The Toe, the Shin, and the Heel – all at Vino 2015!

today we have a guest blog from Sharron McCarthy who was lucky enough to attend Vino 2015 last week! Read on for a first-hand account!

sharronLast week the Italian Trade Commission welcomed wine writers, retailers, restaurateurs, distributors and winemakers from all over the world to Vino 2015 – Italian Wine Week. Touted as the “grandest Italian Wine Event Held Outside of Italy,” the event hosted over 200 producers and importers from some of Italy’s most important viticultural regions, with a focus on Southern Italian wines.  Over 60 Italian wine producers were part of the Vino Direct program, debuting a vast selection of wines available for the first time in the United States.

Vino 2015 was filled with seminars, tastings, and events highlighting the extraordinary wines of Italy -including the lesser appreciated (but magnificent) wines of Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Sicilia. These regions form the lower portion of the country, and are often described as the toe, shin, and heel of the “Italian boot.”

We learned that 90% of the land of Calabria – the toe of the Italian boot – is mountainous with steep hills. This rugged terrain does not prevent the mysterious Gaglioppo grape (possibly indigenous or possibly of Greek origin) from producing delightful reds like Cirò as well as a rare mountain red wine known as Savuto DOC.  Dry white wines from Calabria are generally based on the Greco grape variety – the gift of the Greeks – as is the rare, sweet appassimento wine produced from it known as Greco di Bianco.

Campania – the shin of the boot – is also known as “Campania Felix” or “The Happy Countryside.” Campania offers us wines produced from her splendid volcanic soils.  Founded as a Greek colony in the 8th century BC, the Greeks brought vines to Campania that live on today as the white grape varieties known as Falanghina and Greco. Campania is also known for another capativating white variety known as Coda di Volpe – the “Tail of the Fox.” The grape is said to be so named as the clusters of grapes  form a shape that reminds one of the tail of the fox! A wine sometimes referred to as the  “Barolo of the South” is produced here as well – but you might know it better as the great Taurasi, born of the  Aglianico grape variety (the Italianized name for Hellenico).

ItalyPuglia – the heel of the boot – is home to a sun-drenched coast and two seas, the Adriatic and the Ioanian!  Puglia’s wines benefit from the brilliant sun and sweeping sea breezes.  Most of the leading red wines of Publia include a at least a portion of Primitivo – so named as it matures earlier than the other leading red grapes of the region such as Uva di Troia and NegroAmaro.  Intriguing but obscure white grapes like Impigno, Verdeca and Asprino are found in this beguiling region.

Sicilian wines have long been popular throughout the world. This triangle-shaped island, the largest in the Mediterranean, boasts more than 32 different grape varieties.  The Arab conquest of this seductive island left it with a sweet tooth and magnificent, sweet wines to satisfy it. Some of the well-known sweet wines of Sicily include Marsala, Malvasia delle Lipari and luscious versions of Moscato.  Catarrato, Inzolia, and Grecanico are prominent whites while reds such as Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese and Frappato have quite a following.  In the 1990′s grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay made their way to this ancient land and have inspired new traditions for modern tastes.

For more information on the wines featured at this event as well as producers seeking importers, please visit the website of Vino 2015 here. 

Our guest blogger, Sharron McCarthy, CSW, is the Vice President of Wine Education for Banfi Vintners, as well as being a past president and current Director Emeritus of the Society of Wine Educators.

Guest Post: From New York Grapes to the CWE!

Joe's wife, Isabelle, harvesting Frontenac Gris last fall.

Jeff”s wife, Isabelle, harvesting Frontenac Gris last fall.

Today we have a guest post – all about the long and winding road to wine certification – from Jeff Anderson. Jeff first realized his passion for wine through home winemaking, and he is now studying for his CSW. Jeff intends to pursue the CWE and create a “third career” as a wine educator. Read on for more of Jeff’s story!

Home winemaking – like so many other things – can take on a life of its own. My home winemaking is way out of control and just as I think that I’m back in charge, I get an award or a compliment from someone that matters and I’m off again.

What do I have to blame for this obsession?  I can think of three things: First, I won a gold medal for my Sangiovese in the 2006 International Winemaker Magazine Contest. Second, In 2008 I won an award from a regional chapter of the American Wine Society for a Nebbiolo I made from a “Barolo” kit. Third, a neighbor in her 80s informed me that a glass of my wine allowed her to get the first good night’s sleep she’d had in a while. After all that – it was over. I was all about the wine. I even forgot how to make beer.

Now that my passion for winemaking has grown, I’m contemplating a second or third career as a wine educator. As a first step, I’ve begun my studies for the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) certification.

As I start out in pursuit of wine certification, I have come to realize just how much it would help to have some specific experiences in your background. It would be great, for instance, to be a wine merchant with an inventory of imported wines and overseas contacts.  I would imagine that differences in vintages and blends would be much clearer to a wine merchant or salesperson than they must be to the average person.

Bear Mountain Bridge in the Hudson River Valley

Bear Mountain Bridge in the Hudson River Valley

It would also be nice to have majored in geography. This really hit home when I started to tune into SWE’s free SWEbinars. A few courses in geology, Romance languages, organic chemistry, and history would help fill in some gaps as well. And for all you folks who tell people you are “just” a server in a restaurant, all of your time serving wine, spirits, or even beer will be a big help to you in your wine studies. Of course, a white tablecloth restaurant with a multiple-page wine list would be ideal, but keep in mind that every little bit helps.

As a member of the Society of Wine Educators, I really appreciate the excellent resources available to members who, like me, are on the path to certification. The webinars are lively, the pre- and post-tests available on the online Wine Academy are challenging, and the Study Guide reinforces how much I still need to know. There is also a cellphone app for trivia quizzes organized according to white, red, sparkling, and dessert wines as well as spirits.

I was astounded to see how broad the subject of wine and winemaking is.  It is virtually like learning a new language.

My experience – as a small scale grape grower and winemaker – has allowed me to learn and really understand quite a few things about this magical liquid called wine. For instance, I know why a winemaker might leave stems in the must, pick grapes before they are ripe, or use some white grapes in a red wine.  And malolactic fermentation – it’s not exactly fermentation – I really get that.

Our grape-growing adventures are located in the area around Albany in upstate New York, where we grow cold hardy grapes for wine.  We are surrounded by a fast-growing group of wineries in the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail. They are very promising, make exciting wines, and are proud to count some excellent winemakers among the group.

But it’s all too easy to focus on the grapes you grow and wines you make – and forget there is an enormous body of knowledge about hundreds of wine around the world. Take my advice, and break out of your comfort zone – it’s a wide world of wine!

There you have it. All I need to do now is learn everything about wine that everybody else knows! Now, that doesn’t sound so hard – does it?

