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Emilia-Romagna: Exploring Iconic Italian Flavors at Enologica

Best known by Americans for its iconic food products—namely prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Balsamic vinegar, and its effervescent Lambrusco wines—there’s far more to Emilia-Romagna than these familiar tastes. The city of Bologna reputed for being la dotta(the learned), is home to the Western world’s oldest continuously-operating university, the University of Bologna, and is a place full of surprises.

The tapestry of this region, one that bisects central Italy from coast to coast save for a few kilometers devoted to Liguria before you reach the Mediterranean Sea, is defined by the Po River. The terroir of the river valley leaves its mark on everything produced within its fold. Bologna lies about 45 minutes south of the river and is relatively compact—it’s slightly larger than San Francisco with a population of 1 million people in the urban center.

Cultural Immersion

While it’s a mecca for students, Bologna isn’t overrun by tourists and it flourishes with cuisine, art, and music. In 2006 Bologna became a UNESCO City of Music, one of 30 cities globally that are part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. The University which was founded as the “Studium” by students in 1088, was legally declared a place where research could develop independently from any other power, political or ecclesiastic, in 1158.

Enologica, an extraordinary exhibition of the region’s wines and typical food products is hosted by the Enoteca Regionale Emilia Romagna (ERER) and held annually at the beautiful Palazzo Re Enzo in Bologna. 

Within the city and surrounding countryside there are 50 museums and galleries, many of which are connected to the University, that house collections both large and small. Delve into Italy’s terroir by visiting the Collezione di Mineralogia “Museo Luigi Bombicci” to pour over the impressive Italian Regional Mineralogical Collection and the University of Bologna Herbarium, one of the oldest in Europe, where you’ll find dried plant collections that date from the 16th century onwards.

The collection of extant garments and some six thousand fabric samples at the Museo Del Tessuto e Della Tappezzeria “Vittorio Zironi,” is also captivating. In what would otherwise be called “a wax museum,” the Collezione Delle Cere Anatomiche “Luidi Cattaneo” preserves marvelous 19th-century anatomical wax models that were created for medical students by the Florentine modeler Clemente Susini and Bolognese wax-modelers Giuseppe Astorri and Cesare Bettini.

A 19th-century anatomical wax model of a hand from the Collezione Delle Cere Anatomiche “Luidi Cattaneo” in Bologna.

Clues to the long history and importance of the region’s wine culture can be seen in the 10,000 everyday life objects used by local farmers between 1750 and 1950 that are displayed at the Museo della Civiltà Contadina (museum of peasant farming culture). It’s with these humble artifacts that modern-day life in Bologna was forged. The beautiful historic grounds include gardens, orchards, hemp fields, a park, and the museum itself.

On a much larger scale just outside the city limits you’ll find Fabbrica Italiana Contandina (FICO) Eataly World. Described as a cultural theme park, FICO covers two hectares of fields and stables housing several hundred animals and 2000 different plant cultivars. On display is food processing at 40 farming factories where you can see firsthand how meat, fish, cheese, salumi, pasta, oil, wine, beer, sweets, and other Italian products are processed and you can taste all of them as well.

Winemaking and wine culture are taught at FICO through vineyard tours and tasting classes that explore Italy’s most important native vines including Albana and Pignoletto, both indigenous to Emilia-Romagna.

A Tale of Two DOCGs

The Colli Bolognesi Classico Pignoletto, one of Emilia-Romagna’s two DOCG wine production areas, lies just west of Bologna. The DOCG Romagna Albana region lies southeast of Bologna bordered on the east by the Adriatic Sea with the towns of Ravenna in the north and Rimini to the south.

The wines of these areas and Emilia-Romagna came in to focus for this taster during Enologica, an extraordinary exhibition of the region’s wines and typical food products that’s been hosted by the Enoteca Regionale Emilia Romagna (ERER) in Bologna for the last seven years. The ERER has been in place since 1970 with the charter of promoting and improving regional wine production.

Author of “The Utimate Guide to Italian Wine,” Daniele Cernilli.

Italy’s First DOCG White Wine

The well-drained foothills of the Apennines are home to vineyards sited on clay and limestone at high elevations. The region’s hot, dry Mediterranean climate is tempered by cooling breezes from the eastern seaboard that provide relief during the summer months.

While it’s been openly contested for its rank as Italy’s first white wine to be awarded DOCG status (in 1987), Albana di Romagna—known since 2011 as Romagna Albana—has demonstrated its prowess over the years. During a presentation at Enologica, led by Daniele Cernilli aka “Dr. Wine,” Cernilli selected a flight of six wines demonstrating a range of styles and the finesse and power that earned Albana its DOCG birthright.

