Smoke Gets in Your…Wine?


This year has been rough in terms of wildfires in and around wine country. Most notably, harvest was interrupted in mid-September by the third in a series of devastating wildfires around Lake County.

As such, we’ve had quite a few questions directed our way about how this might affect the wines of the regions affected by these fires. We’ve all heard of smoke taint – so is this something we need to be worried about?

It is a relatively new area of study – in 2003, wildfires in Eastern Victoria, Australia motivated researchers to begin studying the chemical backdrop and the variables associated with this increasingly dangerous phenomenon.  The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) and Washington State University (WSU) have led the way in publishing the most up-to-date and applicable research on this topic.  Although much of this research is geared toward the winemaker/ producer, it is of interest to wine educators and other wine professionals as well.

For starts, smoke taint is the general term given to a host of volatile phenols, with the most important being as follows:

  • Guaiacol (smoky)
  • 4-methylguaiacol (spicy)
  • Eugenol (clove)

These same phenolics can be introduced into wine via ageing in heavily toasted oak.  Typical recognitions thresholds for these molecules are quite low; we can pick out the “ashtray” and “camp fire” aromas at concentrations as low as 23-27 micrograms/L or parts per billion (ppb).


Complications can arise due to the fact that these molecules can be present in a wine in bound form, meaning the smoky character may not reveal itself until after alcoholic fermentation, malolactic fermentation, or even after extended bottle ageing.  In addition, once this smoky character shows, it will always intensify with time in the bottle.

Studies concerning smoke in the vineyard have so far been inconclusive, and have yet to determine the minimum exposure time and concentration of smoke that vines can tolerate before it noticeably affects the wine.  However, it is known that the flavors collect in the skins and the flesh just below the skin in addition to translocating from the leaves.  This greatly influences winemaking techniques once the fruit is brought into the winery.

When – in the growing cycle – the vines are exposed to smoke has proven to be one of the most important factors in pin-pointing the risk.  The AWRI has identified three categories for the sensitivity and likelihood of smoke uptake throughout the growing cycle:

  • During and before flowering there is little risk;
  • From early fruit set to three days post-verasion there is low to medium risk;
  • Post-verasion to harvest there is high risk.


It has also been proven that there is no risk to carry over smoke taint from one growing season to the next, and that the smoke character does not vary with smoke from different types of wood or fuel.  Studies originally showed that the smoke uptake varied by variety, with Merlot and Sangiovese being more susceptible.  However, recent studies under controlled conditions have shown that variety does not matter.

Berries and wine can be tested for levels of smoke taint, and there are several techniques that can be implored to minimize the effects.  These include the following:

  • First and foremost, fruit must be hand harvested and leaves must not enter the fermentation vessel.
  • Skin contact must be limited, as this is where the volatile compounds are found.
  • Cold soak, extended maceration, and aggressive pressing should be avoided.
  • Fruit must stay as cold as possible.
  • Reverse osmosis is often used to reduce smoke taint, but has been found to be not entirely reliable as it does not address the “bound” form of the chemicals.
  • Other techniques such as aggressive filtering are useful to a degree, but need to be used with caution in order to avoid stripping the wine of desirable flavors as well as the unwanted smoky character.
  • There is some anecdotal evidence that the use of flash détante may allow guaiacol to volatize and burn off.

Most wineries will keep the tainted wine separate, then either blend back in a declassified wine program, or bottle separately marketing the wine as having a smoky character – which some customers appreciate.


As drought becomes more endemic in a variety of wine regions around the world, the risk for smoke infected wine – and its financial impact on the wine industry – is on the rise as well.  As industry professionals, we must be aware of the regions and vintages where there was a verified risk of smoke taint.  These include:

  • Victoria, Australia: 2003 and 2007 were devastating, and 2009 saw traces of smokiness.  2008 in Mendocino County, California: Effects were noticeable in 2008
  • Washington State: 2012 and 2015 were fiery years for Washington State, particularly the Lake Chelan AVA
  • Lake County: Most recent, and near to our hearts, 2015 saw harvest interrupted and substantial damage to vineyards around Guenoc. Thankfully, it appears that the major growing areas around Clear Lake were spared.

We’ll keep trying to learn more and lessen the likelihood that wild fires will taint our wine.  In the meantime, we’ll trust our favorite winemakers and producers not to put defective wine in the bottle.


MarkPost authored by Mark Rashap, CWE. Mark has, over the past ten years, been in the wine world in a number of capacities including studying wine management in Buenos Aires, being an assistant winemaker at Nota Bene Cellars in Washington State, founding his own wine brokerage, and working for Texas-based retail giant Spec’s as an educator for the staff and public.

