About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Very Brief Look At Kosher Wine!

   Kosher wine is a complicated and tricky subject even for the very knowledgeable.   Any readers of this blog are advised to consult much more authoritative sources than The Wine Guy before utilizing the information here as a guideline for wine usage in any special observance.  My purpose here is to present a brief informative primer for wine aficionados and fellow wine stewards who often come into contact with people with questions on Kosher wine.

  Generally speaking, kosher wine must not contain or utilize any dietary ingredient prohibited under kosher law, must not come into contact with utensils or machinery that have formerly come into contact with those ingredients and both the product and all its associated utensils and ingredients must not have been in contact with idolatrous persons or utilized for idolatrous purposes.

  The fairly liberal Conservative Union has resolved that wine does not to be certified and labeled Kosher to, in fact, be considered kosher wine.  That however leads to considerable difficulty (and some controversy, as well) in determining if a particular wine, in fact meets the requirement of being kosher.  Typically organically grown and produced wines that are not hand made are generally considered kosher but care must be taken to research details.  For example a certified organic, sustainable wine may meet all dietary and additive restrictions. It may, however, have been made from manually crushed grapes, which makes it uncertain in meeting the kosher requirements for handling.  Similarly, a certified organic and sustainable wine could have been fined with agents from dairy and meat by-products thus negating the ability of the wine to be kosher.

   For that reason, those wishing to observe kosher in both the religious and dietary sense are best advised to select a wine that has been certified kosher by an appropriate rabbinical council or body.  In the U.S. these will either bear a “K” or “OU” symbol depending upon which governing body the certification comes under.   Wines bearing these symbols will have been certified to have meant all the condition above plus they will have the further requirement that the grapes and their juice, from the time of harvest through bottling, were only handled by Sabbath-observant Jewish males.  Additional caution is still required, however, in that bottled wines, certified as Kosher, can become un-kosher, in certain cases, if opened and handled by non-Jewish persons.  To overcome that possibility most rabbinical authorities add the proviso that the wine should be labeled “mevushal”  (cooked or pasteurized).  This process reduces the flavorings of many wines as well as its ability to age and is the reason that most of the early kosher wines were extremely fruity and sweet.  Recent technical developments, including “flash pasteurization have reduced this impact and have resulted in many fine kosher wines that ate drier and more full-bodied.

   The final complication comes into play in the observance of Pesach or Passover.  Many wines, certified as Kosher, and suitable for most other kosher occasions, may not be suitable for this Jewish religious observance because of its additional prohibitions and regulations governing “Chametz” and “Kitniyot”.  Chametz involves five grains (wheat, barley, spelt oats and rye) that have come into contact with water for more than 18 minutes.  It also involves any utensil or cooking item that has been utilized in preparing foods item considered chametz as well as any item that has come into contact with chametz that has not been cleansed.  During the days of Passover (and the number of days varies from Israel to other countries) observant Jews are prohibited not only from ingesting but also from possessing Chametz.  The other category, Kitniyot, includes maize, rice, peas, beans and lentils. The regulations covering exposure to Kitniyot vary from a complete prohibition for Ashkenazi Jews to limitations on usage (mainly non-food purposes) to allowance in some sects (Sephardic Jews).  In the case of aforementioned sweeter wines, some certified kosher wines were sweetened with corn syrups and therefore, would fall under the prohibition of using Kitniyot for food purposes and would therefore, be unsuitable for Passover.    Another example of a kosher wine unsuitable for Passover would be one in the yeast utilized to ferment the wine was grown on bread.  Not prohibited normally, this would violate the stricter provisions of the holiday.  Certified kosher wines that are also certified for Passover will be clearly labeled with an additional “P” symbol in addition to the normal "K" or "OU" if they are certified Kosher for Passover.  It is these only these wines that should be on-hand or utilized at Passover.

