Guest Post: Build your Library for the Holidays and Beyond!

Today we have a guest post from Harriet Lembeck CWE, CSE who tells us about some excellent wine books to build your library – or give as gifts – for the holidays and beyond!

With books like these, you can increase your knowledge, grow your confidence and be a wine-and-spirits resource for your customers!

The Best of the Reference Books

Harriet oxford companionThe Oxford Companion to Wine, Fourth Edition—by Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding (Oxford Companions, $65.00, 912 pages [hard cover]). Two years plus a lifetime in the making, this completely revised edition lists, up front, 300 completely new entries (in case you doubted that you need this now) totaling over 4,000 entries, spread over a million words. No detail goes un-scrutinized, clichés are exploded, and the list of over 180 contributors is a Who’s Who of wine industry greats.

In addition to the hard copy version, it is available as an e-book, and also may be found on Jancis’ “Purple Pages” member-only section of her website. When you need something quickly, this enormous book is completely searchable on line.

Harriet wines of franceWines of France, a Guide to 500 Leading Vineyards—by Benjamin Lewin MW (Vendange Press, $45, 670 pages [hard cover]). Here is a comprehensive listing of the most important French vineyards. The first 375 pages review 10 regions, along with a look at the current state of, and challenges to, France’s wine country. The balance of the book has detailed profiles of the best producers, especially of you want to visit, or carry their wines in your store. Illustrations are gorgeous, and make you want to start packing.

harriet charles curtisThe Original Grand Crus of Burgundy—by Charles Curtis MW (Wine Alpha, $19.99, 257 pages [soft cover, including two Appendices, Bibliography and detailed index]). A scholarly study here, where Charles Curtis has researched treatises on Burgundy vineyards from 1855 and earlier; and reconciles these historical tracts with today’s AOCs.

The treatises, from authors such as Dr. Jules Lavalle, Dr. Denis Morelot and André Jullien, were written in French, which Curtis had to translate.

If you’ve been hazy about lieu-dits, climats, and crus, they are clarified here. This book journeys through Burgundy  commune by commune, and inspires you to research your own purchases more thoughtfully.

Harriet rogerAnswers to Wine Questions from Real People, 2nd edition—by Roger C. Bohmrich MW (Kindle, $4.99 [compatible with other devices as well]). This is not trivia, and this book covers a great range of topics. With this in your tablet, you can answer questions quickly and smartly.

Bohmrich covers topics like knowing which wines will be sweet or dry, and how one can tell; how wine is made at all; how to describe a wine; the significance of ratings; wine and health; wine storage; wine service and reasons for decanting; wines of the US and the world, and lots more. When consumers seem shy about asking, you can jump in with answers.

Regional Wine Stories

harriett bertrandWine, Moon, and Stars: A South of France Experience—by Gérard Bertrand (Abrams, Books, $18.95, 202 pages, soft cover [includes Bibliography and Photo Gallery]). Gerard Bertrand is a winemaker and a philosopher, connected to the soils of Languedoc-Roussillon, which he respects with biodynamic farming. He discusses wine tasting in the context of history and culture.

A pyramid-shaped drawing shows layers of increasing wine quality along with increasing prices, and another pyramid diagrams Pleasure, Taste, Emotion and Message. The “Quantum Wine” chapter is based on quantum physics and the energy of matter. Reading about his estates will help you better understand their unique terroirs.

harriett hudsonGrapes of the Hudson Valley and other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada—by J. Stephen Cassicles, with a Foreword by Kevin Zraly and and a Preface by Eric Miller (Flint Mine Press,$29.99, 272 pages [large format, soft cover]). Saying that there are no pure grapes, Steve Cassicles explains the significance of hy- brids to the cooler worlds of northeastern US, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest and Canada.

Discussions of grape varieties include genetic make-up, growing characteristics and wine- making possibilities – all from the standpoint of the hybridizer. Biographies of these hybridizers and their viticultural creations are fascinating. Even if you don’t have wines from hybrids in your store, your customers may still want info about them.

Harriet bubblesFrom Bubbles to Boardrooms: Serendipitous Stories From Inside the Wine Business—by Michaela Kane Rodeno (Villa Ragazzi Press, $25 from its online bookstore, 291 pages [soft cover]). Michaela Rodena has been in the wine business for 40 years, as an entrepreneur, corporate director, consultant, and grape grower.