JJeff Anderson Bioeff Anderson is a lecturer in Criminal Justice for Sage College in Albany New York.  Previously he held a variety of positions in juvenile justice and criminal justice and consulted with the National Institute of Corrections and the National Drug Court Institute.  He is an award-wining amateur winemaker and grows grapes along with Amorici Vineyard in Valley Falls, New York – on the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail. He is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is preparing for his first certification test. He can be contacted on Twitter as @Garagist.

Shrubs and Switchels!

Shrub CherryShrubs and Switchels! It sounds more like a project for an arborist than a “new discovery” for mixologists. However, mixologists have “discovered” the two, and are quickly realizing that what was ancient can be new and exciting in the modern era of mixology.

Shrubs and switchels have a rich history with accounts of “drinking vinegars” dating back to 15th century England’s use as medicinal cordials.  Shrubs are an intriguing blend of fruit, sugar, and vinegar created to preserve fruit long after harvest.  Recipes and methods for making shrubs may vary, but the result is a delightful liquid that captures the essence of fresh fruit.  A proper shrub has a flavor that’s both tart and sweet, so it stimulates the appetite while quenching thirst.

Switchels are a blend of molasses (honey or maple syrup), water, vinegar, and usually ginger.  In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book The Long Winter, there is reference to a switchel-like drink claiming how it quenched the thirst without upsetting the stomach after hot work making hay.

Using shrubs and switchels to create refreshing beverages is truly an American story that came about in the 18th century.  A 19th century magazine noted, “When the thermometer ranges among the nineties, it is not so much a question of what we shall eat as what we shall drink.”  (Surely, SWE members would agree!)

Physicians cautioned that ice water, which was difficult to obtain and maintain, was a “very grim and deleterious beverage, every glass of which should be labeled with skull and crossbones.” Too much ice water, they believed, could cause indigestion, bloating and other more serious problems.  Shrubs and switchels provided an acceptable alternative, especially as these drinks would “cheer, but not inebriate.”  It was not long after, with shrubs 3further American ingenuity, they were served with whiskey and brandy.  In 1862 when Jerry Thomas’ groundbreaking book The Bar-Tender’s Guide was published, shrubs had become so ingrained in our cocktail culture that several were featured.

Fast forward to today and you will find a collection of mixologists across the country reaching back through history to reclaim vinegar’s more palatable past.  According to Tony Abou-Ganim, superstar bartender and author of The Modern Mixologist, “Skilled mixologists construct cocktails not from set recipes, but from building blocks of base spirit, modifiers and accents. The key is to balance between the flavors of alcohol, sweet, acid and bitter” Shrubs and switchels offer an alternative to lemons and limes for adding that acidity.

A number of shrubs are now available commercially, but they are also easy to make.  Just mix fresh fruit, sugar and vinegar together and let them steep until the flavors blend and balance to your taste.  Essentially any fruit from berries to melons and apples to rhubarb can be made into a shrub.  A good rule of thumb is one part fruit, one part sugar, and one part vinegar.  You can then adjust to taste.

There are two basic methods to create shrubs; hot or cold.

The hot method: This method is faster, but creates a jammy result.  This method works best in preserving harder fruits like apples and rhubarb.  Add equal parts sugar and water to saucepan, heat and stir until the sugar dissolves.  Add fruit and cook on low heat until the fruit juice blends into the syrup. Let the mixture cool, strain and then add vinegar to the syrup.  Bottle and let rest in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks to further integrate.

The cold method: This method takes longer, but gives a fresher fruitier result.  This method works best in preserving delicate fruits and berries.  Steep the fruit in sugar for 24 hours (or longer) in a covered container in the refrigerator.  After a day or two, your fruit should be swimming in juice and syrup.  The longer it sits, the more flavorful the shrub will be.  Add vinegar and let the mixture sit again for 24 hours.  Strain the syrup from the solids and bottle the shrub.   Shake the bottle well before using as some sugar may settle to the bottom.

shrubs 2Regardless of the method all shrubs mellow with time.  The tartness and sweetness remain, but they start to harmonize after a few weeks in the fridge.

In addition to the choice of fruits, experimentation can be made with the type of sugar and vinegar used.  White sugar is most versatile, but brown, raw, honey and molasses can have some interesting results.  Apple cider vinegar is most commonly used, but others have had success with white wine, red wine, and even balsamic vinegar.

Shrubs can add depth and complexity to a cocktail, but be careful.  Since they are already acidic, they don’t always play well with citrus juice.  Use a light hand and taste as you’re building your ingredients.

I have experimented with substituting shrubs in place of the acid component in my cocktails.  I use a base spirit, a shrub, a complementary liqueur or cordial, and bitters to create my concoctions.  While not all have been successful, the creative process has been fun!  Two cocktails that stood out as triumphs were one made with rum, blackberry shrub, ginger liqueur and lime bitters and another made with brandy, lemon shrub, orange liqueur and orange bitters.  I look forward to my continued research in this “new discovery” of ancient “drinking vinegars”.

What are some of your uses for shrubs and switchels?  Please share your experiments and recipes as we dabble with history.

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: The Romance of Scotch Whisky

FiveToday we have a guest post from Spirits Educator Russ Kempton, CSS. Russ shares with  us some of what he learned about Scotch whisky during his five trips to Scotland!

Impersonal – that’s how I would describe most of the distilleries in the world.  However, the opposite is true for the distilleries located in Scotland. Do other regions and countries have long and just as distinguished history in producing distilled spirits? – Yes; but I feel that for the romance and the mythology, there are none like the Scotch whisky distilleries.

Rugged, rustic, and remote outposts describe most of Scotland’s distilleries in operation today, not one alike and all unique. Scotland’s unique, complicated, eco-system produces exceptional, tradition-rich whiskies. Due to this environment, Scotch whisky is among the most diverse spirits in the world.

Since the mid 1800’s, the debate among whisky drinkers has been which type of Scotch whisky is the complete spirit – single malts or blends? Single malts epitomize the distilleries signature as to what can be produced at a single distillery, while the blended whiskies style come from the vision of the Blending Houses.

OneTo be classified as a single malt Scotch, these requirements must be met; distilled from 100% malted barley, a product of one distillery, produced exclusively in Scotland, aged a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels, and placed into the bottle at no less than 80 proof or 40 alcohol by volume. Single Malt Scotch has three basic ingredients; malted barley, water and yeast with the color coming from the oak during maturation.

Blended Scotch will come from whisky produced at many distilleries with the majority (average 60%) being distilled from various grains such as unmalted barley, maize, and wheat. The grain whisky in the blend must be aged a minimum of three years and aged to the label year, if the blend carries an age. The remainder of the blend will contain, on average, approximately 35 to 40 single malts.

Blended Scotch of higher quality and price will carry a higher concentration of single malts in the blend. Blends on the opposite end of the scale will carry more grain bringing the quality and price down. The blender wants their whisky to be consistent for their loyal consumers. For this reason, they strive to produce a whisky which has a distinguishable quality and characteristic.

