Guest Post: A Trip to the Jura

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Today we have the first of a two-part series from guest blogger Paul Poux. Paul tells us about his recent visit the Jura to reunite with family and drink some local wines. But will he ever make it to a winery?

“We arrived at our cousins’ home in the Jura during a sparkling afternoon in July. There was a heat wave in the rest of France but in these low mountains near the Swiss border, it was cooler. I could hear rushing water from a nearby creek; other than that, there was a lovely stillness. The large old house from 1830 sat in the center of a village of 200 people, on the old road between Geneva and Dijon. Across the street was the village church with its small cemetery, containing many headstones with the name POUX. I had returned home.

Our cousins celebrated our arrival with an aperitif—foamy Crémant du Jura, a Classic Method sparkling wine that is one of eight Crémant designations in France. It is usually 100% Chardonnay, which should not surprise in a region that sits just east of Burgundy. Its yeasty apple flavors rinsed away the long car and train journeys that had brought us here.

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At dinner that night we ate fondue made with Comté, the famous local cheese. The correct fondue recipe according to my cousins (and to French people there is always a “correct” way) also contains white wine from the Jura, and the cherry brandy Kirsch. Our cousins warned us not to drink water while eating fondue or we’d get sick—something about a ball of cheese in the stomach not settling right. We were advised to stick to wine, and sips of Kirsch. Non-drinkers were prescribed hot tea.

We would eat a lot of cheese that week, including at breakfast, when large pieces of Comté and Morbier were featured along with the traditional bread, butter, jams, and yogurts.

A highlight of my vacation was to be a day trip to Jura wineries later in the week. My cousin Jean-Marie sat down to talk to me about it. Jean-Marie just turned 70 but is still in the business of “running companies.” As you might expect, he is direct and businesslike. I told him I was open to almost anything, but there was one winemaker I definitely wanted to visit: cult producer Jean-Francois Ganevat. My cousin’s reaction was immediate.

“We can’t go there. It’s not correct.”

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Jean-Marie made up for his brusque demeanor with his hosting, and the next day he took us on a long hike into the mountains. The Jura has an extensive network of well-marked hiking trails showcasing gorgeous scenery, and this walk took us up through forest and across fields that sparkled with wildflowers. I noticed a particularly large yellow flower and Jean-Marie told me that it is called gentiane (“jahn-si-AHNN”), growing only above a certain altitude. Residents dig up the roots and distill them into a bitter spirit.

We also saw the cliffs where France ends and Switzerland begins. A trail up the cliffs was an escape route during World War II, used by Jews and many others when the Nazis occupied the Jura, including my cousin’s house.  

That evening Jean-Marie held an aperitif (the French shorten it to “Apero”) on his terrace. I was surprised to see an elaborate Absinthe dispenser. A steady drip-drip of the green spirit on sugar cubes into glasses punctuated the small talk as we learned that Absinthe was created nearby in Switzerland and is still made there and in the Jura, and that all the hysteria surrounding its ingredients and supposed effects is overblown. Jean-Marie added water to each glass, turning the drink cloudy. It tasted of anise, and herbs. 

Photo of Arbois Wine by Agne 27, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Arbois Wine by Agne 27, via Wikimedia Commons

The next morning Jean-Marie came to see me about our trip to the wineries. He had a map of the Jura wine region and all its producers. I opened the map and looked longingly at the winery I was ‘forbidden’ from visiting. It was some distance away from the areas that Jean-Marie felt were most important. I told him I understood and that I was glad to leave all visits up to him. He smiled. This seemed to be the ‘correct’ answer. 

That night we ate dinner at a nearby restaurant. The entire group, 20 of us French and American, sat around an immense table. Jean-Marie came to me with the wine list, and it was nice of him to consult with me before ordering the wine he wanted. He recommended a rosé from the town of Arbois to pair with the various appetizers. Arbois is the spiritual capital of Jura wine country. This rosé was a blend of Pinot Noir and Poulsard – a thin-skinned red grape with very little color, perfect for rosés.  Dad and Jean-Marie made toasts, and we chatted excitedly with our cousins. The main course, local trout, arrived, and I told Jean-Marie I wanted to change the wine. He objected: “The rosé is perfect, let’s continue!” But I was in the area for only a week and had to sample as many wines as I could. My choice: a local Chardonnay called “Arrogance.” 

Paul -headshotOur guest blogger, Paul Poux, CSW, finds joy in combining food, wine and travel. Paul provides wine education ‘experiences’  to Millennials for wine brands and regions; and does marketing and sponsor management for food and wine festivals around the country. Paul’s favorite wines are Amarone and Muscadet. Tell him yours at paul@pouxcompany.com

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Guest Post/Book Review: Chianti Classico: The Search for Tuscany’s Noblest Wine

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Today we have a guest post and book review brought to us by Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSE. Read on as Harriet reviews a new book about a very old wine region!

Book Review: Chianti Classico: The Search for Tuscany’s Noblest Wine, by Bill Nesto, MW and Frances Di Savino.

Here is a well-researched history book that reads like a novel, telling the story of the ancient land named Chianti and the modern wine appellation known as Chianti Classico. In 1716, Tuscany’s next-to-last Medici ruler, Cosimo III, granted the region of Chianti as one of the world’s first legal appellations of origin for wine. However, as these things often go, by the late nineteenth century, the name Chianti—rather than signifying this historic region and its celebrated wine—identified a simple Italian red table wine in a straw-covered flask.

