Category Archives: Wine Education

WINE (noun): the alcoholic fermented juice of fresh grapes used as a beverage

Source: Merriam-Webster

A New Era for Chilean wine

chile

When you’re looking for a good every-day wine on a tight budget, you might find yourself turning to the wines of Chile. This long, narrow, and climatically diverse South American country has developed quite a reputation for value over the last couple of decades. But thanks to recent shifts in winemaking and marketing philosophies, Chile has increasingly become a source of interesting and high-quality wines that is worth keeping a close eye on. Much of the wine is still eminently affordable, but it now has quite a bit more to offer for the money!

Let’s take a look at some of the trends that are currently changing the face of the Chilean wine industry:

Experimental viticulture:

In a warm, dry, and geographically isolated country with little threat of disease or pests (Chile is the only major wine-producing country that has managed to remain completely free of the devastating phylloxera louse!), large quantities of wine can be produced with relative ease. However, in an effort to step up the quality and complexity of their wines, many producers are experimenting with techniques in the vineyard that stress the vine and facilitate even ripening, resulting in smaller yields of more concentrated fruit with balanced acidity and alcohol. Some of these methods include higher altitude plantings, early picking, the revival of old vines, and the exploration of cooler climate vineyards. Some regions to look out for include Leyda, Bio Bio, Limarí, and the Casablanca Valley.

A new approach to marketing:

With consumers becoming increasingly educated about wine and improving their understanding of their own personal preferences, wineries are beginning to step up their game from entry-level to higher-end and premium wines. While the Chilean section of the wine shop remains an excellent place to find sub-fifteen-dollar bargains, a new focus is beginning to emerge on smaller producers and more serious wines. Taking a page from Tuscany’s book, Concha y Toro’s Don Melchor, a superior-quality Bordeaux-style blend, established the category of “Super Chilean” wines with its 1989 release. It has since inspired comparable wines of top pedigree including Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserva, Emiliana Ge, Almaviva, and Lapostolle Clos Apalta. These blends often include Syrah and Carménère in addition to traditional Bordeaux varieties.

Grape Diversity:

A wide range of grape varieties can easily be grown in Chile’s versatile conditions, so many producers are looking to differentiate their wines either by putting their own spin on internationally beloved varieties, or using uncommon or locally historic ones, like País, a variety brought to Chile in the 1550s by Spanish missionaries (hence its North American synonym, “Mission”). This grape is shedding its reputation for overly tannic, unappealing bulk wine to make way for brighter, fruitier wines often made using whole cluster fermentation and/or carbonic maceration. Chile has also begun to consider some less common varieties from European countries, such as Spain’s Mencia, Portugal’s Touriga Nacional, and Italy’s Greco, Fiano, and Aglianico.

Meanwhile, the more common international varieties are showing no signs of slowing down.  Cabernet Sauvignon will always have its place, but classic Rhône varieties like Grenache and Syrah are picking up steam, encouraged by favorable climatic conditions and soil types.  Malbec, much more closely associated with neighboring Argentina, is another one to keep an eye on, especially when old-vine plantings are utilized. In cooler climate regions, fresh and light Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are produced with low alcohol and refreshing acidity, but don’t call them Burgundian — these wines are intended to express Chile’s unique terroir. Meanwhile, Sauvignon Blancs set themselves apart from those found in New Zealand with methods such as early picking, barrel fermentation, and lees contact to create a softer, less herbaceous or grassy style.

Old-world influence in the winery:

In addition to grape-growing techniques aimed at reducing yields, alcohol, and sugar levels in the vineyard, practices in the winery as well are moving in a direction inspired by the balance of old-world wines. This includes eschewing the use of new oak in favor of concrete eggs or large vats made of neutral wood to create food-friendly, approachable wines with round, silky tannins. When new oak is used, the goal is to create better integration with fruit flavors. Additionally, efforts in the vineyard to reduce alcohol levels in wines are further carried out in the winery during the fermentation process.

If you’ve been pigeonholing Chile as the land of bargain wines and bargain wines alone, now is the time to take a closer look as this country embarks on an exciting renaissance of wine production!

South Africa: New Land of Vines

MeerlustOn a continent that typically brings to mind dry, hot deserts and rainforest jungles, it’s easy to forget that there is also wine. But on the very southern tip of South Africa, vineyards thrive and produce a wide variety of grapes. Though the wines were slow to market due to the embargo on South Africa during apartheid,  the country has managed to solidify its presence as a quality wine producer over the past few decades. As a huge fan of South African wines, I wanted to share a few tips on what to try!