Albana is a thick-skinned, white grape loaded with polyphenols and the catechins that comprise white wine tannins. It’s vinified in four styles—dry, amabile, dolce, and passito/passito reserve styles that can rival Sauternes and Vouvray for their opulence. According to Cernilli, Albana was first planted in southern Italy, but expresses higher levels of tartaric and malic acid when grown in northern climes. Sparkling Albana is successful due to the variety’s elevated acidity but only carries the DOC designation.

Noted for distinctive peach and almond notes, the wines Cernilli poured also exhibited lemon zest, fennel, tropical fruit, quince, saffron, and pear, with the riper passito; the passito reserve had notes of apricot, peach, petrol, honeycomb, and ginger due to the required presence of botrytis.

  • 2016 Caviro Romio—made by the largest co-operative in the region which produces very a high-quality, organic bag-in-box wine with lemony intensity attributed to skin contact, the wine had notes of almond and medium plus acidity.
  • 2016 Poderi dal Nespoli showed high acidity with floral notes, lemon zest, fennel, and unripe pineapple. It’s possible the picking decision was rushed for this particular vintage but time in bottle could improve the finish.
  • 2016 Leone Conti Progetto was rich with almost gritty tannins, almond and saffron and saline mineral notes pointing to the influence of the Adriatic.
  • 2016 Celli “I Croppi”—a broader, fleshier example with varietal flavors of pear and peach described by Cernili as a “traditional style.”
  • 2014 Cantina di Forli “Volo l’Aquila”—a deep, rich, golden amber-colored passito with high-toned, fungal, peachy flavors, and a clean finish.
  • 2013 Fattoria Zerbina “Scacco Matto”—a honeyed, floral passito with petrol, crème brulee, saffron, and ripe peaches in a classic late-harvest style.

Formerly part of the Colli Bolognesi DOC, Colli Bolognesi Classico Pignoletto was established as a separate DOCG in 2010 and expanded in 2014. There has been a forty percent increase in plantings of Pignoletto here over the last few years that many attribute the “bubble wave” to. Pignoletto has the ability to make a diverse range of styles, four are made in the DOCG: classic, classic superiore, frizzante, and spumante with the biggest challenge being timing the picking decision for the intended wine style.

The wines are required to be 95 percent Pignoletto with an exception for older vineyards that may include field blends of other varieties. This aromatic grape once thought to be Grechetto has lively acidity and tart flavors of lime and green apple along with higher tannin levels that contribute texture and weight to the finished wines. Sparkling Pignoletto is comparable to Prosecco and the DOCG has begun fostering more organic production. Several Pignoletto wines were included in the Enologica tastings led by different experts.

  • 2015 Tentuta La Riva—a pét-nat style showing pear, Fuji and golden apple with yeasty, apple cider-like flavors.
  • NV Terra Quilia “Terre Bianche”—frizzante pét-nat style, was dry, tangerine skin, lemon, green plum, green apple, light-bodied, and austere with a savory bitter finish.
  • NV Caviro Terre Forte Frizzante was crisp and delicate, charming with clean, precise varietal flavors.
  • NV ll Monticino had notes of white blossoms, white tree fruits, intensity from dry extract, and elevated tannins on the mid-palate, clean finish.

Snapshot of New Mexico

Young winemakers are leveraging the wisdom of the state’s winegrowing founding fathers

story and photos by Deborah Parker Wong

Home to three large American Viticulture Areas: Middle Rio Grande Valley, Mimbres Valley and Mesilla Valley and over 2,500 acres of grapes under vine, wine culture in New Mexico is flourishing.

New Mexico has a 400-year history of winegrowing. Spaniards first brought vines to the region in the 17th century and Italian wine culture was imprinted there when Jesuit priests arrived in the 1860s. By the end of that century, the state was among the top five winegrowing regions in the country. Prohibition and a crippling 100-year flood of the Rio Grande were severe setbacks for the industry until commercial production resumed again in the late 1970s.

But the recuperation of New Mexico’s wine industry began in earnest when Italian, German, and French viticulturists brought their expertise to the state in the 1980s. Winegrowing in New Mexico continues to be influenced by these modern-day founding fathers, their families and a host of young winegrowers who are quickly elevating the quality and style of the region’s wines.

Laurent Gruet (l), Bernd Maier and Paolo D’Andrea, the modern-day founding father’s of New Mexico’s wine industry.

Luna Rossa

Italian know-how has been a driving force in the evolution of the state’s modern industry, thanks to the D’Andrea family. Fourth-generation winegrower Paolo D’Andrea, a native of Fruili, arrived in Deming, New Mexico in 1986 to train workers how to prune grape vines and to manage the state’s largest vineyard, a 300-acre site in the Mimbres Valley. With 2,000 acres under vine, Mimbres was established in 1985 and is the state’s largest American Viticulture Area (AVA). Cabernet Sauvignon and Italian varieties are dominant here and the valley’s terroir is compared to the Mendoza region of Argentina.

