New England Wine Academy is thrilled to be able to offer the brand new WSET Beer Certification program. This newly released Awards program has only just been rolled out as of February 2024, and we are one of the first in the country to bring this course to beer enthusiasts.
The Level 1 Beer Certificate provides a great intro to the world of beer. You will learn through sight, smell and taste, you’ll become familiar with a range of beer styles and how they are made. If you work with beer, you’ll be able to answer customer queries with confidence and provide helpful recommendations. If you’re learning for fun, you’ll feel inspired to explore new styles and know how to get the most out of every glass.
As with all WSET certifications, the Beer program has been developed to meet the highest level of educational needs and expectations by the drinks industry as well as global educational standards. Building on a base of theory and understanding from the ground up is key to the programs, and allows students to progress through the levels with a comprehensive foundation that complements practical tasting as well as theoretical knowledge.
Current offerings are delivered via the Canvas online educational platform, and allow students to learn at their own pace over the four weeks and six modules involved in each starting date. Students will learn how beer is made, all about the base material for making beer, including hops and yeast, and then work through modules on various beer styles and understanding their characteristics, and then round out the learning process with some tips on storage and proper service of beer. Level 1 delivers a solid foundation that will allow students to progress to higher levels.
Classes start every two weeks through the academic calendar. Please contact New England Wine Academy with any questions, and see our enrollment page using this link.
Beer 1 Online Course dates are outlined below.
Course enrollment deadlines are highlighted in red.
Mar 11, 2024 > Apr7, 2024 (Mar 3)
Mar 25, 2024 > Apr 21, 2024 (Mar 17)
Apr 8, 2024 > May 5, 2024 (Mar 31)
Apr 22, 2024 > May 19, 2024 (Apr 14)
May 6, 2024 > Jun 2, 2024 (Apr 28)
May 20, 2024 > Jun 16, 2024 (May 12)
Jun 3, 2024 > Jun 30, 2024 (May 26)
Jun 17, 2024 > Jul 14, 2024 (Jun 9)
Jun 1, 2024 > Jul 28, 2024 (Jun 23)
Jul 15, 2024 > Aug 11, 2024 (Jul 7)
Jul 29, 2024 > Aug 25, 2024 (Jul 21)
February is always an interesting time of the year for me. It's a short month so there is always pressure to get a lot accomplished in what seems even less time than a normal month - I think it has to do with Valentine's Day, which for those of us in the restaurant industry always puts a big mark in the middle of the month. It's a lot of prep and planning as well as marketing and then finally the execution to maximize sales.
Beyond this, February always is loaded with a lot of things, including my birthday and my daughter's birthday. Swim meets to attend. Workshops to host. And then of course the weather is starting to make us think of Spring and warmer days and more sunshine - the 10 darkest weeks of the year are behind us! And for me, this means fending off the lure of leaving the keyboard and sneaking out for a ride in the woods.
This year has shaped up to be pretty much all of the same. I am a little behind in my monthly newsletter, but already this month, aside from the birthdays and great weather, I have also had a college reunion, been to NYC (see notes below), had 7 full supplier presentations, hosted a major wine gala, planned something like 16 dinner and tasting events - executing 6 already this month, and on and on. So apologies if this is a few days late, but here are the upcoming reminders and notes from NEWA to keep in mind for your planning and educational needs...
Feb 10 - Level 3 Wine Workshop
Hartford 9:30 - 3:00 pm.
This is the quarterly workshop I host for all Level 3 candidates. It is the best opportunity to get to taste and learn with me directly for this course. We cover multiple flights of wine all designed to help you calibrate to the WSET tasting style as well as give you a primer on the exam and what to expect for this. We also cover some theory as it relates to tasting. Open to all students currently enrolled in a Level 3 course, or anyone wishing to experience the WSET Level 3 Systematic Approach To Tasting. We always have extra room. Use this link to sign up if you are not already attending. Next workshop will be May 4.
Please use this link to find access to the enrollment pages for each of the classes listed below
WSET Level 1 Wine
Class running Feb 19, 2024 > Mar 17, 2024 (enrollment deadline Feb 11)
Class running Mar 4, 2024 > Mar 31, 2024 (enrollment deadline Feb 24)
WSET Level 2 Wine
Class running Feb 19, 2024 > Mar 24, 2024 (enrollment deadline Feb 11)
Class running Mar 4, 2024 > Apr 7, 2024 (enrollment deadline Feb 24)
WSET Level 3 Wine
Class starting Feb 19, 2024 > Apr 21, 2024 (enrollment deadline Feb 11)
Class starting Mar 11, 2024 > May 12, 2024 (enrollment deadline Mar 2)
WSET Level 1 Spirits
Class starting Mar 4, 2024 > Mar 31, 2024 (enrollment deadline Feb 24)
WSET Level 2 Spirits
Class starting Mar 18, 2024 > Apr 21, 2024 (enrollment deadline Mar 9)
WSET Level 3 Spirits
Class starting Apr 8, 2024 > Jun 9, 2024 (enrollment deadline Mar 30)
Dinner last night at Eleven Madison Park.