FourMany Scotch whisky distilleries are located in the mountains or glens, near rivers, lochs, or along the coast. The four seasons and weather in the areas will affect the barley, fermentation, distillation, and maturation at the distillery. During maturation the oak barrels and casks “breathe” the local air simply because the barrels are watertight but not air tight. For example, whisky aged in warehouses by the sea will pick up definite maritime qualities, therefore affecting the finished whisky and giving it the signature from that specific region.

There are five steps to a finished product: malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation, and maturation.

MALTING: Barley is germinated during this step, converting the starches into fermentable sugars. It is then arrested by drying the barley in a kiln, usually over a peat fire, for 24 – 36 hours.  The longer in the kiln, the more smoke influence in the finished product. Peat is simply decomposed plant life, usually heather. Before being used in the kiln, the peat is pressed and dried.

MASHING: The dried grain, now known as malt, is milled into a coarse flour called grist. The grist is then mixed with hot water in a mash-tun where the conversion of starch into sugar is completed. This sugary liquid is now known as wort. The wort is next transferred into huge vats (washbacks) for fermentation.

FthreeERMENTATION: Yeast (unique to each distillery) is added to wort.  The sugars in the wort are converted into a low-proof alcohol known as wash.  This process takes 48 – 72 hours (average), some distilleries fermentation cycles are lower or higher.

DISTILLATION: The Wash is put in copper pot stills and distilled twice. The first distillation is the wash still with the spirit vaporizing, condensing to produce low wines. The second distillation in the spirit still consists of three cuts; only the middle- the heart- of the run is pure enough for maturation. The usable spirit is called “new make spirit” and sent on for maturation.

MATURATION: The new make spirit is aged in oak barrels or casks for a minimum of three years and starts to pick up its color and flavor profile. A ten-year maturation or longer period is typical for single malts of high quality. During aging, 1% – 3% of the spirit will evaporate each year; this is simply known as the “angel’s share”. Oak barrels or casks play a significant role during maturation; as much as 60% of the whisky’s flavor comes from the wood influence. Some distilleries use only sherry casks in their maturation process; however the vast majority will use used bourbon or Tennessee whiskey barrels since bourbon and Tennessee whiskey can only be produced in new charred oak barrels.

TwoThe Scots in the whisky industry are highly dedicated to their heritage, passionate about quality and committed to excellence.  All of this magic is fused from three basic ingredients, time, place, and environment.

Slainte Mhath! (pronounced Slan-Je-Va) – meaning “good health to yours” in Gaelic.

Russ Kempton, CSS, is a Distilled Spirits Educator conducting spirits education, training, seminars, tastings, events, dinners, and consulting throughout the United States. He also holds the Certificate of Expertise in the Sales & Service of Scotch Whisky, received in Edinburgh on one of his 5 journeys to Scotland.

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Guest Post: The Resurgence of Geek Wines!

geek winesToday we have a guest post from Houston Wine Educator James Barlow, CS, CWE. James shares with us how its a great time to be in the wine business!

It is a great time to be in the wine industry in the United States.  American consumers are more educated and adventurous than they have ever been.  There is now a willingness to step outside the box when buying wine which shows a changing of the guard is in progress.   The newer consumers are starting to seek out ‘geek wines’ rather than buying the standard Cabernet, Chardonnay, or Merlot.

As a Wine Professional, it is my job to guide the customer into a bottle that will not only give them pleasure, but also expand their palate and open up their eyes to new experiences with wine.  I have found that this is becoming easier because customers are now seeking me out and asking the question that every wine geek loves to hear:  Sell me a wine that I have never tried.  When I hear these lovely words, inevitably, my mind starts racing with varietals that are off the beaten path.  These are some of the wines that are starting to gain traction in the US market that consumers and sommeliers alike are starting to ‘Geek Out’ on.

geek wines 2One such varietal is Assyrtiko.  This eclectic varietal is catching on like wild fire in the wine community.  It is a dry to bone dry grape that has become famous for its smoky characteristics from the volcanic Island of Santorini.  The wine is quite versatile as it may be oaked or (more often) un-oaked.  Assyrtiko has been called the most terroir driven wine in the world.  It has bracing acidity and with citrus lemon lime and yellow apples flavors that are compounded by earthy minerals such as ash, flint, lava and gun smoke.  Warmer vintages allow for more stone fruits to come forward in the flavor profile.  The finish on the wine is typically clean and somewhat haunting.  It is becoming popular due to its fuller body which allows the wine to pair well with numerous dishes.

Sauvignon Blanc drinkers are also looking for something new, which gives me an opportunity to show off some obscure grapes that have similar characteristics.   Sylvaner (Silvaner) is one such grape that is starting to become popular from Germany, Austria, or France.  In fact, Silvaner has gained so much traction that in 2006 Alsace gave the varietal Grand Cru status in the vineyard of Zotzenberg.  I had the pleasure of trying several versions of this varietal while traveling through the Pfalz this past summer.  I was stunned at the beauty and terroir that these wines exuded.   The varietal is usually un-oaked and high in acid, yet the grape is fairly neutral so the characteristics of the soil really sing in the ensuing wine.  In Germany, Weingut Hans Wirsching Silvaner from Franken is producing stellar Silvaner that is worth seeking out.  This zingy white is best known for being grown in the Rheinhessen or the Palatinate (Pfalz).  While Austria is most likely its original home, only minimal acreage is devoted to the grape now, but is high quality and deliciously dry when one can find it.

geek wines 4Light, refreshingly whites are becoming the trend, leaving the heavy, oaky Chardonnays in the dust.  Melon de Bourgogne is one such varietal that is famously known to be produced in the region of Muscadet in the Loire Valley on the coast of France facing the Atlantic Ocean.  It can really thrive in the schistous soils of the region.  The grape is rarely blended with other varietals thus keeping the purity of the flavor profile.  One process used to enhance complexity in Muscadet is ‘Sur Lie’ aging.  This process is implemented by leaving the wine on the dead yeast cells which gives the wine a nutty, creamy complexity that softens the acids, adds richness and often just a hint of sparkle to the finished wine.  Over 80% of all production comes from Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine; these wines are meant for early consumption and pair perfectly with light seafood dishes.

