Saturday, March 17, 2018


My LODI RULES Care Package

 It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Lodi wines, as I have written multiple blog posts about the region (see HERE). I used to be a naysayer, but I have since visited Lodi multiple times and tasted many wines, not just the crap that’s sold at the grocery stores. What people might not know about Lodi is that they are one of the leaders in regards to sustainable winegrowing.

Prepping for the LODI RULES Facebook Live Virtual Tasting

Last spring I participated in a Facebook Live virtual tasting of four Lodi wines all certified under the LODI RULES program. They also sent us a lovely wooden wine box that was to be reused as a windowsill garden with the Lodi Rules information printed on seed paper! The tasting was moderated by three Lodi locals who are involved in some way or another in the wine industry:

Stuart Spencer, Lodi Winegrape Commission

Aaron Shinn, local grower with Round Valley Ranch

Chad Joseph, local winemaker at Oak Farm Vineyards, Harney Lane, & Dancing Coyote


LODI RULES is a third-party sustainable vineyard certification system that was launched in 2006 with five growers and covered 1,200 acres. The program is now over 100 growers and 36,000 acres are certified. The program promotes practices that enhance biodiversity, soil health and water cleanliness/purity and further encourages responsible farming by focusing on the community through land stewardship, employee training, and safety initiatives.

It has been described as “aggressive, progressive, and thorough”. The LODI RULES standards are the most thoroughly and rigorously vetted set of sustainability practices in California’s viticulture industry. This program goes WAY beyond certifying vineyards as organic. There is a LODI RULES seal (see below) that can be used if at least 85% of grapes in the wine come from certified vineyards. Overall, LODI RULES isn’t just about better grapes. It’s also about the people who work with the grapes and their well-being (particularly in reducing their exposure to harmful pesticides).


Lodi Wines Tasted

Wines Tasted

Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Lodi $20
13% ABV, Mohr-Fry Vineyard

A stainless steel, cold fermented Sauvignon Blanc that checks all of the boxes. Aroma notes of citrus and tree fruits as well as some herbaceous and floral notes.  On the palate, a range of fruits from citrus (lime) to tropical (melon and ripe pineapple).

Bokisch Albariño 2015, Lodi $18
Terra Alta Vineyard in the Clements Hills

Beautiful acidity and bright fruit, including citrus (tangerine, grapefruit), stone fruit (peach, apricot), and floral (orange blossom, honeysuckle) plus minerality and a flint note. This is exactly what I want in an Albariño. Young and bright with great acid.

Michael Klouda Wines, Broken Vines Zinfandel 2014, Lodi $20
14% ABV

THIS is what Lodi Zinfandel should be. Great fruit concentration and intensity without being overripe and/or jammy. The good acid cuts through the ripe, dark fruit. Lovely notes of red and black fruit (dark cherry, plum, blackberry jam), spice (black pepper plus baking spices), chocolate/mocha, and coffee.

Michael David Inkblot Cabernet Franc 2014, Lodi $35
15.4% ABV

A dark, brooding wine with 21 months in barrel. On the nose, great black fruit, black pepper, sweet, spices, and graphite. The palate also has chocolate/mocha, which give it a nice richness.

Even my cat, Ziggy, like Lodi Wines!


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Vintastic Voyage: Lodi

Me at the m2 Vineyards in Lodi

I’ve had the privilege to visit Lodi multiple times over the last couple of years. For one, I live in California, so visiting any California wine country is quite convenient and only a car ride away. And secondly, I gained an in depth appreciation for Lodi after attending the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference where we learned about multi-generational family producers, the history of the local old vines, and met many incredible people who welcomed us with open arms and who were proud of Lodi and happy to show it off to us!

A while back I was staying with my friend in the NorCal area (disclaimer: I think people from Northern California dislike the term “NorCal”. But I think being from “SoCal” allows me use of the word!) we took a day trip and visited Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards, m2 Wines, and the Lucas Winery. Three very distinct wineries, which made for a great day of tasting!

My rule of thumb for a day of wine tasting is a MAXIMUM of four wineries. The best plan is to have a healthy sized breakfast (pro tip: no coffee because coffee tarnishes your taste buds for a few hours), visit two wineries, have a good size lunch, then visit two more wineries. The trick to not be a hot mess by the end is to swirl and spit. And yes, I know not everyone wants to spit their wine out. But if you swirl and spit for the first two wineries, have a good lunch, you can imbibe at the last two wineries with no regret! You’ll still be a bit tipsy and have a great time, but this will assure you won’t be tanked by the last winery and you won’t wake up with a raging hangover the next day. Your liver will thank me if you follow these tips!

