Wine & Spirits Exams: Not for Every Palate

Studying can be a greedy master. It devoured much of my time this spring, but the outcome was worth it: I passed my CSS (Certified Specialist of Spirits) exam, and the experience got me thinking about exams in general.

I hate them. When I’m not cramming for my next wine or spirits test, I feel a bit adrift. I love the studying part. But when it comes to the exam itself, no matter how well I know the material, I’m anxious and confused.

 

 

                         [From left: Three levels of Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) pins; Certified
                  Specialist of Wine (CSW) pin; Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS) pin; CSS “pass letter”]

Each path to wine or spirits certification, whether you pursue credentials from the Society of Wine Educators (SWE), Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), Court of Master Sommeliers, Institute of Masters of Wine, or college-based Viticulture & Enology Science & Technology Alliance (VESTA), has its own strategy. One school might emphasize technicalities – soil types and grape varieties, winemaking styles, wine laws across the globe – while others focus on vintages and subtleties of restaurant service.

Their exams are just as diverse. The WSET Level 3/Advanced exam, for instance, is mostly about wine, divided into three segments: First up is a set of multiple-choice questions, followed by an “essay” portion (some questions are brief sentence completions, while others require lengthy answers, such as discussing wines from various regions of Italy – and you dare not leave out any important details or terms). The last part of the exam is a blind wine tasting, which isn’t nearly as scary as you would think. You’re given two wine pours, a red and a white, and when I took the test we were required to list 26 separate attributes of each wine – appearance, four aromas, five tastes, alcohol level, tannin level, acidity, and so on, ending with the wine’s grape and region. Fortunately, my instructor, Marianne Frantz of American Wine School, was mercifully generous with those tastes, because after nearly three hours of testing we were ready for alcohol.

The CSW and CSS exams from the Society of Wine Educators are multiple-choice, which implies they would be easier to pass. Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news: every question from the exams is drawn from the textbooks. The bad news: there’s a pool of about 5,000 randomly selected questions for each exam, so each candidate gets a different set of questions to answer. Your only hope of passing is to memorize the book.

For the spirits certification, you might be asked, which scotch-producing region delivers the highest-quality whisky? How long is bourbon required to age? Which country is best known for distilling barley to make vodka? What is the Lincoln County Process? Who was “Old Forester”? Which cocktails are typically made by shaking, rolling or stirring? Which types of stills are used for which spirits? What’s the difference between a doubler and a thumper? What are the aging requirements and bottled alcohol levels – both in the U.S. and Europe, because they’re different – of whiskey, vodka and gin? And you’d better know every detail about Prohibition and Repeal Day.

The most punishing is the Masters of Wine exam – which is why, at this writing, only 370 individuals in 28 countries (125 of whom are women) are MWs. Candidates write papers on such topics as the effects of a worldwide labor shortage on vineyards, or the role of enzymes in winemaking. But far more terrifying is the blind tasting: three flights of 12 wines each. Grapes, regions, characteristics, every detail a true expert would be expected to know. Lastly, MW candidates must submit a report of original research, up to 10,000 words long.

Like any academic pursuit, sitting for wine and spirits exams can be grueling. Is it worth the trouble? That depends on your personal goals, how hard you want to study, and frankly, how much money you want to spend. I spent several thousand dollars; by the time you become a Master of Wine or French Wine Scholar, you could spend a small fortune. For me, it definitely has paid off – but now I might be finished studying. Stay tuned.

Liquor Lingo of the Day: Angel’s Share = the whiskey that evaporates as it ages in the barrel. Wood is porous, so the angels get a sweet allowance – up to 4 percent every year. A smaller amount is sacrificed to the Devil’s Cut, the liquor that seeps into the wood and is absorbed by the barrel itself.

