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WSET Diploma Unit 5: Opting for the Sparkly Object

After successfully completing Unit 2, I started thinking about the next Unit I was going to tackle in my WSET Diploma pursuit.  (Ok, let’s be honest, I started thinking about this months before actually completing Unit 2).   So without further ado, here were my options, my thought process, and my decision (Spoiler Alert:  Bubbles.  Always Bubbles).

Unit 1 – Global Business of Alcoholic Beverages.

There are two parts to Unit 1: a 3,000 word research paper and an in-class case study exam.  Candidates can do either of these at any time during the Diploma process.  Both involve a fair amount of research and writing, which as a former lawyer, I was actually pretty damn good at once upon a time.  So, I’m looking forward to tackling these writing assignments – assuming I’m assigned a topic that I enjoy writing about.

The research paper topics are established by WSET and are released each academic year.  This year’s were released in early August, and neither one particularly spoke to me: “The short and long term implications of the 2017 vintage“, or “The Rum Revival.”  The 2017 vintage question seems incredibly broad and I’m not all that excited about spending a lot of time researching spirits – particularly since spirits will no longer be a required Unit of the Diploma beginning in August, 2019.  I’m optimistic that when I get around to doing the paper that both options will be more wine related . . . and hopefully one will be “why Washington state is the future for the United States wine industry.”  A gal can dream, can’t she?

The case study exam is offered three times a year. This is a complete grab bag of alcohol business topics – past case studies have ranged from “social media and the wine industry” to “the négotiant system in Burgundy” to “the wines of South Africa.” I think any of these would’ve been fascinating to explore in detail, which of course means that when I register for the case study (likely in March 2019) my topic will be something like “what sulfur dioxide means to me” or “why mass produced New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is the most awesomest wine in the world.”

Unit 3 – Light Wines of the World.

This is the behemoth of the Diploma – covering all wines of the world that don’t fit into the Fortified or Sparkling categories.  I don’t know if the tales of its difficulty are greatly exaggerated or not, but I’m not planning to find out any sooner than I need to.  Unit 3 will be my last Diploma Unit.

Unit 4 – Spirits of the World.

My wine school is doing one last offering of the Spirits Unit and exam. I originally had this all worked out before we moved down to SoCal – my father-in-law (the infamous T-Bone) was going to be my spirits study-buddy and Hubs and Mom-in-Law (aka Authorista) were going to foot the (bar) bill. T-bone and I would frequent local watering holes to sip and study and then head back to our respective homes for our daily nap.  Win-win for everyone. Well, two of us anyways.

However, since Spirits soon won’t be part of the Diploma program, I struggled with whether to try and tackle this Unit or not. I eventually opted for not.  Sorry, T-Bone. Sidenote: don’t actually feel sorry for him.  I’ve been stocking his wine “cabinet” (underneath his bathroom sink) with Oregon Pinot and Washington Syrah since we moved down here.  He’s fine.

Unit 5 – Sparkling Wines of the World.

See Below.

Unit 6 – Fortified Wines of the World.

Unit 6 is being offered in early September and the exam is on the same date as Unit 5.  I know several candidates that are tackling both Units together – and I considered this for about 5 seconds . . .

Bottom line is – I’m not in a huge rush to finish the Diploma.  And, like much of what I do in life, would prefer to methodically and systematically go through my studies as opposed to frantically cramming it all in.  I am a true ISTJ.  So, I opted for the Unit that interested me the most – the shiny object of the Diploma – Sparkling Wines of the World!

Champagne books
Unit 5 – In-Class Experience.

After registering for Unit 5 the day after my Unit 2 exam (seriously – I am Tracy Frickin’ Flick!) I did a little prep work by starting in on some of the suggested readings.  Class itself was one very intensive, very full day in early August.  Other WSET providers spread Unit 5 in-class time over two days (Napa Valley Wine Academy), or three weeks plus a practice exam (Capital Wine School).  WSET Unit 5 manual

My class was a broad overview of sparkling wines – from different production methods, to Champagne sub-regions, to common labeling terminology.  We also tasted through 11 different sparkling wines in class.  Although, unlike Unit 2, this wasn’t blind and there was quite a bit less class discussion on them as well.  Maybe this was because there were more students in class (10 compared to my 3 in my Unit 2).  Or because it was a sunny summer Saturday and people wanted to skedaddle. Although, this is SoCal, almost every Saturday is sunny.

Whatever the case, to me – this portion felt rushed.  Actually – the entire day did.  Covering all sparkling wines of the world in one day is not my ideal way to learn. It’s just way too much information all at once. But on the bright side, I suppose this is good practice for the MW if I’m able to pursue that in the future since that program is practically all self-study. So until Unit 5 exam day – November 7th – I’m on my own.

