Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Vintastic Voyage: Cinque Terre, Italy

View from the Cinque Terre Hike
A few short years ago I visited Italy with my then boyfriend, Aaron, and a couple of friends, Sakura and Gio. I planned the whole trip start to finish, which was a whirlwind trip that included visits to: Rome, Rimini, Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence, and Chianti Classico in Tuscany. Today I’m going to tell you about the Cinque Terre (CT) portion of our trip. When we went to CT, I hadn’t heard much about it. A couple friends on Facebook said it was a “not to miss” spot, but otherwise, we didn’t know what to expect. I decided to take a chance and add CT to our itinerary, and boy am I glad that we did. CT is on the Northwest coast of Italy in the Liguria region. Cinque Terre actually means “5 lands” and is named such, as it is made up of 5 distinct villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The villages are connected via train. You can also boat to each town or take an arduous hike on the cliffsides through each town.

We arrived in CT in the village of Monterosso and stayed at a quaint place called Manuel’s Guesthouse. Manuel lives in this house, and rents out the other rooms to tourists visiting CT. It was adorable. You had to go up about 150 stairs (everything in CT is built on a cliff) to get there. They had a lovely communal patio overlooking the Mediterranean, and I don’t think we paid more than 100-120 euros per night.

The cuisine in CT is outrageously delicious. If you don’t like seafood, you’re pretty much screwed. Like most Italian places, they are big believers in eating and drinking the local bounty. We found a wonderful restaurant called Ristorante Ciak. Ciak is the name of the chef, who we watched one morning cooking in his restaurant kitchen. According to his website, every morning he harvests fruits/veggies from his garden and shops in the local market to get the best of the day’s ingredients. He has a popeye outfit that he wears while he cooks. From the street you can look into the window of the kitchen (there’s no glass) and see Ciak cooking up a storm. A couple of local cats even sit in the window and wait for him to throw them each an anchovy to enjoy!

Patient kitty in front of Ristorante Ciak
The local cuisine that CT is known for includes: anchovies, seafood, pesto, and focaccia bread. Here is some of the food we enjoyed at Ciak and at other local CT spots.

Seafood Risotto

Seafood Fritto Misto

Focaccia with Onion and Herbs
The day following our arrival, we decided to take the famous Cinque Terre hike. You essentially hike through the cliffs and go from city to city. It is about 7 miles or so and is quite arduous in the Summertime sun/heat. By the time you reach the end, you just take the train back to where you started and pretty much collapse for the night.

The hike was a tough one. Not because it was particularly “difficult” on the scale of hikes, but because we went during the midday sun in the hot month of August. Plus, I don’t even think we brought enough water…..definitely amateurs.  Along the hike, we saw some of the most beautiful views I have ever seen in my life. The picture at the top of my post is a view from the hike: gorgeous Mediterranean waters and the distinct colorful towns of Cinque Terre.

In addition to lots of local foods, Cinque Terre is known for wine. Cinque Terre actually has DOC status. DOC stands for: Denominazione di Origine Controllata. DOC is one of 3 quality levels that is assigned to Italian food and wines that guarantees that the food or wine product is in fact from that specific region and of a certain quality. Some DOCs or DOCGs also give restrictions for how the wine can be made (i.e. the wine has to sit on oak for “x” amount of time or the wine can only be made with certain grape varietals). DOCG is the most strict, then DOC, and then IGT.

Terraced vines in Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre DOC is known for crisp, light, refreshing white wines. The DOC was assigned in 1973. All Cinque Terre DOC wines must be made from these three grape varietals: Bosco, Albarola, and/or Vermentino. They are best drunk with the local cuisine. How about some fried anchovies? Or a plate of pesto pasta? The Cinque Terre DOC wines have notes of green apple and hay and a distinct minerality that coastal vines give. The minerality comes from the marine influences in the soil. This large body of water is a big influencer in what gives Cinque Terre wines their flavor.  Also, because Cinque Terre is built up on a cliff, and so are the vines, the ocean water continually sprays the coast and that includes the vines. The vines are built on steep cliffs and sometimes terraced so as to allow easier access to them. Because of the steep orientation, all labor in regards to the grapes (i.e. harvesting, pruning, etc) needs to be done by hand.

