Conference Highlights – Italy: Did you know or so they say?

SWE Conference Highlights 2013

On Thursday afternoon, Sharron McCarthy, always a conference favorite, led a session called Italy – Did you know or so they say?

Italy Audience

Sharron described Italy as a spirited, thriving, ancient enigma that unveils, yet hides, many faces.

Italy Wines

She told the stories of the invading Phoenicians, Greeks, and Cathaginians, the native Etruscans and Romans, as well as the Saracens, Visigoths, Normans, Austrian and Germans who all left their imprint on the land – and wines – of Italy.

Sharro Italy

Attendees learned that Emilia-Romagna was the birthplace of Sangiovese, which was then diffused throughout the rest of Italy, becoming the leading grape that it is today. Italy Audience 2

Wines from Piedmont, Vento,  Tuscany, Abruzzo, and other regions were all featured, showcasing the depth and diversity of the wines of Italy. Did you know?Italy Bottles


Conference Highlights – Cocktail Evolution

SWE Conference Highlights 2013

Friday afternoon featured a great way to end conference and start the weekend…a master class in mixology, led by Dean Hurst and Stephen Fox, entitled “Cocktail Evolution.”

Dean Cocktail Session

The cocktail is considered to be an American invention, with many claiming that the Sazerac, created in New Orleans, to be the first “official” cocktail.

Mixology Session Bottles

Punches are also an historic type of cocktail.  One of the oldest recipes is for a Barbadian Rum Punch: “One of Sour, Two of Sweet, Three of Strong, Four of Weak” referring to one part lime juice, two parts sugar, three parts rum, and four parts water.

Mixology Session Dean

The impressive line-up of craft cocktails, demonstrating why this session was offered at 4:45 on Friday afternoon, as opposed to 8:30 in the morning:

Mixology Session Line Up

Conference Highlights – International Tasting at SeaWorld

On Thursday night, conference attendees were treated to an international wine and beer tasting at SeaWorld.

Seaworld 6

Over 100 international wines and 20 beers were available for the tasting, along with quite a spread on the buffet.

Seaworld 4

We were joined by several of the Sea World animals, including an otter, an armadillo, and a parrot.

Seaworld 3

Among the happy attendees was our President-Elect, Master Sommelier Guy Stout.

Seaworld Guy

And a good time was had by all!


Conference Highlights – Albariño and Rías Baixas

 SWE Conference Highlights 2013
Starting off the general sessions on Wednesday morning, Brian Freedman treated us to a tasting of delicious Albariño-based wines from Rías Baixas. The full name of the session was “Albariño, Rias Baixas, and the Evolution of a Spanish Icon.”
Brian Freedman
Rías Baixas is the most important Denomination of Origin (DO) in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain, sometimes known as “Green Spain” due to its cool climate and abundance of rain, especially as compared to the rest of Spain. The DO was formally established in 1988, and has since received much acclaim for the crisp, fruity, and mineral-driven white wines from the Albariño grape variety.
Albarino with Map

 Brian led us through a tasting of wines from each of the sub-regions of Rías Baixas. The five sub-regions are:

  • Val do Salnés:  This is the original and oldest sub-zone with the most area under vine and the highest concentration of wineries. Located on the Atlantic coast, it surrounds the historic town of Cambados. Val do Salnés is the birthplace of the Albariño grape.
  • Condado do Tea:  “Tea County” is named after the river Tea, a tributary of the Miño River. Located in a fairly mountainous area along the Miño, this is the second largest sub-zone. The most inland, it is a warmer, drier area, than the other sub-regions.
  • O Rosal:  Also lying along the Miño River where it joins the Atlantic Ocean, this sub-zone forms the border with Portugal. Vineyards in O Rosal are terraced along the sides of the Miño.
  • Ribeira do Ulla: The newest Rías Baixas sub-zone, this area was registered in 2000 and is located inland, southeast of Santiago de Compostela.
  • Soutomaior:  Nestled in the hills at the head of the Rίa de Vigo, Soutomaior is the smallest of the sub-zones and was registered in 1996.

Brian with glass

All the wines were delicious and crisp, and with Brain’s help the crowd was able to detect the subtle differences among the wines produced in the different sub-regions. All were delicious, and showed varying levels of fruitiness from crisp, citrus flavors to rich, tropical fruit as well as varying – but subtle – aromas of mineral, herb, and flowers. Thank you, Brian!
Glass and Brian

Conference Highlights – Pink Champagne

SWE Conference Highlights 2013
On Wednesday afternoon, Seth Box, Director of Education for  Moët-Hennessey USA, treated us to a flight of six amazing Rosé Champagnes in his session titled “Pink Champagne – Fluffy Fiction or Profound Pleasure?”
Seth Box Pink Champagne
Seth gave a lively session and addressed the very wide spread and yet often erroneous habit of pairing Brut Rosé Champage with dessert.  Highlighting the fact that pink Champage is very food friendly, he emphasized its appropriateness for pairing with just about any food from soup, salads, appetizers and even main courses made with heavier foods…but warned against pairing it with heavily spiced or sweet dishes, as these foods can disturb the delicate balance and mask the complex flavors of the wine.
Pink Champagne Audience Glasses
Seth discussed the various methods of producing Rosé Champage, including saignée as well as adding a dosage  of pinot noir or pinot meunier at the end of the process.  Champagne is the only wine region in France that allows the blending of red and white wines in the production of Rosé.
Pink Champagne Glasses
 All of the wines were delicious, with a crowd favorite being the Krug Rosé N/V.
Pink Champagne Session Audience
The tasting concluded with a sip of Moët & Chandon Nectar Imperial Rosé, a slightly sweet wine that due to its residual sugar could be used as a successful pairing partner with dessert – such as milk chocolate dipped strawberries or raspberry tart.  To wrap up the session, it was agreed that Rosé Champage is indeed a “Profound Pleasure!”

