Latest Posts

James the Wine Guy Interviews Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET

Prolific video blogger and wine writer James Melendez tells me that this insightful interview is one of his most popular to date. Read it on his James the Wine Guy site –

Find his highly-rated video blog on YouTube –

Alentejo’s Dark Horse, Alicante Bouschet

As grape varieties go, it’s fair to say that Alicante Bouschet (Ahlee-KANT Boo-SHAY) is flashy in the vineyard. It’s one of the few—along with Chile’s Carménère and Campania’s Piedirosso— whose leaves turn a deep, brilliant shade as the growing cycle winds down.

The resplendent, purple-hued robe of the variety’s canopy emerges when anthocyanins, the same pigments responsible for its red pulp and dark skin, are activated as the vine approaches dormancy.

A relative newcomer to the teinturier family of grapes, which are so named for their red pulp, Alicante has a unique anthocyanin fingerprint. It was bred as an improvement over its grandparent grape, Teinturier du Cher, a variety hybridized by renowned French viticulturalist Louis-Marie Bouschet with Aramon to create Petit Bouschet.

Henri Bouschet continued the experiments of his father in 1866 when he crossed Petit Bouschet with Grenache Noir (known as Alicante in southern France), resulting in Alicante Bouschet and several biotypes.

Alentejo, which covers almost a third of Portugal by area, encompasses roughly 18,000 hectares of vineyards. Last year, the region ranked third behind the Douro and Lisboa (formerly Estremadura) in total wine production, and although Alicante Bouschet is not among the country’s top ten varieties under vine, Alentejo is second only to Spain (where the grape is known as Garnacha Tintorera) in plantings of the variety.

In addition to vineyards, the region’s gently rolling landscape has historically been dotted with cereal crops, olive trees, and cork forests. In this continental climate with very low rainfall, the winters are cold and an ever-present risk of frost extends to the spring season; the hot, dry summers, meanwhile, necessitate irrigation.

A mix of heterogeneous soil types abounds, with outcrops of clay schist, granite, gravel, rañas deposits of sandy, clay loam, and ferrous limestone.
The region’s natural landmarks have helped producers define mesoclimates
ideal for producing monovarietal Alicante Bouschet.

The Vidigueira fault, which marks the border between the Alto Alentejo
and Baixo Alentejo provinces, is a long, east-west-facing escarpment that tempers the warmer southern climate. It’s here that Herdade do Rocim, an estate sited between the municipalities of Vidigueira and Cuba with 60 hectares under vine, produces an Alicante Bouschet expression from vines planted in the 1970s. Traditional foot treading and barrel aging produced a 2016 vintage laden with deep plum and velvety tannins framed by sandalwood and dark spice.

South of the fault lies the 1,700-acre Herdade dos Grous estate; its 70 acres
under vine share the schist soils of the nearby hills of Monte dos Magros. The 2016 Moon Harvested Alicante Bouschet, aged in French oak, illustrates how young Alicante Bouschet tends to show fewer primary aromas. Instead, there’s the promise of tertiary aromas that will develop and even predominate during aging, with bittersweet chocolate, espresso, char, and mulberry on the palate. Moderate acidity helps counterbalance the wine’s grip, and decanting will help release any reined-in aromas.

Alicante Bouschet’s adaption to this terroir has been helped along by its drought tolerant-nature and producers’ shared understanding that this thick-skinned, high yielding variety performs best when it’s planted in low-vigor soils and aggressively pruned.

Traditionally reserved for blending with Aragonez, Castelão, and Touriga
Nacional as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, Alicante Bouschet–dominant wines can be labeled either Alentejo DOC or Alentejano Vinho Regional (IGP). With a total approved vineyard area of 11,763 hectares, DOC wine production exceeds the IGP’s production of 6,233 hectares.

