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.

 

Guest Post: Finding the Sweet Spot!

Today we have a guest post by Laura Lee-Chin, CSW, CSS, IWS. Laura tells us about her personal journey in discovering the interplay between Rhône varietals and chocolate – sounds like a delicious journey!

Finding the Sweet Spot: Rhône Varietals & Chocolate – My Personal Journey

By Laura Lee-Chin, CSW, CSS, IWS

Chocolate and wine 1Wine with chocolate is one of my favorite food pairings. I was curious about how the relationship between their tasting components can create delectable matches between wine and chocolate. What better way to learn more about this topic than to write about it? I had already planned a trip to France to visit my husband’s family, so I turned it into an opportunity to research wine and chocolate pairings.

But where to start with the research? Fortunately for me, I have French family members with friends in the chocolate business and have personally established some of my own connections in the wine world. After a few emails and phone calls, I had booked appointments at the Cité du Chocolat Valrhona and Paul Jaboulet Aine’s Vineum, both located in the northern Rhône Valley city of Tain-l’Hermitage, just one hour south of France’s gastronomy capital, Lyon.

My first appointment was at the Cité du Chocolat Valrhona, where I met the Directeur, Franck Vidal. I took a tour of the Cité du Chocolat’s museum and learned tremendously. Unlike wine, cacao grows best in the tropical climates. The continent with the largest production is Africa at 71%, with Ivory Coast making up 36% of the world’s chocolate growers. Not surprisingly, the United States is the world’s largest consumer of chocolate; our land of chocoholics  consumes 20% of the world supply in chocolate. I also learned that Valrhona sources its chocolate from several countries and has cacao plantations in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. What surprised me most about this tour is how similar the tasting procedure is to wine: it also is based on understanding the tasting components of sweet, sour/acid, salty, bitter, texture—and I would be tempted to add umami as well.

Jean-Luc Chapel tastes Valrhona chocolates with Jaboulet wines.

Jean-Luc Chapel tastes Valrhona chocolates with Jaboulet wines.

As luck would have it, my meeting with Vidal quickly turned into a spontaneous introduction and chocolate tasting session with Valrhona’s Corporate Pastry Chef Derek Poirier, a James Beard Foundation inductee for the 2014 Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America. I showed him an initial list of the types of wines and chocolates I was planning to use for the SWE conference and he immediately pulled out some chocolates to taste. We selected chocolates to take to the Paul Jaboulet Ainé (PJA) Vineum (tasting room and restaurant) the next day. Valrhona also committed to providing all of the chocolates for our SWE class. Sweet (quite literally)!

At Vineum, Jean-Luc Chapel, Prestige Account Manager for PJA, and I agreed upon a tasting strategy for the wines and chocolate—see “Simple Guidelines.” A sampling of our tasting notes is below. Coincidentally, English journalist and Decanter Contributing Editor Andrew Jefford happened to be at Jaboulet. The wine gods were smiling upon me once again, and PJA donated 5 wines for the SWE Conference.

Franck Vidal & Chef Derek Poirier in kitchen at Valrhona's culinary school.

Franck Vidal & Chef Derek Poirier in kitchen at Valrhona’s culinary school.

Overall, my research visit to find out about wine and chocolate in France ended up being a much deeper journey into tasting. If you’d like to learn more, I hope you will join us to learn more about the featured wines and chocolates to be tasted in Seattle on August 15th. Santé!

Laura Lee-Chin’s Simple Guidelines for Pairing Wine & Chocolate:

To make your tasting of wine and chocolate more memorable, here are some simple guidelines of wine and chocolate pairing:

  1. Select a wine that is sweeter than the chocolate. The percentage of chocolate can give you a general idea of its sweetness—a higher percentage of cacao in the chocolate will have a lower percentage of sugar.
  2. Lighter bodied wines can be paired more easily with light, creamy and smooth chocolate (milk).
  3. Full-bodied wines (especially ones with higher sweetness and fruit concentration) can be paired more easily with dark, rich and strong chocolate.
  4. Chocolate can also have tannins, so to avoid too much bitterness, pair it with a sweet, white wine or lighter-bodied fruity red.
  5. Everyone varies in their sensitivities and preferences for wine and chocolate, so use these suggestions above as a guide and enjoy exploring these pairings.

Chocolate flows freelyTasting Notes:  

In France at Paul Jaboulet Ainé (PJA) Vineum

Wine: 2010 PJA “La Paradou” Beaumes de Venise AOP (Rouge) – dry, ripe red fruit, floral (violet, red roses), leather, minerality, hint of black pepper on finish.

  • Chocolate: Bahibe 46 % Milk Chocolate – sweet milk and intense cocoa notes, fruity acidity, hint of nuttiness, and slightly bitter flavor.
  • Notes: Balanced acidity in wine enhances fruit, floral, and spice notes while chocolate provides contrasting nuttiness and creamy texture for wine.

Wine: 2010 PJA/Lagune “Evidence par Caroline” – dry, lilacs, blueberry, blackberry, cassis, earth, hint of cinnamon and mint, chalky tannins. (Not yet in U.S., but coming soon!)

  • Chocolate: Equatoriale Noire 55% Dark Chocolate – cocoa, vanilla, dark fruit notes.
  • Notes: A very interesting contrast of dark fruit and tropical notes. Wine brings out tropical notes of banana, coconut in chocolate, while chocolate displays dark fruit and silky texture in wine.

 

Customers waiting to take a bite out of the exhibit at the Cité du Chocolat Valrhona.

Customers waiting to take a bite out of the exhibit at the Cité du Chocolat Valrhona.