This telling of the story of the Chianti Classico region confirms many ideas of Chianti and the Classico region, and overturns many others. Nesto and Di Savino have translated original documents and studied old master paintings of the region, even noting how older vineyards were planted by training on trees.

Stories of notable producers famous to this day, including Baron Ricasoli and the Antinori family, tell us much about history, regulations, and commerce relating to Chianti Classico. The Ricasoli original formula for the grapes used in Chianti has been unearthed, with Malvasia being the main white grape—not the currently assumed Trebbiano. Further, Canaiolo Nero was the main grape of Chianti for years, not necessarily the Sangiovese that is so well-known and loved today.

The authors also claim that new research has revealed that there are no regional differences between Sangiovese Piccolo and Sangiovese Grosso, whose different sizes are more the result of climate and vintage conditions, rather than their use in specific regional wines.

The publication of this book coincides with the three hundredth anniversary of the Medici decree delimiting the region of Chianti on September 24, 1716. The authors conclude, happily, that the Black Rooster still reigns supreme.

As for the authors of this book, Bill Nesto is a Master of Wine and a founder of the Wine Studies Program at Boston University, where he is also a Senior Lecturer. Frances Di Savino is an attorney with a background in medieval and Renaissance studies and is Bill’s partner in life and on the wine road. Bill and Frances coauthored The World of Sicilian Wine, which won the André Simon Book Award in 2013.

Bibliographical information: Chianti Classico: The Search for Tuscany’s Noblest Wine. Bill Nesto, MW and Frances Di Savino. Oakland, University of California Press, 2016.

340 pages, hard cover, $39.95. This encyclopedic book has a 26 page Index, a selected bibliography, and works cited listed. Click here to find this book on Amazon.

HarrietHarriet Lembeck is a CWE (Certified Wine Educator) and a CSE (Certified Spirits Educator – a new designation). She is President of the Wine & Spirits Program, and revised and updated the textbook Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits. She was the Director of the Wine Department for The New School University for 18 years. She can be reached at h.lembeck@ wineandspiritsprogram.com.

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!

Guest Post: Cruising from Barcelona to Châteauneuf-du-Pape

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Today we have a guest post from SWE’s president, Barry Wiss. Barry writes to us from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, during a stop on a wine-themed river cruise!

Like most professional wine educators, I love to travel to all of the world’s amazing wine regions. Luckily, my wife and I have found a way to combine our love of wine with our love of travel, and for the past six years; we have served as wine hosts for AMA Waterways’ wine-themed river cruises.

In prior years, Kim and I have cruised some of the world’s greatest wine regions via some of the world’s greatest rivers, including the Rhine, the Mosel, the Danube, the Seine, the Douro, and this year, the Rhône.

We started our wine adventure in Barcelona where we enjoyed some amazing vintage Cavas. We rented an Airbnb; it was amazing. We thoroughly enjoyed the tapas and the rest of the Barcelona dining scene,  and had a local chef teach us how to make real paella. (Hint: it’s all about the saffron.)

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A few days later, we arrived in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Kim and I have been to many (too many to count) wineries over many years; the best are the small no-frills family operations. We just visited one—Domaine le Pointu.

This is a small (27-hectare) estate owned by Patrick Coste and his wife Karine. The estate is located in the commune of Courthézon (one of the five communes that make up the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC).

The estate produces several different versions of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, including a blanc (white) version, but do yourself a favor and do not try to find this one outside of the local area!

After a warm welcome at the estate, we began our tasting. The first wine we tasted was their rich and perfectly balanced Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, made from a majority of Grenache Blanc and a bit of Clairette; both from 90-year-old vines. This delicious wine was aged for one year in used Château d’Yquem barrels. What a beautiful wine, full of memorizing aromas of ripe red apple, pear, and honeysuckle. I could drink this wine all day…no joking.

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This was followed by a vertical of the Domaine le Pointu 2007, 2009, and 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds…2008 was sold out, of course. These red wines are all produced using Grenache Noir grapes, with a bit of Cinsault. The wines are between 90 and 105 years old. All the reds were spectacular, but the 2009 is coming home with me.

Domaine le Pointu also produces a range of Côtes du Rhône AOC wines in red, white, and rosé. These are based on the younger vines of the estate—some as “young” as 50 years old!

Wine-themed river cruises by AMA Waterways scheduled for 2017 include Provence & Spain, Melodies of the Danube, the Enticing Douro, Paris & Normandy, a Taste of Bordeaux, Port Wine & Flamenco, and the Enchanting Rhine. For more information, visit the website of AMA Waterways.

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!

Guest Post: The Lone Star Burns Bright for Texas Wine (part two)

This is part two in Elizabeth Miller’s tale of touring and tasting through the Texas Hill Country. For part one, click here. 

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Rivers and lakes are known to form great wine regions, and for the next visit in our Texas Hill Country tour, we headed out to Lake Travis, just northwest of Austin.  Perched on the lake is a parcel of land, an amphitheater like valley with gently sloping land, with a creek running from north of the property and ending in Lake Travis.  That creek’s namesake, Flat Creek Estate Winery and Vineyard, calls this area home.

I met with owners Madelyn and Rick Naber who lived in several regions of the US, including California, before setting in Texas. Once in central Texas, they began to notice that the pace of housing development was accelerating drastically, with developers snatching up premier property in the Lake Travis area.  In 1998, the Nabers purchased an idyllic 80 acres on the lake, with a commitment to maintain its use as a sustainable agricultural endeavor.

