Monday, November 27, 2017

#WineStudio: Perseverance is the Name of the Game with Ordaz Family Wines

Eppie and Chuy Ordaz

Many of us can relate to being an underdog at some time in our life. In studying for the WSET Diploma, I find myself to be an underdog. I don’t work in the wine and spirits business, so I don't get to talk about wine all day, nor do I have access to the myriad of bottles that someone in the industry has access to. I've had to learn about wine mostly through reading (books, the Internet, blogs, etc). I then supplement book learning with tasting as many wines as I can get my hands on. But those in the biz have a distinct advantage, as they live and breathe wine all day. I, on the other hand, spend my days producing events in the LGBT non-profit world. A far cry from the wine industry!

An underdog in California wine country? Yes, they exist. Not all wineries here are owned by “the big boys”, whether that’s large international firms, Hollywood execs, or retired millionaires. Some earned success in the California wine business by starting from the bottom and working their way up. Chuy Ordaz, an immigrant from Mexico, made 32 unsuccessful attempts to get into the US. Only on his 33rd try was he successful. My family is also a family of immigrants…..aren’t all American families descendants of immigrants? My father and his family came to the US from Argentina when he was a teenager, and on my mother’s side, my grandfather’s family emigrated to the US from Portugal, specifically the Azores.

Fast forward, and after Chuy’s successful 33rd attempt to come to the US, the Ordaz family’s name appears on their Sonoma wine labels. Ordaz Family Wines launched in 2009. All wines are single vineyard. Courage and perseverance have both been pervasive themes with the Ordaz family. Chuy Ordaz’s son, Eppie, is now at the helm of winemaking. He was also the first Ordaz to attend college. Eppie has a Bachelors degree in accounting and went from crunching numbers to crushing grapes! According to Eppie, accounting and winemaking are similar: both require an attention to detail and both require you to put in long hours. To say the least!

Eppie Ordaz was recently named one of several "winemakers to watch" according to Sonoma Magazine. He works alongside his father, Chuy, who is synonymous with some of the more famous vineyards of Sonoma, as he has been managing vineyards for years. Chuy farms 500 acres in Sonoma under Palo Alto Vineyard Management. They are a pioneer in organic farming. Why? To protect the vineyard workers who are on the front lines, as exposure to conventional farming and pesticides could be detrimental to their health. Chuy spent many years in the vineyards himself, and the health of his workers is of utmost importance.

Today Ordaz Family Wines has 50 employees and manages 400 acres. "We're committed to producing single-vineyard wines that are as prized as the vineyards from which they originate", Eppie continues “Everything we do has got to be single vineyard, because I want to showcase the vineyard and the people who work for it.”. Their goal is to make solid wines that aren’t going to break the bank.

Back in February I was able to explore Ordaz Family Wines through a program called #WineStudio.

What is #WineStudio?
#WineStudio is an online Twitter-based educational program. 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 Morey 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. Back in February we chatted with Eppie Ordaz and tasted two of their wines.

My tasting notes are below:

2014 Placida Vineyard RRV Pinot Noir $38, 13.7% ABV

This wine is elegant (a descriptor I use when a wine is understated), yet it has a presence and an amazing amount of fruit. The wine is pale ruby with red fruit (cherry, plum, cranberry), black pepper, cola, and earthy/forest floor notes. Medium + acid, medium + alcohol, medium body, and medium + flavor intensity. Fun fact: the Sebastopol vineyard (Placida) is named after Eppie’s grandmother.

2012 Sandoval Vineyard Malbec $25, 13.5% ABV

This wine is medium ruby with red fruit (plum, raspberry) plus some black fruit (blackberry/bramble), pepper and baking spices (vanilla, cloves, cinnamon). Wow! On the palate, juicy berries plus unending spice and sizzle. Toast and cedar notes showcase the 18 months this wine spent in French oak.

Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? They’re usually much more compelling than the story of someone who got what they wanted and got it easily. There is something so distinctly American about the Ordaz Family Wines story. We are a country of immigrants and we (should) welcome immigrants with open arms. We are a country founded on the idea that you can come here with nothing and make something. Whatever that “something” is.  In this case, it's some damn good wines.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Spotlight: Montalbera Winery

I recently had the opportunity to attend a luncheon with the LA Wine Writers featuring the wines of the Montalbera Winery, from the Morando family. Montalbera, a family-owned winery, is located in the Monferrato DOCG in the southern part of Piemonte, Italy (immediately south of Barolo/Alba). The area received DOCG status only in 2010. Montalbera produces 60% of the Ruche grape in this region. Ruche came to Piemonte, and probably arrived in the medieval times from France. Fun fact: its genetics have 70% in common with Pinot Noir. This is a very small production grape and only recently has this wine made its way out of the region and started being exported.

Montalbera has a full portfolio of wines from sparkling, white, red, and dessert wines. We tried their sparkling and a lineup of reds.

Wines Tasted:

Cuvee Blanche Extra Dry Sparkling

100% Barbera in the Charmant (tank) method.  A crisp and easy sparkling wine with an excellent value at a $19 retail.

Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG La Tradizione 2015

This is Montalbera’s their flagship wine and is a Tre Bicchieri winner (see my post about Tre Bicchieri HERE).  Serve this wine a bit chilled to retain its aromatics of red fruit (cherry, raspberry), dried violets, and a smoky, black pepper note. A perfect, easy-drinking summer red. $21 retail.

Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG Laccento 2015

The grapes are picked slightly overripe and partially air dried directly in the vineyard before harvest. This wine is smooth and silky; I’d call it my “Italian house red”; this wine does not need food and can stand on its own, $29 retail.

Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG Limpronta 2013

This wine is more sophisticated and complex than the others. You can smell Italy in this glass (a bit dusty, but in a good way) and this wine worked incredibly well with the pizza (see menu below). $32 retail.

Barbera d’Asti DOCG Lequilibrio 2014

Juicy red fruit, sweet baking spices, vanilla, and tobacco/cedar notes. Good acid (the mark for a food-friendly wine!). The grapes are harvested slightly overripe to soften the high natural acidity of this grape. $28 retail

Barbera d’Asti DOCG Nuda 2013

“Nuda” means naked and is called so because this wine is unfiltered (also unstabilized and no stainless steel time before bottling). I’d describe it as a Rhone-like red with savory notes of barnyard/animal. This wine really brightened up with the lamb chops (see menu below). $35 retail.

As always, the special menu prepared by Chef David Vilchez was impeccable. Brian tells us that Chef Vilchez creates new dishes specifically for this luncheon and sometimes tries out possible new menu items on us!

Menu Below:

1st Course
Cream Leek Pizza, Brussels Sprout Leaves, Corn, Dried Plum Vinaigrette

My favorite course!

2nd Course

Roasted Baby Heirloom Tomatoes, Salami, Burrata, Olive Oil

3rd Course
Grilled N.Z. Lamb Chop, Grilled Fennel, and Summer Squash Risotto

4th Course
Seasonal Sorbet, Fresh Fruit

Special thanks, to Laura Donadoni for leading, Cori Solomon for organizing, and Cafe del Rey for their hospitality.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

From Santa Rosa, With Love

Photo: Brianne Cohen
Last year my first blog post after returning from the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi was entitled “From Lodi, With Love”. This year I can’t think of a more fitting title for my first post since returning from this years Wine Blogger’s Conference (WBC) in Santa Rosa.