Bonus Liqueur: Chartreuse VEP (Exceptionally Prolonged Ageing) 15 yrs – sweet, mint, thyme, caramel, licorice, fresh cut grass.

  • Chocolate: Equatorial Noire 55% Dark Chocolate – cocoa, vanilla, dark fruit notes.
  • Notes: wine brings out cocoa, vanilla, dark fruit notes in chocolate, a lovely contrast to notes in wine.

Initial Tasting in California

Wine: 2010 Qupe Marsanne Santa Barbara County, California – dry, pineapple, citrus (lemon, lime) honeysuckle, butterscotch.

  • Chocolate: Valrhona Blond Dulcey 32% Dulce de Leche – biscuit, butterscotch, toasty, smooth & creamy texture.
  • Notes: Chocolate complements pineapple and citrus fruits along with creamy texture in wine.

Wine: NV Paringa Sparkling Shiraz South Australia – violets, bacon, dark fruits (plum, black cherry), spice (black pepper, clove).

  • Chocolate: Valrhona Le Noir Abinao 85% Dark Chocolate – mocha, dark cocoa, tannic, bitter.
  • Notes: Chocolate complements dark fruit and savory notes in wine.

chocolate laura and andrewWine: 2010 Domaine de Durban Muscat de Beaumes de Venise AOP France – floral (honeysuckle, jasmine, orange blossom), white peach, ripe citrus (lemon, lime).

  • Chocolate: Valrhona Ivoire 35% White Chocolate – milky, vanilla, creamy texture.
  • Notes: Chocolate draws out floral and peach notes emphasizing creamy texture in wine.

About the author: Laura Lee-Chin is an independent writer, wine educator and consultant. Laura is a featured wine and spirits writer for My Cookshelf.com and has contributed articles to the Caltech Women’s Club and other publications. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Specialist of Spirits with the Society of Wine Educators, an Italian Wine Specialist with the Associazione Italiana Sommelier and a WSET Diploma candidate with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, based in London. She is currently a member of the French Wine Society, Guild of Sommeliers, North American Sommelier Association, and Society of Wine Educators. Laura will be presenting her session, Finding the Sweet Spot: Rhône Varietals & Chocolate, on Friday, August 15th, at the 38th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators in Seattle, Washington.

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Guest Post: The Emperor’s Glass

This week, we have a guest post from Nick Poletto, DSW, CSS, CSW.  Nick gives us a bit of history and insight into the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin, as well as a preview of his session at this year’s SWE. Conference. 

“I was… under fierce and continuous canister fire… Many soldiers, now incessantly engaged in battle from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., had no cartridges left. I could do nothing but retreat…” —Lieutenant General Przhebishevsky

Napoleon victorious - NPThe year: 1805. The day: December 2nd. The fight: The Battle of Austerlitz. 

France was teetering on the edge of financial collapse and was about to fall to the hands of the Russo-Austrian army, commanded by Tsar Alexander I and Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. However, one man and one wine stood in their way. On this day, overlooking the battlefield of Austerlitz, Napoleon Bonaparte had outmaneuvered and beaten his enemy. He had saved France. He had saved Europe. He stood victorious, with one hand on his sword, and another holding a glass of Chambertin. The only wine fit for an Emperor.

A Royal Pedigree

The vineyards of Gevrey-Chambertin date back to 92AD when the Romans controlled the land. This makes Gevrey-Chambertin the oldest of all the Cote d’Or vineyards. The Gevrey village name derives from Gabriacus, its name during the Gallo-Roman era.  Gabriacus was first recorded in 640 AD. During this time, Duke Amalgaire of Burgundy gave this land to the Abbots of Beze, whose monks planted the first vines.

Shortly after this land was planted by the monks, a peasant by the name of Bertin decided that he too would plant vines on his neighboring and adjacent plot of land. His plot of land was called Campus, or Champ Bertin, which is the origin of Gevrey’s great Grand Cru vineyard: Chambertin.

Gevrey ChambertinThe fame of Gevrey-Chambertin and its ability to make such exquisite Pinot Noirs was later sealed by the decree of Louis-Philippe. In 1847, King Louis-Philippe granted the village of Gevrey the right to suffix its name with that of Chambertin. The town name was changed to Gevrey-Chambertin to let the world know the location of their best Pinot Noir vineyard. They were the first town to do this, but it was an idea that was later copied by many.

The Golden Slope

Gevrey-Chambertin is located at the northern part of the Cote d’Or and is considered the starting point for the finest vineyards in the area. It is notable for being the largest commune in the Cote de Nuits as well as holding the greatest number of Grand Cru vineyards. A total of nine Grand Crus can be found here: Chambertin, Chambertin Close de Beze, Chapelle-Chambertin, Charmes-Chambertin, Mazoyeres-Chambertin, Griotte-Chambertin, Latricieres-Chambertin, Mazis-Chambertin, Ruchottes-Chambertin.

It is not a coincidence that Gevrey-Chambertin has the greatest number of Grand Cru vineyards; their unique soil and climate dictate it. All nine Grand Crus sit on perfectly east facing, gently rolling hillside. With an elevation of 780-960 feet, these vines don’t feel the effect of valley frost. They are also protected from the wind-chill of the west by the forest above.

A 150 Million Year Old Destiny

V-R MapEach Grand Cru has a soil that is unique to that site. In general, each of Gevrey-Chambertin’s Grand Cru Vineyards are planted on compacted limestone that originates from the time of the dinosaurs – over 150 million years ago. As the dinosaurs died off, layers of sediment were created from the remains of sea lilies and sea creature fossils. This became the basis of the limestone and marl now found in Burgundy. It is this blessing of perfect soil that set forth Gevrey-Chambertin’s destiny millions of years ago.

