Conference Recap 2014: Columbia Winemaker Dinner

On Tuesday evening, to start off SWE’s 38th Annual Conference in a delightful way, several busloads of lucky diners made their way north to Richland, Washington for a winemaker dinner at Columbia Winery.

Columbia winery 1

After being greeted in the courtyard by an array of Washington Riesling, guests made their way to the barrel room where a jazz band awaited.

Columbia Winery 3

In the barrel room, three of Columbia Winery’s wines were paired with local salmon prepared three ways.

Columbia Winery 4

During the dinner, winemaker Sean Hails told us the story of the wines and gave us insights into the chosen pairings. Despite the threat of rain (after all, this is western Washington), a wonderful time was had by all!

Columbia Winery 5

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Wine Education Goes Mobile with SWE’s New App!

SWE App World Wine MastermindHave you seen our new App?

The Society of Wine Educators is delighted to announce the creation of its new app, SWE Wine and Spirits Quiz, for iOS devices, which will further the message of the Society by providing entertaining and educational wine and spirits quizzes. And its free!

Click here to download the App!

The app was unveiled on August 14th during the “Hipster Happy Hour” cocktail party at SWE’s Annual Conference, taking place this year in Seattle, WA. Jane Nickles, SWE’s Director of Education, and the developers of the app made a lively presentation after which attendees were able to download it to their iPhones and iPads.

App SWEThis free download offers a series of fun, educational quizzes from 5 major categories:Red (red wines, red grapes, and red wine-producing regions), Yellow (white wines, white grapes, and white wine-producing regions), Spirits (distilled spirits, vermouth, distillation and cocktails), Sparkling (sparkling wines and rosés), and Dessert (dessert wines and fortified wines.) As an added bonus, all of the questions in levels 1 – 5 are taken from the CSS and CSW Study Guides; everything in levels 6 – 10 are “CSS/CSW and beyond.”  Click here to download the App!

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.

 

 

Reminder for Monday Night’s SWEbinar!

Insiders guide for blogAs part of our ongoing series of CSW-prep SWEbinars, we are offering a very special session in August titled “The Insider’s Guide to the CSW.” If you are currently pursuing the CSW Certification, or considering the CSW as your next stage of professional development, this session is for you!

This online workshop will cover all aspects of the CSW, including what the test covers, how difficult the test is, what type of questions to expect, the resources available to students, and how long SWE recommends for study before sitting the exam. This session is led by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE (SWE’s Director of Education). You will have a chance to ask any and all questions about the CSW – she’ll answer just about any questions save for “what are the answers?”

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. There is no need to register in advance. Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few days before the scheduled date.

When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but its still a good idea to log on early!

  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).

August 2014:

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2014 SWEbinar Calendar

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.

Guest Post – On the Weinstrasse: Pfalz

Today we have a guest post from Houston-based Wine Educator James Barlow, CS, CWE. James’ article describes an amazing trip he recently took along the Wine Route in the Palantinate. Read on!

Old Town Neustadt

Old Town Neustadt

Nestled comfortably in the Haardt Hills, which is an extension of France’s Vosges Mountains, is the exquisite town of Neustadt. The town happens to be the central point for the 85-kilometer long German Wine Route (“Weinstrasse”) through the Palantinate.  I recently spent two weeks in this fascinating area.

Established in 1935, this is the oldest of the German wine routes. The ‘trail’ is a windy road that delivers you past many of the great wineries and famous vineyard sites throughout the region. The Weinstrasse has the most expansive array of vineyards that I have ever encountered.  The drive is breathtaking as it winds through historic wine villages such as Forst and Bad Durkenheim, which holds the largest wine festival in the world.