I have returned from WBC full. My cup runneth over after spending 5 days in my secret little wine world. I’ve got this whole set of wine friends who my friends and family have never heard of and know nothing about. It really is sort of like this secret double life. Secret tweets. Inside jokes. Late night sharing of wine labels we drank that evening. It’s actually quite hilarious. It was a phenomenal 5 days and there will be many more posts to come, as I have plenty of wine content to dissect!

As my WBC trip approached, the single most common thing I heard when I told my family/friends I was going to Santa Rosa/Sonoma was some form of “didn’t that all burn down?”. And having been home for a couple of days, I am STILL hearing that from everyone. The news painted a picture of devastation. Charred vineyards, charred buildings, burnt down wineries, and homes with only chimneys and swimming pools left. If you looked through the slideshows of fire pictures online, you’d think that Napa and Sonoma were completely torched.

The Wine Bloggers Conference presented 2 different panels regarding the Napa/Sonoma fires. The first panel, Wine Country Fires, was moderated by Jolaine Collins of Collins Communications. It was an emotional session as the panelists shared personal stories and firsthand accounts of what they saw, felt, and experienced. The panelists included George Rose, photographer; Patsy McGaughy of Napa Valley Vintners; and Pierre Bierbent of Signorello Estates. George and his wife lived in Santa Rosa for 25 years, and he found himself in wine country as the fires broke out. He shared images he took as the fires unfolded. Really tough shots to look at. The most difficult part of the session was when Pierre, Winemaker at Signorello Estates, spoke about his experience. He shared how he learned of the fires in the middle of the night and how he made attempts to fight the flames himself. He shared images from what he saw and told stories that brought tears to many of our eyes. Hearing his voice crack as he spoke was sobering for us all. This wasn’t a news segment, or a magazine article. These were real people who had real experiences. In the end, Signorello Estates was a total loss.

The second panel was entitled: How Media Can Respond to a Crisis, also moderated by Jolaine Collins of Collins Communications. Panelists included George Rose, photographer; Virginie Boone, Wine Enthusiast; and Sarah Stierch, Journalist. Sarah shared her raw feelings and emotions around the fires as an independent journalist who live tweeted non-stop from the fire zone. She saw firsthand what was happening and the mis-information that was spreading like wildfire (pun intended).

The fires are still very raw for many people in wine country. But they are strong and they are resilient people. There is a space to grieve, yet there is also a space to look to the future.

The biggest takeaway from these sessions is that Sonoma and Napa did not completely burn down, and that they are open for business. Yes, many people lost their homes, businesses were lost, wineries were lost, and lives were lost. It is possible to honor and remember, yet also spread the word to encourage people to help in the recovery. What does that look like for those of us who live nowhere near Northern California?

        1. Drink Napa and Sonoma wines

        2. Join a Napa/Sonoma wine club (a GREAT gift idea in time            for the holidays)

        3. Come visit!

Here are a couple websites that were shared with us in these sessions:

North Bay Fire Donations: this is a great website that has aggregates a lot of individual information as to how you can help. It includes: where to donate money, where to donate stuff, and where you can eat, drink, and stay to help support recovery in the region.

Comfort Drinks: This is a website that Sarah Stierch started with other wine country residents and beverage industry professionals. Do you know someone who has been displaced by the recent North Bay Fires who loves fine wine, beer or nonalcoholic craft beverages? ​Whether they are moving into a new home or are waiting to do so, we're here to bring a glass of liquid comfort to their lives. Follow the directions on their website and they'll work with their beverage industry donors to provide wine, beer, spirits, and beverages.

That’s all for now. A simple message to my readers: if you are able, please think about making a contribution to help those affected by the wild fires in wine country this past October.

Sonoma is Strong.  Napa is Strong. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

One Year Later

A year ago today, I woke up in complete disbelief. How did we get here? How did I get here? Our country elected a man who appeared to have a severe lack of morality, intelligence, humility, decency. The list goes on and on.

This is not a political blog. This is a wine blog. I get it.  As an American, I feel that I cannot compartmentalize the horror, shock, and disappointment that I feel for our country and ALL the people living in this country. I have not felt patriotic for many years, which frightens (and angers) our flag-waving patriotic citizens. However, the older I get the more comfortable I get in stating my opinion and being unabashed about it. For me, talking about it helps me process, as ignoring it would eat me up inside. The “macro” of this country, in my opinion, is falling apart. The news every day seems to get worse and worse. This government that we all took a part in electing is committing atrocities and curtailing basic human rights faster than we can keep up with. On the other end, it is within the “micro” that I find hope daily.

With this all being said, I am constantly working to stay positive and inspired by people and things around me. There are people (friends and family members of mine!) who are doing incredible things and being strong in the face of adversity. Part of my “staying sane” strategy is to partake in things that make me happy. One of my “happy places” is wine. Wine is a living, breathing thing in a bottle. I love to follow the story of wine, the story of the grapes, the story of those who tended the crop in the vineyard, the story of the juice, the story of the architect of the wine, etc. Wine envelops me whether I’m reading about it, learning about it, or drinking it. Wine is my escape.

The Federalist: Dueling Pistols 2014
50% Syrah, 50% Zinfandel
Appellation: Sonoma/Dry Creek Valley
Alcohol: 14.5%
SRP: $29

A year ago today I was on the couch in complete disbelief at the turn our country had taken. I sat, watching the news and crying until about 1am. Fast forward to January 20, 2017 and I was in Israel on a trip with 20 other couples from the Los Angeles area. It was an incredible trip and Friday was our last night with this group we had grown so close to. We shared a Shabbat service and meal together, and I brought this wine to share with the group. The wine had a patriotic slant to it, so I figured it was a good time to enjoy it. It was an interesting evening. We were all sad to be leaving Israel and leaving the community we had built with each other for the last 10 days. It was also a surreal time to be outside of the country. In the week leading up to Trump’s inauguration, we were traveling through a foreign land and trying to connect to our Judaism. It felt odd (dare I say nice!) to be outside of the US. It distanced us a bit from what was happening back home. My husband and I were watching the inauguration on CNN as we were getting ready for the evening. I had Dueling Pistols with me and was taking sips during commercial breaks.

This is a lovely wine. The name comes from the infamous duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804. Hamilton, the original Federalist, was shot in the duel and died from his injuries. We’ve all seen Hamilton, right? This wine is a “duel” between Syrah and Zinfandel. The combination of these grapes gives you dark black fruit notes (blackberry and black cherry) and nice spice, black pepper on the palate.  This wine would stand up to any red-meat centered meal.

This post is for every activist working to ensure that basic human rights towards ALL groups are maintained. This includes women, immigrants, people of color, the LGBT community, people with disabilities, people incarcerated, etc. I see you. I support you. I fight for you.