Rose’s sales are exploding, yet some drinkers still prefer red wines.  Grignolino, which means grape seeds, is an Italian red grape that can often be a bridge between the two styles.  One can find Grignolino in California (Heitz makes an excellent Rose), but it is primarily found in the Piedmont region of Italy.  The wine is pale red and borders on Rose in color.  It has medium to high acidity and light to medium tannins.  Its profile shows sour bing cherries and raspberry with hints of minerality throughout the core.  It is meant to be drunk young and slightly chilled, which is perfect for the hot summer weather.  I open a bottle of Grignolino every Thanksgiving because it pairs perfectly with fowl.  A top producer is Marchesi Incisa Della Rocchetta.

geek wines 1Several geeky red wines are now coming into the spotlight.  I have been quite surprised and ecstatic to see interest in the lightly sweet sparkling wines of Bugey Cerdon.    Bugey Cerdon is fully sparkling and made mostly from Gamay (Beaujolais) and Poulsard.  The wine is produced Methode Ancestrale which skips the disgorgement step and allows the wine to naturally finish fermentation in the bottle.  This method typically will have residual sugars left over.  Bugey Cerdon pairs wonderfully with softer chocolates or fresh fruits.  Bottex is a small producer that is making high quality wine from Savoie.

Wine Professionals have found an alternative to the high priced reds of Burgundy with Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) from Germany.  Burgundy has had several very high quality vintages, yet dangerously low yield in the past several years.  This has allowed Spätburgunder to come to the fore front in the world of Pinot Noir.  The Pfalz and Rheingau are hot spots where the varietal thrives.  Spätburgunder is usually lightly oaked or aged in a neutral vessel with excellent acidity and light tannins.  The ensuing wines are deliciously vibrant in youth.  Pinot Noir from Germany has proven that it can rival some of the best in the world.  Knipser is one of my favorite producers with their Blauer Spätburgunder.

‘Geeky’ varietals are becoming the trend for wine drinkers to seek out.  It has become hip to be a ‘wine geek’ with knowledge about what is in the bottle.  The American wine drinkers are becoming very savvy shoppers.  I find that it is much easier to steer a potential buyer into something other than the standard varietal and, more importantly, they are coming back for more.  Cheers to the future of the American Wine Geek!

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 recognized 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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Guest Post: Traveling in time at Château De Laubade Armagnac

IMG_0241Today we have a guest post from Hoke Harden, CSS, CWE. Hoke is well-known to SWE members as one of the contributors to the original CSS Study Guide and a popular (and highly-rated) conference speaker. Hoke invites us to travel back in time with a visit to Château de Laubade in Armagnac, and taste France’s oldest brandy, made by time-honored traditions now codified into law.

Located in the departement of Gers in the Gascogne region of south-west France, situated in the verdant rolling foothills of the Midi-Pyrénées, Armagnac hews to the old ways to make a unique rustic and earthy brandy celebrated the world over.

Brandy began here on the many small family farms dotted across the landscape. Thrifty landholders naturally cultivated wine grapes amongst their other crops so good, basic drinking wine could grace their tables. Eventually, the wine found its way into brandy—although most of the farms were too modest to have their own distillery and each year they waited until a local distiller could hitch up his portable still and take it to each farm for custom distillation.

Thus custom and tradition created an agreement on basic methods of brandy production, but allowed, even encouraged, a fiercely independent style by each small-batch producer, since most of the brandy would remain for family consumption, unlike its famous northern neighbor, Cognac, which was focused primarily on commercial exports. Today, the commercial houses of Armagnac remain fairly small concerns, with each having its own way of doing things, but all bound by the officiating body of the Bureau National Interprofessionel du Armagnac.

IMG_0242Château De Laubade, located in the tiny village of Sorbets in the Bas-Armagnac AOC, is a storybook picture of a place, with its gated entrance, sturdy round tower and ancient mottled brick buildings leading to a fanciful Normandy-style chateau from 1870 perched on a hill to view the sweeping expanse of vineyards in the valley below.

These well-tended vineyards are essential, for only they are used for Château De Laubade’s Armagnacs. After the upheavals of phylloxera and oidium that devastated French vineyards, Armagnac recovered and settled in with several approved varieties, but at Laubade, only the four key varieties are allowed: Ugni Blanc, known in Italy as Trebbiano, a workhorse grape;  Folle Blanche, a delicate and floral variety that is susceptible to rot and difficult to farm; Baco Blanc, a French-American hybrid cross between Folle Blanche and Noah intended to give the character of Folle Blanche without the problems; and Columbard, which in this terroir provides impressively spicy and herbal characters to the blend.

Each year the varieties are harvested, fermented, distilled and barreled individually, to be aged and blended by the master distiller into the various Armagnacs the estate produces.

Originally, all distillation in Armagnac was done in a pot-and-column continuous copper still , an alembic Armagnacais, so only one distillation was required to gain sufficient alcohol strength and clarity. Today, any type of distillation is permissible; most distillers use the traditional method, others use the alembic double-distillation approach, depending upon style preferences.

IMG_0240Another traditional touch comes in with the choice of barrel. The Armagnacais traditionally prefer initial aging, from six months to a year, in a local black oak heavy in tannin from the nearby forest of Monlezun, then transferring the eau-de-vie to lighter, finer-grained, and older, more subtle toasted oak barrels from such sources as Limousin and Tronçais for continued but more elegant development.

The minimum aging to be designated Armagnac is one year, but most are blends of much, much older brandies to create the various VSOP, Reserve, XO, Hors d’Age and other well-matured designations.  Armagnac has also continued the tradition of maintaining single-vintage and single-variety releases, with the proviso that any single-vintage must be a minimum of ten years in barrel prior to release.

To maintain blending stocks, and to retard the loss of precious alcohol through evaporation in barrel, when a brandy has gained all it can from the barrel, it is racked into large bulbular glass demi-johns, which are then placed in the most revered cellar location, referred to as Le Paradis—Paradise.  These will be doled out in miniscule amounts and used judiciously to enhance new blends with added depth and nuance.

In one of the more remarkable tastings I have been fortunate enough to enjoy, a master distiller at Chateau de Laubade took me through three levels of sampling.

IMG_0246First, he provided four samples of eau-de-vie from the 2013 vintage which had received no barrel treatment: Ugni Blanc, Baco Blanc, Folle Blanche and Columbard. The differences among the ‘naked’ eau-de-vies were immediate, impressive and actually somewhat startling. The Ugni Blanc was lean, tight, mineral, and tartly, astringently acidic. The Baco was the reverse of that coin, rich, earthy, full in the mouth and expansive. The Folle Blanche was wonderfully floral, light, and bright and lively.  And the Columbard was impressively spicy and tangy and strong with herbal coriander-seed aromas.  Even from this rough and undeveloped primal state, one could easily see the wide range of possibilities a blending could take in the hands of a master.

For the second step, the master distiller brought out four more wines—again, the four basic varieties, but this time they were individually barrel-aged samples: an Ugni Blanc and Baco Blanc from the 1994 Vintage, a Columbard from the 1995 vintage, and a Folle Blanche from 2001.