Unit 5 – My Study Plan.

I started out with a detailed study plan (I realize this is not shocking).  But then with all my travel in August – I quickly had to revise it. I got wrapped up with visiting my beloved Washington state and attending the fabulous Auction of Washington Wines.  And then visiting my awesome Bestie and travelling to New York’s Finger Lakes region.  In my defense – both were wine related travels, so some degree of “research” was done.

So – here’s my revised Unit 5 study schedule.  As I did with Unit 2 – I’m aiming to do some degree of studying daily.  I think of my brain like a balloon – I’ll add a little bit more information each day, not too much so that it explodes, and not too little (or too much time off) so it deflates.

Unit 5 – Exam.

Unlike Unit 2, the Unit 5 exam is not multiple choice.  It consists of a tasting portion and a theory portion.  Both of which must be completed within 65 minutes.  I think it’s 30 minutes per section, and then a 5 minute freak out session in between.

Tasting.  Candidates are poured three sparkling wines from anywhere in the world and have to write tasting notes on each one in the approved WSET format.  Past exams have included a trio of Cava/Vintage Champagne/Prosecco and a NV Champagne/Sekt/Vintage Champagne.  After describing the wines, candidates are then asked a “conclusion” question like “discuss the quality/readiness for drinking/country of origin” of the wines.

Theory.  Here candidates are asked to write about 3 topics related to sparkling wine.  These questions can be ANYTHING!  Past exam topics have been: Tank Method, Franciacorta, Pinot Noir, Côtes des Blancs and Prestige Cuvées.  So, basically, you’re asked to regurgitate everything you know about these subjects.  And quickly – you’ve got about 10 minutes per question.  I’m going to need to work on my timing here because at times I can be a bit verbose.  True story.

And on that note – I’ll quit writing about the exam and get to studying! 😉

Italian Bubbles: Moving Beyond Prosecco

When it comes to Prosecco, I believe there are three types of people: those who love it, those who turn their noses up at it, and those who will drink it . . . but only if Champagne isn’t available. I fall pretty firmly into the last category.  Given a choice, I’d almost always opt for Champagne – unless I’m mixing my sparkling wine with orange juice (Helllooooo Boozy Brunch!!)

For many, sparkling wine is a commodity – completely interchangeable.   And that’s totally fine.  Others (present company included) are a bit more selective about their bubbles.  For me, I really like what autolysis* brings to the party so, if Champagne isn’t available I’ll look for a label that says “methode traditionalle” or “methode champenoise” – which indicates that the wine was made in the traditional method* – in other words, the same way that Champagne is made.  Prosecco, on the other hand, is produced by what is referred to as the tank method.*

*I realize that these terms are total winespeak for any relative newbies who might be reading this, so if you’re not exactly sure what those corkdorky terms mean – here’s a (very) quick debrief:

Traditional Method.  Once the base wine is finished, it undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle.  To accomplish this, a bit of yeast and sugar are mixed together, added to the base wine, and then the bottle is sealed up.  As in the first fermentation, the yeast consumes the sugar and produces alcohol and CO2 – but since this is happening within a sealed bottle, there’s nowhere for the CO2 to escape to.  So it remains in the bottle – creating the sparkle.

After the sugar is consumed, the yeast dies 😦 but its work is not yet done!  Dead yeast cells are referred to in winespeak as “lees.”  The wine “rests on the lees” for a period of time after the second fermentation is complete and this is where autolysis occurs.  Autolysis is essentially the enzymatic breakdown of dead yeast cells . . . and if your eyes just glazed over by reading that sentence you’re not alone!  I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around this myself.  Yet another scientific concept that I’m struggling with. :-/  The duration of autolysis can be anywhere from a few months to several years – the more time spent, the more yeasty/bready characteristics in the resulting wine.  Usually, lees aging needs to be at least 18 months in order for the wine to show any autolytic characteristics.

Tank Method (aka Charmat Method).  With this method, the second fermentation takes place in a large pressurized tank as opposed to inside the bottle.  The tank method is cheaper, faster and requires less labor than the traditional method.  It’s also used with more aromatic grape varieties like Glera (the primary grape of Prosecco) and Riesling (used in German Sekt) since there isn’t the degree of lees contact – which can overwhelm the delicate fruitiness of these varietals.  While you still get bubbles with the tank method, the resulting wine is much more fruity and fresh.  You don’t get as much (or any) of those yummy bread dough, brioche aromas that you do with the traditional method.

