Insights into Insightful Wine Writing


Today we have a guest post from Mark Rashap, CWE…

In today’s Information Age, online opinions, tasting notes, blogs, and general wine writing have become omnipresent. This is both good and bad for readers looking for reliable information.

There is such a broad range of quality in this collective literature – from bragging about tasting an iconic wine (which does the reader no good) to describing a conversation with a winemaker in a unique wine region (which can inspire and serve as an informational resource).  I’m not suggesting that everything we write and put into the virtual world must be ground-breaking or a brilliant philosophical essay.  However, I do think that we can demand more from our own writing, strive to improve our own appreciation of wine, and serve as insightful mentors for folks scouring the internet looking for answers to questions they didn’t even know they had.

When I teach a wine class, whether it is an advanced theme or basic wine appreciation, I am never content with students describing a wine simply in terms of “I like it” or “I don’t like it.”  This tells me nothing about the wine’s character nor the student’s tastes and experiences on which we can build; in effect, it stops the conversation.


Instead, I try to encourage students to be honest with themselves and get into the “why” and the “how” of what they’re describing.  In fact, for beginners, I believe that “I don’t know” is a much better thing to say in describing a wine than “I don’t like” because it implies that that there is an underlying “something” that, with practice and instruction, one may be able to grasp.

Perhaps even knowledgeable and experienced wine professionals could do a better job in writing about the why and how they think about a wine, a region, or a vintage, instead of rattling off 3-5 descriptors that are similar to the last ten wines described with the score being the only differentiating factor.  All wines—at least all of quality—have a particular fingerprint that makes them unique from the next, and it would be beneficial to the reader if the critic would attempt to penetrate that unique aspect.

In Matt Kramer’s recent publication True Taste (2015), he gives a succinct history of wine writing and offers some theories as to how we have become so homogenized when it comes to describing and rating wines.  He goes on to describe 7 abstract qualities around which he believes all wines should be judged: Harmony, Texture, Layers, Finesse, Surprise, Nuance, and Insight, which he correlates to writing tasting notes and overall wine appreciation.  As he defines it, “Experience + Thought + Synthesis = Insight.”  I think this is a brilliant way to judge wine writing, as well as interactions with the wine professionals who work in restaurants or retail outlets.  If one shows a high level of insight, I believe it is worth going back to that wine shop or that restaurant, or continuing to read that blog.


Kramer emphasizes that experience—although it is to some degree required—is not the only characteristic of someone worth listening to.  Visiting Bordeaux for 20 years straight and compiling 20 years’ worth of tasting notes simply provides us with a lot of data.  On the other hand, the thought process built around those notes—such as synthesizing soil variations with vintage character and the internal workings of the winery—now, that is the real juicy stuff a reader wants to digest.

As wine professionals, we must demand insight from ourselves, our writing, our teaching, and from others.  When teaching, I try to reinforce to young and enthusiastic wine lovers that experience is not everything, and that not everybody extracts the same amount of knowledge from each experience.  One year of critical tasting, with close attention paid to drawing correlations from all the factors that have gone into making a wine is worth more than a lifetime of drinking first growth Bordeaux.

Blogs, social media, and open source platforms for wine reviews allow us access to so much information that was previously unavailable.  We can now get news and harvest updates from wineries directly from their Facebook, Twitter, and blog pages.  However, there is a temptation to produce content just to occupy space in the social media sphere whether we have something to say or not.  Let’s collectively resolve to ask ourselves to delve a little deeper in describing wines and the condition of appreciating wine.  We will indeed learn more from asking these questions ourselves, and just might be able to nurture the younger and savvier wine community as well!

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

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

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Guest Blog: Exploring Germany’s Mittelrhein



Today we have a guest blog from Lucia Volk, CSW, reporting from Germany, where she is visiting the lesser known wine regions.

If you are a fan of Riesling, you undoubtedly know the Rheingau. The Rheingau is home to  Germany’s prestigious, over 1,000-year-old Schloß Johannisberg, where late harvest (Spätlese) was allegedly invented. You probably also know the neighboring Rheinhessen, Germany’s largest and most productive wine area.

Next to those Riesling wine super-powers, the Mittelrhein region, which the German Wine Institute ranks second-to-last by size – only Hessische Bergstrasse is smaller  has to struggle to be noticed. It does not help that regional wine advertisement budgets in Germany are pegged to acres cultivated, or that the Mittelrhein extends into the jurisdiction of two German states, Rhineland Palatinate and North Rhine Westphalia, that do not always agree politically. Depending on the size of the harvest, the Mittlerhein region contributes somewhere between 0.3 and 0.5% to Germany’s wine total. Let’s face it: even within Germany, Mittelrhein Riesling is an insider wine.

Castle Reichenstein

Castle Reichenstein

Most of this lesser-known region – almost 85% – consists of terraced slate slopes that require manual labor, and yields are low. Because of the extra labor hours required per acre cultivated, it can be difficult to find a successor for a Mittelrhein winery after a vintner retires. The overall area under wine has fallen from 1,800 acres in the early 1970s to approximately 1,100 now.

Fortunately for wine lovers, the numbers are beginning to hold steady.  About 70% of grapes planted are Riesling, another 10% go to Müller-Thurgau and Kerner combined, 10% to Pinot Noir, and the remaining 10% to Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Dornfelder, Portugieser and others. In other words, the Mittelrhein is primarily a place for white wine lovers, although Pinot Noir acreage is on the rise.

Historically, the Rhine river separated the Roman Empire from the realm of the Gauls. The Romans planted the first vines in the region, and they built the first fortifications, a tradition that was adopted by German nobility in the Middle Ages. Fortresses, castles and and customs towers – the Rhine river was an important trading route – line the hilltops.  These historical remains – many carefully restored, others in ruins – create the backdrop for the “Romantic Rhine.“ Tourists can book river boat trips, with scheduled stops for guided castle tours and subsequent wine tastings. Because of its cultural and historical significance, the Mittelrhein valley was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2002 , thirteen years before Champagne and Burgundy received similar badges of distinction.

The Rhine River is responsible for the favorable growing conditions in most of Germany’s northern latitude vineyards. Already at its source, close to Lake Constance, grapes are under cultivation, and if you follow the stream you will be able to taste, in succession, Baden, Pfalz, Rheinhessen, and Rheingau wines, before you reach the wine growing limit (for now) at the Mittelrhein. Mild winters allow for early buds in spring and extended sunshine permits ripening into October, resulting in unique aromas that are difficult to replicate in Riesling vineyards elsewhere.