Again, the differences were immediate and amazing. The mature Ugni Blanc had become forceful and deeply colored, but had maintained that almost steely intensity and structure it showed originally. The Baco, on the other hand, had become even richer, more rounded, and significantly more earthy, with an umami-mushroom undertone. The Columbard had deepened and strengthened its herbal-spice focus, tightened its structure, and had become one of the most singularly expressive Columbards I had ever experienced. And the Folle Blanche had developed a lacy, fruit-floral elegance and airiness that was lovely to linger over.  Again, one could consider the infinite possibilities of mingling these creatures into a master blend.

IMG_0258For the last stage of the tasting we strolled over to the chateau and in the midst of the lavishly decorated sitting room, overlooking the vineyards, I was offered my choices of a dazzling array of bottles from the offerings of Château De Laubade.  While wishing I had the fortitude to taste each and every one of these precious mahogany brandies, I restrained myself—with difficulty–to only a few select choices:  an XO with 15 to 25 years of age; an XO l”Intemporel No. 5 with 25-50 years; a vintage 1990; a vintage 1983; and as a finale, a vintage 1942, a brandy I simply could not resist.

The import of the previous tastings varietal tastings became evident , for with these armagnacs I could discern the contribution of the varietal characters as well as the resonance and depth that maturity brought to the marriage.  The firm linear structure of Ugni Blanc was enhanced by Baco’s warm, earthy richness, with the spice-lash of Columbard coming up from below and the lacy aromatics of Folle Blanche wafting above, and all coming together in the center with four made one and sum magnificently greater than parts.

In the two XO’s, differences of age showed clearly. The younger  XO was lighter, brighter, with more citrus and flower and orchard fruit shining clearly, only beginning to show the tinges of oncoming maturity along the edges. The older No. 5 Intemporel, with obvious and welcome richness from Baco, was profoundly deep and brooding, redolent of dried orange peel, savory mince, and prunes vying with old leather, cocoa, and baking spices, and lingered for the longest time.

IMG_0257The 1990 Laubade, a worthy reminder of the worldwide excellence of that vintage, was still bright and lively with apricot fruit, laced with firm acids, and showing the ability to age gracefully for many, many years.  Again, the striking elements of structure, earthiness, spice and flower were all present. Think of the 1990 as an Audrey Hepburn Armagnac: always young, always charming, teasing, enticing and never out of style.

The 1983 Laubade was more abundant, with more heft and weight and substance, with the feeling it was just now beginning to hit its prime. The foundation of Ugni and Baco were clearly there, with the Baco deepening and mellowing, yet, oddly enough, allowing more room for the spicy-herbal Columbard and faint floral perfume of Folle Blanche to “fill in the spaces” seamlessly, showing the pure mastery of the blender’s art coupled with the seasoning of age.

The 1942 Laubade was a quiet work of art, a gentle, soft, round, warm delight. Initially a bit tentative, it warmed and expanded in the mouth, and the post-nasal aromatics effulgently stimulated the senses. There is something profound in a brandy that bridges the years, that connects you to a time before you were born and like an old film or photo album calls up glimpses of things you never experienced.

In 1942 France had been ignominiously conquered by archenemy Germany, had the heart of its country occupied, with the pitiful remainder shoved into Vichy. The devastating war was flaring even higher, spreading all over the world.  Times were still difficult in Gascony but the land endured, as did the people, and there was even guarded optimism for a brighter future. Grapes still had to be harvested, wine made, brandy distilled.

IMG_0262This Armagnac was a sign of that future; made in hard times, perhaps it would be consumed in far better times. Such is the cloaked power of a well-made brandy, made reverent with age.  And such is the power of Château De Laubade Armagnac that 70 years later the brandy remained vibrant and alive – while the distant past was only dull regret and faded memory.

About the author: An enthusiastic lover of wine and spirits, Mr. Harden left a career in academia to follow his other muse for the last 27 years, trekking around the world to the great producing regions. Recently referred to as a veritable walking omnibus of wine and spirits knowledge, he has experienced every possible facet of the world of wine and spirits as a retailer, restaurateur, bartender, buyer, wholesaler, supplier, marketer, critic, writer, competition judge and an educator. He is currently with Elixir Vitae Wine & Spirits Consultants, a member of the Society of Wine Educators, Wine & Spirits Instructor at Mt. Hood Community College, and a Master Instructor with the French Wine Academy.

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Guest Post: Onward to Trentino

Frescoed palazzo in Trento

Frescoed palazzo in Trento

Today, we have another guest post from New York Wine Educator Paul Poux, CSW, as he finishes his trip to Italy with a wine tour through Trentino!  Click here to read about the first part of his trip.

Trento – what a beautiful, impressive town, stuffed full of handsome Medieval palazzi, many of them frescoed – on the outside! After several days in chilly Alto Adige, we had returned to the Italy that we knew, and basked in the warmer temperatures and cheery “Buongiornos!” that we realized had been absent in the north.

That night, at a casual pizzeria alongside a piece of the Medieval city’s old wall, I only saw three wines on the menu, all by the glass: a white, red, and a Franciacorta. I of course ordered the Franciacorta, but what arrived was Trento DOC, a local product, and like Franciacorta, a traditional method sparkling. Its fine bubbles and Trento origin felt perfectly right to me – more so since I had a tasting the next day at the Trento DOC offices.

Schloss Tirolo

Schloss Tirolo

It’s actually “Trentodoc,” one word without spaces, explains Sabrina Schench, the director of promotion. I compliment her on the name since I think it’s a clever way to refer to itself. “It doesn’t sound like we are a doctor?” she asks uncertainly.

Awarded its DOC in 1993, two years before Franciacorta, Trentodoc has its vineyard zones in the cooler hills above Trento and allowed grapes are Chardonnay, Pinot Nero and Pinot Meunier, with Chardonnay dominant.  Trentodoc offerings range from non-vintage Brut aged at least 18 months on the lees to 24 months for Vintage brut to at least 36 months for a Riserva.

I tasted 15 brut and brut zero (“dosaggio zero”) wines dating back as far as 2004 and amidst the stream of what Trentodoc calls “tiny and persistent” bubbles I found neutral aromas but in many a delicious flavor of golden delicious apples. Why was I chasing Franciacorta when I had discovered a unique and refined wine right here in Trento?

Trentodoc tasting lineup

Trentodoc tasting lineup

Trentodoc produces 7 million bottles that are mostly consumed within Italy. They are outgunned in the promotion game by Franciacorta (14 million bottles) and by Prosecco (245 million) and they know it. They are planning outreach to parts of the US market in 2015 and realize it is going to take time. But to show me what is possible within Italy, they sent me to Ferrari.

Giulio Ferrari was the first to make traditional method sparkling wine in the area, over 100 years ago. He visited and studied Champagne’s methods and planted the first cuttings he brought back. His sparkling production stayed small until he sold to the Lunelli family in 1952.

Ferrari’s subsequent success has inspired almost 40 other Trentodoc producers but Ferrari is the largest, at 5 million bottles responsible for 70% of Trentodoc production.