The picturesque Haardt hills and Palatinate forest provide a stunning backdrop for the various varietals grown in the Pfalz. The trail starts right near the French border of Alsace with the symbolic German Wine Gate in the town of Schweigen-Rechtenbach.  It is made of sandstone which is also the main soil structure throughout the Weinstrasse.  There is a

The Wine Gate in Schweigen-Rechtenbach

The Wine Gate in Schweigen-Rechtenbach

rather unique tasting room with an abundance of excellent wine to sample and buy.  The trail ends at the House of the German Wine Route in Bockenheim an der Weinstrasse.  The Rhine River flows lazily through the area as it continues onward through Germany.

One common theme with the wine of the Pfalz was that most of the wines were Trocken (dry). The typical American consumer often has a stigma with German wines thinking that they are all syrupy sweet and uncomplicated.  The Pfalz wines are quite the opposite with most being dry and deliciously complex.  The reason that dry wines are common throughout this region is that it is one of the hottest in Germany and therefore the grapes can ripen to a greater degree.  The ensuing wines created can range from off dry to completely bone dry.

I had the distinct pleasure of traveling the entirety of the Weinstrasse as well finding quaint towns a little off the main road. St. Martin was one such town that we decided to visit.  Our guide’s favorite winery, Weingut Egidiushof, was located here and recommended that we try the wines.  The town’s name came from the huge sandstone church of St. Martin, with its statue of the saint overlooking the town.

The people of Weingut Egidiushof were very hospitable as we sat down in the small tasting room to try a plethora of selections such as Silvaner, Riesling, and Muller Thurgau. The whites had a common theme as all of them had a distinct tropical fruit bouquet, were un-oaked, and had good acidity. They produced some delightfully light reds with the Blauer Portugieser being the best of the bunch.  It, in fact, was the wine that we drank while watching Germany eliminate Argentina in the World Cup Final.  The wine was light bodied (like a Pinot Noir) with an easy acidity and vibrant fresh red fruits that reminded me of a Cru Beaujolais.

The Wine Village of Wachenheim

The Wine Village of Wachenheim

The crown jewel winery of the entire trip was actually in the Haardt hills of Neustadt. The winery was called Muller Catoir.  It is managed by 9th generation owner Philipp David Catoir (pronounced Kat wah) and the vineyards have been in the family since 1774. Muller Catoir is part of the VDP system in Germany.  This system holds the wineries to a higher standard of quality which include lower yields and typically hand harvesting.The quality wines at this winery were second to none.

The wine maker, Martin Franzen, is from the Mosel and makes a true effort to showcase terroir and varietal character. Five wines were tasted, starting with the Haardt Dry Riesling 2013. It showed an abundance of tropical fruit with vivacious acidity.  The Haardt Muskateller (Muscat a Petite Grains) 2013 was brilliant and a wine to seek out for summer.  My personal favorite was the Haardt Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) 2012 which offered sleek acidity to pair with the delicious bright fruits and just a kiss of oak.  Spätburgunder is beginning to gain traction in the wine world with low yield, boutique wines that can rival Burgundy in quality.  The most interesting was the dessert wine Herzog Rieslaner Trockenbeerenauslese 2007.

The Hambach Castle and Vineyard

The Hambach Castle and Vineyard

Rieslaner is a cross of Silvaner and Riesling that is highly susceptible to Noble Rot. There is very little Rieslaner in the world and this vineyard is nestled in the Haardt hills, so a TBA wine is not able to be produced every vintage.  This wine was exceptional and rivaled the sticky Selection de Grains Nobles wines of Alsace.  The Haardt Riesling Kabinett 2013 was a surprise.  It had just a touch of residual sugar, but the wine was perfectly balanced by the backbone of acidity.  The minerality came to the forefront and gave the wine a striking personality.  All in all, Muller Catoir is a winery that is offering whites and reds of impressive quality that should be sought out.

Just outside of Neustadt in Wachenheim was another excellent producer called Weingut Dr. Burklin-Wolf. This winery is considered one of the three main quality wineries of note known as The Three B’s, the others being Von Buhl and Basserman-Jordan. Dr. Burklin-Wolf had excellent Rieslings that had definite aging potential, especially in the 2013 vintage.  The best of the selections tasted was the Wachenheim Altenburg Riesling 2013 which showed powerful acidity with precise citrus fruits and exquisite minerality.

