During these hot days of summer, I’m always on the prowl for crisp, refreshing whites and rosés. As I perused the shelves the other day, I came across a distinctively shaped bottle: tall and slender with the cross of Languedoc embossed on the neck.
This special bottle is indicative of the largest white producing area in the Languedoc region of Southern France – Picpoul de Pinet.
A ‘Crus’ of the Coteaux de Languedoc, the area is named after the varietal Picpoul Blanc (aka Piquepoul Blanc or “Lip Stinger”) which has grown in these vineyards since at least the 17th century.
The 3000 acres of vines are divided into two areas by a famous ancient Roman road called the “Via Domitienne” which, during that era connected the capital of Rome to Spain. Vineyards to the north are limestone, giving the grapes terrific acidity while those to the south lie on more flat, sandy deposits where the heat is tempered by Mediterranean breezes.
2011 La Domitienne Pique Poul, Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc
Bright and lively with aromas of ripe peaches, softly scented white blossoms and sea-spray, the palate shows deep lemon peel and touches of blanched almond all wrapped up with a refreshing saline minerality and bracing acidity.
Naturally, the wine would be perfect with seafood and shellfish or perhaps a crisp salad but at our house the wine was paired with music – in vinyl form; Boomtown Rats “A Tonic for the Troops” and Audience “Lunch”.
I came upon an interesting article today “Rosé wine, you’ve come a long way” from the Telegraph of London.
The writer, Victoria Moore discusses, among other things, how this style of wine generally considered a “swimming pool wine” but has suddenly risen into the strata of “chic”, partly due to the release of Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitts new vintage, “Chateau Miraval".
One reason I read the article was because I have been studying for my Master Level Provence Instructor accreditation, so I am obsessive about these things; I dream of the soil types of Provence and the various production methods. Sad, I know, but I do get to sample some fabulous wines as part of my ongoing research and education!
The other reason I found this piece from the British media of interest is because the fashion for ‘drinking pink’ is really nothing new at all- in fact, when the area of Provence was first settled, viticulturally speaking, red wines were not really ‘red’ as we think of them. Grapes were processed very quickly after harvest and, as archeologists are verifying, most of the wines of the ancient world had just a little color.
As for being ‘chic’, rosé was always the choice of the elite and the well-healed. These pale wines were the favorites of the Russian Imperial Courts and no self respecting aristocrat would drink a deeply hued wine, at least not until near the end of the 19th century.
The lighter wines were drunk for pleasure while the poor soldiers and peasants were given “Piquette” made from adding water to the pomace or pressed skins and seeds of the rich-man’s wine.
So get ready for the new 2012 vintage and sip some rosé. You’ll be chic, just like the citizens of Provence have been for, oh, about 2600 years!
Illustration courtesy of the Chrysler Museum of Art
"detail from Hendrick van Schoel's 1590 engraving Autumn from The Four Seasons, showing the ancient process of wine-making which made this region so famous.
Today is the one month anniversary of my becoming a CSW and the response of:
“Well, that’s great. Congratulations and what the heck is a CSW?” is the most frequent comment I’ve encountered and rightfully so.
It seems that we all get so wrapped up in our own professions that we forget that, what we think is common knowledge is really ‘Greek’ to everyone else. This is especially true in the wine world.
To clarify, CSW stands for “Certified Specialist of Wine” and is a post-nominal earned through the Society of Wine Educators.
Based in Washington DC, the SWE is “a non-profit educational organization whose mission is to advance wine education through professional development and certification” and the “Society's goal is to foster and promote the professional education and development of the individual in particular, and the professional education and development of the wine industry as a whole.”*
The test is multiple choice, 100 questions and based on the 250 page CSW Study Guide. Sounds simple enough. That was until I booked my exam date, December 6th.
Let’s just say that this little project consumed my life for about 9 weeks.
Besides the official book there were online quizzes, courtesy of the wonderful Jane Nickles (www.bubblyprofessor.com) and lots of flashcards! My IPhone voice memo app still has my dulcet tones reading the regions of Burgundy from north to south plus other tidbits of sleep depriving wine trivia. And did I mention the flashcards?
And maps- maps from the Guild of Sommelier, maps from Google, maps from - well, I’m sure you get the picture.
A few days before the exam I took some time off to attend a Guild of Sommelier Bordeaux tasting. I was speaking to one of the attendees (a “Somm” in a rather upscale San Diego restaurant) and noticed her CSW pin proudly displayed on her lapel. I mentioned that I was taking the test in two days. “You’ll be fine” she said then proceeded to tell me that she had to take the test twice as the first attempt yielded her a grade of 73, two points shy of the needed 75. Wow, great, thanks a lot!
Less than fourtyeight hours later, the deed was done. And a week after that, on December 14th, my test results were online.
Was it worth the angst and time? Most definitely. Would I do it again? In a heart beat. I ordered the workbook for the CWE the very next day!
* courtesy of the Society of Wine Educators website: www.societyofwineeducators.org
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio threw a little party recently, to celebrate his 38th birthday. He lavished his guests with one of the world's most prestigious wines; Armand de Brignac Champagne.