By 2001 Paolo and his wife Sylvia had founded their own winery, Luna Rossa, as well as a highly successful rootstock grafting business that supplies grape vines to growers throughout The Southwestern United States. Today, their son Marco, the fifth-generation D’Andrea, is winemaker at Luna Rossa.

After touring the company’s vineyards, grafting facility, and two restaurants (an Italian and Mexican restaurant both operated by Sylvia) I checked in with Marco for an update on the 2018 harvest. “Overall I’d say this year was above average,” he said. While white varieties generally had higher acidity­­—a plus for this warm region—he noted that sugar levels spiked in the more sensitive varieties like Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Given that the D’Andreas prefer lighter-bodied, Italian-styled wines versus a more opulent, weightier style, he expects excellent Malvasia Bianca, Riesling and Ribolla Gialla with a sparkling base from this vintage.

“The reds matured at correct analytical levels with rotting at less than one percent so I expect to see more excellent quality reds in comparison to previous years. Overall harvest has gone well; the rain rarely hindered us from picking so we were fortunate for that.”

Winegrowing in New Mexico can be considered extreme due to altitude and the dry, continental climate. There’s risk from frost in the late spring, it’s windy during set through May leaving some varieties prone to shatter, soils can have a high saline content, and because there is little or no fall, it’s a headlong plunge into winter. Growers must also hill-up or mound soil around the trunks to the graft point to winterize the vines.

Given how dry the climate is, winegrowers typically irrigate during the winter months to keep some humidity in the soils. “We need deep-rooting vines for humidity and we’ve modified our growing practices. For example, we use a modified spur pruning that leaves longer canes to combat frost,” said Paolo D’Andrea. Vineyards in Deming sit at 4,300 feet above sea level and the diurnal shift helps grapes retain acidity during hot summer days. The southern part of the state sees more pressure from pests but on average D’Andrea only treats his estate vineyard four times a year.

“PH can be a challenge in finished wine,” he said. “We often lose acid in an effort to ripen the yield. Typically we’ll have lower brix at harvest due to the short growing season and pressure from weather during harvest makes picking decisions key.”

  • Luna Rossa 2016 Riesling—rich, bright, focused showing stone fruit and yellow plum.
  • Luna Rossa 2013 Nini—is a blend of six grapes: Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese, Refosco, and Montepulciano with extended barrel aging of 58 months showing smooth, spicy tannins, and apparent oak flavors.

Amaro Winery

Bernd Maier came to Engle, New Mexico to plant vineyards in 1984. He arrived from Baden, Germany with his young family including his son Benjamin who was three at the time. Maier planted many vineyards and among them is a site now operated by the Gruet Winery which is located in Albuquerque. In 1989 Maier moved to Las Cruces where he began advocating appropriate trellising systems, canopy management, and varieties that were better suited to the New Mexico climate.

He became the state’s first Extension Viticulture Specialist in 2006 and is credited with installing a climate station network and beginning important work on a multi-state grape variety trial. Maier’s considerable contributions to the New Mexico wine industry were acknowledged in 2010 when he received the New Mexico Vine and Wine Society’s Distinguished Service Award.

He and his son Benjamin bring their expertise with vineyard architecture, viticulture, irrigation, and frost protection to the industry as consultants and are credited with planting many of the state’s most successful sites. Their 12-acre estate vineyard contains 27 varieties including Gewurztraminer, the southern Italian variety Negro Amaro, Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Teroldego, and Verdelho planted to colluvial and loess soils created by the wind on the floodplains of the Rio Grande.

Benjamin Maier and his wife Lisa operate the company’s Amaro Winery in downtown Las Cruces which they founded in 2009. As winemaker, Maier works with his own estate fruit and sources from growers in southern New Mexico to produce both dry wines including a Malbec and sweeter styles like the popular blush, Cruces Sunrise. In 2016, Amaro and the wineries of the Mesilla Valley introduced the Mesilla Valley Wine Trail Festival which runs the length of the valley from north to south and includes the state’s first modern, commercial winery, La Viña in southern Doña Ana County.

  • 2017 Malvasia—notes of vanilla, pear, and creamsicle with medium acidity.
  • 2015 Chenin Blanc—with 20 grams per liter of residual sugar, was rich like an apple-pear tart.
  • 2017 Negro Amaro—a leaner style with more red fruit and complexity.
  • 2017 Gewurztraminer—showed dried white peach and lower acidity.
  • 2014 Malbec—dark and moody with blue and black fruits and earthy grip.


