Tasting with the Masters

CM WinesThis week I got to spend two glorious days tasting wines with four master somms…just me and 59 other students.  We were sitting for our first level with the Court of Masters.  The days were filled with rapid-fire lectures on the major wine regions of the world and their grapes and soils.  They also covered production of still, sparkling, and fortified wines, distilled spirits, beer and sake.  The lectures were more review than lessons.  Any student attending without first mastering the basics of wine would not have passed the test at the end of the two days.  Fortunately, most of the students came prepared.

In between lectures we tasted through several flights of wine.  While we evaluated them, the master somms gave us firm guidance in both description and deduction.  The wines really came to life when listening to the flavor and structure descriptions of the masters.  I’ve never tasted such an aromatic Alsatian Pinot Gris, Domaine Pfister, 2011 nor such a crisp and flinty Chablis, Domaine Oudin, 2013.

At the end of the second day, we sat for our test, a 70 question multiple choice on wine and spirits.  It was very straight forward and basic.  Most people passed.  I came away with a pin, but more than that, I came away with the poetry that evolves when a skilled artist speaks of her or his beloved medium. They truly are Masters.Pins

A Book

MyBookLast spring a friend in my wine tasting group, who is also a certified specialist of wine, asked me if I would be interested in co-authoring an introductory wine book with him. After thinking about it for roughly three seconds, the amount of time it took me to consider how much I love wine and how much I love to write, I said, ‘yes, yes I would.’

The writing process went very smoothly. We took turns writing a few chapters each month. Within six months the first draft was complete. Then came the tedious work of editing; checking and re-checking the pronunciation guides, re-working the maps multiple times, until we finally gave up and found another source (drawing maps is much harder than I ever imagined) and debating the usefulness of the oxford comma. After another six months, yes, the editing took as long as the writing, but wasn’t nearly as much fun, the final 138th draft (I exaggerate…a little) was ready to be shipped off to the publisher.

We self-published and used Trafford. They put out a quality product, have reasonable prices, include an isbn, and have many covers from which to choose. After learning at a writers’ conference that blue covers sell more books than any other color, we changed our cover to blue.

Our book is available on amazon. It is an introductory book. If you are already deeply in the throes of wine study, this book will do you no good. But if you know very little about wine and would like to know a little something without having to work too hard, this is the book for you. It includes the basics on wine regions and grapes as well as fun facts and talking points. Each chapter opens with the bare essentials for that region, the three or four or five things you should know about a region in easy-to-reference quick tips.

I will be giving out free copies of the book, Talking About Wine with Ease, to the first five people who contact me, Linda Foxworth at foxress@charter.net and put ‘free wine book’ in the subject line. If you are the sixth person to contact me, the book is available on amazon for $10.99.


Finding the Marks

Pierre Sparr Alsatian Gewurz“Don’t use ‘apple’ or ‘white flower’ as a descriptor for a white wine,” a friend told me at a recent wine tasting.

“But, I always get ‘apple’ and ‘white flower’ in a white wine,” I responded, inadvertently answering my own unasked question.

“That is exactly why you shouldn’t use them as descriptors. They describe almost every white wine and don’t tell you anything about the grape. Be more specific. Is it a red, green or yellow apple? Is it an orange blossom or a gardenia?”

There is an apple tree in my yard. By mid-October, the apples that have dropped from it are on the very far side of ripe, not overly so, but just acetic enough. That deep, ripe, slightly tart smell that comes just before decay is an aroma I will always associate with the marrow of fall, the depth, the middle, the point at which the days are as chilly as the sun is bright.

The marks for an Alsatian Gewurztraminer, the aromas that distinguish it from other white wines are ginger and honeysuckle. I always do get those strong floral and spice aromas from the Alsatian Gewurztraminer. But the tell for me is the scent of a mid-fall apple that has ripened as far as it can ripen to an unmistakable tangy richness. Nobody reading my tasting sheet will know what ‘mid-October apple on the precipice of decay’ means. But I will know that it means Alsatian Gewurz.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; a Studied Tasting

Clos de La Vieille Eglise, 2008Part of the studies for any wine certification (really, the fun part) is the tastings. The various certification programs have made a science out of the tastings, completely deductive, not unlike playing the game Clue. If the fruit is ripe and the aromas are coconut, vanilla and baking spice, the wine is new world. If the ripe fruit is black like plum or black currant and there is a savory thyme or rosemary aroma, then it is a new world Cabernet Sauvignon. If the ripe fruit is red like raspberry or red currant and there is a mint or eucalyptus aroma then it is a new world Merlot. Old world Cabs have the same black fruit but that fruit is tart rather than ripe. The savory herbs are there along with fennel, pepper or mushroom. Old world Merlots are tart red fruits also with mint or eucalyptus along with olive and maybe some mushroom. Easy, right?

The first wine we tasted had both raspberry and black currant. I’ll need more clues. The fruit was definitely ripe, not tart at all. There were some herb aromas, but also, vanilla. The ripeness of the fruit and the oak told me it must be a new world wine. I was torn on the grape, but because the tannins were more velvety, I went with Merlot. I got the grape right, but unless this was Castillon, California, I missed the region. Clos de La Vielle Eglise, 2008, Castillon Bordeaux 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Note to self; time in the bottle will soften the fruit.

The next wine, also presented red and black fruit, red currants and blackberries. The quality of the fruit was very tart. And there was both an herbal and vegetal quality to the wine. There was a dominant minerality and some wet leaf aroma. This had to be old world, with the tart fruit as well as the mineral and earthy aromas. And because of the herbal aromas and strong tannins, it must be a Cabernet Sauvignon. Once again I got the grape right, but missed the region. Los Vascos, Colchagua, Chile, 2011. Note to self; 2011 was a cool year for Chile, thus the fruit is not as ripe.