The topsoil of the Grand Crus is widely diverse, allowing each Grand Cru to produce a unique wine. However, they all have one thing in common – they are some of the most sought-after and highly prized wines in the world.

Click on the link to download a pdf of  Gevrey-Chambertin’s Grand Cru vineyards (and the infamous Premier Cru, Clos Saint Jacques, as well). The Grand Crus of Gevrey-Chambertin

Re-match! Nick will be presenting his views of the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin, and defending their honor up against Don Kinnan and the wines of Vosne-Romaneé, at this year’s SWE Conference in Seattle. Don and Nick, as well as their perspective regions, will vie for the title of “Burgundy’s Best Reds” and will settle the controversy in a true courtroom fashion, presided over by Judge Missi Holle, CSS, CSW. You will be the jury as you weigh the presentation of evidence, taste the wines, and hear the ardent claims of the attorneys representing each side. The verdict will be yours. Will Gevrey, with its Napoleonic endorsement and 9 grands crus, take the title, or will Vosne-Romaneé with its glamour and reputation reign supreme? Join us in Seattle to find out!

Nick PolettoNick Poletto, CSS, CSW, DWS has an extensive wine background that includes studying abroad in both Italy and Argentina, working a harvest season at a winery in Martinborough, New Zealand, and teaching the WSET at Johnson and Wales University. Nick started his career at Kobrand as the company’s Massachusetts and Rhode Island Area Sales Manager and was promoted to Kobrand’s Director of Wine and Spirit Education in January 2012.

 

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Guest Post: Vines for Ransom

This week, we have a guest post from Don Kinnan, CSS, CWE. Don gives us a bit of history and insight into the wines of Vosne-Romanée, as well as a preview of his session at this year’s SWE. Conference.

“Whose vines are worth a ransom of $1.4 million?”   Read on to find out…

cn_image_size_vineyard-poisoningOn a cold day in early January, 2010, a letter arrived addressed to Monsieur Aubert de Villaine, co-director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.  In it, the writer threatened to poison the vines of the acclaimed Romanée-Conti vineyard, unless a ransom of one million Euros ($1.4 million) was paid.  In a second letter, a precise vineyard map was provided identifying 3 vines in the vineyard which had already been drilled and poisoned.  M. de Villaine contacted the local authorities, a “sting” operation was planned, and the perpetrator was apprehended.

The 4.47 acre Romanée-Conti vineyard rests in the heart of the village of Vosne-Romanée. The wines produced from the village’s vineyards are among the most sought in the world. The current price of a single bottle of the 2011 Romanée-Conti wine is $12,500.00, according the wine.searcher.com website.

What makes the wines of Vosne-Romanée so special?

Most critics point to its “terroir.” Terroir is that combination of physical factors embracing the grapevine and affecting the production of its resultant fruit, the grape.  Soil components, topography, and climatic conditions work together creating a unique environment that produces exceptional grapes for making the wines of Vosne-Romanée.

V-R MapThe ace in the hand Vosne has been dealt is its soil. An almost perfect mix of limestone marls laid down some 160 million years ago during the Jurassic period.  These ancient soils were brought to the surface with the same tumultuous forces that raised the Alps and Pyrenees, about  35 million years ago.  Subsequent faulting has resulted in the “shuffling” of Vosne’s deck,  causing a mixing of limestone layers from different epochs of the Jurassic.  Physical and chemical weathering over the past 10,000 years have put the finishing touches on what has been described as the “blue ribbon” recipe for ideal pinot noir growing soil.  Other parts of the Cote de Nuits have their own excellent recipes, but Vosne-Romanée reigns supreme.  That recipe is: a blend of white oolites, Premeaux marly limestone, and Calcaire a’ entroques  thickened by Ostrea accuminata marl.  This is covered with a topsoil and pebble layer, averaging 3-foot deep, on a gently sloping, eastward-facing incline, lying on fractured limestone bedrock.

What are the best growing sites in Vosne-Romanée?

We have already mentioned Romanée-Conti as the most coveted of Vosne’s vineyards.  What are the others?  Burgundy’s vineyards are among the most intensively studied in the world.  Benefitting from nearly one thousand years of monastic scrutiny, Burgundy’s best growing sites were formally classified with the implementation of the French AOC system in the 1930s.  The best vineyards, based upon their ability to consistently produces exceptional quality wines, are designated Grand Cru.  Within the borders of Vosne-Romanée  there are six Grand Cru vineyards.  Four of the six are “monopoles”, meaning that they have a single owner and that owner is the only producer of the wine.  This is a rarity in Burgundy due to the fractionalization of vineyard ownership.

The six Grands Crus are:

Romanée-Conti:    4.47 acres, 450 case average production, bottle price $12,500 (2011 vintage).    Monopole of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

  • V-R townShort History:- Tied to the Benedictine Priory of St-Vivant in 13th century;  purchased by the Croonembourg family in 1631; purchased by Prince de Conti in 1760; owned by Nicolas Defer in 1794; bought by Julien-Jules Ouvard in 1819; sold to descendants of present owners, Duvault-Blochet in 1869; in 1942, Henry Leroy purchased a 50% interest.  Currently, Aubert de Villaine and Henri-Federic Roch operate as co-directors of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
  • Notes of Interest:- The last vintage from ungrafted vines was 1945.  The vines were then 300-400 years old.  Replanting occurred in 1947.  No wine was declared under the Romanée-Conti AOC from 1946-1951 inclusive, due to replanting.  At present, the average age of the vines is 60 years of age.

