Tag Archives: WSET Diploma

8 Myths about the Sherry Solera System that even Wine Geeks Believe

“It is what we think we know that keeps us from learning.” — Chester I. Barnard

Screen shot of Sherry Solera system

What I love about wine is that I’m never going to master it. Not even going to come close.

Of course, I’m going to work my butt off to finish my WSET Diploma. After that, perhaps I’ll become a Master of Wine candidate and hopefully earned those MW initials. But even then, the kindling that stokes my wine passions will continue to be the vastness of everything I don’t know.

Perhaps that’s why I get a perverse thrill in realizing that I’ve had something wrong for so many years. More logs for the fire.

And boy did I have a lot of things wrong about the solera system used in Sherry!

Or, rather, I had a very simplistic understanding of it. I knew enough to be dangerous. I had a solid idea of what fractional blending was and why it was done.

Like most wine geeks, I could sketch out that familiar pyramid of barrels. I understood–or at least thought I understood–how the bottom of the solera is never wholly emptied. All the wine pulled for bottling is replaced by the layer above it. Then that layer is refilled from what’s above it until we get to the top layer with the new harvest’s wines.

But that knowledge is about as dangerous as a butter knife.

Clearly, I needed a few whetstones. I found them in my Diploma textbook as well as Julian Jeffs’ Sherry and Ruben Luyten’s phenomenal website Sherry Notes.

Mythbusting #1 – There are no pyramids of barrels.

Sherry barrels photo by Falkue. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Also, barrels are heavy and it’s not practical to have more than 3-4 layers stacked on top of each other.

Take that classic graphic you see everywhere and chuck it out the window. The reality is that each layer (a criadera or scale), is almost always grouped together and kept separate from the other layers. Sometimes they’re even kept in different bodegas. This is done for several reasons.

One consideration is insurance against a catastrophe. Something like a fire in one part of the barrel room or a bodega could take out a whole solera system. Yes, losing an entire criadera itself would be terrible (especially if it is the oldest solera layer). However, that’s nowhere near as devastating as losing all the scales at once.

But there’s also an overlooked winemaking reason as well.

Wines mature differently in different areas. This is true on a macro scale of one bodega in Sanlúcar de Barrameda and another in El Puerto de Santa María–as well as two bodegas across the street in Jerez. But it’s also exhibited on a micro-level between two corners of the same barrel room.

It can even be seen in the difference within a stack of 4 layers of barrels. The bottom two layers, closest to the floor, are always going to be cooler as heat rises. This means that the upper layers will mature faster and experience more evaporation–increasing the concentration of alcohol, body and flavor.

If you’re knowledgeable about whiskey, that’s going to sound awfully familiar. As in Sherry, whiskey producers know that barrels in various parts of the rack house or dunnage warehouse mature differently.

This variance adds complexity and more color to a master blender’s palette. An experienced capataz (cellarmaster) is always keenly aware of the unique terroir in their bodegas. They will spread out the various scales of their soleras to different areas with the right conditions they’re looking for.

Mythbusting #2 – The solera layer isn’t always on the floor either.

The last or oldest scale of a solera is called, somewhat confusingly, the solera layer. This comes from the Spanish suelo and Latin solum which means “floor”. So, of course, all those pyramid schematics feature this layer at the bottom.

But more often you’re going to find younger criadera of Finos and Manzanilla on the actual bottom floor layer. Here they can take advantage of the cooler temperatures and slower maturation. Stacked on top of them might be criadera from a completely different solera of oxidatively aged Amontillado or Oloroso. It makes more sense to put these barrels here since they will benefit from the warmth.

Mythbusting #3 – They’re not partially emptying one barrel into another barrel on the next level.

Now while bodegas want complexity, one overarching theme to remember about a solera is that its primary purpose is to ensure consistency. As we noted above, barrels mature differently. So even two barrels right next to each other could develop unique personalities. That variance isn’t a bad thing, but producers need to control it somehow.

For example, if you’re pulling from Barrel A in criadera 4 to refill Barrel B in criadera 3, then any and all barrel variation exhibited by Barrel A will only be shared with just Barrel B. This is going to compound, rather than smooth out, barrel variations. When you’re aiming for consistency, that’s not good. This is why the rocío (replenishing wine) is hardly ever transferred just straight barrel-to-barrel.

Instead, the wine removed from Barrel A is going to be divided up between multiple barrels in criadera 3 (B, C, D, E, F, etc.).  The video below (1:29-2:20) shows this old-school method. The more modern, mechanized technique is to remove all the saca (wine being pulled) from the various barrels in one criadera and mix them in a tank. Then this blended rocío is evenly portioned out to refill all the barrels of the older criadera.

Mythbusting #4 – It’s not like racking with just pouring the new wine back into the barrel.

Many wine geeks are familiar with what racking is. It’s an easy image to picture taking place in the solera. But you have to remember that with Sherry–particularly biologically aged Finos and Manzanilla–there’s a hitch. You don’t want to disturb the flor.

This is especially vital since another essential purpose of a solera is to sustain a healthy flor by frequently reintroducing fresh wine and nutrients for the yeast.

Therefore you need specialized tools for both the saca and rocío. These tools, the sifon and rociador, dive underneath the layer of flor–but not too deep to disturb the lees at the bottom of the barrel. I mentioned this Jamie Goode video in my post on the Top 5 YouTube Videos on Sherry Wine, but it’s worth revisiting to see these tools in action.

Mythbusting #5 – The new harvest doesn’t go straight into a solera.

It seems so simple, right? You finish fermentation of the new year’s wine, put it into barrel and boom. You’ve got the new baby wine layer for the solera. Ready to go.

Not quite.

The new harvest, añadas or vintage wine, needs to first go through a waiting period. During this time the wine is monitored to see what style it lends itself too. Most wine geeks are aware of an initial first classification where barrels are chalked up as “palma/palo” for lighter styles designated for biological aging or “raya/gordura” for more robust wines destined for oxidative styles. It is at this stage where fortification happens to either encourage flor (15-15.5% ABV) or prevent it from developing (17%).

But the wines aren’t shuttled off to join a Fino or Oloroso solera just yet. Instead, the barrels continue to be observed as part of the sobretablas. This can last anywhere from 9 months to 2 or 3 years. Sometimes even longer. With Finos and Manzanillas, the development and health of the flor are monitored with some barrels getting diverted towards more oxidative styles like Amontillado. For potential Oloroso and Palo Cortado, the body and texture are evaluated. It is this second classification that ultimately determines which solera the wine will be best suited for.

Mythbusting #6 – Likewise, the new harvest isn’t always what goes into the youngest criadera.

Graphic from Denkhenk. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0.

From the Dutch Wikipedia.

Many established soleras, particularly those producing VOS/VORS wines, aren’t replenished by the new year’s wines. Instead, the source for their “new blood” is the already aged products from other soleras.

The reasons for this are quality driven but also quite practical. It requires an immense amount of time to start a solera from scratch with new vintage wines. For very old Sherries, it makes more sense to start and sustain them with wine that has already been significantly aged.

This is also the case with many Amontillados. Producers often will take wine from an established Fino or Manzanilla solera to replenish an Amontillado system. Many Palo Cortados (such as Valdespino’s Viejo C.P.) are made by selecting high-quality barrels from Fino and Amontillado soleras and then feeding them into the Palo Cortado solera. Rarely is a Palo Cortado solera replenished by a new vintage’s wine.

Before busting this myth, I use to wonder why things like a VORS (30+ year aged Sherry) solera didn’t have 30+ scales of barrels. This was driven by my mental-math quandary with the next myth.

Mythbusting #7 – Bottling doesn’t happen once a year.

The input-output of a solera didn’t always add up for me.  It especially seemed complicated by the fact that Sherry producers couldn’t legally drain more than 30% of a barrel for bottling. Factoring loses from evaporation helped the mental math a little. In large soleras, 1 to 2 barrels worth of wine could be lost between criadera levels from the angel’s share. But I always knew that there were some puzzle pieces I was missing.

Learning that soleras are dynamic with barrels moving between different soleras filled in a few of those pieces. But I had to divorce my thinking from the traditional winemaking calendar of bottling a particular wine once a year. Unlike many wines, Sherry is bottled on-demand to meet the needs of the market.

In the case of Finos and Manzanillas, there could be 2-4 or even 6+ bottlings a year.
Flor in a barrel

To maintain a healthy amount of flor, Fino and Manzanilla soleras need regular replenishment from more frequent bottlings.

This ensures that the wine that hits the market is fresh. However, it also helps sustain the vital flor with frequent replenishment of new wine being brought in from the sobretabla. Keep in mind, those producers don’t have to bottle the maximum amount they’re legally able to pull. The saca may only be 10-20% of each barrel or even 5%. Again, depending on the demand of the market.

There doesn’t even have to be any bottling in a given year. This is especially pertinent if there aren’t the sales to warrant putting more bottles out in the market. The wine will just sit there chilling in the solera until there is a need to bottle more. This flexibility to weather dips and booms in demand has been critical in Sherry’s survival.

However, the final piece to my mental math puzzle was the realization that I had to throw the math away. Because…

Mythbusting #8 – The oldest solera layer isn’t always the scale that a Sherry is bottled from.

This was my “son of a bitch” light bulb moment while studying. It was at this point when I realized how spectacularly wrong I was with my thinking about how soleras work. Again, I have to blame those classic pyramid illustrations. They evoke the image of Sherry wine flowing through the criaderas of a solera like a river. The wine enters in as headwaters only to eventually exit into the ocean–bottled and sent out into the world.

But the truth is, the layers of criadera are like ports along the river. Here the wine can be diverted away as irrigation channels to meet price points and stylistic demands.

Legally, a Sherry only has to be at least two years old to be bottled and sold as Sherry. Many times, it’s already reached this minimum at the sobretabla phase. So at any point, with any layer of the solera, a producer can selectively pull wine out to blend and bottle. It doesn’t have to be from that oldest solera layer at all.

Flight of Sherry photo by Michal Osmenda . Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

There is great flexibility in being able to blend and pull from multiple scales of a solera. This allows bodegas to produce Sherry in a variety of styles to meet various price points.

For example, let’s say a producer is making a fairly inexpensive and light Sherry.

The bulk of that wine is likely going to come from young criaderas. It wouldn’t make stylistic or economical sense to pull it from the oldest layer. Though, the producer may pull a little bit from one of the older scales to add complexity. Likewise, even a premium Sherry bottled from older criadera levels may need some wine from younger scales for added freshness.

Of course, there are many Sherries that are bottled exclusively from that oldest solera level. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In many respects, all the various criadera layers are essentially like “reserve wines” in Champagne. Bodegas can selectively pull and blend between them to make multiple Sherries of all different price points and styles.

So, yeah, those pyramid drawings of Sherry that you see everywhere are pretty wrong.

However, they are the most straightforward way of trying to boil down a very complex and dynamic system. It’s not that they’re entirely misleading. They’re just very incomplete.

Realizing how lacking those illustrations are isn’t a reason to get annoyed. Instead, it should be a reason to appreciate Sherry more and get excited.