Here is my recap of a fun-filled day in Lodi!

Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards

I have been here a couple times now and I love this place. For one, Sue Tipton is the owner and winemaker, and I am always more than happy to support a female-owned business. The tasting room is comfortable and homey and feels like you’re in a farmhouse in Tuscany or the south of France. What is unique about Acquiesce is that they only make whites and rosés. No red wines to be found here, which is a gutsy move in the Zinfandel-soaked Lodi area. She is focused on Rhone varietals. When I was there we tasted: Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Grenache Rosé, Picpoul, Rousanne, and Belle Blanc (which is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Rousanne, and Viognier). They also have a Clairette that I did not get to try. 


From their website: Acquiesce has become our mantra -- to submit to nature, to yield to the vineyard, to acquiesce to the grapes so they present their own true character. Attention to detail reigns here with sustainable vines that are lightly watered, grapes that are handpicked and then whole cluster pressed to create wines that are both classic and traditional.

There is a $10 tasting fee, which is waived with any wine purchase. The fun part is that they pair a small bite with each wine taste. My favorite was the goat cheese with thyme and Meyer lemon paired with the Grenache Blanc. Delicious! Check out this (and a few other) recipes on the Acquiesce page HERE.

They sell-out of their wines every year and their tasting room shuts down until the following season!

Fun fact, Acquiesce Winery is a member of LODI RULES for Sustainable Winegrowing, which is California’s original sustainable viticulture program. LODI RULES is considered a benchmark program that will (hopefully) be transferable to other winegrowing regions. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but stay tuned for my next post which will delve more into Lodi and the LODI RULES program.

m2 Wines

The m2 tasting room is in stark contrast to Acquiesce. It has a modern and industrial tasing room feel. Almost like you’re in a very hip downtown loft…...yet in the middle of a Lodi vineyard! I love the aesthetics here…’s not what you expect in Lodi, and I dig that. 

While visiting, I tasted a Viognier, a Zinfandel, and a couple red blends consisting mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petit Syrah. They have a $10 tasting fee which is waived with a wine purchase.

According to their website, m2 Wines creates small-lot, artisanal wines. They describe their wines as old-world craftsmanship meets modern winemaking.

Fun fact, Layne Montgomery is the winemaker/founder. I interviewed him and other Lodi winemakers in 2016 for my Lodi Native posts, which can be found HERE and HERE.

The Lucas Winery

View from the ZinStar Vineyard

According to the Lucas Winery website, wine tasting at The Lucas Winery is very different than you will encounter at most wineries. We move through the winery while tasting different wines. Depending on the time of year, you might prune a vine, taste Zinfandel grapes almost ready to harvest, punch down some newly harvested grapes, or sample some freshly fermented wine. During my visit we walked through the vineyards as well as the Grand Chai room.

ZinStar Vineyard

The Grand Chai Room
Lucas is a lovely property and you get the true "heart and soul" feel from every touch point, whether it's from the warm greeting upon arrival, the pride from the staff as they take you through the vineyard, or the care taken in pouring the wines and telling you the story in the glass. 

Lucas is owned by David Lucas, who is also winemaker with his wife, Heather Pyle-Lucas. I actually got to meet them both when I spent an afternoon onsite at Lucas at the Wine Bloggers Conference. Read more HERE.

Heather says she spends more time in the vineyard than in the winery. She loves getting up in the middle of the night in her pajamas and checking in on how her fermentations are doing!

Their winery is 100% solar powered. They specialize in unblended Chardonnay and Zinfandel.

ZinStar is their signature wine sourced from their 83-year old CCOF organically certified and hand harvested ZinStar vineyard (3.5 acres). The wine has black cherry notes and subtle notes of white pepper. It is a wonderfully complex wine showcasing fruit, spice, and leather. It is VERY food-friendly! We tried the 2012 vintage during this trip. The current vintage is 2015 and retails for $58.

Join me next week as we talk more about Lodi!