In August of 2015, Mark joined the team of the Society of Wine Educators as Marketing Coordinator to foster wine education across the country.

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



What’s New in Ningxia?

Photo of Helan Mountain vineyards used with permission of Indigo Communication

Photo of Helan Mountain vineyards used with permission of Indigo Communication

The Ningxia Hui (pronounced Neen-sha H-way) Autonomous Region of China is located about 500 miles west of Beijing. The Ningxia region has proved to be one of China’s most promising areas for viticulture and wine production, and as such is the focus of significant investment. China’s first official appellation, the Eastern Foot of Helan Mountain Wine Region is located here, and several international companies have interests in this zone.

Ningxia has, by some counts, over 50 wineries making a range of wines using Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Gernischt (the local name for what has recently been confirmed to be Carmenère), Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah,  and other grapes. This includes some of the highest quality wines in China, some of which are starting to win medals at international competitions.

The area is basically an alluvial plain of the Yellow River, situated on the eastern edge of the Gobi Desert, south of Mongolia. Due to centuries of agriculture, the soil here has been depleted to a fine type of loess soil, highly susceptible to wind and water erosion. Viticulture is encouraged due to its affinity with such marginal conditions, and to help prevent further erosion in this area.

Thoroughly landlocked, Ningxia has a true continental climate, with significant day/night and summer/winter temperature variations. Summertime temperatures into the 80s F (upper 20s C) are assuaged by the altitude of the vineyards, which typically approach 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) above sea level. The winters are long and very cold, however, which means that many vines must be buried under an insulating layer of dirt in order to survive.

Map of China - Wine GrowingThe months of December through February also see negligible precipitation; rainfall is concentrated in summer months, reaching only 8 inches (194 mm) annually. Irrigation is necessary for agriculture, and early methods to divert water from the Yellow River, which flows through much of Ningxia, were developed during the Xia Dynasty (2100 – 1600 BC) and expanded in later periods.

In 2013, Ningxia established a classification modeled after the 1855 Classification of Bordeaux. There are five classes or “growths.” The first ten properties have been selected as so-called 5th growths; these wineries will be eligible for promotion to a higher rank every two years. The stated intention is to have wines at all five tiers in due course. The classified properties must adhere to Ningxia’s regional regulations requiring that only 75% of the grapes must be grown in the region, and that 85% are to be from the vintage and grape variety stated on the bottle (as reported by Wine Spectator).

Moët Hennessy’s newly completed Chandon winery, which released its first wine in 2014, is located in Ningxia, and provides a notable exception to the dominance of still red wines in Ningxia and throughout China. The regional government has announced an ambitious development plan for Helan Mountain East, increasing acreage to 165,500 acres (67,000 hectares) by 2020. There are possibly as many as 100 leases that have been granted for new wineries in various stages of construction. The companies in this locale include Xixia King, Helan Mountain (Pernod Ricard), Helan Qing Xue, Chateau Yunmo, Silver Heights and Changyu.

China recently was confirmed to have the second largest vineyard acreage of any country in the world, following Spain and ahead of France and Italy. By last count (according to the 2015 report of the International Organization of Wine and Vine (OIV)), China now ranks #5 in consumption and #8 in production of wine, worldwide.

It’s yet to be seen what’s on the horizon for Ningxia – and the rest of the Chinese wine industry as well!

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles – SWE’s Director of Education and Certification –

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



South Africa Expands its Wine Repertoire

Bo-kaap Neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa

Bo-kaap Neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa

South African wine is serious…serious about shedding its bulk/fortified/ co-operative-made reputation of the past, serious about producing world-class wines from modern producers, serious about protecting its heritage grapes, and serious about regulating its high-quality wines and spirits. (Try some South African pot still brandy for a real treat.)

South African wines are regulated and controlled via the WSB – the South African Wine and Spirit Board.  They regulate the grape varieties that may be used (102 at last count), the regions, districts, and wards that represent geographical indications (99 at last count), labeling requirements and other legalities, and – a true quality control if ever there was one – also taste, sample, and approve every product that earns the right to bear their seal.

THE WSB regulates and approves wines according to “class.” To be approved, a wine needs to meet the parameters of one of these 45 pre-defined categories. Some examples of these categories include dry wine, noble late harvest wine, sweet natural wine (in these regulations, “natural” means non-fortified), tank-fermented sparkling wine, and bottle-fermented sparkling wine. Categories that are somewhat unique to South Africa include Cape Ruby – a young, fruity, fortified wine and Cape White – made from non-Muscat varieties and oak-aged for at least six months.

