A New AVA in Mendocino County!

Map of the proposed (now approved) Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA, from the TTB's original docket (see link below)

Map of the proposed (now approved) Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA, from the TTB’s original docket (see link below)

Not even one day old….today – October 9, 2014 – the Federal Register published a new rule establishing the 21,000 acre Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA.

This new AVA, which will become “official” one month from today, is located entirely within the North Coast AVA – it is not, however, located within the Mendocino AVA, nor is it a subregion of the Mendocino AVA.

The Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA is located adjacent to, and to the west of the eastern “wing” of the Mendocino AVA. As a matter of fact, the Mendocino AVA and one of its subregions, the Redwood Valley AVA, both had their boundaries moved. Each had its acreage reduced by about 1,500 acres. This was to eliminate any overlaps, and because the TTB was convinced that the area in question has more in common, terroir-wise (and especially climate-wise) with the newly-approved area than it has with its former parents.

Here are a few more things you might want to know about the Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA:

  • The name of the AVA was approved as “Eagle Peak Mendocino County” as opposed to just “Eagle Peak” for good reason: while a 2,700-foot high mountain known as “Eagle Peak” is indeed a major feature of the region, there just so happen to be 47 other mountains in the US that are named “Eagle Peak.”
  • mendocino-fogAnother reason the long version of the name was required for approval is that there was some concern that an AVA named “Eagle Peak” might confuse consumers, and/or might infringe upon the “Eagle Peak Merlot” brand produced by Fetzer Vineyards.
  • The new AVA is located 125 miles north of San Francisco. The nearest city in this mountainous region is Ukiah; the AVA is situated about 10 miles north and slightly to the west of Ukiah.
  • There are currently at least five commercial vineyards operating in the area, with a total of just over 115 acres of vines.
  • The region’s many streams feed into the headwaters of the Russian River, which flows through Mendocino and Sonoma Counties on its journey to the Pacific Ocean.
  • Soils are shallow and composed of mainly sandstone and shale.
  • The typical climate conditions of the area include: marine fog and breezes, cool temperatures in the spring, warm-to-hot summers and gusty winds.

For more information, including all of the details on the Federal docket, click here.

For a shortcut to the map submitted with the application, click here.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.

 

Friday Lunch SWEbinar: The Insider’s Guide to the CSW

Insiders guide for blogBack by popular demand…we are offering a very special session this Friday (September 26, at 12 Noon central time) 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).

Friday, September 26, 12 Noon central time Insider’s Guide to the CSW Exam: hosted by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE

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: Cab Franc…the Next “Big Thing?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The W.O. Shuffle: 2014

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, with Table Mountain in the Background

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, with Table Mountain in the Background

As every good wine student knows, the world of wine is constantly changing – and that includes a never-ending shuffle of AOCs, DOCGs, AVAs and W.O.s.

W.O. – as you advanced students know, stands for “Wine of Origin” and is the system of geographically defined wine regions used in South Africa.

The system was first used in 1973 and mirrors the “New World” style of geographical indications in that it defines the boundaries of the geographic origins and requires truth in labeling; however, grape varieties, wine making techniques, or wine styles are not mandated per geographic area.

The basic standards are:

  • Geographic Area:  If a wine uses a geographic area, estate, or vineyard as its place of origin, 100% of the wine must come from that area.
  • Vintage:  If a wine states a particular vintage, 85% of the wine must be front the stated vintage.
  • Variety:  Varietal wines must contain 85% the stated variety.

About those WO changes.  They seemed pretty complicated upon my first reading, so I’ve tried to simplify them. To keep things in context, remember that the defined wine areas of South Africa are known as Geographical Units (largest), Regions, Districts, and Wards (the smallest).  Here goes:

  • A glass of Simonsig Sparkling Wine perched atop Table Mountain

    A glass of Simonsig Sparkling Wine perched atop Table Mountain

    Cape Point Out:  Cape Point is not longer considered a district of the Coastal Region geographical unit.

  • Cape Peninsula In:  Cape Peninsula is a newly created district located within the Coastal Region.  Constantia and Hout Bay, the former wards of the former Cape Point District, are now considered wards of the Cape Peninsula District.
  • Aan de Dorns Out:  Aan de Dorns is no longer considered a ward of the Worcester District. Thus, the remaining three wards of Worcester are Hex River Valley, Nuy, and Scherpenheuvel.
  • Standford Hills In:  Stanford Hills is a new ward, located within the Walker Bay District.
  • Ceres In:  Ceres, located in the Western Cape Geographical Unit, is now a ward of the recently defined Ceres Plateau District (which is not located within a designated region.)

For all of the latest updates in the world of wine, visit our “CSW Update Page.”

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

 

Online CSW Review Course – Starts May 5!

wine online 8Major Announcement!!

Starting May 5, 2014…our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, will be leading a guided, 12-week, online review course for CSW Candidates.  The course is free, but you must be a Individual Professional Member of SWE and be pre-registered in order to participate.

The course will include weekly “live online” course sessions (tentatively scheduled for Monday evenings at 7:00 central), reading assignments, workbook assignments, and “check-out quizzes.”  Required textbooks include the 2014 CSW Study Guide and Workbook.

Participants will be limited to the first 100 qualified applicants, so if you are interested in this opportunity please send an email to Miss Jane at:  jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Another course will begin in August.

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

 

 

 

Next SWEbinar: Monday, March 17!