Chapter headings include: Start-ups are Such Fun, Every Boardroom is Different, Be Careful What you Promise, A Wine of Our Own, How to Build a Winery, Engaging with Consumers, Market Intelligence, Everyone Reports to Some- one, Rookie CEO Thinking, Back to Bordeaux, Learning About Wine, Phylloxera, The Wine Auction, The Patron Saint of Lost Causes, The Things We Do To Sell Wine, and Finding One’s Successor. A Glossary of French wine words is useful.

Continuing Education

Harriet how to makeThe Way to Make Wine: How How to Craft Superb Table Wines at Home, 2nd edition—by Sheridan Warrick (University of California Press, $24.95, 278 pages [soft cover]). While home wine making is not for everyone, this book contains a wealth of excellent information for all wine professional.

Part Two, especially the section on “Making Even Better Wine,” gives insight into purchased fine wines. A section on yeast helps explain the mystery surrounding native yeasts. Discussions of wine styles, grape ripeness, malolactic fermentation, residual sugar and the careful use of sulfur dioxide provide clarity.

This article was originally published in Beverage Dynamics Magazine – reprinted with permission!



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


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




The B side to the B side: The white wines of Puglia


Today we have a guest post from Mark Rashap, CWE, who tells us about the lesser-known white wines of Puglia!

As I was preparing for SWE’s first ever Certification Summit focused on the lesser known regions of Italy, I delved into the great wines of Puglia.  And now, as I’m reflecting on that research, I’ve realized that my focus was heavily based on red wine production; well, that’s what Puglia is famous for, right?  It is indeed the color that is most prominently regarded—with the four DOCGs of the region being from dark skinned grapes (3 for the Riserva versions of Castel del Monte, and one for the sweet Primitivo di Manduria Dolce Naturale).

Many of the 32 DOC/DOCGs on the “heel of the boot” allow for red and rosé production primarily, while only 3 focus on white wine. This is despite the fact that white wines occupies  40% of the total production.  My interest was further piqued when I saw minimum percentages for the foreign Chardonnay written in the law for multiple DOCs.  This contradicts many other regions that might allow Chardonnay in the blend but almost never require it.  I think that this not the only thing that is backwards in Puglia.  All of which makes the production of white wine in Puglia and interesting topic!

Puglia—which is extremely flat, sundrenched, and fertile relative to the other areas of Italy—is evolving from its historic culture of bulk production and co-ops to become an area where there is great opportunity.  Producers from Tuscany and abroad are investing in Puglia and experimenting with their native grapes as well planting the international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay.  In the context of white wine, native Puglian grapes include Bombino Bianco, Verdeca, Bianco d’Alessano, Impigno, Francavidda, Pampanuto, Fiano, and Moscato. International grape varieties include Chardonnay (as previously mentioned) as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Bianco.


To understand the wine production, we must first talk a little geography.  I like to think of Puglia split into 3 broad zones. They are:

  • The Daunia: Located in the north and encompassing the province of Foggia; characterized by the pre-Apennine mountains
  • The Murgia: Located in the center of the state surrounding the capital city of Bari; may be further divided into Upper and Lower Murgia
  • The Salento Peninsula: Located on the Adriatic Coast

Puglia’s Valle d’Itria area (which corresponds to one of Puglia’s 6 IGPs), located on the Adriatic Coast/Salento Peninsula just south of Murgia, is home to the area’s most historic and productive white wines. This valley features clay soils sprinkled with stones. Here, both the Locorotondo DOC and the Martina Franca DOC focus solely on white and sparkling wine based in the tart, vegetal indigenous Verdeca grape variety. Production is quite high. The ancillary grapes of these DOCs are Bianco d’Alessano and Fiano di Puglia. (Note: Fiano di Puglia has been renamed to Minutolo and is not the same grape as Fiano di Avellina).

Just a bit further south, we find the area around the city of Ostuni and the eponymous Ostuni DOC featuring the Impigno grape variety. Impigno is thought to be an offspring of Bombino Bianco—an interesting local white variety occupying the majority of production in the northern areas of Puglia. Bombino, considered to be native to Puglia, has a genetic fingerprint similar to Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.  This is supported by its flavor profile, soft acidity and medium to light body.  The most notable DOCs for Bombino are Castel del Monte Bianco and Gravina and is often blended with Pampanuto and Chardonnay.

map via

map via

When we move to the Salento Peninsula in the far south, surrounded by the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, we find that Chardonnay is a requirement in many of the DOCs.  Most notably, it must make up at least 70% (85% if listed on the label) of the blend of white Salice Salentino, normally know for the dark and spicy Negro Amaro.  Other DOCs in Salento that focus on Chardonnay include: Galatina (55% min), Squinzano (90% if listed on label), Leverano (85% if listed on label), and Coline Joniche Tarantine (no minimum).