LVOV new

Liquor ‘View: Eating your veggies is one thing, but drinking them is a party! I couldn’t wait to try LVOV Vodka (80 proof, under $20), a Polish import distilled from beets. I wasn’t disappointed; you won’t detect any beet flavor (though I love beets, so I wouldn’t have minded a hint of beet) or color. Sipped on the rocks, the mouthfeel is satiny and creamy, reminding me of a sweet whipped cream. It had no aroma and little taste except a hint of wheat, so I expected it would be a versatile cocktail vodka. It was fine in Bloody Marys, but really shone in summery drinks. I mixed citrus coolers and later some boozy watermelon slushies, and the bottle emptied – always a good outcome!

[A bottle of LVOV Vodka was sent to BigSexyReds for review purposes.]

 

Cheers,

Mary

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I Heard It Through the Grapevine – It’s Spring!

Ah…about four hours ago, spring arrived here in the northern states. It’s my favorite season because it’s the most forward-looking; already I’m getting jazzed about new projects, new discoveries – new possibilities!

Spring vineyard

[Photo: “The de Brye Vineyard” by Hanzell Vineyards, courtesy of flickr.com]

Vineyards love spring; it’s their time of rebirth and reconnecting with the world. Their new growth cycle has begun, and vineyard managers will respond with long hours of aerating the soil, planting and never-ending weeding. Soon they’ll begin trellising and training their vines so the leaves will be ready to soak up the sun.

In case you’ve forgotten your 6th-grade science lessons, today is the March equinox, also called the “vernal” or spring equinox, one of two annual occasions when the sun shines directly on the equator (the other equinox is in September). When that happens, day and night are almost equal the world over. Technically, it’s the moment when the sun crosses the “celestial equator” – an imaginary line in the sky that sits directly over earth’s equator.

The earth still is tilting at 23.4º, but today our tilt is perpendicular to the sun’s rays. We could go into the differences between “astronomical spring” and “meteorological spring,” but I think we’ve had enough science for one day.

March 20 also is World Storytelling Day, when we’re supposed to promote storytelling by, um, telling stories. Here’s one about a particularly fun spring tradition (though it’s likely give my sister Margie an episode of PTSD):

Chichen Itza small

[Photo: “Chichen Itzá” by Esparta Palma, courtesy of Flickr.com]

The ancient Mayans, you probably know, devised a remarkably sophisticated calendar. Each year on the vernal equinox, they sacrificed one of their own on top of their huge pyramid, El Castillo, at Chichen Itza, Mexico. Can you see those tiny people in the photo, slithering up and down the narrow stairs to the sacrificial altar? Margie slithered up – but then she was too scared to come down. No railing, no rope – just her and a few other brave souls who, unlike her, were not terrified and sobbing. I couldn’t help her; I’ve been called a lot of things, but brave-with-heights isn’t one of them. Fortunately, she enlisted the help of an older gentleman who helped her down. The temperature that day was at least 100º; it’s a wonder no one toppled over from heat exhaustion. Twenty years later she still accuses me of being unsympathetic.

We celebrate spring with a bit more restraint in Cleveland. No gruesome sacrifices here, though I do expect the high-spirited guys across the street to dance naked on the front lawn tonight. (You know who you are!) I like to celebrate in some way that acknowledges spring’s rebirth and renewal. Some years I pledge to meditate every morning – a vow I have to repeat, since my resolve usually breaks down over the months. This year I’m starting to clear my space and get some fresh energy into this place.

If that sounds like too much work, you can always kill some time trying to balance an egg on its pointier end. Folklore says this is the day when it’s possible.

Wine Lingo: Bud break = when dormant buds on the grapevine break open and the shoot begins to grow. It happens when spring rain sends water and nutrients up through the roots and into the vine; the buds swell and finally burst, liberating tiny, exquisite grape leaves. Bud break is the first stage of the vine’s growth cycle.

