Guest Post: The Emperor’s Glass

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

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

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

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

A Royal Pedigree

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

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

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

The Golden Slope

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

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

A 150 Million Year Old Destiny

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

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

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

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

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

 

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Guest Post: Vines for Ransom

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

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

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

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

What makes the wines of Vosne-Romanée so special?

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

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

What are the best growing sites in Vosne-Romanée?

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

The six Grands Crus are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

 

 

 

 

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

Rue Mercière in Strasbourg

Rue Mercière in Strasbourg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Corner in Strasbourg

Street Corner in Strasbourg

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

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

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

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Guest Post: My Journey to the CSW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behold, the thickness of my notes!

Behold, the thickness of my notes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asiago and Cabernet, you are my only friends!

Asiago and Cabernet, you are my only friends!

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

My highlight system went like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A big ol' stack of fun!

A big ol’ stack of fun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well-earned:  Joey's CSW Pin

Well-earned: Joey’s CSW Pin

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

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

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Guest Post: Modern Wines from Ancient Santorini

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

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

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

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

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

santorinin cliffsides firaThe History and Geography of Santorini

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

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

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

santorini vineyardAssyrtiko:  Rich, Mineral-driven Whites

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

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

Vinsanto from Santorini

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

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

Mavrotragano:  Big, Bold Red

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

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

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

Guest Post: “It is in fair Verona that we lay our scene…”

Today we have another guest post; an in-depth look and unique perspective on the many styles and flavors of Valpolicella…the jewel of the Veneto!  Our guest author today is Ben Steel, a wine educator and writer based in Encinitas, California.  Enjoy!!

veneto veronaTo quote Shakespeare, “it is in fair Verona that we lay our scene.” Verona, or the Veneto, is an Italian paradox. It is among the largest producers of Italy’s 20 main regions and is home to many of the largest commercial producers and big name mass marketers of the Italian wine industry. At the same time, it is renowned for its stylistic variations of Valpolicella, producing some of the most popular and sought after wines in all of Italy.

Veneto is also one of the biggest producers of quality wine at the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) level. The DOC’s originally were granted to regions whose geographical characteristics were thought to contribute to outstanding wines, but as the wine from these regions became ever more popular, financial interest overshadowed quality concerns. The DOCs were expanded well beyond their original or “classico” sites, often to inferior regions and allowable yields were greatly increased, resulting in mass-market wines of mediocre quality.  So what was Italy’s answer to this dilemma?

Ironically, rather than restricting yields and expansion, they decided to play the labeling game.  Consumers could buy wines from the “classico” sites, but that wasn’t enough. To that end, the consortiums created the DOCG, which was supposed to be what the DOC clearly failed to be – a guarantor of quality. Yields are more restricted for the DOCG and there are other stylistic mandates, but here’s the rub. As we will see, many of these DOCGs were granted to styles of wine that were produced in the same areas as the now defunct DOC. So what Italy is really attempting to guarantee is that you’ll like a particular style of wine, rather than ensuring that wine is necessarily of high quality.

Veneto - Map“This is not to say that the Veneto is defined by bargain-rack wine. Soave can be a rich, aromatic, mouth-filling white. Valpolicella can be a luscious, age worthy red. Even Prosecco, the wine for carefree night in Venice, can be a serious sparkler. And Amarone, of course, is Amarone. There’s nothing quite like it.” – Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch, Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy.

The Veneto is most well known for its red wines, particularly the various expressions of Valpolicella. The Valpolicella region is often pictured as an open hand whose fingers start in the Monti Lessini range north of Verona, spreading southward along hillside ridges. It is sandwiched between the Soave and Bardolino regions. The “classico” zone reaches from Sant’ Ambrogio in the west to Negrar in the east, but many of the outlying areas (Valpentena, Squaranto, Mezzzane, and Illasi valleys) are natural extensions of the zone and there are as many respected producers inside the classic zone as outside.

Valpolicella is historically made from indigenous grapes, of which Corvina Veronese is almost always the most prominent. It’s a thick skinned varietal with bright sour cherry flavors, fresh acidity, and firm tannins that forms the backbone of the Valpolicella blends, anywhere from 40-80% of the blend. The other major grape is Rondinella, which cannot compose more than 30% of the blend. It produces fruity, cherry flavored wines, but doesn’t really have the chops to make a great wine on its own. Molinara may compose a  small percentage of the blend along with a few other varieties, both internatinal and obscure.