La Romanée:  2.09 acres, 300 case average production, bottle price $4,132 (2012 vintage).  Monopole of Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair

  • Short History: Famous since the 14th century when it and Romanée-Conti might have been a single parcel.  Ever since 1835, La Romanée has been clearly distinguished from Romanée-Conti; acquired by the Liger-Belair family in 1815.  By agreement, Maison Bouchard Pere & Fils exclusively made and marketed the wine from 1976-2001. Between 2002 and 2005, the Liger-Belair family shared the wine with Bouchard.  As of 2006, complete production and marketing rests with Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair.
  • Note of Interest: La Romanée is the smallest appellation in the French AOC wine system.

MapLa Tache:  14.97 acres, 1600 case average production, bottle price $2091 (2011 vintage). Monopole of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

  • Short History: Owned by Jean-Baptiste Le Goux de la Berchere, president of the Parliament of Bourgogne from 1568-1631 and passed to his descendants until its confiscation by the government during the French Revolution. Ssold in 1794 to Claude-Francois Vienot-Rameau, who sold it to the Liger-Belair family in 1800;  purchased by Edmond Gaudin de Villaine of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in 1933.
  • Note of Interest: Vine age averages 55 years of age and 93% of the vineyard is in production.

La Grande Rue:  4.07 acres, 650 case average production, bottle price $485 (2012 vintage). Monopole of Domaine  Lamarche

  • Short history: The vineyard dates to the 15th century and has always enjoyed high regard;  purchased by the Marey family after the French Revolution.  Passed by marriage to the Liger-Belair family, and again, by marriage to the Champeaux family.  They sold it to Edouard Lamarche in 1933.  His grand- nephew, Francois Lamarche is the present owner.
  • Note of Interest: La Grande Rue was elevated to Grand Cru in 1992. In the 1930s, the owners did not apply for Grand Cru status because of tax implications.

V-R countrysideRichebourg:  19.83 acres, 3,000 case average production, bottle price $1400 (DRC 2011 vintage).

  • Short history: A large part of Richebourg was owned by the Cistercian monks in the 12th century.  The name of the vineyard was first recorded in 1512.  After the French Revolution, in 1791, it was sold to a Parisian banker, Jean Focard.  It was sold to several prominent families in the 19th century.  Ownership, today, is split among 11 owners, including, most prominently, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, who owns 44% of it.  Leroy is the next largest owner with 10%.
  • Note of Interest: Richebourg is considered the best of Vosne-Romanee’s grands crus, after Romanée-Conti, La Tache, and La Romanée.

Romanee St-Vivant:  23.32 acres, 3600 case average production, bottle price $1421 (DRC 2011 vintage)

  • Short history: Belonged to the Priory of St-Vivant, a dependency of the Cluny Benedictines in 1232. After the Revolution, was sold to Nicolas-Joseph Marey in 1791.  Descendants of Marey-Monge subsequently sold parts of Romanee St-Vivant to several prominent domaines in the 20th century, culminating in 1988 with the sale of 56% to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti for $10 million.  There are a total of 10 owners today.
  • Note of Interest: Romanée St-Vivant is the largest grand cru in Vosne-Romanée proper.

The best of the rest: Just below the rank of Grand Cru are the next best vineyards, referred to as Premier Cru. Vosne-Romanée is blessed with 14 premiers crus, including 3 climats located in the neighboring village of Flagey-Echezeaux which are sold under the Vosne-Romanée . Most notable of these premiers crus are: Aux Malconsorts, Cros Parantoux, Aux Reignots, Les Suchots, and Les Beaux Monts.

Postscript:  Nature has bequeathed to Vosne-Romanée an almost perfect environment to produce Burgundy’s finest red wines. The humans who care for these cherished vines are of the highest order and see themselves as caretakers of a sacred trust. The result has been acknowledged by wine connoisseurs worldwide and is demonstrated by the market demand for these wines. The value of that which is unique and superlative in its category is clearly seen in the prices being paid by those desiring possession. Truly, Vosne-Romanée stands as the crown jewel of Burgundy’s red wines.

Click here for a copy of: Tasting Notes for the Vosne-Romanée Grands Crus from Allen Meadows

Don KinnanDonald P. Kinnan, CSS, CWE has been in the fine wine trade for over 30 years. In 1985, after a successful military career, he joined Kobrand Corporation as a sales manager and, in 1992 was promoted to Director of Education. As such he was responsible for Kobrand’s wine and spirits education programs nationwide for over 20 years.  Don is a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Wine Educators and currently serves on the organization’s Executive Committee.

Re-match! Don will be presenting his views of the wines of Vosne-Romanée, and defending their honor up against Nick Poletto and the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin, at this year’s SWE Conference in Seattle. Don and Nick, as well as their perspective regions, will vie for the title of “Burgundy’s Best Reds” and will settle the controversy in a true courtroom fashion, presided over by Judge Missi Holle, CSS, CSW. You will be the jury as you weigh the presentation of evidence, taste the wines, and hear the ardent claims of the attorneys representing each side. The verdict will be yours. Will Gevrey, with its Napoleonic endorsement and 9 grands crus, take the title, or will Vosne-Romaneé with its glamour and reputation reign supreme? Join us in Seattle to find out!

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Guest Blogger: Alsace – The Unheralded King of White Wines!

Rue Mercière in Strasbourg

Rue Mercière in Strasbourg

Today we have a guest post from Houston-based Wine Educator James Barlow, CS, CWE. James article is all about the glory that is Alsatian wine – and an attempt to understand why more wine professionals and consumers alike don’t seem to truly appreciate this unique wine region.

In my humble opinion, Alsace is, unequivocally, one of the best producers of white wine in the world.