If you stand for nothing, Burr, what'll you fall for?
-Hamilton (lyrics by Lin Manuel Miranda)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wine Bloggers Conference Starts TODAY!

A little over two years ago I watched the movie SOMM and decided to start a blog documenting my WSET Diploma wine education adventures. It has been a long, hard journey and I am still in the process of securing my Diploma certification! Only one exam separates me from this (read more HERE)!

Within a week or so of starting my blog I stumbled upon something called the Wine Bloggers Conference online. This conference has been the backbone of my blogging journey. I have met many wine bloggers and learned a lot along the way. I’ve explored regions I had never visited before, such as the Finger Lakes in New York and Lodi in Northern California. It is safe to say that the Wine Bloggers Conference is one of the highlights of my year. It’s the time of year when I’m with “my people”. When you love wine as much as I do, it can be difficult (and a bit lonely) to be around people who do not appreciate the artistry of wine as I do. And I don’t mean that in any sort of snobbish or “better than” way. There is something magical to be with a group of people who have the level of appreciation that you do for something. I also feel an escape when I am at WBC each year. Escape from the real world, work, doctors appointments, Trump(?), cleaning house, obligations, etc. I get to live for a week with a bunch of cool wine geeks like me, taking notes, tweeting, and snapping pics. It is the only time in my life where it is socially acceptable (and encouraged!) to constantly be on your phone, ipad, or laptop. The challenge is to balance all of that with actually meeting and connecting with people. And what better way to do that than through your shared love of wine!

This year the wine bloggers conference will take place in the Santa Rosa/Sonoma area. This is an area I have explored many times on my own, however, I never tire of it.  The area was recently devastated by a series of wildfires, which the conference will address head-on. There is a seminar on the topic and I am sure we will meet bloggers, winemakers, and representatives who lived through the tragedy and who will bravely share their stories.

The Wine Bloggers Conference starts TODAY with an optional pre-conference excursion called the “Inner Mendo Odyssey” hosted by Fetzer-Bonterra where we will have conversations about sustainability and biodynamics as it relates to the wine industry. This two-day excursion includes a reception, dinner, blending competition, and multiple seminars.

Tomorrow evening, the conference officially begins with an Expo featuring Wines of the World and an Opening Reception.

Friday we start digging into the content. Sessions include: Professional Wine Writing Tips, What Companies Want from Wine Bloggers, Wine Discovery Session: Carinena, Keynote Speaker Doug Frost, as well as Live Wine Blogging. That evening I’m participating in a Vineyard Dinner at Thomas George Estates.

Saturday brings more content: Advanced Social Media Beyond Hashtags and Likes, Pitch Perfect: A Look at the Blogger-PR Relationship, Wine Discovery Session: An Exploration of Alsace’s Pinot Gris Styles, Wine County Fires, and How Media Can Respond to a Crisis. We’ll also have more Live Wine Blogging as well as our closing dinner (sponsored by in which the announcement of the 2018 conference location is made.

In a nutshell, that’s what I’ll be up to in the next 4 days. I will not be blogging during this time, but I will be VERY active on social media. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Direct links are to the right.

Thank you and what’s in your glass this week?

Monday, November 6, 2017

Cabernet Sauvignon Masterclass: The Great Grape

In late Spring I was honored to be invited to a Cabernet Sauvignon Masterclass. The event was hosted by Louis M. Martini Wines and our fearless leader for the day was Christy Canterbury, MW. The backdrop was the lovely Redbird restaurant in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape we all know a lot about.  It is, perhaps, the most popular and ubiquitous grape on the planet.  Ask any wine-drinking novice about Cab, and they'll have something to say.  Whereas if you ask them about Aglianico del Vulture......crickets.  

This was a wonderful Masterclass for me to participate in, as I was preparing for my final WSET Diploma exams.  Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape I can get cocky about.  I know about the actual varietal, I know about how it expresses itself in classical growing regions, and I know what I do and don't like about it. But sometimes it behooves us all to take a step back and go back to the basics.  This is exactly what I did at this event and it proved VERY helpful to my understanding of this grape.  And very helpful as I prepared for my final exams.

Louis M. Martini: A Bit of History

Louis M. Martini founded the winery in 1933 (the day after Prohibition was repealed) in St. Helena in the Napa Valley. Martini grew Cabernet Sauvignon and also tended Zinfandel vines planted onsite as early as 1890. He was one of the founders of the Napa Valley Vintners Association in 1943, which sought to promote Napa Valley wines around the globe. Louis M. passed the winemaking torch to his son, Louis P. in 1954. Next in line was Mike Martini who took over in 1977. Louis M. Martini now has many holdings in California and makes wines from Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, and Napa Valley.

It was awesome to taste these wines as I rarely get to taste iconic or benchmark wines. I'm not a somm on a restaurant floor with access to these wines and I certainly don't have the budget to buy them on my own. To have the opportunity to taste these wines that I have read/studied about was a real treat. Note that the Louis M. Martini Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon was used as the first wine in each flight.  That way we could compare and contrast this wine to other benchmark wines from classic regions.   It allowed me to ground myself in a Napa Cab and then take off wherever we were going: staying in Napa, through the rest of the US, or across the globe.

Global Cabernet Sauvignon Flight

2013 Louis M. Martini Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA $145
This is clearly a New World wine because the fruit takes a major lead. No supporting role here. Bold black fruit, which signifies to me a warmer climate. Medium + well-integrated tannins.

2013 Chateau Palmer, Margaux, Bordeaux $250
This wine has an Old World nose, that included fruit plus earth. More undestated, a bit dusty and older feeling, though it was the same vintage as the others. This felt like cooler-climate black fruit, with some red fruit as well. Medium - dusty tannins. This was my favorite wine of the flight for its austerity and restraint. Truly a distinct wine. 49% Merlot, 51% Cab

2013 Almaviva, Puente Alto, Chile 15% ABV $100 (72% Cab Sauv, 19% Carmenere, 6% Cab Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Merlot)
This wine screams Chile on the nose: capsicum, pyrazines, green bell pepper. As it turns out, I have a very strong nose for the "green" notes, so this stood out for me, though the wine was in no means unripe or subpar. A joint venture between Rothschild and Concha y Toro. I also credit this wine with helping me on my Diploma Unit 3 tasting exam 1 month later. On the exam we had a flight of 3 wines presented to us that were all the same predominant variety. With my tasting flights, I always search for the marker. Which wine in this flight is a sure thing (meaning I know what I am drinking)? If I can find and ID the marker, then I can start deducing what the others could be. The flight is in front of me and I smell all three. One has heavy pyrazines. From there it all came together. One was Napa, one was Bordeaux, and the "green" one was Chile. I incorrectly called the flight predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, when it was in fact predominantly Merlot, but I still think I acquired enough points in the appearance, nose, and palate to "pass" this flight. Note: I did pass this flight on the exam!  And I give partial credit to having tasted this wine!

2013 Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, Bolgheri, Tuscany $170 (85% Cab Sauv, 15% Cab Franc)
I was in my own little hog heaven with this wine. To finally taste a Sassicaia was so awesome! These guys have been credited with starting the Super Tuscan craze. The wine has a much more restrained nose than I thought it would have. There is a beautiful, sweet spice nose and young, juicy red fruit on the palate.