I like to think of the styles of Valpolicella as sisters, each with a unique personality, but obviously related to the others. The various sisters are Valpolicella, Ripasso Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella, and Recioto della Valpolicella.

veneto - valpolicellaValpolicella

The youngest sister is Valpolicella. She is known to taste of sour cherries, bright red fruit, and sometimes bitter almonds. She’s got a saucy personality and displays a little spice and sass. Basic Valpolicella is light and fruity and best drunk young, but some of the better known producers restrict their yields and produce wines of serious substance. One such producer is Stefano Campedelli and I’ll review his wine below.

Marion, 2011 Valpolicella Classico Borgomarcellise is made from extremely ripe grapes that Campedelli rests in old Slavonian casks for up to a year. The wine is a medium ruby color with medium intensity aromas of ripe strawberry, plum, and a rich undercurrent of blackberry. It actually has some of the floral notes that remind me of good Barolo or Barbaresco – roses, sweet tobacco, and churned earth that all combine to make a subtle perfume very reminiscent of Nebbiolo. The tannins are present, but mild and the medium plus acidity is nicely balanced by the fruit. This is a wonderfully balanced wine with a beautiful nose and a palate of ripe fruit along with a Nebbiolo-like floral character. There is a slightly spicy note to the wine that would make it a great accompaniment to a rich Arrabiata sauce.

Recioto della Valpolicella

Recioto is the eldest sister. In fact, all of the other styles of Valpolicella were preceded by Recioto. She was enjoyed in the Roman era when the predominant style was for highly alcoholic and sweet wines because they could withstand long voyages without spoiling. The Recioto, Amarone, and even the Ripasso style to some extent, owe their creation to the appassimento process. The Romans are thought to have developed this process in which very ripe grapes were hung to dry for several months, concentrating sugar, phenolics, and flavor. The process of desiccation not only concentrates the juices within the grape but also increases the skin contact of the grapes, elevating the phenolic end-products of the wine. The drying process further metabolizes the acids within the grape and creates a polymerization of the tannins in the skin which contribute to the overall balance of the finished wine

veneto ricioto bottleFollowing the drying, the grapes are crushed and fermented. In Recioto, the fermentation is halted before all of the sugars are converted to alcohol, resulting in a wine with considerable residual sugar. Recioto della Valpolicella is Italy’s answer to Port.

The wine I’ll review for this style is Domenico Fraccaroli’s 2008 Recioto della Valpolicella Grotta del Ninfeo:  This is a thick, luscious dessert wine that smells like a dark mélange of raisinated, jammy fruit. Imagine chocolate syrup poured over orange peel, fig, prune, blackberry, raspberry liquor, black cherry, and espresso beans highlighted by notes of cinnamon, ginger, and allspice.  This is an all out syrupy orgy of flavor. The wonderful thing about Recioto is how balanced she tastes. Her tannins are bold, but silky. Her acidity is high, but completely balanced and almost unnoticeable due to her residual sugar. This is a big wine, but it is rich and velvety smooth. This wine reminds me of a cross between Vintage Port and Rutherglen Muscat. It has the dark fruit and body of a Vintage Port with the orange peel and spice notes of Rutherglen Muscat.

Amarone della Valpolicella

Amarone is the popular sister. She is arguably Italy’s most popular wine, which is ironic since she was created by accident.  The story goes that an unattended cask of Recioto was accidentally allowed to ferment to dryness. The mistake proved a popular one and the wine became known as Recioto Amaro, “amaro” meaning bitter and referring to the tart, almond, and dried fruit flavors of the wine. It was later rechristened Amarone della Valpolicella.

Amarone has become wildly popular, surpassing even Barolo in production at roughly 13 million cases a year. As a result of the rapid increase in demand for Amarone, the local consortium limits the appassimento process to no more than 50% of any harvest, primarily to protect less popular, but culturally important styles such as Valpolicella Classico.

Many of the better known producers fear a potential decline in the standards for Amarone, especially since there are no existing laws to differentiate between vineyards for Valpolicella and those for Amarone. In fact, if you look at the map, you’ll see that they co-exist within the same relative delimited areas of Valpolicella Classico and/or Valpolicella Estesa (Valpantena) – there is no separate area for Amarone even though its production has been granted a DOCG.

veneto - reciotoIt’s all about location – at least according to the people who make Amarone. Hillside vineyards with good southern exposure allow for a gradual ripening due to the marked difference between day and nighttime temperatures. The respite from the daytime heat provided by the higher elevation vineyards allows the grapes to retain more of their acidity and primary fruit, while also developing the thick skins that can cope with the appassimento process. Most producers are adamant that the process produces far superior wines at these higher altitudes that avoid the warmer, damper condition of the valley floor. The worry is that money-driven producers will cash in on the popularity of Amarone and begin making it in these lesser quality valley floors and non-hillside sites. So what, you may ask?