Finally, we find a DOC that is solely based on Moscato, Moscato di Trani DOC.  The DOC requires 100% Moscato Bianco, which is the same as the Moscato Bianco from Asti and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.  Locals call this Moscato Reale to differentiate from the Moscato Selvatico which is a cross between Muscat de Alexandria and Bombino Bianco and found elsewhere in Puglia.  There are only sweet wines made in this DOC, one Dolce Naturale made from dried grapes and a fortified version.

The whites of Puglia are quite obscure and perhaps justifiably overshadowed by the reds. However, I think that as the overall quality of the wine in Puglia continues to improve we will see interesting things emerge from the white segment.  Verdeca can show similar to Vinho Verde and provide an acidic backbone to a blend, Bombino Bianco is improving in quality and growing in acreage, and Chardonnay will continue to proliferate and find its place in the export market.  Hopefully, someday we can all visit the beautiful landscape of Puglia and taste these grapes with the incredible seafood served on the typical Puglian table.


  • Wine Grapes, Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz, 2012
  • Vino Italiano, Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch 2005
  • official trade association site

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!

Harvest Report 2015 – Europe


Today we have the second part of a three-part series on the 2015 harvest, authored by Mark Rashap, CWE.

In a previous blog post, I outlined the 2015 harvest for the major growing regions of France, and described my method of remembering and mentally archiving vintages around the world by comparing them to the particulars of Bordeaux.  Through this technique, it is easy to draw similarities, such as in 2010 regions all over Europe followed Bordeaux with great phenolic ripeness with maintained acidity.  Likewise, in 2007 there was a lot of variability and many regions differed from the cool rainy conditions of Bordeaux with very hot and arid weather in Piedmont and Tuscany.  Perhaps, you remember and make sense of vintages in an entirely different way, and we would love to hear about it!

As for the chatter around the 2015 vintage for the rest of Europe, it seems like this year will go down as a relatively easy vintage to remember.  Most regions experienced conditions similar to those of Bordeaux, including extreme heat and drought in the summer months, which advanced ripening and harvest 1-2 weeks.  There were rains and a cooling off of temperatures in either late August or early September which saved the grapes from the raisin character and lack of acidity that afflicts very warm vintages, such as 2003.

The following reflects the pertinent info we should file away to remember in the coming  years when these wines are being released.


In Spain, Wines of Rioja reported that harvest was wrapped up officially by October 13th which makes this year the earliest harvest on record.  Alcohols were slightly above average, and the health of the berries and lack of disease and mold in the vineyard are making producers very excited.  Other than a short heat wave in the beginning of July, Ribera del Duero did not experience the extreme heat that Rioja did.  Rainfall was average, and the diurnal shifts in September were remarkable, allowing great phenolic ripeness.

In Galicia, La Voz de Galicia, a local newspaper, reported that 2015 is a year that many wineries were able to make noble rot and late harvest Albariño because of the perfect level of humidity.  There were adequate rains in the Spring and almost no precipitation during the summer which is rare for Galicia.  Quantities are the third largest in recorded history.

In Cataluña, the DO summarizes the same story: harvest 2 weeks early, heat in summer promoted phenolic ripeness, health of the grapes was perfect.

In Portugal, Quinta do Vallado published that the winter was drier than usual, and this continued through the summer.  There was not excessive heat through the summer, but the drought slowed vegetative growth putting the energy into reproduction, the berries.  Harvest was 1-2 weeks early, then Sept 15th saw rains which dried out quickly allowing an extended harvest.  2015 is expected to be a vintage year for Port.


In Piedmont, Pietro Oddero, seventh generation of the Oddero winery in La Morra, described how copious rainfall in the winter and spring was essential in supplying the water table to get through the drought and heat of June and July.  Skins were thicker and yields lower than normal years.   Rains in late August saved the Nebbiolo harvest allowing acidity to be maintained.  Comparisons are being made to the excellent quality of 2010.

In Tuscany, Francesco de Filippis, agronomist, owner of Cosimo Maria Masini, and biodynamics specialist agreed that 2015 has incredible potential because of the rains in September.  Francesco’s vineyards typically do better in warmer years because of the moisture retaining organic humus; however, his vineyards were incredibly stressed until the rains invigorated them.  July was hotter than 2003, and he could not remember a drier summer.

