Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Vintage is this Wine?

One of the most commonly misunderstood terms in wine is VINTAGE. To be clear, the vintage is the year stamped on the bottle. That year is the year in which the grapes were picked to make the wine in that bottle. So Vintage = Year.

One might think that that's the end of this blog post, but let me introduce you to the new can of worms this vintage dating practice opens in this, my

Wine Vintage FAQ's:

Q. Why is it important to know what year the grapes were picked to make the wine?
A. Let's bear in mind that wine is an agricultural product. Grapes are grown on farms that we affectionately call vineyards, which are subject to the same vagaries of nature as any other crop in the world - spring frosts, rain, sunshine, temperature,

etc. Think about this: is the weather exactly the same every summer? Are some summers hotter or cooler, dryer or more rainy, than the ones before and after? If you think about it that way, you start to understand why the grapes, which grow and develop flavor, color and sugar over the summer and are harvested in early autumn, are of a different quality every year. And then you start to understand why its important to know what year the grapes were grown in to start to have a sense for what to expect of the wine in the bottle. For example, grapes grown in years of intense heat and drought, like in 2003 when elderly people were keeling over in France's major cities, had high levels of sugar and lower levels of acid by harvest time and produced full flavored, higher alcohol wines than grapes grown in cooler, wetter summers.

Q. To list a vintage year, do all the grapes used to make the wine have to have been picked in that year?
A. It depends on the laws of the place where the grapes are grown. In the EU, the law states that 85% of all the grapes on a vintage dated wine must be from that vintage, and in some locales within the EU, that number is 100%. In the US, the minimum is also 85%.

Q. Does the term "Vintage Wine" mean a better wine or a wine of higher quality.
A. No. It is a misunderstood term. A vintage wine simply means a wine dated with a vintage. There are crappy vintage wines that sell for $7.00 a bottle as well as exhorbitant vintage wines for upwards of $400 a bottle.

Q. Are some vintages better than others?
A. It depends on the preferences of the person drinking the wine. There are some vintages that are celebrated by critics because those are years that yielded a great deal of well-made wines. The old adage "You can make bad wine out of good grapes, but you can't make good wine out of bad grapes" rings true. If the summer in a particular was too cool and rainy for there to have been a consistantly good harvest that vintage, then it's caveat emptor for purchasesrs buying wines from that vintage. But there have been years that were only relatively cooler or hotter than usual and have produced wines that some people prefer over the norm. My favorite example of this is northern California 2001. Red wines (particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and blends thereof) from Napa and Sonoma Valleys are generally very full bodied - lots of ripe fruit, agressive tannin, high alcohol, like the middle linebackers of the wine world. The 2000 vintage was all that. The critics originally dismissed the 2001 vintage, during which the summer was cooler than usual. But what this yielded were wines that were less agressive in tannin with more moderate alcohol levels and more balanced acidity, more like a quarterback - the picture of lean strength and agility. People who enjoy French wines would enjoy these wines and they are still drinking beautifully more than 10 years old.

Q. Do wines from some vintages age better than others?
A. Yes. The vintage sets the tone. If the development of sugar and abatement of acid in the grapes over that summer went well, that autumn's harvest is ready to produce wines that could possible age better than if those things were not in good balance. Above, in the anecdote about the wines from France's 2003 vintage told of wines with ripe fruit characters, low acidity and high alcohol. Those wines are not built for long aging in general because the various elements are not in good sync. Even the higher end wines from that vintage are not expected to be enjoyable long past the 10 year mark, in contrast to the same wines from other vintages that can age 20+ years gracefully.

Q. Are all the wines from a "bad" vintage "bad" wines?
A. No. It's important to keep in mind that the assesment of a vintage, even in a small area, is not the sole determinant as to the quality of every wine from that area. There are other factors involved, such as farming methods used, that can help vineyard managers navigate fickle weather condtitions and still get good raw material for the winemakers. Vintage charts and vintage reports should only be used as guidelines. Ultimately, you should always let your palate be the judge!

Q. Is an older vintage better than a more recent one?
A. Not always. They are more rare and as a result more interesting to drink, but as I explained above, each vintage had its own conditions. My most recent example was a vertical tasting of Antinori's Tignanello. I tasted the 2007 and the 2008. The 2007, the older vintage, was not nearly as good as the 2008. See my upcoming article, Wine Ambition, for tasting notes.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Central Otago Wine Country - December 2001 - Excerpt from The Life and Times of Love and Vines

December 18, 2001 - We had been to Australia and back, nearly broke but spirits unbroken. It was a beautiful summer day and we decided that while continuing our search for orchard work in the bucolic hinterlands of New Zealand's South Island, we would fit in some winery visits. Fate lead us to our next job - Gibbston Valley Winery and Vineyards.