The wine brand most widely associated with New Mexico is, without question, Gruet which was founded by the Gilbert Gruet family from the Gruet et Fils winery in Bethon, France. Gilbert’s son, Laurent Gruet, a native of Champagne who studied at the Lycée Viticole de la Champagne in Avize, is the winemaker and owns the winery with his sister Nathalie.

Having completed his 32nd harvest in New Mexico, Gruet is a traditionalist who employs barrel fermentation and traditional method Champenoise techniques to produce wines that are considered among the top 100 in the world. According to Gruet, his wine quality is directly tied to the low pH in the soils that allow grapes to retain acidity while ripening in desert conditions with little water and lots of ultraviolet light. He also fully blocks malolactic in the wines which is another way of protecting their fine acidity and chapitalizes the must to reach a desired level of alcohol.

A champion of Meunier, formerly called Pinot Meunier, Gruet has planted it side-by-side with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to an austere vineyard site––the Tamaya Vineyard—between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Located on the Santa Ana Pueblo at 5,110 feet, the site is a protected clos nestled between two arroyos that create a warmer mesoclimate. Thanks to clonal material ideally suited to the site––an “Uber Chardonnay” and high-yielding 407 Pinot Noir clone––and strategic row orientation, Gruet has completed his second and most successful harvest from the vineyard.

The Gruet winery was founded in 1984 when the family purchased a vineyard near Elephant Butte Reservoir at 4,245 feet in Engle, and the first release followed in 1989. In 2013 Gruet partnered with Precept Wine, and now, with 75 acres under vine, Gruet produces 150,000–175,000 cases of sparkling annually. Gruet also sources Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the D’Andrea’s Luna Rossa vineyard. In addition to his famous sparkling, Gruet now produces still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. “2016 was the earliest harvest on record for us,” he said, noting July 18th as the date, but according to local news reports the 2018 harvest of Pinot Noir at Tamaya began on August 6th.

  • 2014 Gruet Blanc de Noirs—shockingly youthful, nutty with notes of vanilla and raspberry.
  • 2017 Pinot Noir barrel sample—red and black fruit, pencil shavings, leather, brown spice, and briefly astringent.
  • NV Grande Reserve Sparkling—100% Chardonnay and a blend of vintages 2010–2015 aged in foudre that showed massive intensity with mineral and smoky pear notes.

The connection between the founding fathers of the New Mexico’s modern wine industry—D’Andrea, Maier, and Gruet—and the progress that’s being made by the next generation of winegrowers like Jasper Riddle, and brothers Jesse and Chris Padberg, points to the bright future of the state’s industry.

Noisy Water Winery

Jasper Riddle’s, Noisy Water Winery, sources fruit from no less than eight different vineyards and often more from sites focused in the northern regions of the state. “We champion the fruit of local growers,” he said, and in doing so he’s found a ready local market for his wines. Riddle is a fifth-generation farmer and winemaker who bought Noisy Water Winery in Ruidoso in 2010. He credits his Italian heritage and early exposure to wine culture by his sommelier father for helping him dial in his passion for wine.

“2018 was good for us with new vineyards coming online. However, we did see a late freeze after bud break in the Las Cruces area and that reduced yields there by 70 percent at some sites.” Riddle who finished his tenth harvest in 2018 said he crushed about 200 tons of fruit in 2018. A native of Ruidoso, which is north-east of Las Cruces, he works with more than 30 grape varieties and bottles more than 40 types of wine including Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, blends, and popular Hatch chile-flavored wines.

Riddle is on the move and his success hasn’t gone unnoticed. He has doubled the size of his existing 6,000-square-foot winery facility and has a string of tasting rooms across the state that are thriving. The company has six locations in four cities and employs 44 people with plans to hire ten more. Currently producing 25,000 cases, the winery is on track to reach its goal of 100,000 cases by 2024. Earlier this year he was named “New Mexico Small Business Person of the Year” by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Vivác Winery

The Vivác Winery estate vineyard in Dixon is one of the most dramatic and beautiful winegrowing sites I’ve encountered. Located in the Middle Rio Grande Valley AVA, north of Santa Fe, Jesse and Chris Padberg and their wives Michele and Liliana, respectively, founded The Vivác Winery (named for the Spanish term meaning “high-altitude refuge”) in 1998, and released their first wines in 2003.

Born and raised in Dixon, the Padbergs are continuing their studies at the University of California at Davis, and work every aspect of production from pruning their estate vineyards to bottling. Committed to a “slow and steady” approach, the brothers also source fruit from the D’Andreas in Deming.