In Germany, often vintages do not reflect the rest of Europe, but in 2015 there were a lot of similarities.  The German Wine Institute declared that the grapevines were able to withstand the heat and drought of June and July.  Occasionally, temperatures were breaking the 40°C ceiling, but there were rains in early August that provided long needed relief.  Sugars are on average a lot higher than normal with no need to de-acidify.  Ripeness and quantity for Pinot Noir is exceptional, this might be the year for German reds to make their mark.

The 2015 report will continue with a review of North America in the coming week!

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!


Amrut and the Elixir of Life


India is a large consumer and producer of whisky. Many of the best-selling whisky brands in the world are produced and, for the most part, consumed in India. However, the definition and regulations concerning whisky in India are not the same as those used by the United States or the European Union. As such, much of the “whisky” produced in India is at least partially made with molasses-based neutral spirits. The best-selling brands of these whiskies include Officer’s Choice, McDowell’s No. 1, Royal Stag and Imperial Blue.

However, true whisky produced from grains and following standards equal to those employed by the United States and the European Union is produced in India and exported throughout the world. The first producer to make a true grain-based whisky in India was Amrut Distilleries. The company, located in Bangalore, was founded in 1948 by Neelakanta Jagdale.

In 2004, after producing rum and other spirits for several decades, Anmut Distilleries released a single malt whisky, made from 100% barley. Known simply as Amrut, it was ceremoniously first released in Glasgow, Scotland. This was followed by releases throughout much of Europe as well as Australia, North America, South Africa, and Asia.

The name Amrut comes from a Sanskrit word which may be translated as “nectar of the gods” or, as the company translates it, “elixir of life.” The story of the name, from Indian mythology, is as good as it gets: As the gods and the Rakshasas (the demons) churned the oceans using Mount Meru as a giant churner, a golden pot emerged from the waters containing the elixir of life. This elixir was called “Amrut.”  (Western cultures would equate the “elixir of life” as the “fountain of youth” or “infinity formula.”)

Photo via:

Photo via:

Amrut is made from 100% barley. Most of the barley used is grown in India, however, for peated versions, some peated barley is imported from Scotland. The whisky is double-distilled in large pot stills before being diluted to 125 proof and aged in oak barrels for four years or longer. Surinder Kumar, the master blender at Amrut Distilleries, has estimated that because of climate differences, one year of barrel aging in India is equal to three years of aging in Scotland.

Amrut single malt whisky quickly became famous after being reviewed well by several well-known and respected whisky critics and publications. To name just one, Amrut Fusion Single Malt (based on a blend of Indian and Scottish barley), released in 2010, was named “World Whisky of the Year” by Malt Advocate magazine.

Amrut single malt whisky is now released in over 10 styles, including those aged in ex-Sherry barrels, those aged in ex-Bourbon barrels, peated versions, non-peated versions, cask-strength bottlings, and single barrel bottlings. There’s also a version called “Greedy Angels” (referring to the annual 10-12% “angel’s share” evaporation due to the tropical climate of the Bangalore distillery) that sounds amazing.

The distillery currently produces 4 million cases of liquor a year, including approximately 10,000 cases of Amrut single malt. Amrut is available in over 30 countries, including the UK, Canada, Japan, the US, and Australia. And for the adventurous traveler, the distillery tours look great!


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!

Insights into Insightful Wine Writing


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

In today’s Information Age, online opinions, tasting notes, blogs, and general wine writing have become omnipresent. This is both good and bad for readers looking for reliable information.

There is such a broad range of quality in this collective literature – from bragging about tasting an iconic wine (which does the reader no good) to describing a conversation with a winemaker in a unique wine region (which can inspire and serve as an informational resource).  I’m not suggesting that everything we write and put into the virtual world must be ground-breaking or a brilliant philosophical essay.  However, I do think that we can demand more from our own writing, strive to improve our own appreciation of wine, and serve as insightful mentors for folks scouring the internet looking for answers to questions they didn’t even know they had.

When I teach a wine class, whether it is an advanced theme or basic wine appreciation, I am never content with students describing a wine simply in terms of “I like it” or “I don’t like it.”  This tells me nothing about the wine’s character nor the student’s tastes and experiences on which we can build; in effect, it stops the conversation.


Instead, I try to encourage students to be honest with themselves and get into the “why” and the “how” of what they’re describing.  In fact, for beginners, I believe that “I don’t know” is a much better thing to say in describing a wine than “I don’t like” because it implies that that there is an underlying “something” that, with practice and instruction, one may be able to grasp.

Perhaps even knowledgeable and experienced wine professionals could do a better job in writing about the why and how they think about a wine, a region, or a vintage, instead of rattling off 3-5 descriptors that are similar to the last ten wines described with the score being the only differentiating factor.  All wines—at least all of quality—have a particular fingerprint that makes them unique from the next, and it would be beneficial to the reader if the critic would attempt to penetrate that unique aspect.