Winery Visit No 2
Peregrine is a new winery, its first wine released in 1998. This was another of the wineries whose wines we featured at Coronet Peak. Its more modest than Chard Farm, housed in a pair of stone structures, an historic wool shed and its 127 years old cookhouse. The woman who works here in the small, cluttered office is friendly and happy to give us tastes.

Peregrine Tasting Notes
First Wine Released in 1998 – Caretakers of Wentworth Estate Vineyards

Pinot Gris 2001 Nose – Mild aroma, herb and spice, Palate – Gewurztraminer-esque spice, dry & crisp mild fruit, vegetal flavors

Pinot Noir Wentworth 1999 Nose – Ripe berries, strawberry, Palate – Dryer than the nose implies, complex and deep with low tannin and acid, a little residual sugar, long length This is 100% Gibbston fruit from a single vineyard.

The Wentworth Estate vines that Peregrine maintains surround the woolshed. They are also the caretakers of the historic structures they occupy, part of the region's history of rugged pioneers. So far, our host remarked, the weather has been kind to their vines, which are quite young, therefore not yet deeply rooted in the alluvial schist they occupy. Peregrine markets a sparkling wine made in limited quantities by a local independent maker, but do not produce their own bubbly as yet.

Winery Visit No 3
Just a little further down SH6 lies the lively, lovely Gibbston Valley Winery, a cluster of buildings in brick (including the new cheesery) with a restaurant patio as its centerpiece. The bar is nice. Gibbston Valley charges $4.00 for a selection of 4 tastes, plus tasting notes, but you get to choose from 8 of their best, including reserves and older vintages.

My mind was barely on tasting when before my eyes Miranda appeared in a uniform. I had just been at the end of asking about the possibility of work there for a month. My sister in fine dining was extolling the place. I told her I happened to be looking for work in a good, serious establishment, and next thing I knew resumes were out and Shehu was chatting with the chef.

We discussed the possibility of staying on long term, because apparently Shehu got a good impression of the place. He discussed with the chef that we were only looking for about 6 weeks of work, but we were filing for residency and willing to stay on if he could be promoted to Sous Chef at some point soon.

From the upcoming book release:
The Life and Times of Love and Vines – The Travel Memoir of Rashida Veronique Serrant DWS

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Introducing: Wine Personified

Contemplating my recent Bubbly Talk Radio interview with Champagne Sister Mella (@ChampagneChat) it has begun to dawn on me how paramount this book really is! I’ve shared this vision with other people along the way, and they have all embraced it as something unique and refreshing. I’d like to now share it with you in anticipation of publishing this work so that you can finally “know something about wine”. This is the next incarnation in my wineLIFE.

This book is a compilation of a blog series I wrote last year in which I introduced my readers to 16 different grape varieties one by one, including all of the ones commonly seen in the marketplace as well as a select few that are off the beaten path. The point was not just to educate about wine – people generally think they need to take a class and pass an exam just to buy a bottle of wine. The main point was to make you more comfortable with wine on a personal level so that you could stroll into a local retailer or nonchalantly peruse a wine list and pick something without feeling intimidated. A secondary benefit was to introduce the reader to some new things to try. After all, one of the most beloved parts of wine is that there are so many different kinds, myriad experiences to be had, thus, there is no reason to stick only to what is popular or ubiquitous if you don’t want to.

In each chapter, you meet someone. Perhaps you learn a bit about what they were like as members of their High School population as teens, then you learn about what they became when they grew up. This part is an opportunity for you to recall someone you know in real life – often I look at people that I meet and know and I think of them as a grape variety they remind me of. For example, my best friend Janet is Tempranillo all day! Just like a wine made from Tempranillo, Janet has killer curves and great beauty. She is smart, sexy, and sassy.

Once you get to know the persona, you are then introduced to the wines made by that grape variety and how you can recognize the personality of the grape variety in the wine, including typical flavor characteristics, body (how substantial it feels in the mouth), acidity, tannin (applicable for red wines, causes a drying sensation on the tongue, a feature that contributes to mouth feel) and sweetness. To recall my previous example, Rioja wines made from Tempranillo tend to have an interesting combination of flavor characteristics that include some dark berry fruit, baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and green herbs like sage with hints of leather. It is generally medium to full bodied, with enough acidity to make your mouth water for another sip. The tannin creates minimal mouth drying, more of a silky texture on your tongue and the wines are never sweet! That very much reminds me of my bestie!