2013 Vina Cobos Volturno, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza $200
Lujan de Cuyo has a slightly higher elevation than the rest of Mendoza, at about 3300 feet. Red and blue fruit plus smooth, integrated medium tannins. Has a bit of Malbec blended in.

Iconic US Flight

2013 Louis M. Martini Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA $145
Hello Napa!

2012 Silver Oak, Alexander Valley, Sonoma $70
Some green notes here, including pine/dill from the American oak.

2014 Ridge Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains $55
This fruit is from an extremely coastal and cool climate. Lots of berry fruit here (both red and black). A medium to medium - finish.

2013 JUSTIN, Isosceles Reserve, Paso Robles $70
Black fruit (almost sunburned). Medium - aroma intensity. 16.5% ABV on this bad boy, but did not feel that hot.

2014 Peter Michael, Les Pavots, Knights Valley $230
This was my favorite wine of the flight. Knights Valley is between Napa and Sonoma, yet this wine shows more Napa because it's warmer/riper. Concentrated "mountain" fruit from very low-yielding vines. Juicy red/black fruit (plum and cherry) that is a bit jammy, almost preserve-like. A savory note that Christy says comes from the volcanic soil.

2012 Leonetti Reserve, Walla Walla Valley $170
The Cascade Mountains create a desert in Washington, which give burning hot days and freezing nights (translation=wide diurnal range), which makes for very dramatic wines. The nose in this wine was very unusual, so much so that I didn't have any good descriptors! Blueberries on the palate. In my opinion, this wine needs 5-6 years before it's truly ready for drinking.

Napa Flight

2013 Louis M. Martini Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA $145
Hello again Napa!

2013 Dumn Vineyards, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley $150
This was my favorite wine of the flight (actually I had 2). Howell Mountain is the highest AVA in Napa at 1500 feet. Everything is grown over the inversion layer (which is where the temperature begins to increase past a certain altitude). It's a warm AVA that does not have a wide diurnal range. Savory notes almost make me think this is an Old World wine, BUT the fruit is quite prevalent, so it takes me to the New World. Tannins here are mind-blowing. My tannin note was: woah.

2013 Robert Mondavi, To Kalon, Oakville $140
This is "valley floor" fruit. Red berries and sweet spice on the nose and palate.

2013 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Cask 23, Stag's Leap, CA $240
A masculine wine. Serious (grainy) tannins with an herbaceous/eucalyptus note on the back palate. This wine is the "densest" of the flight. A big boy.

2013 Krupp Brothers Winery, M5, Napa Valley $200
Wow. Lovely, mouth-pleasing fruit with drying tannins. A meal in and of itself!

2013 Chappellet, Pritchard Hill, Napa Valley $180
Volcanic soils lend minerality to this wine. A perfect combination of rocks and fruit. One of the best wines I tried today.

Side note: I'm convinced that once you become am MW/MS, you are required to use RIDICULOUS nose/palate descriptors. And I don't mean this as a criticism! It actually cracks me up. My favorite tasting note used at this seminar was "fallen branch".  Not the branch ON the tree, but the branch after if fell! Seriously. Is there a difference? All kidding aside, Christy was right. There definitely was a twigginess to one of the Cab Sauv/Cab Franc blends!

In addition to these incredible wines, lunch was delicious.  A well put together event (from the event planner in me!). 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Exam Results Are Here!

After 12 LONG weeks waiting for my test results, they are here!

Let's recap. In June of 2015 I embarked on a 2-year adventure known as the WSET Diploma program. This program consisted of 20 in-person classes, 6 exams, and 1 research paper on topics including the wine business, viticulture (grape growing), vinification (winemaking), spirits, fortified wines, sparkling wines, and still wines of the world. Leading up to the last exam on June 14 I passed all 5 exams I attempted and passed the research paper. Only 1 exam separated me from my WSET Diploma certification: the dreaded Unit 3 exam. This exam is (roughly) 4x the size of the other exams. It consists of 12 blind tastings and 5 essay questions. However hard you think this exam is, I'd say to multiply that by about 5. It's an unreasonable amount of information to prepare for and to retain for this one exam.

Over the last 5 years the average pass rate on the theory portion is 48% and 70% for the tasting portion.  See HERE for my impressions immediately after the exam.  I didn't state it in the blog post, but my gut was that I passed the tasting portion (that was the easy part, right?).  I wasn't so sure about the theory exam.  That one was a doozy and everyone will admit is the more difficult of the 2 exams. 

Here we are and yesterday I receive an email with the subject line: WSET Diploma-Unit 3 Exam Results.  YIKES!!  I didn't even blink, take a breath, or think, I just clicked "open". 

If you are reading this email, this means that you passed the theory paper you took for Unit 3 last June.  Unfortunately you did NOT pass the tasting portion of the exam.

Wow, really?  I was SO happy, yet so bummed.  I managed to pass the more difficult part of the exam yet fail the easier part?  How is this possible?!?!?  I didn't know whether to cry or jump for joy.  I've had a few hours to process this and I can say that I am VERY relieved.  The theory portion of the exam is a monster.  I put in over 300 hours of theory study alone and only had to use about 5% of my knowledge for the exam.  On the other hand, the tasting exam is straight-forward.  I just need to taste more...bottom line.  If I taste more, and practice ONLY in exam conditions, I am sure to pass. No doubt.

That's where I am.  I'm incredibly proud of how far I have come.  And believe it or not, I look forward to immersing myself in tasting over the next few months and tacking the last, and final tasting exam that separates me from my WSET Diploma certification.

Stay tuned as I decide when to take the re-sit of my tasting exam.  Cheers and thank you to all the support from family, friends, and you, my readers.  Every note of support and encouragement is greatly appreciated!

Event Recap: Tre Bicchieri

Back in February I had the opportunity to attend the Tre Bicchieri tasting put on by Gambero Rosso at the Barkar Hangar in Santa Monica. Gambero Rosso is a multimedia brand in the Italian food and wine world that includes: food guides, wine guides, books, a TV channel, a learning academy, and events around the world. The Tre Bicchieri tasting brings together all the highly rated wines that make it into their Vini d'Italia annual guide. The guide is now in its 30th edition. Over 45,000 wines are tasted annually by special committees involving over 70 people. Wines that make the cut in the guide are rated one glass (bicchieri), two glasses (due bicchieri), or three glasses (Tre Bicchieri).

The Grand Tasting showcased over 200 wines of all 3 levels detailed above. I didn't spend much time there, as I was lucky to receive an invite to the Vini d'Italia Special Awards Masterclass. Here we tasted through 9 wines that were the "best" in their respective categories. Tasting notes are below:

Sparkler of the Year: Ruggeri 
Valdobbiadene Extra Dry Giustino B. 2015
A good balance between fruit (citrus, stone fruit, and green fruit) and white flower. Creamy mousse, elegant, fresh, drinkable.