Reds are smokey-meaty:
This is a good thing — fire up the grill! Something about the land in South Africa brings out a gamey character in red wines, like bacon fat or smoked meat, especially in Syrah. Of course, this has nothing to do with the wild game that runs about in the country, but it is a happy coincidence — South African red wines are some of our favorites for roasted meats, stews, dishes from the grill, or anything wrapped in bacon (and what is not amazing wrapped in bacon?!?!?).

Sauvignon Blanc rivals that of New Zealand:
Crisp, grassy, tropical, zingy — all words that perfectly describe this alternate Southern Hemisphere thirst quencher.

But Chenin Blanc should be your new go-to wine for summer:
Chenin Blanc (until recently, the most abundantly planted grape in South Africa) is made in a dry style here, and is quite different from its Loire Valley counterparts. It has crisp acidity, a mineral component, and a wonderful texture — in a blind tasting, someone once took one of these for a Macon-Villages (which is Burgundian Chardonnay).  So if you love refreshing whites with character at great values, stock up!

At least try Pinotage:
If you’ve heard of Pinotage, congratulations. If you love Pinotage, well… you’re in the minority! The “flagship” crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault that was concocted in a laboratory in 1925 hardly made the wine world swoon when it was first introduced. But wait! There is plenty of high-quality, GOOD Pinotage, despite the general public opinion.  It’s certainly worth a try, especially the excellent example from Southern Right.

First Ladies of Wine

ladies drinking wine

Although the world of wine has historically been a bit of a boys’ club — or perhaps, a mustachioed, bespectacled, older gentlemen’s club — many women are increasingly finding a way in and dramatically impacting the industry for the better. Women, who, according to recent scientific research, may actually be in general more sensitive tasters than men, have broken through the (wine) glass ceiling to succeed as winemakers, winery owners, sommeliers, wine scientists, wine writers, and more.

In honor of National Women’s History Month, we want to take a moment to acknowledge some of the amazing female pioneers in their respective fields and recognize their indispensable contributions, from the vineyard to the lab to the glass, and beyond:

The first female to…

Run a Champagne House: Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin

The oft-repeated tale of the Widow Clicquot is one of the oldest known examples of successful women in wine. When her husband passed away in 1805, 27-year-old Barbe-Nicole, a newly single mother, was left to salvage her husband’s struggling wine company on her own. With her shrewd knowledge of both business and winemaking, she managed to turn the business into the now-infamous Champagne house Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. In addition to pioneering a vastly improved method for the production of sparkling wine, she also created the iconic yellow label now inextricably linked to the luxury brand.

Graduate from the enology program at UC Davis: MaryAnn Graf

These days, there is a great deal of talk about encouraging young girls to enter STEM fields, but when MaryAnn Graf was attending UC Davis in the early 1960s, it was rare that she even encountered a female classmate. Ms. Graf has always believed in working hard and paying your dues, regardless of gender, and her philosophy has clearly paid off. After graduating in 1965, she went on to become the first female winemaker of the modern era in California, as well as the first woman to join the board of directors of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture.

Be hired as a faculty member in the UC Davis Viticulture Department: Ann C. Noble

Anyone who wants to become a more skilled taster should immediately familiarize themselves with Ms. Noble’s body of work. Her research as a sensory scientist on aroma and flavor led to the development of the Aroma Wheel, which is a great tool for writing tasting notes when you want to be a little bit more specific than “notes of red fruit.”

Pass the Master Sommelier Exam in America: Madeline Triffon

If you have seen the movie SOMM, then you’re familiar with the incredibly intense preparation that goes into this prestigious exam. Only 147 people have succeeded in America since the program’s inception, and of the 23 of those who have been women, Madeline Triffon was the very first, in 1987. Since then, she has been putting her discerning palate to great use creating wine lists and guiding guests’ selections at top restaurants.

Pass the Master of Wine Exam:  Sarah Morphew Stephen

Although no one has made a movie yet about the Master of Wine exam, it is every bit as challenging as the Master Somm curriculum. The major difference is a focus on academic aspects of wine rather than restaurant service. Sarah Morphew Stephen, a Brit, became the first female to successfully complete the rigorous examination in 1970, despite having been told by a prestigious producer in Portugal that the wine industry was not “a place for women” after inquiring about employment.

 

How to navigate Bordeaux on a budget

Bordeaux. It’s the quintessential wine region for many collectors and wine lovers. And yet, it has always seemed unattainable. The French wine landscape has never been easy to navigate and even harder to decipher. Bordeaux, however, is easier than you may think.  Here are some great wines to help introduce you to the famous wine region of Bordeaux.  This is not about the grand chateau or wines that need years of cellaring – this is about the everyday drinker enjoying a great bottle of wine with dinner on any given night. 

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