Cantine Ferrari

Cantine Ferrari

The visitors’ center for Cantine Ferrari announces that it is not just a winery but something approaching a fashion brand. Red carpet runways lead past photo collages of boldface names enjoying Ferrari Trentodoc: Donatella Versace, Jessica Alba, Woody Allen, Andy Warhol, even Margaret Thatcher.

Camilla Lunelli, a member of the family who have owned Ferrari since 1952, is warm and welcoming. She assures us that it is a Ferrari Trentodoc, not Franciacorta, that is served at the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic, and to the Italian national soccer team.

I tasted four of Ferrari’s offerings, from the Ferrari Brut NV ($25), with a characteristic green apple flavor, to the Riserva Lunelli 2004 ($60 but not commonly available in the US), aged 8 years, that possessed remarkable earthy and umami aromas.

Why do Americans not know more about Ferrari and about Trentodoc?

Lunelli says the answer is somewhat complicated: “First we have to say what we are not. We are not Champagne. We are not Franciacorta. And we are not Prosecco.”

Pauls headshotOur guest blogger, Paul Poux, CSW, finds joy in combining food, wine and travel. Paul provides wine education ‘experiences’  to Millennials for wine brands and regions; and does marketing and sponsor management for food and wine festivals around the country.

Paul’s favorite wines are Amarone and Muscadet. Tell him yours at paul@pouxcompany.com

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Guest Post: Hiking and Sipping Through Alto Adige

Lago di Resia

Lago di Resia

Today we have a guest post from New York Wine Educator Paul Poux, CSW. Paul was lucky enough to take a summertime trip to Italy’s northernmost wine regions, and he is letting us come along for the ride! Read on for Paul’s fascinating account of this trip to Alto Adige and beyond:

I was determined to not drink Pinot Grigio until my trip to Alto-Adige.

Wouldn’t I have my fill of it then? It was the wine I recognized most from the region. Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige, with its mineral zing, was refreshing in the New York summer heat. It kept showing up at home, in our monthly wine club shipment and in the trips my dog (and husband) would make to Trader Joe’s NYC store. Our upstate NY store carried 4 wines from Trentino-Alto Adige, all whites, 2 of them Pinot Grigio. And the most recognized Pinot Grigio in the US, Santa Margherita, is from the region.

But when I got to the Alto-Adige, and then Trentino, I saw little Pinot Grigio in stores and on wine lists. The regional website, AltoAdigeWines.com, barely mentions the varietal.

What gives?

I had already had my wine world knowledge tweaked my first night in Milan, at a local trattoria. I chose a Franciacorta from the list, which, when in Milan, is a locally sourced wine from Lombardy. I love sparkling wine and had only had Franciacorta DOCG, once. It was the first night in Italy and I felt like celebrating! But what arrived was not bubbly but a still white wine. The menu had read “Franciacorta,” but the bottle said, “Curtefranca DOC.” I later learned that the Curtefranca DOC was created in 2008 for still whites and reds, to prevent just this sort of confusion. Luckily this Curtefranca Bianco from Ca’ del Bosco, one of the most famous producers in the region, was comforting and cool.

Kellerei Bolzano

Kellerei Bolzano

The next day we drove to Alto-Adige, in a blinding rainstorm coupled with the stop-and-go traffic expected on a Saturday in late July, what the Italians call the “esodo d’estivo” – the summer exodus. The swollen Adige River raced alongside the Autostrada and through sheets of rain I could see the vertical cliffs of the Dolomites. The Dolomite Mountains are compressed coral reefs, rich in calcium and acidity. Grapevines in Guyot and pergola formation cover the valley floor and stretch above in steep terraces, from 600 to 3,300 feet above sea level. Apple orchards and castles perched on hillsides fill in the few remaining spaces. As we ascended into the mountains, the rain abated, then stopped. The Dolomites form rings around parts of the region and we could see storm clouds hovering on the far side of the mountains, not able to advance. During our trip, we received very little rain, while the rest of Northern Italy had storms day after day. Some growing areas in the region receive 300 days of sunshine a year.

Our hotel was in the village of Tirolo, about an hour northwest of Bolzano, the capital. Tirolo gave the town and the entire region its name: Alto-Adige is called Südtirol in German. Alto-Adige was part of Austria until 1918, and it is still Italy in name only. The primary language is German. The food, such as the bread dumplings called knodel, is Austrian. All the tourists were from Germany. The architecture is picture-perfect “Sound of Music,” chalet-style houses with colorful flowers spilling out of balcony windowboxes. In every village, spotless cobbled streets frame beautiful clock towers that ring on the quarter-hour, all day and all night.  Not great if you are trying to sleep, but it means you don’t miss breakfast, either.

Hiking the Dolomites

Hiking the Dolomites

Dinner that night was – finally – an introduction to two of the wines of the region. A perfumed Gerwürztraminer from Cantina Tramin glittered gold in our glasses as the sun set. The town of Tramin claims the grape originated there. It was lower in acid and left a slight bitterness on my tongue. Our next wine, an inky Lagrein Riserva from Cantina Meran, showed black fruit, tobacco and some chocolate. It took me a while to learn to pronounce it as the locals do, la-GRYNE. This was my first good taste of this full-bodied wine from an indigenous grape, and I loved it, although it too was low in acidity, and slightly bitter on the finish.

The next day was spent hiking, where we had our introduction to a “rifugio” hut. These are located way up the mountains and are a destination for hikers, who can eat lunch or stay overnight. I was imagining a one-room shack staffed by an elderly couple who would share their cheese and charcuterie; so I was delighted when we arrived at a modern restaurant overlooking a mountain lake and surrounded by waterfalls and patches of snow. We ordered lunch and a bottle of Vernatsch, the indigenous varietal that accounts for 20% of Alto-Adige’s wine output. This wine (called Schiava in Italian and Trollinger in Germany) is Maraschino cherry-colored with strong candied fruit aromas. When sniffing it I was sure it was semi-sweet but it’s a dry wine, served chilled. It seems not to be taken very seriously except by its producers, but it proved a perfect pairing with my knodel soup. It felt good to be eating and drinking, not hiking. Two of the many dogs in the restaurant started barking at each other. We made friends with others at our farmer’s table. All was good at the top of the mountain.

Alto Adige has 8 DOCs and no DOCGs, and 75% of its output carries the “Südtirol” DOC designation, stamped on the label and on the top of the capsule, a great regional branding technique. Varietal name(s) are usually added to the label.