Had the full tasting menu with standard wines pairings.
Every dish was deeply layered with aromas, flavors, and textures that pulled you in.
I really tried not to take (too many) pictures, but we did write notes and attempted to keep track as best as possible to the descriptions. Often there were just too many ingredients or references to catch on the first run-downs by the service persons. I wanted to enjoy the experience without being too concerned with reporting, but sometimes I can't help myself. Anyway...
The highlight for us may have been the opening “tea” (I believe called - A Celebration of Onion) which was so concentrated with onions, leeks, rice, jalapeño, and a few other ingredients. I could have just had this all night. And from there through the dessert it was a series of dishes that were as visually pleasing as they were on the palate.
The wines for the most part were spot on. Selections from Italy, Spain, France (Champagne and Loire), everything was for the most part subtle and well considered. I found one course was not entirely to my taste from a pairing point of view, as the wine and the dish were independently delicious, but together they sort of clashed and the components canceled each other a bit. Elio Altare Barbera d’Alba is just a massive example of this grape - despite the Somm's insistence that it was "very juicy". There is acidity in this wine, but the spices and bitter aspects in the dish compounded against the tannin (yes tannin) in the Barbera and made each taste stiff and angular, and quite frankly dull, when in combination. Being picky here, but after the food cleared our palates the wine shined again. A simpler wine might have accomplished the goal.
Oh, and I did get served one wine that was corked and had to return. It was kind of a shocking little lapse of service to put that wine out, especially considering the fact that our entire meal was monitored by an army of highly trained and attentive service pros. Minor bumps in an altogether fantastic evening.
My afterthoughts on the food were a little mixed. Everything was outstanding - not a question on that front. But sometimes I think you can overwork the "art" and overwork things that were perhaps best left a bit simpler. I thought some of the dishes just had one or two, too many elements. Many dishes combined cuisines or ingredient inspirations from varied cultural influences, and on a couple of occasions this simply fell a little flat for me. Just one or two ingredients in the dish. As a whole concept, though, this was an extraordinary experience with too many ingredients to keep track of.
PS: the bread service is better than they say. So good we had it twice.
One of the handicaps that I have with working in the wine business, is that I know what the wines are and what they cost. So when I went to EMP, I was expecting to be wowed by the wine pairings (we had the standard pairing, not the reserve), and I think in general, I was simply pleased. No real surprises, just very good wines. As mentioned above, the wines were well considered especially with the style of the food, but when I did the math, there is a fair amount of serious profit in the wine pairing flights per the charge ($145pp), especially when you take into account the ~ 2oz pours. Don't get me wrong, the pour volumes were spot on and there are no complaints about that. All I am saying is that for the amount poured, there was a lot of margin. But that is to be expected, I suppose. The regular wine list is 229 pages, so feel free to order bottles if you like.
The top tasting wine of the flight for me was the first served - Gatinois Champagne, a very good mid-priced Champagne made from GC vineyards in Aÿ. Absolutely delish.
By the way, EMP is entirely vegan, if you were not aware.
We need more restaurants of this nature in the world.
This past week Enrique Olmedo joined me for an event and helped to host a luncheon featuring the wines from Bodegas Manzanos, which is located in Rioja, Spain. Selected wines from several of the properties or labels under the Manzanos labels were featured.
There is a long history with Bodegas Manzanos (see the website for full details) with the original winery being founded in 1801. The group now has estates, vineyards and holdings across Rioja and Navarra (located just to the east of Rioja), and in general produce many wines of very traditional styling. One of the things I learned from Enrique in our conversation was that they currently have vintages of Gran Reserva dating back to 1947 - yeah - 77 years! I have said many times that I believe Gran Reserva Rioja to be one of the singular best value wine categories in the entire wine world. You can routinely find current and library vintages that are not expensive - like seriously not expensive - especially when you take into account the age, the drinkability, and general fantastic style of these wines. Gran Reservas are aged a minimum of 5 years in a combination of wood and bottle prior to release, but this is only a minimum. The current Manzanos Gran Reserva is from 2015, and is delicious - but retail on this 9 year old wine is about $35. You don't get that from California, Bordeaux, Italy - anywhere really. Pro tip - get some Rioja Gran Reserva.