Is there really a difference in the finished product based on where it was produced?  Well, yes…and no. Some famous producers, such as Romano Dal Forno, have set up shop in outlying areas closer to Soave than to Valpolicella, but here’s the rub. The wines are vinified in such a way as to compete directly with those wines grown in the more classic regions such that you end up getting wines of comparable quality from widely different zones, which of course puts our entire premise of site-specificity on the fritz; however, it likely that it is the producer’s attention to detail that accounts for much of the final product. There is a concern among traditionalists that Amarone might lose her soul to money, but then again, tradition can seem a straight-jacket to forward-minded producers of newer generations. I think it’s nice to have a variety of interpretations to choose from.

veneto amaroneWhy is Amarone so popular?  Well, she is deeply concentrated and deeply colored with a big palate of rich dried fruit that accompanies a wine of brooding depth and high levels of alcohol, tannin, and acidity. In short, this is the epitome of the heavily extracted, big wine that is currently so popular amongst consumers (and Robert Parker).

Great Amarone is highly dependent upon the producer so it is worth getting acquainted with some of the best known producers.  Ten of the top producers of Amarone include Accordini, Allegrini, Begali, Le Salette, Masi, Quintarelli, Romano Dal Forno, Sant’ Antonio, Speri, and Viviani.

The wine I will review for this region is the Vaona, 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella Paverno. This is a seductive blue-black wine that seems to scream of richness, depth, and intense flavor. Dried fruit tones of raisin, fig, and plum marry well with maraschino cherry and mix of blueberry/blackberry compote.  The fruit is accompanied by leather, almonds, chocolate, and coffee. This is a big, brooding wine glycerine richness, hefty tannins, high alcohol, high acidity and loaded with dark flavors.

Ripasso Valpolicella

Ripasso is the confused sister. She can’t decide if she wants to be Amarone or Valpolicella, and in fact, she’s something of a hybrid. She’s about midway between Valpolicella Classico and Amarone della Valpolicella, offering some of the raisinated fruit and chocolate of the full bodied Amarone, while maintaining the brighter fruit and somewhat leaner profile of the Valpolicella.

The Ripasso sister is conceived in an intriguing process that involves both her younger and older sister. Valpolicella is made in the standard manner of dry wines, but partway through the fermentation process, the pomace (the solid remains of the grapes after pressing) left over from making Amarone della Valpolicella is mixed into the fermenting Valpolicella must so that the wine is “re-passed” over and re-fermented with the Amarone pomace, hence the name Ripasso. During this process, the wine absorbs some of the color, tannin, alcohol, and flavor from the Amarone sister.

veneto ripassoThe Ripasso sister is a stellar value offering a complex, but accessible wine with a lot of fruit and depth, but not overwhelmingly so. It is one of the best values in all of Italy and, I would argue, one of the best values in the wine world, period.

The wine I chose for this region is the Domini Veneti, 2010 Ripasso Valpolicella Vigneti di Torbe. The wine is a deep ruby with purple highlights and wonderfully floral bouquet. Cherry, raspberry, strawberry, and even blueberry commingle with roses, leather, dusty earth, pie crust, and a hint of chocolate and coffee. The tannins are much more noticeable than the Valpolicella, providing excellent structure, fairly drying, but still supple. The acidity is medium plus, but well balanced by the tannins and fruit.  This is a silky wine that goes down easy.

The Valleys of Valpolicella offer some of the most intriguing wines in Italy. The youngest sister of Valpolicella Classico offers bright fruit and charming personality. The eldest sister, Recioto, drinks like a vintage port for half the cost. The ever-popular Amarone sister offers a big, rich palate, but with some unique flavors that you just can’t find anywhere else.  Finally, the confused Ripasso sister offers much of the appeal and allure of Amarone at a fraction of the cost and represents one of the best wine values on earth.

veneto benIf you would like to try any of the wines featured in this article, you can contact the folks over at Protocol Wine Studio in San Diego, California. All of these selections were taken from their recent wine club release entitled the Valley of Valpolicella.

Our guest blogger, Ben Steel, is the founder of the Global Vine, LLC, a foundation dedicated to the enjoyment of wine through education. Ben is a CSW candidate with the long-term goal of earning the prestigious Master of Wine certification and is currently studying at the Neptune School of Wine, with Peter Neptune, MS.  His long-term goal is to expand his growing company into an internationally recognized wine education business. You can learn more about Ben and the Global Vine him by visiting his website .