Bopparder Hamm, part of the Mittelrhein’s Loreley Bereich (photo by Lucia Volk)

Bopparder Hamm, part of the Mittelrhein’s Loreley Bereich (photo by Lucia Volk)

The picturesque Mittelrhein geography was created at the end of the Devonian Age – 360 million years ago – when what used to be the bottom of the prehistoric ocean rose up all at once, and the water subsequently had to cut a path through the rocks. The Anbaugebiet  Mittelrhein is divided into two districts (Bereiche): the larger Loreley** between Bingen and Koblenz in Rhineland Palatinate, characterized by slate and greywacke soils, and the smaller Siebengebirge between Neuwied and Bonn in North Rhine Westphalia, which also contains volcanic rock and loess.

Eleven larger sites (Großlagen) are divided up into 111 vineyard sites (Einzellagen). The soil is nutrient-poor and well-drained, so roots go deep.  With the exception of irrigating freshly planted vines, most Mittelrhein winemakers dry-farm, although irregular rainfall over the last decade has some winemakers worry about the increasing stress levels of their vines. A quarter of the harvest turns to Prädikatswein, and the rest to Qualitätswein.  Deutscher Wein or Landwein production is negligible.

You can still find cooperatives that produce Mittelrhein wines, a tradition that dates back to the late 1800s, when phylloxera devastated most of the region’s vineyards.  But more commonly, you now find small family wineries that trace grape production back for several generation, as well as new ventures of enterprising young winemakers.

Photo Credit: Lucia Volk

Photo Credit: Lucia Volk

For instance, Peter Jost and his daughter Cecilia today run the Toni Jost winery, named after Cecilia’s grandfather.  Their prized Einzellage is the Bacharacher Hahn, which overlooks the Rhine outside the town of Bacharach. The word Hahn translates to rooster, which decorates the Jost label, but the vineyard’s name probably stems from Hain (=grove). Founding members of the VDP – Verein Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter – their estate comprises 40 acres, not all of them on the Mittelrhein, and they produce almost 100,000 bottles a year, predominantly Riesling.

Following VDP regulations, their vineyard sites are ranked according to their potential for excellent, terroir-specific wine. Additionally, Cecilia recently introduced Devon-S (S for Schiefer=slate) Riesling that brings white flowers to the nose, offers stone fruit in the glass, and finishes with pronounced Mittelrhein minerality. If you do not know what rock tastes like, Devon-S will take you there.

In the middle of the Mittelrhein, Florian Weingart makes his wines in premium Einzellagen between Boppard and Spay, especially Engelstein  and Ohlenberg. Dedicated to the local soil, he searched historical records for documentation of former vineyard sites – areas that had gone wild – and spared no effort to rehabilitate the most promising among them.

Florian Weingart on camera for Terry Theise’s Leading between the Vines documentary (photo by Lucia Volk)

Florian Weingart on camera for Terry Theise’s Leading between the Vines documentary (photo by Lucia Volk)

On 11 acres, he produces around 45,000 bottles of wine in a regular year.  In 2014, when late rains and pests ruined much of the Riesling crop, it was closer to 30,000. He coaxes each of his wines to develop his own character, using ambient yeast, if possible, and he allows them to finish fermenting early, if that is what the yeast decides to do. If his wine cannot obtain a certain (legal) quality level, because of it, he will rename (and effectively declassify) it. A philosopher in his spare time, he has started writing a Modern Ethics of Wine based on his “less is more“ winemaking principles.

The town of Leutesdorf in the Siebengebirge Bereich of the Mittelrhein claims to be the last big bastion at the northern Riesling frontier. Here, wine technician Marc Josten and enologist Torsten Klein acquired vineyards in the famed Einzellage Gartenlay, where they produce both Riesling, and, in a bold move, Sauvignon Blanc. Their first wines were introduced in 2012, when they were still a garage winery in Remagen, operating out of rented space.

Lucia 4For their Sauvignon Blanc and some of their Riesling, they employ traditional, large oak barrels. While Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc comprise 75% of their total production, they also grow 25% Pinot Noir in vineyards in the neighboring Ahr region, a red-wine stronghold. Altogether, they work about 14 acres. They focus exclusively on dry wines, and promote food pairing events jointly with local restaurateurs. Josten & Klein were the prestigious Gault&Millau Wineguide’s 2013 Discovery of the Year.

A relatively recent initiative specific to the region is the Mittelrhein-Riesling Charta. Participating winemakers agreed on a unified front label for their bottles, which shows the Charta grape symbol, the names of one of the categories – Handstreich, Felsenspiel and Meisterstück – and the two words: Mittelrhein and Riesling. Winery-specific information can be found on the back label. If the categories remind you of an Austrian classification system, you are correct. The Mittelrhein group consulted with Wachau wine producers who use similar designations and production guidelines for a variety of their wines.


Rather than focus on terroir (i.e. Bacharacher Hahn) or ripeness category (i.e. Kabinett or Spätlese), the Mittelrhein-Riesling Charta promotes flavor profiles: light, easy-to-drink, food-friendly (= Handstreich, metaphor for “spontaneous, quick action”); medium, balanced, expressive, good on its own or with a meal (=Felsenspiel, “rock play”); or full-bodied, quite dry, deeply aromatic and lingering (=Meisterstück, “master piece”). With this approach, the Charta members avoid the traditional sweet, medium-dry, or dry labels that suggest sugar (and alcohol) levels matter most in wine. Think of the Charta as a new generation of Mittelrhein winemakers jointly re-thinking and re-branding what they think is important about a segment of their Riesling production. All of them continue to offer traditionally labeled bottles.

Next to well-known German Riesling exporters Leitz, Dönhoff, Dr. Loosen, Deinhard/Von Winning, or Schloss Johannisberg, winemakers along the UNESCO world heritage valley have an undeniable underdog status. You will not find Mittelrhein wine in many stores in the United States, but what wine drinker does not like the occasional treasure hunt for a rare bottle? For an authentic Mittelrhein Riesling experience, book a boat trip down the Romantic Rhine, open a bottle on the sun deck, and count the castles as you go by.

**The name for the Bereich Loreley derives from a famous promontory on the Rhine river near St. Goarshausen. Because of the narrow fairway, accidents were not infrequent before modern navigation technology. Poet Heinrich Heine turned the site of captains’ misfortune into a metaphor for unrequited love: the beautiful, blond Loreley perched on her rock, singing her siren’s song, while forever staying out of reach, caused men to lose their bearings, if not their lives.  In English, it sounds like this.