Back to our story. We’re on the hike, between two towns and we see an old white-haired man in the distance. He’s got longish white hair and looks a bit weathered (because of his age and because he presumably spends a lot of time outside and in the sun). If I lived here I would too. He approaches us and speaks not a lick of English, but does introduce himself as Angelo.  He waves us along, and we follow him. Why not? There aren’t serial killers along the Italian Riviera, right? We walk a bit and before we know it, we are entering his patio area where he has a long table and a couple of benches. He makes us hold on for a second and brings out an old, rustic board with a loaf of what looks like fresh bread, a clear bottle of white wine with no label, and some modest, small tumbler glasses.

Leading to Angelo's Patio
View of Angelo's house from his patio
Fresh bread and wine!
A much needed break from the Cinque Terre hike
We then realized that he wanted us to take a load off and enjoy this snack. He was the sweetest guy and kept talking to us in Italian, and we didn’t understand a word the other one said. We did appreciatively enjoy the break though. It fueled us to finish off our hike with a fun memory of a story. Stuff like that doesn’t happen every day. But in my head, as I romanticize Italy, yes, yes it does…….but only in Italy.

Grapes above us in a pergola on Angelo's property

Monday, July 27, 2015

Up Your Wine Game: Cork v Screw Cap

I get asked about screw caps A LOT. If a wine has a screw cap, does it mean that the wine is cheap? Crappy? Should I steer clear of screw caps? Is cork better? My answer is that it usually does not matter if your wine has a screw cap or a cork. Here is a quick 101 Lesson on Wine Closures:

Natural Cork: Cork is the traditional closure found on a bottle of wine. Cork stoppers are made from the bark of a cork oak tree. As a general rule, the cork industry is considered sustainable and a cork stopper is considered the most environmentally friendly of all the stopper options. The trees do not have to be cut down or killed in order to harvest the cork. The cork is literally stripped from the outside of the bark of the tree. It then grows back and the process is repeated every few years. Cork closures are romanticized in the wine industry as opposed to screw caps. People look at a cork on a wine and get all warm and fuzzy inside. The wine opener has to be pulled out and the age-old process of opening a bottle of wine must commence. The downside of cork is that a bottle can get “corked”. Most people have heard this term, but don’t exactly know what it means. A wine that is “corked” or has the presence of “cork taint” means that there is TCA (which is a mold or fungus) present in the wine.  A corked wine smells like wet cardboard. A wine gets “corked” when mold enters the wine’s environment. It can happen one of three ways: mold can get in the winemaking equipment, mold can get in the oak barrel, or mold can get in the crevices of the cork, as cork is a porous, natural material.

Synthetic Cork: There is also a synthetic cork made of plastic compounds that looks almost like a real cork. This material is not porous and therefore the possibility of having a “corked” wine is significantly reduced. The downside is the use of plastic and chemicals to make them. Some would say synthetic corks are not the most eco-friendly option. I don’t necessarily seek to avoid a synthetic cork (meaning that it’s not going to stop me from buying a bottle of wine), but it’s not something I like. Who wants plastics and chemicals all up in their wine?

Screw Cap: Aluminum screw caps are becoming more and more common. Aussie and NZ winemakers were the first to use them in quantity, and now you see them in more and more (usually New World) wines. Screw caps are great because they prevent oxygen from getting in contact with your wine. A screw cap will preserve the freshness and the the nose (i.e. the aromatics) of the wine, but it will not allow a wine to mature or continue to age in the bottle. So essentially, if a winemaker bottled and sealed a wine with a screw cap today, July 27, 2015, what the wine tastes like today, it will taste like forever. The screw cork will pretty much suspend the wine the moment it is sealed, and allow you to enjoy that exact wine (as it tasted that day) for much longer than a regular cork. The downside to screw caps is that they could subject the wine to reduction. Reduction is caused by the wines lack of contact with oxygen. Screw caps are obviously not porous, so they do not allow oxygen to pass to the wine. Reduced wine smells like sweaty onions or socks (no bueno) and is especially common in New World wines with screw caps. Decanting can help with slightly reduced wines.

My problem is that so many wines get better in the bottle, as wines are living, breathing things. That time in bottle allows the secondary and tertiary aromas to come through, which adds complexity and interest to the wine. If you’ve ever had an aged Bordeaux or a 20 year old Rioja that smelled like cigars and a musty basement, those were most certainly not screw capped wines. I advocate for the use of screw caps in wines that are deemed “drink now”.  Wines that you are not going to cellar or hold on to for an extended period of time. Your clean, crisp whites, roses, and light, fruity reds are perfect examples of wines that would be just fine under screw caps.