As a side note, we tasted wines at the event from Navarra under the Las Campanas label, and from Rioja under the Bercero and Manzanos labels. At the conclusion of the event I sat with Enrique and he was kind enough to give me a few minutes to answer 5 Questions...
Before we get started, tell me how you got your start in the wine business...
Actually, my first job in the wine business was as an intern working in Warsaw, Poland for the Spanish Embassy, there, and I was in charge of the Food and Beverage Department. We were in the embassy in the Economic Chamber. It was helping Spanish companies to make business in Poland, in general. I was in charge of food and beverage, and it was mostly wine. We organized a lot of wine tastings and trade shows for Spanish wineries in Poland. So that was my first experience in the wine business. Then I went to Chile, and then later I started working for Manzanos - they wanted people to work in the U.S.
Ok, that is the first time I have ever had someone tell me they started in the wine business in Poland - that's interesting.
Have you had any formal wine training, such as WSET, Masters of Wine courses, or similar - or have you just learned as you have worked?
Not really. I just learned along the way. I was passionate since I was pretty young and I learned by myself.
Did you ever work in restaurants or wine shops or anything connected to the wine business before going to Poland and working that government internship?
Not really. I had worked very occasionally in my home town but it was really in the tastings in Poland that I learned about wines and then along the way.
Outside of Rioja, where you/your winery is based, is there a style or type of wine that you like personally?
Outside of Rioja, I really like Jumilla in southeast Spain. Also, I like Priorat.
Anything outside of Spain?
I really like Malbecs. Chilean wines such as good Carménère. I was living there so I became fond of them.
So Malbec and Carménère are interesting because they are not super mainstream, at least here in the U.S. Obviously Malbec is more popular and we sell a good amount, but with Carménère we sell less by far. What do you like about Carménère? Is it something you can relate back to wines from Spain or is it because of a unique identity?
So, it is very unique, and to be honest I really like the story of how they thought is was extinct, but then they realized a lot of their Merlot was actually Carménère.
Thinking of your personal tastes, outside of your portfolio, on a Tuesday night - what do you like to drink?
I don't want to sound too nationalistic, but to be honest I really like to stick with what is grown in Spain. Any region really. Depending on my mood, I like wines sometimes from Ribera del Duero, Priorat, Jumilla, as I said before.
You have a lot of great wines in Spain - you don't have to apologize...
Not much is available in the U.S., but Granada wines (DOP in the south of Spain in the region of Andalusia) I really go for. High altitude wines and they are delicious local production. If you can find one they are really delicious.
How about cocktails? Spain is famous for cocktails - do you go for them, ever?
Yeah, I stick with classics. My cocktail go-to would be a gin and tonic. Now. I am getting used to the espresso martinis (you and everybody else) here in the U.S.
So not the Tuesday night wine, but in the past six months or so, what is the most memorable wine you have tasted? Anything stand out for being exceptional, rare, older, or just unique?
Yeah, yeah...we have wines from Manzanos from 1947 to 1989. Not every vintage, of course, but we have many older vintages. All in the Gran Reserva category.
You sell those? I'd like to get that list...
Yes, we even submitted the 1961 to Wine Enthusiast and receive 96 point, so that gives you a reference.
So, you have tasted some of these?
Yes, I tasted that one - the 1961. Phenomenal.
So at this point that would be 63 years old - that is pretty cool to get to taste something that old and from a completely different era.
Yes, pretty amazing.
Ok, that's it - thank you very much.
I really appreciate you taking some time and giving me a chance to learn about you and the wines, as well as attending the event today.
As a side note, a few facts about the wines from Granada, or as they are officially referred to...
D.O Vinos de Calidad de Granada
Authorized varieties for DOP Granada Wine:
A couple of bullet points before you get into my blog, below:
I have been in the wine business for a long time - about 30 years, in fact - and I remember a time when people could not get enough Merlot. It was literally the most in-demand variety on the market. In the early 1990s, Americans kind of woke up to the notion that wine was good for you, could be a part of a healthy life-style, and was actually quite enjoyable. In this wake, Merlot from California in the $10 range was king and everyone was planting it as fast as could be. Blackstone, Forest Glen and similar brands were literally built on Merlot sales.
Then came Sideways in 2004, and we have Miles' famous we will not be drinking merlot rant. The world shifted a bit and decided to change gears and drink Pinot Noir. Leading up to this though the styles of Merlot coming out of California were, well, ok. Some of the greatest wines in the world are made from or in part from Merlot - which is a bit of the irony in the storyline for Sideways, but in the explosion of demand in the late 1990s for this grape a lot of production was stretched and grapes were planted in less than ideal locations. The result was wine being made by mega-producers looking to capitalize on the new fad, and we got served a lot of plonk.