Monday, February 26, 2018

#WineStudio Nino Franco

Everyone knows that Prosecco is on fire......did somebody say brunch?  Last week I shared about a quality-level Prosecco worth exploring with my piece: Prosecco....Not Just for Mimosas.

What is #WineStudio?

#WineStudio is an online Twitter-based educational program produced by Tina Morey, Certified Sommelier who's been in the food and wine industry for over twenty years. Each month a different producer is selected, along with a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, yet only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation. Every Tuesday at 6pm (Pacific time), Tina hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag. Usually accompanying her is someone affiliated with the producer, such as the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc. For each new topic Tina has seen dozens of original content pieces created, thousands of interactions via social media and millions of impressions created on our specific topic.

Last week I shared a post (check it out HERE) about Prosecco and discussed the quality to be found in Congeliano Valdiobbiadene DOCG. For just a small step up in price ($15-$20 vs $10-$15) you can get a decent step up in quality…..and who doesn’t want that?! Here we explore a producer who is one of the pioneers of quality Prosecco.

In September 2017 WineStudio students delved into wines from Nino Franco. The winery, located at the foot of the Prealps, was founded in 1919 by Antonio Franco in Valdobbiadene. Today the 4th generation of the Franco family is at the helm. It started with Antonio, then to his son Nino, then to his son Primo, and now Primo’s daughter, Silvia.

Below are my notes from the wines tasted as well as some notes directly from the winery.

Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG $19

“Rustico” is connected to the old local tradition of making wine using a short second fermentation in the bottle and leaving the sediments in the wine. Although no longer the technique, the name has remained. This wine is a beautiful pale lemon color with white flower (honeysuckle) and green fruit (pear, green apple) on the nose. Super duper creamy on the palate. This wine is crisp and fruity...everything I want in a Prosecco.

Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG $27

I’d like to think that I’d call this wine in a blind tasting. It has a Prosecco nose with both floral and stone fruit easily detectable. This wine has a more sophisticated palate than a “usual” Prosecco. Nice and dry, as I like it, with great stone fruit on the finish.

Primo Franco Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG $29

This wine was interesting from the get-go. First off, I did not recognize the closure on this wine. In fact, I had never seen it before. I had to consult with my WineStudio pals who clued me into the “agrafe closure” which is used traditionally with Champagne. Peter Liem of gives this description:

Agrafe—Literally means "staple" (as in Swingline); in Champagne, this is a large metal clip used to secure the cork before capsules were invented, typically during the second fermentation and aging in bottle. A bottle secured with this clip is said to be agrafé.

Photo courtesy of:

This wine has a nice depth of flavors, including tart green/stone fruit, delicate white flowers, and a surprising, yet pleasant, savory note.

Grave Di Stecca Brut Sparkling $49

Fun fact: the grapes for this wine are sourced exclusively from an ancient origin vineyard called (you guessed it!) “Grave di Stecca”. This wine is deep gold color and in one of our Twitter chats, the Nino Franco representative we were chatting with said this is ”more like a sparkling Grand Cru Chablis”. Great comparison!

That is just a snapshot of the Nino Franco Prosecco portfolio. The next time you are in the market for a sparkling wine, why not try out Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, as you can get a quite good level of quality at a price that won’t break the bank, as many options fall under $20 a bottle.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Prosecco: Not Just for Mimosas

When I was in college in my 20s, day drinking wasn’t what it is now. This was before Sunday Brunch became a “thing” and before Vegas started doing “day parties”. In my 20s, it was a simpler time. Binge drinking only occurred at night (much easier to manage!). Weekend days were spent recovering, eating Taco Bell, and watching bad TV. Nowadays millenials partake in all sorts of day drinking that I can’t keep up with! I’m convinced that had $15 bottomless Mimosas been a thing when I was young, that I would not have graduated college and would still be on my couch popping Advil like it’s going out of style! How do these kids do it? Consuming 4 or 5 drinks before noon? Lord.

With that being said, it cannot be denied that millenials are changing the landscape of alcohol consumption. Studies* have shown that they care more about the story behind the brand, than an ad from a brand. They like to engage with brands in different mediums, such as through social media or at a pop-up event. They yearn for authenticity and an “experience” and are not nearly as brand loyal as their parents were/are.

*These are paraphrased notes from trade articles I have read, industry event presentations, as well as WSET classes in which we discussed production and consumption patterns in wine and spirits. I am not an expert here, hence the absence of concrete statistics. My goal is solely to share information that will emphasize and help you understand my point.