After all, there’s so much more out there to learn and discover.

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Champagne and Climate Change – is blocking MLF the answer for fresher bubbles?

One of my favorite study techniques is to guess potential questions on exams. Even if my guesses are entirely off, the studying that I do to answer these hypothetical questions is always worthwhile.

Photo by Gzen92. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

While prepping for the WSET Diploma sparkling wine exam in January, I’ve been jotting down a few possible topics. One, in particular, I keep coming back to.

What are some things in the vineyard and winery that Champagne producers can do in response to climate change & riper vintages?

Now the viticulture part of this question is fairly straightforward. There are numerous tacts you can take–beginning with seeking cooler sites (particularly north-facing slopes) and exploring new (or rather historic) grape varieties that ripen later with more acidity. Likewise, houses like Pierre Peters are experimenting with new clones as well. Of course, those require replanting with significant time and cost commitments.

A little less expensive would be changing trellising and canopy management approaches. Raising the fruiting zone higher and leaving more leaves encourages shading, which keeps the grapes cooler. Shade screens (that can also function as netting against birds) as well as using kaolin clay as sunscreen for grapes are other options. Champagne Bruno Paillard is doing an intriguing experiment with using straw in the vineyard to block sunlight from impacting the microflora in the soil.

But taking this question into the winery is a little more difficult–at least regarding Champagne.

Photo by ADT Marne. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Storage tanks at Champagne Joly.
Today many Champagne houses are relying more on higher acid reserve wines to add freshness to their non-vintage cuvees.

In many warm regions, the first tools out of the winemaker’s belt for dealing with overripe grapes are watering back and acidification. Technically, these aren’t permitted in cool-climate (Zones A & B) regions of the EU. However, in warm vintages like 2003, special dispensations can be given.

Other options include blending and various alcohol removal techniques like reverse osmosis and spinning cones. While the former is part and parcel in Champagne, the later may be more challenging to use.

Sweet spotting in wine is highly variable and sensory-driven. Anything done to the vin clair is going to get magnified during the secondary fermentation process–including imbalances with flavor. Plus, it’s important to note that the secondary fermentation adds 1 to 1.5% alcohol to the finished wine as well.

However, as I taste through many Champagnes in preparation for my exam (dreadful work, I know), I find myself being continually drawn to certain bottles. These wines crackle with lively fruit flavors that make an immediate impression on the palate.

Researching further, I found a common link between many of these Champagnes. They all tend to have little or no malolactic fermentation (MLF) done.

How common is MLF in Champagne?

Incredibly common. It’s almost standard protocol for a region that has historically had to battle racy high acidity. Some estimates are that as much as 90% of all Champagnes go through some malolactic fermentation.

Photo by Chris R. Sims (Simsc). Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

While lactic acid formed during MLF is considered a softer acid than malic, it’s important to remember that lactic acid is the critical component in sourdough and turning cabbage into sauerkraut.

Running a wine through MLF can drop the titratable acidity (TA) 1-3 g/l and raise the pH 0.3. This will have a significant effect on the mouthfeel of a Champagne–rounding it out and making it feel less austere. In addition to the tactile characteristics, Champagnes that go through full malo tend to have more dried fruit and nutty aromas to go with the brioche and buttery pastry traits of this style.

But more than just seeking the smoother, rounder mouthfeel that MLF brings is the importance of stability. Beyond consuming malic acid, the Oenococcus bacteria gobble up any residual nutrients left in the wine that could be prey for spoilage organisms. As noted above, secondary fermentation is like a high power magnifying glass that makes every quirk, characteristic or flaw of the vin clair more apparent.

However, running Champagnes through malolactic fermentation hasn’t always been standard in Champagne.

As Peter Liem describes in his book, Champagne (one of the five essential books on Champagne), MLF only became widespread in the 1960s.

This coincided with the renovation of many wine cellars with modern technology like stainless steel tanks that could regulate temperature better. MLF is inhibited in cold temperatures below 55°F (13°C), so being able to warm the must in winter is critical. Likewise, inoculated cultures that were more predictable and dependable became widely available. Many consumers found the Champagnes that went through full malo were richer and approachable younger–encouraging more experimentation with MLF.

Rebels or Vanguards?

Several houses did buck the trend of adopting MLF though. The most notable of these are Alfred Gratien, Gosset and Lanson. However, in recent years, Lanson introduced some styles with partial malo.

Photo by ADT Marne. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The barrel room at Champagne Lanson

Gosset has also started to take the approach of Krug and Salon in that they don’t encourage MLF, but don’t actively try to prevent it either. This means that some batches may go through malo but, on the whole, the style of house is non-malolactic.

Krug is an interesting case. Because despite the ambivalence towards intentional MLF, their house style is decidedly rich and powerful like many full MLF wines. This is partly because of their use of small (205L) oak barrels to ferment in, extended lees aging and, in the case of their multi-vintage Grande Cuvée, the extensive use of reserve stocks.

As I went through my tasting notes, I found several of the partial-to-no-MLF houses similarly make use of oak barrels. These include Gratien, AR Lenoble, Bérêche, Camille Savès, Eric Rodez, Lanson, Laherte Frères, Nicolas Maillart, Perseval, Savart, Thevenet-Delouvin, Vilmart and Louis Roederer. Most intriguing, though, was that these Champagnes rarely tasted oaky.

Instead, these wines were fresh & vibrant with a searing expression of fruit character that felt lost in many of their “rounder” cousins. In a world of circles, these were wines with edges. They stood out and, in a crowded market place, that’s always a plus.

But the big question is–with rising temperatures and riper vintages pushing down acidity, are we going to see more wineries deliberately blocking malolactic fermentation?

Champagne houses that practice partial and no MLF

While I’ve mentioned several above already, here is the full list of Champagnes that I’ve encountered so far who don’t do full malo on all their wines. If you know of other estates, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get them added to the list.

To my fellow wine students, I highly recommend making it a priority to taste Champagnes with little to no MLF side by side with their more prevalent malo counterparts. You can definitely pick up the stylistic differences.

Gosset Grand Reserve

Gosset Grand Reserve Brut.

Alfred Gratien
AR Lenoble (partial though in recent vintages it has been blocked completely)
Bérêche et Fils
Besserat de Bellefon
Guy Charlemagne (partial)
Gosset (Most no MLF. Partial with Brut Excellence NV)
Krug
Laherte Frères (partial for some cuvees. Completely blocked on others.)
Lanson (partial for Black Label. Completely blocked on others)
Roger-Constant Lemaire
Nicolas Maillart (partial)
José Michel & Fils (partial)
Louis Nicaise (partial)
Franck Pascal (partial)
Pehu-Simonet
Perseval-Farge (partial)
Eric Rodez (partial)
Louis Roederer (partial with the Brut premier and sometimes Cristal rose. Completely blocked on others.)
Salon
Frédéric Savart (partial)
Camille Savès
Thevenet-Delouvin (partial)
Vazart-Coquart & Fils (partial)
J.L. Vergnon
Maurice Vesselle
Vilmart & Cie
Philipponnat

Frederic Savart Champagne

Frédéric Savart L’Ouverture Brut

BTW, while researching this piece, I found that Tyson Stelzer’s article “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble” answered my hypothetical WSET question almost perfectly. If you’re a WSET Diploma student, his site is well worth checking out.

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Terroir Sundae

As a wine student, I’m always knee-deep in terroir. Working through the WSET Diploma, the enduring question that runs through every wine is: Why are you the way you are?

Ice cream sundae by National Cancer Institute. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD-author

The TL;DR answer is usually “Terroir”-that vague French word which encapsulates all the natural elements of a vineyard and vintage. Over the last couple of decades, that term has evolved like the ice cream sundae from a soda float of “somewhereness” to 3 scoops of soils, topography and climate topped by a cherry of tradition.

Fantastic stuff for study guides and wine books but dreadfully boring for wineries trying to reach the lucrative Millennial market.

Somewhereness still matters. But not in the way we think.

Terroir is essential, no doubt. Ultimately the quality of the sundae depends on the base ingredients that are the foundation for the whole dish.

Spanish wine bottled in France

Is it Spanish? Is it French? Secretly Aussie? Most folks aren’t going to care as long as it’s tasty and a good value.

However, wine writers, such as Master of Wine Tim Atkin, have long noted that the increasing globalization of wine (and the general apathy of consumers) is making those folks who are genuinely interested in the nuances of terroir a minority.

But across the world, wineries still need to find ways to stand out from the pack–to trumpet their distinctiveness. They still need to give consumers a reason to choose their sundae over all the other sundaes and derivatives out there.

So why not lean in hard on the quality ingredients you’re using? After all, isn’t that what everyone else is doing?

However, those aren’t the questions that wineries should be asking. They certainly aren’t the questions that most Millennial wine consumers are asking. Instead, with so many options competing for attention and wallets, the more pertinent question is, “How hard am I making it for consumers to enjoy my terroir sundae?”

Spoonfed

Wine is a unique commodity in that we willingly create multiple barriers to entry. There are price points and availability, of course, but also a substantial education barrier.

To really “get” the differences between various terroirs and why some wines are worth hunting and paying more for, requires a fair degree of knowledge on the consumer’s part. It’s a level of expertise that we routinely take for granted. There is this assumption that if a consumer likes wine, then they’ll eventually “get serious” enough to invest time and effort into learning about it.

Meanwhile–while we’re waiting for consumers like those pesky Millennials to “get serious”–we still desperately want them to enjoy (and buy!) our sundaes. “You want something distinctive? Here is our world-class terroir with a unique combination of natural factors that gives our wine a ‘sense of place’!”

Jaxon with a cupcake

Granted, it could still be a fun experience. But maybe not the kind of experience worth splurging for top-shelf stuff.

But without the “utensil” of education needed to understand those natural factors and what makes them unique, we’re basically just giving consumers a sundae with no spoon. Sure, they can dig right in, but it’s going to get messy.

Don’t forget the cherry on top.

However, there is one part of the sundae that you don’t need any help or utensils to enjoy–and for many, it’s the best part.

The cherry.

It’s the stories, traditions and people behind the wine. While often overlooked, this is still an immutable part of the terroir sundae. But, more importantly, it’s the tangible part that consumers don’t need a long spoon of wine education to devour.

This is because people relate to people. Even if the stories and traditions are worlds apart from their own, it is far easier for folks to connect to these human elements than it is to soils, topography and climate.

It’s also the one part that every winery can absolutely nail with their marketing message–regardless of how spectacular the rest of their terroir really is.

Your sundae might not have hand-churned, French vanilla ice cream sourced from grass-fed cows that received daily deep tissue massages. But fresh homemade Maraschino cherries make even store brand scoops tastier.

Likewise, you might not have vineyards in the blessed terroir of Chablis, Barolo, Hunter Valley or the Stags Leap District, but remember that consumers are going need a long spoon to dig into what makes those sundaes special.

So work with what you have and don’t forget the best part.

