I recently found out that my first WSET Diploma Unit classes won’t be starting until May, 2018. This is totally fine, as it gives me plenty of time to prep . . . but maybe too much time. I can’t see immersing myself solely in all things viti and vini for six months.

I’ve decided I need something else to occupy my brain during this time as well – so I’m going to register for the Italian Wine Scholar certification thru the Wine Scholar Guild.

Italian wine scholar

I’m definitely not as confident about Italian wines as I am about French. I don’t drink a lot of Italian wines and when we visited the country in 2010, I was just beginning to have an interest in wine beyond California and Washington. If I’m going to successful in the WSET Diploma, I need to have a better grasp on Italian wine regions, the DOC/DOCG system, and all those obscure grapes that you don’t see much of outside of Italy!

So, I’ll likely be putting together several outlines in the upcoming months that are Italy-centric. I’m also going to try and teach an “Intro to Italy” class at my store sometime early next year . . . because I learn something best if I’m actually having to TEACH it to someone else. 🙂

I wouldn’t call Soave (or the grape it’s made from – Garganega) “obscure”, but it’s definitely not found much (if at all!) outside of Italy.  I’ve had some good Soave, but have yet to drink one that rocks my world.  Here’s the outline on Soave.

Chinon AOC

I love historical fiction, it’s one of my favorite reading genres. I recently finished “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah which is about two sisters’ lives during WWII.  The novel takes place in several different regions of France – from Paris to the Pyranees.


One of the story’s main settings is the fictional village of Carriveau. The village is supposed to be located somewhere in the Loire Valley – which in our nonfiction world is sometimes referred to as “The Garden of France.” (In ‘The Nightingale’ the eldest sister’s farm is, somewhat cheesily, named “Le Jardin.”)

Even though wine isn’t frequently mentioned in the novel, while reading it I couldn’t help but envision vineyards of Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, and villagers downing glasses of Vouvray and Chinon at local cafes. At least, until the Nazi occupation of the area. :-/

Chinon vineyard
Exactly how I envisioned “Le Jardin”

Carriveau does not exist, so I decided to pick a location as close to this fictional village as I could for my next outline.  I chose Chinon – located just southwest of the city of Tours (which plays a major part in one of the sister’s lives).

I often find Chinon to be an easygoing, medium bodied wine with crazy aromatics that remind me of my Grammy. Seriously, it’s like someone spilled a dash of her rosewater perfume into the wine. I get that aroma almost every time, and it makes my heart happy.

Here’s the outline on Chinon.


Poor Pinotage. Despite being the offspring of one of the most elegant and revered grapes in the world (Pinot Noir), it has had an uphill battle pretty much since its inception less than a century ago.

After its creation by crossing Pinot Noir with Cinsault, the grape was largely ignored – its home country had much bigger issues to deal with than the wine industry. Once apartheid finally ended, and trade sanctions were removed, many wine producers focused on high volume/low quality Pinotage wines that flooded the market – frequently smelling like paint. :-/ Pinotage has been trying to overcome that reputation for several years now . . . and might finally be making some strides.

I’ve had limited exposure to Pinotage, but I must admit – I rather like it. It stands out from the mass of “Bordeaux style blends” that are overly prevalent in many markets. The fruit isn’t ripe and jammy, but more charred and smoked. Like you left black cherry skewers on the barbeque for too long.


Despite its uniqueness, not many consumers are keen about its often distinct aromas of burnt rubber and tar. When I smell Pinotage, I’m taken back to circa 1979 when I used to ride my banana seated bike past my crush’s house all the time. One day, my corduroy pants got caught in the spokes and I crashed right in front of his house. Pinotage reminds me of the hour I laid there in the street (ok, it was probably only ten minutes until his sister came outside to help me) and all I smelled was rubber and asphalt, and a hint of sweaty embarrassment. :-/

Compared to most major grape varieties, Pinotage is still in its infancy. Others have had hundreds of years to work out their kinks and improve. As more critics start to accept Pinotage, and even promote it (just look at how many “Give Pinotage a Chance!” articles have come out recently!), I’m optimistic that this grape will find its place in the wine world.

Until then, here’s the Pinotage outline.

Viticulture: Crossings

My best friend sometimes calls me Tracy Flick. Coming from her, it’s meant as a term of endearment (I hope) due to my “go getter” attitude when it comes to wine studies. But anyone who has seen the movie Election knows that Tracy Flick was not a very likable gal – she had an annoying and incessant ambition that rubbed people the wrong way.

Tracy Flick
Me in my WSET class?  Let’s hope not. :-/

While her persistence (nevertheless) 😉 got her ultimately where she wanted to be, Tracy’s know-it-all attitude and hyper-preparedness bugged the crap out of almost everyone along the way.

Admittedly, I can see a hint of Tracy Flick-ness in me. Case in point: I’m registering for the WSET Diploma next year. I’m just waiting for the schedule to come out at the Neptune School of Wine and then I’ll decide if I want to head down there for classes, or do the first units online. In the meantime though, I’ve already started in on the “recommended reading” from the school’s website.

Right now, I can FEEL your eyes rolling at me.  And I totally get it.