Lucia Volk, CSW, is working on a manuscript on the lesser known wine regions of Germany. This summer, she discovered vineyards in Berlin, excellent Pinot Noirs along the Elbe and the Ahr, and phenomenal Riesling wines on the Mittelrhein. Her first SWE blog described the re-emerging wine region of Saxony.

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Guest Post: Holiday in Champagne!

Today we have a guest post from renowned Wine and Spirits Educator Harriet Lembeck. Read on to hear about Harriet’s recent wine trip to the Champagne Region!

Holiday in Champagne!

Photo of the Argence Fountain in Troyes by Serge Collana, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of the Argence Fountain in Troyes by Serge Collana, via Wikimedia Commons

If you haven’t thought of Champagne as a holiday destination, now’s the time! The Champenois, with tourist boards in both La Marne and in Aube to the south, are ready for you and your family.

Champagne symbolizes success, celebration, joy, and prestige. It also symbolizes sharing, and has done so since the time that King Clovis, the first French King, was crowned there in 481. Today, at least 30 crowned Kings later, the Champagne industry employs 30,000 people.

A visit to Champagne will show you new signs on touristic routes, new hotels, oeno logical museums, timbered churches, the Lac du Der (an artificial lake in the Argonne Forest, which regulates the water flow of the Seine) where you can ride in small boats, plus six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the départements of the Marne. And don’t forget the famed 3-star Restaurant Les Crayères, established by the now-retired, renowned chef Gérard Boyer.

Structuring Your Visit

Start your trip as I did, with a flight to Charles De Gaul (CDG) airport in Paris. Then, board the TGV high-speed train towards Strasbourg, and get off 30 minutes later at the first stop, the Gare (station) Champagne-Ardennes, a region of NE France.  Then a short taxi or bus ride will take you to the center of Reims, about 20 minutes away.

Nearby, the cellars of the House of Taittinger are built on the site of the old, destroyed L’Abbaye de Saint Nicaise. The first level has remains from the Thirteenth Century, while the second level dates to the Third Century, with its Gallo-Roman chalk pits (crayères), dug by the Romans. The temperature in the cellars is a constant 20 degrees Celsius, and the humidity is 80%.

In World War I, the cellars were used as bomb shelters for families. FYI – the aromatic ‘Brut Reserve’ is the same as Taittinger’s ‘La Francais’ in the US. Personally, I feel that nothing can surpass the latest expression of Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2005, a Champagne that is never released until it is 10 years old.

The entrance to Dom Caudron (note the wooden presses and the mural of vineyard work) photo by Bill Lembeck, CWE, CSS

The entrance to Dom Caudron (note the wooden presses and the mural of vineyard work) photo by Bill Lembeck, CWE, CSS

In the Marne Valley, where 66% of the Champagne vineyards are located, you would enjoy a visit to the Champagne cooperative Dom Caudron, in Vrigny. In 1929, a priest named Aimé Caudron had the first press in the village. Since 2010, this is a cooperative with 75 grower-members. In this part of the Marne Valley, the Pinot Meunier grows very well, with many hectares of old vines.

Dom Caudron specializes in that grape, and they produce exceptionally fruity 100% Pinot Meunier Champagnes in different styles (Note: there are about 16 companies in the area producing 100% Pinot Meunier Champagnes). Dom Caudron still uses antique wooden presses, and has a small museum with a short film on vineyard work. Their “Prediction” rosé Champagne, Le Meunier au Singulier, is fruity and rich. The back label tells the harvest date and the disgorgement date, among other information.

Champagne Charlier, in the Vallée de la Marne, is a small, family-owned Champagne house – a “single grower” in today’s parlance. This category has been brought to the fore by wine importer Terry Theise, starting around the year 2000. It is now quite familiar and acceptable to serve Champagnes that are not exclusively from the famous houses.

At Champagne Charlier, they use their own grapes, do not buy any grapes, and do not sell any grapes. Their Champagnes are sold mostly in France, but some go to Belgium, England, Japan, and Italy. All of their Champagnes are aged in large oak casks from Alsace. There is no stainless steel. An oversize cask has been converted to a charming sitting room for a few people. My favorite Champagne, made mostly with Chardonnay, is their fragrant Cuvée Spéciale Club Millésimé 2004, produced from the oldest vines that have the smallest yields. The property is very decorative – with carved barrels, painted murals, and copious flowers.

A walk down the Avenue de Champagne in Épernay shows large buildings and mansions owned by many of the most prestigious Champagne houses – one right after the other. It begins at the Tourist Office, and continues for 1 km, on both sides of the wide street.

Leaving the Marne for the Aube

Flasks of liqueur for dosage at Drappier - photo by Bill Lembeck CWE, CSS

Flasks of liqueur for dosage at Drappier – photo by Bill Lembeck CWE, CSS

A visit to Urville, in the Aube, takes a little over an hour. While there, a visit to Drappier should not be missed. The home and furnishings and cellars are exquisitely mounted. Those wine cellars were built in 1152 by Cistercian monks, and the Drappier family has been cultivating the vineyards for the last two centuries. The Jurassic-era Kimmeridgian soil is like that of the Grand Cru Chablis. The white chalky soils, many former oyster beds, are best for Chardonnay, while the little valleys with stones and minerals further north are best for Pinot Noir.

Michel Drappier is the seventh-generation winemaker. His son is studying enology, while his daughter is hand-selling Drappier Champagnes with the importing company Dreyfus-Ashby in New York. Wines are made in the original stone cellars. Right now, there are 30,000 liters in wood for the reserves. A large egg-shaped barrel is being studied. Michel says it is the most perfect shape. Currently, it is the only one in Champagne.

The entire vineyard is organic, and one-third of it has now been certified. Even the Martinique sugar cane used for the dosages is organic. These dosages, incidentally, are aged for 15 to 25 years in Limousin oak tanks. It gets thick and concentrated, and one drop per bottle is all that is necessary. These “liquors” are stored in glass demijohns, some for more than 50 years. Further, Michel is using less sulfur, to reduce chances of reduction in

Pierre Auguste Renoir's "Dance in the Country" - photo via Google Art Project

Pierre Auguste Renoir’s “Dance in the Country” – photo via Google Art Project

his wines. He ferments at very low temperatures, noting that longer, cooler fermentations result in smaller bubbles.

Michel Drappier is aiming to be Carbon-zero, and solar power provides 55% of his electricity needs. Further, he uses 99% recycled glass, cardboard and wood, and 85% soda glass from the north of Paris.