Prosecco is the world’s most popular sparkling wine. Worldwide production and consumption of Prosecco is rising rapidly. In 2015, 355 million bottles of Prosecco DOC were produced. This is compared to 309 million bottles of Champagne produced in 2016.

*I did not have figures for both in the same year.

Many mimosas are made with Prosecco as the sparkling base. Sure, there are many other options: Cava, domestic sparklings, Cremant, and even Champagne. But who wants to taint a glorious leesy Champagne with orange juice? Now I love a mimosa as much as the next gal. One of my wine-isms is that “there is a time and place for every wine”. No wine snobbery or pretense here. I can enjoy a mimosa while eating breakfast on vacation, or when my husband surprises me with breakfast in bed. But sometimes I want more. I don’t want the simple, uncomplicated drink that goes down too easy. I want something that makes me think. Or something dry, with no sweetness or residual sugar.

Newsflash: Prosecco is not just for mimosas. Yes, it is a good partner to the OJ, but I submit that there are more sophisticated Proseccos that can stand alone. That want to stand alone. And I think there are young people who are willing to try something new. Something with a story.

Prosecco generally hovers around $10-$14 a bottle. A steal compared to Champagne which rarely goes under $40 a bottle. What I love about sparkling wine is that there is a whole world of options between basic Prosecco which tends to be a bit too sweet and fruity for my taste, and Champagne, which can be a bit pricy and too serious. How about a delightful sparkling option that showcases fresh fruit, floral notes, and acidity, that can also be dry and refreshing, not cloying. Insert Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG. In 2015 there were 84 million bottles of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG produced.

How does Conegliano Valdobbiadene differ from regular Prosecco DOC?

Location: The Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco area extends over 15 townships located in the hills north of Venice.

In the Vineyard: The region benefits from stony soils, cooling Adriatic breezes, and a moderate climate. The hills are very steep and grapes are hand-harvested, versus manually harvested.

In the Glass: The wines range from driest (Brut), to sweetest (Dry), to everything in between (Extra Dry).

Price: Basic quality Prosecco DOC mostly falls in the $10-$15 range, whereas Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG falls into the $15-$20 range. Still quite affordable!

In November I attended a lovely Prosecco Superiore DOCG masterclass led by Alan Tardi, wine expert and educator. He gave a great class on the region and we tasted a plethora of Congeliano Valdobbiadene wines. These were not Prosecco examples for mimosas! They were elegant and sophisticated wines that can stand on their own in the glass. Thank you to Gregory White PR for the invite!

Next time you are in the aisles looking for a sparkling wine to take home, spend a couple extra minutes reading the label. Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene won’t break the bank and is a nice step up from other opening pricepoint Prosecco DOC.

Next week we will delve into the Prosecco producer Nina Franco as we continue my #WineStudio series!


Monday, February 12, 2018

Event Spotlight: Santa Barbara Winemaker's Lunch @ Kali Restaurant

The Santa Barbara area holds a special place in my heart as my husband and I were married at the Santa Ynez Inn in 2014. The area is beautiful with rugged scenery, delightful and down to earth people, and LOTS of nearby wine!

In May, I was invited by Allison Levine of Please the Palate to attend a lunch with 3 Santa Barbara area winemakers. It was a great, intimate lunch with only about 10 guests or so in attendance, including writers, bloggers, and social media influencers.

The food at Kali was GREAT. It is a neighborhood gem of a spot in the Larchmont area and I will definitely be coming back! Unfortunately, I do not have details on all of the dishes, as they were served family-style and I was very focused on interacting with the winemakers.

Santa Barbara has a lovely wine country and is a mere 2 hours from Los Angeles. That’s what I love about LA. Within 2 hours you can be to the beach, to the mountains, or in wine country!

At lunch we had the opportunity to delve into Lumen WinesCentral Coast Group Project, and Dierberg Star Lane.

Lumen Wines

Representing Lumen Wines we met Kali. She and her husband own Pico Restaurant in Los Alamos, which is where the Lumen tasting room is located. Lumen winemaker Lane Tanner is “making wines from the best cool-climate vineyards in Santa Barbara County, following a regimen consistent with California’s early days of hands-on, honest winemaking.” My kind of juice.