Merlot in general is softer than Cabernet Sauvignon, but can make structured and age-worthy wines; no doubt on this. But when it's over-cropped and fed a ton of garbage it does the same thing we all do in that circumstance - it gets fat and lazy and uninteresting. So in combination with the Sideways effect it was not surprise to see this fairly dramatic shift in the early 2000s from Merlot demand to Pinot Noir demand - I sold wine in those days for a wholesaler and we had some of the top Merlot brands around - and then we had some of the top Pinot Noir demands around. Merlot had gotten boring, Miles just yelled it loud for all of us.
Unfortunately, if mega-producers were making marginally decent Merlot, they sure-as-heck were not doing the same for Pinot Noir, which is an even more finicky grape to grow. What we saw happening was a lot of budding over of Merlot vines to Pinot Noir - a practice where they essentially lop off the top of the plant and put a bud from a new plant on the rootstock, and in a year or two - miracle! You have a new plant making a new grape variety. Merlot likes slightly warmer climate than Pinot Noir, and the result was a lot of basically half-assed, fat and flabby Pinot Noir (not a good thing) - and certainly nothing like you get from a cooler region like the Willamette Valley in Oregon, Santa Barbara, or even Burgundy.
Don't get me wrong - loads of great Pinot Noir out there, but in the $10-$15 range - there was a lot of garbage wine - and there still is to this day. In fact, it may even be worse now as the consumer's palate was morphed over the past 20-years to believe Pinot Noir should be round and flabby, dark and intense. And today, we still have mega-brands out there that bottle Pinot Noir with other grapes in the blend (Pinot Noir is not a good player when it comes to blends) and a lot of winemaking going on in the lab, rather than the cellar.
Merlot though is still a player. I have watched the sales volume of Merlot over the years and it has of course dropped, but it was not as quick and tumultuous as some believed. There were/are a lot of Merlot fans. Unfortunately, it has become a bit of a back-seat player, though. I had a conversation this week with one of my managers, and he said that we cannot sell Merlot to anyone to save our lives. Which is a shame because these wines are fantastic, and are often better choices to go with food than say a big, brawny Cab that is too young to drink. I also like Merlot for its red fruit and spice character, along with juicy, soft tannins. It's such a great blending partner, which is why it is still a grape grown in huge numbers for blending purposes.
Whether you are a fan or not, this is a great time to look for Merlot on a wine list or store shelf. I think the quality level in the $15-20 range has improved vastly over the years. And if you go just a bit higher in the price range you are going to find outstanding wines at better value to quality than a lot of "better" grapes. Look for wines from regions like Napa, Sonoma, Washington State and Bordeaux - yes, they grow Merlot in Bordeaux - a lot of it, actually. Just ask Miles.
How did you get into wine and how did you get started in the business?
I kind of grew up in the business - my father owned a store. I worked in the store through school and when I graduated from college, I didn’t really have a specific direction. He was opening a new venture and when that store opened, I got involved and that is where really developed an interest and got passionate about wine. Not so much the business or the industry but wine. I do enjoy the business but it’s really about the wine. I started in retail 37 years ago. That lasted about 6 years and then I decided to transition over to something that was more wine focused and moved into wholesale where I have been since. Working for Slocum & Sons and then Worldwide Wines as a sales rep, and now as a manager.
How has going through the WSET educational process helped or impacted you with your place in the industry? You have passed Level 3 Wine.
Yes. Candidly, I wanted to get to Level 4, and I really originally took WSET studies through Level 3 because of that. Unfortunately, getting the Level 4 has not proven to be logistically practical. But where I am is kind of where I expect to end up in the industry, so that is ok. I did Level 3 Wine during Covid lockdown, so it was also something to occupy my time, But I did notice and I continue to see more people referencing their level of award. At this point in my career, I did not really see it as critical, but why not? I love wine, I love learning about wine, and I had the time. For anyone starting in the industry it definitely helps to provide a foundation or structure for learning about the trade, and I encourage anyone who is new or just starting in the industry to further their advancements in WSET levels.
What is your go-to wine for a Tuesday night?
On a Tuesday? Whatever is left in the sample bag…
I almost exclusively drink Italian. I will mix some French in from time to time. If I am buying my own wine, I am probably going for a Nebbiolo, DOCG level Barolo, Sangiovese-based such as Rosso di Montalcino or Chianti Classico, etc…
So what is the attraction of those? Obviously Italian is a favorite place, but stylistically I am guessing there is something there that you enjoy that is different than French or California or others?
Yes, definitely. That is a good question…I definitely prefer Old World to New World regions, just stylistically, but why Italy over France? Mostly because I love the place.
You mentioned Nebbiolo and Sangiovese based wines, and those are grapes that tend to have little more acid structure and tannin structure to them, so I am guessing that is something that attracts you to these?
