Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Certified Specialist of Wine, part 3

Last Thursday, I finally took my Certified Specialist of Wine exam in Denver. The exam was scheduled to start at 9:30 am on the campus of Johnson and Wales University and last one hour. After some last-minute cramming of German and Italian wine regions and law, I arrived about 15 minutes early. I signed in and took a seat at a small table that had a series of glasses set up for the tasting portion of the Certified Wine Educator (CWE) exam. About 20 other people filled the other seats awaiting to take an exam as well. Most of my cohorts were also sitting for the CSW, but a handful were taking the CWE and the Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS) exams.

The CSS is very similar to the CSW except it assesses knowledge of the major Spirit types and categories. The CWE is the SWE certification level above the CSW. In addition to an 85-question multiple-choice exam, CWE candidates must answer an essay question, complete two blind tastings; varietal wine identification and wine components and imbalances (faults), and must successfully demonstrate capability of presenting on a wine topic in front of a live audience. The CSW is a prerequisite for CWE candidates, and will be my next endeavor!

After a short explanation by the proctor, Terri Hamilton, we were given one hour to complete the exams. I made my way through by answer all the questions that I knew and marking the questions of which I was unsure. After about 20 minutes, I had made it through all 100 questions. I went back and counted 12 questions that I had marked. Needing only 75/100 to pass the exam, I went through these remained questions with the confidence of not needed to answer them all correctly! Just after the 30-minute mark, I gathered my belongings and turned in my exam and answer sheet. Many of the questions on the exam I had seen before in the online Wine Academy offered jointly by SWE and E&J Gallo Winery. The CSW Study Guide alone did not provide all of the information on the actual exam. If you plan on taking the CSW or CWE exams, I highly recommend paying for use of the online Wine Academy as you prepare.

Before I left the exam room, I made a mental note of about 10 questions I was unsure of and found the correct answers when I returned home. I answered half of them correctly and half incorrectly and feel even more confident with the outcome. If I were to guess my score, I would have to estimate 90 +/- 3. In any case, I have 6-8 weeks to wait until the results are tabulated and returned. I will post the results when I get them!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Faulty wine

Do you know why your waiter pours just a little bit of wine for you to try before pouring the rest of the bottle? And what are you supposed to do with the cork that is set on the table? The sample of wine is make sure that there are no faults with the wine; not to see if you actually like it. As for the cork, you can look at it but please don't smell it! If there are any markings, such as a date, stamped on it, make sure that they match the wine you ordered. If they don't your wine may have been tampered with. What happens if something is wrong with the wine or the cork? Simply notify your server and they should immediately correct the problem with a new bottle.

While not at a restaurant, I encountered a faulty bottle at home this week. One of the two glasses in the photo is flawed while the other is not. A few months ago, I saw a older Chardonnay from a Colorado producer that I enjoy on a clearance rack at my local wine shop. I knew that this particular producer doesn't add sulfites (used as a preservative in wine) and the storage conditions at the store weren't ideal but I decided the rewards of an aged Chardonnay outweighed the risks for only $12. I finally decided to open the bottle and wasn't all that surprised when the wine poured a deep golden brown color and smelled oxidized. Sure enough, the wine tasted very sherry-like (sherries are the most oxidized wines in the world but are made that way intentionally). The wine was undrinkable so I had to open a back up. Disappointed with this outcome, I didn't feel like opening another full bottle, so I decided on a 187 mL bottle of cheap California Sauvignon Blanc that I keep on hand for cooking. While the wine wasn't very good, there were no faults. So if this situation were to arise in a restaurant, don't hesitate to reject a faulty bottle of wine but if just don't like a wine it is what you ordered. If you have questions about a wine, any well-trained server or sommelier will be able to determine any faults for you!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

O Bottle, From Where Art Thou?

Have you ever wondered how the bottle of wine sitting on your table made its journey from the idyllic chateau (or perhaps a garage or industrial factory) to you? Assuming that you did not purchase this bottle directly from the winery, it actually had quite a little journey. In the U.S., we have what is called the three-tier distribution system for alcoholic beverages. This system was established by the 21st Amendment to the Constitution with the repeal of prohibition. These tiers were developed to provide competition and checks and balances to protect both consumers and winemakers. The tiers include producers, distributors, and retailers. If the wine originates from outside of the U.S., a fourth tier, the importer, is added. With each of the 50 states governing just how exactly this system operates within two major paradigms. The first is the competitive private method. Each of the tiers is operated by private business ventures. However, some states operate with what is called a control method. In this situation, the state maintains control of the distribution and/or retail tiers. Sounds complicated, but once the wine passes through each of these hoops, it is ready and willing for you to purchase!