Lumen Pinot Gris Sierra Madre Vineyard 2016
The sandy soiled vineyards where this fruit is sourced is planted to both Pinot Noir And Pinot Gris. On the nose I get citrus (lime peel), green fruit (apple, pear), and stone fruit (peach, apricot). On the palate is a nice salinity/minerality as well as a slight tropical note.

Lumen Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2014
This guy has a super earthy nose (forest floor) with a graphite slant. A very perfumed wine with violets and roses.

Central Coast Group Project

From the Central Coast Group Project (CCGP) we met Scott Sampler, winemaker and proprietor. I could now tell you (in my words) what I learned from Scott that day, but the website does such a damn good job, I’m not going to even try! Here goes: CCGP is a boutique producer of fine wines located in Santa Barbara County. Committed to excellence, we source only the highest quality fruit from local, world-class vineyards that farm organically and/or sustainably to our particular specifications. In the cellar, we take a natural approach, using modern means to enhance ancient techniques that gently build flavor, structure, texture and balance from the grapes themselves. Specializing in small lot, vigilantly handcrafted syrah and grenache based red wines, we endeavor to express the cooler climes, unique soils and exceptional vineyard sites of our Central Coast with super-cali typicity, purity & inimitable style.

CCGP does not have a tasting room open to the public, but tastings can be scheduled by appointment at their location in Buellton.

Scott Sampler of CCGP and "Faces" 100% Grenache

CCGP “Faces” 100% Grenache, Ballard Canyon 2013
Verbatim from my handwritten tasting notes that day: this is some dope ass shit. Only 50 case production. Cue the nerdy wine details: 120 days spent on skins. All of the winemaking happens post-fermentation. All native yeasts are used, a long maceration, pomace stirring, and elevage is spent in neutral Burgundy barrels for 2 years. The wine is hit with sulfur immediately before bottling, and 1 year spent in bottle before release. I got lots of red berries and a good amount of funk/earthiness.

CCGP Barrington Hall Wine Dinner Special Cuvee 50% Grenache, 25% Mourvedre, 25% Syrah, Santa Barbara County 2013
A combination of red and black fruit plus some minerality, with a hint of graphite/pencil shavings.

CCGP “Fauve” 100% Syrah, Thompson Vineyard, Santa Barbara County 2013
Beautiful ripe, round red fruit with a slight animal/game note.

Dierberg Star Lane

According to the SB County Wines website, comprised of two brands Dierberg Vineyard and Star Lane Vineyard; their wines showcase the different micro-climates and terroir of Santa Barbara County. The Dierberg label focuses on the more delicate and elegant Burgundy varieties; whereas Star Lane focuses on the more robust and powerful Bordeaux varieties. Owners, Jim and Mary Dierberg, began this project in 1996 by purchasing the three properties throughout Santa Barbara County in order to accomplish their goal of producing ultra-premium wines.

At this luncheon we got to meet Tyler Thomas, Winemaker. He shared with us the Dierberg Star Lane story, including how Jim and Mary Dierberg started in wine, some 40 years ago in Missouri. Jim’s family has made wine in Missouri for over 40 years and a wanted to create a legacy property where he could grow the vitis vinifera grapes he so loved. The family bought the properties in the mid-90’s and the rest is history. Today, Dierberg Star Lane is one of the Central Coast wine producers who are known for a top-quality product. The winery is closed to the public, but they do take appointments for industry professionals.

Dierberg Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley 2014
This wine paired incredibly well with our burrata salad. The wine has notes of pear, green apple, MLF (crème fraiche and clarified butter). Tyler described it as a new style California wine. California Chardonnay 2.0

Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, Star Lane Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara (85% Cab Sauv + Cab Franc and Merlot) 2013
This wine is made with native yeasts and leans towards a Bordeaux style, versus a Napa style.  Tyler described it as a sincere, transparent Cabernet with not a lot of oak. I felt a nice fruit forwardness, yet some restraint. This wine can age and I am sure will get better with age.

Thanks to Allison Levine for the invite to this lovely, and informative luncheon!