Missianer

Vino ‘View: Last year in early spring I visited Trentino Alto-Adige, a mountainous wine region in northern Italy. The landscape was adorned with wildflowers, and I wanted tonight’s wine to reflect that adventure. I chose 2016 St. Pauls Schiava Missianer (12.5 percent alcohol, $14), made from 100 percent Schiava, a red grape that thrives in Südtirol (South Tyrol) Aldo Adige DOC. One reviewer called this wine “lightweight” and I think that’s fair; it’s definitely light-bodied with strong strawberry and red cherry aroma and taste. I also got some floral hints, though it could have been self-suggestion; I was thinking of those wildflowers in the foothills. Treat it like a Pinot Noir but with more acidity. I chilled it for 30 minutes and paired it with broasted chicken.

[St. Pauls Missioner Vernatsch was sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Happy spring!

Mary

 

Women on Wine, for International Women’s Day!

You know that title doesn’t refer to women who subsist on our favorite adult beverage – you get that, right? (Although I admit, it might not be a bad idea…)

We’re talking about women’s thoughts on wine. Unless you’re a recluse with no connection to the outside world, no doubt you’re aware that today is International Women’s Day, when we celebrate the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of the female sex. You knew I couldn’t let the day end without passing along some women-wisdom.

wine, women

[Photo, “Wine Pasion,” by Gisela Giardino, courtesy of Flickr.com]

But rather than waxing on about our strengths or accomplishments – plenty of people are doing that today – I thought it would be fun to read what women say about wine.

It didn’t take long to discover, women have plenty to say. I found some great quotes – some funny, some sweet – and managed to narrow it down to a “top 10.” But first, my least favorite quote:

“I drink red wine on ice to water it down.” – Diane Keaton, actress

Yuck, right?

Without further ado, here are my Top 10 favorite wine quotes by (or about) women:

10.  “I’m like old wine. They don’t bring me out very often – but I’m well preserved.”           – Rose Kennedy, philanthropist and mother of President John F. Kennedy, 1890-1995

9.  “One of my most exciting Saturday nights was just me and a bottle of wine and a crochet book.”  – Jessica Pare, actress who played Megan Draper on the television show Mad Men

8.  “I suffer from CLAUSTROPHOBIA, a fear of closed spaces. For example, I’m petrified that the WINE store will be closed before I have time to get there!”  – Tanya Masse, author

7.  “Wino Forever.”  – actor Johnny Depp’s tattoo that formerly read, “Winona Forever”

6.  “What I do and what I dream include thee, as the wine must taste of its own grapes.”         –  Elizabeth Barrett Browning, poet, 1806-1861

5.  “The wine – it made her limbs loose and liquid, made her feel that a hummingbird had taken the place of her heart.” – Jodi Picot, author

4.  “The lover drinks                                                                                                                                as the cup-bearer pours.                                                                                                                       The lover thinks                                                                                                                                     but the cup-bearer knows:                                                                                                                   love begets love.                                                                                                                                     Since this wine is love,                                                                                                                                                          then this cup is love,                                                                                                                                       then this tavern is love,                                                                                                                                  then this life is love.”  – Kaman Kojouri, Iranian author

3.  “If you love food and you love red wine and they put you in France, you’re in a good place and you’re in a bad place at the same time. You have to weigh yourself every day, and you have to have an alarm number. When you get to that number, you have to start putting it in reverse.”  – Salma Hayak, actress

2.  “Independence is a heady draught and if you drink it in your youth, it can have the same effect on the brain as young wine does. It does not matter that its taste is not always appealing. It is addictive and with each drink you want more.” – Maya Angelou, poet, 1928-2014

1. “Wine and women make wise men dote and forsake God’s law and do wrong…However, the fault is not in the wine and often [emphasis mine] not in the woman. Even if you get drunk on the wine and through this greed you lapse into lechery, the wine is not to blame but you are…” – Anonymous, Dives and Pauper, a 15th-century commentary on The Ten Commandments.

Food (or drink) for thought!

Wine Lingo:  Since women love to hang together, today’s lingo is hang time = the time from veraison (that moment when grapes start changing color from green to yellow or red) and harvest. The longer the grapes hang, the deeper their richness and complexity, but if they hang for too long they overripen. No bueno.