I hope you find the above information useful.  It’s important for us who work in wine to determine from our customers the degree and nature of the kosher wine they are seeking.  If the concern is just simply dietary in nature, many organic or sustainable wines that meet conditions set forth by the Conservative Union may satisfy their need.  If the desire for a kosher wine involves any form of religious observance or ritual, or if the customer is keeping kosher as a practice of his faith, care should definately be taken to insure the product offered has been properly certified by a rabbinical authority.  Finally, if the customer is seeking a kosher wine for Passover, extra care and verification is needed to insure the product meets the very special conditions for that holiday.

  Again, I caution readers that this is an area of very limited knowledge and expertise on my part.  For further information and guidance, consultation with a rabbi or with a governing authority such as the Orthodox Union is highly recommended.

   As a side note, I would also encourage readers who are lovers of wine history to also explore the impact of the Jewish culture on viniculture and winemaking.  References such as the description in the Old Testament of Noah planting a vineyard after the flood abound in Jewish history.  Wine has occupied a special place in their observances and rituals throughout their recorded history. The Jewish people were also probably the pioneers of ripasso style wine, having to resort to utilizing raisins in winemaking after being conquered by the Babylonians and forced to leave Jerusalem.  I am currently enjoying an exploration of this history and my discoveries will probably become something to share in future blogs.

   Until then, do take time to enjoy a glass of wine.  Le chayim!


Monday, March 21, 2011

Valpolicella: Veneto's Red Darling

The Veneto wine region:
This image by www.cellartours.com
and was utilized with permission.
 The northeastern crown of Italy is a great area for wine, both in terms of variety and in terms of quality. It is there you will find Veneto, a region that produces about 20% of Italian wines and whose history in viniculture dates back to the time of the ancient Greeks.  Nearly four-dozen grape varietals are agriculturally productive in the wine industry here.  It is also is home to at least twenty Italian D.O.C.'s.  Among its award winning IGT’s, is one of The Wine Guy’s favorite Italian wines (see 2 previous blogs:  “Italian IGT’s are Worth Exploring, 7/6/10 and Palazzo della Torre: An Old Friend Comes To Dinner, 8/4/09).  Veneto is also the home to a vino de tabla that, at times, has been one of the most sought after wines in the world:  Giuseppe Quintarella’s Cabernet Franc Alzero.
One of The Wine Guy's
Favorite Wine Posters

  Today’s blog is about Valpolicella, a D.O.C. wine from Veneto that has been sometimes called the Italian Beaujolais.  Like Beaujolais, Valpolicella can be made as a young, ready-to-drink harvest wine or made fuller and in some cases, aged to a great refined and complex red.  Unlike Beaujolais which is a single varietal based on the Gamay grape, Valpolicella is the product of a blend of grapes.  There are mainly three:  Corvina, (which can make up to 70% of the wine), Rodinella and Molinara.  The winemaker can add up to 15% of what are defined as “complementary” grapes.  Barbera, Sangiovese, Rossignola and Negrana are among those that are regularly utilized for this purpose.  Up to 5% of the wine can include other red varietals of the winemaker's choosing.

   These myriad combinations along with a plethora of winemaking styles result in a wide diversity of wines.  Valpolicella can range from a light and sparkling spumante to a richly aged and sweet Recioto.  In the D.O.C.'s beginning, the classifications included Valpolicella Nouveau (bottled a few weeks after harvest), Valpolicella Classico (not unlike Chianti Classico, this is primarily a geographical classification), Valpolicella Superiore (requiring alcohol content of at least 12% and a minimum of one year of aging) and Valpolicella Ripasso (utilizing the leftover pomace from the production of Amarone or Recioto to induce a second fermentation).    Desiccating, or partially drying grapes, before wine production is a practice utilized in the making of Recioto della Valpolicella and Amarone della Valpolicella.  It is a practice that was probably borrowed from the Greeks and can be traced back to the 6th Century A.D.  The name “Valpolicella” itself may be partially Greek in origin.  It is thought to have derived from a combination of Greek and Latin words that roughly translated to “Valley of Many Cellars”.  Cherry is the signature fruit taste you'll find in Valpolicella.   It ranges from light and sometimes sour in the younger styles to deep, full and laced with accents of figs in the more rich and aged styles. 