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Introducing the Mystery Grape Game

A lot of my writings the past few months have been focusing on wine business and marketing topics. That’s always been an interest of mine that I’ve enjoyed exploring. But it’s also an area that I need to stay up on as part of my WSET Diploma studies and eventual attempt towards getting a Master of Wine.

IG Mystery Grape clue James Busby

All the images used in this post will come from a recent Mystery Grape. Can you figure out the grape?

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust and the Institute of Masters of Wine were both founded by figures in the wine trade and while their certifications require a broad depth of knowledge on grape varieties, wine styles, regions, winemaking and viticulture–the nature of the business of wine is always in the backdrop.

In fact, it is this inclusion of the global business of wine that most separates WSET and MW certifications from those of the Court of Master Sommeliers–which focuses instead on service topics.

I’ll still be doing regular Geek Notes and other general wine features on the blog. But I’ve started to focus a lot of my geekiness over on the SpitBucket Instagram account where I’ve launched a Mystery Grape game using the IG story feature.

So what is it?

There’s really not much online in a game format to help high-level wine students. A lot of wine games are tailored more towards newbie wine lovers. For myself, I was looking for a game to help with both blind tasting as well as deep-level wine knowledge of grape varieties.

I didn’t find what I was looking for, so I created it.

IG Mystery grape straw bears

Be sure to look for secondary & tertiary aroma clues as well as primary notes.

Using photos featured on IG, I’ll post up to 10 clues relating to the identity of a particular wine grape. Players can answer by replying to the IG story or on a specific IG post that I do when the second batch of clues are live.

The next day I’ll highlight who got the correct answer first as well as other folks who got it right. I’ll also explain in the congratulation post many of the clues and often highlight a particular wine that exhibits a lot of the notable traits of the Mystery Grape.

It’s meant to be challenging.  For the first batch of clues, I’m aiming for WSET Diploma/Advance Sommelier level knowledge with easier WSET 2 & 3/Certified Sommelier clues coming towards the end.

If you don’t get it, that’s alright. A lot of folks won’t. But I guarantee that you will learn something regardless.

Below I’ll give you some tips as I explain the game.

Here’s How It Goes.

Monday through Friday I’ll launch the game with the first clue being a wine map. This is going to be our starting base and is often an area that folks will encounter blind tasting examples from.

I’m going to feature plenty of grapes that aren’t included in blind tastings, but I do regularly reference the Court of Master Sommeliers’ list of Probable Red Grape Varieties and Probable White Grape Varieties. If you’re a wine student and don’t already have those pages bookmarked, you should bookmark them now.

The next 3 to 4 clues will be aroma and flavor clues.
IG Mystery grape clue apple

It’s crazy how many white grape varieties have apples as a primary flavor.

Here is where I’m often going to get a little tricky because I’m not going to give you the dead-giveaway notes right away. I’m not going to post pictures of black currant, tobacco leaf, anise and cedar off the bat if I’m talking about Cabernet Sauvignon. Nor am I going to show you a map of Piedmont and then post pics of cherry, roses and tar for Nebbiolo.

Those items might come later on when I get to the WSET 2/3 level clues. But here I’m going to focus on some of the important but less obvious notes including young primary and secondary flavors as well as tertiary notes that come with age. I might also skip around the globe a bit. Many of these grapes are grown in multiple places and Diploma/Advance Sommelier candidates need to know those different notes.

However, the majority of the clues will pertain to the map region with other flavor notes being connected to regions that get brought up in subsequent clues.

Most of these clues will come from my own tasting notes of these grape varieties, but I will sometimes reference Neel Burton’s The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting, Rajat Parr’s The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste and the Oxford Companion to Wine.

The last clue (#6) of the first batch is usually a context clue.
IG mystery grape honey wax clue

This pic actually contained two clues that were fairly specific to a particular white Australian wine grape. It referenced both the nature of the grape and an unique aging note.

Many grapes within a wine region will have similar flavor profiles. I can have a map of France with notes of red plum, blackberry, tobacco, pepper and chocolate and it could refer to dozens of grapes. So I need to narrow the focus a bit. I’ll do that by tossing in a clue that is relatively specific to the Mystery Grape–such as that this grape can also be found in the Veneto, Abruzzo and Puglia regions as well. (If you have an idea of what grape I’m talking about, post it in the comments).

Almost all these context clues are going to come from Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes. For Italian wines, I also like using Ian d’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy. Both books are must haves for wine students.

Now sometimes from this first batch, there will still be multiple contenders even with the context clue. Folks can take a stab at it, trying to be first. It depends on how generous I’m feeling with what kind of feedback I’ll give you if you’re wrong. Sometimes you might just have to wait for the next batch of clues.

Second Batch of Clues

Clues 7-10 will be more context clues hitting on history, wine styles and additional regions that our Mystery Grape is associated with. These often will tie back to the first batch of clues in some way.

And these clues will be easier–including more WSET 3 knowledge with at least clue 10 going down to WSET 2/Certified Sommelier/Certified Specialist of Wine level.

IG Mystery Grape Israeli wine.

Admittedly this was a little hard for a Clue 9, but it was something that googling would give the answer away to.

At the launch of the second batch of clues, I will do a separate Instagram post that will also go out on the SpitBucket Twitter account highlighting a particular clue and letting folks know if someone has already guessed correctly.

Timing

I’ve been testing this game over the last month and found that I have players in the US, Europe and Australia.  That pretty much makes a perfect time impossible. So I’m going to err on the sake of my sanity and go with the timing that works best for my schedule.

I’m in Paris so I will launch the game with the first batch of clues between 11 am to Noon CET. That will be 5-6am New York, 2-3am Seattle and 7-8 pm Sydney.

I know that kind of sucks for the Americans. But take solace in knowing that the first batch of clues is usually difficult enough that the Mystery Grape is often not solved until the second batch is posted.

The second batch will be released between 6-9 pm Paris time. That will be Noon-3 pm New York, 9 am to Noon Seattle and 2-5 am Sydney. Here is where it kind of sucks for the Australians but there have been some savvy Australians who have gotten the Mystery Grape with the first batch.

Again, my apologies that outside of Europeans, there is always going to be time zone issues for someone. But, hey, in the end, it’s all about having fun and learning something. The IG stories last up to 24 hours before they’re deleted so anyone can play at any time.

The best way to approach it is to set a personal goal of trying to guess the grape with as few clues as possible. Then try to beat your best the next day.

A Few More Tips

IG Mystery Grape saffron

At first blush you might think this is a clue for a blue floral note. But the other clues are referencing a white grape.
However, look at the user name from the image @saffron.tabuma. That and clicking on the image to look at the tags, should help you realize that this is saffron. This note come out in certain white wines that have been “influenced” by something.

If you don’t understand a clue, it’s always a good idea to click on the picture and go to the original image page. Often the caption and #hashtags will give more context. I’m very deliberate in which image I choose and usually I will select images with specific hashtags.

Plus, sometimes the image I select is from an album of pictures taken by the Instagram user. I don’t consider those other album photos when I choose the clue image. But I have seen many times where they provide insight into wine regions that the Mystery Grape is associated with. Plus, they are usually cool images to look at too.

It’s okay to Google. Especially with the second batch, there is almost always a google-able detail that will lead you to the Mystery Grape. It’s not cheating if it helps you learn something.

Don’t expect the obvious, but also don’t overthink it. Yes, this game is meant to be challenging. But sometimes your gut from the first batch of clues turns out to be right. The same thing often happens with blind tasting. You never want to lock yourself in on one answer too early before you’ve fully evaluated the wine. However, you should always take note of what your gut instinct was.

Intrigued?

You can head over to Instagram now to take a look at today’s game. There you will also see posts from several of the last few games featuring grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malvasia, Grolleau, Zinfandel, Pinot blanc, Rondo, Petit Verdot, Pinotage, Albarino and more.

You will see both “clue posts” as well as bottle pic congratulation posts. Those latter posts will explain many of the clues along with a featured wine made of the Mystery Grape.

BTW, how did you do?

Could you guess the French grape with some Italian flirting that I used as an example in the “Clue 6” section? Or how about the previous Mystery Grape referenced in the article’s images? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Geeking!

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Geek Notes — Twitter Wine Chats To Follow

Yeah, I know. Twitter can be a bunch of noise and nonsense. But like with every social media platform, it’s only as useful or useless as you make it. One way to steer Twitter towards the former is by checking out the wine-themed Twitter chats that happen every week. These chats offer an excellent opportunity to learn more about wine and to connect with other passionate wine geeks.

Photo By Jamie from Birmingham, AL, USA - DSC_6519, CC BY 2.0,

That latter point is key because the more good wine accounts you follow–and engage with–the less drudge and drivel you’ll find in your feed. I don’t fully understand all the wonkery behind Twitter’s algorithms that decide what you see and when you see it. But I can vouch that my feed got populated with a lot more quality wine content as soon as I started participating in more Twitter wine chats.

What the heck is a Twitter wine chat?

Twitter chats are virtual meet-and-greets centered around a common theme. They are usually hosted by a blogger or someone in the industry who moderates the discussion and may feature a special guest. While they can feel like a free-for-all, there are some etiquette rules and coordination (which I’ll discuss below) that adds structure.

But the biggest thing to remember is that they are open for everyone to participate. You don’t have to be a blogger or someone in the wine industry to share your thoughts or follow the conversation. In fact, these chats are often greatly enriched by the presence of non-industry folks because it helps break the bubble that the wine world is prone to inducing.

Somm Chat page

Many chats have a primary Twitter account (such as this one for #SommChat) where you can see when the next chat is and who the featured guest will be.

What’s in it for me?

For the regular wine lover, there are several benefits of participating in Twitter wine chats. As we already noted, a significant one is finding more great wine accounts to interact with. But others include:

1.) An escape from the real world to get your geek on for at least an hour.

Cause that’s what social media is all about–an escape. Rather than keep scrolling, hitting like and moving on, you can actually have some real wine convos with other like-minded folks. Often these chats are fun, even silly, little breaks from everyday life.

2.) Learning about new wines and recommendations.

Though I will add one huge caveat here as many wine chats are sponsored by wineries or regional associations. For the most part, blogger participants are upfront in noting that the wines they’re talking about have been sent to them as samples or that a post they’re linking to was paid for. But sometimes that can get hazy.

Keep an open mind but be aware that just like with everything on the internet, there are often other angles at play. That said, there are a lot of independent commentaries in these chats. I’ve seen many bloggers give very blunt and truthful assessments of sample wines. But I’m not going to lie. There can be a little dog & pony show fluffery in some of these sponsored chats. However, I wouldn’t be personally following or interested in any of the ones I listed below if there wasn’t enough substance to keep me satiated.

What’s in it for wine students?

Wine students absolutely need to have a global perspective on what is happening in the wine world. This makes participating in wine chats with users across the globe a sorely-needed benefit. For myself, as an American now living abroad, every week that I check out the #UKWineHour, I’m always startled at how different the UK wine scene is compared to the US. From pricing/discounting to marketing approaches, it’s like a whole other world.

Suddenly it made sense why I struggled my first-go-around with the WSET Diploma unit on the Global Business of Wine. My American-centrism was a huge blind spot for me. Apart from actually going to London, participating in the #UKWineHour chat has been one of the best answers to that blind spot.