Am I prematurely popping the cork on this? Perhaps. But I’ve never taken a viticulture class, so a lot of this material is relatively new for me. By doing advanced reading (and outlining, of course!) I’m hoping all this information will sink in my brain better.  Then, when it comes time for the actual Diploma classes, I won’t be cramming all this in because a lot of it will already BE there. 🙂

One of the first topics tackled in the textbook (Viticulture by Stephen Skelton) is vine crossings. Something that intrigues me, and baffles me (the latter usually is the case with anything remotely science related). Recently in the wine community, there seems to be a renewed interest in exploring vine crossings (also called vine breeding) due to climate change and an increased focus on organic and biodynamic farming methods.  The primary goal of most vine crossings is to produce vines that are disease resistant, can be grown with little to no chemical intervention, and that are capable of thriving in more marginal climates.

But just because we CAN create new varieties with these traits – should we? I have such limited exposure to crossings (although I have yet to meet a Zweigelt I didn’t like!), that I’m not going to opine on this.  Very un-Tracy Flick like, I know.

However, I did find this piece on Jancis Robinson’s website quite interesting . . . it was written by an MW after sampling several wines produced from newer vine crossings:

“But my real conclusion was that I didn’t really want to drink any of them that much, whatever level of scientific knowledge and endeavour had gone into the breeding of them. Maybe I should be more concerned about the environment and less hedonic but it seems like an awful lot of work to produce not very exciting wines. If a site is not suited to the production of existing varieties with high quality potential – because of climate restrictions or disease pressure or both – perhaps it is better not to try to grow wine grapes there? They may make it possible to produce wine, or different styles of wine, in marginal climates, but that doesn’t seem sufficient reason to go to all that effort to produce wines that are drinkable but not exciting.”

I think it will be interesting to follow the development of vine crossings and hybrids and see whether they gain acceptance in an ever-changing wine world.  I’d be more on board with giving these a chance since they have valid and compelling reasons for their creation as compared to something utterly ridiculous like, say, blue wine.  Now I’M rolling my eyes.

Here’s the outline on Crossings for a little more information.


Margaret River

I know very little about Australian wines.  I’ve never visited the country, I don’t drink their wines with much regularity, and this area is often at the bottom of my “what I should study” list.  This is partly because I know that there won’t be many questions about Australia on my exam, but also because it’s a region that just confuses the hell out of me with all its Zones and GIs. Sounds very military. :-/

A few weeks ago, I ended up sitting next to a very (!!) talkative couple from Perth on my flight home from Napa.  After he noticed I was reading about wine (I was studying for my Rhône exam), we started chatting about it and he mentioned where they were from and the area’s rather booming wine industry.

I had dig back into the recesses of my brain to recall much about Western Australia, and all I could come up with was “yeah, Margaret River makes some good Cabs.” I thought to myself – they’ve GOT to be about more than just that. And, no surprise, they are. 🙂

Margaret netting
Without impressive amounts of netting, the majority of Margaret River grapes would be eaten by birds

Margaret River Cabernets and Sauv Blanc/Semillon blends sound right up my alley – but unfortunately I’m struggling to get my hands on any . . . they don’t seem to be readily available in my market. 😦 I’ll continue with my treasure hunt, but until I can add my own tasting notes and thoughts on some of this region’s wines – here’s the outline on Margaret River.

As a final thought, I couldn’t get the name of the couple because their Australian accents were SO thick, but I do remember that their anniversary is October 6th. So happy early anniversary to you two! 🙂 I hope you enjoyed your Alaskan cruise and visit to the Pacific Ocean and PNW. I usually don’t chat with my seatmates on flights, but you left me no option! 😉



I’ve loved white Rhône blends since well before I learned that’s what these wines were actually called. For those of you in that camp now, white Rhône blends (or “Rhône-style” blends if from somewhere other than the actual Rhône Valley) are primarily blends of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. Sometimes lesser known grapes like Clairette or Grenache Blanc are added – particularly in the Southern Rhône.

White Rhône wines range from zesty with flavors of bright citrus to full bodied with floral and honey notes. The higher the percentages of Viognier and Marsanne in the blend, the more likely the wine falls into the latter category.

I first discovered Viognier around 2005 and remember being thrilled to find an alternative to my usual Chardonnay. (I can’t be the only one who started out pronouncing it Vie-og-knee-er, can I?) 😉 And while this remains a favorite varietal of mine, I’ve recently become more intrigued by its blending partner – Marsanne.

I’ve sipped on a couple of white Rhône-style blends lately, and got to thinking how perfect these wines are for this time of year. While I love my zippy summer porch pounders, I’m wanting something with a little more weight and texture right now. And these hit the spot:

Rôtie Cellars 2016 ‘Southern White’, Walla Walla Valley. 12.5% abv. Blend of 50% Viognier, 35% Roussanne and 15% Marsanne. Tons of fruits going on here – ripe peach and apricot on the nose, baked lemon square and peach nectar on the palate. Crisp acidity, maybe from the cooler Walla Walla climate or the nice percentage of Roussanne in the blend.

Cornerstone Cellars 2016, El Dorado Marsanne/Roussanne, David Girard Vineyard, California. 14.1% abv. Blend of 47% Marsanne, 47% Roussanne and 6% Viognier. Beautiful floral, peach and honeydew melon aromas. Rich and weighty mouthfeel. Slight bitter note on the finish. Not a shy wine.  This would definitely be a go-to winter white for me.

Unfortunately, it’s rather challenging to find single varietal Marsanne wines – the grape is usually a supporting player to the more well-known Viognier. Nonetheless, it does make for a delicious blending partner, or solo artist, if you can find it (Rôtie Cellars often puts out a good one)! Here’s more about Marsanne.