View of Cape Town from the waterfront

View of Cape Town from the waterfront

Six new classes of wine, approved on August 21, 2015, are now among the 45 approved categories of South African wine. These newcomers were proposed to the WSB over two years ago by the Swartland Independent Group – a group of young winemakers working in the Swartland District. Swartland is a rugged district, despite being only an hour’s drive north of Cape Town. Swartland is one of the newer winemaking regions of South Africa, and has rapidly developed a reputation for unique wines in addition to high-quality wines of the more conventional styles.

For the record, the six new categories of South African Wine are:

  • Skin-macerated white: A white wine fermented and macerated on its skins for at least 96 hours, should be light golden to deep orange in color.
  • Extended barrel-aged white/gris: A wine produced from white or gris grape varieties, aged in oak casks at least 2 years, should show a golden or amber hue, and have a nutty, oxidative character.
  • Natural pale: An unfortified white wine matured in oak casks under flor yeast for at least two years.
  • Watsonia Tabularis - Unique member of the Fynbos (Cape Floral Kingdom) growing atop Table Mountain
    Watsonia Tabularis – Unique member of the Fynbos (Cape Floral Kingdom) growing atop Table Mountain

    Methode Ancestrale: A slightly sparkling wine made from fermenting must which completes its fermentation while stored in the bottle in which it is sold.

  • Alternative white/red: A dry white with a gold or amber color, or a dry red with a light red to deep purple color.
  • Sun wine: A white wine that has undergone maderization; must be pale gold to deep gold in color.

To download the entire set of regulations, which include the list of 99 approved grape varieties, the entire cast of categories and spirits regulations as well, click here for the: Wine and Spirits Regulations – South Africa WSB

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator –

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

Connecting the Bubbles: The Méthode Marlborough

image via:

image via:

The most successful people in the wine industry, whether they are conference speakers, teachers, or salespeople, are skilled at drawing connections and parallels within the world of wine.  Tying regions, styles, history, and current events together is thought provoking and shows a deeper understanding of the world around us.

On the surface, this post is about the newish Méthode Marlborough; however, the subject also brings into play the greater world of sparkling wine world, as well as the on-going debate of New World vs Old World.

The Méthode Marlborough is a society, created in September 2013, in order to promote the high-quality Traditional Method sparkling wines produced in Marlborough. The requirements for a Mèthod Marlborough sparkling wine include:

  • Produced using 100% Marlborough grapes
  • Made in Marlborough and exclusively produced using the Traditional Method of sparkling wine production
  • Made using the traditional Champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier
  • Aged in the bottle, on the lees, for a minimum of 18 months

There are currently 10 producers that are making this style of wine and have joined the club:

  • Allan Scott
  • Cloudy Bay Vineyards
  • Hunter’s Wines
  • Johanneshof Cellars
  • Lion
  • Nautilus Estate
  • No. 1 Family Estate
  • Spy Valley Winery
  • Summerhouse Wine Company
  • Tohu Wines
photo via:

photo via:

These wines are just now beginning to show up on store shelves. The first-ever Méthode Marlborough sparkler to be released was No. 1 Family Estate’s Assemblé, which was sabered in celebration on August 14th 2015.

It is perhaps fitting that No. 1 Family Estate, owned by Daniel Le Brun, was the first winery to release. Le Brun is, after all, part of a Champenois family, and has produced this style of Traditional Method sparkling wine from the three Champagne grapes in Marlborough since the winery was established in 1999.

This is impressive coming from a region that specializes in – and stakes its reputation on – Sauvignon Blanc. In fact, 77% of all the vineyards in Marlborough grow Sauvignon Blanc, and some of it is used to create delightful (if, admittedly, simple) Charmat method sparkling wines.

As lovely as these Charmat method sparkling wines are, it is just this type of wine from which the Méthode Marlborough producers are trying to distance themselves. South Africa was the first new world region to recognize the need to differentiate their quality sparkling wines, and, in 1992, created the Cap Classique Producers Association. However, Cap Classique rules are a bit less stringent that those of the Méthode Marlborough is attempting to do: Cap Classique can come from anywhere in the large, diverse Western Cape Geographical Unit, the lees-aging requirement is only 12 months, and they allow the use of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc in addition to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

image via:

image via:

Perhaps – and this is where the “Old World/New World” aspect of this discussion begins – a set of Old World-style quality controls is ever more important in a category of wine where the production methods can be elusive, the grapes in the blend are a mystery, and vintages are rarely discussed or disclosed. Time spent on the lees, which is a major component of a finished sparkling wine’s flavor, is also not discussed. Essentially, we’re missing the what, where, when, and why of the wine. (Thankfully, the who is published on the label.)