The Pfalz wine country is an experience that one should definitely seek out if in Germany. The history and sheer volume of vineyards are enough to make a wine lover immediately start to geek out.  I had the pleasure of trying several wines like a Schwarzriesling Rosé

Neustadt, on the Wine Route in the Palatinate

Neustadt, on the Wine Route in the Palatinate

and Rubin Cuvee Halbtrocken Sparkling that I have never seen in the states.  The abundance of wineries throughout the wine road could keep any interested traveler busy for weeks.

Many can say that they have traveled through Paris, Champagne, and Burgundy, but how many can boast a trip through the picturesque Weinstrasse? I am thankful that I can.

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

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Conference Preview: The History of California in Six Glasses

Today we have a guest post from Michael Wangbickler. Michael will be presenting his session, The History of California in Six Glasses, next month at SWE’s 38th Annual Conference in Seattle, Washington. Read on to hear a bit about the history of California wine!

father serraThe story of the California wine industry is replete with interesting characters, historical milestones, and wacky situations.

Indeed, the history of wine in California is tied to the history of modern California itself. It all began with the Spanish colonization of the area. During the 18th Century, Spanish missionaries led by Franciscan friar Junípero Serra Ferrer established a series of missions ranging from San Diego to Sonoma. And, of course, the one thing that is absolutely necessary for Catholic mass is nor a chapel or church, but WINE for the sacrament. It was the friar, monks, and their parishioners who first discovered that California provided ideal conditions for the making of good wine.

It wasn’t until the 19th century and immigration of other Europeans that California wine became a commercial proposition. The discovery of gold in 1848 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains brought an influx of fortune seekers from around the world. The discovery preceded the annexation of California from Mexico by only about a month, and the following year saw the population of the state explode. While a few made their fortunes, many did not. But, one fact was certainly true… they were a thirsty bunch.

It was a ready and open market for alcohol that spurred many of the early pioneers in the business to plant a few acres and start making wine for the “forty-niner” gold prospectors and others who followed in their wake.

Most of the early stuff was produced from a random assortment of grapes drawn from buena vista winerycuttings brought from back east or the “mission” grapes brought by the Spanish. That is, until a Hungarian-American traveler, writer, town-builder, and pioneer winemaker named Count Agoston Haraszthy came onto the scene. In the early 1850s, he established a small vineyard in San Francisco to satisfy local demand, but found the area ill-suited to grape production due to the foggy weather. Finding his way 50 miles north of the Golden Gate to the town of Sonoma, he bought a vineyard in 1857 and named it Buena Vista, meaning beautiful view.

But the self-named Count wasn’t satisfied with only owning a vineyard, oh no. He wanted the whole state to be a new Garden of Eden for grapes. In 1858 he penned a “Report on Grapes and Wine of California,” which was published by the California State Agricultural Society. With practical advice for planting vines and making wines, it encouraged the planting of grapes throughout the state. In later years, Haraszthy’s “Report” was recognized as the first treatise on winemaking written and published in California, and praised as the “first American explication of traditional European winemaking practices.”

napa californiaIn 1861, Haraszthy made a trip to Europe to investigate the best European vine-planting and winemaking practices and to gather cuttings of European vines. He traveled through France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain before returning to California with more than 100,000 cuttings of more than 350 different varieties of vines. His efforts in this regard solidified California as a future wine powerhouse and set the stage for those that followed. Too bad he eventually “disappeared” in a Crocodile-infested swamp in Nicaragua. But that’s another tale.