At the end of the day, how many of us are seriously cellaring our wines or buying bottles that we need to hold on to? Like I mentioned in a previous post, most wines that people buy are consumed within 1 hour after purchase. If that is the case with you, the closure is not of utmost importance. But now you have the knowledge to make an informed decision. If you bought a Cuisinart wine fridge and want to stock it or maybe a friend just bought a house and has a mini-cellar that they’d like to fill up, you know to not buy any wines with a screw cap. You’ll be buying a wine that you want to age a bit, and hence you need a cork closure.  But otherwise, eat, drink, and be merry!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Vintastic Voyage: Valle de Guadalupe

Vines in the Valle de Guadalupe

About a month ago, my husband and I were going on a staycation to San Diego for the night. It was Thursday and we were getting on the road the next morning. That day at work I read this article in the LA Times. It suggested a few different road trips from LA and one suggestion was the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja Mexico. Before I knew it, we had booked an AirBnB condo in Ensenada (for $55!), purchased Mexican car insurance, and were off on an adventure! Those who know me know that I don’t do things on a whim. Luckily I have a husband who does, and he frequently takes me along for the ride!

We spent a wonderful night at the Sofia Hotel just outside of the Gaslamp in San Diego on Friday night. It reminded me of a Kimpton Hotel with fun and kitschy details and a yoga class in the morning. We also had an INCREDIBLE dinner at Bottega Americano. It is a beautiful Italian restaurant and market in the Gaslamp; very similar to the Eataly concept. We shared a cheese plate, a whole grilled branzino, and a lovely pasta dish. It was simply delightful.

We woke up early on Saturday morning and headed for the border. Getting into Mexico was a piece of cake. We paid a toll and we were off! The first pleasant surprise was how absolutely stunning the Pacific coastline is as you head down Baja. I mean, gorgeous bright blue waters...I felt like we were in Cabo.

Pacific Coast heading South in Baja

First stop, Puerto Nuevo for a lobster lunch! This town is known for lobster. There are casual restaurants lining the waterfront, with lots of shopping as well. For US$20 they do a whole grilled Pacific lobster with drawn butter, rice, beans, and tortillas. Just glorious.

As always in Mexico, the shopping is wonderful. I bought some beautiful handpainted serving pieces for the kitchen and Aaron bought some delicious homemade almond tequila. To get to the Valle de Guadalupe wine country, from the border you head South about 30 minutes, then you veer inland another 15 minutes, and voila, wine!

Let’s get one thing straight, you’re not coming here for world class wines. The wine country is still new, but it does have potential. As a whole in the Valle de Guadalupe, they make good, honest wines that are easy to enjoy. A couple of the wineries have been there for about 15-20 years (including Santo Tomas Winery, one of the firsts), but most of them are just a few years old (less than 10 years actually). In 2004, Hugo D’Acosta (of Santo Tomas) opened a non-profit winemaking school and crush operation in Baja called La Escuelita. The goal was for the new vineyards to use La Escuelita for their vinification. This alleviated them from having to build winemaking facilities up front. They could focus on securing land, planting vines, and growing grapes. Then eventually they could build their own winemaking facilities and take the knowledge they learned at La Escuelita to make their own wine. The school was built in an eco-friendly way, and many sustainable tenets still apply. Everything there gets recycled, even the materials used to build the school.

Our first stop was Clos de Tres Cantos. This was a wonderful first experience on our Baja wine trip. The grounds are absolutely gorgeous. I had trouble capturing the beauty with my iPhone, so just take my word for it. Everything felt “of the earth”.  Overall, along the Ruta del Vino, that is a common feeling. We are in a desert climate and terrain. Aside from the blue waters, the colors you predominantly see are orange, brown, and red in the soils, hills, and rocks. All the wineries utilize those colors and seem to be built into the ground with a sustainable feel. Clos de Tres Cantos is no different. It sits up on a tall hill and the facilities feel like they were built into the mountain. Very respectful to the earth. At Clos, we met Joaquin, the owner. He is a philosopher and a former professor/lawyer from Mexico city. An incredibly interesting guy to talk to. Their goal is to be a 100% sustainable operation. They modeled their winery after a monastery, hence the heavy use of stone in their decor.