Controls such as these are built into the production standards of the DOCs and the AOCs of the Old World, so the customer at least has a good idea of what they are getting in the bottle, and adherence to their standards is mandatory if the producer wants to use their “stamp of approval” on the label. However, in the case of New World producers bonding together for a marketing and consumer-driven end, admission to the club is voluntary.  As such, there will always be “rebels” who refuse to join – perhaps because they believe their brand is stronger that of the association – such as Kim Crawford’s “Fizz,” produced using the Traditional Method from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The topic brings up many questions. Will these New World quality alliances that imitate Old World appellations will stand the test of time.  How much do we rely on the Canadian VQA or the San Rafael DOC in Mendoza over individual brands? Will more regions around the world band together to “guarantee” quality in the nebulous world of sparkling wine?  (I’m keeping my eye on England, Brazil, and Tasmania.)

We wait with curious minds and palates as the ten producers of Méthode Marlborough captivate our attention – and we promise to bring the bubbles, no matter what.

For more information:

MarkPost authored by Mark Rashap, CWE. Mark has, over the past ten years, been in the wine world in a number of capacities including studying wine management in Buenos Aires, being an assistant winemaker at Nota Bene Cellars in Washington State, founding his own wine brokerage, and working for Texas-based retail giant Spec’s as an educator for the staff and public.

In August of 2015, Mark joined the team of the Society of Wine Educators as Marketing Coordinator to foster wine education across the country.







The AVA Shuffle: Introducing the Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA!

The 2015 harvest at Sierra Peaks Winery - via

The 2015 harvest at Sierra Peaks Winery – one of 3 wineries in the new Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA

There’s a new AVA in town!!

Officially established on September 8, 2015, the Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA is located in California’s San Joaquin Valley and snuggled safely into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

But before we move on, let me clarify a few things that this AVA is NOT:

  • Despite the name Squaw Valley, this is NOT the famous ski resort, host of the 1960 Winter Olympics (The ski resort of the same name is actually located about 300 miles away, near Lake Tahoe).
  • Despite the fact that the AVA is indeed located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, this new AVA is NOT part of the Sierra Foothills AVA.  The southern end of the Sierra Foothills AVA is actually about 50 miles – and at least two counties – away. (Keep in mind that the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is over 400 miles long.)

So now we can turn to a few things that are indeed true concerning this new AVA:

  • The new viticultural area covers approximately 44,690 acres in Fresno County, California. The area is mostly rural and located in the foothills about 40 miles to the east of the city of Fresno.
  • Approximate location of the new Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA

    Approximate location of the new Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA

    The AVA is located along the highway to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National parks. (Sequoia Sequoia National Forest is the home of the giant Sequoias, considered to be among the largest trees, and the largest living organisms, on earth).

  • The area currently has 2 wineries and 3 commercial vineyards totaling about 7.5 acres, including Sierra Peaks Winery , Riffelhoff Winery, Buttercup Vineyards,  and Purgatory Vineyards. The region grows mostly warm weather varieties.
  • The topography of the AVA varies from the gentle rolling hills of the lower elevations to steep and rugged hillsides covered with boulders and oak woodlands as on travels east.
  • Elevations range from 1,600 to 3,500 feet with slope angles measuring from 15 to 40 percent, which generally requires all vineyard work – including harvesting – to be done by hand.
  • Other distinguishing features of the AVA include cooler daytime temperatures and warmer nighttime temperatures than the surrounding San Joaquin Valley, and significantly more rainfall than the surrounding valley (but less than the forest to the north).

You can catch the full details – straight from the TTB – just click to read the document concerning the:  Establishment of the Squaw Valley-Miramonte Viticultural Area

Welcome to the world, Squaw Valley-Miramonte AVA!

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your blog administrator.

Congratulations to our First Class of Certified Spirits Educators!

During our 2015 conference in New Orleans, the Society of Wine Educators administered the first ever Certified Spirits Educator exam to a group of leading industry professionals.  Six candidates successfully demonstrated superior theoretical knowledge through multiple choice and essay questions, tasting acumen through accurate blind identifications and rationales, presentation skills to a targeted audience, and proof of responsible beverage service.  For more information on the rigors of this exam click here.

Please, meet and congratulate the first group of official Certified Spirits Educators!