  Valpolicella largely escaped the scourges of the late 1800’s including the epidemics of phylloxera and downy mildew and the production of wines there mushroomed in the 1950’s. In 1968, it was granted D.O.C. status but a relaxation of geographic, yield and varietal requirements led to production of wines with variable quality.  A refocus on the better quality varietals, sources and the growing popularity of the Amarone and Recioto styles from the late 60’s through the 90’s saw a corresponding increase in higher end wines.  By 2000, the volume of sales of Amarone had doubled twice over to nearly four million gallons and in 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella and Recioto della Valpolicella were granted D.O.C.G. status.  Late in 2009 Ripasso della Valpolicella became a separate unique D.O.C. of its own.

    Today, whether you’re seeking the lighter exuberance of a younger harvest-style or the deep, aromatic richness of the more handcrafted styles, ( including Ripassas, Amarones and Reciotos or some of truly artisanal IGT’s and Vino de Tablas)  Valpolicella wines from Vento are well worth exploring.   Don't forget to try one of the Wine Guy's favorites:  Allegrini's Pallazzo della Torre.  Seek out and enjoy a glass soon.  Salute!

   The Wine Guy is in appreciation to Cellar Tours, a fully bonded and registered tour operator and travel agent, for permission to reproduce the Veneto region map contained on their website.  For information on the services they offer, please visit http://www.cellartours.com/italy/wine-tours/"


Monday, March 14, 2011

Sicilian History and One of Its Signature Wines

   Sicily is without a doubt the melting pot of the Mediterranean.   This island’s earliest inhabitants included tribes from the Iberian peninsula, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean as well as the islands and mainland of the nearby Italian peninsula.  Cultural influences were felt by settlement from and intermixing with Egyptians, Phoenicians, Carthaginians and the Greeks.  The island was the first non-Italian mainland addition to the Roman Empire.  Subsequently, the island was ruled by the Byzantines, Normans, Austrians and Spanish.  It wasn’t until the 1800’s that it became reunited with Italy, a union that was fought for decades by many of its inhabitants.  Today it is an autonomous region within the nation of Italy.

 With its consistent climate and its uniquely rocky but rich soil, Sicily is one of the world’s ideal spots for growing grapes.  Most historians speculate that viniculture could have begun there as early as 4,000 years ago.  Certainly it was already active in trading wine throughout the Mediterranean when it became a part of greater Greece in 750 AD.  Many of the unique native varietals found in Sicily today can be traced to vines brought to the island by either Arabs or Greeks.  Homer in his epic, “The Odyssey “, tells of Ulysses pacifying the One-Eyed Cyclops by offering wine from Mt. Etna.

 Today, one of the signature grapes of Sicily that is gaining in recognition and popularity is Nero d’Avola (Black of Avola).  It is the most widely planted red wine grape on the island.  Nero d’Avola can produce heavy, concentrated (sometimes almost syrupy) intensely fruity wine with high alcohol content.  Until the 1980’s, its usage was mostly confined to being used as a blending grape by Italian and French winemakers.  Its intensity helped to fortify weaker red wines.  The development of newer techniques in viniculture and oenology has helped to tame some of the harsher tendencies of this bold grape.  They include night harvesting and usage of cooled storage vats to mitigate tendencies toward rapid over ripening and early fermentation.

 Nero d’Avola produces a deep red wine with full red and black fruit flavors and a touch of spice.  Some have referred to it as the Sicilian “Shiraz”.  It certainly has some comparable characteristics:  it reacts well with oak. It blends well with both cabernet sauvignon and merlot but makes an interesting single varietal.  It is capable of improving with age but also produces a wine that can be drunk young.  When done well, it offers a great value for the red wine aficionado.