Working in the wine industry, I am lucky enough to have received invitations from each of these tiers to attend tastings of wines. These tastings are events designed to promote and sell wine. It is through events like these that the best wines make their way to your home. Unfortunately, some retailers do not attend these events but rather stock their shelves with the inventory that the distributor needs to sell. So, let's follow the journey of a bottle of Maison Joseph Drouhin from the Burgundy region of France.

Maison Joseph Drouhin has been making wine, mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, from a variety of locations in and around Burgundy since 1880. American importers visit all parts of the wine world meeting with winemakers and tasting their wines in order to select, what they feel, are the very best (and easiest) wines to sell to the American consumer. With the Drouhin wines, the importer is Dreyfus Ashby & Co. The importer and the producer come to terms on which wines will be sold in the U.S., the quantity, and the cost. The importer then ships the wine to the U.S. to be sold to a distributor. Dreyfus Ashby & Co. has a contract with Southern Wine and Spirits to distribute Drouhin wines in Colorado. Together, Dreyfus Ashby and Southern work to sell these wines to retailers. One way that they do this is to host a tasting event. They invite retail and restaurant clients to come to and taste the wines to determine which wines they think they can sell to their customers. While Maison Joseph Drouhin makes over 70 different bottlings, the event that I attended only offered about 20 different Drouhin wines at a variety of price points (ranging from $10 - $150 retail). Retail representatives are able to taste through the line up and evaluate the wines that they would like to represent at their store. In some cases, after a retail store purchases wines it may offer public tasting events for customers to come and try a few wines before purchasing. I highly recommend signing up to receive email announcements from your favorite stores and attend as many of these events as you can. No one likes to spend money on a wine and end up not liking it. You can avoid this by previewing the wine for free at your local wine shop!

Though I did not take thorough notes at the tasting, here a few of the wines that I found to be worth recommending (retail prices approximate):

Pinot Noir
2008 Maison Joseph Drouhin Volnay (approx. $36)
2008 Maison Joesph Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches Rouge (approx. $65)
2006 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Laurène (approx. $60)

2008 Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru (approx. $32)
2008 Maison Joseph Drouhin Rully (approx. $15)
2008 Maison Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches Blanc (approx. $80)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Once in a Lifetime Visit Behind Closed Gates at Bodegas Vega Sicilia

Passing through a guarded gate, my wife and I, on an anniversary trip to Spain, entered the bucolic 1000-hectare estate of the storied Vega Sicilia. This Bordeaux-style winery, founded in 1864, originally was a small village inhabited by the wineries’ employees and connected by rail to Valladolid, 40 kilometers to the west. We walked by the façade of a chapel that was built for the employees and residents, accompanied by Puri Mancebo, Export Manager at Grupo Vega Sicilia, for a private tour of these hallowed grounds.

The Álvarez family, with Pablo Álvarez as director of the winery operations, purchased Vega Sicilia in 1982—the same year that Ribera del Duero achieved Denominación de Origen (D.O.) status. Vega Sicilia makes only three wines: Valbuena 5° is aged 5 years (the five is used to differentiate from the now extinct Valbuena 3°); Unico, made only in exceptional years, is aged a minimum of 10 years; and Reserva Especial is a house-styled blend of three vintages of past Unico releases and is an homage to the traditional-style Ribera del Duero wines. They are all celebrated examples of a special tempranillo clone with smaller amounts of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec from 200 hectares of estate vines.

You can read the rest of this story at Palate Press

Friday, August 6, 2010

Summer of Colorado?

In today's NY Times, Frank Bruni wrote about sommelier Paul Grieco's interesting wine proposition for this summer: The Summer of Riesling. In short, Paul decided that he would change the wine menu at Terroir, in NYC, to only include Rieslings in the wine by the glass selections. If you want a Chardonnay: buy a bottle. If you want a Merlot: buy a bottle. Paul's goal with this endeavor is to educate the public about the differences and nuances of the noble Riesling. Many people believe that all Riesling is sweet uncomplicated wine. While Riesling is responsible for much lackluster sweet fermented juice, it is also responsible for some of the world's most highly prized and expensive sweet wines. Surprisingly to some, but not all, Riesling can also be a esoteric dry wine. The sugar, acidity, and aromatics of Riesling allow this single grape variety to be made into a plethora of styles! Germany, France, New York, and even Colorado produce wines along this spectrum that are sure to find a place within your palate; so give a Riesling a try.