While Prosecco is Italy’s best-known sparkling wine (and best-selling at over 220 million bottles a year!), the country also produces a handful of sparklers made in the same method as Champagne.  And, typically, at a fraction of the cost.  Here are three traditional method Italian sparkling wines that are great alternatives (NOT substitutes, because in my opinion – there is none!) for Champagne:

Franciacorta DOCG.  This region released its first traditional method sparkling wine relatively recently – 1961.  Since then, Franciacorta has enjoyed immense success with their wines and is currently producing over 17 million bottles annually (with the bulk of this being consumed by locals – only around 20% is exported).  In 1995, Franciacorta became the first DOCG in Italy exclusively for traditional method sparkling wine.

Franciacorta is located in Lombardia and has a significantly warmer climate than Champagne.  This translates to riper fruit flavors in the glass and a lower overall acidity.  (Tip: look for “brut nature” or “zero dosage” versions of Franciacorta if you want to maximize acidity).  Interestingly though (to me anyways!), non-vintage Franciacorta is required to spend a minimum of 18 months on the lees – which is 3 months longer than Champagne’s minimum requirement!

The grapes used in Franciacorta are Chardonnay, Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir), and Pinot Bianco.  The latter is being used less frequently as it doesn’t add much longevity or energy to the wine.

For more info – here’s my outline on Franciacorta.

Trento DOC.  These wines hail from the Trentino region located in northeastern Italy.  Sparkling wine production started here in the early 1900s here thanks to Giulio Ferrari who believed the area had the potential to compete with the wines from Champagne.  And while these wines are produced in the same method and use the same grapes as Champagne (the holy trifecta of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) they taste incredibly different.  You’re likely to get aromas of peach, apricot, candied lemon and orange peel from Trento sparkling wines – with maybe a hint of biscuit character if they’ve been aged longer than 3 years. They tend to be fuller bodied with a level of richness to them.

Compared to Prosecco and Franciacorta, Trento DOC has a rather small production – 8.5 million bottles in 2010 (of which the Ferrari house produced nearly 60%) and the bulk of it is consumed locally.  Which might help explain why I haven’t been able to get my hands on one of these . . . yet. 😉

Alta LangaAlta Langa DOCG.  This area is becoming increasingly important for traditional method sparkling wines produced in southern Piemonte.  Although it is a large appellation overall, the actual area under vine is just over 250 acres (roughly 1/3 the size of Central Park).  And Alta Langa production is quite small – just over 600,000 bottles per year. Both planted acreage and production are expected to increase, however, as popularity of this region’s wines has soared in recent years.  And with good reason – they have some pretty strict requirements as far as what goes into the bottle and, as a result, are producing some delicious bubbles! 

Alta Langa vintageAlta Langa DOCG wines are made from a minimum 90% of Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir.  And, unlike Champagne and the other regions mentioned above, there is no “non-vintage” production here.  All Alta Langa wines must be vintage dated and spend a minimum of 30 months on their lees.  So you’ll definitely find more of those yummy bready aromatics in wines from this region. 

I hope next time you’re thinking bubbles you’ll give one of these a try.  If you do, please let me know what you think! 🙂   Want to learn more about wine and bubbles?    Click the link to the right and subscribe to this blog!!!   

 

WSET Diploma Unit 2: The Results Are In!

Well, I have officially cleared my first hurdle in my WSET Diploma pursuit!  Now there’s just four more exams and a research paper.   :-/  As I mentioned in my previous post on the Diploma, Unit 2 is required to be taken before any of the other five Units are attempted.  But, once you pass Unit 2, you’re free to move onto whichever Unit(s) you choose.  (Editorial Note by Hubs:  Ms. Noelle passed “with Distinction” – a designation akin to summa cum laude for this particular Unit – the highest honor awarded.  The dogs and I simply couldn’t be more proud of her!!)

As I look back at my studies for Unit 2, there are definitely some habits that I will continue as I move forward with my Diploma pursuit (the “dos”) – and others that I absolutely will not (the “don’ts”).  Now, anyone who grew up reading Glamour back in the day probably recalls their fabulous back page of DOs and DON’Ts.  Although it wasn’t particularly PC – it was absolutely my favorite part of the magazine (admit it, yours too!).  So, without further ado (and with a similar lack of PC) here are my WSET Diploma Unit 2 DOs and DON’Ts:

Glamour2

 