The Drappier “Grande Sendrée” 2006, with almost equal parts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, gets six years of bottle aging before release. Incidentally, this Champagne has been matched with Renoir’s painting “Dance in the Country” as part of a collection of ten independent Aube Champagnes matched to ten Renoir paintings.

Last Stop: Les Riceys

The municipality of Les Riceys, which consists of three villages, has three specific AOC/ AOP designations: Champagne (designated in 1936); Coteaux Champenois (designated in 1970) and Rosé des Riceys (designated in 1947). This region is so far from Reims and Épernay that it never had any of its vineyards designated as Grand- or Premier-Crus.

Nevertheless, still red wines from Les Riceys are used by other Champagne producers when making rosé Champagnes. Nicolas Feuillatte Cuvée Palmes d’Or Rosé, for example, is made from Pinot Noirs from the village of Bouzy (using 50%) for power, and from Les Riceys (50%) for fine aromas. Champagne Morize Père et Fils Brut Réserve and the Morize Rosé des Riceys 2011 are very fruity examples of those appellations. They go so well with food that they are often referred to as ‘gastronomic rosés.’

Wrap up your tour with a visit to the medieval city of Troyes, which was laid out like a Champagne cork. Illuminated red hearts proclaim this a “city of love.”



Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSE 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

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

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Guest Post: On the Wines of Saxony

The city of Dresden, on the Elbe River

The city of Dresden, on the Elbe River

Today we have a guest post from Lucia Volk, CSW. Lucia shares with us her interest in and discovery of the wines of Saxony!

If you have had your fill of Rieslings and Pinots from the Mosel, Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Pfalz – and find yourself in the mood for a different kind of German wine – let me draw your attention east, to the re-emerging wine region of Saxony!

Upstream and downstream from the city of Dresden, with its many baroque palaces, churches, cobble stone streets, and numerous museums, are about 1,100 acres of vineyards. These vineyards are part of the Sachsen region, which ranks 11th in size among Germany’s thirteen wine regions. The Elbe River and the hills along both sides helps create the weather and soil conditions that make wine growing possible at 51 degrees latitude. Officially, the wine region of Saxony stretches from Pillnitz in the south to Diesbar-­‐Seußlitz in the north, along roughly 60 miles of Elbe, which then continues on to Hamburg and the North Sea.

Equestrian portrait of August II the Strong (1670-1733) - Old Masters Gallery

Equestrian portrait of August II the Strong (1670-1733) – Old Masters Gallery

Saxony’s glorious history involves a late 17th century duke-turned-king by the name of August the Strong, whose claim to fame (among many other things) is breaking horseshoes with his bare hands. He loved the good life (when he wasn’t going to war), and sponsored palaces with gardens, plazas and fountains; and filled museums with art. He hosted lavish parties and, of course, he needed wine. The historical record shows that within decades of his reign, 4,000 acres of vines were under cultivation by up to 8,000 wine makers – vastly more than Saxony’s current holdings.

The 1888 phylloxera infestation did much to reduce the vineyard acreage – two world wars, real estate development, and the state-planned economy of the German Democratic Republic did the rest. 1990, the year of Germany’s unification, is often considered as the starting point of Saxony’s wine revival. The eastern-most German wine region holds much promise with many young winemakers eager to catch up to the much more established wine regions in the southwest of Germany.

Wine producers along the Elbe currently come in three kinds: privately owned wineries, which include the prestigious – and Saxony’s oldest – Schloss Proschwitz as well as small innovators with 5-15 acres of each; the state-owned winery in historic Schloss Wackerbarth with nearly 250 acres and 100 employees; and the Wine Cooperative Meissen (Winzergenossenschaft Meissen) with 360 hectares and 1,500 participating part-time growers. The production volume varies accordingly, from 8,000 to 600,000 to one million bottles a year. Due to steep slopes and challenging growing conditions – late frosts in spring time, dry summers, and cold and wet harvest seasons – none of the producers above can expect a high yield, regardless of their vineyard locations or the grape varietals. If necessary (and feasible in terms of staffing) vineyards are harvested two or three times to give more grapes the opportunity to ripen fully.



Grapes grown in Saxony are mostly white (85%):  Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Traminer are the most widely planted; Bacchus, Muscat, and some Chardonnay are minor white grapes. Pinot Noir and Dornfelder lead the reds;  Portugieser, Regent, and Schwarzrieslings can be found as well. A large part of the production is made into sparkling wine, following various production methods. Single-variety still wines come in the usual choices from dry to sweet, from Landwein to Trockenbeerenauslese. Cuvees are also offered, for instance, Traminer along with Riesling, or Pinot Noir plus some Portugieser. Premier vineyards are Seußlitzer Schlossweinberg, Proschwitzer Katzensprung und Radebeuler Goldener Wagen.

Schloss Proschwitz is Saxony’s oldest private winery, with its own castle and artistocratic owner Prinz von der Lippe.  A renowned restaurant and upscale bed and breakfast invite guests to stay for a while. Still wines, sparklers, and liqueurs are on the shelves, each category in dazzling varieties, from a 13 Euro bottle of Müller Thurgau to a 58 Euro bottle of Pinot Noir. Many of its vineyards were originally owned by the church, most of the wine was made for mass. The church lost ownership over many of its estates to secular, liberal movements in Germany; later, the von der Lippe family lost its vineyards to state socialism, and only in 1990 did they begin to buy back what the family used to own. The winemaker hired to bring Schloss Proschwitz back to its old prominence was Geisenheim graduate Martin Schwarz, who recently started his own “wine manufacture,” as he calls it. In his able hands, Saxon grapes turned to refreshingly dry, aromatic, earthy wines. If you never had Müller-Thurgau you liked, you might find one here.

photo via

photo via

Erlebnisweingut  Schloss  Wackerbarth  translates  to  “adventure  vineyard”  on Wackerbarth’s website. It is a winery that offers a full schedule of paired food, music, dance and theater events throughout the entire year, Christmas and New Year’s included. Guests can walk around expansive grounds with a historic palace and brand new restaurant, wine bar, cellar, and shop.   With a seasonally adjusted staff of   plus/minus 100, Schloss Wackerbarth bottles up to 600,000 bottles a year, the majority sparkling wine.  On its premises, only traditional method, hand-riddled sparklers are made, a process visitors can witness from the tasting room overlooking the storage cellar facility.   Another Geisenheim graduate, Jürgen Aumüller, took charge in 2002, dividing his attention between his cuvees (mostly for sparkling wine, but also for still) and single-variety wines.   The state of Saxony   owns the winery, and with the help of substantial investment of the Saxony Development Bank in the early 2000s; Schloss Wackerbarth now represents the new way of doing wine business on the Elbe river.