Hoke Harden, CSW, CSE, B.N.I.C. Certified Cognac Educator, and French Wine ScholarAn enthusiastic lover of wine and spirits, Mr. Harden left a career in academia to follow his other muse for the last 27 years, trekking around the world to the great producing regions. Recently referred to as a veritable walking omnibus of wine and spirits knowledge, he has experienced every possible facet of the world of wine and spirits as a retailer, restaurateur, bartender, buyer, wholesaler, supplier, marketer, critic, writer, competition judge and an educator. He is currently with Elixir Vitae Wine & Spirits Consultants, a member of the Society of Wine Educators, Wine & Spirits Instructor at Mt. Hood Community College, and a Master Instructor with the French Wine Academy.

Hoke on the CSE Exam: The new Certified Spirits Educator program is a highly complex self-study program offered to professional spirits educators and industry professionals; the equivalent to the Society’s highly acclaimed Certified Wine Educator. Other programs dabble in spirits or include ancillary courses in the basics; the CSE focuses singularly on the world of spirits.

daubenmire, experts photos shoot, 2014

daubenmire, experts photos shoot, 2014

Linda Pettine, CWE, CSELinda Pettine is an Associate Professor for the College of Culinary Arts, Providence Campus, Johnson & Wales University. She has been at Johnson & Wales University since 2000, where she teaches in the Beverage & Dining Service Department. She was recognized for her teaching skills with the Beverage & Dining Services Department Service Award in 2001 and Teacher of the Year in 2007.  With over 20 years of industry experience, Ms. Pettine operated and managed fine dining restaurants in the south suburbs of Boston before joining the faculty at Johnson & Wales. Prior to that, she was a sales associate at Branded Liquors in Westwood, Mass. Linda is an active member of the Society of Wine Educators, Women Chef’s & Restaurateurs, and the USBG. She is a Certified Wine Educator, Certified Specialist of Spirits, and a Certified Hospitality Educator. Pettine recently became a Certified Cognac Educator and is certified through the Ėcole du Vin as an international Bordeaux educator. She holds degrees from Massachusetts Bay Community College, North Adams State College, and Johnson & Wales University.

Linda on the CSE Exam: I am fortunate in my like that I have had the opportunity to pursue my passions, “wine and spirits”.  The time and effort studying for the CSE exam was rigorous and demanding utilizing a variety of study techniques and tasting formats.  However, when you are passionate about the subject, it seems less like work and more like a journey.  I am thrilled to have arrived at my destination!



Lisa Graziano CSW, CSELisa Graziano grew up with a German father and Irish-American mother in Los Angeles, California. An education in beer, wine and spirits came with this upbringing. She has pursued the study of wine and spirits seriously for the past eight years, earning both Certified Specialist of Wine and Spirits from the Society of Wine Educators, and currently works as a retail hand seller for Gallo Fine Wines and consults for Bottle Shop 33 in Denver. Her current passion is craft spirits and educating people about them – and she’s obviously great at it!

Lisa on the CSE Exam: The CSE exam was certainly challenging!  I ate, slept, studied and tasted spirits intensely for three months to prepare.  The SWE online Spirits Academy was a helpful tool in preparing for the exam as was the list of iconic spirits and suggested reading list. 



Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSEHarriet Lembeck is a prominent wine and spirits educator and writer. She is President of the Wine & Spirits Program, headquartered in New York City, and was the Director of The New School Wine Classes for their 18-year duration. She has revised and updated the textbook “Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers, and Spirits”, is a favorite speaker on wine and spirits at SWE Conferences, and is a contributing editor to Beverage Dynamics Magazine.

Harriet on the CSE exam: I think that the Certified Spirits Credential is very important for those who teach spirits as well as wine, and for those who already have the Certified Wine Educator credential, it completes the picture. The test was very comprehensive. Multiple choice questions (not as easy as one might think), writing an essay, and then completing two differently-styled tastings made for a long day, but each element was necessary for a candidate to illustrate familiarity with the subject of spirits.



Ira Norof, CWE, CSEIn 1976 Ira’s wine & spirits career began in a retail wine shop.   As his knowledge and passion for the product grew, he eventually became a Sommelier in a Beverly Hills Restaurant.   In 1983, he was hired by Southern Wine & Spirits of California, and in 1996 he was named the Director of Education.  His illustrious career has taken him to visit most of the major wine regions in Europe and the Americas.  He attained the CWE (Certified Wine Educator credential) in 1999.  He holds a diploma from the Bordeaux Wine School and is a certified International Bordeaux Educator, as well as a certified Cognac Educator as ordained by le Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac. He is a guest lecturer at Cal Poly Pomona’s School of Hospitality each semester. Ira served as the President of the Society of Wine Educators from 2010 – 2013 and has been on the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Chapter of the AIWF and was a member of the Bon Appetit Tasting Panel.  Ira remains actively involved in many wine-related charity events throughout the country.