  Here are some of the Sicilian brands that The Wine Guy has tried and would recommend if you’re interested in exploring Nero d’Avola:  Cusumano, Feudo, Donnafugata, and Colosi.

Enjoy a glass of “the black one” from Avola soon.  You’ll probably be pleased you did.  Salute!

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Wine Quiz on Signature Grapes!

Your quizmaster: The Wine Guy
    Back in March of 2010, The Wine Guy did a blog on Wine Trivia.  It has turned out to be one of the most popular blogs I’ve ever posted (2,000+ visits to date and my tracking metrics was off for six months during the past year!).  Several readers have either written or asked if I would do another “wine quiz” usable for the entertainment of their wine-drinking friends.  It will also give astute readers a chance to correct and qualify my responses (no matter, how much you think you know about wine, you always find that there’s something new to learn or even unlearn). 
A vineyard on Canada's Vancouver Island

    Today’s offering is a wine quiz that deals with some well known and some lesser know grape varietals.  The objective of the quiz is to identify the country or region most identified with that varietal.  For the lack of a better term, these are “signature varietals", ones who have come to be closely identified with a particular wine region even though they probably are not limited to that area.  In my answer section, I’ve tried to fill in some the gaps with information I’ve gleaned in my reading and studying about wine.  Please recognize that my comments are probably well short of being the definitive information on these varietals…they reflect only what I’ve learned thus far.   Do feel free to ask, to add info, to comment and do some learning on your own.  Sharing the background and stories associated with wine, as well as the taste, is, after all, is one of the pleasures of sharing wine with good friends.

 O.K. fans, here goes: Match each wine listed below with the country, locale or region with which it is most commonly associated:

            A: Mexico   B: Croatia  C: California  D: Australia
2) Tannat:
            A: Austria  B: Uruguay  C: Australia  D: South Africa
3) Bonarda:
            A: Argentina  B: Romania  C: Sicily  D: Greece
4) Podkum:
            A: India  B: Israel  C: Malta  D: Thailand
5) Carmenere:
            A: Burgogne  B: Tuscany  C: Portugal  D: Chile
6) Torrontes:
            A: Spain  B: Santorini  C: Argentina  D: Corsica
7) Pinotage:
            A: California  B: Serbia  C: Burgogne  D: South Africa
8)  Norton:
            A: Missouri  B: Virginia  C: Texas   D: All Three
9)  Nero d’Avola:
            A: Provence  B: Sicily  C: Puglia  D: Languedoc-Roussillon
10) Dornfelder:
            A: Hungary  B: Slovakia  C: Alsace  D: Germany
11) Vidal:
             A: Loire Valley  B: Otago, New Zealand C: Canada D: Piedmonte
12)  Furmit:
             A: Hungary   B: Naousa  C: Malta  D: Portugal
13) Brunello:
             A: Tuscany  B: Abruzzo  C: Alto-Adige  D: Barossa Valley
14) Mencia:
             A: Spain  B: Portugal  C: Greece  D: Italy
15) Nebbiolo:
                     A: Cote d’Azur   B: Paso Robles  C: Umbria  D: Piedmonte

 Here are your answers:

  1. Correct answer is “C”.   Although found in some form in all the areas listed, Zinfandel is considered most closely associated with California.   The Californian Zinfandel is directly descended from the Croatian Crljenak Kastelaski and has been found to be genetically identical to Italian Primitivo.

  2. Correct answer is “B”.  Tannat originated and is still utilized in southwest France, mostly as a blending grape, but is considered the national grape of Uruguay where it is the dominant red wine grape after being bought there by Basque settlers.  It can also be found in small amounts in Australia, Brazil, Peru and Italy.