For the Nabers, April fool’s Day in 2000 became a legend (but in this case, it was no joke). On that day, 60 people planted 6,000 vines on 6 acres, thus beginning commercial grape growing at Flat Creek Estate.  Later, the endeavor grew to 20 acres of vineyards, a wine production facility, a wine tasting room, and a restaurant.  Many of the varieties planted at Duchman—including Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Tempranillo—also thrive at Flat Creek Estate, along with several Portuguese Port varietals.

photo of Flat Creek Estate via: http://www.flatcreekestate.com/flat-creek-photos.html (Peary Photography)

photo of Flat Creek Estate via: http://www.flatcreekestate.com/flat-creek-photos.html (Peary Photography)

Madelyn and Rick sat down with me to share their wines, popping their 2014 Super Texan.  This wine is based on the Italian Super Tuscan concept and features a blend of Italian and non-Italian grapes.  At Flat Creek, they start with Texas Hill Plains AVA fruit, blending Sangiovese with Tempranillo and Syrah (although the blends may vary by year).  The Nabers shared with me that their 2003 Super Texan was awarded a Double Gold in the San Francisco International Wine Competition, marking the first time a Texas red wine was awarded this prestigious accolade.

Another outstanding wine and indicator of Flat Creek’s full viticultural and winemaking potential is their Port VII.  The Flat Creek Estate Port is crafted from traditional Portuguese port wine grapes grown on the estate specifically for this purpose.  Each vintage is aged in oak barrels and then added to the Port Solera which includes multiple vintage years spanning 2002 through 2014.  Bottled in 2015, the Port VII is rich dark chocolate, blackberry, sweet spices and prunes.  What a winemaking undertaking!

The Future of Texas Wine: All of my conversations at Duchman Family Winery and Flat Creek Estate hovered around the current state of Texas wines.  What are the challenges?  How do they overcome these challenges?  What is the fullest potential of Texas?

photo of Flat Creek estate via: http://www.flatcreekestate.com/ (Peary Photography)

photo of Flat Creek estate via: http://www.flatcreekestate.com/ (Peary Photography)

Even though Texas is one of the top ten wine-producing states in the United States, it is still grappling with an underdog status.  Much of this is self-imposed, because when the industry started anew after Prohibition in the 1970s, many producers were pushing for sweeter profiles and easier sells like Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet—and in Texas, many of these varieties suffer from climate challenges you’d never find in Napa Valley.  Today, Texas winemakers are focusing more on terroir appropriate varieties, and learning how to manage weather challenges that seem to be the norm.

These days, the Texas wine industry is about unlimited possibilities.  With 170+ million available acres in a state the size of France, there are so many places to make great wine.  The current acreage is likely to explode in coming years.

However, as any Texan will tell you, Texas’ greatest asset is its people.  Those who make wine are bold and ambitious in a young industry.  Those who promote wine are realizing the fullest potential of Texas wine.  As Rick Naber wisely told me, “Until you get sommeliers to wrap their arms around Texas, nothing is going to happen.”

Learn about Texas and other emerging wine regions in Elizabeth’s December 7th SWEbinar: Wednesday, December 7, 7:00 pm central time – Emerging Wine Regions of the US – presented by Elizabeth Miller, CSW, CSS.  Who knew that Texas had such a long history of wine production, and that the state grows more Vitis species that any other region on earth?  Or that one of Virginia’s oldest wineries is exporting its wine to China.  Did you know that Idaho has some of the highest elevation vineyards in the country, or that one of the best domestic Méthode Champenoise wines comes from New Mexico?  This webinar covers the lesser known wine producing states, their terroirs, grapes and future growth.  Elizabeth Miller is a retailer whose home state of New York is a successful emerging wine region.

 

Guest Post: The Lone Star Burns Bright for Texas Wine (part one)

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Today we have a guest post from Elizabeth Miller, CSS, CSW. Elizabeth tells us about her recent trip to the Texas wine country.

“Nature seemed to have intended Texas for a vineyard to supply America with vines.” -Stephen F. Austin

The “Father of Texas” saw the potential…. the future of Texas wine.  Stephen F. Austin came to Texas with the first colonizing families in the early 1800s.  When he made that statement, he likely didn’t expect two centuries would pass until the Texas wine industry would begin to reach its full potential.

Today, a tourist can drive just a few miles out of the city of Austin, the namesake of Stephen F. Austin, and find a burgeoning wine scene… not quite there, but on its way to becoming a major American wine region!  I took that drive recently to visit the bold new producers that are making Texas one of the most exciting and underrated wine destinations in the country.

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

There is another timely impetus for my Texas travels: I am presenting a SWEbinar on December 7th “Emerging Wine Regions of the US.”  In the webinar promo, I tease: “Who knew that Texas had such a long history of wine production, and that the state grows more Vitis species that any other region on earth?”  I had research to do, and my curiosity was piqued!

A Long Lone Star History: With most of today’s Texas producers under a decade old, it’s easy to forget that the history of the Texas industry dates back to the 1600s!  One of the earliest vineyards planted in North America lies in Texas, planted by Franciscan priests in 1662.   As European settlers followed, the industry developed, and by 1900 Texas had more than twenty-five wineries.  However, just like everywhere else in America, Prohibition brought an end to this momentum.

It wouldn’t be until the 1970s that Texas would witness a revival of its wine industry.  It was a bit of a later start, compared to California, but commercial vineyards and wineries started popping up.

On my journey into Texas wines, I was happily led to Duchman Family Winery and Flat Creek Estate. These two wineries are among the 350-plus Texas wineries that are changing that are, slowly but surely, changing the public perception about Texas wines.