Piazza Walther in Bolzano

Piazza Walther in Bolzano

The day we descended from our fairy-tale village to visit Bolzano, we were almost sorry: this pretty, cheery town was crowded with vacationers and the line to see Otzi, the preserved Neolithic man recovered in 1991 from a retreating glacier, wound around the block.  So we walked, visited the local Medieval castle, and visited wineries since grapevines are strung in and around Bolzano. Vineyards planted in the local soils of quartz porphyry produce high-quality Lagrein, which is becoming the ‘it’ wine of the region, supplanting other grapes and even apple orchards. But at Kellerei Bozen and other cooperatives, and at the many wineries on the “Strada del Vino dell’Alto Adige,” a range of wines is on offer, not just LaGrein, Vernatsch and Gewürtztraminer but accomplished Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, and commonly a blend of all three; Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon; and traditional red blends and blends that incorporate Lagrein.  But I hardly saw Pinot Grigio: I don’t think much of it is consumed locally.

But it was time for a palate cleanser. We were ready to head south to Trentino and its capital, Trento. To follow us along on our trek, tune back in tomorrow and we’ll take you on a tour of Trentino!

 

Pauls headshotOur guest blogger, Paul Poux, CSW, finds joy in combining food, wine and travel. Paul provides wine education ‘experiences’  to Millennials for wine brands and regions; and does marketing and sponsor management for food and wine festivals around the country.

Paul’s favorite wines are Amarone and Muscadet. Tell him yours at paul@pouxcompany.com

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Guest Post – On the Weinstrasse: Pfalz

Today we have a guest post from Houston-based Wine Educator James Barlow, CS, CWE. James’ article describes an amazing trip he recently took along the Wine Route in the Palantinate. Read on!

Old Town Neustadt

Old Town Neustadt

Nestled comfortably in the Haardt Hills, which is an extension of France’s Vosges Mountains, is the exquisite town of Neustadt. The town happens to be the central point for the 85-kilometer long German Wine Route (“Weinstrasse”) through the Palantinate.  I recently spent two weeks in this fascinating area.

Established in 1935, this is the oldest of the German wine routes. The ‘trail’ is a windy road that delivers you past many of the great wineries and famous vineyard sites throughout the region. The Weinstrasse has the most expansive array of vineyards that I have ever encountered.  The drive is breathtaking as it winds through historic wine villages such as Forst and Bad Durkenheim, which holds the largest wine festival in the world.

The picturesque Haardt hills and Palatinate forest provide a stunning backdrop for the various varietals grown in the Pfalz. The trail starts right near the French border of Alsace with the symbolic German Wine Gate in the town of Schweigen-Rechtenbach.  It is made of sandstone which is also the main soil structure throughout the Weinstrasse.  There is a

The Wine Gate in Schweigen-Rechtenbach

The Wine Gate in Schweigen-Rechtenbach

rather unique tasting room with an abundance of excellent wine to sample and buy.  The trail ends at the House of the German Wine Route in Bockenheim an der Weinstrasse.  The Rhine River flows lazily through the area as it continues onward through Germany.

One common theme with the wine of the Pfalz was that most of the wines were Trocken (dry). The typical American consumer often has a stigma with German wines thinking that they are all syrupy sweet and uncomplicated.  The Pfalz wines are quite the opposite with most being dry and deliciously complex.  The reason that dry wines are common throughout this region is that it is one of the hottest in Germany and therefore the grapes can ripen to a greater degree.  The ensuing wines created can range from off dry to completely bone dry.

I had the distinct pleasure of traveling the entirety of the Weinstrasse as well finding quaint towns a little off the main road. St. Martin was one such town that we decided to visit.  Our guide’s favorite winery, Weingut Egidiushof, was located here and recommended that we try the wines.  The town’s name came from the huge sandstone church of St. Martin, with its statue of the saint overlooking the town.

The people of Weingut Egidiushof were very hospitable as we sat down in the small tasting room to try a plethora of selections such as Silvaner, Riesling, and Muller Thurgau. The whites had a common theme as all of them had a distinct tropical fruit bouquet, were un-oaked, and had good acidity. They produced some delightfully light reds with the Blauer Portugieser being the best of the bunch.  It, in fact, was the wine that we drank while watching Germany eliminate Argentina in the World Cup Final.  The wine was light bodied (like a Pinot Noir) with an easy acidity and vibrant fresh red fruits that reminded me of a Cru Beaujolais.

The Wine Village of Wachenheim

The Wine Village of Wachenheim

The crown jewel winery of the entire trip was actually in the Haardt hills of Neustadt. The winery was called Muller Catoir.  It is managed by 9th generation owner Philipp David Catoir (pronounced Kat wah) and the vineyards have been in the family since 1774. Muller Catoir is part of the VDP system in Germany.  This system holds the wineries to a higher standard of quality which include lower yields and typically hand harvesting.The quality wines at this winery were second to none.

The wine maker, Martin Franzen, is from the Mosel and makes a true effort to showcase terroir and varietal character. Five wines were tasted, starting with the Haardt Dry Riesling 2013. It showed an abundance of tropical fruit with vivacious acidity.  The Haardt Muskateller (Muscat a Petite Grains) 2013 was brilliant and a wine to seek out for summer.  My personal favorite was the Haardt Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) 2012 which offered sleek acidity to pair with the delicious bright fruits and just a kiss of oak.  Spätburgunder is beginning to gain traction in the wine world with low yield, boutique wines that can rival Burgundy in quality.  The most interesting was the dessert wine Herzog Rieslaner Trockenbeerenauslese 2007.

The Hambach Castle and Vineyard

The Hambach Castle and Vineyard

Rieslaner is a cross of Silvaner and Riesling that is highly susceptible to Noble Rot. There is very little Rieslaner in the world and this vineyard is nestled in the Haardt hills, so a TBA wine is not able to be produced every vintage.  This wine was exceptional and rivaled the sticky Selection de Grains Nobles wines of Alsace.  The Haardt Riesling Kabinett 2013 was a surprise.  It had just a touch of residual sugar, but the wine was perfectly balanced by the backbone of acidity.  The minerality came to the forefront and gave the wine a striking personality.  All in all, Muller Catoir is a winery that is offering whites and reds of impressive quality that should be sought out.

Just outside of Neustadt in Wachenheim was another excellent producer called Weingut Dr. Burklin-Wolf. This winery is considered one of the three main quality wineries of note known as The Three B’s, the others being Von Buhl and Basserman-Jordan. Dr. Burklin-Wolf had excellent Rieslings that had definite aging potential, especially in the 2013 vintage.  The best of the selections tasted was the Wachenheim Altenburg Riesling 2013 which showed powerful acidity with precise citrus fruits and exquisite minerality.

The Pfalz wine country is an experience that one should definitely seek out if in Germany. The history and sheer volume of vineyards are enough to make a wine lover immediately start to geek out.  I had the pleasure of trying several wines like a Schwarzriesling Rosé

Neustadt, on the Wine Route in the Palatinate

Neustadt, on the Wine Route in the Palatinate

and Rubin Cuvee Halbtrocken Sparkling that I have never seen in the states.  The abundance of wineries throughout the wine road could keep any interested traveler busy for weeks.