Another producer, Dona Maria Vinhos, bottles an Alicante Bouschet–dominant (50%) DOC Grand Reserva: a classic blend that sees the addition of 20% Syrah, 20% Petit Verdot, and 10% Touriga Nacional. Produced from old, dry-farmed vines planted in iron-rich clay-limestone soils at an elevation of 400 meters, the grapes for the 2012 vintage were foot tread before the wine aged one year in new oak. The firm and lithe result positively vibrates with crisp dark fruit, mocha, and uncured tobacco.

Because of its heritage, Alicante Bouschet contains a higher proportion of
anthocyanins than all of the other international varieties planted in Alentejo and in Portugal at large. With a total phenol index over 60, it ranks among the grapes— including Portugal’s native Tinta Barca and Borraçal, Italy’s Barbera and Corvina, and France’s Tannat—with the highest levels of antioxidant stilbenes known as resveratrol.

The presence of high phenol levels is readily apparent in the mouth coating texture of the 2015 Alicante Bouschet from Herdade São Miguel, whose clay- and schist-based vineyards are surrounded by the cork forests of Redondo. Lighter and more medium-bodied than the wines of southern Alentejo, the wine spends one year in oak and shows a combination of red and black fruit with lavender, nutmeg, and some white pepper.

Highlights from WSET Wine Education Week

The SOMM Journal’s Global Wine Editor, Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET
(’09), recently hosted three professional mixers marking the 50th anniversary of the London-based Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET).

Parker Wong teamed up with three Sonoma wineries—Balletto
, Sangiacomo Wines, and McEvoy Ranch—in welcoming WSET
alumni and students as well as members of the trade to taste and network
during Wine Education Week, held September 9–15. Three lucky attendees were awarded access to a Level 2 online certification course.

The world’s largest wine educator, WSET has more than 700 approved
program providers that deliver its wine, spirits, and saké certification programs in 70 countries and 15 languages.

Parker Wong offers both instructor-led and online Level 2 and Level 3 certification courses and specializes in bringing WSET training to winery staff on site.

Raffle winner Suzanne Martin with winegrower and vintner Steve Sangiacomo and Meghan Delzell, Director of Sales and Hospitality for Sangiacomo Wines. The Sangiacomo family celebrates 50 years of winegrowing this year.
Raffle winner Regina Baker (left) accepts her Level 2 study pack from McEvoy Ranch Event Manager Shannon Frances, who earned her Level 2 certification this year.
Pictured from left to right at Balletto Vineyards are vintner Jacqueline Balletto and winemaker Anthony Beckman with raffle winner Julie Pedroncelli St. John, herself a third-generation vintner.

Falling hard for Petrichor

Even knowing full well that geological minerals (with the exception of
halite, aka sodium chloride) have no smell, we’ve inherited a liking for the smell of petrichor from our ancestors, who relied on rain for their day-to-day survival.

The term, derived from the Greek words petra (stone) and ichor (the blood
of the gods), was coined by researchers Isabel Joy Bear and Richard Thomas in their 1964 paper “Nature of Argillaceous Odour” to describe the scent of rain.

At the time, the source of this particular smell was still unknown to scientists, but it had already been successfully captured in sandalwood oil by an Indian perfumer who called it matti ka attar, or “earth perfume.”

Bear and Thomas, who were working in the Division of Mineral Chemistry at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), mimicked the humid conditions experienced prior to a rainstorm by steam-distilling rocks that had been exposed to warm,
dry conditions.

The experiment produced an aromatic, yellowish oil that shared the same distinctive smell, which the researchers promptly named petrichor—the blood of the stone.

Petrichor is a combination of several fragrant chemical compounds, and while some have yet to be identified, one is 2-isopropyl-3-methoxy-pyrazine (IPMP). Also found in Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, it has a very “rain-like”smell.

Beyond plant oils, the primary contributors to petrichor’s complex aromatics are actinobacteria, a genus of soil-dwelling bacteria. Actinobacteria decompose dead and decaying organic matter into simple chemical compounds, and a byproduct of that activity is the organic
compound geosmin.

When the air becomes more humid and moistens the ground prior to a rainstorm, actinobacteria speed up their activity and produce more geosmin, which is the dominant aromatic compound in petrichor. Also found in beets, it can be considered a flaw or fault when readily apparent in wine and has a very low threshold for human detection
at 5 parts per trillion.