In Matt Kramer’s recent publication True Taste (2015), he gives a succinct history of wine writing and offers some theories as to how we have become so homogenized when it comes to describing and rating wines.  He goes on to describe 7 abstract qualities around which he believes all wines should be judged: Harmony, Texture, Layers, Finesse, Surprise, Nuance, and Insight, which he correlates to writing tasting notes and overall wine appreciation.  As he defines it, “Experience + Thought + Synthesis = Insight.”  I think this is a brilliant way to judge wine writing, as well as interactions with the wine professionals who work in restaurants or retail outlets.  If one shows a high level of insight, I believe it is worth going back to that wine shop or that restaurant, or continuing to read that blog.


Kramer emphasizes that experience—although it is to some degree required—is not the only characteristic of someone worth listening to.  Visiting Bordeaux for 20 years straight and compiling 20 years’ worth of tasting notes simply provides us with a lot of data.  On the other hand, the thought process built around those notes—such as synthesizing soil variations with vintage character and the internal workings of the winery—now, that is the real juicy stuff a reader wants to digest.

As wine professionals, we must demand insight from ourselves, our writing, our teaching, and from others.  When teaching, I try to reinforce to young and enthusiastic wine lovers that experience is not everything, and that not everybody extracts the same amount of knowledge from each experience.  One year of critical tasting, with close attention paid to drawing correlations from all the factors that have gone into making a wine is worth more than a lifetime of drinking first growth Bordeaux.

Blogs, social media, and open source platforms for wine reviews allow us access to so much information that was previously unavailable.  We can now get news and harvest updates from wineries directly from their Facebook, Twitter, and blog pages.  However, there is a temptation to produce content just to occupy space in the social media sphere whether we have something to say or not.  Let’s collectively resolve to ask ourselves to delve a little deeper in describing wines and the condition of appreciating wine.  We will indeed learn more from asking these questions ourselves, and just might be able to nurture the younger and savvier wine community as well!

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!


Tasting Rooms Less Traveled: Colorado (Guest Post)


Today we have a guest post by an anonymous writer, who we will know by the name Candi, CSW. Candi has been visiting some of the lesser-known wine regions of the US, and has been generous enough to share her experiences with us! Read on!

Since obtaining my CSW certification in 2014, I have been looking forward to opportunities to apply my new knowledge and skills. One of my favorite ways to do this is to visit winery tasting rooms. This year was unusual for me, in that I was able to do tastings in two states which are among emerging areas for domestic wine. This post features a late spring trip to Colorado; next week’s post will discuss a fall trip to Arizona.

Grand Valley AVA: Palisade, Colorado

The town of Palisade is probably best known for its peaches, which are indeed fabulous. Palisade, however, is also the site of the fall Colorado Mountain Winefest. If my e-mail is to be believed, this event was a sell-out this year with more than 6,300 attendees.

My last wine tasting experience here was in 2003. At that time, I was much less well- informed and not quite the enthusiast that I am today.  I do recall that the white wines were pleasant enough, especially the Rieslings. And, to this day, I enjoy Colorado Rieslings. As for the reds, though, they were not especially memorable.

I had to make an unscheduled trip to Colorado in May of this year. A bright spot of that trip was a free Sunday afternoon. While I vastly prefer tasting during the week to avoid crowds, I had identified a few wineries for potential visits, just in case. I am blessed to have a tolerant designated driver. So off we went, our time limited to two choices.

My impression: what a difference 12 years makes! These wines, particularly red varietals, are growing up!


One stop was Plum Creek Winery, just on the outskirts of Palisade with vineyards nearby. Despite the fact that this was Sunday afternoon, there were only a few others tasting. Tasting five wines was complimentary. I chose two whites, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, as the former seemed unusual for Colorado and the latter more typical. Reds included Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. My developing palate was most intrigued by the reds, particularly the Bordeaux blend, “Grand Mesa”. This wine has limited distribution, which added to the attraction.

Another visit was Debeque Canyon Winery, conveniently located near a distillery. Hey, something for everyone. Again, the tasting room was relatively quiet, with a few apparent walk-ins. Tasting was complimentary, there were multiple choices, and it certainly seemed that the winery is focused on red varietals. Works for me. I tasted the Riesling, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wait a minute. Pinot Noir? One of my favorite varietals? In Colorado?