In 1999, they planted the organically farmed Fire Vineyard which sits at 6,000 feet. The site is planted to French hybrids, including Léon Millot, Baco Noir, and Marechal Foch. Their newly-planted 1725 Vineyard sits at 5,800 feet, on land that once belonged to Francisco Martin, a great-great-grandson of the original Francisco Martin who settled the Embudo Valley in 1725. It’s planted to several varieties including Gruner Veltliner, Petit Verdot, Meunier, Riesling, and Arrandell. The winery produced 4,000 cases in 2017 with plans to produce 6,000 cases.

The Padbergs have added ten acres of vineyards around the tasting room and have plans for a production facility there. An iconic white sandstone mountain, the Barrancos Blancos, overlooks the tasting room and surrounding vineyards which are planted to Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Petit Verdot.

  • 2015 Refosco—clean and light-bodied with grilled berries, earth, and toast.
  • 2015 Petit Verdot—balanced, medium-bodied with good varietal typicity.

Are you experienced?

Even the simplest wine contains hundreds of aroma compounds. More are
present in red wines than in white and certain compounds are more dominant in some grape varieties than others, but, taken as a whole, we recognize them as the smell of wine.

Psychology tells us that when you’ve become familiar with a particular
scent, you’re apt to enjoy it even more. Vanilla is a perfect example of a familiar aroma most never tire of, but context plays an important role in the amount of pleasure we derive from our sense of smell.

The odor of wet dog isn’t exactly something we want to detect in wine, but
experiencing this scent after a communal hike at Kunde Family Winery in Sonoma Valley could actually prove enjoyable. This “moderately strenuous” walk traverses Kunde’s 1,850-acre estate through vineyard rows, oak woodlands, native grasslands, and chaparral that stretch from the valley floor up into the Mayacamas Mountains. The morning wraps up with a much-deserved al fresco tasting and lunch, with Kunde donating a portion of the proceeds to the Dogwood Animal Rescue Project and Humane Society of Sonoma County.

During a visit to the tasting room at Imagery Estate Winery, located just outside the hamlet of Glen Ellen in the heart of Sonoma Valley, visitors can taste an unusual flight of small-production Biodynamic wines.

A few times a month, Imagery also offers outdoor yoga classes—and what
better place to practice yoga than a pristine, Demeter-certified Biodynamic vineyard?After an hour-long vinyasa sequence that instructor Jes Williams says will help build confidence and leave participants present and centered for the rest of the day, visitors can savor a pour of Sauvignon Blanc on the walk back to the tasting room. With their senses heightened, they’ll find the wine will very likely taste more like the grass and fresh air with a hint of saltiness, creating an invigorating experience that’s somewhat uncommon in the world of wine tasting.

Meanwhile, at fellow Sonoma winery Donum, large-scale sculptures have
replaced the dairy cows that once dotted the gentle swales of this Carneros estate vineyard. On a warm summer day, this 200-acre property smells more like lavender than fertilizer. Strolling through the 150-year-old olive trees, gardens, and vineyards to view 40 works by a who’s who of contemporary artists would certainly seem like a distraction from the estate Pinot Noir, but for Danish collector and vintner Allan Warburg, Donum’s majority owner, the experience of combining wine, nature, and art is “far more powerful than if you enjoyed them separately.”

The rise of this philosophy indicates that the days of confining wine tastings solely to a tasting room or terrace are long gone. Experiencing wine in a different context is something we may have to become familiar with to fully enjoy. According to the phenomenon in psychology known as mere exposure, we grow to like the familiar. If the approach this trio of wineries is taking is any indication, tapping into activities like hiking, al fresco yoga, and tours of a world-class sculpture garden are making this shift possible.

New Mexico winery makes some noise

Young winemakers in New Mexico are leveraging the wisdom of the region’s winegrowing founding fathers and creating some buzz for the state’s expanding industry. One of whom is Ruidoso native Jasper Riddle whose Noisy Water Wine Co. sources fruit from no less than eight different vineyards and often more from sites focused in the northern regions of the state.  “We champion the fruit of local growers,” he said and in doing so he’s found a ready local market for his wines. Riddle is a fifth-generation farmer and winemaker who bought Noisy Water Winery in Ruidoso in 2010. He credits his Italian heritage and early exposure to wine culture by his sommelier father for helping him dial in his passion for wine.

“2018 was good for us with new vineyards coming online. However, we did see a late freeze after bud break in the Las Cruces area and that reduced yields there by 70 percent at some sites.”  Riddle who finished his tenth harvest in 2018 said he crushed about 200 tons of fruit in 2018.  A native of Ruidoso which is north-east of Las Cruces, he works with more than 30 grape varieties and bottles more than 40 types of wine including Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, blends and popular Hatch chile-flavored wines. 

