    Even if one does not like a particular beer, it is undeniable that their products are always fascinating.

The brewery spent most of first decade of the 21st century re-creating “Ancient Ales,” ales based on the residues of beer-styled beverages found in archaeological sites around the world.  These included “Chateau Jiahu” a beer based on residue dating back to 7th century China and “Midas Touch Golden Elixi,r” a strong ale made with Muscat, honey, and saffron.  With ingredients and styles like this, it doesn’t seem surprising that Dogfish Head would look to wine for a new ideas.

Noble Rot Small LabelIn 2010, Dogfish Head began to collaborate with Alexandria Nicole Cellars, a winery located in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA in Washington.  The winery supplied botrytis-infected Viognier must which the brewers used to create their “Noble Rot” Ale.  The brewery ferments the must together with the malt, creating a dry, complex and unique ale. It pours a light golden color and has a conflicted aroma, at times one can easily discern the characteristics of Viognier – a slightly sweet and tart apple and a faint hint of honey.  You almost expect to experience the flavors associated with Sauternes, especially honey.  Instead, the beer is light, crisp, and dry.  It marries the light fruity, floral components of Viognier with the malt backbone and carbonation of an ale.  It’s only as the beer warms that one can detect a pleasant honeysuckle that recalls Sauternes.

As microbreweries grow and expand, and brewers continue to venture to find the next frontier, it makes sense to expect to see more beers influenced by wine.  From grape juice to wine barrels to yeasts, breweries will be able to incorporate different elements at different stages of production, further cementing America’s new tradition of fearless beer production.

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Post authored by Ben Coffelt  – bcoffelt@societyofwineeducators.org

Guest Post: Turbiana, is it Trebbiano…or not?

TurbianaToday we have a guest post from Wai Xin, a wine educator based in Singapore.  Xin brings us on a fascinating journey to get to the truth about Turbiana!

Modern DNA profiling ability has enabled researchers to name most grapes and their parentage. But for those who won’t be spending time on reports, they find the proof in the glass. While not always exact, some characteristics that run in the vine family can be tell-tale signs of its lineage, with slight variations attributed to vintage and geographical differences. But if you need a grape to stump someone, try Turbiana.

Sitting at a Zenato wine dinner three months ago, I overheard diners and their enthusiasm to taste the flagship wines – two vintages (2005 & 2006) of Sergio Zenato Riserva and a 2008 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. All rich and opulent, and should you have a case of the 2005 Sergio Zenato Riserva, it is certainly a good time to start exploring. But what really started the discussion among nearby wine specialists wasn’t the Amarone, they were two dry whites from Lugana.

Lugana is a small region south of Lake Garda, sitting near the border of Veneto and Lombardy. As often happens to a small region nestled between two large areas, it is often overlooked.

To try and figure out Lugana, I pulled my phone out from pocket and conjured my secret stash of wine resources. A Dropbox account containing handy resources such as maps, scholarly texts, and in this case, 521 official documents detailing all the approved Italian wine regions from IGT to DOCG.

“I vini a denominazione di origine controllata “Lugana” devono essere ottenuti dalle uve provenienti dal vitigno Trebbiano di Soave localmente denominato Turbiana o Trebbiano di Lugana.”

white wine tastingIn loosely translated essence, “Trebbiano di Soave, in local terms Turbiana or Trebbiano di Lugana.” Trebbiano and Soave sounded familiar enough to us. Done deal.

Or is it?

Two weeks after that dinner, on a friend’s insistence I met Fabio Zenato from Le Morette. “You must meet this man and his wines” my friend said, “I have never tried this variety before.”

At our meeting, an assortment of sparkling, dry, red and dry white wines were laid out on the table, and the word Lugana caught my eyes again. But instead of calling it a Trebbiano di Soave, Fabio addressed it with an alien name Turbiana. Tur. Interesting…

Very often Trebbiano, one of the most planted varieties in Italy, has its name appended with a region. Names like Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano di Soave, Trebbiano di Romagna and others are aplenty. The French call it Ugni Blanc, but even with that, it is still one of the many French synonyms.

In 2001, a group of researchers from University of Milan looked into the differences between these “Trebbiani” and other grape varieties that could be related. The result showed huge genetic differences suggesting that most Trebbiano, if related, must be cousins. Two grapes showed remarkable resemblance; Trebbiano di Soave and Verdicchio were 99% similar, while Turbiana differed slightly with Verdicchio at 97%.

Fabio supported the 2001 study. With this result, he can prove his claim since it had clearly demonstrated that Turbiana was significantly different from Trebbiano. I support his cause, and by calling it Trebbiano, it only misrepresents the Lugana native to a distant family. To get things right, Trebbiano di Lugana needs to be correctly known as Turbiana, and Trebbiano di Soave as Verdicchio.

lugana vineyardsIn Singapore, Lugana wines are almost non-existent with only a handful of merchants carrying one or two labels. The Zenato Luganas are available in Crystal Wines, while Monopole carries a Lugana from Tommasi owned Villa Giradi. Fabio’s visit to Singapore in October was to look for an importer. In December, his wines were showcased over a Veneto wine dinner, but as of today, I am not certain if anyone was confident to take up the distribution rights.

With my few experiences of Turbiana, it had came across being neutral and shapeable. While at other times, fully expressive of its fruits and minerals. Such unpredictability can make it difficult to handle, yet intriguing for some. The name change will do some good, but first it has to overcome the many obstacles ahead.

Tasting Notes: 

Zenato Lugana DOC San Benedetto 2012 – Hint of ripe tropical fruits showed initially and supported by a more melon-like aroma. While the palate was crisp and bone dry, the fruit flavors that showed on the finish was a welcoming touch. A simple wine but paired fine with fresh seafood.

Zenato Lugana Riserva “Sergio Zenato” 2007 – Having aged in oak barrels, tinge of smoky aroma overshadowed a neutral fruit. Palate had a light hint of residual sweetness and finished off with good roundness. Rather akin to a rich Chardonnay.

Le Morette Lugana DOC Mandolara – Youthfulness of the wine showed both in glass and palate. A gentle expression of fresh apple and flowers, the steel-like palate was driven by pronounced salty mineral touch that cut from beginning to finish.

Le Morette Lugana DOC Benedictus  Keeping the skin with the juice gave a nice straw gold tone and dense phenolic volume. Partially fermented in small oak barrels also imparted spicy note to the rich spectrum of aromas. If there’s a lack of description for the wine, one can say there’s a taste of grape flesh within.

Wai Xin, CSW, FWS is a wine communicator based in Singapore. He describes his journey to wine as follows – “I woke up one day and decided to throw my Java coding career out of the window for a lifetime of intoxication. Believing strongly that wine is for enjoyment and not a trading commodity, I encourage sensible, affordable drinking and the exploration of individual preferences.”

Wai Xin is the author of a blog entitled “Wine Xin- The Babbler”, as well as a contributing author for EnjoyWine.Sg and ChubbyHubby.Net (a food, family, and lifestyle blog). Xin may be reached at this.is@winexin.sg or via twitter @Winexin.

Note from Jane N:  What I find most interesting about Xin is his “98″ score on the CSW – very impressive!!

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