Duchman Family Winery: To begin our visit, we left the pavement of urban Austin for the rolling hills and ‘peaking’ vineyards of Driftwood, Texas.  For our first stop, we arrived at Duchman Family Winery’s beautiful Italianate villa and were greet by Jeff Ogle, the estate’s General Manager. The Duchman winery story began, Jeff told us, in 2004 when Drs. Stan and Lisa Duchman founded the winery with an aim for world-class winemaking.  They hired Dave Reilly—a native Texan—as their winemaker, and quickly started seeing their wines medal in some of the most prestigious wine competitions.  They have become one of the most renown and quality minded producers in Texas.

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

Given the infant state of Texas, Duchman’s motto is not to be taken lightly:  100% Texas Grapes, 100% Texas Wine…and 100% Texas Farmers.  A day will come, hopefully sooner rather than later, that all Texas labeled wines will be from 100% Texas fruit.  Texas is not quite there yet, as the demand for grapes exceeds the current acreage of the productive vineyards (which is growing, but not quite there yet).

Duchman is growing grapes in two of the state’s 8 AVAs: Texas High Plains and Texas Hill Country.  The Texas Hill Country AVA is one of the largest AVA in the US, covering 9 million acres and as such, it has a number of unique microclimates. Many wineries and a good deal of wine tourism are located within this area. The Texas High Plains AVA is located up in the Texas panhandle, where the climate is very cool and dry, with an elevation of 3,000-4,000 feet.

Back in the tasting room at Duchman, we started with the 2015 Duchman Family Vermentino, crisp, nuanced, truly a world class palate.  Another Italian variety, Montepulciano, has been produced at Duchman since almost day one.  In tasting the 2012 Duchman Family Montepulciano, I realized why it’s one of the most popular wines in their selection, with balanced acidity, rich blackberry, plum, and aromas of vanilla and spice.  There is no true consensus on which grape is the grape of Texas, but tasting these varieties would stand the test in a global blind comparison!

Parting from Duchman was not without another Texas lesson: the wine growler.  That 2015 Montepulciano walked out the door with us in a 750ml growler.  Growlers typically make us think of beer, which has historically been approved by federal regulations.  In Texas, Whole Foods has been a promoter of keg wine and in reusable containers, and helped pave the way for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to rule in favor of wine growlers.  Only two states, Oregon and Texas, specifically allow retailers and wineries to fill growlers with wine for sale off-premise.  Personally, I hope this legislation comes to New York State.

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

photo of Duchman Winery via: http://duchmanwinery.com/winery-gallery/

Our Duchman Family Winery growler traveled quite a bit and proved the quality of Duchman’s winemaking.  After the tasting room, we immediately headed to the nearby Salt Lick BBQ, a Texas Hill Country BBQ restaurant with recipes that have roots back to the wagon trains in the mid-1800s!  That Montepulciano shined with the rich slabs of barbecue.  Surprisingly, we didn’t finish the growler, and some Montepulciano accidentally made its way back to New York in our checked suitcase, where a few days later, it was discovered and tasted.  Would you know, the Duchman Family Winery Montepulciano held up through the travels, and it was delicious!

Learn about Texas and other emerging wine regions in Elizabeth’s December 7th SWEbinar: Wednesday, December 7, 7:00 pm central time – Emerging Wine Regions of the US – presented by Elizabeth Miller, CSW, CSS.  Who knew that Texas had such a long history of wine production, and that the state grows more Vitis species that any other region on earth?  Or that one of Virginia’s oldest wineries is exporting its wine to China.  Did you know that Idaho has some of the highest elevation vineyards in the country, or that one of the best domestic Méthode Champenoise wines comes from New Mexico?  This webinar covers the lesser known wine producing states, their terroirs, grapes and future growth.  Elizabeth Miller is a retailer whose home state of New York is a successful emerging wine region.

Check back in a few days for part two of Elizabeth’s tour of Texas Hill Country wineries!

Guest Post: Aged Syrah: a Treasure, a Tasting, a Tribute

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Today we have a guest post by an anonymous writer, who we know by the name Candi, CSW. In this essay, Candi tells us a touching story of family, friends, remembrances, and how the appreciation of wine can bring us all together! We thought this was perfect to share at the beginning of the holiday season!  

During a recent vacation, my husband and I stayed at the home of a dear relative. Our gracious host opened his wine collection to us. My job as the family geek: to select wines to enjoy in the evenings during the visit. It’s a tough job, I know, but someone has to do it.

His “cellar”, so to speak, is a cool basement with quite adequate storage for wine. So within an hour of our arrival, one of us is clearly ready to check out the vino. All three of us go downstairs.

A bit of background here. Our relative is a young widower. About five years ago, his wife passed away before her time. I remember how pleased she was when the family geek enjoyed wines that she had selected.

So there I am, sitting on the carpeted floor of the basement, carefully going through all of the bottles while the men folk are standing behind the bar, out of my way during an important mission. There are 30 to 40 bottles total; almost all of these are relatively sweet wines, including some dessert wines and some wines that blend other fruits with grapes. That is consistent with our host’s palate; he prefers sweeter vino.

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Most usually, I am described as an introvert who avoids being the center of attention. But as I pull out two bottles that are clearly outliers in this particular collection, I can’t help it. I either exclaim joyfully or squeal. Take your pick. Of course, the men folk are both surprised and greatly amused at this point.