If at the time you read my book you are already familiar with Tempranillo – maybe you are a fan of Rioja wines or other Tempranillo-based wines from Spain and beyond, you may find a sense of familiarity. Perhaps you will happily procure some new words with which to write your tasting notes or describe it to your friends. If, on the other hand, you have never tried a Tempranillo before, you will probably want to seek her out after reading her profile so you can experience the magic too.

Yes, you will learn something reading this book – its educational, even so far as to be structured like a reference work that, after your first cover-to-cover read, you can check back to as needed. More importantly though, it’s a fun read! You will sit on the train on your way to work and giggle as you read about how Riesling (The Cheerleader – cute, lovable, often sweet) grows up to own a pastry shop where she spends her days baking cupcakes.

Wine Personified is schedule to be released by June 2013. I’m so excited about this project! If you want a sneak peak, peruse my blog archives from the latter half of 2011 into February 2012. I suggest picking 2 or 3 posts to read about individual grape varieties, then after that, check out my December 21, 2011 post entitled Vino Bash at Pinot’s, in which the grapes all get together for a holiday party!

Click here to listen to my 30 minute Bubbly Talk Radio Interview.

I’ll keep you posted! Follow me @wineLIFECEO

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

New Zealand, December 2001 - Excerpt from The Life and Times of Love and Vines

Shehu and I had just returned from a Great Barrier Reef SCUBA diving trip in Mission Beach, North Queensland, Australia, followed by a few more South Island
adventures in New Zealand in our 1982 Nissan Vanette, affectionately named “Mac”. In this passage, we are in Queenstown staying at a friend’s home and doing temp work while we prepare for our next adventure: The Milford Track, a legendary 3-day hike through what’s left of paradise!

December 9, 2001
Kim and Jane at Adstaff found us lots of work in Queenstown. We each worked two days, and then we found ourselves chilling at Steve Olsen’s crib getting ready to go on a three day camping trip in Milford Sound, a pristine, barely touched world of calm waters flanked by steep mountains, lush pure forests and majestic waterfalls. It’s the pride of New Zealand, a bona fide World Heritage site. Everyone who talks about their experience on “The Milford Track” seems to have trouble finding the words to describe wheat they’ve seen there.

As for driving through Arthur’s Pass and down the west coast, that can be described in two words: tumultuous rain. We drove out of Christchurch and right into a mass of
rain cloud many acres broad. Mac needed the shower after sitting idle for 3 weeks in the mildly urban Papanui neighborhood while we spent a week in Auckland and 2 weeks on Mission Beach doing just as little.

The waterfalls at Devil’s Punchbowl, just outside the tiny hamlet of Arthur’s Pass, were magnificent. It was worth a half hour hike in the rain to see, and the rivers that flowed out from under the falls were raging. These green, bushy hills lay at the north of the Craigieburn range where the club ski fields lay, and we reminisced as we drove through Springfield and past Porter Heights. Maybe we can return next year, if we get residency.

There were waterfalls everywhere coming down the West Coast. The jungle around Franz Josef glacier was lush and beautiful, but the rain made the town dreary. We could get no signal for our cell phone out there in the boonies. So we poked our heads into a couple of hostels and found the local pub, where we saw our first New Zealand rednecks. I figured they really didn’t see black people much (or at all) in these parts. They made some crack about us “getting lots of sun” or something.

From the upcoming book release:
The Life and Times of Love and Vines – The Travel Memoir of Rashida Veronique Serrant DWS

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fall 2012 Back-to-Wine-School: Three Wine Books for Your Flipping and Sipping Pleasure

As a certified wine geek, I have amassed over the years a sizeable library of wine literature, from the novel-esque to the encyclopedic. Some I refer to on a regular basis, others give me pleasure just knowing that I own them, reminding me of the joy I had reading them when my eyes fall on their spines every now and then. There are some even that I procured and never actually read. Having said all that, it isn’t necessary to collect two shelves full of wine books if you just enjoy wine for pleasure. Nonetheless, there are a few books that the growing wine enthusiast should consider making shelf space for, as they can enhance your enjoyment of wine through better understanding. After all, the one thing I have learned about wine and its effect on people (other than a bit of alcohol-induced euphoria) is that the subject intrigues them, and as their thirst for wine grows, their thirst for deeper knowledge of wine grows. If you could commit to three wine books to have in your possession that will feed your interest, these are the ones I recommend:

First off, have a great book that gives you a thorough introduction to wine basics. The Windows on the World Wine Course by Kevin Zraly (Latest Edition, Sterling
Epicure 2012) was my first, the one that started the love affair. In it, Zraly brings you into the world of wine without drowning you in a deluge of technical information. This is a cover-to-cover must read that will give you a much better overall understanding. It is very nicely sectioned into bites you can digest, and by the end, you will feel like you have an inside scoop.

