Guest Blogger: Discover Mexico’s Baja Wine Country

The courtyard at Adobe Guadalupe (Photo Credit: Matilde Parente)

The courtyard at Adobe Guadalupe (Photo Credit: Matilde Parente)

In this guest post, Matilde Parente, MD, CSW gives readers a lovely armchair tour of the wine, food and history of the Guadalupe Valley, a region that’s putting Mexican winemaking on the world’s wine maps.

Wine country adventurers now have another destination to explore: Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley, located 90 miles south of San Diego in Baja California. About half the size of the Napa Valley, this Mexican valle offers a low-key and rustic wine, food, and cultural experience that will jolt your palate and swaddle you with its warmth and beauty.

Although Mexican wine has only recently burst onto the radar of norteños, our southern neighbor has been making wine since the 1500s, after conqueror Hernán Cortés requested grapevines from Spain and before vineyards were planted in Chile and Argentina.

Milestones in Baja winemaking include efforts by the Jesuits in the early 1700s, the 1888 founding of Bodegas de Santo Tomás, Baja’s oldest continuously operating winery and the winegrapes  planted by Russian Molokan refugees in the early 1900s. More French and Italian varieties were introduced to Baja in the early 20th century, aided by Wente’s James Concannon and the Piedmont-born Italian viticulturist Esteban Ferro.

The vineyards at Adobe Guadalupe photo credit: Matilde Parente)

The vineyards at Adobe Guadalupe (Photo Credit: Matilde Parente)

The modern era in Baja winemaking began in 1972 with the founding of Casa Pedro Domecq and has accelerated since the 1980s, which saw the emergence of the Valle’s first boutique winery, Monte Xanic, and the rising prominence of the Bordeaux-trained enologist Hugo D’Acosta. In 2004, D’Acosta founded a winemaking school, the Estación de Oficios Porvenir, affectionately known as La Escuelita, to train and help support small-scale winegrowers.

Common red grape varieties planted today include heat-loving Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Carignan, Aglianico, Syrah, and Petit Sirah—along with Barbera, Nebbiolo and Spain’s original Mission grape. White varieties include Chardonnay, Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, and Viognier. Delicious rosés are also made from many of these varieties, notably those from Nebbiolo.

Although some single-varietal wines are made, most Valle wines are blends, some of which are unusual, such as the outstanding Rafael, a Cabernet-Nebbiolo blend by Adobe Guadalupe. Limited more by their imagination than AOP-type regulations, Mexican winemakers continue to experiment with their terroir and winemaking decisions.

Guadalupe Valley soils are a mixture of sandy loam and red clay. Lying just within the 30-degree latitude for quality winegrowing, the arid Valle receives only about 3–4 inches of rain annually with daytime temperatures averaging 86°F in summer and 42°F in winter. Yields average 2–3 tons per acre.

The view just before sunset at Ensenada’s Cuatro Cuatros resort and outdoor restaurant (Photo Credit: Matilde Parante)

The view just before sunset at Ensenada’s Cuatro Cuatros resort and outdoor restaurant (Photo Credit: Matilde Parante)

Today, the more than 60 Guadalupe Valley wineries account for 90% of Mexico’s wine production with L.A. Cetto, Domecq and Monte Xanic producing the lion’s share of the region’s wines. According to 2014 figures, Mexican wineries produced just over two million cases of wine a year, which accounted for about one-third of domestic (Mexican) wine sales. Most other wineries and artisan winemakers are small-production, family-owned and -operated enterprises with limited marketing and distribution opportunities, even within Mexico.

Traditionally, beer and tequila have been the nation’s most popular adult beverages. However, Mexican wine consumption has seen a 12% increase over the past decade, especially among the upper middle class and younger consumers. Key Mexican wine markets are Mexico City and Guadalajara restaurants and their more affluent residents.