Winery of the Year: Bellavista 
Franciacorta Pas Opere 2009
65% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir. WOW. This wine has spent 6 years on the lees, so it is totally my jam.  Notes of: citrus, apple, and stone fruit (peach). Also, yellow flower, leesy (yet fresh!), and nutty. Medium + finish.

Grower of the Year: BioVio
Riviera Ligure di Ponente Pigato Bon in da Bon 2015
BioVio has been certified organic since the 80s; they were one of the first. Pigato is a native grape of Liguria. This wine has citrus notes (lemon and grapefruit) and a perfumed elderflower nose. One of the panelists exclaimed that this wine has GPS; it takes you immediately to Liguria. In my opinion this wine would shine with food.

Award for Sustainable Viticulture: Roccafiore

Todi Grechetto Superiore Fiorfiore 2014
2014 was one of the most challenging vintages in Italy in over 20 years, which included summertime rain. This wine has medium - aromatic intensity with yellow apple and a toastiness due to oak treatment. It is full-bodied and round with great structure, is very well integrated, and has an elegant finish.

White of the Year: Tenuta di Tavignano
Verdicchio die Castelli di Jessi Classico Superiore Misco 2015
A textured wine with good body. Notes include: lemon peel, nuts, and a smokiness. Great acid. Would be kick ass with some seafood.

Best Value for Money: Tiberio
Pecorino 2015
This was an interesting wine that I thoroughly enjoyed. On the nose alone, this appeared to be a basic, daily drinker. Notes of citrus (lemon), a slight nuttiness, wet stone, and vegetal, white pepper quality. Has a Sauvignon Blanc-like feeling to it, but the acid is not as high.

Up and Coming Winery: Istine 
Chianti Classico LeVigne Riserva 2013
It is hard to find an "up and coming" winery in Italy, because they have all been there so long! On the nose there is red fruit (cherry and strawberry), spice (black pepper and cloves), and floral (violets). The wine is earthy/meaty on the palate and has good acid, as can be expected from a Chianti.

Red of the Year: Chiaromonte
Gioia del Colle Primitivo Muro Sant'Angelo Contrada Barbatto Classico 2013
This is a lovely and interesting wine from Puglia. It has 16.5% ABV but does not feel as that hot. Red/black fruit (sour cherry, blackberry, plum) with some of the fruit feeling stewed (Amarone-like?). The wine also had a mocha/chocolate note as well as meatiness/gaminess (dried meats). Overall, this was the most interesting thing I tasted today. Meaty, perfumed, AND funky on the nose. The palate was smooth, velvety, and mouthfilling.

Sweet of the Year: Lis Neris
Tal Luc Cuvée Speciale
95% Verduzzo, 5% Riesling. For this wine, the grapes are dried passito-style. The wine is honeyed with notes of tropical fruit, chamomile, and spice, including rosemary/garrigue.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Spotlight Italy: The Wines of Lugana DOC

There are many well known Italian wines that we are all familiar with (i.e. Prosecco, Chianti, Barolo, etc), but there are a ton of lesser known Italian wine regions.  Wine is such a fragmented industry with consumers facing shelves upon shelves of choices.  Lugana is not a choice many consumers see on their local shelves, as it is a smaller DOC with most of the wine production consumed within the region.

I had the pleasure of attending two different Lugana DOC wine events in the Los Angeles area this year. In April I was invited to the Valpolicella & Lugana tasting put on by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella and the Lugana DOC Consorzio Tutela. And just last week I attended a Lugana luncheon conducted by Laura Donadoni (Laura Wines) and put together by Cori Solomon (The Written Palette) of LA Wine Writers.

Lugana DOC is located between Lombardia and Veneto on the south shore of Lake Garda. The Lugana region has a Mediterranean climate, but Lake Garda gives maritime influences including cool breezes and relatively mild weather. Lugana DOC was the first all white wine DOC in Italy. Turbiana, which is a clone of Trebbiano specifically grown in Lugana, is the sole white grape used.  All wines are monovarietal. Sometimes the grape is referred to as Trebbiano di Lugana.

The Valpolicella & Lugana tasting took place at the beautiful and recently renovated Park Plaza Hotel. While Valpo and Lugana wines are VERY different, it makes sense to pair the tasting as we are in the same gegraphic region. Also, Lugana wines are all white, while Valpolicella wines are just about all red. Some highlights from this trade tasting include:

Villa Canestrari

This is a family winery with its 4th generation winemaker at the helm. The Museo del Vino onsite showcases old winemaking equipment and tools that have been used since the winery’s opening in 1888.  I thoroughly enjoyed their Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2012 “A”.

Shots from the Museo del Vino

Loving this Amarone

The award for most interesting wine I tasted at this event goes to Cantina Bulgarini Fausto with their Lugana DOC Superiore 2014 “Ca’ Vaibo”. The grapes for this wine undergo a short drying period before pressing. The final wine is a straw-yellow color (almost gold) and has notes of stone fruit (peach, apricot) along with a strong nuttiness.

Cantina Bulgarini

The most recent Lugana event I attended was the Lugana Luncheon put together by Cori Solomon with the LA Wine Writers Group. Laura Donadoni walked us through her portfolio of Lugana wines beautifully paired with the cuisine of Cafe del Rey by Executive Chef, David Vilchez. See details below on each pairing. Each course was better than the next. I could have eaten a plate full of each of them! I’m hungry again just thinking about it…….

Laura Donadoni telling us about Lugana

1st Course
Amuse Bouche: Seafood Salad on Toast
Pairing: Cascina Maddalena, Lugana Brut, Metodo Classico ($20 retail)
This was an unexpectedly delightful bubbly made in the Metodo Classico (2nd fermentation happens in the bottle). It is crisp with good fruit (citrus and yellow apple) plus white flower notes. What I love is that you also get nice creamy, yeasty, and brioche flavors from bottle fermantation, yet it is still very fresh and clean. This is a nice Champagne alternative at about half the cost of an opening pricepoint Champagne.

2nd Course
Smoked Salmon, Pita, Tzatziki, Mixed Greens, Olive Vinaigrette
Pairing: Montonale, Lugana DOC 2015
This is my White Wine Summer Pick.  Clean, refreshing, and a nice honeyed quality, yet bone dry.  It's also got a nice medium + body and creaminess that comes from battonage (lees stirring for 6 months).

3rd Course
Seared Scallop, Saffron Risotto, Capers, Olive Oil
Pairing: Ca’ Lojera, Lugana Superiore 2014
I love this wine.  It is more honeyed than the basic Lugana DOC and has great structure and acidity. Once the wine got closer to room temperature, it developed a super nutty (almond skin) quality.  The scallop risotto pairing was OUT OF THIS WORLD.

4th Course
Swordfish, Squash Blossom, Passion Fruit Vinaigrette
Pairing: Zenato Lugana Riserva 2014
Zenato is famous for their Amarone wines, but they also have holdings in Lugana.  Great viscosity on this wine, which paired famously with the swordfish. A beautiful orange blossom nose.

Bucheron Cheese, Grilled Peach, Honey, Sourdough
Pairing: Perla del Garda, Vendemmia Tardiva
This was a lovely medium dry dessert wine, that would also serve well as an aperitif before dinner.  Personally, I could have a glass of this for dessert on its own!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Spotlight: Rhone Rangers Los Angeles Tasting & Seminar

Who are the Rhone Rangers?