Most definitely, and a wine that made an impact. The current release is 100% Pinot Noir, a non-vintage blend of 2010 and 2011. The grapes are grown at a vineyard situated at an altitude of more than 7,000 feet. The climate is much less humid, with more diurnal temperature variation, than in some coastal areas where Pinot Noir is often found. These factors, along with the vintner’s special touch, may have contributed to a distinct, even concentrated palate impression, so to speak. This enabled me to identify the wine as varietally correct, balanced, and complex.


When we were preparing to leave Debeque Canyon, a gentleman entered, walked behind the counter and poured himself a full glass of wine as if he owned the place. Becoming a CSW has made me, ahem, more assertive in a tasting room setting. So I asked him if he was the vintner. Turns out I was about to meet Bennett Price, who did indeed make the wine. And, who, maybe, does own the place. My enthusiasm and Bennett’s connected in a way that we were invited to the back for a barrel tasting of the 2013 and 2014 Pinot Noirs.

Quiet, low-key tasting rooms enabled a leisurely experience. Many varietals from which to choose. Difficulty making purchase decisions due to quality. And, a personal barrel tasting with the vintner. All in just a side trip for the afternoon. We clearly plan to return to Colorado wine country.

For further information, please see Justin Gilman’s informative Guest Post: On the Wines of Colorado.

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

Tasting Rooms Less Traveled: Arizona (Guest Post)

photo via:

photo via:

Today we have another guest post by Candi, CSW. Last week Candi shared her trip to Colorado wine country, this week she has a story about the tasting rooms of Arizona. Read on!

Verde Valley Wine Trail: Northern Arizona

Our main destination for a September, 2015 trip was Wyoming, to revisit Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We were, however, within one day’s drive of Sedona, Arizona. Sedona, in addition to being a beautiful stop, has the advantage of being very close to one of Arizona’s three wine trails. So, of course, we added a stop in Arizona to appease the wine enthusiast of the family.

I had never tasted Arizona wine. My pre-trip research indicated that there are three geographically distinct wine trails, each of which has about a dozen wineries. The Verde Valley Wine Trail centers on several small towns in Northern Arizona. The trail is also near two national monuments, if you can tear yourself away from the tasting rooms.

We had just one afternoon in which to taste, which meant two tasting rooms before palate fatigue would occur. By the time we departed, I had done online research and chatted with staff at several alternatives. I believe that, since this area is newer for tourism than some, I had to dig more to get the planning information needed. That’s okay; all part of the fun of trip anticipation.

We arrived in Sedona on a Monday evening, in time for me to do a bit of pre-tasting reconnaissance at the nearest grocery store.  There was an entire aisle devoted to in-state wine, with wide price and varietal variation. This gave me clues to local distribution, and also identified wine that could be purchased at retail if I ran out of tasting room time. So far, so good.

On Tuesday afternoon, we were there at opening time for Arizona Stronghold’s tasting room in Cottonwood, Arizona. Cottonwood features several tasting rooms on its main street, along with other shopping and dining.

Within 15 minutes, this tasting room was busy – on a Tuesday in September, which I found surprising. But the efficient, friendly staff was able to accommodate all of us, from true enthusiasts who wanted detailed information to walk-ins who just wanted a glass of wine and relaxation.

Photo via:

Photo via:

Arizona Stronghold has a well-organized tasting procedure, which I appreciated. You choose from one of at least four different tasting flights, five wines each. I had difficulty choosing among the four flights – so many varietals! My server graciously accommodated a customized list. Onward and cheers!

My tasting included Viognier “No Mal” (they make one with, one without), rose’, a red blend (Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Verdot), Syrah, and Nebbiolo. One smart feature: wines with wide distribution have a colorful label, while those limited to the tasting room and certain wine clubs have a more understated, discreet label. This is also the first tasting room I have visited that openly discussed the retail distribution of some of their wines. So I learned that the wines with retail distribution can be found in 23 states. How user-friendly is that?

As is often the case for me (pun intended), it was difficult to choose among the wines. But the limited distribution wines did have a practical attraction and made an impression. Overall, a solid introduction to the breath and depth of Arizona wines.

On to Clarkdale, Arizona, and the tasting room/cooperative that is Four Eight Wineworks. My understanding of the concept is that this facility provides a place for small production, start-up wineries to market and sell their product. The specific wineries change as some grow and move out. Upon reaching about a 1,500 case/year production level, wineries typically set up individual facilities.

I have always been intrigued by small wineries and tend to seek these out for my tasting trips. I believe that part of the fun of wine is the constantly evolving nature and the entry of new participants, which made Four Eight Wineworks an easy choice for the agenda.