Many can say that they have traveled through Paris, Champagne, and Burgundy, but how many can boast a trip through the picturesque Weinstrasse? I am thankful that I can.

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 recognized 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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Guest Post: Unveiling Bobal: A Journey of Discovery

Today we have a guest post from Nora Z. Favelukes! Nora tells us the story of how she became an instant fan of Bobal, and how she arranged to have a world-class flight of Bobal wines lined up for the upcoming SWE Conference in Seattle! 

Meson Las Rejas – Albacete,  Spain

Meson Las Rejas – Albacete, Spain

Five years ago while on a business trip to Spain I was introduced to Bobal. My host was Rafael (Rafa) Javega, the owner of Exitalia, a company dedicated to the promotion of Spanish wines worldwide.

During our long car rides, Rafael’s eyes would light up when talking about the Bobal grape variety. This spiked my curiosity to no end, so much so that Rafa arranged for me to meet the members of Primum Bobal – an association of 7 producers dedicated to the promotion of this grape. At the meeting, where I had the opportunity to taste a few of their wines, my love affair for Bobal was born.

A few months later, my second encounter with Bobal happened at Meson Las Rejas in Albacete, Spain. Albacete is a vibrant city in Castile-La Mancha. Luis Jimenez, President of La Mancha’s Association of Winemakers, had invited Rafa and I to what would become one of the most memorable dining experiences in my lifetime: an eight course dinner solely based on different types of edible mushrooms served both raw and cooked.

We doused this exquisite meal, prepared by Chef Miguel Martinez Vilora, with several bottles of Luis’ Cien y Pico ‘En Vaso’ Bobal – a powerful and rich wine. It was the perfect match!

Antonio Sarrion and Nora Favelukes at Mustiguillo

Antonio Sarrion and Nora Favelukes at Mustiguillo

On my subsequent trips to Spain, Rafa and I would always meet with Luis, who by then had become a mentor and a friend. Bobal was never too far from our conversations.

A Bi-Continental Tasting 

When I was asked by the Society of Wine Educators to host a seminar at the Annual Conference in Seattle I jumped at the opportunity to bring Bobal to the attention of the audience! One the date was confirmed the countdown started.

Rafa sent an open call to Bobal producers from Utiel Requena and Manchuela to submit samples. In the meantime Luis Gutierrez, the Wine Advocate’s reviewer on Spanish wines suggested I speak with Antonio (Toni) Sarrion from Bodega Mustiguillo, a leading expert on Bobal. From then on Toni and I exchanged numerous emails and little by little I was getting a larger and deeper picture on this unique grape.

On Monday April 7th, we conducted my first ever bi-continental tasting via …..Skype! Rafa Javega, Luis Jimenez, Toni Sarrion, and Santiago Garcia with the Exitalia team in Albacete, Spain connected via Skype with my QWWE team in New York City for the tasting. We all had the same set of samples and for the next 3 ½ hours we proceeded to taste the wines in real time – blind – with the goal of finding the ones that best conveyed the expression of this variety in its different categories.

Antonio Sarrion at Mustiguillo’s vineyards

Antonio Sarrion at Mustiguillo’s vineyards

The only information we knew was that the wines had been sorted by flights. After each wine was tasted, Luis, Toni, and Santiago gave their impressions. I would then ask probing questions with my investigative hat and, after an animated discussion on styles and types, we selected the winners for each of the flights. At the end of the tasting we had the wines for the Bobal seminar!

Going to THE SOURCE 

Early June, Rafa and I – like two Don Quixotes – embarked on what would become an exciting exploratory trip through the land of Bobal: Utiel Requena in Valencia.

We arrived on a late afternoon to Bodegas Mustiguillo in Utiel where for the first time Toni and I met. He immediately took us on a ride through his 70 + year old dry farmed bush Bobal vineyards. While he was pulling leaves and grabbing the soil with his hands, he gave us a master class on this emblematic, indigenous grape.

After visiting the winery and the impressive cellar we were invited to a dinner of traditional Spanish cuisine where Toni regaled us with a 1999 Bobal – his first vintage ever, a 2003 Bobal, the 2011 Finca Terrerazo and other incredible wines. I was surprised by the vibrancy of the color, the intensity of the fruit aromas and flavors and the concentration of these wines. Definitely, Bobal has great aging potential. Tasting those beautiful wines in such a great company was a clear reminder of why do we love so much our wine business.

Meeting with the producers of the DO Utiel Requena

Meeting with the producers of the DO Utiel Requena

A few weeks later, already back in New York, I learned that the 2011 Finca Terrerazo had been awarded by the Decanter World Wine Awards 2014 as the “Best in Show Red Spanish Varietals over £15” and was among the top 30 of over 15,000 wines from around the world. Did I mention that Finca El Terrerazo is 100% Bobal?

The following morning, Rafa and I left for the town of Utiel to meet with Jose Luis Robredo Hernandez, the President of DO Utiel Requena’s organization of producers. When we arrived they were all eager to hear about the Bobal seminar at the SWE Conference in Seattle and curious about the US market for imported wines. It was wonderful to see how interested they were about our country and its flourishing wine business.

 And then… “la pièce de résistance!”

Don Jose Luis Robredo Hernandez with two of his collaborators, Carmen Cárcel Pérez and Veronica Rodríguez, had arranged for a very special guided tour of the Lagar de las Pilillas, the oldest archeological site of an industrial winery in the Iberian Peninsula dating back to the VI century B.C…..over 2,600 years ago.

Archeologist Asuncion Martinez, Veronica Rodriguez,                           Carmen Carcel Perez and  Nora Favelukes at Las Pilillas

Archeologist Asuncion Martinez, Veronica Rodriguez,
Carmen Carcel Perez and Nora Favelukes at Las Pilillas

We could not have asked for a better or more passionate guide. Asuncion Martinez (Susy), the archeologist for the city of Utiel, has been working at Las Pilillas since its discovery decades ago. She climbed the hills like a goat, jumping from one stone to the other, showing us where the winemakers of that time did the crush. She also pointed out the pools (16 and counting), where the juice would flow down via gravity; how they worked with tree logs and special holes in the rock formations to pull, move, and stir; and finally, how they stored the wine in clay amphorae produced by a nearby factory. It was truly amazing to witness how an ancient tradition has been kept alive through the centuries. What a treat!

Nora Favalukes is the President of QW Wine Experts, a consulting firm she launched in 1995, which is dedicated to the nationwide public relations, marketing and sales of imported fine wines. In addition to representing clients such as Wines of Argentina, Wines from Brazil and Carolina Wine Brands, she serves as a consultant to a number of foreign producers and to import companies in the United States.  Nora will present her session, “Unveiling Bobal” at the 38th Annual Conference on the Society of Wine Educators on Thursday, August 14th in Seattle, Washington.