  3. Correct answer is “A”.  Bonarda is Argentina’s number two red grape behind Malbec. It can be found there as a single varietal or as a major player in red blends.  It can also be found in Italy and France where it plays a small role as a blending grape.

  4. Correct answer is “D”.   Podkum was developed in Thailand specifically to grow in their climate.  It is often found there blended with Shiraz.

  5. Correct answer is “D”.  One of the original seven Bordeaux varietals, Carmenere was, for a number of years mis-identified in Chile as Merlot because of its similarity on the wine.  It is much more suitable to the Chilean climate than it ever was to the French Bordeaux region.  It can also be found in Italy and is gaining some usage in Washington and California.

  6. Correct answer is “C”.  Three types of Torrontes are utilized in making Argentina’s number one white wine.  All are considered to be distant relatives of the Mission grape and Muscat Alexandria.  It is believed their usage dates back to Spanish missionaries.  There is a grape called Torrontes in Galicia, Spain that has been found to be unrelated to the Argentine varietals so Torrontes is considered to be virtually unique to Argentina.

  7. Correct answer is “D”.   It has long been considered that this grape was first developed in 1925 at South Africa’s University of Stellenbosch and it is “the” red wine of South Africa.  (A previous comment in this section was in error and deleted.  Thanks to Peter May of The Pinotage Club for his email correcting my error)

  8. Correct answer is “D”.  You may want to give your participants credit if they answered “A”.  Norton is, after all,  the official “State Grape” of Missouri and prior to prohibition Missouri was the number one wine producing state in the U.S. and back then the Norton wine from Missouri won gold in international wine competition.  Today more acreage of Norton is planted in Virginia and the grape is also popular in Texas.

  9.  Correct answer is “B”.   The “black one from Avola” refers to a region in Southern Sicily and this wine has come into its own in its Sicilian bottlings of recent years.  It may be of either Greek or Arab origin.  Sicily has an interesting and varied wine history that dates back to the earliest days of wine trading in the Mediterranean.

  10.  Correct answer is “D”.  A relative latecomer to the German wine scene (it was given varietal protection and released for production by authorities in 1979), this red wine grape has become Germany’s second most planted varietal.  It produces fruity, somewhat sweet red wines and, much as skinless Pinot Noir is utilized in Champagne, Dornfelder is utilized in the German sparkling equivalent “Sekt”.

  11. Correct answer is “C”.  Vidal comes from a cross of Ugni Blanc and Rajon d’Or. It was developed in northern France for utilization in the production of Cognac but it found a home in the cold climate of southern Canada (and also the U.S. Northeast).  It is utilized in producing some fruity floral and crisp dry whites but is most renowned for its role in Canadian Ice Wines.

  12. Correct answer is “A”    Furmit is the key grape varietal utilized in Hungarian Tokaji, considered by many to one of the finest dessert wines produced in the world.  The grape can also be found in Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, and Russia.

  13.  Correct answer is “A”.   Brunello is the name applied to Tuscany’s famous Sangiovese Grosso and to the wine, which became Italy’s very first D.O.C.G.

  14.  Correct answer is “A”   Consider giving partial credit, as well to those of your quiz takers who answered “B” since the Portuguese grape known as Jaen has been found to be identical to Mencia.  Mencia can be found in three to four regions in Spain but reaches its best expression in the wines from Bierzo.

  15.  Correct answer is “D”    This noble grape from Italy’s Piedmont region finds its home in  Barolo and Barbaresco wines.  These are considered by some to be Italy’s most prestigious wines.  They are certainly among the most difficult to produce well.  The largest usage of Nebbiolo outside Italy is in northern Baja, Mexico and the wine produced there has garnered some acclaim.  There are also small plantings of this hard to grow grape in Australia and Argentina.

   There’s your quiz, have fun with it.  Hopefully you can find many of these wines and offer them to your quiz takers as part of your fun.  Try having them taste the wines “blind” and then match with the varietals on the quiz.    As always, enjoy your wine!