I feel like I am immune to tannin.
After this long in the industry?
Yeah, it doesn’t bother me one bit…and I enjoy high acid wines as well – both white and red wine.
What is your favorite wine region or place you have travelled to?
Piedmont. Without a doubt.
Anywhere in particular in Piedmont?
In the past 6 months, what’s the favorite wine you have tasted?
…Past six months, ok…
I could ask you what’s your favorite wine, but that’s an annoying question. And since you routinely taste a lot of things, I thought I would ask what stands out in recent memory.
That’s a really good question…ummm…
I am in a tasting group, and there were two bottles of 2009 Barolo from Giuseppe Rinaldi that we had last fall (2023). They make two Cru - Brunate La Coste and Cannubi San Lorenzo Ravera. Standout wines.
Tom and I have known each other for many years. We came across each other routinely as sales reps for competing companies, working a list of overlapping accounts. When I transitioned from wholesale to the on-premise, Tom took over the route I had been working and he became one of our reps for a number of years. He eventually transitioned to a regional sales manager in the same company, and we continue to see each other on a regular basis. A dedicated wine person, he has even inspired some of his children to work in the industry. I think he likes to box, as well.
For the fourth installment of this segment, we use a flight of Bordeaux red wines to illustrate the range of tannin in wine and how it can evolve over time, as well as the impact on style depending on the sourcing of the wine and the winemaking used.
What does all that mean?
Well, tannin is an important component in wine - we are talking primarily red wine in this exercise. Tannins are part of the group of phenolic compounds that originate primarily in the skins, seeds and stems, of the grape. Tannins provide two essential function in wine.
First, tannins are antioxidants, which means they help a wine age by binding up free oxygen in the wine and keep it from spoiling the wine. This is great if you want to put some wine away in your cellar and age it for a period of time. It is also why many of the wines that are considered best for collecting and aging are wines with elevated levels of tannin.
Secondly, tannin molecules attract to protein molecules and help to balance them out when we consume in conjunction with each other. Having a steak with a big red wine is a great combination because the tannins help to soften and pull back the richness in the steak created by the fat and protein, and can make a steak taste softer and give an overall better palate feel.
It is important to understand that not all wines have equal levels of tannin and not all food has equal levels of protein. A T-bone steak will have a different level of tannin than a piece of salmon or chicken, and as such a different wine will be more appropriate in the pairing. The T-bone might be best with a rich Cabernet from Sonoma, while the Salmon will be better with a Pinot Noir from Oregon. The Pinot Noir has thinner skins and as such will not be as tannic as the Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon. The Pinot Noir may get overwhelmed by a big steak, just as easily as the chicken can be no match for a big Cab.
Ok, so just upfront I am going to say that aged Cru Classe is not an easy or inexpensive prospect. Retail stores are not in the business of cellaring wines - they want to sell what they have not hold it. And anything c=Cru Classes has kind of gotten pricey over the past 20+ years. Although, you can find great wines in current vintage, the trick is to find and aged wine. And unless you had the foresight 20 years ago to stock away some cases or you have a rich Uncle that like to go to auctions and collect Bordeaux, you might be out of luck on this. Just do your best find a wine, and as noted in a previous post you can use a Grand Reserve Rioja as a sub. These are much more accessible examples.
A young Bordeaux and a Cru Bourgeois sample should be much more attainable and easy to find. Any good wine shop will have multiple examples of Bordeaux Rouge, and because this is not a fast turn-over category, the Cru Bourgeois on the shelves may actually be a few years old and a good sample for this flight.
Many younger basic Bordeaux are going to made primarily from Merlot, with some addition of Cabernet Sauvignon or Franc rounding out the blend. This means the wines will show very soft in the tannin structure and pretty red fruit forward for aromatics and flavors. By soft tannins, I mean the grippy, astringent feeling we get on the ind=side of our cheeks and across our teeth and gums from tannins will be less intense than from one of the other wines int his set. In fact, the basic Bordeaux should be the easiest to drinks and least drying of the flight. Remember, tannins bond with protein and if we just taste a wine on its own with no food there is very little protein on our palates, naturally. Just the limited amount in our saliva is present without any food. Take a sip of wine and assess the tannin, then eat a piece of food with protein in it and see the difference on the palate for the wine and the food. A piece of meat, some cheese, or a piece of tofu if you are vegetarian/vegan will work.