And yet, I have worked in wine retail industry for a decade and have often scratched my head at lack of Alsatian sales.  The region seems to play second fiddle to Germany and other white wine producing areas in France.

There’s no argument that Alsatian wines are an enigma – first and foremost for the mere fact that it is the only region in France that puts the varietal on the front label. But somehow, this does not lead the American consumer to gravitate more towards these wines.  Sommeliers and retailers alike often note that the wines of Alsace are a niche hand sell.  The question is why?

It could be due to the common misperception that Alsace produces wines that are light and sweet; in reality, they are, for the most part, dry and full bodied. It could also be that all of us – consumers and wine professionals alike – just need to take a closer look at Alsace and its long history of vine and wine.

Alsace SceneThe region has exchanged hands between France and Germany several times and even had its independence for a brief period.  It is separated from the rest of France by the Vosges Mountains in the west.  Most vineyards are located in a long thin strand throughout the foothills of the Vosges.  This mountain range gives Alsace a unique ‘rain shadow’ effect which makes it one of the driest climates in all of France.  Colmar, the capital of the Haut Rhin, is the driest city in France.

Alsace is divided into two departments, the Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin with the former housing over two-thirds of the regions Grand Cru vineyards.  There are 51 Grand Crus overall with Kaefferkopf being the latest addition in 2006.  The Grand Cru vineyards are typically located on south or southeasterly exposures which give the vines ample sunlight to reach phenolic ripeness.  Most Grand Crus require 100% single varietal wines produced from one of the four noble varietals, which include Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer. Grand Cru vineyards have strict requirements as to minimum must weight, alcohol, and hand harvesting.

Alsace is a kaleidoscope of soil structures with ‘gres de Vosges’ pink sandstone being the most famous. The higher elevation villages are generally composed of schist, granite and volcanic sediment, whereas the lower villages typically are more clay over limestone based.  The plains consist of richer more alluvial clay and gravel soils.

White varietals are 90% of the production of wine in Alsace, which in turn are dominated by the four noble grapes.  These wines are markedly different than those of neighboring Germany.  Alsatian wines are typically fermented dry, whereas the Germans have a classically sweeter appeal.  The dry wines of Alsace can be some of the most food friendly wine in the world, especially with spicy cuisine. They have higher alcohol while retaining excellent acidity which makes them some of the longest lived white wines in the world.

Half-timbered houses in ColmarAlsace is the one region on Earth where these four noble white grapes are at their richest and most voluptuous expressions.  Alsatian Rieslings are some of the more powerful expressions of the varietal produced.  They are amongst the longest lived dry whites in the world with a plethora of acidity and minerality to go with the higher alcohol content.  Zind Humbrecht Riesling Brand Grand Cru is a stellar example with Master of Wine Olivier Humbrecht at the helm.  He is an ardent believer in biodynamics and the terroir really shows in the wines produced.  One might note that the residual sugars have been creeping up in recent years.

Pinot Gris (formerly Tokay d’Alsace) thrives in Alsace.  In fact, this region may have the most complex expression of the varietal in the world.  The Pinot Grigios of Italy are typically light and tart, whereas Pinot Gris in Alsace tends to exude a rich, round mouth feel with just a touch of residual sugar and higher alcohol.  Trimbach is one of the better producers.  They make a moderately priced Reserve Pinot Gris that is full bodied and power packed full of delicious tropical fruits, crushed rocks, and poignant acids.

Gewurztraminer is a pink skinned variety that shows excellent aromatics and spiciness combined with a round, textured mouth feel and spectacular minerality when grown in Alsace.  Gewurz, meaning spice in German, is believed to have been first encountered in the German speaking town of Tramin located in northern Italy, and thus the complicated name.  Gewurztraminer is usually sweeter than Riesling and offers perfumed bouquets of white flowers and rich tropical fruits.  Domaine Weinbach’s Gewurztraminer Altenbourg Cuvee Laurence offers one of the best versions of this dynamic variety.

Street Corner in Strasbourg

Street Corner in Strasbourg

Muscat is more distinguished here than its counterparts throughout France.  Alsatian Muscat offers grapey, floral notes that can be appreciated in a young wine, but can also produce some age-worthy dessert wines. Selection de Grains Nobles is a wine produced from botrytised grapes.  This only occurs in perfect weather conditions, so the wines are quite rare.  These wines are fully sweet and can be aged indefinitely.  They are considered some of the best dessert wines in the world.  Marcel Deiss is a stunning producer of not only Muscat but all the noble varietals in the Selection de Grains Nobles style.

I believe the average consumer’s misunderstanding of the Alsatian wines keeps them from delving fully into its wines.  The stigma that is haunting Alsace must be changed. It must be up to the wine professionals who are in love with these exquisite wines to slowly but surely teach the modern, wine-savvy consumer to fall in love with Alsace – the unheralded king of white wines.

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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Conference Preview: An In-depth Look at St.-Émilion

Today we welcome a post on the wines of St.-Émilion from SWE Board Member Paul Wagner.  Paul is always one of the top speakers at SWE’s Annual Conference, and in this article he gives us a sneak peak at what is sure to be one of the most intriguing sessions to be offered this August at SWE’s 38th Annual Conference in Seattle.

St EmilionSt.-Émilion is unique in the world of wine.  Not only is it a region that produces wines of legendary quality; those very vineyards have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The city of St.-Émilion would draw tourists from around the world to its historic architectural treasures even if there were no wine there at all.  But none of that makes it truly unique.