Unit 2 DOs

DO read the suggested readings.  Even though all questions on the exam come from the actual Unit 2 textbook, I found the supplemental readings invaluable.  Specifically, Viticulture by Stephen Skelton MW and Understanding Wine Technology by David Bird MW (future book review/blog post forthcoming!)  BooksBoth of these books cover similar information as the Unit 2 text, but they go into more depth and detail.  Being able to read about concepts such as the effects of nutrient deficiencies in a vineyard, or SO2 limitations in wine, in plain English helped me get a more fundamental understanding of the subject matter.  As I might’ve mentioned before – I don’t “science” very well.   😉

DO study every day – even if it’s just a little bit.  Some days I dove into the text for a few hours, and others I just reviewed my outlines and flashcards.  But I honestly don’t think there was a single day in between when I had my first Unit 2 class and when I took my exam that I didn’t study for at least a short while.  I wanted to keep what I learned at the forefront of my brain so it was easy to recall, because believe me, at 45 I have amassed a lot of useless crap in there. (If anyone wants to know the lyrics to any song on The Smiths “Louder Than Bombs” album, or the chronological order of deaths on The Walking Dead, I’m your gal).

Studying
Studying in between flights at SeaTac’s Vino Volo!

DO practice the sample questions in the Unit 2 textbook.  I won’t go into too much detail as to specific questions on the exam, but let’s just say that some of them were eerily similar to the sample questions in the textbook.  Review these.  You won’t regret it.

Unit 2 DON’Ts

DON’T get stuck in the minutiae.  When studying, I have a habit of trying to learn – and memorize – everything.  I tend to get bogged down in the details . . . sometimes at the expense of moving forward.

With Unit 2, I spent a lot of time memorizing types of vineyard pests and learning which rootstocks do best in which types of soil.  And no, this wasn’t because I was fascinated with grapevine yellows or Vitis rupestris.  I was just totally struggling with these areas and thought that if I memorized as much as I possibly could about them that I’d do better on the exam.  So, I spent an exorbitant amount of time on these topics and, while there were a couple exam questions on them, there were more questions on quality control and herbicides – areas that I hadn’t spend much time on because I’d been so in the weeds (pun intended) with others.

DON’T overthink the exam questions.  This advice came to me courtesy of Spitbucket.net after her experience with the exam, and it was spot-on.  Come exam time, you’ve learned so much that you’re likely to overanalyze the test questions and wonder if the examiners are actually asking you something else or trying to trick you.  (Answers: they’re not, and they’re not.)  The Brits might be strict and reserved, but they’re a fair lot.  Feel free to remind me of this quote when I don’t do well on one of my upcoming exams.

And finally, DON’T overdo it. Although I mention above that studying every day is a DO, it is possible to go overboard. Like accessories, sometimes less is more. So if you’re practicing flashcards while getting a bikini wax – you’ve probably taken this too far. Purely hypothetically, of course. :-/

My next WSET class is in a few weeks – I’m tackling Unit 5: Sparkling Wines of the World.  And yes, I’m already making my way through the recommended reading.  But, lesson learned, I’m leaving the book at home before my next appointment at OC Wax.

Drinking Outside the Box: 5 Northern Italian Wines to Check Out

In life, most of us tend to stick to our comfort zone.  The same route home.  Our favorite coffee mug in the morning.  Cozy sweats and re-runs of a show we’ve already binge watched a few times (I’m certain that I’ve seen every episode of Sex & the City at least four times).  And the same varietals in our glass of wine.  Even when ordering at a restaurant we’ve never been to before, or visiting a new wine store with endless options, we’ll probably choose something we know – rather than something we don’t.

Since I started studying for the Italian Wine Scholar exam a few months ago, I’ve come to realize how many grape varieties there are that I’ve never even heard of – let alone tried.  (Italy itself has at least 350 different native grapes!)  Hubs and I have gradually started working through some of these grapes – mostly to positive results!  Proving that when I allow myself to branch out beyond what I’m comfortable with – my frequent Pinot Noir or Washington state Syrah – I expand my palate and my mind, but also my wine cellar. 😉

So, I’m encouraging you to “drink outside the box” and try something new as well.  Next time you’re at a restaurant or wine store with a carefully curated Italian section (particularly from the North!) – nix the Nebbiolos, pass on the Pinot Grigios and Proseccos, and give one of the following wines a shot instead.  You just might be pleasantly surprised at what you discover. 🙂

italianwineregions
Map courtesy of the always awesome Wine Folly

Cortese/Gavi.  Cortese is the grape and Gavi the location in Southeast Piemonte where it’s been grown since at least the early 1600s.  Cortese performs particularly well in Gavi and throughout the 1960s and 1970s enjoyed immense success.  However, in the same manner that other popular things have been WAY overdone – the Real Housewives series (did we really need DC?), the zombie apocalypse, “Keep Calm and [fill in the blank]” – lots of producers jumped on the Gavi bandwagon and tons of meh wines were the result of this massive overproduction.  Thankfully, Gavi has recovered and was elevated to DOCG status in 1998 – Happy 20 year Anniversary Gavi!  Same year as me and Hubs. 🙂

Gavi DOCG wines must be made from 100% Cortese.  These wines are usually crisp and refreshing with minerality and a striking lemon zest character.  And while it’s best known for still wines, Gavi is also produced in a variety of sparkling styles as well.