While today we tend to think of Napa Valley as the best that California has to offer, the early pioneers settled in other areas, such as Sonoma and Livermore. In 1882, three Czech brothers named Korbel built a winery in western Sonoma County and began making sparkling wine, one of the earliest wineries to do so. A year later in 1883, Carl Wente planted 43 acres in Livermore Valley and began a legacy; Wente Vineyards is still owned and operated by the fourth and fifth generation of the Wente family. Their contributions to California wine include the Wente clone of Chardonnay, which is widely planted throughout the state and the backbone of many great wines from many producers.

Others followed and carried the industry into the 20th Century… Georges de Latour, André Tchelistcheff, Cesare, Peter, and Robert Mondavi, and Ernest and Julio Gallo are but a few of a long list of names of individuals whose vision, determination, and spunk have made California wine what it is today.

M wangbicklerThis article is but a teaser of some of the subjects we will cover in my conference session titled “The History of California in Six Glasses.” We will taste wines from some of these historic producers, explore what each signifies in their contribution to the California wine industry, and generally have a great time exploring the lives of some of the business’ most interesting characters.

Before moving to wine country a decade ago, Michael Wangbickler knew virtually nothing about wine. Undaunted, he threw himself into learning everything he could about the subject and now holds a Diploma in Wine & Spirits (DWS) from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and is a Certified Wine Educator (CWE). Mike currently holds a position at Balzac Communications and Marketing in Napa, California. In addition, he also sits on the Board of Directors for the Drink Local Wine organization. Michael’s session will be presented on Friday, August 15th at 3:00 pm.

 

August SWEbinars: The Insider’s Guide to the CSW Exam!

Insiders guide for blogAs part of our ongoing series of CSW-prep SWEbinars, we are offering a very special session in August titled “The Insider’s Guide to the CSW.” If you are currently pursuing the CSW Certification, or considering the CSW as your next stage of professional development, this session is for you!

This online workshop will cover all aspects of the CSW, including what the test covers, how difficult the test is, what type of questions to expect, the resources available to students, and how long SWE recommends for study before sitting the exam. This session is led by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE (SWE’s Director of Education). You will have a chance to ask any and all questions about the CSW – she’ll answer just about any questions save for “what are the answers?”

distillation blogOur series of CSS-related “Spirited SWEbinars also continues August! This month we are pleased to offer a session on Spirit Production, based on chapter 1 in the CSS Study Guide and beyond.

This session, led by Gary Spadafore, CSS, CWE, is sure to be fascinating for CSS students and fans of spirits alike! Join us to learn about distiller’s beer, feints, washbacks, and reflux – and definitely join us if you are a CSS aspirant who doesn’t know those terms!

SWE’s SWEbinar series is unique in that it is offered free-of-charge, and open to the public! We also try to accomodate all schedules by offering sessions on weekdays and weekends, as well as daytime and evening hours. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, or a time-of-day that would work for you, please let our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, know via email at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

SWE...we might just be the most accessible wine education on earth!

SWE…we might just be the most accessible wine education on earth!

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. There is no need to register in advance.  Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few days before the scheduled date.

When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but its still a good idea to log on early!

  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).

August 2014:

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2014 SWEbinar Calendar

 

A Saturday SWEbinar: The Dirt on Spain!

spain Heredia WineryWhy not start the weekend with a Saturday SWEbinar?

This Saturday – July 26, 2014, at 10:00 am Central Time – we’re offering a repeat performance of “The Dirt on Spain”!

Hosted by SWE’s Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, this session’s tagline is “A Terroir-Tinged Trip through the Tierra of Spain.”

Jane’s session will cover some of the unique geographical and geological attributes that make Spains wine so special – such as the albariza of Jerez, the estuaries of Rías Baixas, and the llicorella of Priorat. (If none of that made sense to you, be sure and read chapter 11 in the CSW Study Guide – soon)!

Below you will find the details on this sessions, as well as the link to the online classroom.

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. (Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few days before the scheduled date.) When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but it is still a good idea to log on early!

If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time.