L to R: pourer for the tasting, Joaquin, Maria, myself, and Aaron (my hubby)
Joaquin even had one of his associates take a few of us on small tour of their facilities. They are going to start making wine on-site very soon (until then, they are using La Escuelita). The entire winemaking operation is underground. Check out these brand new stainless steel tanks still in their plastic wrap! Note the different colored bottles in the wall. Everything is built with the earth in mind and to moderate temperatures. The green bottles are placed to allow morning light to come in, clear bottles for daylight, and yellow bottles for afternoon light. Two of the wines that we enjoyed were Duda (Carignan and Mourvedre) and Tu Mismo (a red blend).

 In contrast to this amazingly personal experience we had at Tres Cantos, we then headed to Las Nubes, which is one of the largest wineries in the area. It was a much more impersonal feel, but the view and setting were stunning. You can tell that no expense was spared in the building of this place.

Two of the wines we enjoyed were a white called “Kuiiy” (a Sauv Blanc and Chard blend) and a red called “Cumulus” (a Garnacha Carinena, and Tempranillo blend). 

Overall, this was a wonderful trip and one I HIGHLY recommend if you are already in the San Diego/LA/Orange County area. I didn't even touch upon the NEW Tijuana, yes, the NEW Tijuana.  Would you believe me if I told you that there are 2 Michelin-rated chefs with restaurants in TJ?  And that there is also a vibrant culinary scene in Ensenada and in the Valle de Guadalupe.  I'm serious when I say this, RUN to Baja and enjoy wine country!  If you're in SoCal, you’re only 2-3 hours away from a beautiful and friendly wine region in another country. So grab your passports and take a Vintastic Voyage south of the border!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Wine Isn't Supposed to Be Perfect

Barrel Samples of Sashi Moorman's Wines

These days wine has everything going for it. We have insanely skilled winemakers, efficient vineyards, and global warming (heat ripens grapes faster). More people are drinking wine now than ever before. But, have we gotten too good at what we do? Have we homogenized wine styles in major wine regions to the point that we are losing the interesting and exciting wines? With this efficiency, grapes are missing…..something…...that “je ne sais quois”. When I first started learning about wine, I was drinking #1 a lot of cheap crap and #2 a lot of mid-priced California red wine. Even then (probably 10 years ago) I was frustrated with how many overripe, high alcohol fruit bombs that we were producing. My thoughts were “isn’t there something different we could be doing"? Anything…..

Ultimately, I think there has been a loss of the terroir. Globalization has happened in our world, and that includes in our wine. Terroir is hard to put into words, but I still have my flash cards from the Level 3 exam and on them, terroir is defined as “the ensemble of environmental influences that give a wine a sense of place.” Isn’t that beautiful? It’s essentially saying that you try a wine and know, just know, where is comes from. Ultimately, it’s saying that the wine should be indicative of the place. It’d be like eating a regional Italian dish, perhaps a plate of homemade trofie pasta and fresh pesto (see picture below) and knowing you were in Liguria, on the Northwest coast of Italy. Perhaps in Cinque Terre enjoying this dish at a small restaurant in Monterosso?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Sashi Moorman, who was our guest speaker on the topic of winemaking. Sashi has almost 20 years experience with grapes. He career began at The Ojai Vineyard where he spent 5 years. He has since consulted with many wineries over the years and is owner or partner in a few of them in the Santa Barbara area and Oregon.

Sashi’s presentation to our class was amazing! We even got to taste some barrel samples of some of his wines that are in progress. He’s got such a love and a passion for the vines and for every wine that he is a part of. I felt that so much of my wine-isms aligned with his, which is a terrific confidence booster! Below are some fun, interesting tidbits he shared with the class:

-Sashi does not use any pesticides on his vines. As he proclaimed, “the ground is special and we don’t want to poison it”. Shouldn’t it just be as simple as that. What about the people who walk and work on those grounds, including vineyard workers and grape pickers? Don’t we want them healthy and safe?