We had this tasting room to ourselves, which allowed for plenty of discussion with our helpful server. I learned that Cochise County in southeastern Arizona is the site of many producers’ vineyards. Most wines featured here were, indeed, labeled Cochise County.

Four Eight offered a choice of two wine flights. Each flight included two wines made from grapes grown within Arizona, and two made from grapes imported from outside the state. My preference was to taste wines made from Arizona grapes, so again I requested a customized flight. Not a problem.


My flight included Bodega Pierce Chardonnay, Saeculum Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Bodega Pierce Petite Sirah and Saeculum Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. I had not previously experienced a tasting sequence in which Sauvignon Blanc was poured after Chardonnay, but after tasting the fuller body of the Sauvignon Blanc, I understood. I learned that not all New World Sauvignon Blancs are lighter in body. This wine was aged in oak; what an interesting example of southeastern Arizona terrior and vinification!

Saeculum Cellars is another label of Michael Pierce. My high school Latin was more years ago than I care to admit. Online dictionaries define “saeculum” as a long period of time, such as a generation or a lifetime. A bit of trivia, but I just had to know.

Both tasting room servers asked about our additional planned stops, and offered suggestions to promote others. There seems to be a spirit of cooperation here that I do not always experience. The wide variety of choices was another key impression. Along with Colorado, this will be another wine area to explore in more depth.

My perspective in terms of wines that I discuss with others has changed based upon what I consider to be introductory experiences in Colorado and in Arizona. Most people who wanted to hear about my trips, and have recently visited these states, did not know that there were even wineries to be experienced. As a CSW, I consider it part of my responsibility to spread the word about emerging wine areas. And I have been, most enjoyably. Cheers!

For further information, please see two SWE Conference Recaps: Getting High in Arizona by Gary Spadafore, CSS, CWE, and Paula Woolsey, CSW; and, Interview with Michael Pierce – Arizona Wines.

2015 Harvest Report – France


As wine professionals, we often get to field questions from either the public or colleagues about the state of the industry.  In the months of October and November, there’s no hotter topic than the quality of the harvest in the Northern Hemisphere.  Even though we won’t get to taste these wines from bottle for another couple of years (or maybe even more), there’s something rejuvenating and challenging about grasping how the climactic factors might be reflected in the wines.

As we all have our own techniques for compartmentalizing, comparing, and remembering the quality of vintage by region, I’ll lead you through my thought process, which does not follow the chronological flow of harvest, but digs into a few regions and compares them against the others.

For me, I understand and remember vintages starting with Bordeaux, mostly because there is a lot of good data due to the financial impact of the vintage (prices can vary drastically based on good or bad reports) and partially due to being passionate about the region.

Francois Thienpont, owner of the Négociant Wings and brother of winemaker Nicolás Thienpont, reported that conditions in Bordeaux were ideal during flowering, setting the stage for perfect fruit set.  The summer was incredibly hot, which advanced veraison and

harvest a few weeks earlier than normal.  Francois stated that very gentle rains and a slight cooling off of temperatures in August and September were just what the vines needed; the acidity was maintained unlike 2003 for the dry reds of both right and left banks.  Hugo Bernard, heir to Domaine de Chevalier (in Pessac-Léognan), reported that acidity was lower for dry whites, but ripeness and alcohol were excellent.  Hugo admitted these whites might see less time in oak while in the winery, but further tasting will dictate this decision.  Botrytis set in perfectly for the sweet wines of Sauternes.

In Burgundy, harvest was finished by early September, which is a few weeks earlier than normal. High temperatures in July and water stress thickened skins and promoted ripeness; gentle rains and cooler temperatures in August helped to maintain acidity. For the first time in 4 years hail did not affect the yields of the great vineyards of the Cotes d’Or; however, there was minimal hail damage in Chablis and surrounding areas of Auxerrois. Overall, quality is very high; quantity is low but not as low as 2011-2014.


In Champagne, all indicators point to a fantastic 2015. The CIVC published the pick dates a few weeks earlier than usual, as well as granting permission to some properties to harvest even earlier. Many producers are excited, claiming that this one of the best vintages in the last 20 years. The CIVC also published the lowest permitted yields in the past 10 years.

In the Rhône Valley, a very hot July gave was to a cooler August.  Domaine de Mourchon published that rains saved the grapes rather than promoting rot, with cool mornings in September making cold maceration easy.  There should be good concentration in the wines, with balanced acidity.

The Loire Valley follows Bordeaux with warm summer, rains in September that dried quickly and allowed the grapes relief and to finish ripening with good acidity.