Wine number three was dominant black fruit, black plums with some blueberry. The fruit was not just ripe, but jammy. There were floral aromas of rose petal potpourri and the oak use was obvious by the coconut aroma. This had to be a warm climate, new world with the jamminess and and oak. And I should have gone with Cabernet Sauvignon because of the black fruit. But the tannins were so soft and lovely, I thought it had to be a Merlot. Starmont, Napa, 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. Note to self; go by the fruit, not the tannins when deducing the grape.

Our fourth wine had both red and black fruit, raspberries, red cherries, and black cherries. Again the fruit was jammy. This must be new world. There was a mint aroma along with chocolate, vanilla and toast. The mint told me Merlot, the chocolate, vanilla and toast told me oak, another sign of new world. There was, also a minerality to the wine, like iron, a telltale sign of a Washington State wine. Wildhaven, Horse Heaven, Merlot, 2013. When I filled out my sheet, however, I ignored the mint and called it a Cab. I did get the new world right. Note to self; don’t ignore what you are actually tasting.

In the end, I guessed Colonel Mustard with the candlestick but it was actually Miss Scarlet with the candlestick. I guess I’ll have to keep practicing!

WBC15, Anyone?

Dear Fellow Wine Bloggers,

The Wine Bloggers Conference is in 2 ½ months and I am really looking forward to it for three reasons. First, the rock star of wine writing and a personal hero to all of us, Karen MacNeil will be speaking. Last March, my friend, Rebecca and I got to hear her speak (as well as meet her!) at the Women for WineSense event in Napa, and it was no surprise to either of us that Ms. MacNeil is as poised and eloquent in public speaking as her graceful, sophisticated writing would lead one to believe. We were debating whether or not to make the trip across the country for the WBC15. Once we heard that KM would be there, there was no more debate. We’d rather not think of ourselves as stalkers. We’re more like roadies, bandies, MacNeil-heads if you will. So, thank you Ms. MacNeil for giving us the impetus to sign up for the Wine Bloggers Conference.

I am, also looking forward to exploring the upstate New York wine region. We don’t see a lot of New York State wines out here in the west. I am excited to taste the wines (especially the Rieslings) and get to know the vineyards of the area.

But, mostly, Fellow Wine Bloggers, I am really looking forward to meeting some, hopefully, many of you. I hope a lot of you will be there. Let me know in the comments if you are attending and I will look for you. But I promise, I won’t stalk you.


Happy Mother’s Day

2007 Nevada Desert

It’s not that I only think about this one week-end a year.  I, as I’m sure many of you, frequently think about what is the most important responsibility of parenting.  One of the obvious goals is  to teach our kids to be good citizens.  We want our kids to be kind to other people and to contribute in some positive way to society in a way that makes them happy.  But I don’t think that that is the most important job of being a mother.

Hand versus land is the wine equivalent to nature versus nurture.  Some wine makers produce their wine through practices such as adding tannins or acids or chaptalizing the wine to increase the alcohol.  Some grape growers take a ‘hands off’ approach to the wine.  They harvest, press and bottle the wine, but do very little else to alter how the wine will taste.  Great wines can be made in both scenarios.  But imagine a wine maker growing a delicate grape like Pinot Noir, then being dissatisfied with the lower tannins and the red fruit aromas and using additives to give the wine denser tannins and aromas of blackberry and currant to make it more like a Cabernet Sauvignon, all the while missing the nuanced complexity that the Pinot Noir has to offer.  Imagine a winemaker mistaking the soaring acidity of a great Riesling for a fault, and diluting the wine to soften its crispness.

That I think is the most important job of parenting; not just to raise our kids to be good citizens, but to let them see their best qualities and give them the confidence to embrace who they are.

Happy Mother’s Day!Oregon, April, 2015 075

Columbia Valley Gorge Wines; Small Production, Big Variety

Oregon, April, 2015 049In the 1980’s and 1990’s the Columbia Valley Gorge was just beginning to be planted with vineyards. The grapes of those vineyards were used in other regions to be made into wine. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that wineries began to appear in the gorge. Today there are 17 wineries on the Oregon side producing wines from a variety of grapes including Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Barbera, Grenache, Syrah and Zinfandel to name a few. They are small production wineries, making under 10000 cases annually. Many of the wines from this region are only available in Oregon and Washington shops and restaurants and through the wineries’ websites. It is both the exclusivity of the wines and the newness of the region that make the Columbia Gorge such an exciting area to explore.

Founded in 2004, Mt. Hood Winery is situated within view of its namesake mountain, the snow-cap a stunning contrast to the green vineyards. Owned by the Bickford family their production is a modest 2500 cases annually overseen by Rich Cushman who is also the winemaker and owner of Viento Winery.Mt. Hood Winery Pinot Noir

The 2014 Estate Dry Riesling is light and crisp with fruit, floral and citrus aromas. The 2014 Estate Pinot Noir Rosé has aromas of sweet and tangy strawberries with an earthy finish. The 2013 Estate Pinot Noir has spice and red fruit aromas with undertones of mushroom. The 2012 Zinfandel, aged in French oak, has aromas of dark cherries and coffee. The 2012 Barbera is tangy red fruit, dark cherries and anise. The Summit Red is a blend of 80% Pinot Noir, 10% Tempranillo and 10% Syrah. The aromas are dark fruit and spice. The 2010 Syrah has smoky blackberry and leather aromas.

Mt. Hood Winery is located at 2882 Van Horn Drive in Hood River, Oregon. Their website is www.mthoodwinery.com