When stepping up to the Cru Bourgeois, it is important to note that this category of wine is primarily a Medoc based designation, and as such the wines will often be based on Cabernet Sauvignon, although not always. A very high quality category of wine, these are some of my favorite value wines in the entire wine world. Great sourcing and regional knowledge in winemaking, and a periodic evaluation to maintain the Cru Bourgeois designation, but without the high price tag of the top Chateau from the region, all combine to give us a great wine category. These wines will show more depth and intensity in color, aromas and flavors, as well as tannin structure, typically. At five years of age these tannins will still be present and create the drying affect on our palates, but the tannins will have begun to resolve and soften, making for a silky style of wine that can be very versatile with food pairings. Chateau Greysac is a widely distributed example, but there are a number of example often in a well-stocked wine seller.
Moving to the Cru Classe wine in this flight, if you are lucky enough to be able to source this wine then you will have the opportunity to experience a tannin structure that is well on its way to being in harmony with the other components of the wine. Still youthful with regard to the fruit aspect, many wines in this category should have the quality and pedigree to last well beyond this, slowly and gracefully aging to the day they are opened. In December of 2023, I opened a bottle of 1983 Chateau Beychevelle from my cellar, and it was, at 40 years, still holding color and the tannins were sound and supple. I took a bet many years ago and set this wine on the rack. But that roll of the dice paid off as this wine proved its value as a top level producer, and I was supremely happy with that decision. If you have a wine of a similar nature then you can contrast it with the younger wines that will have more robust tannins and and leave a much deeper drying or astringent quality on the palate than a wine that is fully developed.
So in conclusion to this flight, the learning outcome here is to demonstrate that wines evolve over time and the components in the wines change. Color changes - usually turning more garnet to brick in red wines (more golden in white wines). Wines will pick up more tertiary aromas and flavors over time. The process of cellaring a wine is basically a controlled process of composting slowed down and kept in isolation to prevent spoilage. This means we should expect to find more earthy and savory aromas/flavors in wines as they get older, as long as they do not completely spoil. And the mouthfeel of a wine will evolve as the tannins break down and become smoother and softer. The cells that originally came from the skins and seeds and stems of the grape literally break apart over times and become very fine grained - sometimes almost non-existent with enough time. These three wines, tasted at different stages of development, and overlaid with different quality levels, provide a great flight to experience these changes and understand development in wine.
Without acid our food and drinks would be flat and have no life. Acidity makes things better. That is why we squeeze lemon juice on all kinds of dishes, add lime juice to our margaritas, and put vinegar on our salads.
Acid in wine comes from the grape. As a grape ripens over the growing season the plant replaces acid in the berry with sugar. This is part of its reproductive system, but humans have learned to control and capture this sugar to our benefit and make wine from it. Some grapes are naturally higher in acidity than others (Riesling and Sauvignon are higher while Chardonnay and Viognier can be more medium) and the climate where grapes are grown will have a huge impact on the acid levels in the grapes, as well as harvesting earlier or later. Many factors can contribute to the acidity in a wine. In fact, some wineries even add acid to their wines to make them more palatable when it is not produced naturally.
In part 2 of this tasting series, we took a look at sweetness in wines and it should go without saying that acid and sugar are often discussed in very similar and closely aligned conversation. They is often a look at how the acid in a wine compares to, balances with, or contrasts to the acidity in the wine. For this flight we use examples that are fairly low in sugar so we can see how wines might differ with regard to acid, specifically.
My recommendation is often to use a Gruner Veltliner from Austria, as an easy substitute in this slot. Gruner Veltliner is often harvested just barely at ripeness, comes from moderately cool climates (especially the lower priced ones) and is full of under-ripe, vegetal notes that work well with plant-based cuisines. What we are looking for here is a wine with high levels of acid and not much else. Not really neutral but just not oaky or showing any maturation characteristics, and from a cooler climate. Many of these wines come in liter bottles for about $10-$15. Groiss, Grooner and a number of others are easily accessible. You don't have to spend a lot here, so don't.
In contrast we want to taste this wine side by side with a wine such a California Chardonnay, or similar, that has some oak and comes from a warmer climate. Why warmer? Because in a warmer area, grapes ripen faster, which means they build sugar in the berries faster and earlier in the growing season than grapes grown in a cool region. Harvest in Sicily can be as early as July due to the heat there, while grape harvest in Oregon might be well into September or even October (although climate change factors are definitely impacting this range). There are many examples - a California appellation $15 Chard with about 14% abv is perfect.
The final wine in this flight is a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc such as those typically found in Marlborough. These wines are often harvested just at ripeness, have high levels of acidity due to the cool climate and are very aromatic, with loads of tropical and vegetal notes often dominating the aromas and flavors. What we are looking for here is that high level of acidity - NZ SBs are often our marker for HIGH acid - as well as the very aromatic style of the wines with the tropical notes. Satellite, Dogpoint, and Lobster Reef are a favorites of mine, but there are literally dozens on the market. Stick with moderate prices but not so much with the mass-marketed brands. these tend to have a bit of RS added which can confuse. Marlborough is your place.