Founded in 1938 as Saxon Wine Cooperative (Sächsische Weinbaugenossenschaft), renamed the Wine Cooperative Meissen in 1955, and currently led by a woman winemaker, Natalie Weich, the cooperative produces half of Saxony’s wine, a million bottles per year on average. The vineyard holdings span the entire Elbe region, from Pillnitz to Diesbar-­‐Seußlitz. You can find an interactive map (in German) on the cooperative’s website. Cooperative production historically allowed people to share production facilities and spread production risks. Grapes were an additional source of income, and under state socialism, an additional source of goods to trade. Grape quality was historically sacrificed to grape quantity, as producers were paid by weight they delivered. Those days are mostly days of the past, as producers realize that they need to compete with national and international standards. Wines from the cooperative regularly win gold, silver and bronze medals in the annual Federal German Wine Awards (DLG -­‐-­‐ Deutsche Landwirtschafts-­ Gesellschaft).

The natural beauty and regional history of the Elbe valley are already reasons for a visit. If you enjoy hiking and biking, you will be able to fill your vacation with memorable activities – but be sure and leave time to schedule wine tastings throughout. And you will want to leave space in your suitcases to bring some home!

Lucia Volk, CSW, is working on a manuscript on the lesser known wine regions of Germany. This summer, she discovered vineyards in Berlin, excellent Pinot Noirs along the Elbe and the Ahr, and phenomenal Riesling wines on the Mittelrhein.

Suggested further reading:


Guest Post: On the Wines of Colorado

Vineyards in Grand Junction, Colorado

Vineyards in Grand Junction, Colorado

Today we have a guest post from Justin Gilman, CSW, who tells us about the blossoming wine industry in his adopted state.

Colorado’s wine industry began back in 1890 when then-Governor George Crawford planted roughly 60 acres of vines in the Grand Valley near Palisade. Just over a decade later, there were over a thousand Colorado farms involved in grape growing.

These days, the majority of Colorado’s wine production is focused in the West-Central part of the state, near the town of Grand Junction. Colorado currently boasts two AVAs: Grand Valley and West Elks. About 75% of the state’s one hundred-plus wineries are located in the Grand Valley AVA while the remaining 25% are in the West Elks AVA.  Other growing regions include McElmo Canyon, Montezuma County, South Grand Mesa, Freemont County, Olathe County, and Montrose County.

Colorado’s continental climate coupled with its famous high elevation means that grapes grown here receive a tremendous amount of sunlight with minimal cloud cover. However, the grapes also benefit from an excellent diurnal temperature variation – meaning the sunshine and heat help to unlock sugars during the day; and the exceptionally low temperatures help to retain acidity at night.



Colorado’s elevation, foliage and mountain ranges have been compared to that of Northern Italy’s Alto-Adige region. With the highest wine growing elevation in North America, (Grand Valley 4,000-4,500 ft. and West Elks up to 7,000 ft.) these chalky and loam soils see as many degree-in days as Napa, Tuscany and Bordeaux in a shorter period of time.

The grape varieties grown here are on par with other wineries across the country. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Moscato are staples, with some experimentation of blends between wineries. Rhône varieties do particularly well in Grand Valley, and Tempranillo is showing great promise in the West Elks AVA.

As in any wine country, Colorado wineries offer a wide range of products. Taking advantage of the sunny skies and over 300 days of yearly sunshine, some Colorado wineries create consumer-friendly wines leaning on slightly higher sugar levels. Softer Cabernets, Chardonnay/Moscato blends and plenty of sweet fruit wine options like that of Carlson Vineyards Cherry & Peach wine to St. Kathryn’s “Apple Blossom” and “Golden Pear” are popular wines, known for being friendly to a beginner’s palate.



Some of the best wines in the state are produced by Ruby Trust Cellars of the Castle Pines area. Ruby Trust Cellars, led by owner Ray Bruening and winemaker Braden Dodds have produce wines with rough-and-ready names such as “Gunslinger”, “Fortune Seeker” and their recent addition “Horse Thief”. Located roughly 20 miles South of Denver, Ruby Trust puts out a handful of limited production blends and single varietal wines that have caught the eye of some well-known critics. Sourcing fruit from growers in Grand Junction, Ray and Braden uphold the highest integrity when creating their wines. Retailing just over $30 a bottle, their wines are individually numbered with labels reminiscent of the historical mining era of Colorado. Ruby Trust is considered amongst Colorado’s best, found in selected Aspen and Vail restaurants and resorts, as well as specialty wine shops throughout the Denver area.

Colorado has also embraced the idea of the “urban winery,” including Bonaquisti Wines, located in Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood. Bonaquisti Wines proudly declare themselves to be procurers of “Wine for the People!” With wine in kegs, refillable growlers, and live music every Friday night, it seems like they are living up to their motto quite well.

photo via

photo via

One of the most intriguing wineries in Colorado is undoubtedly the Infinite Monkey Theorem. (The name is derived from the theory that a monkey striking typewriter keys for an infinite amount of time will, eventually, create the works of Shakespeare.) Founded by Ben Parsons, the winery was originally housed in a graffiti-covered Quonset hut. While the business is now housed in a 20,000-square foot warehouse, they still tend to do things (shall we say) a bit differently, and feature such items as wine in cans and a “bottles and bacon” gift pack.

Yearly, Colorado’s best wines are judged at the Governor’s Cup in Denver, and an alternate event with growing popularity, the Denver International Wine Competition. The Governor’s Cup focuses on Colorado Wines, presented by the Colorado Wine Board, to discover the “Best of the Best” in Colorado, while the Denver International Wine Competition welcomes any wine with the potential of being distributed in Colorado. Previous winners of the 2014 Governor’s Cup include Canyon Wind Cellars 2012 Petit Verdot, Grand Valley AVA, $30 and Boulder Creek Winery, Boulder, 2013 Riesling, Colorado, $16.  The 2015 top scorers include Bonacquisti Wine Company – 2013 Malbec, (American) and Bookcliff Vineyards 2014 Viognier, Grand Valley AVA.

The Colorado wine industry is consumer friendly and each year is continuing to grow by leaps and bounds, striving to be traditionally focused. For the future, the industry is focused on minimizing blends, gradually creating more structure- driven wines, and slowly educating the consumer palate – a noteworthy goal in a state known for its beer consumption. Given the terroir, and talent, and these noted goals, the future looks bright for the Colorado wine industry.