An alternative to Zraly’s book is Wine for Dummies by Mary Ewing-Mulligan MW and Ed McCarthy (5th Edition, John Wiley & Sons 2012). Written by one of my teachers and mentors, this is another great book to have on hand. Assuming you aren’t willing
to put the time and effort into reading a work like Windows all the way through, this is a great reference book for someone who just wants to understand a specific wine a little better in the moment (perhaps when considering buying a bottle or even while drinking it). If you are familiar with the “For Dummies” books, then you know the great features that make them easy to learn from.

In addition to the aforementioned books, having at least one other title to adorn your shelf makes sense if you have a growing interest in a particular region or type of wine. For example, I got myself a copy of Australian and New Zealand Wine for Dummies by Maryann Egan (Wiley Australia 2004) after having spent 1 ½ years living in that area of the world and becoming intimately acquainted with the wine industry there. The book helped me fill in some blanks, and in retrospect, I wish I had read it before my journey.
Books like that will be assets in helping you prepare for a trip to a wine region so you can make the most of it by having some advance knowledge of what to look for and expect and how to find the goodies! There are a variety of books in the black-and-yellow collection, including Champagne for Dummies by Ed McCarthy (IDG Books 1999), which gives lots of great anecdotes that help you really get acquainted with the people behind the magic!

Later on in 2007, Joƫlle Thomson, a New Zealand wine and food writer, published a wonderful work called Celebrating New Zealand Wine (New Holland 2004) in collaboration with photographer Andrew Coffey. I bought it as soon as I learned
about it. It turned out to be a wonderfully romantic photo series of New Zealand wine country with great prose about the people and the land, less educational than aesthetic but very satisfyingly so as I reminisced about the amazing experiences I had in Kiwiland while turning its pages over many a glass of Central Otago Pinot Noir. This is your third wine book must have – a book of wonderful wine country photography to flip through while you sip. A publication like this will give you what your other two books lack in vivid imagery. As much as I constantly feel compelled to remind my readers and students that wine is an agricultural product and the wine industry is a business driven by most of the same factors that drive any other, it is still important to remember and appreciate the romance of vineyards and wine drinking. It’s why you love it!

In the next installment of our Back-to-Wine-School series, we will look at wine classes and help you zero in on the one that will suit you best, whether you are considering a career in the industry, a trip to Napa Valley or the start of a collection for your drinking pleasure.

As always, your comments and questions are graciously welcomed!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Coming up this Fall on wineLIFE myLIFE

September 2012 - Wine School Review: The first in a two part "Back to School" Series for my fellow wine lovers, I will help you sift through the many wine classes and courses that have proliferated since the wine-eratti figured out that YOU LOVE GOOD JUICE!! Don't worry kiddies, mama will help you figure it out before the school bell rings!

October 2012 - Wine Book Review: In the second in my two part "Back to School" Series, I will help you sort through the stacks and find the books that will tell you what YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT WINE based on what your interest level is. Whether you're just a happy tippler or you are seriously considering a career change into my world, this piece will help you zero in on the right literature to accompany your next glass.

November 2012 - An Ode to Champagne: In honor of my #ChampagneSister nomination (thank you @ChampagneChat), I must write about the world's most fabulous drink! You will learn that it isn't just for toasts as we discover ways to enjoy it throughout the meal - now that's sparkling lifestyle!!

Plus sneak peak excerpts from my upcoming book The Life and Times of Love and Vines!
Follow @LyfTymzLuvVynz


I can't wait to get your feedback on these posts! Cheers :)


Rashida Veronique DWS

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why Not Certify - Organic Reasoning in Wine

On a recent Monday evening at the New York Open Center, members and guests opened their minds and palates to a world of alternative viticulture in a talk and tasting of organic, biodynamic and sustainably produced wines. Conspicuously, the organic wine chosen for the evening was not certified so. There was no indication whatsoever of the fact that they do indeed employ organic farming methods on a vineyard that has been farmed with the same care for more than 30 years in upstate New York's Finger Lakes AVA, one of the only such vineyards in the district.

I felt it wholly important and interesting to talk about why organic wines in particular are often not so labeled or certified.