Top: Ridgeback Prawns (green tomato, basil, lemon verbena, avocado, prawn chip)
Bottom: Berries and Tomatoes (burrata, almonds, basil oil, garden greens, savory oats, flower petals)
Black Barley "Risotto" (wheatgrass oil, fermented black garlic tea, fiscal ini cheese crisp)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Magic of Moscato d' Asti

Wine lives and breathes, like a character in my life. Moscato d’ Asti is that beautiful, feminine, and delicate friend. The kind of friend that makes you wonder how she makes it look so effortless, yet, every time she manages to knock it out of the park. While you’re barely able to slip on your leggings and get out of the door, she shows up on time (or early!), is as polished as ever, and smells like roses and sunshine.

Every time I stick my nose in a glass of Moscato d’Asti, I get this feeling. It’s the smell of the most delicate perfume from an antique crystal container that you dab behind your ear. It instantly makes you feel like a lady.

Now for some reason “moscato” is a bad word in the United States. Moscato is usually taken to be crappy and sweet and for those who know nothing about wine. For Moscato d’ Asti, this could not be further from the truth. It’s like judging Champagne based off a $4 bottle of Cook’s “Champagne”.

In June, I attended a Moscato d’Asti Masterclass at Mr. C’s in Beverly Hills. It was a top notch event with a panel moderated by Tim Gaiser, MS. The panel consisted of winery representatives (often family members) from 6 different Moscato d’ Asti wineries. The food spread (courtesy of Mr. C’s) was incredible, and the wines paired beautifully.


Michele Chiarlo: Stefano Chiarlo
Wine Warehouse (Saracco): Davide Visentin
Coppo: Luigi Coppo
Marenco: Andrea Marenco
I Vignaioli di Santo Stefano: Gianpiero Scavino
Caudrina: Marco Dogliotti

The Geographical Region

Piemonte is a large region in northwest Italy. Asti is a town within Piemonte that is east of Barolo and Barbaresco on the hilly right bank of the Tanaro River.

The Wine Region

In Asti, the vines are found on terraced, steep hillsides at 200m-600m. The DOC was granted in 1967, with DOCG status granted in 1993.

Grapes are hand harvested with maximum yields of 10hL/ha. And the good diurnal shift (meaning the high difference in daily temperature between the lowest and highest temps) gives floral aromas and good fruit/acid balance.

In 2014 UNESCO declared the vineyard landscape of Piemonte, specifically the Lange-Roero and Monferrato, as a World Heritage Site. This was the first “terroir” to get this declaration. Champagne hillside, houses, and cellars were later declared in 2015.

The Wines

Moscato d’Asti is a slightly sparkling (aka frizzante) DOCG wine made in the province of Asti with the Moscato Bianco grape. It is low in alcohol, and generally sweet. The maximum ABV is 5.5%, meaning that the fermentation is stopped midway, leaving some natural, residual sweetness.

In order to retain fresh primary fruit aromas and flavors, the grapes are pressed slowly and cold stored until fermentation. Fermentation is long and cool in closed stainless steel tanks, with the resulting carbon dioxide causing the slight effervescence. The wine is then bottled, with no second fermentation, as the natural bubbles still remain.

Moscato d’Asti is known for its refreshing acidity and its combination of both floral and stone fruit aromas and flavors.

Wines Tasted

Nivole Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Michele Chiarlo)
$20 retail, 5% ABV

As expected, this is a very delicate and feminine wine with notes of sage, stone fruit (peach), citrus (grapefruit), and meringue. Michele Chiarelo produces over 250,000 cases annually. These vines are in Canelli, one of the most famous municipalities in Asti. This wine would be good as an aperitif with fresh strawberries or as a foil to spicy food.

Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Saracco)
$15 retail, 5.5% ABV

This wine is under screw cap, which is unusual for an Old World wine. Saracco produces 700,000 cases annually. I get peach, orange blossom, and thyme on this wine. Overall, a delicate aroma with a significant amount of floral on the palate.

Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Coppo)
$20 retail, 4.8% ABV

Luigi was our spokesperson here, and Coppo was founded by his great-grandpa in 1892. According to Luigi, the taste of the grape at harvest should be close to the taste of the finished wine. These vines are also in Canelli. This wine has a fresh, light nose with notes of floral plus pear and peach. The winery tasting notes say this wine would pair well with Robiola di Roccaverano (an old goat cheese typical of Piemonte), which sounds delightful!