-He sang the praises of importers. Vineyard owners and winemakers rarely leave their vineyards. They’re stuck in their bubble onsite and busy tending to their grapes and wine. Importers have the distinct job of finding vineyards and winemakers that they believe in and trying to sell their wine to people who don’t even know what that wine is. People who only know what they see on most wine lists. Who was the person who first took the risk to introduce new wines and new wine regions to the consumers? It was probably importers. They are helping to make our restaurant wine lists more interesting.

-These days, most wine is consumed within 1 hour of purchase. That is an incredible statistic. So much for winemakers selling wine and thinking (or hoping) that their customer is going to cellar it for 3, 5, or even 10 or 15 years and wait until it hits its peak. In my opinion, this is an example of the consumer speaking to the wine industry. The industry needs to spend time on making ready to drink wines. That doesn’t mean abandoning wine that needs time in bottle. It just means to step outside of your winemaking bubble and taking a look at what is going on in the market.

-Sashi shared a great California-ism with us. The expression that “grapes grow on trucks”. Most winemakers (who don’t grow grapes) don’t ever see the vineyard their grapes come from. They get reports from the vineyard and decide when to harvest based on the chemistry they read in those reports. They literally meet their grapes for the first time as the truck is backing into their winemaking facility. Contrastingly, Sashi doesn’t decide when to pick grapes based on chemistry. He decides when to pick based on how the grapes look and taste. That’s old school and simple.

-Not every wine has to be vanguard. According to Sashi, All wines have a purpose. YES! YES! YES! I couldn’t agree more. Just a few days ago on this same blog I proclaimed: there is a time, a place, and an audience for each and every wine in the world. The great winemakers of Burgundy who have Grand Cru designations know that not every vintage, and every vineyard, and every vine, and every grape will be ab fab. Sometimes they have to make wine at lower designations because the earth did not give them Grand Cru grapes at that moment. There is a humility in that.

I’m only beginning to scratch the surface here on the wonderful things that Sashi shared with us. I hope you enjoyed them!

Trofie Pasta and Pesto

Friday, July 17, 2015

Up Your Wine Game: How to Open a Bottle of Wine

Happy Friday everyone! Today marks the first post from a series I call “Up Your Wine Game”. Periodically I’ll be sharing ways in which you can learn something new and up your wine game! For example: Ever wondered how bubbles get in bubbly? What the heck are tannins? Screw cap vs cork?

Today, it’s all about getting the damn bottle open! There have been many wine openers on the market over time, and to be honest, most of them are crappy.  Exhibit A and B.

Exhibit A
Exhibit B

Sure, they’ll do the job, and if you need to get the bottle open and have no other options, it doesn’t matter what you use, right? But when you do have a choice, here’s how it should go.

I (along with all other somms) recommend the Waiters Friend Corkscrew. Exhibit C.
Exhibit C

This opener is different than other openers because there is a 2-hinge construction which allows the cork to come out in 2 steps, ensuring that the cork comes out straight and doesn’t break in half.  Most other corkscrews look very similar, though they only have 1-hinge (See Exhibit B). You can get a great Waiters Friend Corkscrew in most places; they are not hard to find. Click here to see a good one available on (also a great wine blog that I highly recommend!). The good news is that it is under $10.

Here are your quick and easy steps on how to properly open a bottle of wine.

Step 1: Cut the foil. This is where that handy dandy little knife on the corkscrew comes in handy. You take the knife and slice open the foil just below the part on the neck that juts out. You do one slice for the front half and one slice for the second half.

Step 1

Step 2: Remove the foil. I do this by making a single slice up on the foil. You can then unwrap the foil with your hands, and it should just fall off.

Step 2

Step 3: Insert corkscrew (with the corkscrew flat/perpendicular to the bottle) just off center into the cork.

Step 3

Step 4: Stand the corkscrew up straight and twist it down 6 times (fun fact: it’s always 6 turns to get the corkscrew in the cork!). Be sure to leave 1 curl at the bottom unscrewed.

Step 5: Put the lever on the 1st hinge on the lip of the bottle of wine and pull the “handle” up. This was a tough cork. Note the face:)

Step 6: Once the cork comes out as much as it can (about halfway), move the 2nd hinge onto the lip of the bottle and pull the handle up. At that point, the cork should pop out.