Justin Gilman, CSW is the Store Manager/Buyer for Jordan Wine & Spirits, a leading retailer in Parker, Colorado, located in Denver’s South Metro area.  With over 15 years in alcohol beverage retail, in the major markets of Orange Co., and Los Angeles California, he now resides in Denver Colorado, where his skill set as an operator and buyer are utilized for both retail and as a consultant in the industry.

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Big Controversy over Little Rocks at the TTB



Today we have a guest blog from Brenda Audino, CWE, who brings us up-to-date on the latest controversy at the TTB!

This is a follow-up to the blog “Oregon, Washington, and the AVA Shuffle: It’s Complicated”.  As noted, the newly created appellation “The Rocks of Milton-Freewater” created some controversy. The controversy is not about the validity of the appellation itself – just about everyone agrees that “The Rocks” is a unique region. The controversy arises in who amongst the wineries will ultimately be able to use this new AVA on their wine labels.

Here is a refresher regarding the Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA: it is a sub-AVA nested within the larger multi-state Walla Walla Valley AVA, which is also nested within the much larger multi-state Columbia Valley AVA.  The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA resides solely within the borders of Oregon, while the larger multi-state AVAs are predominately in Washington State while crossing over the border into Oregon.  The controversy with this new AVA is that since it is entirely within the borders of Oregon, wineries must also be in Oregon in order to use the AVA on a wine label.  Most wineries who call the Walla Walla AVA home are located in the state of Washington.  This means that even if the winery owns vineyards or sources fruit in The Rocks of Milton-Freewater they will not able to utilize that The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA on their labels

The comments received by the TTB during the “open comment” period concerning this inability to use The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA were deemed valid by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and worthy of consideration.  This means that the TTB acknowledges that the current regulations would require wine that is fully finished in Washington and made primarily from grapes grown within The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA to be labeled with the less specific “Walla Walla Valley” or “Columbia Valley” or “Oregon” appellations of origin.

USDA Map of The Rocks District


On February 9, 2015 the TTB created a new proposed rule to address these specific concerns that were raised regarding this new AVA.  This new proposed rule is titled “Use of American Viticulture Area Names as Appellations of Origin on Wine Labels”.

The TTB proposes to amend its regulations to permit the use of American Viticulture area names as appellation of origin on labels for wines that would otherwise quality for the use of the AVA name except the wines have been fully finished in the state adjacent to the state in which the viticultural area is located rather than the state in which the labeled viticultural area is located.

The TTB goes on to note that the purpose of an AVA is to provide consumers with additional information on wines they may purchase by allowing vintners to describe more accurately the origin of the grapes used in the wine.

The TTB does not believe this new ruling will cause consumer confusion since multi-state AVAs allow the wine to be finished in either state.  They believe consumers are aware that appellation of origin is a statement of the origin of grapes used to make the wine and it would not be confusing or misleading if a single state AVA were finished in an adjacent state.

I don’t know if the TTB had any idea of the amount of comments this “fix” to the AVA system would generate, but this proposal opened up an entire flood of opposing views.

During the comment phase there were a total of 41 submissions. Out of these 41 comments there were 16 “For”, 18 “Opposed”, 6 “recommended a change to the proposal” and 1 “suggested an extension of the comment period”.

The “For” comments ranged from “providing consumers better knowledge of the origin of grapes”, “fair competition and accurately reflect origin of wines”, “increase business opportunities”, “where grapes are grown is more important than where wine is finished” and “grape shortages in adjacent states”.



The “Opposed” comments ranged from “confusion for consumers”, “support for local economy”, “the term ‘adjacent state’ is too broad, “undermines state labeling laws”, “large business will transport more grapes to take advantage of AVA names” and “creates deceptive labeling”.

The comments that “recommended a change to the proposal” felt that the following wording on the proposal –“wines have been fully finished in the state adjacent to the state in which the viticultural area is located rather than the state in which the labeled viticultural area is located” – is too broad and encompassing.  This, the commenter believes, has the potential to dilute current AVA status by transporting grapes across long distances.  They recommended a change to the proposal to include “Wines finished in either state of a multi-state AVA can utilize any Sub-AVA that is nested within this multi-state AVA.”  This would enable the wineries of Washington to utilize The Rocks of Milton-Freewater AVA, but not Willamette Valley AVA.  This in effect would narrow the scope and alleviate many of the concerns raised by the commenters.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an end to this story.  The comment period is now closed and the final ruling by TTB won’t be released until April 2016.  For now though, if you want to find a wine from The Rocks of Milton-Freewater, you will need to search for an Oregon winery.

Post authored by Brenda Audino, CWE. After a long career as a wine buyer with Twin 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!

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Guest Post: A Trip to Mendoza

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

Today we have a guest post from Justin Gilman, CSW who went on the wine-travel “bucket list” trip of a lifetime to Mendoza, Argentina. Read on to hear about this high-altitude wine region, from the ground up!

I traveled to Mendoza on April 13th as a guest of the “Familia Zuccardi” family winery.  I had been introduced to this family winery years ago, carried numerous labels and all along the way, discovered more about their quality wines.  I’ve attended the “Mendoza Masters” seminars in Denver led by winemaker Sebastain Zuccardi and importer Winesellers LTD.  I was excited and anxious to meet the family, become familiar with Mendoza, and experience these great wines at the source.

The trip began in Denver, and onto Miami.  An 8-hour long flight down to Santiago, Chile was the grunt of the trip.  All along I had anticipated the notable flight over the Andes Mountains.  Anyone who has made wine their carrier knows about the Andes and the important role they play to Argentina wine.  As simple as it sounds, you don’t realize just how real the mountains are until you experience it for yourself.

Our plane landed in Santiago around 7am.  The sun wasn’t up yet, and it was pitch black outside the window.  The pilot announced he would land with autopilot because of the dense fog prohibiting any sort of vision to the runway.  Shortly after we landed, standing at the gate, the sun came out and exposed a marine layer of which we couldn’t see 50 feet outside the airport window.  This had caused our connecting flight to be slightly delayed to Mendoza.

The flight over the Andes brought a new perspective on time and distance.  Literally climbing, then diving down over the mountains on a 45 min flight.  The Andes below were vast.  Mountain tops sharp and jagged at the highest points.  Winds blow the peaks clean and the wind chill easily froze any existing moisture the weather provided. You can easily see where glaciers melt and the runoff slowly descends down the mountain.  Small lakes form in craters and some parts of the mountain looked smooth from the distance – most likely shaped by extreme winds over time.