Riddle is on the move and his success hasn’t gone unnoticed. He has doubled the size of his existing 6,000-sq. foot winery facility and has a string of tasting rooms across the state that are thriving. The company has six locations in four cities and employs 44 people with plans to hire ten more.  Currently producing 25,000 cases the winery ison track to reach its goal of 100,000 cases by 2024.  Earlier this year he was named “New Mexico Small Business Person of the Year” by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Noisy Water produces both dry and sweet wines styles with off dry being the larger market.  Riddle is absolutely catering to a clientele that includes Texans who prefer sweeter styles and enjoy the nearby Ski Apache resort.The snow-covered slopes of the Sierra Blanca can be seen as visitors wind their way up the mountain to the winery’s tasting room and solar-powered event barn.  

See the full feature on New Mexico on the refreshed website in February 2019.

First-ever Slow Wine Guide to Oregon and second California edition coming online…

First-ever Slow Wine Guide to Oregon and second California edition coming online…

First-ever Slow Wine Guide to Oregon and second California edition coming online…
— Read on

WSET 50th Anniversary Week: Professional Development Mixer at Balletto Vineyards

Save the date. On September 9th WSET alumni and anyone interested in learning more about WSET certification courses are invited to join Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET and host John Balletto for a professional mixer celebrating WSET’s 50th anniversary at Balletto Vineyards.

The walk-around tasting and informal information sessions with instructors Susan Lin, DWSET and Connie Poon, DWSET will run from 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM and are free of charge. RSVPs are requested by September 5th to

Balletto Vineyards is located at 5700 Occidental Road in Santa Rosa, Calif. Founded by grower and vintner John Balletto who at age 17 began with a five-acre family vegetable farm and today grows 800 acres of world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. Winemaker Anthony Beckman has made Balletto Vineyards wine since 2007 will also be on hand to discuss single vineyard wines from the winery’s 16 estate vineyards.

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of The Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET), the world’s largest wine educator with courses available in over 70 countries in more than 15 languages. WSET was founded as charitable trust in 1969 to serve the growing educational needs of the UK wine and spirits industry. Courses were first launch in the US in 1994 and today WSET certifications are delivered through a network of 800+ course providers worldwide. In the 2017/18 academic year almost 95,000 students studied with WSET. Read more at

WSET 50th Anniversary Week: Professional Development Mixer at McEvoy Ranch

Save the date. On September 15th WSET alumni and anyone interested in learning more about WSET certification courses are invited to join Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET and instructors Susan Lin, DWSET and Connie Poon, DWSET for a professional mixer celebrating WSET’s 50th anniversary at McEvoy Ranch.

The walk-around tasting and informal information sessions with instructors will run from 3:30 PM – 6:30 PM and are free of charge. RSVPs are requested by September 5th to

The idyllic McEvoy Ranch, located at 5935 Red Hill Rd. in Petaluma, was founded in 1990 by Nan McEvoy and began producing limited-edition wines from the recently-established Petaluma Gap AVA in 2010. Nion McEvoy, Nan’s son, became CEO in 2014 and introduced wines showcasing non-estate vineyard blocks and the Saimuun line of wines imported from Italy. McEvoy expanded their selection of oils and the Culinary Collection which is sourced from neighboring farms and like-minded artisans in 2016.

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of The Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET), the world’s largest wine educator with courses available in over 70 countries in more than 15 languages. WSET was founded as charitable trust in 1969 to serve the growing educational needs of the UK wine and spirits industry. Courses were first launch in the US in 1994 and today WSET certifications are delivered through a network of 800+ course providers worldwide. In the 2017/18 academic year almost 95,000 students studied with WSET. Read more at

Thickheaded Somms: Examining the neuroscience behind expert wine tasting

Among our many activities, wine professionals devote a considerable amount of time to perception, the state of being where we become aware of something through the senses.  According to Neuroenology author Gordon Shepard, wine tasting engages more of our brain than activities like complex math and listening to classical music. Given that activation is how we learn things and sharpen our cognitive skills, it’s no wonder that tasters who spend hours every day activating the neural systems involved in perception make something as difficult as blind tasting look so easy.

Shepherd, a Professor of Neuroscience at Yale School of Medicine, is primarily focused on biomechanics and how the physical act of tasting wine informs our perceptions. His perspective is the flip side of the focus most tasters place on the factors that influence the quality and style of a wine. His work has inspired several columns that have appeared here on the perception of color and how our brains create perceptions of aroma and taste. Anecdotally, I’ve seen firsthand that even a basic understanding of the mechanics of sensory physiology gives students an advantage as they learn to taste analytically and to work more objectively. 