Ira on the CSE exam: I am privileged to have been part of the first CSE exam and will continue to mentor within our California organization on both wine and spirits education. We have over 200 CSW and/or CSS certified employees in the state as well as 4 CWEs. I look forward to help increase those numbers in the coming months.



Jane A. Nickles, CWE, CSE, MBA – “Miss Jane” is the Director of Education for the Society of Wine Educators and in charge of all educational materials such as study guides, workbooks and online courses as well as exams and certification instruments.  In the past two years, she has introduced SWEbinars, ebooks, online prep classes, our blog, and computer-based testing to SWE.  Before working for SWE, she  created and taught wine classes for 20 years at Le Cordon Bleu Colleges, was the 2012 Banfi award winner for best score on the CWE exam, won the 2008 WOSA wine essay award (the prize for which was a 2-week tour of the winelands of South Africa), and has published countless textbooks and journals, including the latest editions of the SWE Study Guides.

Miss Jane on the CSE exam: Over the past few years, the CSS program has grown rapidly, and we have received an increasing number of requests for more in-depth programs and a higher level certification in spirits. One could even say the CSE was created due to popular demand!

Congratulations to our new CSEs! Now…who will be next?

A New PGI – Ratafia de Champagne!

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Quick! If you are a CSW, tell me – what is Pineau des Charentes? If you are a CSS, answer me this: What is Pommeau de Normandie?

The answer to both questions is: a sweet, fortified, wine-based beverage, typically referred to in the European Union as a Vin de Liqueur.*

Now, here’s my next question: What is Ratafia de Champagne?

Answer: A Vin de Liqueur, produced in the Champagne region that – after an 800-year history of production – just received its first-even PGI status as of August 27, 2015. Bottles of Ratafia de Champagne, alternatively known as Ratafia Champenois, will be eligible for PGI status as of the 2016 release.

The new PGI is actually part of a larger project, begun back in June of 2014 when a group representing distillers, wine growers, and wine producers in the Champagne region created an organization known as the “Association of Producers of Spirits of the Champagne Geographical Indication” (Boissons Spiritueuses Champenoises). Among the goals of the group was to obtain PGI status for Marc de Champagne, Fine de Champagne, and Ratafia de Champagne. PGI status was obtained for Marc de Champagne in January 2015; the PGI for Fine de Champagne was approved in February 2015.

The regulations for Ratafia de Champagne PGI specify that the product is produced using the three main grapes of the Champagne region – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. The juice that will be fortified and made into Ratafia is pressed after the juice to be used in the area’s famous sparkling wine is pressed – during the first part of the final – or rebèche – pressing.  The juice is then fortified with grape-based brandy of the region, which is also produced from the rebèche juice.  Production of Ratafia de Champagne will be limited to 15 million bottles – about 6% of the total output of the AOC – per year.

*More specifically, Pineau des Charentes is a Vin de Liqueur produced in the Cognac (Charentes) region of France, from must freshly pressed from the allowed grapes of the region. The must is fortified with Cognac, and the resulting beverage – at 16–22% alcohol by volume – is aged for at least 18 months, with a minimum of 12 in oak.  Being produced from unfermented must, Pineau des Charentes can also be classified as a mistelle.

*Pommeau, also technically a mistelle, is made in the Calvados region with unfermented apple juice, fortified with one-year-old Calvados. The resulting mixture, which has 16-18% alcohol by volume, is then aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 14 months.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles – your blog administrator!


And the Grand Award Goes to…Cristina Mariani-May of Banfi Vintners!

Christina Mariani-May accepts SWE's Grand Award on behalf of Banfi Vintners

Cristina Mariani-May accepts SWE’s Grand Award on behalf of Banfi Vintners

As part of the Society of Wine Educator’s 39th Annual Conference held in New Orleans, the Society’s Annual Grand Award was presented to Cristina Mariani-May of Banfi Vintners. Ms. Mariani-May is the youngest daughter of John F. Mariani, Junior. Together with her cousin James Mariani, she currently serves as the co-CEO of Banfi Vinters, and represents the third generation of family leadership in the company founded by their grandfather, John Mariani, Sr.

Granted annually to a deserving wine industry leader for lifetime achievement, the prestigious “Grand Award” has in the past been presented to such wine luminaries as Robert Mondavi, Sandro Boscaini, Jancis Robinson, Warren Winiarski, Carol Meredith, and Mike Grgich, among others.

“The Society of Wine Educators is proud to present Cristina Mariani May, as the co-CEO of Banfi Vintners and its public representative, with the SWE Grand Award for 2015,” said Edward Korry, CHE, CSS, CWE, President, Board of Directors, Society of Wine Educators. “Banfi Vintners has been and is a model for wine education worldwide in terms of its commitment, outreach, and generosity.”