What makes St.-Émilion unique in the world of wine is the classification system that re-evaluates the wines of the region every ten years.  Most recently completed in 2012, this system determines the select few that shall be allowed to use the term Premier Grand Cru Classé, which may use the Grand Cru Classé, and which must wait another ten years for that honor.  In 2012 there were only eighteen Premier Grand Cru Classés and only sixty-four Grand Cru Classés.  There are nearly 700 growers.

Where to begin?  We are in France, so we must begin with the terroir.  This is the land of Merlot.  Gentle slopes with a high portion of clay and limestone combine with a temperate climate on the Right Bank of Bordeaux to produce wines that are among the greatest examples of Merlot in the world.

Nearly two-thirds of the vines in St.-Émilion are Merlot.  Smaller percentages of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a trace of Malbec add spice and complexity to the wines.  While the size of St.-Émilion is nearly 1/3 the size of the Napa Valley, the average vineyard parcel is something like 12 acres.  These are jewel boxes, each creating a wine worthy of poetry.

Merlot St EmilionIn fact, the Roman poet Ausonius praised these wines (and gave his name to Chateau Ausone) nearly two thousand years ago.  It was the Romans who began to cultivate grapes here, and the wine, even then, inspired odes.   And when a humble monk paused on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela to become a hermit in a cave nearby, the local community and his disciples built a church to honor his holy example.  His name was Émilion, and the church of St.-Émilion, built in 787, can still be visited today.

During the complicated British rule of Aquitaine in the 1100’s, St.-Émilion’s role as a religious center was recognized as it was granted remarkable autonomy with the creation of the Jurade of St.-Émilion.  This allowed St.-Émilion to have far greater control over the production and sales of wines from the area, and proved to be a key element in developing a reputation for quality and integrity.

Today that continues with the unique classification system that makes sure every bottle of St.-Émilion is worthy of the name and history of this remarkable terroir.

At the SWE’s national conference in August there will be a tasting session featuring some of Grand Cru Classé wines from St.-Émilion from 2009 and 2010.  It should be the perfect opportunity to taste the character of Merlot, the history of a legendary region, and the terroir of poetry.

1 paulwagner1 12 11 (3)Paul Wagner is president of Balzac Communications & Marketing and is also an instructor for Napa Valley College’s Viticulture and Enology department and the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. He is a regular columnist for Vineyards & Winery Management Magazine, and contributes to Allexperts.com in the field of wine and food.

Paul is a founding member of the Academy of Wine Communications, a member of the nominations committee of the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintner’s Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the Spadarini della Castellania di Soave in 2005.

In 2009 he was honored with a “Life Dedicated to Wine” award at the Feria Nacional del Vino (FENAVIN) in Spain. He is also a member of the board of directors of the SWE.

Paul’s session, “An in-depth look at St.-Émilion,” will be presented at SWE’s Annual Conference on Friday, August 15th at 10:30 am.

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Guest Post: My Journey to the CSW

Today we have a guest post from Joey Casco, CSW.  I read Joey’s story about how he studied for the CSW while balancing a full-time job and a family on his blog The Wine Stalker and liked it so much I asked him if we could re-print it here.  I hope you find it as motiviating as I did! Read on for Joey’s take on how to pass the CSW on the first try.

Today I will be sharing the experience I had with studying for and taking the CSW test. I also hope that it helps those who are currently preparing or planning on taking the test in the future.

So all-encompassing you may forget to feed the dog!
So all-encompassing you may forget to feed the dog!

I received the Society of Wine Educators Certified Specialist of Wine Study Guide in October, 2013. I had already been reading up and trying to get a head start for some time before hand but when the book actually arrived I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I had until mid-January to absorb the crap out of this book.

Way back when I was in school I was a C average student. I got A’s and B’s in the subjects I loved and D’s and F’s in the subjects I just couldn’t connect with. Because of this I had to pass my final science test to even graduate high school. I passed it by one point. Which is weird, because a few years after high school I became a complete science nerd. Go figure.

Outside of school I’ve always, always over-achieved at the things I’m passionate about. This isn’t just a hobby, though. This particular passion is wine, and that passion has brought me to the lucky position of being a wine professional. This is how I earn a living. So this particular obstacle that I now was determined to overcome had a very serious motivation… FAMILY. I’m now 34 and married with a three year old daughter. This certification would put letters at the end of my name for life and help the financial future of my family. No pressure, right?

The CSW has a 55% pass rate average. That’s kind of scary. However, this could be because some distributors and companies make it mandatory for certain employee positions. Wine might not be that person’s thing so the material might not hold their interest, or they might be starting from absolutely nothing. It’s a tall order to become a wine specialist when you don’t even know the grapes of Bordeaux yet. So there was some comfort in knowing that I’ve been a wine guy for quite some time.

I started studying hardcore. Immediately. Highlighting the Study Guide and rewriting pretty much the entire book into notes in an insanely organized notebook. Being pretty

used to dealing with my own A.D.D. since I’ve had it, ya know, my entire life, I’ve found

Behold, the thickness of my notes!

Behold, the thickness of my notes!

that if I’m focused on being perfectly, psychotically organized I’m also focused on the material… and absorbing it.

See those tabs? It was separated by chapter with the smaller chapters together in broader topic like South America. If I made a mistake, whether it was spelling or just a screw up, I’d force myself to restart the whole page. Yeah, it was OCD-mania.

I planned to be finished with the Study Guide the first few days of January by taking two weeks per 75 pages. The first week I’d do the whole reading, highlighting, notebook thing and the second week I’d review and do flash cards just on those 75 pages. Then move on.

