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!