Banfi Vintners was founded in 1919 by John F. Mariani, Sr., who named the company after his Aunt Teodolina Banfi. Mariani’s sons John, Jr. and Harry expanded the company’s Italian import portfolio to Germany, Switzerland, and France starting in the mid-1950s, before introducing the immensely popular Riunite Lambrusco, which has topped the imported red wine category over the past four decades.

In 1978, the Mariani family founded Castello Banfi in Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy’s most honored estate and the inspiration for a renaissance in Tuscan winemaking, and in 1988, began working with the family leadership of Concha y Toro, catapulting that brand to its own leadership position and introducing Americans to Chilean wine.



Castello Banfi is internationally acclaimed for its clonal research to improve upon the region’s historical Brunello di Montalcino, and making premier quality wines that are low in sulfites and histamines. It was the first winery in the world to be awarded international recognition for exceptional environmental, ethical, and social responsibility (ISO 14001 and SA8000) as well as an international leader in customer satisfaction (ISO 9001:2000).

Encouraged by their success in business, the Mariani family established the Banfi Foundation and from its earnings contributes to leading national charities and higher education through scholarships, fellowships and grants-in-aid. To promote greater knowledge of the fine wines of Europe and the US, the Foundation has endowed the Banfi Chair of Wine Education at Cornell University and provided funding for a Chair of Economics at Colgate University themed to the American economy and the importance of the free enterprise system. In addition, each year the Foundation provides scholarships for students at select hospitality and business colleges to travel to Italy for seminars on that nation’s wine and food culture.

Barbera goes Solo in new Nizza DOCG

Nizza map via:

Nizza map via:

Today we have a guest post from Mark Rashap, CWE…

It’s time for Nizza Barbera to take its rightful place in center stage!

Effective as of the 2014 harvest, the consortium that oversees wine laws for Asti and the Monferrato Hills in Piedmont promoted Nizza Monferrato and 18 surrounding villages (comuni) from a mere subzone of the Barbera d’Asti DOCG to a DOCG of their own: the autonomous Nizza DOCG.  This promotion deserves particular attention from the wine community because it highlights the evolution of many European wine appellations, as well as Italy’s insistence to snub its nose at the EU’s DOP.

The most obvious marker of the Nizza DOCG is that all the grapes must be grown within a delineated geographic zone, which was already established, along with Tinella and Colli Astiani, as a subzone of Barbera d’Asti DOCG Superiore    The new DOCG gets a bit particular, however, as every vineyard destined for the Nizza DOCG must be registered with the Consortium and tout particular soils and exposures.  Vines must be entirely estate, planted on the slopes of hills facing south-east to south-west. The required density is at least 4,000 vines per hectare, and harvest must be done entirely by hand.   This limits the total vineyard acreage of the DOCG to 250 ha (620 acres) – roughly the total area of Chateau Margaux.

In the winery, there are additional controls in place to ensure quality and to differentiate the Nizza DOCG from the greater Barbera d’Asti DOCG.  Perhaps most importantly, Nizza must be 100% Barbera compared to the 90% for Barbera d’Asti.  Yields are capped at 3.1 tons per acre, and there is a minimum ageing of 18 months (6 in barrel) before the wine is released to market.  Finally, there is an organoleptic and laboratory analysis to make sure the finished wine has met the standards put forth by the Consortium. An interesting facet of this analysis that the minimum requirement of 26 g/L “dry extract.”



If you don’t place importance on minutiae, then the take-home is that Piedmont is dedicated to making some serious Barbera. Furthermore, it adds to the modern trend that “controlled” regions in Europe are tightening their quality standards, and promoting sub-regions to higher categories when – perhaps – their neighbors have suffered from over-production or unscrupulous producers.  Other examples of this trend include Chianti Classico’s addition of the Gran Selezione category of quality, and the breakup of the Coteaux de Languedoc into individual AOC’s (blog post to come).

In the case of Nizza, if the year or producer’s bounty is not up to par, then the wine can be de-classified to Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Monferrato Rosso DOC, Piemonte Barbera DOC, or Piemonte Rosso DOC, thus allowing the image of Nizza to stay intact.

We also must be amused by Italy’s complete rejection of the EU’s Denominazione di Origene Protetta terminology because there is no means of distinguishing between the DOC and DOCG tiers.  As we know, with the re-organization of the EU’s agricultural standards, it was left open for individual producer-countries the two systems of nomenclature. Italy was thus allowed to continue to apply for new DOCGs – as is apparent with Nizza – the newest, and the 74th.  Perhaps…Tinella and Colli Astiani will be next?