Members are dedicated to promoting American Rhone wines. The Rhone Rangers was started in the mid-80s by a group of winemakers who wanted to make wines other than Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay (two very popular wines of the day). In 1997 the organization was officially formed and now includes over 100 wineries and vineyards in California, Washington, Virginia, and Arizona.

As an event producer, I walk into events with a very watchful eye. Is the signage clear, does the flow of the room make sense, are the bathrooms easy to find?

The Rhone Rangers LA Tasting was very well laid out. Kudos to all involved in the planning, especially Big Red Marketing, the LA event coordinator. Upon arrival I was swiftly checked in as a member of the media and then whisked to the “Rhone-n-Pink” seminar. As described in the program: Moderated by wine expert Dan Fredman, the seminar will cover the art of crafting the popular pink wine, and feature six Rhone Ranger winemakers who will guide guests through their rosés. The wineries: Andrew Murray Vineyards, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Lone Madrone, Ranchero Cellars, Tercero Wines, and Vines on the Marycrest.

Talk about a broad range of styles. Oh, and Randall Graham is a bit of a wine celeb, in my opinion.

Wine #1
Andrew Murray Vineyards 2016 Esperance Rosé, Estate Grown $22
This was my favorite rosé of the day. It is made from 100% Cinsault and my tasting note simply states “stunning”.

Wine #2 
Ranchero Cellars 2016 Galaxie Rosé, Self Family Vineyard, $28
A very easy drinking rosé made from Carignan

Wine #3
Lone Madrone 2015 Mourvèdre Rose, $25
Dry farmed vineyards and made from direct press. A soft, feminine nose.

Wine #4
Tercero Wines 2016 Mourvèdre Rose, $30
Really enjoyed this guy. This wine is not served chilled. The grapes are foot stomped on their skins for 1 hour and then direct to press. The winemaker is not going after a specific color nor vintage consistency. A very unique savory/umami nose, but still a lot of fresh fruit.

Wine #5
Bonny Doon Vineyard 2013 Vin Gris Tuilé, $26
Hands down, the most interesting wine I tasted all day. The nose is super duper nutty with an oxidized feel to it. Randall suggested notes of curry, peanut, sherry, and citrus. According to him, this wine is the ultimate handsell. The color is brick pink with an orange hue. The wine is aged 9 months al fresco in demijohn.

Wine #6
Vines on the Marycrest 2015 Rose (Genache, Syrah, Mourvedre), $28
This is a rosé for food. A skirt steak salad, perhaps? A super spicy palate. Fun.

After the rosé seminar I enjoyed early access (for trade and media) to the Grand Tasting. Now, I'll have it be known that I am not much of a grand tasting kind of gal. I find large tasting events to be overwhelming, crowded, and not conducive to efficient and thoughtful tasting. If I do attend grand tastings I be sure to walk in with a plan. I research participating wineries before I arrive and get an idea of who I am interested in visiting. There is no way to visit every table and try every's not a contest. Here are a few of my highlights from the Grand Tasting:

Martian Ranch & Vineyard 2015 "Etheric" Clairette, $22
Wow, interesting, can't compare it to anything. Med + finish. Macadamia nuts but not oxidized.

Tercero Wines 2015 Cinsault, $40
Only 3 barrels made; dirt and meat notes, yet light in color.

Two Shepherds was my favorite winery of the day. I tried their 2014 Grenache Blanc, Saarloos Vineyard (native yeast fermentation with neutral barrels; a slight funk that I like) and their 2012 Pastoral Rouge, Sonoma, Red Blend (cool climate; my favorite red of the day; savory notes plus funk, umami, soy sauce).

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Mystery of Blind Tasting

As a wine student, the most frequent question I am asked is: how do you blind taste?

While I enjoy talking about blind tasting, I don't really enjoy doing it! Why? Because it's fucking hard.

It's interesting, people are fascinated by blind tasting wines.  A typical conversation goes like this:

Me: I'm a student of wine
Other person: oh, so does that mean you can guess what any wine is?
Me: <cue eye roll> no

To the layperson, blind tasting wines is a bit of a parlor trick.  My least favorite thing is when people shove a glass of wine in my face and say: if you know a lot about wine, what's this?  Sorry dude, that's not how it works.  We're at a bar, the lighting is shit, and this wine glass is as thick as my grandma’s bifocals.

To non-wine aficionados, this sounds like the most difficult part of wine school.  That, my friends, is a myth.  In my opinion, blind tasting is much easier than factual recall of wine topics.  And WSET statistics on pass rates for the Diploma program validate this. Unit 3 (Still Wines of the World) is the only unit of the Diploma in which the tasting exam and the theory exam are separate. The results are graded independently of each other. The tasting pass rate is much higher than the theory pass rate. For the time period of 2010-2016, on average, the theory pass rate was 40.8% and the tasting pass rate was 71.5%.  Blind tasting (especially when in an academic setting) is actually quite formulaic. 

Another myth about blind tasting is that it's all about calling the wine. Whether it's the grape, country, or region. Believe it or not, you could call all the wines incorrectly on a WSET Diploma tasting exam, and yet still pass the exam. The reason is that the bulk of points are granted for the assessments. The assessment of a wine starts with the appearance, then the nose, then the palate. The second part of the points come from the conclusions, which can include determining quality level, determining the grape, determining the region/country, and readiness for drinking. As a general rule, there are less conclusion points available than assessment points.  A breakdown of assessment points is below.  Note that I did not break down conclusion points, as those are not standardized and vary per flight.

Appearance: color (1 point) and intensity (1 point)

: intensity (1 point) and aroma descriptors (5 points)

Palate: level of dryness/sweetness (1 point), acid (1 point), alcohol (1 point), tannin level and nature (2 points; this category is for reds only), flavor intensity (1 point), body (1 point), flavor descriptors (4 points), and finish (1 point).

Here are examples of 2 tasting notes (assessment portion only) from my Unit 3 studies:

Tasting Note #1
This wine is a $20 Chablis, which is a white wine from Burgundy made from the Chardonnay grape

Appearance: This wine is pale lemon with golden hues.

Nose: This wine is clean with a medium intensity. Aroma characteristics include: citrus (lemon/lime), green apple, pear, wet stone, and dairy/cream.

Palate: This wine is dry with medium acid, medium flavor intensity, medium alcohol, and medium body. Flavor characteristics include: citrus (lemon/lime), white flower, green apple, pear, and a wet stone/minerality. The finish is medium.

Tasting note #2
This wine is a $13 Valpolicella Superiore, which is a red wine from the Veneto region in Italy. Predominant grapes are: Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara.

Appearance: The wine is deep ruby.

Nose: The wine is clean with a medium intensity. Aroma characteristics include: red fruit (cherry, raspberry, plum), vanilla, sweet spice (nutmeg and cinnamon), earthy/meaty notes, and dried flowers (violets).