The Gavi we had recently was from Broglia.  Impressively, the estate has records of its vineyards going back to 972!  The wine was slightly riper on the palate than I expected – with flavors of ripe apple and Meyer lemon along with Cortese’s trademark minerality.  Some wines from this region can be nice little porch pounders for the summertime (or 10 months out of the year down here in SoCal), but this one definitely had more complexity and depth.

Northern whites

Arneis.  This white grape is native to the Roero hills in Piemonte and was saved from near extinction in the 1960s by two prominent producers in the area: Vietti and Bruno Giacosa.  Today, in large part thanks to these two, plantings of Arneis are around 2,400 acres.  Arneis is a challenging grape to grow – it’s prone to poor and irregular yields and tends to drop acidity rapidly when approaching full ripeness – which often isn’t until late September.  So, it’s no surprise that “Arneis” in local dialect translates to “difficult personality.”

When in the right hands, Arneis produces fuller bodied wines that are subtly perfumed and complex with aromas/flavors of white flowers, stone fruit and pear.  The wines are typically fresh and floral and should be consumed within a few years of release.

We had an Arneis produced by one of its rescuers – Bruno Giacosa.  The wine was definitely delicate in the aromatic department, I was getting yellow fruit (apples, pears) and some floral notes.  On the palate it was zesty with a slightly bitter, but not unpleasantly so, finish.  This would pair amazingly with grilled fish or lighter/herbed pasta dishes.  Or a big ol’ pile of prosciutto.

Ruché.  This will undoubtedly be the most challenging of the five wines to find.  Ruché is a rare, aromatic red grape likely native to the town of Castagnole in Piemonte, where it has been grown for centuries.  Today, there are only around 250 total acres planted to this grape in Italy and it is rarely found elsewhere.

In 2010, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG became the first (and only!) delimited area dedicated entirely to the Ruché grape.  Wines from this DOCG must be made from at least 90% Ruché (with Barbera or Brachetto making up the balance).  Ruché based wines are typically intensely perfumed with aromas of roses, red fruit and spice.

I recently sampled a Ruché from Montalbera – an Italian producer hugely supportive of and dedicated to the grape.  The wine was one of the most unique wines I’ve ever had.  Incredibly pale in the glass, it looked like it should be delicate and subtle – yet it was anything but.  The wine was full of aromas of cherries, tea leaves, orange peel and spices with very prevalent acidity and tannins and a lengthy, bitter finish.  If you want to try something truly different, Ruché is your wine.

Lagrein.  (rhymes with “wine” – easy to remember!) This red grape is can be found predominantly in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Northeast Italy.  Lagrein is late ripening and needs significant warmth and sun to ripen fully – so it seems somewhat counterintuitive that it would be grown in an area that’s bumping up against the Italian Alps.  However, this region has 300 days of sunshine per year and a warm growing season, so Lagrein thrives – and it’s delicious!

Lagrein makes up about only 8% of total grape plantings in Alto Adige and around 1,200 total acres.  There are also a few California wineries that produce a Lagrein (although I haven’t run across any of these yet).  Lagrein produces fuller bodied, rich, darkly colored wines with higher tannins and acidity and often a bitter finish. The wines are frequently packed with aromas of berry fruit, violets and a savory/meaty component.

We had a Lagrein from Castelfeder, which is located in Alto Adige. This wine was somewhat reminiscent of a Northern Rhône Syrah for me – violets, charred black fruits, smoked meat.  This was Hubs favorite of the two reds, probably because he’s obsessed with smoky anything since he recently purchased a new smoker. 🙂

Lambrusco.  Lambrusco hails from the Emilia-Romagna region and is essentially an umbrella term covering several distinct varieties all within the Lambrusco family.  Some of the more common ones you’re likely to see on a wine label are:

  • Lambrusco di Sorbara – produces the lightest version of Lambrusco and is considered to be the benchmark style
  • Lambrusco Salamino – the most widely planted of the Lambrusco varieties
  • Lambrusco Grasparossa – produces fuller bodied and more tannic wines