Even outside of the chat times, the #ukwinehour hashtag is well worth following.

Chat Etiquette and Tips

Most chats will kick off with some housekeeping rules about how the topic of the day is going to be discussed. Often these involve the host asking questions which are usually numbered (Q1, Q2, etc.) with chat followers responding by labeling their answers in a similar fashion (A1 to respond to Q1, A2 for Q2 and so forth).

The key is always to include the hashtag. What I try to do is keep my cursor highlighted on the chat’s page so that I can copy & paste it first into the response box with a couple of clicks. This is important because the hashtag is the lifeblood of the chat and what tethers everything together.

Pink society page

My low-tech solution for remembering to include the hashtag. Just keep a page open with the tag highlighted.

Without it, you’re mainly talking into the void and will be mostly baffling the folks who follow your regular feed. It’s also a courtesy for your followers who may want to mute the hashtag for a short time because, honestly, feeds can get pretty spammy during chat hours.

My secret? Multiple tabs

I’m sure there are more tech-savvy ways to juggle Twitter wine chats, but I take the simple three tab approach.

1.) One tab opened with the #hashtag set on the latest tweets.
2.) One tab on my notifications so I can respond to things personally directed at me.
3.) One tab on my regular Twitter feed where I can type out a message that isn’t a direct response to someone.

Three tab system

My three tab system. Probably not the most elegant solution but, eh, it works.

This works well for me, but anyone that has their own system is welcomed to share their secrets in the comments.

A couple more tips.

Don’t feel like you have to respond to everything or answer every question. However, if someone does tag or responds to you directly, it is polite to at least acknowledge them with a like. But you can do this after the chat is over by going back through your notifications.

Try to keep your conversations under the chat hashtag on topic. This is where chats can quickly go array. If a great side conversation emerges between you and other users, just drop the hashtag from your replies.

Be considerate of mobile users, especially when replying with gifs and videos. This can make participating in chats brutal when you don’t have the best internet connection. There have been some chats when the gif spam is flying and I just have to check out.

Twitter Wine Chats

The chats below are ones that either I personally participate in or am interested in following because wine folks who I respect have recommended them. Part of the reason why this post exists is to be my own personal cheat sheet of when these chats happen and the relevant hashtags.

I have them ordered based on days on the week they usually happen on–starting with Monday. Times listed will be in PST (West Coast US), EST (East Coast US), BST/GMT (British Standard Time) and CET (Central European Time–where I am).

#winemktmonday

Moderated by wine educator Jessyca Lewis with, as the name suggests, a wine marketing focus and centered around a featured guest. This is another great chat for wine students to follow.

Time: 9 am PST, Noon EST, 5 pm BST, 6 pm CET on the 2nd & 4th Mondays of the month.

#WiningHourChat

Weekly chat hosted by three bloggers, Li, Cara & Maggie, who also run the @WiningHourChat account. This is one that I haven’t personally followed or observe much as the time makes it pretty impossible for those of us in Europe to participate in. They cover various topics and will sometimes have featured guests.

Time: 6 pm PST, 9 pm EST, 2 am BST, 3 am CET most Tuesdays.

#winestudio

Moderated by wine educator Tina Morey (@winestudioTINA) this chat has been on hiatus for a while, but it is slated to start back up on June 4th. It usually takes place on Tuesday with a weekly topic.

Time: 6 pm PST, 9 pm EST, 2 am BST, 3 am CET most Tuesdays.

#SommChat

A weekly chat moderated by the Keeper Collection in Texas (@keepercoll) under the @sommchat account. This is definitely geared more towards sommeliers and other industry folks with featured guests and a geekier bent than a lot of other chats.

Time: 9 am PST, Noon EST, 5 pm BST, 6 pm CET most Wednesdays.

#UKwinehour

Moderated by Sorcha Holloway who also runs the @ukwinehour account. This is a weekly chat with a mix of featured guests and discussions on a topic of the week.

Time: 11 am PST, 2 pm EST, 7 pm BST, 8 PM CET most Thursdays except during parts of August and Christmas.

#PinkSociety

Founded by Dave Razzari (@_drazzari) and moderated by the #PinkSociety Twitter handle (@thepinksociety_) with Lin (@boozychef) and Joe Florez (@jflorez), this is more of a social chat. It’s kind of like a drinking party on Twitter that everyone is invited to. Can be a great source for wine humor and fun accounts to follow. Often sponsored by wineries.

Time: 6 pm PST, 9 pm EST, 2 am BST, 3 am CET every 3rd Thursday, except in the summer when it’s every other Thursday. Next chats will be 5/30/19, 6/20/19 and 7/11/19.

#ItalianFWT

A monthly event with a different blogger hosting. They feature a discussion of the Italian wine topic of the month with many bloggers participating by writing additional articles and reviews.

Time: 8 am PST, 11 am EST, 4 pm BST, 6 pm CET on the 1st Saturday of the month.

#winepw

A monthly food and wine pairing event with a different blogger hosting. Often this event is sponsored with bloggers pairing sampled wines with various food dishes. An excellent chat for foodies but, be forewarned–it will make you hungry.

Time: 8 am PST, 11 am EST, 4 pm BST, 6 pm CET on the 2nd Saturday of the month.

#winophiles

Basically the French-themed counterpart to the #ItalianFWT chat. A monthly event with a different blogger hosting. Sometimes they select the topic, but other times it may be sponsored by a winery or regional association.

Time: 8 am PST, 11 am EST, 4 pm BST, 6 pm CET on the 3rd Saturday of the month.

Know of any others?

I’m always looking for good chat recommendations. Post your favorite Twitter wine chat down below in the comments, when it takes place and why you think it’s worth following.

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Women, Wine and Twitter — Great Accounts To Follow

In my early Twitter days, I would pretty much follow anyone with “wine” in their bio–wineries, writers, news sites and other personalities. But I’ve gotten far more selective over the years as I started to view my Twitter feed as a tool.

Photo by MainlyTwelve. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

I’m on here nearly every day looking for new content to devour. Above all, I want to find engaging conversations that encourage me to think more deeply about my sentiments on wine. Admittedly, I don’t always find that amidst the noise and other rubbish that can populate the site.

However, in the waning hours of International Women’s Day, I wanted to highlight the accounts that are written by women which do provide me the intriguing content and conversations I crave.

While this may appear to be fairly exhaustive, it’s far from it. I created a list on the SpitBucket Twitter page titled “Women Wine Twitter” which features many more accounts.

I’m always looking to add more so if you know of someone that I missed, add their names in the comments below.

Rules for Inclusion

The women listed below are accounts that I follow myself. As I noted above, I try to be somewhat selective in my follows. My criteria for following is dependent on an account being active, engaging and mostly wine focused.

I understand how outside life can get in the way. But I have little interest in following an account that only tweets once or twice a month if that. Even more important than activity, though, is the quality of the content. I want to get something out of the accounts I follow–whether that be learning something new about wine, an inspiration for a post or a reason to think about things in a different way.

All of the accounts listed below deliver on those criteria and are well worth following.

Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers

Sadly not too many Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers are really active on Twitter. Quite a few fall into the “tweet every once in a while” mindset and it seems like most Master Sommeliers have migrated over to Instagram.

But the ones below are a few notable exceptions that I’ve found.

Jancis Robinson (@JancisRobinson)

The Beyoncé of Wine. Need I say more?

Sarah Abbott (@SarahAbbottMW)

Sarah is a Master of Wine who posts reasonably regularly about various tastings she’s attending, MW affairs, timely news articles as well as posts from her Swirl Wine Group blog.

Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan MW (@JediWineMaster)

By far, the coolest wine name on Twitter. And it’s a moniker that Simonetti-Bryan certainly lives up to as evidenced by her tweets and fabulous Rosé Wine wine book (which I reviewed here).

Elizabeth Gabay MW (@LizGabayMW)

One of the foremost authorities on rosé wine, I also get quite a bit of insight into the European market and politics from following her Twitter feed. Recently, she was in the Canary Islands where she posted a great pic of the many old-school styles of vine trellising still used on the Spanish islands.

Debra Meiburg MW (@DebraMeiburgMW)

Debra is an Asian-based Master of Wine who comments on various aspects of the wine industry. Her Twitter feed is always an excellent source for keen insights such as the quotes she pulled from Laura Catena’s recent seminar in Hong King.

Photo by Asianpalate. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-3.0

Jeannie Cho Lee

Jeannie Cho Lee MW (@JeannieChoLee)

The first Asian Master of Wine, Jeannie is a frequent contributor to Decanter and the Robb Report. While her Twitter feed has its fair share of bottle porn, I appreciate that she adds some context and details to describe all the fabulous wine she is drinking. It’s always nice to know that your sentiment on Cristal is shared by a Master of Wine.

Pascaline Lepeltier (@plepeltier)

Along with Alice Feiring, Pascaline authored the Dirty Guide to Wine and is a big advocate of Natural Wine. She is also an evangelist for the wines of her native Loire Valley including the incredibly underrated Chenin blanc grape. Bringing more attention to Chenin is a mission that I can certainly get behind!

Wine Business and Marketing Mavens

Rebecca Hopkins (@beckhopkinswine)

Rebecca is a long time industry vet who frequently comments and retweets articles about important happenings in the industry. A native Australian, she’ll often tweet about some of the silly ways that Australian wines and other beverages are marketed.

Cathy Huyghe (@cathyhuyghe)

The co-founder of Enolytics, many of Cathy’s tweets (as well as her articles for Forbes and other publication) are business and data-driven. I particularly like the way that she tends to cut through the noise to show unique perspectives about hot-button wine topics such as her post in January about diversity in the wine business.

https://twitter.com/VinoSocialNancy

Screenshot of Nancy Croiser’s Vino Social Twitter page.

Nancy Croisier (@VinoSocialNancy)

Nancy is a long time marketing specialist who runs Vino Social which helps wineries better utilize social media. Her mission is one close to my heart and such a vital component in regaining the lost storytelling of wine. Needless to say, her Twitter feed is a master class in savvy social media use and is well worth following for anyone in the wine business.

Jessyca Lewis (@JessycaLewis)

Jessyca is a wine educator with a business and marketing focus. Every other Monday she hosts interviews and moderates conversations about wine marketing topics under the #winemktmonday hashtag. For anyone wanting to learn more about the business, particularly in the US, this is a must-follow.

Polly Hammond (@mme_hammond)

Along with Reka Haros and Felicity Carter (mentioned below), Polly usually gets tagged and contributes to really informative and interesting wine conversations on Twitter. It makes sense way given her background in the marketing world running 5forests in New Zealand.

Melanie Ofenloch (@dallaswinechick)

A professional marketing consultant in the Dallas area, Melanie is a fixture at many tasting events where she interacts with industry folks such as Anne Bousquet from Domaine Bousquet. Her Twitter feed features a lot of pics and her thoughts from these events as well as useful retweets of interesting wine articles.