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2014 SWEbinar Calendar

A SWEbinar for Tuesday: Cognac with Hoke Harden, CSS, CWE

Photo credit: Rosier Photography

Photo credit: Rosier Photography

This Tuesday – July 22, 2014 – at 12 noon central time, we are please to continue our series of “spirited SWEbinars” with a session on Cognac, led by Hoke Harden, CSS, CWE.

This webinar is sure to be fascinating for CSS students and fans of Cognac alike! Hoke will be joining us “fresh off” of his latest trip to the Cognac Region, and is sure to be full of insider information and travel tips. For those of you studying for the CSS, be sure and read chapter 5 in the CSS Study Guide ahead of time to brush up on your Cognac and brandy knowledge!

This SWEbinar is offered free of charge and is open to the public.

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but it is still a good idea to log on early!

If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time.

  • Tuesday, July 22 – 12 Noon Central Time – Cognac (from the CSS, chapter 5), hosted by Hoke Harden, CSS, CWE

If you have any questions about our SWEbinar program, please contact Jane Nickles: jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here for the 2014 SWEbinar Calendar

Guest Post: Unveiling Bobal: A Journey of Discovery

Today we have a guest post from Nora Z. Favelukes! Nora tells us the story of how she became an instant fan of Bobal, and how she arranged to have a world-class flight of Bobal wines lined up for the upcoming SWE Conference in Seattle! 

Meson Las Rejas – Albacete,  Spain

Meson Las Rejas – Albacete, Spain

Five years ago while on a business trip to Spain I was introduced to Bobal. My host was Rafael (Rafa) Javega, the owner of Exitalia, a company dedicated to the promotion of Spanish wines worldwide.

During our long car rides, Rafael’s eyes would light up when talking about the Bobal grape variety. This spiked my curiosity to no end, so much so that Rafa arranged for me to meet the members of Primum Bobal – an association of 7 producers dedicated to the promotion of this grape. At the meeting, where I had the opportunity to taste a few of their wines, my love affair for Bobal was born.

A few months later, my second encounter with Bobal happened at Meson Las Rejas in Albacete, Spain. Albacete is a vibrant city in Castile-La Mancha. Luis Jimenez, President of La Mancha’s Association of Winemakers, had invited Rafa and I to what would become one of the most memorable dining experiences in my lifetime: an eight course dinner solely based on different types of edible mushrooms served both raw and cooked.

We doused this exquisite meal, prepared by Chef Miguel Martinez Vilora, with several bottles of Luis’ Cien y Pico ‘En Vaso’ Bobal – a powerful and rich wine. It was the perfect match!

Antonio Sarrion and Nora Favelukes at Mustiguillo

Antonio Sarrion and Nora Favelukes at Mustiguillo

On my subsequent trips to Spain, Rafa and I would always meet with Luis, who by then had become a mentor and a friend. Bobal was never too far from our conversations.

A Bi-Continental Tasting 

When I was asked by the Society of Wine Educators to host a seminar at the Annual Conference in Seattle I jumped at the opportunity to bring Bobal to the attention of the audience! One the date was confirmed the countdown started.

Rafa sent an open call to Bobal producers from Utiel Requena and Manchuela to submit samples. In the meantime Luis Gutierrez, the Wine Advocate’s reviewer on Spanish wines suggested I speak with Antonio (Toni) Sarrion from Bodega Mustiguillo, a leading expert on Bobal. From then on Toni and I exchanged numerous emails and little by little I was getting a larger and deeper picture on this unique grape.

On Monday April 7th, we conducted my first ever bi-continental tasting via …..Skype! Rafa Javega, Luis Jimenez, Toni Sarrion, and Santiago Garcia with the Exitalia team in Albacete, Spain connected via Skype with my QWWE team in New York City for the tasting. We all had the same set of samples and for the next 3 ½ hours we proceeded to taste the wines in real time – blind – with the goal of finding the ones that best conveyed the expression of this variety in its different categories.