In conclusion, the Australian Riesling or the Gruner Veltliner in this flight show us an example of fairly neutral, high acid, under-ripe (dry) wine. The Cali Chard will be medium in acid, typically, and with any oak influence with show us a rounder mouthfeel and an off-dry overall feel (typically). And the New Zealand Sauvignon will split the middle with very high acid, very high aromatics and a mostly dry style, that is lean on the palate but can also be somewhat balanced due to the Sauvignon's nature in having more richness, naturally.
It should be noted that while these notes are intended to be guidelines in buying and calibration tasting, it is important to taste and evaluate all wines and assess their own merits. These flights are great to use for study but add in a few other wines and you can really begins to understand the differences in wine styels and components.
This flight is one of my favorites as it help students understand one of the most confusing aspects of taste - specifically how to properly assess and understand what the terms 'dry' and 'sweet' mean when it comes to tasting things.
When we taste, our brains are interpreting tactile sensations being received on our palate by receptors, known as taste buds. That's it. Taste is a tactile sensation. Remember this, because one of the most common comments I get from new students is that their wine smells sweet. Smelling is a different sense, and one where we cannot receive information about whether there is sugar present in a wine or other product we are assessing. You are smelling fruity aromas that are often associated with a sweet product (think under-ripe vs ripe strawberries), but until you put the item in your mouth, there is no way to know if it contains any sugar. Both strawberries will smell like strawberries - although the over-ripe example will probably be more intense with strawberry aromas. But when tasting the under-ripe strawberry you will not get much sugar and probably more of a tart feel on the palate. Then taste the over-ripe example and it will be luscious with sweetness as the under-ripe tartness and lack of sugar will have given way to a concentration of sugar (and aromas) in the fruit.
In this flight we will see a similar range of sugar and aromas concentrations in the various examples. This is a huge lesson for new tasters, but one that Level 3 students should hopefully understand at this point.
We taste these wines in a flight to compare and contrast the differences in sweetness level, as well as quality levels in premium verses good quality wines. To break this down and understand the flight it is imperative to know some theory on wine making and the regions, specifically when it comes to cool climate regions where oak is not always the main factor in production or maturation.
Alsace is a fairly warm and dry growing region - especially in the middle of the summer growing season. It sits in the rain shadow of the Vosges Mountains in eastern France, very close to the German border, and tremendous quality wines are produced here. Grapes often have a lot of hang-time in this region as producers want to get great flavor concentration in their wines. This means we have lots of sugar in the grape at harvest, and this sugar is then fermented to relative dryness in the finished wines. Alcohols tends to be slightly higher as a result and this can be a tool when buying wines of this nature as a higher abv (13.5-14%), can indicate a dryer wine. Because of the longer hang-time, the grapes can develop thicker skins and a higher level of phenolics in the finished wine, often misinterpreted as oak. Trimbach and Hugel make great examples of Alsace Riesling, and should be commonly found.
We contrast this with a high quality wine from the Pfalz, a region not too far away from Alsace, just over the Rhine River in Germany. These wines will allow for a more floral and concentrated set of Riesling aromas, and are often slightly 'sweeter', although I use that term lightly as the wines are not sweet. They are well balanced, and display a great tension between the some residual sugar and the acidity in the grape. When a wine has an elevated level of acidity, it can carry some residual sugar (RS) that can balance against this acid to create an elegant drink. Think lemon juice vs lemonade. With raw lemon juice we have a very high level of acidity, but low level of sugar. Add some sugar water and you can create a well-balanced beverage that has just the right amount of sugar to contrast the lemon's acid, making for a refreshing beverage. Add too much sugar and you get lemon candy. The winemaker's goal is to find just the right balance point between the acid and sugar. Pfalz producers are experts in this. You can also find a Riesling from the Rheingau or Nahe, for this slot. Just stick with Kabinett level. Burklin-Wolf and Donnhoff are accessible producers. 12% abv is the goal.
For the off-dry to sweet styles, a Mosel QBA is a great, affordable example to source. These wines will be slightly lower in abv (9.5%), and display a distinct sweetness that can balance against acidity quite well. Beautiful to drink and great with spicy dishes from Asia or anywhere hot peppers or heat are part of the cuisine. The RS will off-set against the heat in the pepper for a great food and wine pairing. Look for Dr L by Loosen, or similar product with a lower abv.
It should be noted that the Mosel QBAs are not typically fully sweet. For this affect you would want to source a Spatlese or Auslese or a true dessert wines to see what much more sweetness does in a wine. A Dr L Riesling has about 9 g/L of RS, while a Port or Sauternes can be 110 to 200 g/L in RS - a huge difference in sweetness levels.