SWEbinar CliffsideMarch 2014 SWEbinars

Each month, our own Director of Education, “Miss Jane” Nickles, will be leading a webinar on “How to Pass the CSW.”  Over the course of 2014, she’ll be covering the entire Study Guide, as well as handing out study tips, providing the “tales of the vine” behind the famous wines, and taking your comments and questions.

The second set of installments in our CSW Review Series SWEbinars is scheduled for March, 2014.

These identical sessions will cover grape varieties and viticulture – chapters 3 and 4 in the CSW Study Guide.

These sessions will be first come, first served, and each has a capacity of 100 attendees.  Suggested drink-along beverages:  Gavi di Gavi,  Pink Champagne on Ice, or Espresso.

Logon 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 each SWEbinar a minimum of three times, 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.

Invitations will go out via email to the SWE Membership at the beginning of each month, but you can keep up with the schedule and access the webinar home site here at this page.

Click here for the 2014 SWEbinar Calendar

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

 

Hot Off the Press: The CSW Workbook is here!

CSW WorkbookWhat has 180 pages, 1,700 activities, 29 wine map exercises, and 250 “practice” multiple choice quiz questions?

Need more hints?

What will help you understand CSW Study Guide and guide you to remember all sorts of “facts and figures” about wine?

Need even  more hints? 

What has been professionally designed to help you learn, remember, and understand the CSW Study Guide material and give you the best training possible, in order to help you pass the CSW Exam?

Answer:  Our CSW Workbook – available NOW on the SWE Website!  This 180-page workbook has a variety of exercises, including multiple choice questions, word matching, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, and true/false questions;  all designed to help you to learn  and comprehend the rather large amount of material to be found in the CSW Study Guide.  While it may sound like a lot of work, we’ve also tried to design it to be fun – after all, what’s more fun than learning about wine?

Click here for a preview of the workbook!

Click here to access the SWE Website Catalog and Store.

If you have any questions or comments regarding the CSW Workbook, please contact our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, at jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Click here to return to the SWE Website.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

 

Cash and Prizes: January/February 2014 End-of-the-Month Quiz!

CSW WorkbookEvery month, we offer an end-of-the-month quiz – with prizes, of course.  Quiz questions cover the educational material posted to Wine, Wit, and Wisdom for the month. This month’s quiz actually covers two months and has 15 questions that cover the topics and information included in our posts for the months of January and  February, 2014. Everything you need to know to pass the quiz is here on our blog!

This month, in honor of our soon-to-be-released CSW Workbook, we will be offering FIVE PRIZES, which will be (of course) a copy of said workbook - hot off the presses and in all of its full-color glory!

 

To refresh your memory, our posts for the months of January and February 2014 were:

Mini ConferenceEveryone who takes and passes the quiz with 100% of the questions correct by March 10, 2013 (midnight CST) will have their names put into a drawing for the prize! You can take the quiz over and over again if you like…it’s all about the education!

The winners will be notified via email on March 11! Click here for a link to the quiz.

If you have any questions, contact us at:  jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org .

Update:  Congrats to the winners of our quiz this month, Katie, Jeff, Cristina, Jackie, and Mandy! We hope you enjoy (and learn lots from) your new CSW Workbooks!

The CSW Workbook will be available for purchase as of March 10, 2014.  Click here for a link to the SWE Website’s Catalog and Store. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

veneto - valpolicellaValpolicella

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

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

Recioto della Valpolicella

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

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

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

Amarone della Valpolicella

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ripasso Valpolicella

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Of Roads and Négrette

The Coat of Arms of Fronton

The Coat of Arms of Fronton

The year is 100 BCE…the Romans are continuing their northward expansion into southern Gaul – the land which will become modern day France.  Everywhere the conquering Romans go, they make their mark with the two main defining elements of the Roman Empire – roads and wine.

It is believed that the first vines in The Languedoc-Roussillon were planted around this time, as was Fronton – another, smaller area to the west .

Located just north of Toulouse, Fronton, now an AOC, features rustic red and rosé wines.  Known as Côtes du Frontonnais until 2005, the region has rocky soils and a very dry, warm climate.  The main red grape of Fronton is Négrette, an ancient Gallic variety that is related to Malbec.  This was recently determined through genetic testing of Négrette which unfortunately disproved the traditional story of the grape:  that it was originally from Cyprus and was introduced into the area by the Knights Templar, returning from the crusades.  While it is true that the region was taken over in the 12th Century by the Knights Hospitaler, a monastic military order similar to the Knights Templar, it seems the grape was in the region before the Knights.

Almost 85% of Fronton AOC wines are red, which must contain a minimum of 50% Négrette.  The other 50% may include a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Malbec.

Négrette at Harvest

Négrette at Harvest

Négrette has a very distinct character and profile, featuring aromas of anise and red fruit.  Some people describe the wines as “foxy.” On the palate, the wines can show strong dark and dried fruit flavors with very little tannins, lending the wine a pronounced suppleness.  Winemakers making blends based on Négrette have to blend carefully with other grapes, as the delicate characteristics of the grape can be easily overpowered by more tannic varieties.

There are scattered plantings of Négrette found throughout the world, perhaps most surprisingly in the San Benito AVA, located in the Central Coast of California.  In California it was known as Pinot St-George until 1997.  There are some plantings of Négrette in the Loire, notably in the Fiefs Vendeens area.  In the Loire, Négrettecan legally be called “Ragoutant.” 

Viticulturally, Négrette does best in warm climates, as it is very susceptible to gray rot and odium.  The wines are best consumed within a few years of their release.

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Post authored by Ben Coffelt  – bcoffelt@societyofwineeducators.org