It wasn’t until 2010 that the “petrichor process” was documented on slow motion video by a team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Using high speed cameras, they witnessed how tiny air bubbles are created when a raindrop hits a porous surface; the bubbles shoot upwards, bursting from the drop in a cloud of aerosols that carry volatile aromas (and even bacteria and viruses) found on rocks and soils that are then spread by the wind.

Another compound associated with the smell of rain is ozone, created when lightning or ultraviolet light in the atmosphere splits oxygen molecules that then reform to create trioxygen.

The average human nose can pick out the distinctive smell of ozone—often described as the “clean” smell after a rainstorm—at a concentration
as little as 10 parts per billion; due to this higher detection threshold, ozone can be masked when geosmin is present.

In a subsequent paper, “The Genesis of Petrichor,” Bear and Thomas elaborated on the process by which rocks, clay, and soil absorb organic compounds. Silica absorbs more atmospheric contaminants—compounds
like lipids, terpenes, carotenoids, and other volatile decomposition products— when humidity is low. Those compounds are increasingly oxidized and transformed when it’s hot, and their volatile aroma compounds combine to produce petrichor when humidity increases before and during a rainstorm.

All of the organisms and compounds that have been identified in petrichor can be found in any given vineyard, and as a result, many can also be found in grapes and wine—for better or for worse. But regardless of the result, our appreciation of that unique scent known as earth’s perfume is seemingly innate.

Wine 123: Causation and Detection of Wine Defects Offered at Santa Rosa JC

I’ll be teaching Wine 123: Causation and Detection of Wine Defects at Santa Rosa JC next semester (Spring 2020). Check out our video courtesy of the Distance Learning department’s Emily Hansen –

Fast horses and slow whiskey

It’s not common knowledge that rye whiskey production originated in Pennsylvania and Maryland, where it reached its zenith in the late 19th century. Historically, each state produced a different style: Pennsylvania rye was spicy and bold, while Maryland rye traditionally presented more well balanced flavors.

After Prohibition, rye whiskey almost disappeared altogether. The production of a few surviving brands moved to Kentucky, where an early 2000s revival largely favored the Pennsylvania style. But in 2013, trading on Maryland’s distinct rye pedigree, Sagamore Spirit launched a renaissance of its own.

The name Sagamore—and the brand’s three-diamond emblem—pay homage to Sagamore Farm, an active thoroughbred-racing and -training facility in northern Baltimore County once owned by the Vanderbilt family. The team uses spring-fed water from the farm’s Spring House to proof every bottle of Sagamore at their waterfront distillery in Baltimore’s Port Covington neighborhood.

Corn plays a supporting role to rye in the Maryland-style mash bill. According to company president Brian Treacy, Sagamore relies on two mash bills: One is “high rye,” while the other is “low rye,” a rye-dominant blend that includes corn. The whiskeys are aged separately, blended, and brought to proof with the aforementioned spring water.

Read the article here –

Lyre’s alcohol alternatives take a seat at the bar

Imitation is called the sincerest form of flattery; in the case of Sydney, Australia-based company Lyre’s, which makes a range of alcohol alternative products that mimic classic spirits, it’s an artful homage.

After three years of obsessive research and development by founder
and CEO Mark Livings, Lyre’s will make its debut in California, where—
under the guidance of Global Brand Ambassador Jeremy Shipley—it’s
bound to find a receptive audience. Shipley and Christian Butler, Lyre’s VP
of North America, brought the portfolio to San Francisco for a tasting and to
shed some light on the ingredients behind these doppelgänger spirits.

“The team at Lyre’s collaborated with Australian sommelier David Murphy
to craft and refine the 12 flavor profiles that make up the portfolio,” said Butler, who describes Murphy as their “flavor architect.” Livings and Murphy’s recipes are based on all-natural, botanical essences, extracts, and distillates sourced from all corners of the globe, particularly Germany.

Read the article here –