Extra Credit: Don’t pull the cork out so hard that you hear a popping noise That’s not cute. Same thing with a Champagne cork. No popping please. Wait until the cork is ALMOST out, maintain full control, and pull the cork out ever so slightly. You should hear a “whisper” as it comes out. If you take on this extra credit, you will MAJORLY up your wine game. Most people like to pop bottles, make a lot of noise, and feel cool by doing it. And to be honest, most people around you won’t know the difference. But for those wine people that are sprinkled among us, one less bottle that is “popped” is music to our ears. We really appreciate good wine opening technique:)

Cheers and happy Friday!  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wine is Democratic

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, democratic is defined as: relating to, appealing to, or available to the broad masses of the people. According to me, wine is (or should) relate to, appeal to, or be made available to the broad masses of people. Everyone should have the ability to enjoy wine! A few hundred years ago, wine was only enjoyed by royalty and the upper crust of society. Now we live in a world where we can get a bottle of wine at the 99 Cent Store (which I have seen!), buy a bottle of Two Buck Chuck, or a box of Franzia!

This is my manifesto against snootiness and pretension in the world of wine. I detest when people judge others on the wine they drink. My belief is that there is a time, a place, and an audience for each and every wine in the world. This includes the aforementioned cheap stuff, that I’m sure you are wondering if a Somm would even drink. The answer is going to be no at least 99.99% of the time. As a Somm, you become very much in tune with your palette and what you like/don’t like. I can guarantee you that I will not like those wines. BUT someone will…...and that’s ok.

Wine tastes come and go. Why is it ok to judge someone who drinks an oaky, buttery chardonnay today, but it was perfectly fine in the 80s? Why did people start sticking their nose up to merlot in the early 2000s after the movie Sideways came out? Just like fashion, the times do change and what is popular does as well. If your mom loves her white zin, then dammit, let her enjoy it! Though, I’m not opposed to introducing her to some other dry or slightly off-dry roses on the market! But that might be too much to ask! Some people just like what they like…...and I’m ok with that.

There is something funny that I have noticed since I started my wine studies. People around me feel that they can only serve me nice and/or expensive wines. I can’t tell you how many times I have been over at a friends house and they apologize and say something like “So sorry, this is all I had” or “I’m so embarrassed…’re a sommelier and this is such a bad bottle of wine”. Newsflash: I’m still a normal person!  I don’t drink only 90+ rated wines or only Premier Cru Bordeauxs. In fact, quite the opposite. I love wine. Like LOVEEEE wine. I don’t always want to take it so seriously and study it. Sometimes I want a nice easy drinker with a bowl of spaghetti.  And if I do want to geek out on wine, taste something obscure and use my "Systematic Approach to Tasting" as we use in class, I can guarantee that is not going to happen at a friends house on a Friday night!

So, the take away today is #1 to not be afraid to give the sommelier wine. We’re regular people and are just happy that you invited us over! And #2 don’t judge people’s wine preferences. You too once drank the Chianti out of a bottle with a basket on the bottom (see picture above) or you added some ice cubes to a white that wasn’t cold enough. We’ve all been there! Cheers!

Stay tuned for Friday's post: How to Open a Bottle of Wine.  There are many ways to get the vino from the bottle, but I'll show you the "right" way so you can look cool in front of your date!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Shit Just Got Real!

Let’s get one thing straight: yes I write a wine blog and yes I swear. Sometimes with wine we tend to be too fussy or fancy about it and take ourselves too seriously. I’m not that girl. Yes, I can drop some serious wine knowledge, but that doesn’t make me any better than a casual drinker. In my eyes, wine is democratic. The next SOMMspirations post (on Wednesday) delves deeper into this idea of mine.

After completing the first WSET L4 class yesterday (which was really an introduction to the course), the word that comes to mind is: humility. I have taken on a HUGE commitment with this class. Thus far, 85 students have attempted to pass the Level 4 class in LA with my instructor, Monica. Quite a few people drop out early on, as they realize the time commitment necessary. Also, sometimes life changes didn’t allow them to maintain that same level of commitment. Of those 85 students, she estimates only about 50 have stayed fully committed in the program. Of the 50 serious students, only 4 have gone on to pass all 6 units required to get a L4 Diploma Certificate from the WSET. So we’re talking about a 5% pass rate from those original 85 students. Today when I sat down today at 10am, there were 18 of us (7 women and 11 men). Assuming the statistics, that would mean that about 1 of us will pass and earn the Diploma Level certificate. Who will it be? The guy what has 15 years experience in the biz? Or the gal who has worked for distributors, wineries, and auction houses? Or will it be me? I poured wine at a wine bar for about 2 years. That’s the extent of my professional wine experience, which pales in comparison to most of my classmates. But I am not going to look at that as a handicap. I’m eager, smart, tenacious, and focused as hell. I can easily say that this will be the most challenging academic endeavor I have ever taken on (and I have an MBA!).