Traverse City bourbon

Vino ‘View:  On International Women’s Day, I think we can admit that many (most?) of us are badasses who like the hard stuff now and then. You’ll notice that this bottle of Traverse City XXX Straight Bourbon (86 proof, $34.99 onlineis half empty. That’s because I’ve been sipping, yes I have. Produced in northern Michigan by Traverse City Whiskey Co., this bourbon doesn’t bring the corn-sweetness one usually expects from bourbon, though I did get cornbread on the finish, and caramel – again without the sweetness, which is fine with me. It’s aged four years in American white oak, and the wood taste is strong but not smoky. There’s also vanilla, but it’s authentic-Mexican-cooking-vanilla, not vanilla ice cream flavor, and cinnamon. It’s good on its own, maybe with an ice cube, but you won’t feel much burn on the way down. 

[The Traverse City XXX Straight Bourbon was sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Cheers, especially to you women who will speak out and make great choices this year – Brava!

Mary

My Top 10 Wines & Spirits in 2017

As you might guess, I enjoy an adult beverage (or two) pretty much every day. That adds up to a lot of different wines and spirits. Selecting 10 favorites was a challenge – but holy Zinfandel, was the research fun!

These bottles range in price from super-affordable to impress-the-boss splurge, but none are ridiculously pricey. Any would make superb holiday gifts.

In no particular order, these are my 2017 picks:

 

 

  • When I served Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (40 proof, $38) to a few friends, none of them knew they were sipping rum – they thought it tasted like brandy or a honey-infused bourbon. That’s not too far-fetched, since this Venezuelan beauty is aged for up to 12 years in bourbon barrels. Long aging bestows elegance on a fine rum; this one carries notes of fennel, caramel, oak and corn. I wouldn’t mix Diplomatico – savor it neat or cool it with one ice cube.
  • If you haven’t tried reds from northern Italy, the 2016 Colterenzio St. Magdalener, DOC Alto Adige (12.5 percent alcohol, $14) is a good introduction. Its vegetable tone is delicious, tinged with parsley and, as it rests, tea and black cherries. It’s a bit stony, and the ashy aroma continues into the taste with milk chocolate and smoke in the finish. If you don’t like tannins, you’ll love this wine, but keep it for a year or two before you crack the bottle.
  • I drank my 2014 Yarden Malbec (14.5 percent alcohol, $32.99) while I munched on olives, cheese and pepperoni – a typical lazy supper for moi – and it held up beautifully. This Israeli wine, produced in the Golan Heights in Galilee, is a real Big Sexy Red – plums and smoke aroma, followed by bacon, blackberries and a bit of dark raisin tastes. It reminded me of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered shortbread stars, but with heat.
  • Whenever I see Zweigelt, I buy it because it’s not that common in the U.S., but I had never tried a Zweigelt rosé. Earlier this year, a friend gave me a bottle of 2015 Josef & Philipp Bründlmayer Grafenegg Rosé vom Zweigelt (12 percent alcohol, $50) and I’m on a mission to find more. Although Zweigelt is a relatively obscure grape in the U.S. it’s actually the most-planted red in Austria. The soft salmon-colored wine is a high-acid gem – “almost fizzy,” my friend said – but creamy and earthy at the same time.

 

 

 

  •  Pinot Noir isn’t always a big-bold red, but the 2013 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir       Carneros (13.5 percent alcohol, $27) is almost chewy, and dark like a California tan. I got an aroma of dark grapes, blackberries and a bit of turkey sausage (and I mean that in a good way). Add black pepper, raspberries, plums, bell peppers and pomegranate on the palate – a well-ordered structure with smoke and mocha on the finish.
  • I discovered Hanson of Sonoma Small Batch Cucumber Flavored Vodka (80 proof, $26) on a trip to Sonoma last spring and when I returned in November, I brought home two bottles. Don’t let the “flavored” deter you; these certified organic artisan distillers infuse their grape-based vodkas with real produce, and you won’t be drinking a cucumber salad – that taste is barely a kiss. It’s only distributed on the West Coast, but I found it online at MissionLiquor.com. Shipping cost for one bottle is exorbitant, but if you buy three or more it gets reasonable.
  •  One of the hottest wine regions these days is Eastern Europe, and 2015 Patricius Tokaj Dry Furmint (12 percent alcohol, $15) is a great example of the quality wines produced there. Tokaj in Hungary is the world’s first designated wine appellation, and Furmint, one of its most abundant white grapes, is used for making both sweet and dry wines. This one is as dry as wine gets – zesty, fresh, with strong minerality and stone fruit flavors, along with a touch of pineapple and banana.