Palate: On the palate the wine is dry with medium + acid, medium round tannins, medium body, medium alcohol, and medium flavor intensity. Flavor characteristics include: red fruit (sour cherry + raspberry), vanilla, sweet spice (nutmeg and cinnamon). The finish is medium.

How did I blind taste in preparation for my exam?

As I prepped for the rigorous tasting exam, I had to be smart about how I used the time I had.   After blind tasting for 6 months in preparation for the Unit 3 exam I narrowed it down to the following grapes that were most likely to appear on the tasting portion of the exam:

White: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Muscat, Viognier, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Albariño, and Semillon

Red: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Malbec, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Corvina, Mourvedre, Cabernet Franc

This list is not all-inclusive. Could I have gotten a Verdejo on the exam? Yes. But I found this list to be a good start.

As I write a tasting note, I cross grapes off the above list that the wine CAN'T be. This helps clear my mind and focus on the remaining grapes.

I like to start a flight by sniffing the wines side by side. Are we in the Old World (dusty notes, minerality, and restraint) or are we in the New World (fruit, assertiveness, and more fruit)?  The answer is not always so clear.  Then I go through my assessment of the appearance, nose, and palate. Sometimes I get ideas of what I am drinking as I progress, but I try not to get too committed. The danger is that you make an assumption early on and you start to write your notes to match what you think it is, versus what is actually in your glass.

Once I get through my assessments, I look at my list and see what grapes are remaining that I have not crossed off.  This is where I start to make my deductions.  If the flight is all wines of the same region, I try and pick out the one wine that is the "marker" (i.e. clear notes of tar and roses from a Barolo).   From the dozens of tasting groups we had, the goal is to commit some of these markers to memory.  The challenge is that it's not just memory in your head but also memory in your nose and on the palate.  On my exam we had a flight of 3 Merlot wines from various regions.  The marker for me was the one with insane pyrazines along with black (and some red) fruit.  This was the wine that grounded me in that flight.  A couple of weeks prior I had a wine from Chile that was super green (i.e. pyrazines) and it stuck.  From there I determined that the other wine was a Bordeaux (Merlot/Cab blend) and the third wine was from Napa.  I incorrectly called the wines Cabernet Sauvignon, but I feel pretty confident that I "passed" this flight as my tasting notes could (for the most part) still apply for Merlot.  Cabernet and Merlot have many similar aromas/flavors, so I'm sure I did pretty good on the assessments of nose/palate.  Also, I called all 3 regions correctly.  All in all, I felt the best about that flight.

If you've gotten this far on a tasting note for a flight, you've come a long way! This is when you have to bring it home with the conclusions, which could be a quality assessment or readiness for drinking, among others.

The thing with blind tasting is to not beat yourself up about it. Sure, if you are prepping for the MS or MW exam, beat yourself up. That shit is hard. Otherwise, do your best with the information you have, and practice, practice, practice.

Happy tasting!

Friday, July 14, 2017

They Make Wine? Viginia Edition


Welcome to my new series entitled "They Make Wine?", where we explore both domestic and international areas not usually associated with grape growing and winemaking. Today we'll explore Virginia.

In November I was a part of the #VAWineChat virtual tasting. VA Wine Chat described by its founder Frank Morgan (of the Drink What You Like blog) is: a monthly winemaker interview series and virtual tasting focusing on the wines, winemakers, and wineries of Virginia. The intention was to post this blog in December, but alas Unit 3 studying started soon thereafter and all writing time was put on hold until NOW!

Super quick history lesson: Virginia, one of our original colonies, was settled in 1607. There were many native grapes grown in early America, but they were not necessarily used for winemaking; mostly just for table grapes. In 1771 Thomas Jefferson planted the first v. vinifera grapes in Virginia. Unfortunately they didn't take and not one bottle of wine was made. Since then, native grapes have been grown in Virginia and for a large part of the 1800’s and 1900s the wines were virtually undrinkable. Fast forward to 2017 and there are 230+ wineries in Virginia making a broad range of wines, including some quality ones! The downside is that all but 3% of the total Virginia wine production is consumed in Virginia. In other words, it is difficult to find Virginia wines outside of Virginia. I consider myself lucky that i got to enjoy 3 lovely wines from Williamsburg Winery in Williamsburg, Virginia!

The Williamsburg Winery, founded in 1985, lies on the Wessex Hundred, a 300-acre farm in Williamsburg, Virginia. The make wines from both hybrids (i.e. Vidal Blanc and Traminette) and v. vinifera (i.e. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Petit Verdot, and Albarino).

The 3 wines I tasted are below:

2015 Reserve Chardonnay 11.6% ABV ($32 SRP)

This wine is made with 72% new french oak and 28% concrete egg. What in god’s name is a concrete egg you say? A concrete egg is a vessel that is used for the fermentation and/or aging of wine. Other, more common, vessel options include oak barrels and stainless steel vats. The concrete allows for oxygenation similar to oak barrels, but does not impart any oak flavor.

My notes: Unabashed oak on the nose and palate, bright fruit, with a clean finish. A delightful Chardonnay.

Winemaker Notes: The 2015 is showing some wonderful upfront tropical characters of pineapple, orange and banana with some apricot and plum to round out the fruits. There is a very clean creamy lemon note with some vanilla. The minerality of the wine is nicely balanced with the fruits. The oak is not overstated and blends nicely with the fruit and minerality of the wine. The finish is luscious with many layers and complexities. An elevated classic Chardonnay that will pair well with a lobster or ribeye steak.

2015 Viognier 12.7% ABV ($24 SRP)
Fun fact: Viognier is the state grape of Virginia!

My notes: Good fruit concentration, stone and tropical fruit on both the nose and palate, very youthful and approachable. A refreshing salinity on the palate with a hint of baking spices.

Winemaker notes: The 2016 Vintage (note the vintage I sampled was 2015) is showing a wonderful balance and finesse. The freshness of the fruits (pineapple, pear, apple, banana, peach and strawberry) are well integrated with the fresh herbal/flower tones along with a hint of minerality/chalky characters. The lemon nuisance is a nice segue into the crisp acidity of the wine, yet there remains the creamy rich texture.

2015 A Midsummer Night’s White 12.6% ABV, 59% Traminette/32% Vidal Blanc/9% Viognier ($14 SRP)

My notes: White flower and perfume on the nose, a hint of residual sugar (sweetness), and ripe pear on the palate.

Winemaker Notes: A lovely floral, tropical bouquet offering many layers of orange, tangerine, banana, pineapple and a bit of lemongrass. There is a very soft honeysuckle and vanilla that offers an additional richness to the wine, along with a touch of minerality and spice. The finish is rich and creamy with an elegant mouthfeel that blends well with the brightness of the wine.

I hope you learned a tidbit or two about Virginia wine! My goal is to help people learn more and have FUN with wine. There is so much wine to enjoy in this world and from many unexpected places. Who knows, maybe your next bottle of wine will be from the great state of Virginia!

Check out the articles below if you want to learn more about winemaking in Virginia:

Jancis Robinson "Virginia's New Star"

Wine Mag "The Old Dominin's Upswing"

Food & Wine "A Road Trip Into the Heart of American Terroir"

Washington Post "Vineyards That Are Putting Virginia on the Fine Wine Map"

Monday, July 10, 2017

Holy Exam Batman!