If you would like to be a “Wine, Wit, and Wisdom” guest blogger, please contact SWE’s Director of Education, Jane Nickles, at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

 

Guest Post: Turbiana, is it Trebbiano…or not?

TurbianaToday we have a guest post from Wai Xin, a wine educator based in Singapore.  Xin brings us on a fascinating journey to get to the truth about Turbiana!

Modern DNA profiling ability has enabled researchers to name most grapes and their parentage. But for those who won’t be spending time on reports, they find the proof in the glass. While not always exact, some characteristics that run in the vine family can be tell-tale signs of its lineage, with slight variations attributed to vintage and geographical differences. But if you need a grape to stump someone, try Turbiana.

Sitting at a Zenato wine dinner three months ago, I overheard diners and their enthusiasm to taste the flagship wines – two vintages (2005 & 2006) of Sergio Zenato Riserva and a 2008 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. All rich and opulent, and should you have a case of the 2005 Sergio Zenato Riserva, it is certainly a good time to start exploring. But what really started the discussion among nearby wine specialists wasn’t the Amarone, they were two dry whites from Lugana.

Lugana is a small region south of Lake Garda, sitting near the border of Veneto and Lombardy. As often happens to a small region nestled between two large areas, it is often overlooked.

To try and figure out Lugana, I pulled my phone out from pocket and conjured my secret stash of wine resources. A Dropbox account containing handy resources such as maps, scholarly texts, and in this case, 521 official documents detailing all the approved Italian wine regions from IGT to DOCG.

“I vini a denominazione di origine controllata “Lugana” devono essere ottenuti dalle uve provenienti dal vitigno Trebbiano di Soave localmente denominato Turbiana o Trebbiano di Lugana.”

white wine tastingIn loosely translated essence, “Trebbiano di Soave, in local terms Turbiana or Trebbiano di Lugana.” Trebbiano and Soave sounded familiar enough to us. Done deal.

Or is it?

Two weeks after that dinner, on a friend’s insistence I met Fabio Zenato from Le Morette. “You must meet this man and his wines” my friend said, “I have never tried this variety before.”

At our meeting, an assortment of sparkling, dry, red and dry white wines were laid out on the table, and the word Lugana caught my eyes again. But instead of calling it a Trebbiano di Soave, Fabio addressed it with an alien name Turbiana. Tur. Interesting…

Very often Trebbiano, one of the most planted varieties in Italy, has its name appended with a region. Names like Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano di Soave, Trebbiano di Romagna and others are aplenty. The French call it Ugni Blanc, but even with that, it is still one of the many French synonyms.

In 2001, a group of researchers from University of Milan looked into the differences between these “Trebbiani” and other grape varieties that could be related. The result showed huge genetic differences suggesting that most Trebbiano, if related, must be cousins. Two grapes showed remarkable resemblance; Trebbiano di Soave and Verdicchio were 99% similar, while Turbiana differed slightly with Verdicchio at 97%.

Fabio supported the 2001 study. With this result, he can prove his claim since it had clearly demonstrated that Turbiana was significantly different from Trebbiano. I support his cause, and by calling it Trebbiano, it only misrepresents the Lugana native to a distant family. To get things right, Trebbiano di Lugana needs to be correctly known as Turbiana, and Trebbiano di Soave as Verdicchio.

lugana vineyardsIn Singapore, Lugana wines are almost non-existent with only a handful of merchants carrying one or two labels. The Zenato Luganas are available in Crystal Wines, while Monopole carries a Lugana from Tommasi owned Villa Giradi. Fabio’s visit to Singapore in October was to look for an importer. In December, his wines were showcased over a Veneto wine dinner, but as of today, I am not certain if anyone was confident to take up the distribution rights.

With my few experiences of Turbiana, it had came across being neutral and shapeable. While at other times, fully expressive of its fruits and minerals. Such unpredictability can make it difficult to handle, yet intriguing for some. The name change will do some good, but first it has to overcome the many obstacles ahead.

Tasting Notes: 

Zenato Lugana DOC San Benedetto 2012 – Hint of ripe tropical fruits showed initially and supported by a more melon-like aroma. While the palate was crisp and bone dry, the fruit flavors that showed on the finish was a welcoming touch. A simple wine but paired fine with fresh seafood.

Zenato Lugana Riserva “Sergio Zenato” 2007 – Having aged in oak barrels, tinge of smoky aroma overshadowed a neutral fruit. Palate had a light hint of residual sweetness and finished off with good roundness. Rather akin to a rich Chardonnay.

Le Morette Lugana DOC Mandolara – Youthfulness of the wine showed both in glass and palate. A gentle expression of fresh apple and flowers, the steel-like palate was driven by pronounced salty mineral touch that cut from beginning to finish.