For those of us who can't quite justify the $250,000 a bottle price tag, here's a wonderful video from the company's website detailing the painstaking techniques used to craft this precious wine.
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I am thrilled to announce that I am now, officially, a member of the Wine Education Network.
Started and run by Ron Quint CSW, this organization, among other things, states that " Our mission is to advance the growth of unpretentious wine education"
By being one of their official educators, it gives me a wonderful opportunity to share with other like minded wine professionals in spreading our passion and appreciation of wine in fun, interactive and non-intimidating ways.
Oh, and those "other things"? They include terrific YouTube videos and a television series "Wine Inside Out TV.
When you ask most people the first thing that pops into their minds when they hear the words "California Wine" they will probably say "Napa!", but did you know that Southern California's wine history is much older than our cousin to the north?
To celebrate the wonderful qualities of this AVA, the Temecula Valley Wine Growers Association has started a video contest with all kinds of terrific prizes. If you don't feel creative, get yourself a glass of wine, watch the entered videos and vote for your favorite. Just click here!
To wet your appetites, here is my choice ! Temecula Valley Wine Country: My Hometownby Karima Salmi
For me, one of the best things I do as a Wine Educator, is to work with Tasting room staff.
Often referred to as “servers” or ”pourers”, these important members of a winery’s front line are so much more.
Yes, one of the main parts of the job is to pour wine samples for visitors and be pleasant and hospitable, but when a team member loves and excels in their position they are part Host/Ambassador/Educator/Entertainer/Phycologist and Salesperson.
Welcoming every person who comes through the door and making them feel at home is common sense. Unfortunately, some establishments go only this far and then drop the ball.
An ‘Ambassador’ can tell you what’s going on in the area; where to eat; who has the best picnic spots; talk about other things to do while you visit their part of the world. Yes, there is apparently more to do out there besides visit wineries!
Wine ‘education’ is so important, and I know I’m biased in this department, but how can you expect your team to sell your product if they don’t know anything about it? The person who takes your order at Starbuck’s is well versed in coffee and your staff should be schooled in the basics of wine so they can be confident to answer any and all questions that come their way.
And with that confidence will come the freedom to ‘entertain’ your guests with stories and humor making each visitor feel special.
The ‘phycologist’ will know just the right questions to ask as well as have the patience to listen to your customers in order to ‘feel out’ their preferences and experience with wine. By doing so, the tasting can be tailored to their needs and your staff can suggest the right products. This makes them better ‘salespeople’ without having to badger customers with endless suggestions that don’t interest or appeal to them. Finding the right service, like a Wine Club membership or free shipping, shows that you listened to the individual needs of your guest.
So next time you’re swirling your sample at the tasting room bar, don’t forget to take a moment and smile at your ‘server’.
Three weeks from now, beginning July 25th, I will be sitting in a hotel conference room, surrounded by like minded wine geeks (and I use the term lovingly because I am one myself) absorbing knowledge like a giddy schoolgirl. Hopefully, this euphoria will not come just from the fantastic wines that I’ll be privileged to taste, but from the amazing symposiums I will attend.
I will take “A Fast & Deep Dive Deep into California’s Appellations”, taste “The Great Wines of Spain”, travel through “Provence: Ancient Roman Roads to Modern Biodynamics” and “Island Wines: Off the Beaten Path”.
Other session will aid me in transferring all this information to my students with “A Revolutionary Way of Teaching the Wines of France” and rev-up my seminars by going “Beyond Classes with Glasses: The Wine Educator’s Tool Belt”.
As you can tell, this is an event that I am looking forward to immensely and I can’t wait to meet all the other 381 attendees, spend three un-interrupted days sitting at those tables with a row of glasses before me and a world of wine to explore.
“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”
John Cotton Dana
There are times in this life when an opportunity presents itself and one would be a fool to look the other way.
Such an opportunity appeared in my inbox recently - an invitation from the French Wine Society to attend a tasting of Chateauneuf du Pape and Tavel, to be held in Los Angeles.
My first reaction was "yes, oui, where do I RSVP' Although I realized would spend more time in my car than at the seminar, I knew that every mile would be worth the experience.
It was described as a "Master Class" to be conducted by Kelly McAuliffe, one of the few, if not only, American Sommelier living and working in France. Yes, his credentials and experience are impressive, but his complete and total passion for the soil, the grapes, the winemakers and the wines of this illustrious region is awe-inspiring.
In my years spent talking about wine, I know how challenging it can be to keep it fresh and exciting when answering the same question for the zillionth time.
Yes, the wines were magical and I will write about them soon, but I would be remiss in not thanking the Society for this terrific day.
Merci, Monsieur McAuliffe for reminding me why I love what I do!
It's been a long, long time since I posted to this blog! There are many bottle of wine that have been consumed- some great and some not and I will be writing about those in the days ahead.
In the meantime, Spring will be upon us soon and here, in Temecula Wine Country, the buds have been appearing for a while. To mark the occasion, I want to share this charming video that takes you through the vine's beautiful cycle of life in under three minutes!
Wine lover, educator and writer.