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

Photo credit: Justin Gilman

On the Eastern side of the mountains descending, we didn’t see ocean fog, but cumulous nimbus clouds contoured into every nook of the mountain.  This was a picturesque definition of “Rain Shadow”.  The Andes are measured at 310 miles wide at its farthest points and 4,300 miles long. The average height is 4,000 feet.  This mountain range is longer than the U.S. is wide (excluding Hawaii and Alaska).  Cumulus clouds max out at around 3,300 feet.  These clouds never cross over these massive peaks.  This experience has allowed me to completely understand the effect of the Cascade Mountains in Washington and the role they play to that wine region as well.  Living in Denver, I’m used to flying over the Rockies going to and from the West Coast.  Somehow, the jagged peaks of the Andes seemed much more dominant.

The “Santa Julia Winery” in Maipu was our first stop.  This is the family’s large production facility that has sustainable and organically farmed grapes.  The Zuccardi family is one of the largest producers in Argentina, meanwhile keeping a humble, small family mentality.  They are 2nd in sparkling wine production, making both charmat and traditional method styles.  The honesty and transparency to their wines, along with commitment to sustainability and organics were quickly displayed.  Producing entry-level wines with native yeasts and labeling wines honorably with their family name was refreshing.  The location has two “farm to table” restaurants on site, “Casa Visatante” and “Pan & Oliva”, both catering different styles of culinary genius.  They produce olive oil and have a spirit still for brandy. They are well under way with Solera aging for their Port style wines.

The Santa Rosa Vineyard is among the family’s largest acreage.  It has been in the family and helped the Zuccardi’s learn and become who they are today.  The family knows where they’ve been, where they are, and clearly has a vision for the future.  The Santa Rosa Vineyard dedicates 1 hectare to numerous plantings of experimental or as they say “Innovacion” grapes.  Nero D’Avola, Albarino and even Mersalan (a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon/Grenache) are planted, along with many more.  Each year, the two best are bottled and sold in the tasting room.  These grapes are monitored and progress is considered for the Valle de Uco vineyards.

Photo via

Photo via

The Maipu winery has clearly been the anchor for the family since the 1960’s with each new generation benefiting from the last.  It’s reaching production capacity and the family is aligning its future behind the addition of the new Valle de Uco winery set for completion in September 2015.

The week progressed like the perfect storyline.  Starting with family history and their bulk facility on the first day, then escalated to the new winery and top tiers over night.  I had seen, tasted and carried these quality wines, but visiting the new winery on this day was mind blowing.  In my 15 years in the industry, I’ve never witnessed such attention to detail and commitment to terroir on such a large scale.

The next day we drove almost an hour to the “Altamira Vineyard” site.  The elevation for this vineyard area is 3,412-3,772 feet. Uco Valley is one of the world’s highest wine growing regions, with over 80,000 hectares planted between 3,000-3,900 feet and plenty of sunlight.

We started the day with the winery geologist “Martin”, and it was clear that his mission first and foremost was to explain in detail, the terroir of the Uco Valley, as well as introducing us to the philosophy going forward.  Martin had aerial terrain maps and technology graphs to explain why the vineyard was planted the way it was.  Blocks and rows were planted after using electric mapping in the soil to determine soil density, help determine erosion and gather more info as to which varietals were best suited on particular blocks.  Blue colors were less dense with red being extremely dense.

The highlight of this visit was his explanation of alluvial rocks scattered throughout the vineyard.  Glaciers melt atop of the Andes and the runoff carries down the soil and nutrients to the valley floor.  The point at the base of the mountain, in which the soil spreads out is known as an “alluvial fan” or “alluvial zone”.  Topographical maps clearly show green, thriving soil and moisture at the end of these zones and much less moisture at the beginning of these patterns.

Photo via:

Photo via:

Martin took us into the vineyard and removed alluvial rocks from holes dug within 50yds of one another.  He mentioned roughly 400 holes had been dug over a few years’ time to completely understand what was taking place along the surface of the vineyard block.  Explaining that there was a film of calcium deposit on the rocks, he rubbed his palm on a medium size rock and clearly the white coating from the rock transferred to his palm, leaving a bare spot on the rock.  He then asked for participants to do the same and lick our palms.  We did.  The taste was clearly salty.  He had explained to us earlier that this was a reaction to elements in the soil and limestone coating the rock.  Calcium deposits in water drift to the bottom of the ocean through pressure.  Over time, the layers of deposits consolidate and create a hard mass.  He explained that the fossilized rocks in his office were proof that rocks traveling down from the top of the Andes to the valley floor were evidence that the top of the Andes Mountains were once underwater.  These are the things you hear, but of course have a stronger realization when you’re there looking at fossils.

After the vineyard tour we were lead to the new winery building.  It has been in use for two years, though still under construction.  In fact its first harvest began without the roof on the building.  The new winery is made from the same rocks scraped from under the foundation.  Binding clay and sediment soils from the nearby Rio Negro River used with alluvial rocks to make the walls of the building.  No two walls are the same.  It was explained that from a distance, the profile of the winery roof blends into the Andes Mountain behind it and that the path from the front door will mimic the “alluvial fan” of the mountain base.  It will not be landscaped, but left to develop with the terroir.  Weeds, erosion, grass and flowers will occur naturally.

We ventured into this amazing structure.  Plans were discussed for an open kitchen with a concrete oven, and a huge 6ft rock they discovered while digging into the plans for a 10,000-bottle wine cellar would remain in place.  Concrete eggs a long time ago were decided to be the fermenters of choice.  More stable fermentation temps and the fact that stainless steel fermenters discharge a slight electric current influencing the wine just were two reasons behind the change.  State of the art made with what nature has given, we were all astounded.

Photo via:

Photo via:

We tasted four different samples of 2014 Malbecs.  Samples were chosen to display extreme differences in terroir.  From soft and grapey in clay soil, to minerally/chalky in alluvial rock.  The Altamira showing a slight ‘forest floor’ and moist dirt on the nose and in the glass, similar to Oregon Pinot Noir, but with Malbec.  One of the samples came from the “Gualtallary Vineyard”.  Very much a point of focus in the future, this region seems to be up and coming and on their radar.  Located Southwest of Tupungato, Gualtallary is even higher elevation of 3,937-4,921 feet and different soil compositions of course, meaning extreme “terroir-ists” can remain excited about possibilities for time to come.   We sampled both 2014 and 2015 wines displaying these extreme differences in terroir.