Brilliant Women Winemakers and Winery Owners

Reka Haros (@RekaHaros)

Reka owns Sfriso Winery with her husband in the Treviso region of Venice. But she has a background in marketing and advertising which gives her great insights as well. She contributes to some of the best Twitter convos happening in the wine industry (IMO). Like this recent thread about a Harvard Business Review article on wine consumers that was stirring up controversy.

Treveri blind bottles

Don’t be misled by the bling display bottles, there is some seriously good sparkling wine being made here.

Julie Grieb (@cuveetirage)

Julie owns the Washington State sparkling wine producer Treveri with her husband and is an alum of Sonoma University Wine Business Management program. While a lot of her tweets, understandably, focus on sparkling wine (including highlighting the super cool single-vineyard Pinot Meunier bottling from Alfred Gratien) she also participates in a lot of fun win convos.

WOWSonoma (@wowsonoma)

This Twitter account highlights women-owned wineries in Sonoma. But their tweets often extend beyond Sonoma including a directory of women-owned wineries across the US.

Sarah Garrett  (@SerranoWine)

I’ve mentioned Sarah on the blog before because of her skillful marketing to Millennials. Together with her husband Brice, they run a winery down in Paso Robles that specializes in Rhone varieties. Their Twitter feed gives great behind-the-scenes insights into all the hard work that goes into maintaining a vineyard and running a winery.

Lori Budd (@Dracaenawines)

With her husband Michael, Lori runs Dracaena Wines in Paso Robles. While their wines have won many awards, so has her blog which has expanded to a podcast that features interviews with winemakers and other industry folks. She was also the spark plug behind the development of Cabernet Franc Day.

Elizabeth Vianna (@ChimneyRockWine)

I may get an opportunity to meet Elizabeth in early May when I do an interview tour with producers of the Stags Leap District AVA. I’ll be completely honest; it will be tough not to fangirl out if that happens. She is such a tremendous winemaker who injects a lot of personality into her wines that can also be seen on her twitter feed like in this behind-the-scenes post from a UC-Davis seminar conducted by Dr. Linda Bisson (another rockstar).

Kronos vineyard

The Kronos vineyard outside Corison’s tasting room in St. Helena.

Cathy Corison (@cathycorison)

So I actually did fangirl out when I met Cathy. I couldn’t help it. She is such a legend in the industry and one of the kindest, most humble voices you will ever meet. Her feed is not only worth following for her insights but also links to great articles like this write-up on Elaine Chukan Brown (a marvelous wine writer worth following as well @hawk_wakawaka).

Amelia Ceja (@AmeliaCeja)

Pioneering owner of the Napa Valley winery Ceja in Carneros. She is the first and only Mexican-American woman to own a winery, earning honors at the Smithsonian.

Good Sources For Wine News and Other Perspectives

Anyone that follows the SpitBucket Facebook page knows that I’m a news junkie. If you’ve ever wondered where I get many of the articles I post and comment on, it’s from the feeds of these ladies below.

Esther Mobley (@Esther_mobley)

As the wine critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, Esther holds a lot of sway in the California wine industry. But what I love is that she doesn’t lord over her domain with a pen but instead looks for the humanity behind each story such as her incredibly thought-provoking piece on migrant female workers’ role in the California wine industry. More recently, she wrote a very touching tribute to the late Stags Leap District icon, John Shafer.

Jane Anson (@newbordeaux)

Jane is the lead Bordeaux writer for Decanter and, frankly, I think she is the best Bordeaux reviewer currently in the business. When I was reviewing Bordeaux Futures offers for the 2017 campaign, I found her detailed reports and honest assessment of this uneven vintage to be the most informative and useful. While there are a lot of great writers on Bordeaux, if you want to only follow one–follow Jane.

Kelli White's Napa book

My Christmas present last year was Kelli White’s 1255 page tome on Napa Valley. It’s a beauty!

Kelli Audrey White (@kelliwhitewine)

One of the lead writers on GuildSomm, her articles are can’t miss reads. The amount of background research and details that she puts into her work is inspirational. Simply put, I want to be Kelli White when I grow up.

Felicity Carter (@FelicityCarter)

The editor-in-chief of Meininger’s Wine Business International, Felicity Carter is one of the most influential women in wine. I can only imagine how jammed pack her schedule must be but she still manages to find time to contribute to many thoroughly engaging wine conversations on Twitter. In fact, it was one of her tweets that inspired my Wine & Politics — Strange Bedfellows or Drinking Buddies? post.

Becca Yeamans-Irwin (@TheAcademicWino)

Along with Lewis Perdue, Becca curates the daily wine news fetch for Wine Business Insight. On her blog, her posts aptly take an academic bent focusing on scientific studies and literature related to the beverage industry–such as this review of social media use on Facebook by wineries in Sicily.

Dorothy J. Gaiter (@winecouple)

With her husband, John Brecher, Dottie wrote the Wall Street Journal’s wine column for 12 years and is still producing outstanding content on her Grape Collective site. She also pioneered “Open That Bottle Night” which has even been immortalized on Jeopardy!

Jill Barth (@jillbarth)

Jill’s work is featured in Wine Enthusiast, Decanter, Forbes and USA Today. Her Twitter feed is a smorgasbord of highly informative news articles from many different sources–as well as many different topics like this uber geeky piece on the genetic history of yeast strains used in beer.

Michelle Williams (@Fiery01Red)

In addition to her Rockin Red Blog, Michelle also writes for Snooth, Forbes and other publications. Like most great writers, her Twitter feed is very well-curated with links and retweets to many interesting articles as well as her own work.

Liza Zimmerman (@LizaWineChick)

A longtime writer and wine educator, Liza brings a wealth of experience and insight to her writings. On sites like WineSearcher.com and Forbes, she often gets inside scoops and valuable interviews on leading wine topics–like the recent MS scandal.

Lauren Mowery (@chasingthevine)

Lauren is an MW student who also contributes to Wine Enthusiast, USA Today, Forbes and other publications. You’ll often find her posts being retweeted and circulated around the Twitter-sphere. Among her many great articles was this recent interview with Nicole Salengo, winemaker for Berryessa Gap Vineyards.

screenshot of Seven Fifty Daily's twitter page

I’m shocked at how few people are following Seven Fifty Daily’s Twitter feed right now.
There is some seriously good stuff being published here.

Katherine Cole (@kcoleuncorked)

A leading voice on Seven Fifty Daily, Katherine wrote a tremendous piece on legendary French wine importer Martine Saunier that is a must read any time of the year. But it particularly fits for Women’s History Month. Seven Fifty Daily is becoming one of the top resources for compelling content and Katherine (along with editor-in-chief Erica Duecy @ericaduecy) is a big reason why.

Wine Bloggers/Media Conference Discoveries

Noelle Harman (@outwinesblog)

Noelle is a fellow WSET Diploma student who chronicles her journey on her Twitter feed and blog, Outwines. The name comes from the terrific outlines of major wine regions and wine styles that she has created for her exams–which she freely provides for anyone to use. Without a doubt, one of the best things that any wine student can do is to bookmark that page I just linked and incorporate these outlines into your studies.

Luciana Braz (@WineTalkGroup)

I met Luciana at the Wine Bloggers Conference and love following her feed which includes pictures and videos from her travels and dining. But instead of just posting boring old bottle porn, she includes fun stuff like this Madeira Wine Tower that I would probably have the same expression as she does here upon seeing.

Nancy Koziol (@WriterNancy)

Nancy gave the best and most informative presentation of WBC18 about the importance of good writing and how it affects your Google traffic. That talk and her follow-up correspondence with me has helped me immensely in becoming a better writer. If you are a long time reader, you may have noticed the change in my writing from early October 2018 to after. A considerable part of that is because of Nancy.

Amanda Barnes (@amanda_tweeter)

Amanda is a Southern Hemisphere-based wine writer who also gave another great presentation at WBC18. Her account is a must follow to gain insights on dreadfully underreported areas of wine. Especially with wine students, it is so easy to get so Euro and USA-focused that you overlook the cool stuff that is happening in places like Uruguay.

Mo Blum (@MoWino_com)

While I’ve not had the privilege of trying her dishes, Mo looks to be a fabulous cook and she frequently posts about her creations and wine pairings. She’s recently branched out into publishing short cooking tips videos on how to use wine in your cooking that are hugely informative.

Crushed Grape Chronicles (@CrushGrapeChron)

Robin Renken runs the Crushed Grape Chronicles blog with her husband, Michael. They not only post great content that seeks out the backstory of wine but their Twitter feed is a source for fun articles from a variety of publications.

Aspiring Winos (@aspiringwinos)

While Anne is a bit more active in her Unique Gifter account (@UGifter), she posts fun stuff about her and her husband, Jeff’s, journey in learning more about wine.

Cayuse En Cerise

I also have to admire Sandi’s wine picking skills. At my “free-for-all” cellar clean out party last month she nailed it with this 2012 Cayuse En Cerise.

Decanted Podcast (@DecantedPodcast)

Sandi Everingham is one half of this podcasting team that I not only follow on Twitter but subscribe to on Overcast as well. Back in December, I did a review of the Decanted Podcast. What particularly impressed me was how well intuned that Sandi and Dave were in the happenings of the Washington wine scene. That savvy come through in their tweets as well as their podcast.

Liz Barrett (@LizBChicago)

Along with the incredibly charming Odd Bacchus, Liz frequently posts hilarious video wine reviews on a broad range of topics. One recent one that I liked was a blind tasting of musician-related wineries like Sting’s Il Palagio and Constellation Brands’ Dreaming Tree which features Dave Matthews lyrics on its labels.

Diane Roberts (@Positive_Vines)

A Dallas-based blogger, Diane’s posts feature not only great photos and insights from her travels but also a lot of fun stuff about her experiences in the Texas wine and beverage scene.

Drinky LaRue (@Winelover0227)

If you’re looking for the joie de vivre of wine, check out Drinky’s Twitter feed and blog. At its core, wine is about sharing great times and great memories with friends which Drinky does in her posts, retweets and convos. She also brings you to some terrific tasting events she attends that may make you feel a wee bit jealous.

Wine Travel Eats (@winetraveleats)

With her partner David and frequent blog contributor Wendy Baune (@GrnLakeGirl), Amber produces excellent content and gorgeous photos on her Wine Travel Eats and companion sites.  She covers a broad spectrum of topics. One recent favorite was her post on Sherry wine.

Leeann Froese (@leeannwine)

As co-owner of Town Hall Brands in Vancouver, British Columbia, Leeann brings a lot of marketing savvy and insights to her posts. She’s one of my go-to sources on what is happening in the BC wine scene.

Thea Dwelle (@Luscious_Lushes)

Thea was an icon at the WBC and it was easy to see why. She has been producing great content on her blog for years which she frequently posts on her Twitter feed–like this recent revisiting on her exploration of the Mencia grape in the Bierzo region of Spain.

Margot Savell (@WriteforWine)

Margot is one of the original Washington wine bloggers that I’ve been following for more than ten years. While she is a fixture in the Washington wine scene, she posts about a variety of wine topic including all the fun discoveries she is currently having on her Australian tour.