In my own work with a group of adult wine enthusiasts — many of whom have had formal wine education and hold trade certifications — it’s the study of wine faults that opened the doors to a far greater understanding of wine quality and to the molecular world of volatile aromas. Researchers agree that individuals who are adept at naming wine flavor descriptors are better at visualizing and recalling the memories of aromas which, in turn, makes it possible to recognize wines they have tasted previously. Because wine’s distinct taste relies in a large part on volatile aroma compounds and not on molecules that provide nutrition, Shepherd posits that it’s possible for wine drinkers to concentrate exclusively on perceptual details of flavor.

Meanwhile, in a recent study that compared Master Sommeliers’ brains to those of a control group, researchers found that the sommeliers had a “thicker” sensory area. The sommeliers’ brains showed “specialization” in the olfactory and memory networks and these differences suggest that sensory training might result in enhancements in the brain well into adulthood.

When it comes to expanding your perception of wine faults, Jaime Goode’s book Flawless: Understanding Wine Faults is an excellent reference.  One of the most challenging aspects of studying the processes that ruin wine is bridging the world of academic research with the firsthand experiences of winemakers. This is something Goode does very effectively when discussing the complex topics of sulfur and oxidation. Flawless is one of the textbooks I require for the college wine faults classes I’m currently teaching and students like those mentioned above are finding it particularly helpful.  

The 19th-century English artist William Blake wrote “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.”  (Fittingly, Blake’s feelings about mankind’s limited perception of the reality inspired another author, Aldous Huxley, to explore altered consciousness in his book The Doors of Perception.) Throughout history, however, wine’s effect on perception has been most closely tied to a phrase in Latin, in vino veritas, “in wine lies the truth.” Expert or not, most tasters are inclined to agree.

See pdf here –

A Home for “The Prisoner”

The Prisoner Wine Company takes up residence in Napa Valley

From the moment its first 385-case lot was labeled, The Prisoner has been an outlier in the California wine industry. A leading representative of the shift starting in the late 1990s from single-varietal wines to unconventional blends, the brand and its dark, brooding label served as an antidote to the brighter imagery gallivanting across bottles when The Prisoner made its debut in 2000.

Given its track record and staying power, The Prisoner has long been primed for a dedicated winery to accommodate its growth: Since being acquired in 2016, The Prisoner Wine Company’s portfolio has more than doubled its offerings from its original five labels.

Last month, the company formally put down roots at last at its new Napa Valley facility, located on Highway 29 just south of St. Helena. Transforming an existing structure – the former Franciscan Winery – on the property, San Francisco architect Matt Hollis imbued the 40,000-square-foot space with an industrial aesthetic featuring high ceilings, a mix of metal finishes, and an 8-by-57-foot skylight in The Makery, a collection of four light-filled studios for local artists and artisans.

For many of the design elements, Hollis and interior designer Richard Von Saal, a Napa Valley native, drew inspiration from the distinctive branding that spans the company’s portfolio. Their interpretation of the label for the Zinfandel-dominant blend Saldo, for example, can be seen in the red accents interspersed throughout the space.

Graphic wall coverings reminiscent of vines reference cuttings, a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon blend, while the intricate wire sculpture suspended over the center island of the gender-neutral bathroom echoes the label for Thorn, a Napa Valley Merlot blend. Reclaimed wood from the Bay Bridge is also cleverly utilized throughout the building.

As they explore the new winery, those familiar with the look and feel of The Prisoner Wine Company’s branding will find themselves immersed as never before in the company’s ethos. First-timers, meanwhile, will experience a stylish departure from Napa’s typical rough-luxe décor.

Meet the Makers

Beyond the large tasting lounge and the open-view exhibition kitchen, the center of the new facility has been configured into the aforementioned studio space called The Makery, where various pieces have been commissioned exclusively for the space.

Conceived to unite craftsmanship and wine appreciation, The Makery will offer several experiences to consumers that incorporate close interaction with the artists and their respective wares, which, according to Property Director Brigid Harris, are inspired by Napa Valley and The Prisoner Wine Company’s wines.

These guest immersions include The Makery Journey, a 75-minute tour of the vineyard and culinary garden that concludes with a tasting of five wines in The Makery. From Thursday through Sunday, the winery also hosts a food and wine pairing aptly named The Makery Experience, which spans 90 minutes and couples small bites prepared by Executive Chef Brett Young with limited-release wines.

The initial lineup of makers occupying The Makery includes designers Aplat and Carrie Saxl; sculptor Agelio Batle; Napa-based Amanda Wright Pottery; ceramicist Holly McVeigh of RBW Handmade; Melanie Abrantes Designs, which specializes in items made from cork and wood; and Soap Cauldron, an artisanal bath and skincare company.

Among the artisanal food offerings, meanwhile, are organic, hand-milled pastas from Joshua Felciano of Bayview Pasta; Wine Lover’s Jelly, which sources Napa Valley wines for its products; and Tsalt Seasoning, which crafts salts seasoned with various ingredients, including Prisoner Wine Company wines.