The two-lane Ruta del Vino (wine route) tracks north and east from coastal Ensenada towards Tecate. Wineries that deserve a stop and a few sips include the Adobe Guadalupe (with a free tasting and homemade breakfast included with your stay), the architecturally stunning Monte Xanic, Villa Montefiori, Viña de Frannes (where Michel Roland consults), Vinicola Torres Alegre y Familia and La Lomita Winery.

On and off the the well-marked Ruta you’ll also find a range of accommodations, from the air-conditioned cabins of Ensenada’s glamping hot spot Cuatro Cuatros to the relaxed country sophistication of the six-room Adobe Guadalupe, which is also home to its outstanding winery and Azteca horse stables.

Finally, no wine country would be complete without great food and a museum. The $5.3 million Museo de La Vid y El Vino inaugurated in 2012 is a spacious modern architectural wonder where you can learn more about the region’s fascinating history.

A view of the vineyards at Adobe Guadalupe from the Azteca horse stable (Photo Credit" Matilde Parente)

A view of the vineyards at Adobe Guadalupe from the Azteca horse stable (Photo Credit: Matilde Parente)

The Baja food scene evolved along with the emerging wine scene, propelling it forward gastronomically. Known as Baja Mediterranean, the local cuisine is creative, healthful and farm-fresh. Along with al fresco pleasure, freshly caught seafood and flavorful Valle-grown produce are exceptional. Many dishes are prepared with the local olive oil, a must-buy at many wineries.

Homegrown and resettled chefs such as Javier Plascencia (Finca Altozano), Drew Deckman (Deckman’s en el Mogor), Angelo Dal Bon (Tre Galline at the Villa Montefiori winery), Leda Gamboa (The Adobe Food Truck at the Adobe Guadalupe) and Diego Hernandez (Corazon De Tierra) continue to transform, elevate and energize the local food scene with their creativity and enoturismo evangelism.

For those unwilling or unsure about driving down to the Valle, a few reputable companies offer guided tours for small groups and individuals, including Fernando Gaxiola’s Baja Wine + Food. Although 4-wheel drive isn’t required, most roads leading up to the wineries are pocked dirt roads and dusty feet are guaranteed – a good enough reason to kick ‘em up and enjoy another sip of delicious Guadalupe Valley wine.

About the author: Matilde Parente, MD, CSW blogs at www.writeonwines.com and tweets @winefoodhealth.

References:

  • Covarrubias J, Thach L. Wines of Baja Mexico: A qualitative study examining viticulture, enology, and marketing practices. Wine Economics and Policy. Vol 4, Issue 2, Dec 2015, pp 110–115.

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Guest Blogger: What is Your Wine Lens?

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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 discusses her particular way of looking at wine, and along the way encourages us all to find our own individual wine lens.   

What is Your Wine Lens?

By Candi, CSW

My wine lens?

Most certainly. I am not talking about viewing wine through rosé-colored glasses. Nor, heaven forbid, through “beer goggles”. My lens is the context through which I view wine, my life experiences, and their mutual influence upon each other. My unique terrior.

This is a topic I have been contemplating since I completed my most recent wine-related trip. And it might be a subject for you to consider, maybe with the company of a glass or two.

I believe we all have a unique wine lens. Beginning to view my lens more clearly has been a gift; a gift of learning, enlightenment and reflection.  All of these I appreciate more and more as I age. So I thought it might be helpful for other wine professionals to more clearly understand the distinctive value they bring to the table. Along with the vino.

Here are a few points to ponder, with fragments from my lens to illustrate. Okay, to magnify if you must.

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Family and Geography: I grew up in the Midwest, in a small town when domestic manufacturing was an established and thriving part of our local economy. My hometown was classic Middle America, complete with solid values, good public schools, church on Sunday. My parents were raised on solo family farms. My father was a small businessman; my Mom, like most women in our town, did not work outside the home.