There are two, ahem, well-aged Syrahs in the collection. One is a 2003 California wine from a major, well-known producer. Another is a 2005 Australian Shiraz from a vintner that is on my list to try. Since I know my host quite well, I am well aware that it is unlikely that he chose these wines. But I remember who was quite the fan of Syrah.

Up come the two bottles. And, as I suspected, our host confirms that these are wines selected by his deceased wife, probably within a year of her death. One even has the original price tag with the wine shop listed.

I apparently have a very good relationship with our host. He made perfectly clear that he had no intention of drinking the wine, as it was not to his taste. He truly wanted us to enjoy them, however. My husband and I do like Syrah. In the past, we have enjoyed 6- to 8-year old versions. It’s also a fact that compared to most of the other wines in the collection, these were the best matches for my husband and me.

So be it. We would have aged Syrah. I found what I consider to be the equivalent of buried treasure. Except it’s even better – it’s wine! I stood the two bottles upright in anticipation of future evenings on the trip.

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After a full day of sightseeing, we got takeout food for a relaxed evening in. Syrah- friendly menu, of course. First up: the 2003 California Syrah. The rather dry cork comes out with some difficulty, in two big pieces. This requires two different types of corkscrews and two operators, but we were determined.

The wine is, as expected, a bit brownish. Distinct legs. Aromas are faint, muted, but there. And the wine is clearly past its prime. Like so many reds made with decent fruit, however, it is still drinkable. Not fresh, not juicy, but drinkable. Over two evenings, we enjoy our tasting experience with a 13 year-old Syrah. And, we reminisce about the young woman who purchased the wine. And we share other family memories.

We depart for the rest of our trip with the 2005 Aussie Shiraz. It has a screw top for ease of opening during the trip, our host insists, I can’t turn it down. On the last night of our trip, we stay at a hotel convenient to the airport for the next day’s departure. Complete with a refrigerator and microwave. One of our favorite restaurants near the airport features bison. Shiraz and bison seemed a perfect pairing.

Takeout, again. Have to relax and enjoy our last night….

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Two different bison entrees chosen and hauled back to the room. I anticipate another wine past its prime, but drinkable, if we are lucky.

We were fortunate; I was wrong. The wine was not past its prime. It was excellent. Fruit- forward, long finish, an excellent dinner pairing. At 11 years old, the wine was the oldest under screw cap I have ever experienced. The wine was so delicious that I will most definitely buy a few future vintages. Just for confirmation purposes, of course.

Tragically, our relative lost a wife. All of us lost a friend and a kind soul. With respect to wine, I lost a kindred spirit with a similar palate. Somehow, I think she is okay with my husband and I enjoying her last two bottles, and I will always remember those wines, with full appreciation of their significance.

Here’s to good memories. Cheers!

Are you interested in being a guest blogger or a guest SWEbinar presenter for SWE?  Click here for more information!

Alternative Grains in American Whiskey

Today we have a guest post from Lisa Graziano CSW, CSE. Lisa tells us about a new trend—using alternative grains in American Whiskeys!

Triticale in the fields

Triticale in the fields

Whiskey can be made from any kind of grain.  Most whiskeys use a majority of malted barley—but it does not have to be this way! The All-American favorite, Bourbon, is required to consist of a minimum 51% corn; generally, the remainder of the mash bill will be wheat, rye and/or barley.

Happily, the craft spirits movement in the U.S. is booming and as a result there is a lot of experimentation going on throughout American whiskey culture.

Enter exotic grains to the mix.  Quinoa, touted lately as power grain for its health benefits, also makes a fine whiskey.  Triticale, a wheat-rye hybrid developed in Scotland and Sweden in the late 1800s, is also being distilled with excellent results.  Oats are being distilled along with the less-common red and blue corn varieties.

How do these different grains affect the flavor of the whiskies made from them?

Let’s start with quinoa.  Feisty Spirits in Colorado makes a 100% quinoa-based whiskey which delivers a nose that is grainy with hints of chili peppers.  The flavor is actually somewhat gin like with some chili pepper and rich grain aspects on the finish.  This whiskey is aged ever-so-briefly in oak barrels—it’s actually called a “barrel rinse,” to be specific.

Quinoa fields in Ecuador

Quinoa fields in Ecuador

Feisty Spirits, located about 65 miles north of Denver, specializes in exotic grain whiskies making everything from quinoa, triticale, and cocoa-ginger whiskeys to a red, white, and blue corn whiskey that is limited production and distributed around the fourth of July.  Dry Fly Distilling out of Washington State and Corsair Distillery located in Tennessee and Kentucky also make exotic grain whiskies.

Triticale whiskey gives aromas of golden raisins on the nose and when aged in neutral barrels conveys flavors of caramel, honey and raisins with a smooth sweet finish.  It is more like an Irish whiskey, and both Feisty Spirits and Dry Fly Distilling make triticale whiskies.

If you like oatmeal, you need to try an oat whiskey.  These spirits exude a nutty oatmeal quality and a rich creaminess that is delightful.  Koval Distillery out of Chicago and High West Distillery in Utah both make nice examples of oat whiskies.

photo via: http://blog.balconesdistilling.com/

photo via: http://blog.balconesdistilling.com/

For different corn whiskies turn to Colorado and Texas.  Balcones Distilling in Waco, Texas makes a Baby Blue Corn Whiskey and Feisty Spirits makes an assortment of red, white, and blue corn whiskies.  Blue corn gives flavors of sweet hazelnuts and is softer than the red and white varieties.  Red corn gives flavors of caramel corn and is drier on the finish than its counterparts.