On mornings like today, I find myself waking up, having a Nespresso, checking the news (translation: scrolling through Facebook), and cuddling with the kids (translation: Zoe, my dog and Ziggy, my cat). Next up, I go to the gym and work my tail off, then put in a full day at work. Around 6:30pm I come home to the kids (see earlier reference) and look around. I can see the walls. There are no stacks of notes, books, and maps everywhere. I almost feel guilty. Even bored. Do I really not need to read that Alsace flip chart for the 10,000th time? I took my FINAL exam on June 14th and since then I haven't known what to do with myself. Ironically, I'm missing the process. Is this what Empty Nest Syndrome feels like? The kids are all gone and mamma's got nothing to do. I used to wake up on work days at 6am and get in 2 hours of studying before work, work all day, and come home and study until bedtime. Wash, rinse, repeat.

It’s been 6 months and I am just now coming up from the dungeon called the WSET Diploma Unit 3 exam. For those of you who have experienced this exam, you know exactly what I mean. To give context to those not familiar with the program, from the month of February through the exam in June, I logged 300 hours of study. That counts study only, and does not include class time, tasting groups, and theory study groups. To say that I am mentally pooped is an understatement.

Let's recap. In June of 2015 I embarked on a 2-year adventure known as the WSET Diploma program. This program consisted of 20 in-person classes, 6 exams, and 1 research paper on topics including the wine business, viticulture (grape growing), vinification (winemaking), spirits, fortified wines, sparkling wines, and still wines of the world. Leading up to the last exam on June 14 I passed all 5 exams I attempted and passed the research paper. Only 1 exam separated me from my WSET Diploma certification: the dreaded Unit 3 exam. This exam is (roughly) 4x the size of the other exams. It consists of 12 blind tastings and 5 essay questions. However hard you think this exam is, I'd say to multiply that by about 5. It's an unreasonable amount of information to prepare for and to retain for this one exam.

With that being said, the exam is over! June 14 came and went. That day was a whirlwind of emotions. Waking up anxious and ready to go. Arriving onsite and making sure I had my pens, white out, and ID. We started with the first half of the tasting exam: 6 wines to blind taste in 1 hour. It was stressful. Opening the exam book and getting my bearings. Not feeling like there was enough time. When time was up, my heart was racing and I felt like I had an out of body experience. How did I prepare so much and yet feel so unprepared? I stepped outside with my classmates and many of them felt the same way; we got a bit tripped up and flustered. The group stayed positive and vowed to do better for the 2nd half of the tasting exam. What a difference an hour makes. We went in there and killed it. Not killed it in the sense that we all called the wines correctly. But we killed it because we went into that room, took a collective deep breath, and wrote those tasting notes with confidence and purpose. This time we were not in as much of a time crunch, and many of us felt more confident walking out of the exam room. The difference is that we knew what to expect after having completed the first tasting exam. We were calm and in control. Next was our lunch break and then the theory exam, which is the toughest part of the day.

The theory exam is 3 hours of essay writing with only 5 minutes to plan each essay. This part of the exam is a test of strength. Your hand feels like it's going to fall off from fervently writing for such a long amount of time and your brain feels like it's about to explode from the endless facts you need to pull out of it. It is certainly a marathon. A wine marathon (hmmmm......there's an idea). The topics of the exam included: the Pinot Noir grape in Germany and Australia, the wine region of Alsace in France, climates in Chile, red wines of Valpolicella in Italy, and winemaking in Spain. Surprisingly enough there were NO questions on Burgundy, which is crazy. Also, there was only a small mention of Bordeaux. I figured we'd have to write in depth on both regions, but the thing about WSET is that you never know what they're going to ask.

After the exam I was a flurry of emotions. Relieved (it was over), happy (that I did it!), sad (it was over), and frustrated (of the things I forgot to write that I remembered immediately after the exam). My husband (and my dog) picked me up when I was done. We were packed and hightailed it to Palm Springs for a couple days of R&R in the desert. Both nights, I kid you not, I woke up in the middle of the night frustrated with some error I made on the exam. I am still beside myself that I wrongly called 3 of the wines. My gut upon initially smelling the wines was that they were all from the Loire. As I got through my notes I doubted myself and talked myself out of it. Moral of the story: trust your gut.

I am close to 1 month post-exam and am still struggling a bit with what my life looks like now. Coming home from work with a clean slate: no studying to do, no reading, no flash cards, no map study. I can come home, cook dinner, do a load of laundry, or just watch TV. I'm back to normal! For those who know me, this is a far cry for how I have existed since January. No social time, no going out. Only work and study.

I've got 2 more months to go until our results come from London. Every person who attempted the Unit 3 exam in the world, took it on the same day. Exams, which are all handwritten, are sent to London (where WSET is based) to be graded. We should hear back sometime in mid-September.

That's all I've got for you now! I am looking forward to getting back into the writing groove. You can expect to hear a lot more from me in the coming months.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

It's Not You, It's Me

Hello readers!  It has been a whopping 5 months since I have blogged, and what a 5 months it has been!  When I started this blog my goals were twofold, to one, document and follow my WSET Diploma journey, and two, to help people become more comfortable with and to enjoy wine more.

I'm not going to sugarcoat it, but this Diploma journey has been far more laborious and difficult than I ever imagined, especially while working full-time.  Since January, I study (on average) 15-20 hours per week, in addition to my day job.  That makes for a very busy life.  My friends and family have known that from January until my final exam, I am pretty much unavailable.  I will attend major lie events (i.e. weddings, birthday parties, showers), and visit new babies when they are born, but after that I am holed up a my house in books, flashcards, grids, spreadsheets, etc.  Also add to the mix a study group and a tasting group per week.  Aside from work and studying, there is not much time for anything else.

My apolgies for leaving you all hanging.  It was never my intention, but such is life.  I recognized that my studies had to come first, and I made a deliberate decision to pause on this blog. 

The good news is that my FINAL WSET Diploma exam is Wednesday June 14th. After that I'll be home free!  Results don't come in for 2 months, and I can finally exhale come June 15th!

For those interested, the exam consists of 12 blind tastings, set up in flights of three.  One flight is the same varietal but different region, one is the same region but different grapes, one is a quality assessment (might be the same style of wine or wines from the same region, but with varying quality levels), and one is a mixed bag.  You get 1 hour for 2 flights, a 30 minute break, and then another hour for the 2nd pair of flights.  The doozy of the exam is the theory portion.  The theory portion consists of 5 essay style questions that you have 3.5 hours to complete. 

All this will be done in one day, June 14th, starting at 10am. 

That's all for now.  I wanted to acknowledge where I fell short with my audience and also set a new agreement that I will be BACK post-exam.  I am really looking forward to completing my studies, getting my life back and being able to blog on a regular schedule!

Back to my studies and thank you for all your support.  My friends and family have been there every step of the way and I have also been grateful to have the support from strangers who read my blog posts, comment on them, like my social media posts, etc. 

Cheers, and I assure you, there is more wine to come!