Check out the other posts on Level 3 Wine Tasting Calibration:
For student looking to source samples wine to use for study purposes, you will find a general list of wines to shop with. It should be noted that not all wines are available in all markets, but I have taken care to create this list with items that are widely distributed on a national basis.
The goal of this particular list is to source a starter list of wines that will help understand a few basic principles in taste calibration. Specially, comparing an unoaked and an oaked wines, as well as comparing youthful and developed or fully developed wines.
As a reminder, it is important to always try and taste wines is comparison flights as this will give you the best opportunity to see, smell and taste the differences between styles and components.
For the neutral white example it is best to source a style that is traditionally made with no oak, such as a Muscadet from the western coast of france. A great pairing for seafood, the Muscadet is made from a grape called Melon de Bourgogne, but this is not Burgundy. The grape has a fairly neutral aspect in its aroma/flavor profile, making it a great wine to use in this case. There are many producers, so any muscadet that carries hge appellation Muscadet de Sevre et Maine is acceptable. Should cost about $15 or less. Other neutral white examples can be a delle Venezie Pinot Grigio from Italy.
Contrast this with an oak influenced white such as a California Chardonnay that has been barrel fermented and/or barrel aged. The more oak the better. The small caution her is that many lower priced wines might say they have oak aromas, but often do not actually see a barrel but rather are made with oak chips, or worse, oak extract. Get a great bottle of oaked chardonnay and enjoy. Examples from the Jackson Family of wines can often be found, just stay away from Kendall Jackson Reserve Chard. Opt for a wine from the line of La Crema or Hendry Chardonnay. These wines may be a little more costly as the oak is expensive, but many wines from Napa and Sonoma are barrel fermented and or aged. Just check the notes to see how much. In this case more is better.
The thing to note when tasting is the vanilla, toast, cedar, spice notes in the oaked chard, and compare that to the absolute lack of these notes in the neutral white. Texturally the oaked wine should be much more round on the palate, longer in the finish, and most likely lower in acidity than than the neutral white. The Muscadet will also be categorized as youthful, while the oaked white could be youthful, but by definition it has seen some oak if it has spent time in barrel, so as long as it is a recent vintage then this wine will often be categorized as developing.
The Beaujolais is made from a grape called Gamay and these wines are typically going to be fruit forward with loads of vibrant red and blue fruits, have soft tannins as the grape is fairly thin skinned and grows in a cooler climate. As stated above, maceration times for basic Beaujolais is relatively short, so the extraction of thing slike tannin is minimized. The focus here for the wine is youthful, fruity aromas and a smooth texture on the palate. They are fruity, just not sweet - there is a difference. Mostly focused on Primary aromas, you might get a bit of secondary as some older and large oak can be used in production, but this is somewhat rare. Color here is also of note, as the Beaujolais will often be a vibrant ruby - even purple - and could go to deep although I find most to be medium. Look for a Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Village from producers such as Louis Jadot or Duboef. A Cru is not necessary in this flight. Get the most recent vintage as you can, but stay away from wines that are more than 3 years old or are Nouveau (unless it's Thanksgiving).
For the Rioja, sourcing a Gran Reserva that is of about 8-10 years is often the best option. These are also some fantastic wines to drink on a regular basis as they are tremendous values in the wine world. For the tasting comparison, we are looking for a wine that can display color that is impacted by long periods in wood. So a Ruby core with some garnet fade to the edge is often the case. The core color could also be moving to garnet, and in some cases you may even find wines that have definite amber edges.
On the nose we will find primary, secondary and tertiary notes. ANd this is key as it is important to being able to identify the notes derived from extended aging. More dried fruits, forest and savoy spects are often key here. Contrast this with the very youthful and primary notes in the Beaujolais and it should be easy to see what is meant.
On the plate the wine will have very soft tannins, depending on the wine. Remember these wines have been aged in combination of wood and bottle for a minimum of 5 years, but they are also designed to last for years and even decades upon release, so you could get an 10 year wine that is still fairly young in overall development. The point is that we will see the oak influence in the color, the spices and aroma/flavor characters and on the finish.
I am fond of producers such as Faustino, CUNE and Riscal.
You can also add another wine to the flight and see an aspect of oak influence but also with youthful and very ripe tannins. A Napa Cabernet Sauvignon from a recent vintage will often fill this listing. Just expect to pay a bit more. Honig Winery makes an exceptional Cab at a more moderate price point for this region. Also are family owned and a great people to support.
ABOUT THE Author
Brian Mitchell runs The New England Wine Academy, and is responsible for the content of this blog. With 30 years of drinks industry experience, Brian has learned a few things, but everyday he is learning more. This blog helps to bring that knowledge to you.