For more information:

2015 SWE Scholarship Winners!

Congratulations to the 2015 Winners of the Society of Wine Educators’ scholarship for hospitality students!   

These six deserving culinary/hospitality students will receive the opportunity to take the CSW exam (and in one case, the CSS as well) and be provided with the following benefits:  A one-year membership to SWE, The CSW Study Guide, the CSW Workbook, one year of access to the online Wine Academy, the opportunity to take our online prep class, and the opportunity to take the CSW/CSS Certification Exam.

Dana Bergen Pic2Dana Bergen of the University of South Carolina (Nominated by Sandy Strick): During a twelve year accounting career, Dana utilized the hospitality industry as her creative outlet by leading several planning committees for company social functions, moonlighting with a catering company, and even owning her own personal chef business. When her husband was transferred from Atlanta, Georgia to Columbia, South Carolina, she took the opportunity to change careers by studying for a master’s degree in International Hospitality and Tourism Management from the University of South Carolina.  Dr. Sandy Strick, her wine professor and mentor, inspired her to explore the world of wine in many ways.  As a part of her academic wine education, she achieved Introductory Sommelier, and participated in the 2012 Banfi Scholastic Wine Tour in Tuscany, Italy. Dana feels honored to be one of the lucky recipients of the 2015 CSW Scholarship and wants to express her gratitude to all who continue to inspire her.



Mariah (Ellie) Skinner of the University of South Carolina (Nominated by Sandy Strick): Ellie Skinner was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. She is currently a senior at the University of South Carolina and will be graduating in August 2015 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management. In the fall of 2013, Ellie took a specialty course covering the wines of Napa Valley. This class sparked her interest, and led her to enroll in two more wine courses; including the “Specialty in Sonoma Wines” and the “Advanced Wine Course.” This summer, Ellie is interning at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, California. She looks forward to beginning her studies for the Certified Specialist of Wine Exam, and learning about the business side of the wine industry during her internship with Wente.


DanaHeadshotDana Warnecke of Purdue University (Nominated by Richard Ghiselli): Dana Warnecke is currently a senior in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Purdue University. Post-graduation, she plans on further developing her knowledge of the hospitality industry through participating in a hotel management training program.  She is most passionate about traveling, food & beverage operations, and event anagement. Dana is very excited to build her wine industry knowledge and looks forward to learning how the world of wine impacts the hospitality industry as a whole.


MOrganMorgan Charde of the University of Delaware (Nominated by Robert Nelson): Morgan Charde is a 2015 graduate of the University of Delaware’s Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management department. Upon taking Dr. Robert Nelson’s Beverage Management class, she found a passion for  wine studies. She has spent the past year working to teach a Wine Seminar Series and lead an Educational Wine Dinner at the University’s student-run restaurant. Morgan  has also spent time traveling to different vineyards around the country and over the summer visited Italian vineyards with the Banfi Vintners Scholarship Trip. This August she will be attending the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Campus in Napa in pursuit of a certificate in Wine and Beverage Studies. Outside of her wine studies, she enjoys the culinary arts, watching “Law and Order,” and spending time with her family and dog in her hometown of Syracuse, New York.

Alexandrea 1Alexandrea Innes of Johnson & Wales University (Nominated by Ed Korry): Alexandrea Innes is finishing up her academic career at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management as well as the Sommelier minor. Alexandrea is currently working in the Tasting Room at Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards as well as at Bottles Fine Wine in Providence. This year, she received the Kopf Student Achievement award and will be going on a trip sponsored by Kobrand to wineries in California, France, and Italy. Alexandrea would like to express her gratitude for the many opportunities that have opened up due to her education with the Society of Wine Educators.  

Michelle MonetMichelle Malott of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Nominated by Dr. Margie Jones): Michelle Malott is a 2015 graduate of Collins College of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. After taking the “Wines, Beers and Spirits” course and completing the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Introductory Course, she found a passion for the beverage industry. Michelle was Dr. Margie Jones’ student assistant her senior year.  As a student assistant, she had the opportunity to help select wine and beers for the classes and create learning materials for her peers. In an independent study course she had the unique opportunity to create a tutorial on wine and food pairing as well as etiquette that was used to train the students enrolled in the college’s Restaurant at Kellogg Ranch.  This experience only furthered her interest in the educational segment of the beverage industry.  Michelle plans to pursue a Masters Degree in Enology and Viticulture. Michelle’s other interests include exploring the world through culture, language, taste and the study of yoga. She looks forward to completing the Certified Wine Specialist exam and appreciates this special opportunity.