My parents had grown up in the Depression. Given this setting, I was raised to be frugal; to live below my means. The wine lessons? I prefer finding value wines that taste above their price; the wines that “over deliver.” Further, there are many red value wines that taste substantially better than the wine used for communion that I first experienced at the age of thirteen. I wonder if there is a designated product line for nasty communion wine. No offense to traditional churches intended.

Non-wine education and work experience: My career was in health care; my first career-level position was in consulting. I found that the more years I spent in the industry, the less I was inclined to rely exclusively on the medical model within the current care delivery system. My horizon broadened to include what is popularly known as “complementary and alternative” medicine. There appears to be a significant amount of research that supports reasonable consumption of wine as part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Wine can fit into a wellness program for some of us. It works for me.

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Hobbies and interests: We lived in a major Midwest City early in our marriage. Unlike where I grew up, there were quality museums, plays, restaurants—a diverse cultural landscape. We visited all the major museums and discovered a fondness for Impressionist art. I would stand really close to a painting, hands clasped behind my back to signal to the docent that I’d just look and not touch. And I would contemplate the beauty and the effort that went into the work. This was also my first exposure to key cuisines, primarily Italian. As my time to spend in the kitchen increased, Italian became my first specialty. I discovered that Italians often put as much love into their value-priced wines in each region as they do into the upper-tier wines. For example, we enjoy Barbera and Dolcetto as great value choices. And I buy Barolo for special occasions. As for art? Wine is both an expression of the artistry of the vintner and of terroir.

Entry into the professional world of wine: I began with wine as a hobby. Read the popular magazines, bought the occasional recommended wine listed as less than $10 that I could find. Mostly white wine and slightly sweet rosés. The memory of nasty red wine was quite powerful after more than 15 years. To appreciate a broader range of wine required a red wine epiphany.

The setting was a cold winter night, by the fireplace. Early marriage, Saturday night, just the two of us. My husband had purchased a Chilean Merlot from the local liquor store for the princely sum of $5. I was hesitant, but also curious and lazy. I sliced some cheese and served with crackers. I just could not approach a red without food. Simple dinner, value red. And I ate cheese, followed by red wine. Then red wine first, then cheese. Whoa – this is red wine? And I like it? So a bottle of Merlot began my red wine journey. And to this day, on lazy weekend evenings, it’s just wine and cheese. Often better wine and usually better cheese. But the memory lingers. And Chilé is, like Italy, one of our favorite wine-producing countries known for value. My hobby took off.

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Fast forward to a decade or two later.  I began to spend less time in consulting and started to more fully enjoy other interests. Wine then turned from a hobby into a passion. I took a rigorous wine “boot camp” course at a local university. Adult learning, non-credit. I was one of the oldest people in the class. And I did well, much to my surprise. I focused on getting the information I wanted out of the course. Despite lack of trade experience, obtaining my CSW became a quest. For the enjoyment of the achievement. A 300-page study guide was not intimidating because I wanted to learn the contents. The desire was there. After four months of daily study, I decided to go for it. Passing that day literally brought tears to my aging eyes.

Demographics: Here we get into the statistics; age, sex, income level, blah, blah blah. Suffice to say I am, ahem, one of the older wine professionals. Being Candi, I am of the female persuasion. Semi-retired with primary interests in wellness, reading, a bit of travel, volunteering, and wine. Serving as a volunteer somm is a very good fit.

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Personality: I am without doubt an introvert. Staying at home on weekends energizes; being with a large group of people depletes. Except when I am in a setting that involves wine; then, I turn into a geeky person who often comes across as “selling” a wine if I’ve taken it to a party. But I am selling, because I believe in the wine. I have had the joy of introducing white-only drinkers to Spanish (value!) Monastrell. And of helping some to understand that not all pink wine is sweet. And I love any type of tasting, such as trade events that offer opportunities to meet and talk with vintners.Putting it all together, I do some wine consulting here and there. When people I meet discover what I true wine geek I am, they tend to become curious. Most frequent question: what are some nice wines I can buy that don’t cost an arm and a leg? I have learned that, even given the Great Recession, people are still interested in wine. My niche has become recommending a few value-priced wines available locally. My reward?

