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.

 

 

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!

 

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.

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

 

 

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

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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