Antonio Sarrion at Mustiguillo’s vineyards

Antonio Sarrion at Mustiguillo’s vineyards

The only information we knew was that the wines had been sorted by flights. After each wine was tasted, Luis, Toni, and Santiago gave their impressions. I would then ask probing questions with my investigative hat and, after an animated discussion on styles and types, we selected the winners for each of the flights. At the end of the tasting we had the wines for the Bobal seminar!

Going to THE SOURCE 

Early June, Rafa and I – like two Don Quixotes – embarked on what would become an exciting exploratory trip through the land of Bobal: Utiel Requena in Valencia.

We arrived on a late afternoon to Bodegas Mustiguillo in Utiel where for the first time Toni and I met. He immediately took us on a ride through his 70 + year old dry farmed bush Bobal vineyards. While he was pulling leaves and grabbing the soil with his hands, he gave us a master class on this emblematic, indigenous grape.

After visiting the winery and the impressive cellar we were invited to a dinner of traditional Spanish cuisine where Toni regaled us with a 1999 Bobal – his first vintage ever, a 2003 Bobal, the 2011 Finca Terrerazo and other incredible wines. I was surprised by the vibrancy of the color, the intensity of the fruit aromas and flavors and the concentration of these wines. Definitely, Bobal has great aging potential. Tasting those beautiful wines in such a great company was a clear reminder of why do we love so much our wine business.

Meeting with the producers of the DO Utiel Requena

Meeting with the producers of the DO Utiel Requena

A few weeks later, already back in New York, I learned that the 2011 Finca Terrerazo had been awarded by the Decanter World Wine Awards 2014 as the “Best in Show Red Spanish Varietals over £15” and was among the top 30 of over 15,000 wines from around the world. Did I mention that Finca El Terrerazo is 100% Bobal?

The following morning, Rafa and I left for the town of Utiel to meet with Jose Luis Robredo Hernandez, the President of DO Utiel Requena’s organization of producers. When we arrived they were all eager to hear about the Bobal seminar at the SWE Conference in Seattle and curious about the US market for imported wines. It was wonderful to see how interested they were about our country and its flourishing wine business.

 And then… “la pièce de résistance!”

Don Jose Luis Robredo Hernandez with two of his collaborators, Carmen Cárcel Pérez and Veronica Rodríguez, had arranged for a very special guided tour of the Lagar de las Pilillas, the oldest archeological site of an industrial winery in the Iberian Peninsula dating back to the VI century B.C…..over 2,600 years ago.

Archeologist Asuncion Martinez, Veronica Rodriguez,                           Carmen Carcel Perez and  Nora Favelukes at Las Pilillas

Archeologist Asuncion Martinez, Veronica Rodriguez,
Carmen Carcel Perez and Nora Favelukes at Las Pilillas

We could not have asked for a better or more passionate guide. Asuncion Martinez (Susy), the archeologist for the city of Utiel, has been working at Las Pilillas since its discovery decades ago. She climbed the hills like a goat, jumping from one stone to the other, showing us where the winemakers of that time did the crush. She also pointed out the pools (16 and counting), where the juice would flow down via gravity; how they worked with tree logs and special holes in the rock formations to pull, move, and stir; and finally, how they stored the wine in clay amphorae produced by a nearby factory. It was truly amazing to witness how an ancient tradition has been kept alive through the centuries. What a treat!

Nora Favalukes is the President of QW Wine Experts, a consulting firm she launched in 1995, which is dedicated to the nationwide public relations, marketing and sales of imported fine wines. In addition to representing clients such as Wines of Argentina, Wines from Brazil and Carolina Wine Brands, she serves as a consultant to a number of foreign producers and to import companies in the United States.  Nora will present her session, “Unveiling Bobal” at the 38th Annual Conference on the Society of Wine Educators on Thursday, August 14th in Seattle, Washington.

 

Guest Post: Finding the Sweet Spot!