US-Focus Bloggers

Kirkland Wine Gal (@kirklandwinegal)

A Pacific Northwest blogger, a lot of Kirkland Wine Gal’s tweets are Washington focused–including this fun Buzzfeed-like quiz from Woodinville Wine Country about “What Woodinville Wine Are You?”. Apparently, I’m Cabernet Sauvignon which will make a handful of readers chuckle.

Amy Lieberfarb (@amylieberfarb)

Amy is a Sonoma-based blogger who gets tagged in many great wine conversations, particularly under the #sonomachat hashtag. These convos feature fun back and forth chats about food and wine pairing as well as some gorgeous photos of wine country life. She also posts and retweets a lot of helpful wine articles.

Kathy Wiedemann's Twitter

Screenshot of Kathy Wiedemann’s Twitter page.

Kathy Wiedemann (@Virginia_Made)

A passionate advocate for the wines of Virginia, Kathy’s Twitter feed is a great introduction and inspiration to learn more about the wines of Thomas Jefferson’s home state. But even beyond Virginia wine, Kathy is a frequent instigator and contributor to a lot of engaging wine convos including this recent one on Orange wine.

Elaine Schoch (@thecarpetravel)

Elaine is a Denver-based travel writer who runs Carpe Travel. Here she publishes unique content about exciting places including one on the growing New Mexico wine industry.

Jacqueline Coleman (@HistoryandWine)

Jacqueline has another great Twitter handle and her posts often combine her love of history and wine like this recent link to an article on the Coravin blog about the origins of the Grenache grape.

Rupal Shankar (@Syrah_Queen)

Another great Twitter handle but Rupal tweets about more than just Syrah. A recent fav of mine was her post about Nero d’Avola in Sicily.

Nancy Brazil (@MsPullThatCork)

In addition to running her blog, Nancy is a big reader of wine articles from across the globe and posts the best content she finds–including a fantastic piece from Wine Enthusiast about notable first among women in the wine industry.

The Swirling Dervish (@theswirlingderv)

Lauren Walsh is another WSET Diploma student that is a geek after my own heart. Not only does she create great content but I love when she shares tidbits about unique wines she comes across like this white (yes, white!) Cabernet Franc.

Cathie Schafer (@SideHustleWino)

This is another Twitter handle that makes me smile when I see it appear in my news feed. Cathie has a keen eye for interesting wine reviews and photos that she retweets. She also produces fun articles like this recent write-up of the Santa Cruz Pinot noir that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle served at their wedding.

Bloggers Across The Globe

Elena Amigo (@sommenite)

Elena looks to be an Argentine-based sommelier as many of her tweets (often in Spanish) are about wine reviews and producers in Argentina. But she also has a good following list and will often retweet articles from other accounts that I might otherwise miss on my dash.

Steph (@Winellennial)

Steph is a London-based blogger who seeks out and posts lots of great wine news articles. A recent favorite of mine that her feed brought to my attention was a post about winemakers in Chile training dogs on how to sniff out TCA in new corks.

Fran Marshall (@thefoodmarshall)

Fran is an Australian based blogger that brings a great perspective on Southern Hemisphere wines. She’ll post about wines that she’s drinking and retweet fun stuff from wineries she follows like this mesmerizing cascade of Shiraz berries from Clonkilla.

Travelling Corkscrew (@TravelCorkscrew)

Casey at Travelling Corkscrew is an Aussie blogger who I’m glad to be following.  This is one of the few ways that I get to learn about all the fantastic, small production Australian wines that rarely make their way to the US. She also brought to my attention the existence of National Drink Wine With Your Cat Week.

Allison Wallace (@allison_wallace)

A Canadian blogger, Allison’s Twitter feed is another terrific source for retweets and links to interesting articles. She’ll also do posts from her blog such as her recent interview with Mari Womack of Damsel Cellars, a fantastic female winemaker from Washington State.

Kirsten MacLeod (@TheKirstenMac)

Kirsten is a WSET Diploma student based in London that takes a global perspective to wine in her tweets and retweets. One article that she recently brought to my dash was Miquel Hudin’s piece on the follies of blind tasting Priorat wines.

Savor the Harvest twitter page

Screenshot of Savor the Harvest’s Twitter page

Savor the Harvest (@savortheharvest)

Lynn, with her partner Mark, is based in Bordeaux and writes about their experiences in one of the benchmark wine regions of the world. In addition to wine, she also post and retweet fun food articles like this interesting piece about cocoa butter.

Jacky Blisson (@JackyBlisson)

Jacky is a Montreal-based MW candidate and wine educator. She posts on a variety of topics, including links to her YouTube wine education channel.

Folks you’re probably already following but are still worth a mention

Lettie Teague (@LettieTeague1) — Wine columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

Ella Lister (@EllaLister) — Founder of Wine Lister.

Maureen Downey (@moevino) — The foremost expert on wine fraud.

Cathrine Todd (@damewine) — At nearly 22,000 tweets and comments, one of the most prolific voices in the Wine Twittersphere.

Kelly Mitchell (@KellyMitchell) — With over 21,500 tweets, the Wine Siren is not that far off either from Dame Wine and contributes quite a bit to the wine convos on Twitter.

Boozychef (@boozychef) — But with almost 250,000 tweets, it is clearly Boozychef’s world and we’re just living in it.

Wedding photo

Getting married with the Wine Bible.
Photo by Neil Enns of Dane Creek Photography.

Karen MacNeil (@KarenMacNeilCo) — The author of THE Wine Bible–which I actually got married with. Seriously!

Meg Maker (@megmaker) — Founder of the Terroir Review.

Tia Butts (@WineInkByTia) — Napa-based wine communicator and host of Farmers Fresh Hour on KVON 1440 am

Fiona Beckett (@winematcher) — Decanter contributor and host of the Batonnage podcast.

Natalie MacLean (@NatalieMacLean) — Longtime wine pro and manager of her eponymous site.

Joanie Metivier (@Joaniemetivier) — Creator of the Wine Regions Coloring Book.

Amy Corron Power (@WineWonkette) — Photojournalist and editor of Another Wine Blog.

Leslie Sbrocco (@lesliesbrocco) — Bay Area-based wine communicator featured on many television shows and publications.

Wine Harlots (@WineHarlots) — A wine site with a humous bent run by Nannette Eaton.

Alice Feiring (@alicefeiring) — Leading Natural Wine advocate and author of numerous wine books.

Elizabeth Schneider (@NormalWine) — Host of the Wine for Normal People podcast which I review here.

Lisa Perrotti-Brown (@LisaPBMW) — Editor-in-chief of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

Madeline Puckette (@WineFolly) — Founder of the wine education site Wine Folly.

Who did I miss? Be sure to comment below on who you think is worth following!

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Winery Tasting Notes Done Right

JJ Williams of Kiona Vineyards did a terrific write-up on the problem with winery tasting notes. If you own a winery, this is a must read. Tasting notes are certainly one of the necessary evils of selling wine.

Photo by Simon A. Eugster. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Next time you’re at a wine shop, look at back labels. Try to count how many times you see the words chocolate, mocha or cacao used in tasting notes.

For wine students, particularly those studying for Unit 1 of the WSET Diploma on the Business of Wine, it’s helpful to critically examine the usefulness of these notes.

Whether on the back label or website, we should ask if tasting notes really help consumers in selecting wine. Do flourished descriptions of flavors, bouquet and mouthfeel help distinguish one winery’s wine from its thousands of competitors?

Do they answer the important question of “Why should I buy this wine?”

Probably not.

In his post, Williams notes the usual results of these tasting notes.

Enter the wine marketer. We interject ourselves into the equation by telling you what to do, and how you’re going to do it. If I say, “now this Cabernet has a really nice chocolate note,” there are three potential outcomes that I think are the most likely:

1.) The power of suggestion is very strong. If I say chocolate, you taste chocolate.
2.) You don’t taste chocolate. You’ve been eating chocolate for a long time, and this is not that. Since I am speaking from a position of authority, you decide you’re doing something wrong, and slowly nod your head in faux agreement.
3.) You don’t taste chocolate. You’ve been eating chocolate for a long time, and this is not that. You are suddenly aware that your eyebrow is twitching because you’ve just realized that I must be full of $*%#. You slowly nod your head in faux agreement.

None of these are good outcomes.
— JJ Williams, Hitting the Wrong (Tasting) Note?, 12/11/18

What are the benefits of telling consumers that a wine has notes of chocolate? Sure, there may be a halo effect on the wine from positive associations with chocolate. That may help someone pick up a bottle. But there is also a risk of negative associations backfiring too. Back in my retail days, I once had a customer get turned off by a wine described as chocolaty because she was lactose intolerant. (Yeah, I know.) But you get the same issues with virtually every descriptor.

If you think of the tasting note, on a website or bottle, as valuable real estate—are overly common (and, ultimately, subjective) words like “chocolate” truly worth that space?

Putting That Real Estate To Work.

Photo by Aromaster. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Some winery tasting notes feel like they threw darts at the Aroma Wheel and wrote down what they hit. I once had a California red blend with a back label describing flavors of orange blossom, fig, hazelnut, chocolate (*ding*) and hay.

Consumers pick up bottles to read back labels and will often visit wineries’ websites to buy wine or find more details. This space is valuable. Extremely so.

As much attention and care that a winery puts into crafting stylish front labels and web-page design, should be put towards their tasting notes as well. Wineries need to leverage this space.

Writing the same boring tasting notes populated with platitudes and whatever descriptors they get from the Wine Aroma Wheel is not going to cut-it. Wineries have to give consumers a reason to take home their wine over the multitudes of other bottles being described with those same tasting notes.

A tasting note should convey what sets one “balanced, Bordeaux-style wine [that] coats the palate with a velvety richness and fine tannin structure” apart from every other balanced, velvety rich and finely tannic wine.

Otherwise, it is just blowing the same useless marketing BS that virtually every other bottle is blowing. Where is the consumer being helped in this?

Outside the Bottle — In the Consumer’s Cart

Williams highlights a brilliant approach that Kiona uses in crafting their tasting notes. They categorize their “wine speak” into what relates to “Outside the Bottle” details and what pertains to the more vague and subjective “Inside the Bottle” experiences.

1.) Outside the Bottle. This category encompasses everything that is interesting about a wine that happens outside the bottle. Vineyards, geography, growing philosophy, winemaking goals, winemaking process, blending process, etc.
2.) Inside the Bottle. This category encompasses everything that the drinker experiences once the cork is pulled.

We make a concerted effort to talk about the “OtB” aspects of a wine only. This extends up and down our operation, including our website, our tech sheets, our tasting room collateral, our employee training and our general vernacular. In the rare circumstances where we dabble in “ItB” language, it’s almost always in generalities. You might read something along the lines of “fresh black fruit characteristic”, but never “brambly vine-ripened summer blackberries.” — JJ Williams, Hitting the Wrong (Tasting) Note?, 12/11/18

Kiona's Lemberger tasting note

Example of Kiona’s “Outside the Bottle” approach for their Lemberger.