People of all ages, backgrounds, other demographics come back to be with feedback. They are so happy; they have found a way to enjoy wine. And they begin to explore further. And their journey begins.

What is your wine lens? Enjoy the exploration.

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Guest Post: Is Wine from Cornwall Actually Cornish?

Today we have a guest post from Ted Lui, CSS. Ted tells us about his exploration of the wineries of Cornwall and invites us to ponder the question: Is wine from Cornwall actually Cornish? 

Camel Valley Vineyard in Cornwall, England

Camel Valley Vineyard in Cornwall, England

Is the wine produced in Cornwall actually Cornish (in style)?

Before answering this question, I’d like to say something about my interpretation of wine, from the point of view of 21-year-old man. I believe that there must be a big difference between the ideas of well-experienced wine experts and young “wine enthusiast” adults, particularly when it comes to defining the “meaning” of wine.

In this case, I am going to explore the world of wine with you via a journey to a “young” wine production region, and from a young person’s perspective.

I first discovered British wine in Cornwall—not the one in New York but in the UK. I knew nothing about British wine before visiting that prior to my visit to some of the vineyards- Camel Valley Vineyard, Polgoon Vineyard, and Knightor Winery.

Although Cornwall is not a traditional winemaking region compared to France and other countries that have produced wine for centuries, it does have a wine history of its own. There is evidence that the origins of British wine dates back to 955 when King Edwy permitted winemaking in Somerset (Harding and Robinson, 2015). Therefore, it would be inaccurate if one claims that British wine has nothing to do with history.

Map of the United Kingdom - Cornwall is in the far south/west of England. Click to enlarge.

Map of the United Kingdom – Cornwall is in the far south/west of England. Click to enlarge.

Camel Valley Vineyard in Cornwall has its own history, although it only goes back about 30 years. This is not a long period of time by Old World standards, however, it is a good enough place to begin in my quest to determine if the wine is truly Cornish in style or something just resembling Champagne.

For starters, Champagne grape varieties account for 45% of the grapes used in producing British wine (Johnson and Robison, 2013). I found that most of the sparkling wines produced by Camel Valley were made using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while others included some Seyval Blanc and Reichenstenier. The wines were fruity and floral on the nose in addition to the palate, and the flavour intensity was rather medium (-) generally.

Interestingly, despite some French terms revealed on the labels like blanc de blancs and demi-sec, they were British-style for sure in terms of their refreshing and fruity profiles. Champagne lovers may find them too light in terms of body and intensity when the wines are compared to traditional Champagne. In fact, the “young” profiles made the wines sui generis, particularly a new red sparkling using Pinot Noir.

The red sparkling Pinot Noir was definitely a non-Champagne style of wine, and made me realize that the success of British wine, such as that at the International Wine Competition (Abbot, 2010) had to do not with the fact that it could imitate Champagne, but rather that they were producing award-winning wines was probably due to their modification of some production methods, for example, the replacement of grape varieties by local grapes. There will be no place for further development if the aim is to copy Champagne from every perspective except the PDO.

The English wine industry shares the ambition of a world top-five spot sometime in the near future (Harpers Wine & Spirit, 2015). Camel Valley Vineyard absolutely presents a step forwards towards the next success of British or Cornish sparkling.

Ted Lui with the winemaker at Carmel Vineyard

Ted Lui with the winemaker at Carmel Vineyard

The limitations of British or Cornish wine are probably going to be attributed to the maritime climate. Gale-force winds and high summer precipitation in 2012 caused a drastic decline in the total crop by two-thirds (Harding and Robinson, 2015). The changing climate has been a crucial factor in determining the quality of wine for many years. The acidity of the wines produced in Cornwall is one of the examples that explain the difficulty of quality control in Cornwall. It is slightly high in general, resulting in a minute imbalance in which the body, the flavour intensity and the finish are good. Still, it has been a stimulating start of the modern British or Cornish winemaking industry.