Unfortunately, most of the Lambrusco that is exported is sweet, characterless and mass-produced (kind of like my old college standby Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill – yes, dear reader, my introductory “wine” was Boone’s, please don’t judge me).  Classic Lambrusco wines are dry (or very slightly off-dry) with refreshing acidity, fizziness and flavors of bright red berries and spice.   To find this style of Lambrusco, your best bet is to look for DOC or DOP on the label – indicating that the wine was made according to stricter production standards and that the grapes come from a specific geographical area.  Other terms to look for include:

  • Secco, Amabile or Dolce – these mean dry, medium-sweet and sweet
  • Frizzante – lightly sparkling
  • Spumante – fully sparkling

LambruscoHubs and I sampled a few different styles of Lambrusco, ranging from a rather flat and nondescript juicy red wine, to a delicately effervescent wine with black cherries and spice, to an incredibly aromatic sparkler full of dried black fruits.  My favorite by far was the 3rd (the Medici Ermete) and it was incredibly delicious with our barbequed burgers!

So, let’s see . . . that’s 5 native Italian grapes down, only around 345 left to go! 😉

Oh – and I purchased the majority of these wines at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, CA (which I will be frequenting frequently because it’s the most awesome wine store EVER!!)  But if you’re having problems finding any of these, Hi-Time ships!

Gewürztraminer- and My Search for the Elusive Lychee

There are some wines that are said to be identifiable in a blind tasting based definitively on a single aromatic “tell”.  The theory is, if you smell X – the wine cannot be anything other than Y.  So, for example, if you get a distinct petrol aroma from a wine – you’re very likely drinking German Riesling.  (BTW – “petrol” is the Brits fancy name for gasoline).  Similarly, if you smell wet wool you’re almost certainly sipping Vouvray (Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley).  And if you’re getting lychee fruit on the nose – it’s said to be Gewürztraminer.

Now, I know what petrol and wet wool smell like – but lychee?  I’d never even heard of this fruit previously, let alone seen, smelled or tasted it.  And since you rarely run across a tasting note for Gewürztraminer without seeing “lychee” as a primary descriptor, I set out to find it and give it a taste test of my own.  (Note:  I do not plan on doing the same when I post on Sauvignon Blanc, where one of the most common descriptors is cat pee.)

Apparently finding lychees is easier said than done.  After searching for a few weeks at several grocery stores and smaller boutique markets in my area, I remained lycheeless.  One produce guy told me that they sometimes got lychee in stock, but not frequently.  Another said they didn’t have lychee but they did have white peaches.  I asked him if those smelled or tasted like lychee and his response was “no, not really.”  Mmmmkaaaaaaaaaaay – I’ll pass.

I’d finally given up all lychee hope and figured I’d just have to drink Gewürztraminer and remain in the dark about the mysterious fruit.  But then, what should appear before my very eyes  . . .

Lychee

During one of my thrice weekly trips to the grocery store I spied it!  Hidden among the other “freak fruits” like Kiwano and Pepino Melons was a small selection of lychees.  I excitedly (seriously) scooped up some and raced home to taste them.

After first having to google how the hell to open the fruit, Hubs and I cracked the shell and dug into the lychee.  And, perhaps not surprisingly, it tasted like Gewürztraminer.  It was incredibly tart and sweet at the same time with a bold tropical and floral flavor.  It was intensely flavorful – almost obnoxiously so.  Which is basically how I feel about Gewürztraminer.

Enough about Lychees – Let’s Talk about Grapes.  Gewürztraminer is grown all over the world – from Northeastern Italy, to my beloved Washington state, to New Zealand.  The name, not surprisingly, has German roots (“Gewürz” means spice in German), but in fact represents only a very small percentage of plantings in Germany (my research shows in the neighborhood of 1-5%). The most significant plantings of Gewürztraminer are in the Alsace region of France with approximately 8,000 acres planted to the grape.  And in Alsace, they drop the umlaut (and you, dear reader, can drop that little wine factoid at your next tasting to impress your friends and neighbors!).

Along with lychee, other aromas and flavors found in Gewürz are typically roses, honey, grapefruit, gingerbread and an assortment of exotic spices.  Gewürztraminer can be made in a variety of styles – from dry to sweet.  The latter are often labelled either “Vendanges Tardives” or “Selections de Grains Nobles” – both of which are late harvested grapes after the sugars have had additional time to concentrate on the vine.