Here’s the skinny on what’s in store. Classes go until June 2017. In that time, I will have to complete all 6 units in the Level 4 curriculum. They actually give you an extra year (3 years in total), in the event that you have to re-sit any of the exams. The breakdown is below:

Unit 2-Wine Production (Exam: August 23, 2015)

Unit 1-The Global Biz of Alcoholic Beverages (Exam: Nov 4, 2015)

Unit 5-Sparkling Wines of the World (Exam: November 4, 2015)

Unit 4-Spirits of the World (Exam: March 2016)

Unit 6-Fortified wines of the World (Exam June 2016)

Unit 3-Light Wines of the World (Exam: June 2017)

Handed to me yesterday was a 4-inch thick packet of textbooks and study materials. In those materials we reviewed the WSET “Learning Hours” guidelines in which they give you suggestions on how many hours of studying to dedicate to each unit. The first unit we’re taking on is Wine Production (Unit 2) that includes viticulture, vinification, and maturation/treatments/bottling. Between now and the exam on August 23, I will need to put in 60 hours of study time, or about 10 hours per week. Yowzas!

Which brings me back to the title of this post. Shit just got real! That might be all I have to share today, as my mind is spinning. There is a lot for me to digest, so allow me to go back to the books. I’ll share more with you as I go!

In a week, we have our first full class with guest speaker, Sashi Moorman, a winemaker on the Central Coast of California. Stay tuned for more SOMMspirations…….

Friday, July 10, 2015

Wine Bloggers Conference, Here I Come!

The idea for a wine blog started a little over a year ago. I saw the Movie Somm and was fascinated with the journey to become a Master Sommelier (though I’m not sure I’m THAT much of a glutton for punishment). Fast forward to this past Monday, and I FINALLY started the blog that has been brewing in my head for the last year! It has been a week of learning, as well as a ton of fun. I am not the most tech savvy person, so there have been some learning curves (i.e. Google Analytics, widgets, twitter, etc.....oi vey!), but I think I’m doing pretty damn good considering!

About 3 weeks ago I stumbled upon the website for the annual Wine Bloggers Conference. I was deep in the process of planning and brainstorming for my blog, and I couldn’t believe my luck! The conference is taking place in Finger Lakes, NY August 13-16. I’ve certainly heard of conferences for bloggers in general, but not specifically on the topic of wine. I tore through the website front to back and was intrigued. The itinerary sounded fascinating and a ton of fun! I assumed the conference would cost hundreds, if not, thousands of dollars, and I couldn’t justify spending that kind of money on what is (at the moment) a hobby. Imagine my surprise when I see that the cost of the 4-day conference is $95 for Citizen Bloggers (those unaffiliated with a business or an organization)! How the hell is that possible, you ask? Well, the cost for Citizen Bloggers to attend is subsidized by sponsors of the event. Brilliant and a win-win(e) for everyone involved!! Within 24 hours I had registered for the conference, booked a flight with Delta miles, and posted on the discussion boards to find a roommate at the hotel. Boom! Finger Lakes, NY here I come!

The Wine Country of Finger Lakes in New York has over 100 wineries. The “Finger” refers to a series of long lakes that (on a map) look like fingers. Finger Lakes is the producer for almost all of the wine made in New York. The actual conference will take place in Corning, which is about an hour or so from the Finger Lakes.

I plan on blogging a few times about the WBC (before, during, and after). In fact, during the conference, there are a couple of Live Wine Blogging Sessions! We’ll have 50 minutes to taste 10 different wines and hear about them from the producers, during which we are expected to live blog or Tweet about them! THAT should be fun! We’ve also got an excursion to the Finger Lakes area (sponsored by Finger Lakes Wine Country), so that should make a great post as well.

Thank you for joining me on this journey! T-minus 2 days until my Level 4 Diploma starts!