Time to end up with an answer to the question. I believe the wine made in Cornwall is indeed Cornish, and unique enough to find its own niche without having to imitate Champagne. Cornish wine has proven itself by the use of unusual grapes, sparkling red versions, and unique flavour characteristics. There is always room for the improvement, and perhaps the wine will evolve to find its sweet spot in terms of the flavour intensity and the balance of acidity. With the winemaker of Camel Valley

Bibliography

  • Abbott, J., 2010. UK sparkling wine producer beats Champagne to win global award. [online] Available at: <http://www.hortweek.com/uk-sparkling-wine-producer-beats-champagne-win-global-award/fresh-produce/article/1028353> [Accessed 20 April 2017].
  • Harding, J, and Robinson, J., 2015. The Oxford Companion to Wine. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Harpers Wine & Spirit, 2015. Profile on Chapel Down: Shaking up the UK wine scene. [online] Available at: <www.Harpers.co.uk> [Accessed 18 April 2017].
  • Johnson, H. and Robinson, J., 2013. The World Atlas of Wine. London: Mitchell Beazley.

Ted LuiAbout the author – Ted Lui, CSS: Ted Lui, CSS is a wine enthusiast and an undergraduate studying at the University of Exeter. Ted holds Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS) certification from the Society of Wine Educators as well as the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines & Spirits. He is also an International Kikisake-shi and Certified Sake Sommelier approved by Sake Service Institute and Sake Sommelier Association respectively. You can find out more about Ted on Instagram @ted_gin, or contact him via email cheuktaklui@yahoo.com.hk

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Guest Post/Book Review: A Glass Full of Miracles

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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 the long-awaited autobiography from Mike Grgich!

Book Review: A Glass Full of Miracles by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich

Here is a memoir that mirrors the history of wine in California. But it starts well before that— in 1923, as a matter of fact. That was the year that Miljenko Grigich, the youngest of eleven children, was born in the town of Desne—an obscure village in Croatia’s coastal region of Dalmatia. Grgich’s early life in Croatia was one of poverty and even worse World War II, Nazi oppressors and the rise of Communism.

With resourcefulness, ingenuity, and other “miracles” he escapes from behind the Iron Curtain and arrives in the middle of winter in Halifax, Canada. Here he works for a short time as a lumberjack Twenty-two years later, another miracle occurs and the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay—made by Grigich—wins the Paris tasting that turns the world of wine upside down.

In this charming book you can follow Mike’s story as he works for, and learns from Lee Stewart (of Chateau Souverain), Brother Timothy (of Christian Brothers), André Tchelistcheff, Robert Mondavi, and Zelma Long. Later, we follow Mike on the path to his own winery with Lee Paschich, a wine hobbyist, who weathered Prohibition and who bought Chateau Montelena in 1968.  This leads to a meeting with Jim Barrett and his son, Bo, as the new partners of Chateau Montelena who were looking for a winemaker.

Photo of Grgić Vina wines via http://www.grgich.com

Photo of Grgić Vina wines via http://www.grgich.com

The Barrets gave Grgich a five-year contract, and he set was soon creating award-winning Rieslings, Chardonnays, and well-aged Cabernets. He recognized the Zinfandel grape of California as a grape from his homeland in Croatia—this was later confirmed by UC Davis’ renowned grape geneticist, Dr. Carole Meredith. The wines produced in 1972 and 1973 were outstanding, including the winner of Paris Tasting, the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay.

Along the way, Grgich Austin Hills, and their friendship led to a partnership: Grgich Hills Winery. Grgich even returned to Croatia for a while, and started a vineyard and winery growing the indigenous white Pošip and the red Plavac Mali, a relative of both Zinfandel and Crljenak Kaštelanski.