 

 

 

  • I haven’t tasted every rye in the world, but Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Small Batch Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (90 proof, $49.99) is the best I’ve tried. Developed by Wild Turkey’s master distiller Jimmy Russell, it’s one smooth drink. The tastes are a delicious blend of toffee, rye, pecan and cinnamon – and don’t you dare mix it; this is a fine sipping rye. Just make sure it’s labeled “6 Year Old,” because the regular Russell’s Reserve Rye is 104 proof and not nearly as refined-tasting.
  • Casal Thaulero’s 2009 Thalé Montepulciano D’Abruzzo (14 percent alcohol, $40) is that special-occasion bottle you set aside – but just for a short while, because it’s at its peak now. After aromas of red fruit and vanilla, expect a big, bold mouthfeel and tastes of maple, pumpkin spice and dry leaves – perfect for fall and winter drinking.
  • It’s probably not fair for me to include this bottle because a friend bought it in Italy, but Limoncello is my favorite digestivo and always makes a great gift. It’s traditionally made with Sorrento lemons in southern Italy, but I’ve come across some terrific limoncello produced here in the U.S., too. Get recommendations from your liquor merchant; the best limoncello is sweet enough that you know you’re drinking liqueur, but not cloying; and tart but not bitter. Like any fine liquor, it should be smooth and balanced. You can find quality limoncello for less than $40.

Bonus picks – Three choice drinks didn’t make the list: Ferrari Grappa Segnana Solera, omitted only because it’s not distributed in the U.S. (but worth ordering online if you can find it); OYO Bourbon Whiskey, Michelone Reserve, distributed only in eight states but also available online; and Maker’s 46, a great option when you want a not-ordinary bourbon to sip by the fire. All three are in my cabinet…So many bottles, so little time!

Next up – uncommon, last-minute wine gifts for any wine lover – or treat yourself!

Cheers,

Mary

It’s Not Thanksgiving Without Beaujolais Nouveau!

It’s the most festive wine ever created, and at 12:01 a.m. on the third Thursday each November, French wineries celebrate the new vintage with the release of their Beaujolais Nouveau. Never mind that it’s also the most blatant marketing ploy in the history of wine, or that it brings in some 20 percent of the Beaujolais district’s entire wine revenues each year. Beaujolais Nouveau in your glass says, let’s get this party started!

Beaujolais mural

[Photo of wall mural in Beaujolais courtesy of Mark Goebel via Flickr.]

It’s the first wine released every season, young and fresh, often as strawberry-red as in the mural above, and can wake up your winter palate with flavors of the tropical fruits you see – pineapple, citrus, banana, melon – unusual tastes for red wine.

But Beaujolais Nouveau isn’t just any red. For starters, it isn’t aged: just six to eight weeks before you pour the wine, the Gamay grapes it’s made from were still hanging on the vine. And all Beaujolais wine, Nouveau or not, is produced in the Beaujolais district of France, north of Lyon and south of Burgundy, and the grapes must be harvested by hand.

Beaujolais Nouveau is produced so quickly, in fact, that WineFolly.com calls it “the world’s fastest wine.” It’s fermented with a technique called carbonic maceration, meaning that the instead of crushing the grapes so the juices will flow, whole grapes are loaded into a massive container full of carbon dioxide and they ferment while most of the juice is still inside the skins. The weight of the grapes on top gently crushes those below, releasing the juice. The container is sealed and more CO² is added, resulting in “anaerobic fermentation” – so called because the fermenting grapes aren’t exposed to oxygen – and winemakers add special yeasts to speed up the fermentation. The outcome is the fresh, fruity taste we look for in Beaujolais Nouveau.