Inside the bottle, almost all wine is the same–especially before a consumer pulls the cork. It has potential and possibilities but every wine is promising potential and possibilities.

However, what is outside the bottle makes the wine unique. It’s the people, the place, the story and craftsmanship that sets it apart from each and every other bottle.

That is real estate that pays for its space.

Examples of Tasting Notes That Work

On their website, Kiona has several examples where they use “Outside the Bottle” tasting notes to make their wines distinctive and interesting. One I particularly like is for their Lemberger shown above. This is a bloody hard wine to sell because of the name. But Kiona gives some intriguing history as well as details about what makes their Lemberger different from other domestic examples and Austrian Blaufränkisch.

Personality Not Platitudes
Upside Down Malbec's tasting note

I don’t know why but “Dead Poplar” sounds like an awesome vineyard name.

Upsidedown Wine by Seth & Audrey Kitzke note that their 2014 Gold Drop Malbec is made from one of the fastest growing varieties in Washington State. That piques curiosity. Why are people so excited about Washington Malbec? Maybe I should buy a bottle and find out.

The tasting note also shares that the wine has some Petit Verdot (another grape getting a lot of buzz) blended in to make it distinctive from other Malbecs. Additionally they highlight the small production (only 98 cases) and single vineyard sourcing. While it does have the typical big dark fruits and pepper descriptors of many other Malbecs, those notes act as side bars rather than the main feature.

For their 2016 Viognier, Serrano Wines injects a ton of personality into their tasting note by sharing that this wine was inspired by drinking Guigal’s Le Doriane Condrieu.

Instead of being grown with the typical cordon or guyot vine training methods that most domestic Viogniers use, Serrano points out that they’re using a special tee-pee (or eschalla) training common in Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie. (Their website has pictures of this unique–and very labor intensive–vine training.)

While many consumers are not going to care much about vine training, Serrano’s tasting note works by highlighting why the consumer should care–i.e. why this bottle of Viognier is different from all the other options they have.

That is leveraging every bit of precious real estate to stand out from the pack.
Serrano Viognier tasting note

When evident care is put into crafting a great tasting note that tells a story, it tells the consumer that a lot of care went into crafting the wine as well.

Instead of being a “necessary evil”, tasting notes can be tools.

Wineries should follow the advice of JJ Williams of Kiona. They shouldn’t farm this task to marketing departments writing the same blathering blurbs. They need to think “outside the bottle” and use these notes to tell consumers their stories.

Of course, wineries will benefit by selling more wines. But consumers will benefit as well from better tasting notes.

Instead of standing in an aisle, reading label after label of fruit-forward, divinely complex, approachable and exceptionally food-friendly and layered aromas of black currant, blueberry and cherry [that] are accentuated by an authentic barrel bouquet of hazelnut, cocoa powder [ding], and dark roasted coffee, they actually get words that have value and meaning.

They get words that tell them something–about the people and place this wine comes from. Most importantly, they get answers to the question that all consumers have when they pick up a bottle.

Why should I buy this wine?

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Geek Notes — Five Essential Books On Champagne

Champagne is the benchmark for all sparkling wine. Any wine student studying for advance certifications needs to be able to explain what makes Champagne unique. They also should be familiar with important producers–both big houses and influential growers.

Important Champagne books

While there are certainly online resources available, few things top a great reference book that can be highlighted and annotated to your heart’s content.

One of the best tips for wine students (especially on a budget) is to check out the Used Book offerings on Amazon. Often you can find great deals on wine books that are just gently used. This lets you save your extra spending money for more wine to taste.

Since the prices of used books change depending on availability, I’m listing the current best price at time of writing. However, it is often a good idea to bookmark the page of a book that you’re interested in and check periodically to see if a better price becomes available.

Here are the five most essential books on Champagne that every wine student should have.

Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine by Tom Stevenson & Master of Wine Essi Avellan (Used starting at $29.97)

The Christie’s encyclopedia is ground zero for understanding the basics about Champagne (production methods, styles, grape varieties, etc). But, even better, it is a launching pad for understanding the world of sparkling wine at large and seeing how Champagne fits in that framework.

While Champagne will always be a big focus of most wine exams, as my friend Noelle Harman of Outwines discovered in her prep work for Unit 5 of the WSET Diploma, you do need to have a breadth of knowledge of other sparklers.

In her recent exam, not only was she blind tasted on a Prosecco and sparkling Shiraz from Barossa but she also had to answer theory questions on Crémant de Limoux and the transfer method that was developed for German Sekt but became hugely popular in Australia & New Zealand. While there are tons of books on Champagne, I’ve yet to find another book that extensively covers these other sparkling wines as well as the Christie’s encyclopedia.

Changes in the new edition
Chapel Down wine

Global warming has made England an exciting region for sparkling wine. The revised edition of Christie’s Encyclopedia has 17 page devoted to the sparklers of the British Isles.

Tom Stevenson wrote the first Christie’s Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine back in the late 1990s. That edition tallied 335 pages while the newest edition (2013) has 528 pages with more than half of those pages covering other notable sparkling wine regions like England, Franciacorta, Tasmania and more. The new edition also has a fresh perspective and feel with the addition of Champagne specialist Essi Avellan as a significant contributor.

In addition to covering the terroir and characteristics of more than 50 different regions, the Christie’s encyclopedia also includes over 1,600 producer profiles. The profiles are particularly helpful with the major Champagne houses as they go into detail about the “house style” and typical blend composition of many of their wines.

Champagne [Boxed Book & Map Set]: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroirs of the Iconic Region by Peter Liem. (Used starting $36.57)

The long time scribe of the outstanding site ChampagneGuide.net, Peter Liem is the first author I’ve came across that has taken a Burgundian approach towards examining the terroirs of Champagne.

For a region that is so dominated by big Champagne houses who blend fruit from dozens (if not hundreds) of sites, it’s easy to consider terroir an afterthought. After all, isn’t Champagne all about the blend?

But Champagne does have terroir and as grower Champagnes become more available, wine lovers across the globe are now able to taste the difference in a wine made from Cramant versus a wine made from Mailly.

In-depth Terroir
Pierre Gerbais Champagne

Several of the most delicious Champagnes I’ve had this year have came from the Côte des Bar–like this 100% Pinot blanc from Pierre Gerbais.
Yet, historically, this region has always been considered the “backwoods” of Champagne and is given very little attention in wine books.

Liem’s work goes far beyond just the the terroir of the 17 Grand Cru villages but deep into the difference among the different areas of the Côte des Blancs, Montagne de Reims, the Grande Vallée, the Vallée de la Marne, Côteaux Sud d’Épernay, Côteaux du Morin, Côte de Sézanne, Vitryat, Montgueux and the Côte des Bar.

Most books on Champagne don’t even acknowledge 6 of those 10 sub-regions of Champagne!

Not only does Liem discuss these differences but he highlights the producers and vineyards that are notable in each. No other book on Champagne goes to this level of detail or shines a light quite as brightly on the various terroirs and vineyards of Champagne.

The best comparisons to Liem’s Champagne are some of the great, in-depth works on the vineyards of Burgundy like Marie-Hélène Landrieu-Lussigny and Sylvain Pitiot’s The Climats and Lieux-dits of the Great Vineyards of Burgundy, Jasper Morris’ Inside Burgundy and Remington Norman’s Grand Cru: The Great Wines of Burgundy Through the Perspective of Its Finest Vineyards.

Liem’s book also comes with prints of Louis Larmat’s vineyard maps from the 1940s. While I’m a big advocate of buying used books, these maps are worth paying a little more to get a new edition. This way you are guaranteed getting the prints in good condition. I’m not kidding when I say that these maps are like a wine geek’s wet dream.

Bursting Bubbles: A Secret History of Champagne and the Rise of the Great Growers by Robert Walters (New available for $18.14)

I did a full review of Bursting Bubbles earlier this year and it remains one of the most thought-provoking books that I’ve read about wine.

Photo by victorgrigas. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

If you think I get snarky about Dom Perignon, wait till you read Walters take on the myths surrounding him and the marketing of his namesake wine.

Walters believes that over the years that Champagne has lost its soul under the dominance of the big Champagne houses. While he claims that the intent of his book is not to be “an exercise in Grandes Marques bashing”, he definitely heaps a fair amount of scorn on the winemaking, viticulture and marketing practices that have elevated the Grandes Marques to their great successes.

Throughout the book he “debunks” various myths about Champagne (some of which I personally disagree with him on) as well as interviews many of influential figures of the Grower Champagne movement.

While there is value in Bursting Bubbles from a critical thinking perspective, it is in those interviews where this book becomes essential for wine students. There is no denying the importance of the Grower Champagne movement in not only changing the market but also changing the way people think about Champagne. Growers have been key drivers in getting people to think of Champagne as a wine and not just a party bottle.

Serious students of wine need to be familiar with people like Pascal Agrapart, Anselme Selosse, Francis Egly, Jérôme Prévost and Emmanuel Lassaigne. Walters not only brings you into their world but puts their work into context. While other Champagne books (like Christie’s, Peter Liem’s and David White’s) will often have profile blurbs on these producers, they don’t highlight why you need to pay attention to what these producers are doing like Bursting Bubbles does.

Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times by Don and Petie Kladstrup. (Used starting at $1.90)

In wine studies, it’s so easy to get caught up in the technical details of terroir, grape varieties and winemaking that you lose sight of a fundamental truth. Wine is made by people.

Of course, the land and the climate play a role but the only way that the grape makes its way to the glass is through the hands of men and women. Their efforts, their story, marks every bottle like fingerprints. To truly understand a wine–any wine–you need to understand the people behind it.

Photo scan from a postcard with unknown author. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under Anonymous-EU

During the height of World War I, when the vineyards and streets of Champagne were literal battlefields, the Champenois descended underground and lived in the caves that were used to aged Champagne.
This photo shows a makeshift school that was set up in the caves of the Champagne house Mumm.

While there are great history books about Champagne (one of which I’ll mention next), no one has yet brought to life the people of Champagne quite as well as the Kladstrups do in Champagne.

Set against the backdrops of the many wars that have scarred the region–particularly in the 19th & 20th century–the Kladstrups share the Champenois’ perseverance over these troubles. Even when things were at their bleakest, the people of Champagne kept soldiering on, producing the wine that shares their name and heritage.

If you wonder why wine folks have a tough time taking sparkling wines like Korbel, Cook’s and Andre’s (so called California “champagnes”) seriously, read this book. I guarantee that you will never use the word Champagne “semi-generically” again.

It’s not about snobbery or marketing. It’s about respect.

But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World’s Favorite Wine by David White (Used starting at $6.00)

David White is known for founding the blog Terroirist. He gives a great interview with Levi Dalton on the I’ll Drink To That! podcast about his motivations for writing this book. While he acknowledges that there are lots of books about Champagne out on the market, he noticed that there wasn’t one that was deep on content but still accessible like a pocket guide.

While the producer profiles in the “pocket guide” section of the book overlaps with the Christie and Liem’s books (though, yes, much more accessible) where White’s book becomes essential is with his in-depth coverage on the history of the Champagne region.