Here are some reasons:

1. Unfavorable Climates - In the Champagne region of France, for example, the climate is northern continental, with very cold winters and cool summers. This has historically been a marginal wine growing region and ripening is uneven over the years, hence the prevalence of non-vintage champagne. It's the one French region that markets their wines by brand more than by vintage or terroir, creating a consistent proprietary style by blending wine kept in inventory over a series of vintages. There are only 4 or so years every decade in which a champagne house will make a vintage champagne, that's how many times every ten years the weather is kind enough to give the champenois one awesome harvest. The initial changeover from conventional farming to organics makes an impact on yields, and the duration of that impact is difficult to determine beforehand - who knows what could happen?? While there are a few organic champagne vineyards, by and large, its a difficult feat and still remains a miniscule part of the overall market there. Perhaps global warming will usher in more possibilities...

Long Island is another great example. Here there are no known organic grape growers at all. The North Fork of Long Island and The Hamptons AVAs exist way out on the east end in the cradle of the Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay - a quintessential maritime climate. Humidity abounds and with it, rampant fungal diseases of every possible sort, so abandoning a spraying regime is a changeover that could easily spell disaster for a vineyard in any given vintage. Perhaps someone will have the courage one day, but for now, use of agrochemicals is common, if reluctantly so.

2. Unfavorable Markets - Once again in Champagne, another reason for the fear of lost yields through organic changeover. The champagne industry is made up of growers and producers who are essentially not all in the same business. The growers grow the vines and in general don't produce the wine from the grapes they grow. Instead, they sell their harvest to champagne houses, who then make wine. Growers profit more from quantity than quality. Remember the wine is just going to be blended anyway, so while quality is a consideration, wineries largely want to make sure they get a good price per kilogram.

3. Technicalities - It was a Saturday morning at the 82nd Street Farmers Market where I met Kelly Barrett, who's family owns Silver Thread Winery on Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes district in central New York State. At the end of last August, Shannon Brock and her husband Paul took the leap and purchased the 35 year old winery and vineyard. Paul, who was previously head wine maker for Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars (also on Seneca Lake) and currently teaches winemaking at Finger Lakes Community College in Geneva, NY, worked with previous owner Richard Figiel during the six months prior to aid the transition. The previous owner was committed to sustainability and practiced organic viticulture since the inception of his vineyard. At one point, Silver Thread was indeed certified. Then came some new neighbors, who began farming using agrochemicals too nearby. According to New York State's certification guidlines, if farms in your area are spraying within a certain "drift area", you cannot remain certified. Silver Thread Winery lost its certification. Nonetheless, he continued his commitment to organic viticulture, and the new owners intend to carry the torch so they can preserve their beautiful land and vineyards for their two children, now ages 4 and 1, and their children after them.
(full article on Silver Thread Winery with tasting note to follow)

4. Principle - Much like Silver Thread, many vineyards in the world never adopted the use of agrochemicals into their work. In the old world, which essentially includes all of winegrowing Europe, you will find that there are vineyards that are centuries old and have always farmed this way, long before the existence of the modern day nomenclature "organic". For them, it wasn't a diversion from convention, it was convention; it was just the way things were done. For many of these viticulturalists, the idea of spending money and jumping through hoops to get certified for something they've always been doing is absurd!

Here's an analogy: What if bathing on a regular basis went out of style? Then a particular generation comes of age and decides that perhaps bathing was a good idea, because now we have a host of awful problems that resulted from the emergence of non-bathing. So they create an organization to promote regular bathing - you could even pay them money, follow their methods, and become "Certified Squeaky Clean" by their standards. If you were the person who never stopped bathing regularly in the first place, would you feel the need to become certified?

5. Cost - As with any kind of certification, cost is involved. Some certifying bodies are for profit, others are non profit, while still others are government based. Even the regulations vary from one organization to the next. The one thing they all have in common is that they charge a fee for you to place their seal on your packaging and let your customers know you are indeed organic. For some wineries and vineyards, most of which are small business, the cost of certification is prohibitive.

Having said all this, it's important to understand that none of these reasons changes the mindset - those that are practicing are committed, certified or not, and among those who are not pracitcing wholesale organics because of unfavorable conditions, there are those who are at least taking baby steps and making efforts to do the right thing in their own way. Officially, less than two percent of the world's vineyard was expected to be certified organic by 2007, but there is not (and can be no) official count of how many are practicing and are NOT certified. My best advice is to ask your trusted wine gurus in your favorite retail stores and restaurants to guide you. We know the stories behind the wines we chose to carry and will pass those on to you with great care so you can make informed decisions. We understand how important this is to you!