Is Virginia “The Bordeaux of North America?”

Guest Author Jay Youmans, MW, CWE, dares to ask the question!

Is Virginia the “Bordeaux of North America?”

MonticelloI know that this is a bold, if not outright outrageous, question to ask about an East Coast wine region that is relatively unknown to most of the country. But before you start pelting me with your Napa Cabs and Your Washington State Merlots, hear me out!

I truly believe that some of the red blends being produced in Virginia are closer stylistically to Bordeaux than the vast majority of wines being made in California, Washington, or Oregon.

I was recently honored to be the Judging Director for the Virginia Governor’s Cup Wine Competition. This was a large and prestigious wine competition, with 377 Virginia wines entered and 43 accomplished wine judges from all over the world.  If you have attended SWE Conferences before, you might know two of our superstar judges – Shields T. Hood and David Denton, both CWE’s.

At the upcoming SWE Conference in Orlando, I will be showcasing the top 12 wines from this year’s Governor’s Cup Competition, and I find it very interesting that 11 of these wines are blends of grapes you would find in Bordeaux and Southwest France.  Here is a list of the wines we will taste:

  • Cooper Vineyards – 2010 Petite Verdot Reserve
  • King Family Vineyards – 2010 Meritage
  • Lovingston Winery – 2009 Josie’s Knoll Estate Reserve (Meritage)
  • Philip Carter Winery – 2010 Cleve (Petite Verdot/Tannat)
  • Pollak Vineyards – 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve
  • Potomac Point Vineyard and Winery – 2010 Richland Reserve Heritage (Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon/Tannat/Petite Verdot)
  • Rappahannock Cellars – 2010 Meritage
  • RdV Vineyards – 2010 Rendevous (Meritage)
  • RdV Vineyards – 2010 Lost Mountain (Meritage)
  • Sunset Hills Vineyard – 2010 Mosaic (Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/
    Cabernet Franc/Petite Verdot)
  • Barboursville Vineyards’ 2009 Octagon 12th Edition (Meritage)
  • Trump Winery – 2008 Sparkling Rose (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir)

Shanandoah Valley MerlotAccording to the Virginia Wine Marketing Board’s “Virginia 2012 Commercial Grape Report,” the most widely planted red grapes in the Commonwealth are Bordeaux varieties:  Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot, in that order.  The number 5 red wine grape is Tannat, a variety found throughout southwest France.  The only other red wine grape with much presence in Virginia is Pinot Noir…and it trails pretty far behind.  As a matter of fact, Virginia grows 20 times more Cabernet Franc and 10 times more Cabernet Sauvignon than Pinot Noir.  (Virginia is definitely NOT the Burgundy of North America.)

Fast Facts About the Virginia Wine Industry:

  • The Jamestown settlers had high hopes that Virginia would become a major source of wine for the British Empire…so much so that in 1619 they passed a law requiring each male settler to plant and tend at least ten grapevines.
  • In 1774, Thomas Jefferson, along with Florentine Viticulturist Filippo Mazzei, established vineyards using vitis vinifera grapes on a plot of land adjoining Jefferson’s house at Monticello.  Unfortunately, they had very little success, and soon gave up their efforts altogether due to the revolutionary war.  In 1981, a new venture known as Jefferson vineyards began growing grapes and making wine on the historic site.
  • George Washington, at Mount Vernon, also attempted to grow European grape varieties.  However, every attempt to grow vinifera vines by the colonists met with failure.  Now, almost 240 years later, we know that the main culprit was Phylloxera, as well as other unknown pests and diseases in this new environment.
  • Beginning in the 1800’s, Virginia wines made from Native American grapes were very successful. So much so that, in 1873, a Virginia wine made from Norton, a native American (Vitis Aestivalis) grape variety, was named the “Best Red Wine of All Nations” at the Vienna World’s Fair.
  • At 230 wineries and counting today, Virginia is the fifth largest wine-producing state in the union after California, New York, Washington State and Oregon.
  • Virginia currently has 6 AVAs.  Click here for a list of The AVAs of Virginia .
  • The modern wine industry in Virginia has its share of interesting characters:  Dave Matthews (of the Dave Matthews Band) is the proud owner of Blenheim Vineyards in Charlottesville, and Donald Trump (yes, that Donald Trump) bought the former Kluge Estate Winery in 2011.  Now producing wine under the name Trump Winery, one of their specialties is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Merlot/Petite Verdot blend called “New World Red.”  It seems The Donald might think Virginia is “the Bordeaux of America” as well!

Jay Youmans, MW

If you have an opinion about whether or not Virginia is “The Bordeaux of North America,” would like to, or would like to try these wines and judge for yourself, be sure and join me at this year’s SWE Conference!

Jay Youmans, MW, CWE, owns the Capital Wine School in Washington, DC,; and Rock Creek Wine Merchants, a sales & marketing consultancy. In addition, he is a partner in Manse Field, a Pinot Noir vineyard in Martinborough, New Zealand.

Jay will be presenting his session, “Is Virginia the Bordeaux of North America?” at the 37th Annual Conference of the Society of Wine Educators in Orlando on Wednesday, July 31st at 4:45 pm.

Click here for more information on the SWE Conference.