A Tour of History
Photo from Département des Arts graphiques ; Sully II, Epi 5, Fonds des dessins et miniatures. References Joconde database: entry 50350213446. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD-Art (PD-old-100)

A watershed moment for sparkling Champagne was in 1728 when Louis XV struck down the laws that prohibited shipping wine in bottles. Prior to this, all French wines had to be shipped in casks.
Soon after, as White’s book notes, the first dedicated Champagne houses were founded with Ruinart (1729) and Chanoine Frères (1730).

The first section of the book (Champagne Through The Ages) has six chapters covering the history of the Champagne region beginning with Roman times and then the Franks to Champagne’s heritage as a still red wine. It continues on to the step-by-step evolution of Champagne as a sparkling wine. These extensively detailed chapters highlights the truth that sparkling Champagne was never truly invented. It was crafted–by many hands sculpting it piece by piece, innovation by innovation.

There are certainly other books that touch on these history details like Hugh Johnson’s Vintage: The Story of Wine (no longer in print), Kolleen M. Guy’s When Champagne Became French, Tilar J. Mazzeo’s The Widow Clicquot as well as previous books mentioned here. But they all approach Champagne’s history from different piecemeal perspectives while White’s work is a focused and chronological narrative.

I also love in his introduction how White aptly summarizes why Champagne is worth studying and worth enjoying.

“From dinner with friends to a child’s laughter or a lover’s embrace, every day has moments worth the warmth of reflection—and worthy of a toast.

Life is worth celebrating. And that’s why Champagne matters.” — David White, But First, Champagne

It is indeed and, yes, it does.

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Geek Notes — New Wine Books For December

I apologize for the delay in getting a new post up. This past week had a double wallop of holidays coupled with a nasty bout with the flu bug. But I’ve turned the corner on that just in time to take a peak at some intriguing new wine book releases.

Inside the Chinese Wine Industry: The Past, Present, and Future of Wine in China by Loren Mayshark (Paperback released on Nov. 7th, 2018)
Photo by Hiart. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-Zero

A porcelain wine jug from the early 15th century Ming dynasty.

There is no question that China is already a significant player on the global wine market. Its influence, particularly on pricing, is keenly felt in Bordeaux and Burgundy. As middle class consumption grows, industries like Australia have found the Chinese market to be extremely lucrative for their imports.

But for a country close to the same size as the United States, the potential for domestic production of Chinese wine is immense. The country has already surpassed Argentina, Chile and Australia to be the world’s 5th largest producer of wine.

As an author, Mayshark has a varied background with his previous works tackling the concept of death and the ills of higher education.

While only 174 pages, I suspect this will be a very research heavy book.  Mayshark looks to go deep into the history and culture of alcohol in China. I’m not expecting much terroir and viticultural details but this looks to be a solid intro to a country that is only going to gain prominence on the world’s wine scene.

Port and the Douro, 4th Edition by Richard Mayson (Paperback released on Nov. 26th, 2018)

Mayson’s first edition of Port and the Douro in 1999 quickly became one of the benchmark standards for understanding Port and the often overlooked dry wines of the Douro. Over the years, the text has grown from 320 pages to now 418 pages in the latest volume.

While the Port industry hasn’t quite seen a spike of interest in “Grower’s Port” like we’ve seen in Champagne, there has been more attention paid to vineyards in recent years. While still quite rare, single vineyard or single quinta Ports have been on the rise. In the preface to this latest release, Mayson notes this volume reflects that increased interest.

Though the big shipping houses still dominant, smaller Port producers are gaining traction. Another significant addition to Port and the Douro is an expanded chapter on producer profiles.

Acidity Management in Must and Wine by Volker Schneider and Sarah Troxell. (Hardcover to be released Dec. 17th, 2018)
VA still

Checking volatile acidity using a cash still during my winemaking studies at the Northwest Wine Academy.
If you want to see the still in action, Yakima Valley Community College has a great 9 minute video on it here.

This book is for hard core wine student and folks who are interested in making wine themselves.

When you are looking for winemaking texts, you have two extremes. There are the fairly simple books aimed towards home winemakers that go really light on the science (Jeff Cox’s From Vines to Wines and Jon Iverson’s Home Winemaking Step by Step are two of the better ones) or you have very dense enology textbooks like Roger Boulton’s Principles And Practices Of Winemaking.

There are not many books in the middle with Jamie Goode’s Wine Science being the closest that I’ve found.

Schneider and Troxell’s Acidity Management definitely looks to be more on the textbook side of the equation. However, looking at the pages available on Amazon’s “Look Inside” preview, I’m intrigued at how relatively digestible the science is. It’s tech heavy without being dense. I can see this being a great resource to understand more of the nitty gritty details of winemaking.

Wine Globalization: A New Comparative History edited by Kym Anderson and Vicente Pinilla. (Paperback to be released December 31st, 2018)

This book is high on my radar as I’m gearing up to tackle Unit 1 of the WSET Diploma on The Global Business of Wine. This will be my second go-around with this unit. I realize after my first attempt that a big weakness is how “US-centric” my understanding of the wine industry is.

Featuring over 20 different authors from a wide range of backgrounds, this 576 page anthology truly has a global scope. There are chapters covering traditional markets like France, Germany and the United Kingdom as well as emerging markets in Asia and South America.

Even better, the paperback edition is less than half the price of the hardback or Kindle edition.  I’m definitely going to jump on this before the price changes.

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Geek Notes 10/28/2018 — New Wine Books for November

Let’s take a look at some new wine books coming out next month that are worth geeking out over.

Feel free to also take a gander at the titles profiled in previous months’ Geek Notes for October, September and August. With the holidays approaching, it’s never too early get ideas for great gifts.

Age Gets Better with Wine Third Edition by Richard Baxter. (Hardcover release November 1st, 2018)

Richard Baxter is a plastic surgeon who wrote his first edition of Age Gets Better with Wine back in, honestly, I don’t know.

The oldest date for the 1st edition I could find was in 2007 yet somehow the 2nd edition came out in 2002. My best guess is that the two years were probably switched by Amazon. However, the Google eBooks copy of the 2nd edition dates to 2009. So who knows?

Regardless, quite a bit has changed in our scientific understanding of wine so this 2018 revision will likely have a lot of new material.

This books intrigues me because of the objective approach it appears to take on the many conflicting studies about the role of wine and health. I’ve not had a chance to read either of the two previous editions but I think I’m going to pull the trigger on this one. Blogger Joey Casco of TheWineStalker.net had a great review of the second edition. Describing it as “a wine-science-history geek’s wet dream”, he posted a 2 minute review of the 2nd edition back in 2016.

What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime by Terry Theise. (Hardcover release November 6th, 2018)

Terry Theise is a phenomenal importer who has played a huge role in introducing Americans to the exciting world of Grower Champagne. Additionally, he’s done much to bring attention to the high quality production of small family estates in Germany and Austria.

If you want to learn more about his story, Levi Dalton of I’ll Drink To That! podcast had a fantastic interview with Theise back in 2015 (1:50:22 length).

Pierre Gerbais, a fantastic grower Champagne from the Côte des Bar. The fact that we can find a lot of these gems more easily in the US is because of the efforts of Terry Theise.

Theise’s previous work, Reading between the Wines, was a mix of manifesto and anthology taken from his years of writings for his import catalogs. Now part of the Skurnik portfolio, Theise still regularly writes about vintage years, producer profiles and numerous (often humorous) rants about the world of wine.

Frequently in his writings, Theise expounds on the question that is the title of his current release What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking? What makes a bottle of wine worth the money to procure and the time spent cellaring and savoring? What makes anything worth putting into your body or sharing as part of a moment with loved ones?

Rarely do wine drinkers really stop to think about the answers to those questions. I suspect that Theise’s book will give a lot of food for thought and be a great read.

Good, Better, Best Wines, 2nd Edition: A No-nonsense Guide to Popular Wines by Carolyn Evans Hammond. (Paperback release November 13th, 2018)

This is the updated edition to Hammond’s 2010 release that dived into the world of mass-produced bulk brands and supermarket wines. With the link to the first edition, you can “look inside” and get an idea about her approach and the type of wines being reviewed.

In many ways, I applaud her snob-free approach but I do wonder what audience she is aiming for? Many of the folks who buy the Lindeman’s, Kendall Jackson, Fetzer and Sutter Home wines she reviews aren’t necessarily the folks who purchase wine guides.

While Constellation Brands’ famous Project Genome study of wine buyers found that nearly 1/5th of wine consumers felt “overwhelmed”, these folks were far more likely to seek info on the spot at a retail store versus searching the internet or seeking out a published wine guide.

Likewise, the near third of consumers who fall into the combined categories of “Traditionalists” and “Satisfied Sippers” are already buying their favorite mass produced wines being profiled here. It doesn’t seem likely that one writer’s opinion that Bulk Brand X is slightly better than Bulk Brand Y will sway many people.

Perhaps the 20% of Image Seekers and 12% of Enthusiasts who are more inclined to look at wine guides will be tempted but often these segments of consumers either eventually settle into “Traditionalists” and “Satisfied Sippers” or move beyond the $15 & under category this book focuses on.

Good, Better and Less Snobby
Photo by Robbie Belmonte. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

You may not like them or drink them but there is no denying that Gallo has done a masterful job of marketing and selling Barefoot Wines.

However, I do see this book being a huge benefit to students pursuing certifications such as the WSET Diploma level which focuses on the business of wine in Unit 1. Often these students need a bit of an “anti-snobbery” jolt to realize that the vast majority of wine drinkers don’t drink the same kind of wines we do.

In our rush to dismiss these wines, we often forget that there are reasons why things like Barefoot, Franzia and Apothic are top selling brands in the US.

I get it. They’re not my cup of tea either and I don’t vaguely hide my personal sentiments about them much on this blog.

But I do seek to understand them. This is why I give wines like Mamamanago, Apothic Brew, Capriccio and the like, just as much research and effort to figure them out as I do for Petrus and Cristal.

I see value in reading Carolyn Evans Hammond’s Good, Better, Best Wines as a window into the world of the “Traditionalists” and “Satisfied Sippers” and what they are drinking. While I don’t think anyone will ever quite cracked the code of how to convince these drinkers to “trade out”, much less “trade up”, we’ll never come close if we don’t first understand where they’re starting from.

Wine Reads: A Literary Anthology of Wine Writing edited by Jay McInerney. (Hardcover release November 13th, 2018)

I started geeking out over this book back in August when I was profiling Amira K. Makansi’s Literary Libations: What to Drink with What You Read.

Though he is the editor for this anthology, Jay McInerney has written several thoroughly entertaining wine books like Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine and The Juice: Vinous Veritas–not to mention several other highly acclaimed works outside of wine.

He does contribute a chapter to Wine Reads which includes over 20 pieces of fiction and non-fiction writings about wine. Other writers in the work includes Rex Pickett (of Sideways fame), A. J. Liebling of The New Yorker, an excerpt from Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route, Jancis Robinson and more.

Just like with Makansi’s book, I can see this being the perfect companion for long flights or train rides.

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