Another trend in whiskey making is using hops.  It was bound to happen at some point—the craft beer movement has finally spilled over into whiskey!  Feisty Spirits makes a Hop Schnapps and Corsair Distillery makes Hop Monster Whiskey.  These spirits really mess with your nose—smells like beer, tastes like whiskey!  They have great aromatics and a dry finish with various flavors depending on what kind of hops are used and how they are brewed.

For an interesting read and an education in exotic grains in whiskey go to the book “Alt Whiskeys” by Darek Bell, owner of Corsair Distillery.  He gives a partial list of alternative grains that includes many of which I have never heard!  (E.g.:  Teff, Fonio, Job’s Tears and Emmer, to name a few.)  He also includes the recipes for many of his whiskies with the caveat that “Home distilling is illegal in the US. Period.”

With craft spirits hitting their stride now is the time to try some of these unique offerings made from grains you would never have expected to be made into whiskey.   Slainte!

Lisa Graziano has been in the wine and spirits business for the past 10 years.  Originally from Los Angeles, California she previously worked as a professional harpist and realtor.  She is one of the first to earn the CSE certification and having grown up in a European household has a nearly lifelong education in beer, wine and spirits!

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Guest Blogger: High Altitude Wines and Shangri-La

The Altura Maxima Vineyard photo credit: http://www.bodegacolome.com/

The Altura Maxima Vineyard photo credit: http://www.bodegacolome.com/

Today we have a post from JoAnn DeGaglia, CSW, CS. JoAnn takes us on a trek to some high-altitude vineyards, and even to the legendary land of Shangri-La.

Mountain vineyards have numerous challenges. To get a feel for this, consider the typical challenges faced by all vineyards—such as like power supply, water, and environmental impact, erosion—and multiply them. Then, add in the fact that everyone is working on the side of a steep, difficult (and maybe dangerous) site, and that the complex climate conditions affecting a vineyard site are amplified in the mountains above the fog line. On the brighter side, high elevation sites do receive much more sun with lower heat accumulation and but higher diurnal temperature fluctuations. But then there’s this: pressure from insects, birds, rodents and wild animals is much more intense in remote mountain locations. Like I said—it’s a challenge.

The highest vineyards in the world are in Argentina in the Salta region located in the Altura Maxima vineyard at 9,849 feet (and some claim it is even higher). This “extreme” vineyard produces grapes with a very think skin, resulting in rich, tannic wines with complex flavors. The first vintage of Altura Maxima wine was released in 2012 by Bodega Colomé (part of the Hess Family Estates). That wine—Colomé Altura Maxima 2012—is 100% Malbec and priced at $125. It might sound like a lot—until you realize that only 165 cases (six barrels) were produced. Bodega Colomé also grows small amounts of Torrontés, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in their ultra-high altitude Altura Maxima vineyard.

The Winery at Bodega Colome - photo via http://www.bodegacolome.com/

The Winery at Bodega Colome – photo via http://www.bodegacolome.com/

Here in the U.S. we look to areas like Lake County AVA (with vineyards at 2,000 to 2,400 feet), Howell Mountain (1,600 to 2,400 feet), Spring Mountain (2,000 feet), Mount Veeder (400 to 2,600 feet), Atlas Peak (1,400 to 2,600 feet), Diamond Mountain (1,200 to 2,200 feet) and Sonoma Mountain (600 to 2,400 feet) as examples of high altitude viticulture. Howell Mountain was designated as Napa Valley’s first sub AVA, and is well-known for its high-altitude Cabernet Sauvignon. The region’s volcanic ash–red clay soil, delightfully infertile, produces intense wines from small berries. In the end, the altitude and rocky, dry soil conditions create complex, tannic and concentrated wines with firm structure, incredible varietal intensity, and excellent aging properties. Cabernet Sauvignon is King of the Mountain but Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay excel as well. Who is up on Howell Mountain? Charles Krug, Cade, Cakebread, Duckhorn, Robert Foley, La Jota, and Pine Ridge—to name a few.

The world of wine evolves and changes with each passing year with more regions discovering wine, both as consumers and producers. Each of these new areas brings a new dimension to the world of wine. One in particular caught the eye of Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible enough to make her declare that “the Book of Cabernet has just been rewritten.” The wine she is talking about is made in Shangri-La. Really. The wine is 2013 Ao Yun (Tibetan for Proud Cloud), produced in the Himalayas just 50 miles from the border of Burma. This area is within the Yunnan Province in the far southwest of China. The areas “Three Parallel Rivers” region (now a National Park) was made famous as the mythical Shangri-La in James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon. The Vineyard is at 8,500 feet, and the air is so thin that fermentation doesn’t quite work like it does as we may know it. Karen MacNeil described the wine like this: “Drinking it makes you feel like you’ve been pulled down into the dark body of the earth itself. There is a sense of delicious corruption to the wine.”

Ao Youn is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cab Franc, bottled at 15% alcohol by volume. It should be (or will soon be) available at Sherry Lehman’s in New York and Wally’s in Los Angeles.

We can never overestimate the contributions made by the pioneers, innovators and artists of the wine making world. So get out there and open that mountain wine—climb high, my friends.

JoAnn DeGaglia, CSW, CS works at Brotherhood Winery, “America’s Oldest Winery.” In addition, she teaches wine appreciation classes at libraries all over the Hudson Valley as well as with Ned Towle at the Westchester Wine School. JoAnn’s writings may be found on Facebook on the “The Wine Lovers Journey through the World of Wine” page.