Back to the original impetus for this post! Paul Grieco was bold enough to force patrons at his restaurant to buy only a particular wine by the glass. So many restaurants and retail stores do the exact opposite. They buy the brands that the distributors want them to buy and then turn around and sell these, often, dull wines to the public. In the wine industry, it is often said that regional (in the US this means wines NOT from California, Oregon, Washington and those on the east coast, New York) wines are difficult to sell because either the quality is low or the public has no demand for wines from terra igncognita. However, examples can be found all across this country that shoot holes in this argument. Just last week, I was dining with Jeff Siegel, aka The Wine Curmudgeon, at Jonesy's Eatbar in Denver and we discussed the idea of "locavore" restaurants not serving local wines. As both Jeff and I have posted, Jonesy's serves, almost exclusively, Colorado microbrews. While Colorado Wines are not a majority on the wine list, they are present in more than just token numbers.

What if a restaurant put Paul Grieco's and Jonesy's ideas together and took it a step further? Could a restaurant flourish by only serving Colorado Wines on its wine list? Could a happy middle be reached with only CO wines available by the glass? Would patrons stop dining if they couldn't find their favorite bottle of Clos du Bois hiding amongst a bunch of Argentinian, Australian and Spanish wines that are nothing but international? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy wines from all over the world (Spanish wines would have to be at or near the top of my list). Are local wines hard to sell because restaurants and retailers don't actually TRY to sell them? I think that if a restaurant that prides itself on using as many local ingredients and foods as possible took the initiative to devote itself to this idea it would work, and work well, with CO wines. Afterall, wine is and should be thought of as a food.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Certified Specialist of Wine, part 2

With three weeks until I take the CSW exam, I am reading about wine several hours everyday. I've made my way through the wine regions that I am familiar with (France, Spain, Portugal and Italy) and starting on the regions that I am less familiar with (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Australia) before I finish up with the Americas. I am confident that I will get through everything and do well on the exam, but will have to wait until October to find out the results.

In addition to reading about wine regions that I know little about, I had a wine this past weekend that I've never even heard of before. This interesting wine was a 2008 Welschriesling made by Leo Hillinger from Austria. Not related to the eponymous Riesling that most people know (love it or hate it), this grape can be found in central and eastern Europe (Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, etc). I didn't take notes, as we were eating dinner, but I remember it tasting of crisp green apple and cast iron skillet (not in a bad way). As I learn more about unique and interesting wine regions I look forward to trying more indigenous grapes not found regularly in the U.S.

Back to the CSW exam, how did you fare on the sample exam questions from the previous post? Ready to try your hand at the second half? Answers to the first half appear below.

11. Which of the following AVAs has the hottest climate?
a. Paso Robles
b. Puget Sound
c. Rogue Valley
d. Russian River Valley
12. If a Chilean wine contains a vintage on the label, what percentage of the grapes must come from that vintage?
a. 75%
b. 85%
c. 95%
d. 100%
13. All of the following are reasons to add SO2 to grape must EXCEPT:
a. to inhibit wild yeast fermentation
b. to prevent browning
c. to slow the growth of spoilage bacteria
d. to break down cellulose and speed up fermentation and color extraction
14. The grape used to make a dark, sweet dessert wine of the same name from Greece is:
a. Mavrodaphne
b. Xinomavro
c. Roditis
d. Moschofilero
15. Marlborough, New Zealand is located:
a. on the south end of the South Island
b. on the north end of the North Island
c. in the northeast of the South Island
d. in the southwest of the North Island
16. Pinotage is:
a. widely grown in South Africa and Southern France
b. a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Steen
c. a crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut
d. no longer grown in South Africa
17. Which of the following is one of the levels of the Portuguese wine classification pyramid?
a. Vinho controllada
b. Vinho regional
c. Vinho de origem
d. Vinho verde
18. In addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the third authorized grape variety for Champagne production is:
a. Pinot Blanc
b. Pinot Gris
c. Pinot Meunier
d. Sauvignon Blanc
19. Which of the following can be detected by the sense of touch?
a. tannin
b. flavones
c. esters
d. aldehydes
20. Which of the following lists Austrian Prädikatswein levels in increasing order by must weight?
a. Kabinett, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Ausbruch
b. Spätlese, Auslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, Ausbruch
c. Spätlese, Beerenauslese, Ausbruch, Trockenbeerenauslese
d. Spätlese, Kabinett, Auslese, Eiswein

1. a
2. b
3. c
4. d
5. a
6. c
7. b
8. d
9. b
10. d
11. a
12. a
13. d
14. a
15. c
16. c
17. b
18. c
19. a
20. c