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Golden Bordeaux: A triumph with popular snacks

Golden Bordeaux: A triumph with popular snacks

There are two basic, intentional approaches to food and wine pairing: mirroring the flavors and weight of a wine with similar foods resulting in what I like to call “a sublime experience” and contrasting pairings, a “high-risk, high-reward approach” that works the opposite ends of the flavor spectrum for maximum impact. As to which approach results in optimal enjoyment, that’s entirely up to the taster.

Such was the case during a recent #GoGoldenBordeaux tasting hosted by the wine-loving folks at Snooth and Mary Gorman-McAdams MW who provided a primer on the region and key insights in to the vintages and styles. The snack pack that was sent along with the eight wines listed below included a range of bold, spicy treats that provided immediate satisfaction and loads of inspiration for those participating in the virtual tasting. This is one pairing exercise that gave the contrasting approach a run for its money.

With thanks to everyone who participated, I’ve cherry picked some of the most inspired pairings from the comment thread to share here in addition to the snacks we all tasted. When you’re unexpectedly enjoying what you’re tasting, the chemistry behind the success of that experience suddenly becomes more interesting (as long as the explanation only lasts as long as the bite you’re contemplating) but instead of parsing molecules, I took the big picture approach.

I’ve compiled a simple bar graph that ranks the snacks by my perception of the two dominant flavor drivers – intensity of spice and saltiness (as other flavors like earthiness for beets and sweet potatoes and umami for jerkey and salami are more obvious) on a combined scale of one to five.  Not every taster would agree but this is a subjective exercise that we’re attempting to quantify.

Now for the wines. We had a representative tasting that included wines from the Sauternes, Cadillac, Loupiac and Sainte Croix du Mont AOPs:

Chateau Manos Cadillac 2016

Chateau Loupiac-Gaudiet 2016 

Chateau Lapinesse Sauternes 2016

Chateau Filhot Sauternes 2015 

Château la Rame Sainte Croix du Mont 2015

Chateau du Cros Loupiac 2014

Chateau Dauphine Rondillon Loupiac 2011

Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes 2006

The tension between sweet and savory emerged as a theme for the tasting. While many of the wines had freshness, the success of the pairings with these salty, spicy snacks didn’t rely on acidity per se. I’ve compiled a visual tasting note for each wine that represents a consensus on behalf of the tasters (number of times a descriptor was used etc.) of the main sensory attributes of the wine.  How’d I do?

We can see there are very clear differences in the flavor profiles of the wines and, based on the comments of the tasters, we can identify successful and likely to be successful mirrored and contrasting pairings. However, some of the umami-driven snacks like the spicy beef jerkey and the salami seemed to work universally for several tasters.  Let’s break it down.

Suggested pairings with the wines that were youthful and more fruit forward included:

Spicy cabbage salad

Jalapeno chicken chips

Sriracha cashews

Fried chicken

Chicken and waffles

Gorgonzola dolce latte

Goat cheese or gorgonzola cheesecake

Goat cheese crostini with apricot jam

Foie gras

Pork chops

Smoked wings glazed with mustard-maple sauce

Spicy beef jerkey

Calabrese salami

One taster observed that he far preferred “the younger wines (2015 and 2016) that showed more primary fruit and some notes of botrytis with food” and the older vintages (2006, 2011 and 2014) that had a higher percentage of savory (spicy, earthy, herbal, mineral, bready, nutty) as meditation wines.

The wines like Chateau du Cros Loupiac 2014 and Château la Rame Sainte Croix du Mont 2015 that bridged both fruit and savory seemed to be the most versatile. One taster suggested baked ham, something that would perfectly mirror both the sweet and savory umami notes while another went with truffled French fries for this style.

The snacks and suggested pairings for wines with a higher percentage of savory flavors (spicy, earthy, herbal, mineral, bready, nutty) included:

Sweet potato crackers

Beet crackers

Sriracha cashews

Jalapeno chicken chips (salt was off the chart for me here)

BLT dressed with sriracha mayonaise

Pulled pork sandwich

Crawfish etouffee

Fried sweet chili shrimp

Truffled goat cheese, truffles and mushrooms in general



Cinnamon toast

Roast turkey (it was Thanksgiving after all)

Butterscotch budino with salted caramel

Crème brûlée

The take away.  Much to my surprise, acidity and residual sugar the two drivers that typically spell success or failure for food pairings both seemed to take a back seat to the complexity and balance demonstrated by these wines.  I particularly liked the umami flavors with the savory wines and the heat with the more youthful and primary styles.

I hope you’re inspired by this extraordinary tasting experience.