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Guest Post: Moonshine Goes Modern!

Today we have a guest post from Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSE. Harriet tells us the story of how she came to deliver a lecture of Moonshine for this year’s 40th Annual SWE Conference, and tells us how it went!

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Why Moonshine?

I was recently invited to judge Moonshines for The Fifty Best, an on-line Wine and spirits ratings magazine, whose website gets over 1 million monthly page views. Through the process, I learned that Moonshines are diverse, varied, and so interesting, and I wanted to share this info. Publisher and Founder William Rosenberg was kind enough to give me the contact info for the Gold and Double-Gold medal winning Moonshines, so that I could create this presentation with the best of the examples.

“Moonshine” is a catchall name for un-aged white whiskies, usually distilled from corn. As I learned from going through the 14 that we tasted at the Conference, contrary to that casual definition, some Moonshine happens to be aged, and others aren’t even made with corn!

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According to David Fleming, Executive Editor of Market Watch, Impact and Shanken News Daily, demand for Moonshine leveled off in 2014 after an initial rise in 2012. While the big spirits brands may be leveling off, there is no drop in enthusiasm from the top players, and also the smaller producers. Many are going upscale, playing to sophisticated tastes, and trying to lose the “hokey” character. Many are craft distillers. Others still package in jars and jugs.

Distilling moonshine is a simple process, requiring only 4 main ingredients: corn, sugar, yeast and water. Barley, rye, or fruits may be used, and even hogfeed is not unheard of. Simple pot stills do the job. Further, there is little emphasis on aging or maturation. Some future Bourbon producers are making Moonshine to tide them over, while waiting for their Bourbon to finish aging.

From George Washington, who built a grist mill in 1770, and returned to Mt. Vernon, VA (where he planted Indian corn and rye) in 1797 after his Presidency; through the Whiskey Rebellion (which occurred after Alexander Hamilton showed Congress that it could use its power to tax [repealed in 1801]); through Prohibition (1920 -1933); and to today – when distilling is now legal, distillers’ taxes are collected, and distillation is done in daylight, and not “by the silvery moon” – Moonshine has been part of Americana.

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If you want to learn how to distill nowadays, and your grandfather is no longer around to teach you, there is Moonshine University in KY, where a 5-day Distiller Course will set you back $5,000-$6,000. Students say it is definitely worth it. Colin Blake, its Creative Director, warns that any illegitimate distilling flirts with breaking more than 100 state and federal laws. Small wonder that students gladly pay their tuition!

In order to get an official definition of Moonshine, I turned to the ‘Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits and Amendment’ (Code of Federal Regulations – Chapter 4: Class and Type Designations), and – surprise – there is no regulation for Moonshine! I saw an ‘Amendment’ from February 2013, and I thought a definition would be there, but it turned out to be for Caçhaca, a type of rum, and a distinctive product of Brazil.

So there is no legal definition for Moonshine, and I believe that’s how everyone wants it! The taxman is very happy that he can collect taxes without being threatened!

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For our SWE Moonshine tasting, Bill Lembeck reduced all the proofs by 50% with high-quality bottled water. We ditched the crackers, and served organic, unsalted popcorn. In addition, Bill created the artwork, with a bottle shot superimposed on its home state for each moonshine. Click here to download a pdf of our guided Moonshine tasting, including tasting notes for the 14 different products tasting during: harriet-lembecks-moonshine-tasting-notes-august-2016

One final note: Attendees were loved this session, and were impressed with the uniqueness of the topic, and the range of products tasted!

HarrietHarriet Lembeck is a CWE (Certified Wine Educator) and a CSE (Certified Spirits Educator – a new designation). She is President of the Wine & Spirits Program, and revised and updated the textbook Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits. She was the Director of the Wine Department for The New School University for 18 years. She can be reached at h.lembeck@ wineandspiritsprogram.com.

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Guest Post: Montefalco Sagrantino

Montefalco, Italy

Montefalco, Italy

Today we have a guest post from Steve Armes. Steve is a wine-loving artist who resides in Irving, Texas. In this article, Steve takes us along on a trip to Montefalco, in Italy’s Umbria province, where he discovers the lovely countryside and architecture of the region – in addition to the area’s wine.

“In the horse race that is the Italian wine scene, the field is populated by the usual suspects. In the straight, Brunello di Montalcino leads by a length, followed by Amarone and Barolo in a dead heat. You can bet across the board on these. But my money is on a dark horse that is on no one’s preferred list: Montefalco Sagrantino.  Focus on the backstretch and look for this wine to finish in the money.

Montefalco (mountain of the hawk) is a small town tucked away in central-eastern Umbria, half way between Spoleto and Assisi. Encircling this walled city are 250 magical acres where God, man and Mother Nature collaborate to produce a little-know grape that is about to shift our wine paradigm: Sagrantino.

Although the origin of the grape is unclear, with some researchers attributing its birth to Asia and others to Greece, this variety is quickly becoming Italy’s next rock star. We know that behind every great grape is a sublime terroir, and this is no exception. Montefalco is surrounded by the Apennines, and its playground is an admixture of clay with limestone and sand. The hot summers there are ameliorated by a cooling breeze known as la tramontana (the north wind). The grape is ancient, but its reputation is young. How, in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately wine universe is this possible? The answer is one of vinification.