Scrapona Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Marenco Vini)
$15 retail, 5.5% ABV

Marenco Vini produces 30,000 cases annually. It is a family winery with the 4th generation at the helm. The Scrapona vineyard is in Strevi. Some wines are under cork and some are under screw cap. They’d switch to screw cap tomorrow, but the Italian consumer has not been as quick to embrace the screw cap. This wine is estate bottled and gives citrus, lime, passion fruit, and orange blossom. Plus an earthy savory nose reminiscent of forest floor. They store the grape juice in tank and do multiple fermentations per year, so as to bottle the wines fresh and to preserve the fruit and floral notes.

Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Vignaioli di Santo Stefano-Ceretto)
$20 retail, 5.5% ABV

This wine had a brighter yellow color than the others. Pronounced rose petals and ginger spice on the nose. The palate is full of elderflower, lime, and peach. The winery produces 260,000 cases annually and has been harvesting earlier due to climate change, as their grapes tend to reach phenolic ripeness earlier.

La Caudrina Moscato d’Asti DOC 2016 (Caudrina)
$20 retail, 5% ABV

Caudrina produces 120,000 cases annually. It is a family owned winery started in the 1940s wih vineyards in Castiglione Tinella. This wine has a lovely citrus note (clementine or orange blossom) with an oily, full body.

Thank you to IEEM-USA for my invite to this event! Cheers.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

WSET Diploma: Unit 3 Tasting Exam……take 2!

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Last week I took the WSET Diploma Unit 3 tasting exam for the second time. If you recall I took both the tasting and the theory exams in June (read more HERE). I felt pretty good about the tasting (after all, that’s the easier portion of the exam and has a higher pass rate) and was nervous about the theory. Fast forward to September when I got my results. I had PASSED the theory exam and FAILED the tasting exam. Exactly the opposite result I had expected. I was in shock for a couple of days, but it was a blessing in disguise, because to have to retake that theory exam is a BEAR. It’s extremely difficult (and time-consuming) as there is so much information to cover. I shudder at the thought of covering my walls in 40+ flip chart sheets: France in my living room, the rest of Europe in my dining room, Australia and New Zealand in my hallway and the US, South America, and South America in my bedroom.

This tasting exam was different than the one in June, because I did not have a cohort to study with. In preparation for the exam in June, I met weekly for tasting groups with other Diploma students. We also had 6+ months to taste our way through the world of wine. In hindsight, I think the problem was that I was too focused on the theory exam. That was the tough part of the exam and what I focused my time on. I was a bit cocky with the tasting exam and just assumed I’d pass. Well……that didn’t happen! For this exam last week, I signed up at the beginning of October, which gave me 8 weeks before the exam. And out of those 8 weeks I was on the road traveling (some personal and some business) for close to 4 weeks. It’s a bit crazy that I even attempted the January test date, but the alternative was to wait until June, and I was just ready to get it over with.

Because I didn’t have a full group to study with, I made do! A couple Diploma students so graciously agreed to taste with me and help me with test prep. Other students gave me wines to taste through and study with. I went to wine tastings around town to get some exposure to classical regions (i.e. Bordeaux and Burgundy). A couple days before the exam, I was able to meet up with a gal who was also taking the exam (we had never met), but we spent a marathon evening together tasting through 18 wines! It proved to be a good move, as some of those wines were on the exam!

This time I went into the exam much more relaxed than in June. In June we had the tasting exam in the morning and theory in the afternoon. There was a lot of pressure and worry throughout the day for the theory portion, which didn’t allow you to focus on the tasting. Also, I was not 100% comfortable with the exam layout and details. In June, I lost a good 2 minutes (which is a lot of time!) trying to figure out which flight category I had in front of me, and not being sure which wine to taste first. All this was due to my text anxiety. When I went in this time, I slept well (no late night theory cramming) and I was quite relaxed at the exam site. I was prepared and knew exactly what to expect.

While I don’t have the results yet (and I won’t get them until April), I do feel that I performed better on this exam. The exam moved like clockwork.  I had prepped on exactly how I was going to plan my tasting notes and how I was going to make my final determinations of what wines I was drinking. Here are my thoughts on each flight:

Flight #1 Same Grape Variety

This flight ended up being all Riesling. Upon smelling all 3 wines, that was my guess. I got a strong petrol note on #2, which ended up being my marker and what lead me to record Riesling as the grape. I also called all 3 countries correctly. Wine #1 was Alsace, France (which I called). Wine #2 was Clare Valley, Australia (I called Australia though I can’t recall if I called Clare or Eden Valley). Wine #3 was Mosel, Germany (I called Rheingau, Germany).