Prior to my lychee hunt, I’d purchased a few bottles of Gewürztraminer and had Hubs blind pour me a tasting of the three.  Here are my condensed tasting notes – sans lychee descriptors because I hadn’t been able to find it yet! Bottles

Villa Wolf 2016 Gewürztraminer, Pfalz, Germany. (11.5% abv)

This wine was by far the lightest colored, lightest bodied and zippiest of the three.  It was the least like a “classic” Gewürztraminer should taste like – and it was my favorite. 🙂  Refreshing with lots of pink grapefruit, crisp minerality and citrus.  In general, the Pfalz region of Germany is known for producing lighter styled Gewürztraminer than Alsace.  Which is something I’ll keep in mind for the future . . .

Louis SIPP 2013 Nature’S Gewurztraminer, Alsace, France. (13% abv)

This Gewürz had a lot going on with rich aromas of honeysuckle, melon, salinity and spices.  I also thought I was getting smoke on the nose here – but this probably because Hubs was messing around outside with his new smoker and the windows were open (hmmm…I’m getting a very strong sense of hickory!!). :-/  Each time I smelled or sipped I’d find something else in the glass.  The wine was fuller bodied than the first with much lower acidity.  Based on the producer’s website the “Nature’S” wording on the label means that the wine was made from organically farmed grapes and certified by ECOCERT (one of the largest organic certification organizations in the world).  Overall, a very interesting wine.

Seppi Landmann 2013 Gewurztraminer Zinnkoepflé Grand Cru, Alsace, France. (13% abv)

This last wine was the ripest and richest of the three with big ol’ aromas of perfume, sandalwood, tropical fruits and crushed pine needles (which I thought was odd, but I was definitely smelling this!).  As a Grand Cru, this wine is theoretically at the top of the quality pyramid as these vineyard sites are recognized for their extraordinary terroirs.  There are 51 Grand Cru sites in Alsace, yet only around 4% of all Alsace wine produced is Grand Cru.  This Gewurz would undoubtedly be considered the “best” of the three – case in point: Wine Enthusiast gave it a 93.

However, it was personally my least favorite.  I could appreciate its complexity and ageability – at 5 years and going strong with intense aromas and flavors (note: most Gewürz are meant to drink within a few years).  But it just was not my style.  I prefer something a bit more crisp and restrained – which Gewürztraminer just isn’t ever going to be.

For more information about this grape – visit my outline on Gewurztraminer.

 

Sanders and Lychee
Hmmm . . . smells like Gewurztraminer!

 

 

5 Wine Podcasts Worth Tuning Into

I can’t remember exactly when I started listening to wine podcasts, but I know it’s been a couple of years – and I know that I have Hubs to thank for it.  For some time, he’d been falling asleep listening to one of his podcasts on sports or movies or music or whathaveyou and when I’d come to bed a couple hours later, I’d remove his headphones (because he’d once again fallen asleep with them on) and wonder what on earth fascinated him so much about these guys talking that he’d listen to them every night without fail.

When I finally asked him about his podcast fascination he said that there were podcasts about everything – and certainly some were out there about wine.  Wait….what?!?!?  We immediately set me up with a few – some of which are now defunct (where did you go Great Northwest Wine and Disgorged ?) – but many continue on.  So, in no particular order, here are 5 wine podcasts that I listen to regularly and, if you’re interested in wine, are definitely worth checking out:

I’ll Drink to That.

This is one of the longer running wine podcasts out there (it’s been going since 2012 – which is essentially the Paleozoic era by podcasting standards) and is hosted by Levi Dalton – a former sommelier (pronounced Levee like in the Led Zeppelin song – not Levi like in Strauss).  I’ll Drink to That claims to “get behind the scenes of the beverage business” – and it absolutely does so.  Levi talks to major players from all over the world in every facet of the wine industry – from authors to winemakers to restauranteurs.

My favorite podcast to-date is probably episode #315 in which he interviews Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible – and one of my wine heroes. 🙂  Even though I’d previously heard several other podcasters interview Karen, through Levi’s discussion with her I learned that she basically self-taughtilldrinktothaticonv2.1 herself to where she is today.  He really is amazing at getting new information from his guests.

Levi’s right-hand lady, Erin Scala, contributes interesting “warm-up” segments that often relate to the interviewee, but are sometimes just fascinating tidbits about wine – like why a typical wine bottle is 750ml (episode #325 for those of you who are curious!)

I’ll Drink to That is very good at getting the story behind the wine and humanizing the industry. Levi asks his guests pertinent questions and is adept at drawing them out (I swear he must have a background in journalism). And while it’s not as academic as some of the other podcasts, I always learn something listening to it.

Guild of Sommeliers.