I did this every night from 10 pm to 3 am at the kitchen table. The Sirius Satellite Radio “Spa Channel” would be playing in the background because it was “music” that wouldn’t distract me. I needed to focus, not start singing along to the Foo Fighters. I’d be at work anywhere from 6 am to 8 am the following day so I wasn’t getting much sleep. Sunday was my only day off from studying because a guy needs to watch Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead, right?

I finished the first pass of the book on January 5th. Around this time we learned that the test would take place on March 27th instead of mid-January. A few more months of preparation? Yes, please! I put all of my focus onto the website like I had planned but with less haste in reading speed.

At this point I made possibly the most important decision I made during this whole thing… I created a highlight system for the study guide. My highlights from the first pass were yellow. What good would it be if I highlighted the things I came across on the online quizzes yellow too? Everything would just be yellow. I’d have an entire book that’s

Asiago and Cabernet, you are my only friends!

Asiago and Cabernet, you are my only friends!

highlighted yellow with things I now know and things I still need to know. That’s not helpful at all.

My highlight system went like this:

Yellow (yellow) - First pass. It turns out it was pretty much A LOT of basic / broad ranging stuff I didn’t know yet. It didn’t seem basic at the time but it becomes just that. This is, after all, for Specialists of Wine. Basic knowledge for this is pretty advanced anywhere else.

Orange  – It was suggested by mentors and others that I know it.

Green – Things that came up on the website / online quiz that I didn’t know yet.

Blue - Final pass. Really in-depth stuff that was too advanced for me (or just too much information) to get the first time around but I now could handle. Blue was also used for completely obscure things they might slip in.

These colors were also used on my flash cards. In the upper left hand corner of the flash card I put the number of the chapter and highlighted that number the appropriate color. That way I could see the importance of knowing the answer and why. If it was orange it very well could be on the test. If it was green it was on a quiz and thus could be on a test. And if it was yellow and I was having a problem with it… well, I better get it together on that one right away because I should know that one by now.

The website was invaluable. If I recall correctly it took me about two weeks to thoroughly read the entire website material, pass the quizzes, and identify what was also in the Study Guide. That last part is important because if it’s not in the Study Guide then it’s not on the test.

A big ol' stack of fun!

A big ol’ stack of fun!

After all of that it was time to do a final pass in the Study Guide, pinpoint the things I feel I should know that I hadn’t memorized yet and the really obscure stuff that might be on the test to trip us up, and then focus on maps aaaaaand… FLASH CARDS!!!!

Flash cards are important. Reading something over and over again does jack squat. You need to challenge your brain to retrieve that information. Don’t believe me? Read this.

The great thing about flash cards is you can use them while doing almost anything. Like watching The Little Mermaid for the millionth time, having a Princess tea party, cooking Mac and Cheese, you get the point.

The test was set for March 27th and the two weeks before the test I was burnt out. I didn’t want to play anymore. I’d look at the cover of the book and go “uuuuuugh”. I’d start using the flashcards and just not be feeling it. Not much of anything got done study-wise those two weeks. I just wanted it to be over. I wanted to play NHL 13 and actually go to bed at a normal hour for once. I had gone full bore at this thing for so long and I didn’t think I could learn much more. It wouldn’t have done me any good.

On the day of the test, myself and my peers headed off Cape Cod to the test location. I was nervous and wanted to cram on the ride up. My study pal,  Angela Busco , ever the optimist and to whom I owe tremendously, told me that I’ve got it in the bag and to just relax. So I kept my hands off of the material. There was no relaxing.

The test is an hour and there are 100 multiple choice questions. You can write notes on the question sheet but not on the answer card. I skipped five questions that I was unsure of so I could come back to them after I answered the rest. However, whenever I did that I’d forget to leave that questions spot empty on the answer card and I’d fill it with the answer to the next question. So I had to erase it and fix it (and the following ones too) when I saw the numbers weren’t aligning. I was completely finished around the 40 minute mark and began to read the questions again. I had planned to take the whole hour and keep going over it to make sure I had everything right, but I just couldn’t do that. Second guessing yourself is the worst thing you can do. So the finished test went into the folder and was turned in.

I couldn’t eat that morning from the stress but now I was hungry. All I had was a few dollars on me and McDonalds was right down the street so we went there and talked about the test. Note to self: McDonalds is always a bad idea even if it’s the closest option.

Well-earned:  Joey's CSW Pin

Well-earned: Joey’s CSW Pin

After the test I couldn’t sleep for three nights. All the questions kept popping back up in my head and I was haunted by the questions I had since learned I answered wrong. What if I didn’t fill in the envelope right and they fail me for not following instructions? What if all those dots I had to erase actually registered and completely messed my right answers up? I knew pretty quickly by talking to the others that there was one question that I knew the answer to but got wrong because I read it wrong, and two others that my first-thought answer was right but I ended up changing. What if there was a bunch of those? It all was getting in my head. I was a mess.

On April 8th, a pretty hectic day all in itself, a Certified Specialist of Wine pin arrived in the mail. It came with a certificate saying that I am now a Certified Specialist of Wine. It also came with a letter saying that I scored a 93, meaning I only got 7 questions wrong out of 100. My mother was there when I got it. I gave her a big bear hug and lifted her up and started jumping around. Literally while I was doing this I got a text from Angela saying she just got her results back and she had passed.

I really can’t measure how honored I am to be recognized by an organization like the SWE. I worked my b*** off for six months and it was entirely worth it. Every tired minute. Just the learning experience alone was a tremendous opportunity. That opportunity was given to me by my employer, Luke’s of Cape Cod (of which I am the Fine Wine manager of the Dennisport location). I’m already eternally grateful to them for a number of things and this adds one more.