Flight #2 Same Region

This was a white wine and two reds. Upon smelling the wines, I was not as decisive as I was on the previous flight. I felt we were in a relatively warm climate, as the two reds had quite ripe fruit on them. Upon tasting, the white wine was relatively unremarkable. It was clearly not an aromatic variety and clearly not Chardonnay, which eliminates quite a few things. Once I tasted #2 things got interesting. This was a sweet wine. A sweet red. Not many options there. Wine #3 was a higher alcohol red with ripe (almost raisined) fruit. Then it hit me. Veneto. I think we are in Veneto and these are all Valpolicalla wines. The options could be Soave for the white, Recioto for the sweet red, and Ripasso or Amarone for the last red. I ran with that and luckily called the region correct! For wine #2 they even asked us for the grape(s) and luckily I knew where we were, so I was able to list: Corvina, Rodinella, and Molinara.

Flight #3 Quality Assessment

In June, our quality assessment flight was 3 Chardonnays from Napa/Sonoma. These are pretty easy wines to peg. It was obvious we were drinking New World Chardonnay. This was one of the flights I passed on that exam. In January here, we had a flight of reds. I stuck my nose in the glasses and did not have an immediate sense of what we were drinking. I didn’t panic, decided to go through the tasting notes, and then make a decision. As I tasted through, I started eliminating things it couldn’t be, such as Cabernet Sauvignon (no black fruit), Zinfandel (not ripe enough), Pinot Noir/Gamay/Nebbiolo (too deep in color for any of these). In the end, I began to think these were either all Merlots or all Malbecs, as both have predominantly red fruit. Mind you, you do not have to call the grape or region with this flight. You just have to assess the quality. However, it doesn’t hurt, and in fact, is a good idea to have an idea what’s in your glass, so that your notes on structural elements (i.e. acid, tannins, body, alcohol, etc) are in line with the grape. I decided this was a flight of Malbecs. There was just too damn much plum on these wines to be anything else, and the color of these wines had purple to it, which is also a marker for Malbec. I was less clear on the quality levels of each wine, as most Malbecs I’ve had would fit squarely in the “good” category (those $8-$12 bottles at the grocery store or big box wine retailers). We’ll see how this flight shakes out!

Flight #4 Mixed Bag

This is generally the most difficult flight as the wines have nothing in common with each other. I had a tough time with the first wine. I did not have a sense of what it was, even after my tasting notes were completed. I went through my mental grid of grapes and came up with Semillon based on what I had written. Hunter Valley, Australia was my natural guess for region and country. This ended up being a White Burgundy (Chassagne Montrachet) 1er Cru. Whoops! Couldn’t have been more off. Nothing else to say here! Wine #2 was an oaked red, presumably with some age. It felt Old World to me and had the nose of either Italy or Spain. There’s a certain earthiness/rusticity I get in wines from both of those countries. I called this a Rioja, as there were call kinds of tertiary notes common in Rioja: tobacco, cedar, cigar box, etc. The wine ended up being a Rioja Reserva. Yeah! Wine #3 was obvious from the first smell. It had that pronounced “Marlborough Lift” that Erica Crawford had recently explained to me (see post HERE). Lots of green notes (grass, gooseberry, pear, etc). And once I put this wine in my mouth, it was all confirmed. This was a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. And by golly gosh, that’s exactly what it was!

There you have it. I am quite proud of how I showed on this exam (whether I pass or not!). I called (in some way or another), 11 of the 12 wines. When I think back to my tasting skills when I started the Diploma in June of 2015, I realize I have come a LONG way. I had no idea my blind tasting skills would develop this much! With that being said, I’m going to bask in this post-exam glow, and hope like heck I passed!

If so, my hubby and I will be on our way to London in January 2019 for the Diploma Graduation ceremonies! Until then, you’ll hear from me a lot more. I plan on blogging once a week, and I already have a pretty decent lineup of wine events/trips planned for the Spring.

For those currently studying with the WSET program, hang in there! Yes, it is a doozy, but the program is an incredible way to end up with a very good handle on the classic wine regions of the world, and not to mention decent knowledge of fortified wines, sparkling wines, spirits, and consumption/production patterns and trends around the world.

Have you taken any WSET classes? Would you recommend them to others? Comment below!