Le Morette Lugana DOC Benedictus  Keeping the skin with the juice gave a nice straw gold tone and dense phenolic volume. Partially fermented in small oak barrels also imparted spicy note to the rich spectrum of aromas. If there’s a lack of description for the wine, one can say there’s a taste of grape flesh within.

Wai Xin, CSW, FWS is a wine communicator based in Singapore. He describes his journey to wine as follows – “I woke up one day and decided to throw my Java coding career out of the window for a lifetime of intoxication. Believing strongly that wine is for enjoyment and not a trading commodity, I encourage sensible, affordable drinking and the exploration of individual preferences.”

Wai Xin is the author of a blog entitled “Wine Xin- The Babbler”, as well as a contributing author for EnjoyWine.Sg and ChubbyHubby.Net (a food, family, and lifestyle blog). Xin may be reached at this.is@winexin.sg or via twitter @Winexin.

Note from Jane N:  What I find most interesting about Xin is his “98” score on the CSW – very impressive!!

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

 

Meet the SWE Board: Gary Spadafore, CWE, CSS

Gary Spadafore, CWE, Educational Liasion

Gary Spadafore, CWE, CSS –  Educational Liasion

At our October meeting, I asked the members of SWE’s Board of Directors if they could each write up a brief “introduction” to themselves in order to allow us – friends and members of SWE – to get to know each of them.  I received quite a number of generous responses, so as the first in our new series of “Meet the Board” – I would like to introduce you to our new Educational Liasion – Gary Spadafore, CWE, CSS.  I’ve known Gary quite a while, and am therefore not at all surprised that his bio is all about “Wine and Motorcycles.” Enjoy the read!

Dreaming of Motorcycles and Wine – An Odd Combination

by Gary Spadafore CSS, CWE 

Besides my family, the two passions in my life are wine and motorcycles (not at the same time of course). My passion for motorcycles goes back even further than my passion for wine, despite the fact that one of my earliest childhood memories involved wine.

As a very young child I remember going to a farmers’ market in Detroit with my Italian grandfather to buy Zinfandel grapes. I could never understand why the finished product tasted so nasty when so much sugar was added during the winemaking process – (understanding the principles of fermentation came much later.   After that first impression, wine really wasn’t much on my radar at all – untill I “accidently” got into the hospitality industry after college when I moved from Michigan to Arizona in 1972 with the intention of becoming a high school teacher (and motorcycle rider).

DIGITAL CAMERAWhile literally starving substitute teaching, I took a job in the hospitality industry as a bouncer. One thing led to another and I ended up working for Alliance Beverage Distributing Company, the largest wholesaler of wine and spirits in Arizona (30+ years ago). Over the years I’ve had every position possible, most relating to fine wine. Just over a decade ago, I proposed creating a position called Director of Education and had the perfect candidate in mind…….myself. I combined my teaching experience, restaurant and hotel career, wine sales/management and my CWE credential to offer a strong list of attributes for the position.

I now have a dream job that looks like I’d been planning for it my entire career. If I had a dollar for everyone who has told me they wanted my job, I wouldn’t have to work at my dream job.

And what about motorcycles? While attending Northern Michigan University in the upper peninsula of Michigan, I met a bunch of guys that all had motorcycles. I managed to finagle one myself in my second year of college. We arranged our classes so we could ride in the woods surrounding the campus every day. In the harsh winter of northern Michigan we would drink beer (Spanada on occasion) and talk about places you could ride year round.

So of course after graduation I took my teaching certificate and moved to Arizona. I am now the proud owner of the best three motorcycles in the world! For the desert I ride a KTM 300XC, for the great twisty roads in the southwest, I have a BMW K1300S. And for my newest form of motorcycling called adventure riding I have a KTM 690 Enduro R. If those numbers and letters sound strange and weird, you know how most folks feel when wine geeks start waxing on about wine.

Gary Motorcyle PoppieMost folks reading this will understand the passion involved regarding wine, but maybe not motorcycles. Yet some of the same emotions are stirred with motorcycles. A rich history, innovative ideas turned into reality, taking raw materials from the earth and transforming into something unique and different. NOt to mention the very hard-to-describe emotion of the freedom experienced whether dodging cacti and rocks in the desert, or carving a perfect turn on a mountain switchback road.

Suffice it to say that I love life. A dream job, three dream motorcycles and a dream family. I look forward to my new role with SWE as Education Liaison and welcome comments, concerns and recommendations.

Click here for more details  and contact information for the SWE Board of Directors.