If you’re currently studying for the CSW, here’s my advice to you:

  1. Color-code your highlights to learn in layers.
  2. Make lots of flash cards and use them ALL THE TIME.
  3. Use the website but don’t rely on it.
  4. Don’t second guess yourself.
  5. No McDonalds.

Good luck!

Our Guest Author, Joey Casco, CSW, is the Fine Wine Manager of Luke’s of Cape Cod.  A proud new CSW, he may be reached at his blog, The Wine Stalker and on Twitter.  We’d like to congratualate him on his excellent CSW Score of 93, and wish him luck on his next project, as he prepares to tackle the CSS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Guest Post: Modern Wines from Ancient Santorini

santorini island james bToday we have a guest post from Houston-based Wine Educator James Barlow, CS, CWE - all about some modern wines from a most ancient place…the Greek Island of Santorini.

When one thinks of Greece, one might envision the great Greek Gods – Dionysus, Zeus, and Apollo – sipping wine from golden goblets, perched on high watching the humans battle in epic duels.

When one thinks of Greek wine, one might envision pine resin and retsina  - and this has often kept people from delving much farther into the world of Greek wines.

However, Greek wine is so much more!  Greece is home to some of the more interesting indigenous grape varietals on earth.  Smoky, bone dry whites such as Assyrtiko or full bodied reds such as Mavrotragano and the deliciously sweet Vinsanto are truly the “nectars of the Gods.”

Vines have been grown in Greece for centuries, but in the modern world, Greek wines have been widely overlooked by the wine community.  However, the small island of Santorini, located in the southern Cyclades Islands, is looking to change the way the world looks at the wines of Greece.

santorinin cliffsides firaThe History and Geography of Santorini

First, a bit of history about Santorini, which will give a better understanding why this small island has excellent terrior and climate to cultivate vines.  Santorini was the core of an ancient volcano that erupted in about 1640-1620 BC.  This submerged a large part of the island and created a caldera where the center of the island had been.  The result was a unique mix of chalk and shale beneath ash, lava and pumice, which contributes to the vines having to struggle deep into the soil to find nutrients.

This, in turn, gives the resulting wines intense minerality and singularity in the wine world.  It also is the core reason why the root louse, phylloxera, has never become an issue on this small island.  This fact allows Santorini to have many old vine vineyards.  Grapes are grown on the eastern edge of the caldera at nearly 1,000 feet in altitude.  To add even more stress to the vine, Santorini sees almost no rain during the growing season and the vines only source of water comes from the early morning fog condensation that covers the island.  This is enough to keep the vines alive and thriving.

Steady westerly winds keep the grapes from seeing much of the condensation thus eliminating any chance of rot.  In fact, the winds are so fierce that the vines are typically trained to grow in a Stefani shape, a round basket, where the middle is left open for the clusters of grapes to grow unimpeded.

santorini vineyardAssyrtiko:  Rich, Mineral-driven Whites

It is in this environment on Santorini that Greece’s most intriguing white grape is grown.  Assyrtiko (A seer’tee ko) might just become the next “darling” white wine for sommeliers and wine critics alike.  The varietal is often referred to as ‘the white grape in red’s clothing’.  It is a high acid, full-bodied white with moderately high alcohol that gives the consumer a chance to taste the essence of Santorini.

The minerality that the grape inherits from the soils is sky high.  Flavors of crushed rocks and smoky minerals meld into the bone dry acidity while maintaining ripe citrus fruits such as melon, apple and key lime.  Assyrtiko will be sometimes be blended with small amounts of Athiri and Aidani to add aromatics to the bracing acids.  The wine may sometimes see oak, but is typically aged in stainless steel vats.  Wild yeasts are usually used in fermentation which gives the ensuing wine unique character and flavor profile.  Santorini has 70% of its vines dedicated to this variety.  Some of the best examples are done by Gaia, who produces an unbelievably good wild ferment, and Paris Sigalas.

Vinsanto from Santorini

Assyrtiko(minimum 51%) and Aidani are also the main grape varieties used for the passito-style Vinsanto dessert wines. The late harvested grapes are left out on straw mats for 1-2 weeks which causes them to concentrate and raisinate.  The grapes then go through a santorini sunsetlengthy fermentation process then are aged in oak casks for a minimum of 24 months, but usually for much longer.  The ending results are deliciously sweet wines with flavors of matured honey, dried apricots, and molasses.

The wines are typically low in alcohol and high in sugar, yet are not cloying due to the vibrant acidity of Assyrtiko.  Vinsanto of Greece, not to be confused with Vin Santo of Tuscany, now has the exclusive rights to the name ‘Vinsanto’ although Tuscany can still use the name on the label to describe the ‘style’ of wine making. Vin meaning wine, Santo short for Santorini…Vinsanto. Makes sense.

Mavrotragano:  Big, Bold Red

Santorini may be best known for its indigenous white varietals, but the reds are beginning to make head way in the market.  Mavrotragano is the red grape that is making the biggest waves.  This rare, indigenous variety produces small, thick skinned grapes of very low yield.  Due to the lack of phylloxera issues, this varietal remains largely on its original rootstock.  Mavrotragano was nearly extinct before being resurrected by Haridimos Hatzidakis and Paris Sigalas to critical acclaim.  The wine is aged for a minimum of 1 year in oak, usually French.  The flavor profile is reminiscent of Nebbiolo with red fruits, large notes of minerality and full, yet supple tannins.

The complex, indigenous varietals of this small, yet uniquely gifted island is leading the resurgence of Greek wine in the world.  Greece is leaving the tarnish of Retsina in the past and forging forward with its indigenous quality varietals and the island of Santorini leading the way.

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