With edge-of-your-seat topics like “Wine Chemistry” and “All About Yeast”, this podcast is likely to appeal more to true corkdorks such as myself (I mean, I publish a blog on wine outlines for Christ’s sake).  Even when dealing with nitty gritty subjects like these, host Geoff Kruth manages to direct the discussion at an understandable, and often entertaining level.

Guildsomm

As a Master Sommelier, Geoff knows more than 99.99% of the audience, yet he has a terrific knack for getting his guests to essentially start with the basics for the benefit of any wine newbies who might be listening.   Like in the “Three Elements of White Wine Making” podcast, Geoff begins the interview with winemaker John Raytek by asking him: “if you were going to explain white winemaking to somebody that wasn’t a winemaker, contrasting it to the way red wine is made – how would you explain the basic process of how white wine is made?”  For those looking for something a little lighter than a discussion on sur lie aging – the blind tasting and year in review GuildSomm podcasts are more on the amusing side.

Geoff has been the primary host since the podcast began, but lately Chris Tanghe has been taking over some of the hosting duties.  Chris is based in the Seattle area – so I’m hoping his presence means more focus on wines from my beloved Pacific Northwest!

Wine for Normal People.

This was one of the very first podcasts I stumbled upon and it remains a favorite.  Hosted by Elizabeth Schneider and her mysterious husband MC Ice (“just a wine loving normal person”) the WFNP podcast is conversational, entertaining and educational.  Their banter is genuine and adorable – even when she talks over him (which I totally can relate to – just ask Hubs!)

Wine-for-Normal-People

WFNP covers a wide range of wine-related topics – regions, grapes, and news like how Brexit could effect the UK wine industry (episode #209) or the 2017 California wildfires (episode #203).  Elizabeth also regularly interviews people in the industry, and while the interviewees aren’t usually “heavy hitters” like in some of the other podcasts, they all have incredibly interesting stories and I’ve found myself seeking out their wines on many occasions after finishing a WFNP podcast.

When I was studying for my WSET Level 3, I listened to WFNP religiously.  I’d download an episode on whichever wine region I was currently focused on and listen while I was in the car.  As the host, Elizabeth does a wonderful job of laying out the big picture in an  easily understandable manner before then drilling down into the specifics.  And she even warns you when she’s about to “dork out” on something – which is usually when I turn the volume up, but if you’re less of a wine geek, this might be when you take a break to refill your glass. 😉

Weekly Wine Show.

I just recently started listening to this one.  It’s another husband and wife team – Tony and Betty Notto and they’ve been podcasting for just over two years.  Their style is generally a little more informative rather than conversational, and they cover various wine regions, grapes, and some of their wine travels.  They also usually have wine recommendations that relate to their weekly topic – and often these bottles are incredibly budget friendly. weekly wine show

If the Weekly Wine Show were a wine, I’d describe it as a bit more rustic than elegant.  This podcast isn’t as polished as some of the others I listen to and occasionally it sounds as if they’re reading straight from a script.  However, when they go “off script” (which seems to be more frequently recently – especially with their monthly “Wine in the News” episodes) I love it. Their enthusiasm and excitement for wine is just so freaking genuine.  There’s something truly endearing about them.  Plus, Betty’s voice reminds me of Winona Ryder. 🙂

I admire their commitment and dedication: they have done this podcast weekly since its inception (other podcasts are published monthly or quarterly – if a podcast is “published”).  Not an easy feat as (I believe) they both have full-time jobs and Betty recently pursued and received her WSET 2 Level certification.  I’m looking forward to seeing where these two go with their podcast in the future – and hopefully meeting them at the upcoming Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla.

The Wine Enthusiast Podcastwine enthus podcast

This podcast bounces around from wine to beer to spirits and beyond.  Various editors of the Wine Enthusiast magazine take turns with hosting duties and transcripts are posted on their website – which is helpful for Tracy Flick personas like me who want to double check that I’ve gotten all the information correctly.

I’m not sure how exactly to describe the “personality” of this podcast since it’s all over the board.  For example – their episodes have included: Connections between Wine and Cannabis, The Trials and Triumphs of Wine Education, and “Goddesses of the Grape” featuring women in the wine industry.  The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is like an eclectic blend made up of dozens of varieties where each sip is new and different.  There’s not really a common thread to it – other than wine.

I think I like this podcast because it reminds me of my blog . . . sort of all over the place.  But when you’re a true wine enthusiast – I think you’re enthusiastic about a lot of things related to wine.  It’s hard to limit yourself to just one or two aspects when you have so many paths to choose from and learn about.

If you have a wine podcast that you love – please let me know in the comments!  And be sure to subscribe to Outwines by clicking the button right over there   ———————–>