Today we have a guest post by Laura Lee-Chin, CSW, CSS, IWS. Laura tells us about her personal journey in discovering the interplay between Rhône varietals and chocolate – sounds like a delicious journey!

Finding the Sweet Spot: Rhône Varietals & Chocolate – My Personal Journey

By Laura Lee-Chin, CSW, CSS, IWS

Chocolate and wine 1Wine with chocolate is one of my favorite food pairings. I was curious about how the relationship between their tasting components can create delectable matches between wine and chocolate. What better way to learn more about this topic than to write about it? I had already planned a trip to France to visit my husband’s family, so I turned it into an opportunity to research wine and chocolate pairings.

But where to start with the research? Fortunately for me, I have French family members with friends in the chocolate business and have personally established some of my own connections in the wine world. After a few emails and phone calls, I had booked appointments at the Cité du Chocolat Valrhona and Paul Jaboulet Aine’s Vineum, both located in the northern Rhône Valley city of Tain-l’Hermitage, just one hour south of France’s gastronomy capital, Lyon.

My first appointment was at the Cité du Chocolat Valrhona, where I met the Directeur, Franck Vidal. I took a tour of the Cité du Chocolat’s museum and learned tremendously. Unlike wine, cacao grows best in the tropical climates. The continent with the largest production is Africa at 71%, with Ivory Coast making up 36% of the world’s chocolate growers. Not surprisingly, the United States is the world’s largest consumer of chocolate; our land of chocoholics  consumes 20% of the world supply in chocolate. I also learned that Valrhona sources its chocolate from several countries and has cacao plantations in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. What surprised me most about this tour is how similar the tasting procedure is to wine: it also is based on understanding the tasting components of sweet, sour/acid, salty, bitter, texture—and I would be tempted to add umami as well.

Jean-Luc Chapel tastes Valrhona chocolates with Jaboulet wines.

Jean-Luc Chapel tastes Valrhona chocolates with Jaboulet wines.

As luck would have it, my meeting with Vidal quickly turned into a spontaneous introduction and chocolate tasting session with Valrhona’s Corporate Pastry Chef Derek Poirier, a James Beard Foundation inductee for the 2014 Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America. I showed him an initial list of the types of wines and chocolates I was planning to use for the SWE conference and he immediately pulled out some chocolates to taste. We selected chocolates to take to the Paul Jaboulet Ainé (PJA) Vineum (tasting room and restaurant) the next day. Valrhona also committed to providing all of the chocolates for our SWE class. Sweet (quite literally)!

At Vineum, Jean-Luc Chapel, Prestige Account Manager for PJA, and I agreed upon a tasting strategy for the wines and chocolate—see “Simple Guidelines.” A sampling of our tasting notes is below. Coincidentally, English journalist and Decanter Contributing Editor Andrew Jefford happened to be at Jaboulet. The wine gods were smiling upon me once again, and PJA donated 5 wines for the SWE Conference.

Franck Vidal & Chef Derek Poirier in kitchen at Valrhona's culinary school.

Franck Vidal & Chef Derek Poirier in kitchen at Valrhona’s culinary school.

Overall, my research visit to find out about wine and chocolate in France ended up being a much deeper journey into tasting. If you’d like to learn more, I hope you will join us to learn more about the featured wines and chocolates to be tasted in Seattle on August 15th. Santé!

Laura Lee-Chin’s Simple Guidelines for Pairing Wine & Chocolate:

To make your tasting of wine and chocolate more memorable, here are some simple guidelines of wine and chocolate pairing:

  1. Select a wine that is sweeter than the chocolate. The percentage of chocolate can give you a general idea of its sweetness—a higher percentage of cacao in the chocolate will have a lower percentage of sugar.
  2. Lighter bodied wines can be paired more easily with light, creamy and smooth chocolate (milk).
  3. Full-bodied wines (especially ones with higher sweetness and fruit concentration) can be paired more easily with dark, rich and strong chocolate.
  4. Chocolate can also have tannins, so to avoid too much bitterness, pair it with a sweet, white wine or lighter-bodied fruity red.
  5. Everyone varies in their sensitivities and preferences for wine and chocolate, so use these suggestions above as a guide and enjoy exploring these pairings.