In the early 1970s, the race to get the wine fermented and bottled became an actual race event: winemakers sprinted to Paris, carrying their first bottles, competing with their rivals to have their Beaujolais Nouveau declared the first wine of the vintage.

Experts have pronounced the 2017 Beaujolais Nouveau better than most, in part because this was the smallest harvest since 1945. Severe hailstorms in July, and unexpected frost, brought a smaller yield, concentrating the flavors. But in most years, production is high: about 28 million bottles are distributed worldwide, including almost 8 million bottles exported to Japan alone (compared to less than 2 million imported by the U.S.). The Japanese even bathe in it: a bathhouse near Tokyo features a hot Beaujolais Nouveau bath. (Actually it’s a small pool and only nine liters of wine are poured into the water, just enough to turn it reddish.)

I wouldn’t recommend bathing in Beaujolais Nouveau, but do buy a bottle this weekend – and enjoy it while it’s young, preferably in the next month. Don’t save this one; come next spring, it will lose its pizzazz. This is a wine that encourages all of us to celebrate the moment!

Wine Lingo:  Primeur = wine that’s young, produced quickly. Beaujolais Nouveau is sometimes referred to as, “vin de primeur.”

Beaujolais Nouveau

Vino ‘View: Duboeuf is the most familiar name in Beaujolais Nouveau sales, and it’s easy to see why. The 2017 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau (13 percent alcohol, $12.99) is not only delicious, it’s an affordable way to toast the holiday season. The initial aroma is strawberry milkshake, but the Duboeuf is a floral wine with almost a perfume taste. That strawberry shake flavor (but no sweetness) persists for about half a glass before it quiets to a soft marmalade. Mostly this wine is about fruit; I got watermelon, cherries and red raspberries with a touch of cinnamon – no pepper and almost no tannins. Artist Ari Azzopardi won a contest to have his flower-petal painting, “Candy Coated,” featured on the label; it appears on about a million bottles sold in the U.S. This wine would pair nicely with turkey and root vegetables, especially if you chill it; 57-59ºF is ideal. If you don’t have a wine cooler, put it in the fridge for half an hour before you serve it – but no longer. You don’t want to miss those satisfying summer fruits.

[The 2017 Beaujolais Nouveau was sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Happy Turkey Day!

Mary

Speed-Tasting Wines – Keep Up!

It’s not easy to properly taste up to a dozen wines in an hour, especially if the wines are fine and complex. Racing past their nuances means missed opportunities; you want to detect the subtle twists of winemaking and terroir that set them apart from your everyday bottles.

But speed-tasting sessions – one for whites and rosés, the other for reds – were popular highlights of the Wine Bloggers Conference earlier this month in Sonoma. So we sharpened our palates, filled our water glasses and plunged in. Here are a few favorite reds:

 

 

Look out! We started with 1000 Stories Zinfandel, Batch 35 and wondered for a moment who brought the whiskey! At 15.6 percent alcohol, the intensity of this 2015 bottle, made with Mendocino grapes and bourbon barrel aged, took us by surprise. We tasted charcoal and dried herbs (helped along by 17 percent Petite Syrah), with dark plums on the finish. At $18.99, this wine also was the most affordable of the bunch.

The 2015 Gracianna Reserve Pinot Noir was fairly high-alcohol, too, at 14.8 percent. The winery only produces 150 cases, so most of their sales happen in their tasting room in Healdsburg – but at $72 a bottle, they’re wise to keep it exclusive. The aroma of pecans greeted us as we raised our glasses, then red fruit dominated the taste, which grew deeper as we kept tasting. (News flash: at that price, we didn’t spit.) The Pinot Noir is unfined and aged in neutral French oak.