This book shows Grgich, now 93, with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and love for both California and for his homeland Croatia, and with his anticipation of his 100th birthday.

Bibliographical information: Grgich, Miljenko (Mike). A Glass Full of Miracles. Violetta Press: 2016.   417 pages, hard cover, available on Amazon.com, violettapress.com, and at retail outlets.

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/Book Review: The 24-hour Wine Expert

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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 the latest offering from Jancis Robinson!

Book Review: The 24-Hour Wine Expert by Jancis Robinson, MW

I just love what’s written on the cover of this book (and I quote), “Red, white, rosé, fizzy, screwcap v cork, wine myths, overpriced wines, matching food and wine, decanting, the tasting ritual” as written by “the most respected wine critic in the world.” That’s a big promise, and this little book delivers.

But let’s get real: this book is not meant for you to become a 24-Hour Wine Expert. As a wine educator, you already are that, and more. This book is meant for the friends and family of wine experts and wine educators so that they can stop rolling their eyes when they dine with us.

The promised simple explanations are just that, and practical, too. For instance, giving an ‘A’ list and a ‘B’ list when picking wines from a retail store or a restaurant gives one many options and confidence. There are notes on the reasons for different bottle shapes and sizes, plus a “how-to-read-a-label” section that is very simple and direct. There is a concise list of tasting terms guaranteed to put your group (all of you) on the same page—and it just might help to make your wine conversations more meaningful and (perhaps) end food fights.  The good and bad parts of wine service are explained, as is the actual opening of the bottle.

This tidy little book also contains several top ten lists as well as advice on picking a bottle and common wine myths. A short section on popular grapes eases the way to a discussion on famous wine regions (eased into about 40 succinct categories), and a wrap-up of wine jargon. After a 24-hour study, you will be fearless.

Bibliographical information: Robinson, Jancis. The 24-Hour Wine Expert. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2016.

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: A Trip to the Jura – part deux!

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Today we have the second and final installment of our 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. Click here to read part one!

“The next day looked like rain, but it was winery day and we were going to be inside tasting rooms so I didn’t care. My Dad, my husband, and I squeezed into Jean-Marie’s small Audi and drove to our first stop, Arbois. On a road overlooking the town, Jean-Marie kept trying to point out the view but the rain was slapping against the windows. I thought we were going to visit a winery first, but we passed the imposing cathedral and Jean-Marie decided a quick stop was in order. The Romanesque church of St Just was built in the 12th century yet has a warm, comfortable feeling, with stone vaulted arcades letting in lots of light through stained glass windows, one of which depicts vignérons harvesting grapes.

Our next visit was not a winery either, but a café and famous chocolatier, Hirsinger. The rain had stopped and we sat in the center of beautiful Arbois, surrounded by Medieval buildings. There is a lot of wine history too, including Louis Pasteur who lived there and pasteurized wine. Tasting rooms and wine shops were visible on every corner. As we walked back to the car we passed a few of them. “That one, Stéphane Tissot, is good,” Jean-Marie says, but we didn’t stop. He had somewhere else in mind.

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In the car, Jean Marie said, “You know Paul, there is a saying: Arbois le nom, Pupillin le bon.” (perhaps, “Arbois has the name, but Pupillin’s got game.”) The village of Pupillin sits on a hill just two miles from Arbois, with south-facing slopes, and the exposure and limestone soils make for superior wines. We drove up the hill, to the large Domaine Désiré Petit. The parking lot was empty and the front door locked. It was Noon, and they had just closed for lunch. “Eh, oui,” Jean-Marie says, with a shrug.

Dejected, we got back in the car and drove through vineyards and pastures to the village of Chateau-Chalon. Driving through its beautiful and tidy streets, Jean-Marie said, “These towns are all rich from making wine.” Chateau-Chalon sits on the top of a bluff, protecting the vineyards stretched out far below from cold winds and storms. I was hungry but we marveled at the gorgeous view. “These are all the Savagnin grape,” said Jean-Marie. Savagnin is the most famous grape of the Jura, the only grape allowed in the oxidative Vin Jaune, and the best examples of Vin Jaune often come from Chateau-Chalone.