57044157 - italian vineyard in autumnal foliage and sagrantino grapes

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Unlike Brunello di Montalcino, which was sitting around in the cellars of Tuscany waiting for enologists to stumble upon it in the late 70s and make it an overnight sensation, Sagrantino languished in obscurity. Vintners often made Sagrantino in the passito style, drying the berries on straw mats prior to fermentation, making them raisin-like, which increased the sugar and the resulting alcohol content—the latter often exceeding 14%. But as wine cognoscenti will aver, the 1970’s brought a great change to the juice universe and tenacious growers of this region were determined to bring out the grape’s full potential. Discarding the older methods, visionaries of vinification began to make the wine in the secco or dry style, transforming it from a sweet wine into a bold and tannic contender. The wine would earn DOC status in 1979, and DOCG status in 1992. The Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG is approved for both dry (secco) wines and passito wines with between 80 and 180 grams/liter of residual sugar.

Sagrantino, with its deep garnet color, foretells a nose of blackberry, violets, and other floral scents. The palate reveals itself to be full of plum, lingering earthiness, and spice with a finish that will make tannin-lovers go wild. In its dry (and most popular) form, it can be a big, big wine. The grape is one of the most tannic of extant varietals, and will pair with a range of dishes as well as with spicy entrees. Or, savor it alone and decipher its amazing complexity and balance. It cellars well for at least a couple of decades, and in most versions, can profit from being opened and allowed to breathe for hours.

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Those of us who have sipped our way through Italy know that the best Italian wines can be costly. But the manna from heaven in this promised land called Italy is that these premiere wines are also produced in a junior version which is made affordable by either an admixture of lesser grapes or a shorter aging period. Examples are Amarone/Ripasso, Brunello di Montalcino/Rosso di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano/Rosso di Montepulciano. Following suit, Sagrantinos await the wine enthusiast in 3 forms:  The passito style, which is still available, the secco Montefalco Sagrantino , both of which contain 100% Sagrantino, and the Montefalco Rosso DOC, which contains 10-15% Sagrantino blended with Sangiovese or other grapes. The dry Sagrantino di Montefalco is aged for 37 months, including 12 in oak. The sweet version is also aged for 37 months (with no minimum requirement for oak). Montelfaco Rosso DOC has a minimum aging requirement of 18 months (30 for the Riserva, which includes at least 12 months in oak).

To trek through Italy is to make un giro di gusto, a taste tour. In Montalcino, the world revolves around Brunello. In Montepulciano, vino Nobile flows from the tap. And anyone who has taken an excursion through Tuscany is familiar with the strada in chianti, and the tour bus from Florence to Siena that stops in Greve so tourists can consume Chianti Classico, the delectable poster child of Italian wine. But the people of Umbria have been taking notes. What they have learned is that tourists long to travel through the rustic campagna to discover for themselves the next great culinary Arcadia. It seems that the Umbrians know what is coming, so they have created La strada del Sagrantino. All roads leading to Montefalco host signs with the best logo I have seen of all Italy’s strade del vini (wine trails).

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As you encounter the fare in the area, you will find that their world revolves around the grape (as in Montalcino). There are lenticchie (lentils) soaked in Sagratino, cheeses produced in similar fashion, so that the rind is the garnet red of the wine, even Sagrantino jelly. Walk into a shop in Montefalco, and they will be only too happy to offer you a sample of Sagrantino, but will also force upon you salumi e formaggi  (salami and cheese). Typically, shops will have about 15 to 20 different bottles of Sagrantino di Montefalco and 8 to 10 rossos. We saw few passito or sweet versions, but they are certainly available. As we gravitated toward the rossos, we were quickly told that they were misti (meaning “blends”), and we assured them that we understood. The rossos start at around 12 Euros, and the Sagrantinos begin just over 20 Euros. The 250 acres that spawn Sagrantino do not allow for a large yield, so the wine will likely stay in limited supply. And even though some prescient grapesters are experimenting with it in Tuscany, it will perforce be a different wine, for the elements that make up terroir differ  from mile to mile, if not from acre to acre.

As I wade through the travel magazines and blogs, I see that Tuscany is no longer the destination du jour, and that Puglia and Sardegna are the new hot spots, which is fine in my opinion, for I will continue to frequent Tuscany, hoping to find fewer tourists there. But the unavoidable truth is that Umbria, and Montefalco in particular, is going to be on the short list of savvy travelers. This region, known for such attractions as Lake Trasimeno, a popular sporting destination, and Assisi, the best-preserved medieval walled city in Italy, is poised to become the next Mecca for eager globe-roamers. Information is available from the Associazione Strada del Sagrantino, Piazza del Comune n.17 06036 Montefalco, telephone 0742 378490, email info@stradadelsagrantino.it.

Although it is unimaginable now, growers of Sagrantino nearly plowed the vines under, intending to replace them with more profitable varieties. But they didn’t. And thus they have given us Sagrantino di Montefalco, the best Italian wine you have never heard of, saving it from being the best Italian wine the world would never know.

Come to think of it, the Italian wine world really isn’t like a horse race. Horse races are loud, frantic and fast. Italian wine is more like a leisurely afternoon stroll through the dappled sunlight on a dirt path that separates the olive groves from the vineyards, the breeze carrying the ancient aromas of growth, fruit, and rebirth. And the Italians have caught it all and put it in a bottle.

Copyright Steve Armes 2009

Steve Armes is a classically trained painter who travels to Italy to paint the landscape. He is an ardent student of wine, with a particular interest in Italian wines. You may see his work at www.stevearmes.com. He lives in Irving, TX.

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