Sebastian and his family are passionate about terroir, and determined enough to break the mold stylistically of what we see every day with Malbec, Torrontés and Cabernet Sauvignon coming from Argentina.  The mass exodus of Malbec over the years to America seems to have thinned out quality and damaged Argentina’s reputation in some circumstances.  This trip was truly insightful and has given me an extreme appreciation of terroir and diversity of varietals grown in Argentina, not to mention seeing the potential first hand.  The family has tremendous integrity and dedication to organic practice.  I look forward to returning to the new winery after its completion and possibly visiting other wineries both big and small, to help further my knowledge of this region that is much, much more than just Malbec.

Justin Gilman, CSW is the Store Manager/Buyer for Jordan Wine & Spirits, a leading retailer in Parker, Colorado, located in Denver’s South Metro area.  With over 15 years in alcohol beverage retail, in the major markets of Orange Co., and Los Angeles California, he now resides in Denver Colorado, where his skill set as an operator and buyer are utilized for both retail and as a consultant in the industry.

For more information on the Familia Zuccardi and their wines, visit their website here.



The Georgia of Wine and Walnuts

Traditional carved wooden balconies in the Old Town of Tbilisi, Georgia

Traditional carved wooden balconies in the Old Town of Tbilisi, Georgia

Today we have a guest post from renowned Wine and Spirits Educator Harriet Lembeck. Read on to hear about Harriet’s recent wine trip to the Republic of Georgia! 

If you really care about wine, you should think seriously about making the journey to the country of Georgia. You will experience true hospitality, tradition, wine-making, and still be close enough to the Black Sea’s famed resorts when you are ready to relax. And if you like to ski, there are the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains right there as well.

FYI, I have just returned from a visit, and saw no sign of any of the unrest that’s been in the news lately. There is instead a sense of calm and welcoming.

To the Georgians, a guest is a gift from God. And the best way to greet a guest is to serve one’s own wine, made from one’s own grapes. No patch of land goes vacant, and grapes grow on what elsewhere might be a lawn. Further, every home winemaker has a still, and he will also pour you his clear pomace brandy, or Chacha.

If you go to a Georgian banquet, dishes will be continually placed on the table, and nothing will be cleared until the end — in case the guest might want a little more of anything! Walnuts are the preferred stuffing for confections, fruits, vegetables and even boned fish. Meals are leavened with toasts. The toastmaster shows gratitude for the Creator, for food, for friendships, for all the women, for beauty, for love, for people who have passed away, and for the children looking to the future.



Historical Significance

Georgia is referred to as the “Cradle of Wine,” as wine has been made there continuously for the last 8,000 years (The Georgians say “8,000 Vintages”). There was very early winemaking in Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Crimea, Armenia and Moldava, but all evidence points to at least 6,000 BCE, if not before, for the first propagation of wine grapes — in Georgia — in the Fertile Crescent.

Records show 525 grape varieties, including clones, of which 440 are still in use. Do not despair — even if you go there and taste a lot of wines, you are not likely to come across more than twenty, if that many. The white Rkatsiteli and the red Saperavi are the most prevalent, but you may see some international varieties as well.

Historically, this tradition was interrupted for about seventy years, when Russia took over between 1921 and 1991. The Russians knew that banning the production of wine was hopeless in Georgia. “Georgia is synonymous with wine,” it is said. But with wine permitted, the Russians were more interested in high volume than in quality, and after three generations, much of the fine wine tradition was lost. Many of today’s winemakers are now working to restore it.

The city center of Tbilisi

The city center of Tbilisi

There are 10 main wine regions in Georgia, which contain 18 smaller Protected Denominations of Origin (PDOs). The majority of wineries and growers are in the Kakheti Valley, very close to Tbilisi. Going from east to west, you will pass through Imereti and other central and western wine regions. Summers are hot, but spring or fall are perfect times to visit.

Your first stop should be Tbilisi, and once there, you should go to the Vino Underground Wine Bar, which has the largest selection of organic and/or “bio” Georgian wines. Also go to the Azarpesha Wine Restaurant, named for a long-handled drinking bowl, for a traditional meal. You may meet partner and ex-pat American John Wurdeman in either place. He is an articulate moving force in reclaiming Georgian traditions in wine, food, polyphonic music and dance, and is also the founder of Pheasant’s Tears Winery. 

All About Qvervis

Wine has been traditionally fermented and aged in qvevris (kvevris), or large clay pots that are bur ied in the earth. They are shaped something like Roman amphorae, but the amphorae re- main above ground. When people buy older houses, it is not unusual to lift up the floor- boards and find buried qvevris below. Many winemakers are using qvevris now, though some do use stainless steel or oak barrels, and some use both. To learn about qvevris, you should not miss a visit to Twins Old Cellar in Napareuli Village in the Telavi district. I dubbed it “Qvevri School.” The twin brothers have set up an oversized qvevri display to honor their parents.

Previously, the Soviets had taken over their winery, and their father died in prison. The property was eventually returned.  They have made an outdoor room-sized qvevri, reached by a ladder. Once inside, you feel as if you are standing in an enormous qvevri. The clay walls are marked showing levels of internal activity as a wine ages and solids reach the

Georgian Qvervi - Photo by By Levan Totosashvili, via Wikimedia Commons

Georgian Qvervi – Photo by By Levan Totosashvili, via Wikimedia Commons

bottom of this curve-sided vessel. The twins have 107 qvevris in use, restoring a tradition that was almost lost. [Note: Besides creating a wine museum, they also have a dozen guest rooms, should you decide to visit and stay over.] With renewed interest in ovoid, clay fermenters, some qvevris are being produced in the United States. A Texan, Billy Ray Mangham of Sleeping Dog Pottery and his team, have a “Qvevri Project.” Andrew Beckham, a potter and winemaker in Oregon has his own “Amphorae Project.” Also, a potter on the outskirts of Austria is now making qvevris. Further, there is increased experimentation with ‘the concrete egg’ – concrete egg-shaped tanks made in Burgundy. The Emiliana Vineyards, from Chile, has made a very big investment in them for their winery in Casablanca.

Among other sites, concrete eggs are used in the Glenora Winery, the first Farm Winery in the Finger Lakes, NY. In 2013, UNESCO recognized qvevris and qvevri-winemaking, and placed them on the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Qvevris last for a very long time. They are not discarded when they are no longer useful, but are respectfully leaned against garden walls.

Inspired to visit? Click here to download some  Tips for a Successful Wine Trip to the Republic of Georgia from Harriet Lembeck

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

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

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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,, 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

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