Veal with fresh morel mushrooms and a vin jaune cream sauce.

Veal with fresh morel mushrooms and a vin jaune cream sauce.

Members of my family arrived in another car and we walked to a restaurant for lunch where we tried Savagnin, in a blend with Chardonnay. In her book Jura Wine, author Wink Lorch says that most Savagnin is initially aged as if it is to become Vin Jaune, left in the barrel without topping up, to develop the veil of yeast on its surface similar to flor. Some does not age as long as the six years and three months required for Vin Jaune, however, and is bottled simply as Savagnin even though it has gone through some oxidation. These days, some Savagnin is also produced as a non-oxidative wine, referred to on label as Savagnin Ouillé (WEE-lay).

But that is not this wine. My nose told me right away it was oxidative, and it had a sharp taste, like that of a stinky cheese without the cheese smell, and a finish of salty almonds. The taste surprised my family and they tried to be good sports, but they didn’t really drink much more of it until our lunch arrived. Each of our dishes, from chicken to veal to a pot pie, had fresh morel mushrooms in a creamy Vin Jaune sauce and my family ate it all, wiping up the last drops of sauce with their French bread.

Later that afternoon, we knocked on the door of tasting room. Philippe Butin is a small producer and opened the door himself. Jean-Marie called out, “Do you remember me? I bought your wine and shipped it to Luxembourg?” Phillipe looked at Jean-Marie, paused, then said, “Maybe,” and stood aside for us to enter. The small room was warm and welcoming. Boxes lined one of the walls, awards another. About a dozen bottles beckoned from the bar.

restaurant list of Jura winesFinally!

Philippe asked us whether we’d like to try his Crémant, and before I could answer, Jean-Marie said, “They didn’t come here to taste that.”

“What’s wrong with my Crémant?”

“Let’s not waste their time!”

Philippe grunted and started to pour out a very light looking red wine.

“I would like to taste the whites,” I said, and Philippe told me I would, but that in the Jura, the reds are always poured before the whites. This was news to me, and interesting. It’s because of the power of Vin Jaune that the whites are tasted last. The red he had poured, such a light red that Philippe Butin called it “rose” (not rosé), was a Poulsard – the one we had in the rosé earlier that week. Poulsard is hard to vinify without getting funky flavors, but this wine tasted clean and refreshing, all delicate red fruits and spices.

We tried a Trousseau, with a similar taste profile but slightly meatier, and ruby in color. My family, a little stung by the Savagnin at lunch, was enjoying these wines. Trousseau grapes need warmer weather that seems elusive in the Jura, where summer is short and early July and late August can bring rain and high temperatures in the 50s. But this Trousseau had good balance.

Photo of Vin Jaune by Agne 27, via Wikimedia

Photo of Vin Jaune by Agne 27, via Wikimedia

At last, the winemaker poured golden glasses of Vin Jaune out of its traditional clavelin bottle. The bottle, shaped a little like an old schoolteacher’s bell, holds only 620ml because that is about how much of one liter of juice remains after its long aging and oxidation. All the reading I had done on Vin Jaune included one interesting piece of advice: when you first try it, you should ignore what your senses are concluding, that the wine, with its oxidative nature and savory, nutty flavor, is bad. Instead, imagine that you are not familiar with what any wine should taste like, and sip it with an open mind.

I tell this to my family. They look dubious as they raise their glasses and sniff. I see more than one wrinkled nose. I look at the winemaker. He has seen this before: Vin Jaune is not for everyone.

We leave the tasting room. We have spent the entire day on the road and only visited one winery. As we head home, I confess that I do not yet appreciate Vin Jaune, the Jura’s most famous wine. Perhaps I just need to keep an open mind.

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: 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

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.

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

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.