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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.

Read complete article here –

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.


Exploring North and South American terroirs

There’s a yin and yang to winegrowing in the Americas. As the vines in North America are stirring to life, the vineyards in South America are ready for harvest. As much as Chile and neighboring Argentina have in common with California – namely international grape varieties, plenty of sunshine and oftentimes similar aspects of terroirs – those similarities serve as a point of departure for differentiating the quality and style of New World wines.

To that effect, the stage was set at the Grill on The Alley in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood for a friendly competition between hemispheres. Joining me for a comparative tasting that spanned the depth and breadth of Viña Concha Y Toro’s North and South American portfolios were Italo Jofré, the company’s charismatic Santiago-based Fine Wine Export Manager, and a number of Chicago’s leading sommeliers and retailers.

Our first flight deconstructed the terroirs of two Chardonnays paired with appetizers and a classic Caesar salad followed by an in-depth look at two Pinot Noirs. The tasting then progressed through five monovarietal and Bordeaux blends paired with pan-seared salmon, chicken piccata and composed steak salad.

A Tale of Two Chardonnays

Just 14 miles from the Pacific coastline, the Quebrada Seca Vineyard in the Limarí region lies in what’s known as Chile’s costa (coastal) terroir on the western edge of the Atacama Desert. “This desert is the driest place on the planet,” said Joffre as he explained the terroir factors that create the Marqués de Casa Concha 2016 Chardonnay ($22). “The unique limestone soils of Limarí protect the acidity in the grapes resulting in very fresh wines.”

Given the arid nature of this cool, coastal region, the limestone-rich clay soils also help retain water for the Mendoza-clone Chardonnay vines that are planted on the north bank of the Limarí River.  Viña Concha Y Toro Technical Director Marcelo Papa presses whole clusters and sends just five percent of the wine through malolactic before it spends twelve months in neutral barrels.

“The bright fruit of this unoaked Chardonnay took us by surprise,” said Nancy Sabatini, Director of Wine Education and Sales for Mainstreet Wines & Spirits just outside Chicago. “There was consensus around the table that it was more Burgundian in style with freshness and vibrant flavors of green apple and ripe lemon.”

Limarí has now become Chile’s go-to terroir for Chardonnay and the riper styles have been readily compared to Northern California sites near the Russian River. In Mendocino’s Samel Valley, a narrow, five-mile long valley that was formed as a flood plain of the Russian River, Bonterra’s The Roost single vineyard 2016 Chardonnay ($39.99) is sourced from the biodynamic Blue Heron Ranch vineyard. Sited between the Russian River and a Blue Heron nature preserve, the vineyard lies 50 miles from the coast and sees a significant diurnal swing of as much as 50 degrees during the growing season.  Dijon and Wente Chardonnay clones are planted to alluvial Riverine soils and the Hopland series of sandy loam over Franciscan bedrock of sandstone and shale.

Read the full article here – TouroftheAmericasSJ122018

Fifty Years of Secco Bertani Amarone

When winemaker Andrea Lonardi took the stage at September’s Full Circle Beverage Conference in San Francisco to present a tasting of Bertani Amarone Classico, he had what amounted to a Sommelier Justice League by his side: Master Sommeliers Brian Cronin, Tim Gaiser and Peter Granoff, all of whom provided perspective and humor as they tasted through 50 years of Bertani winemaking prowess.

Born and raised in a vine-growing Veronese family, Lonardi began his tenure at Bertani in 2012. Although he didn’t personally make any of the wines that were tasted during the masterclass — the 2008 Amarone was bottled in 2016 — the pride he showed while presenting them was rather paternal. “The wines we are making today will be presented by another winemaker 50 years from now,” he told attendees.

The Birth of Bertani Amarone

Being both modern and ancient, Amarone is a paradoxical style; its rising popularity and commercialization in the 1950s gave the Valpolicella region a wine of true cult status; one that holds its own next to ageworthy Barolos and Brunellos.

Despite the well-worn anecdotes about the “accidental” discovery of the style, Lonardi contests that it was made quite intentionally at Bertani and, as such, the winery is the birthplace of the style. Amarone was first produced by Bertani after they purchased the Tenuta Novare estate in the heart of Valpolicella Classica in 1958. While the label has never changed, Londari credits climate with driving changes in wine style. “Climate change is a positive for the Valpolicella region,” said Lonardi. “But, I’m missing some of the traditional ‘greenness’ in the wines.”

Read the full article here – Bertani50122018

The breath of life

Oxidation is a garden-variety wine fault, one that’s easily recognized and, thankfully, rarely encountered in most commercial wines that are filtered and sulfured before they hit the shelves. Thanks in large part to the modern, reductive school of winemaking – one that follows the “less is more” rule of thumb, commercial wines are more likely to suffer from various forms of reduction rather than from oxidation.

When I’m tasting and evaluating wine for quality and style, wines that demonstrate a liveliness always seem to stand out. I know them when I taste them, they seem to be innervated by some intrinsic quality that’s not listed on any tasting rubric I’ve ever encountered. It’s more than acidity alone. Simply put, they seem “alive.”

Until now I’ve never attributed that superlative quality to anything in particular: it could be ideal vintage conditions, a particular approach to farming or type of soil, or more likely the whole (meaning the totality of the terroir) being greater than the sum of its parts.  Research is ongoing but until we find and demonstrate a direct link between soil and finished wine quality, attempts to quantify the influence these microbiomes have on wine is mere conjecture.

Read the full article here Breathoflife101118