Disclosure: In exchange for a reduced rate to the Wine Bloggers Conference, attendees are required to write at least three blog posts about the conference either before, during or after.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Help! I Always Drink the Same Stuff!

The biggest complaint about wine I hear is “I always drink the same stuff”. Which isn’t really a complaint, right? As they say, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. But I disagree. With a plethora of wine choices available to the consumer today, it’s a shame that most people stay in their comfort zone. Now, I’m not saying that you ALWAYS have to try something new. Sometimes you just want to come home after a long day at work, put on your pajamas, and enjoy your fav Napa Cab and not have anyone yell at you. I’m not here to yell at you:)

I do know that for a lot of people, there are times when #1 you find yourself wondering where to go to pick up a good bottle of wine. Or #2 you find yourself at the grocery store in the wine section staring at rows and rows of bottles and not knowing which damn one to take home.

Solution to Problem #1

Find a good local wine shop. This will MAJORLY change your wine-drinking habits and in a GOOD way. Most of us get stuck in a wine rut at the beginning of our wine drinking careers. It’s easy to do. When you find a good wine shop, you allow yourself the space to try something new. How, you ask? By talking to the people who work there. They are your best “wine” friends. People who work at wine shops are usually not pretentious, want to sell you a bottle you like, and are not influenced in what they can sell you (which can’t be said for big box wine retailers). My thoughts on big box wine retailers to come in a future post!

Solution to Problem #2

Try a varietal you’ve never tasted or a region/country you’ve never tried. Instead of going to the store and going for the 5 grapes that I find most Americans drink (cab, merlot, pinot, chardonnay, and sauv blanc), TRY SOMETHING NEW. Those wines are all GREAT, don’t get me wrong, but they are just the TIP of the iceberg. Maybe look at a different varietal you have never tried (i.e. gewurztraminer, chenin blanc, carmenere, or pinotage) Look at the wine regions or countries you see represented on the shelves. Did you know that Italy has over 2,000 indigenous varietals. It’s insane. Instead of going for the usual suspects (i.e. anything from California, France, or Spain), maybe try something from: Chile, Portugal, or even South Africa. Once you get a few new bottles under your belt, you can start to hone in on what you really like, even if you don’t know why you like it. The fact that you are trying new things is a start. Focus on expanding your palette and the rest will come!

SOMMspirations says to try ALL wines put in front of you! What have you got to lose? Remember, wines change AND you change. You might have had a crappy malbec once and wrote that grape off for life. Or you always hated earthy, rustic wines, but now might find that you enjoy them! You’ll build on what you know you like or don’t like. Also, there’s really no such thing as good or bad wine (unless, of course, the wine has a fault and is undrinkable). Future post to come on wine faults! Like I said in my initial post: live hard, love hard, and eat and drink unabashedly!

Please share your SOMMSpirations with me: Anything new that you tried and that you loved? Hated? Your favorite wine shop you want to give props to? Comment below and let’s start the convo!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Welcome to SOMMspirations!

Hello readers and welcome to the SOMMspirations blog!  My name is Brianne and I am a seasoned event producer in the LA area about to embark on a crazy two-year journey of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, Level 4 Sommelier course.  I don't work in the wine biz, but I do LOVE wine.  Ultimately, I want my readers to have fun and enjoy reading while I drop some wine knowledge.  Wine is an art, and I want to share that sensibility with the world. Europeans (specifically the Italians) know how to do it: they live hard and love hard and they eat and drink unabashedly.  I encourage my American compadres to slow down a bit.  Enjoy your glass of wine, enjoy your meal, and enjoy your lover.  The meaning of life is to live it, and there’s no better time to start than today!

I have two goals for this blog: #1 to document the journey of the Level 4 WSET course (which begins in less than a week!) and to #2 to drop some knowledge with my sweet wine skillz!  Sometimes I might share a fun travel memory that includes wine, or I might share wine facts (i.e. how do bubbles get in bubbly?) in an easy to understand way.  Other times I might recap a visit to a local wine country or tell you about a tasting group I participated in. With me, you always know you’re going to enjoy yourself AND learn something.  

P.S. wine skillz will give you major street cred:) So, listen up and maybe share what you learn at that next cocktail party.  Or impress your date by properly opening up a bottle of Champagne.  Either way, be ready for a good time!  Salud!