“Wine is a journey,” reads Donelan’s website – but last month the Donelan family’s journey took a big detour: their Santa Rosa vineyards were lost to the fires that ravaged Napa and Sonoma. But the winery itself survived and the vines will be replanted. For now, their 2013 Cuvée Moriah Red Wine (14 percent alcohol) is worth the $50 price tag. It’s full-bodied, almost thick, with lively raspberry and cherry tastes and smooth tannins. Take time to find the nuances in your glass; this wine has finesse.

 

 

Here comes more alcohol: the 2014 Conundrum Red Blend is one smooth customer at 15.1 percent, and don’t be fooled by the $25 price tag. The winery’s motto is “both serious and playful” – hence the conundrum – and it carries into the wine, with tastes ranging from red berries to dark, smoky plums. No wonder; the grapes in the mix include Zinfandel and Petite Syrah.

Then there’s inky, sultry 2014 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon. One sniff and you know you’re drinking a California Cab, strong and smoky. This is a true Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot from Napa’s steep, rocky Stags Leap District. We tasted black licorice, black raspberries, cloves and a bite of black pepper, with the slightest hint of prime rib on the finish. Big, sexy, dark – think Poldark, baby – a bargain at $78.

Lastly, we loved that one of the tastiest wines on the table hailed from the Midwest, a 2015 Stonehill Winery Norton from Missouri. Norton is the official grape of the Show-Me State, and at $19.99 this bottle is another affordable choice. It’s a full-bodied, potent wine  – more than you’d expect from its moderate alcohol level (13.3 percent) – with a strong smell of buttery, movie-theater popcorn and dark berry, plummy taste. As I set down my glass, a faint fig taste lingered.

Trinity Hill PN

Vino ‘View:  Need a break from California wines this holiday season? I just tried the 2015 Trinity Hill Pinot Noir Hawkes Bay (13 percent alcohol, $16.99). New Zealand reds are different from those produced in this hemisphere – zestier, not as big – and this one smells of ripe watermelon, taffy and cherry. I tasted cherries, chocolate chip cookie and slight cinnamon; the tannins are mild, watch for a black pepper bite at the end. Two years after its release this bottle still needed decanting to bring the flavors together, then it’s a great turkey-dinner wine. Drink it now or in the next two years.

[The Trinity Hill Pinot Noir was sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Cheers!

Mary

 

Wine Bloggers On the Move

You probably think all we did at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma was sit around and drink, right?

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Actually, that’s pretty close to the truth. Sometimes we even cleaned up and moved our hootenanny to a place with class, and one night it was a tasting at the iconic Stags’ Leap Winery on Silverado Trail in Napa.

Not to be confused with the also-iconic Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. also on Silverado Trail in Napa. For 13 years the rival wineries slugged it out in court until they decided one of them would move the apostrophe and they could be friends. Their winemakers sealed the deal in 1985 by collaborating on a wine they called “Accord.”

The first Stags’ Leap grapes were planted in the late 1800s by the Chase family (of Chase Bank). The winery is nestled in the shadow of the The Palisades Mountains; in the yard behind the manor house stands a cactus the size of my kitchen, a spiky sentinel that not even the most wine-ripped intruder would challenge.

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Stags’ Leap greeted us with a glass of their 2016 Viognier – lush, just crisp enough.

Monday I’ll share one of the Blogger Conference’s most exciting events: a speed tasting where winemakers showcase their finest – 12 wines per table, five minutes per wine, sharpen your palates!

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Vino ‘View: We wanted to crack a big sexy red for sweater weather, and Concannon  2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (13.5 percent alcohol, $20) was a great choice. It brings a mouthful of body and a bit of jam, but the tannins were smooth and the alcohol didn’t overwhelm. Expect classic California Cab flavors – dark berries, black cherries, slight caramel, accented with healthy acidity. Cozy up with this bottle.

[This bottle was sent to BigSexyReds for review.]

Cheers!

Mary