Alsace often has different conditions than does Bordeaux  – such as in 2007 and 2011 which were difficult for Bordeaux but excellent for Alsace.  For 2015, the CIVA reports huge ripeness and potential alcohol and are allowing acidification for the first time since 2003.  Many grand cru vineyards reached sugar levels that will not be possible to ferment to dryness.  Botrytis is also very scarce, meaning than many producers are opting for passerillage (drying the grapes or passito) in order to make sweet wines.

Stay tuned for a continued 2015 harvest report for the rest of the great regions of the Northern Hemisphere.  We would love to hear how you remember and file away the quality of the vintage by region.  Do you need a system, or can you just remember the particulars?  Do you use Burgundy as your anchor for comparison?  Do you remember regions as they are harvested chronologically?

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!


A Primer on Prosecco

Prosecco outsideA guest post by Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSE…

At a recent gallery opening, I was offered a glass of Prosecco. A stroll to the bar showed that they were pouring Cava! Is Prosecco – the lovely, frothy bubbly wine – turning into a generic? 

The reality is that since 2009, there has been a progression of steady changes and classifications in this wine from northeast Italy, starting with the creation of a classic area – where the existing DOC wines became DOCGs – and the balance of the areas remained DOCs. These newly-classified wines began to arrive in the US market in 2011. 

There are now 3 Prosecco appellations; 2 DOCGs are located in the center of the northern hills – Colli Asolani DOCG, which is very small, and Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, another small zone. The third appellation – the Prosecco DOC, is located mainly in the province of Treviso. 

prosecco 2At least 90% of Prosecco comes from the larger DOC area, which contains 556 municipalities. While most of Prosecco is produced in the plains, there is a lot of overlap. Many wineries produce under more than one designation, crossing regional boundaries. 

In addition the DOC/DOCGs, there are a few other Prosecco designations you might like to know. One of these is the 265 acre (107 hectare) Cartizze vineyard, located in the western side of the DOCG area of Valdobbiadene. Cartizze, officially a sub-zone of the Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG is also designated cru. Its ancient soils are a combination of moraines, sandstone and clay, said to give floral notes to the wines. Villa Sandi “‘la Rivetta” Brut, imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, is an elegant example. 

The next area you should know about is Rive, which in local dialect means “steep sites.” These sites are located within the in the Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, and considered to be almost as prestigious as Cartizze in the scheme of special sites. The grapes must be hand-harvested (which is impossible to do otherwise in those hilly villages), production is limited, and the wines are all classified as Superiore.  

At a recent tasting conducted by Alan Tardi, the US Ambassador of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG (a new position created by the Consorzio), I tasted three different Rives of increasing sweetness, showcasing different styles.

  • prosecco adami col credasAdami’s “Col Credas” Brut, from Dalla Terra Imports, was the driest and had a very fine bead.
  • Masottina’s Extra Dry, from Vin Divino, coming from an area where the temperatures are above average, was off-dry and had jasmine notes.
  • Védova (the widow) from Orvino Imports had the most sweetness; it was labeled “dry” as these designations follow the terminology used in Champagne. Its unique terroir also gives it a touch of salinity.

All of these DOCG Proseccos were closed with corks (crown caps and twist offs may only be used in the DOC appellation) and open with the requisite pop. The pressure categories are similar to those in Champagne. The highest pressure is spumante, followed by a slightly lower pressure known as frizzante. There is an even softer category called tranquillo, which has no pressure and no bubbles. Nino Franco produces a single vineyard example, from Terlato Wines International – a Brut made from 100% Glera grapes. It is so unique that the IGT examiners couldn’t say it was typical, and refused the designation!  

Speaking of the Glera grape, the minimum amount is 85%. Other varieties may be Verdiso, Bianchetta, Perera, Glera Lunga, as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. Glera is actually the ancient name of the Prosecco grape. As was explained to me by Pierluigi Bolla, President of Valdo, from Pasternak Wine Importers, the name “Prosecco” was starting to appear in places like Romania, Brazil, and China. In order to protect the name, the region was named “Prosecco, thus forbidding its use by others. Once that happened, the informing grape needed a new name, and that new name was its old name – Glera.

Click here to visit the website of the Prosecco Consorzio for more information on the designations of Prosecco, click here.



Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSE is a prominent wine and spirits educator. She is president of the renowned Wine & Spirits Program, and revised and updated the textbook Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits. She was the Director of the Wine Department for The New School University for 18 years. She may be contacted at

This article was originally published in the article was originally published in Beverage Dynamics Magazine – reprinted with permission!

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

Photos of Prosecco bottles via:





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!