Chocolate flows freelyTasting Notes:  

In France at Paul Jaboulet Ainé (PJA) Vineum

Wine: 2010 PJA “La Paradou” Beaumes de Venise AOP (Rouge) – dry, ripe red fruit, floral (violet, red roses), leather, minerality, hint of black pepper on finish.

  • Chocolate: Bahibe 46 % Milk Chocolate – sweet milk and intense cocoa notes, fruity acidity, hint of nuttiness, and slightly bitter flavor.
  • Notes: Balanced acidity in wine enhances fruit, floral, and spice notes while chocolate provides contrasting nuttiness and creamy texture for wine.

Wine: 2010 PJA/Lagune “Evidence par Caroline” – dry, lilacs, blueberry, blackberry, cassis, earth, hint of cinnamon and mint, chalky tannins. (Not yet in U.S., but coming soon!)

  • Chocolate: Equatoriale Noire 55% Dark Chocolate – cocoa, vanilla, dark fruit notes.
  • Notes: A very interesting contrast of dark fruit and tropical notes. Wine brings out tropical notes of banana, coconut in chocolate, while chocolate displays dark fruit and silky texture in wine.

 

Customers waiting to take a bite out of the exhibit at the Cité du Chocolat Valrhona.

Customers waiting to take a bite out of the exhibit at the Cité du Chocolat Valrhona.

Bonus Liqueur: Chartreuse VEP (Exceptionally Prolonged Ageing) 15 yrs – sweet, mint, thyme, caramel, licorice, fresh cut grass.

  • Chocolate: Equatorial Noire 55% Dark Chocolate – cocoa, vanilla, dark fruit notes.
  • Notes: wine brings out cocoa, vanilla, dark fruit notes in chocolate, a lovely contrast to notes in wine.

Initial Tasting in California

Wine: 2010 Qupe Marsanne Santa Barbara County, California – dry, pineapple, citrus (lemon, lime) honeysuckle, butterscotch.

  • Chocolate: Valrhona Blond Dulcey 32% Dulce de Leche – biscuit, butterscotch, toasty, smooth & creamy texture.
  • Notes: Chocolate complements pineapple and citrus fruits along with creamy texture in wine.

Wine: NV Paringa Sparkling Shiraz South Australia – violets, bacon, dark fruits (plum, black cherry), spice (black pepper, clove).

  • Chocolate: Valrhona Le Noir Abinao 85% Dark Chocolate – mocha, dark cocoa, tannic, bitter.
  • Notes: Chocolate complements dark fruit and savory notes in wine.

chocolate laura and andrewWine: 2010 Domaine de Durban Muscat de Beaumes de Venise AOP France – floral (honeysuckle, jasmine, orange blossom), white peach, ripe citrus (lemon, lime).

  • Chocolate: Valrhona Ivoire 35% White Chocolate – milky, vanilla, creamy texture.
  • Notes: Chocolate draws out floral and peach notes emphasizing creamy texture in wine.

About the author: Laura Lee-Chin is an independent writer, wine educator and consultant. Laura is a featured wine and spirits writer for My Cookshelf.com and has contributed articles to the Caltech Women’s Club and other publications. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Specialist of Spirits with the Society of Wine Educators, an Italian Wine Specialist with the Associazione Italiana Sommelier and a WSET Diploma candidate with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, based in London. She is currently a member of the French Wine Society, Guild of Sommeliers, North American Sommelier Association, and Society of Wine Educators. Laura will be presenting her session, Finding the Sweet Spot: Rhône Varietals & Chocolate, on Friday, August 15th, at the 38th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators in Seattle, Washington.

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