Taking my #wine kung fu to the next level: #WSET II & Napa Valley Wine Academy

406064_562298363799327_175257724_nI have been immersing myself in the study of #wine in a semi-systematic manner for much of the last 8 years.  Indeed, #Vinopanion‘s 8 year anniversary with @WineLog is approaching in the middle of this month. Yet I have slowly realized that something is lacking in my devotion to the knowledge of the vinous delights: focus, structure and external credibility. You’d think that a trained scientist would have recognized this long ago and I did notice these thoughts in the back of my mind a few years back.  But they were always battered back by “where’s the time?” and “I’m still receiving plenty of media travel & event invites,” along with “my wine consulting services continue to expand.” Then I reached last year and I started to recognize some clear patterns in my wine work. While I had plenty of media opportunities and my fellow wine colleagues were continuing to get work, I could see that the pace of my own trade offers beginning to slow down. It was then that I noticed that most of my colleagues began to sport letters after their names on their business cards: they were taking certified educational courses to formalize their wine training. I needed to set up my wine game. It was then that I contacted the good people at Napa Valley Wine Academy (FB, Tw): “help!”

Our-certification-menu-logoThe Napa Valley Wine Academy (NVWA) was founded in 2011 by longtime wine industry veterans, R. Christian Oggenfuss, D.W.S., F.W.S., I.W.P and Catherine Bugue, D.W.S., IWP. As residents of Northern California wine country, they both perceived a lack of true connection between the schools that offered wine and spirits training and the actual regions about which they taught…and thus a fine beverage academy in the Napa Valley was born!  Featuring industry educational luminaries including Master of Wines Peter Marks and Tim Hanni, as well as Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser; they are truly “one foot in the classroom and the other in the vineyards.” The NVWA has experienced tremendous industry support and strong early success, prompting them to expand to satellite locations around the US in Tampa, Florida and Santa Barbara, CA; as well as online. 

IMG_5975The NVWA instructors are spread across all of the major industry certifications, allowing the Academy to provide a full service range of official beverage certifications, including wine, spirits, saké, and beverage service, and region-specific courses. All courses and examinations are given by the academy itself, making it a one-stop educational experience, unlike many other piecemeal organizations. I have chosen to start my wine and beverage education in the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (FB, Tw, YT, NVWA) program, starting with the WSET II Award, courtesy of the NVWA.  More on those adventures later however, as I need to get studying for my first exam! ¡Salud!

Le Wine Buffs Take Manhattan

Le Wine Buff - Enjoy BordeauxEnjoy Bordeaux‘s Le Wine Buffs are back and we’re thirsty.

This time we’re taking on New York City and Manhattan is gonna stumble down in a vinous frenzy of affordable Bordeaux wine!  We’re the wine sponsor for this year’s TechEnology wine event held by Enjoy Bordeaux partner Snooth and tech media publishing titan Ziff Davis.  Held at the newly renovated General Assembly, the event will mix some of the icons of tech, publishing and the wine biz and look to do some serious vino mind melding.

I’m excited to be pouring and talking about these wines at the event because I think Bordeaux is coming into another renaissance of exposure for it’s thousands of high quality, affordable wines and their Chateaux, all across the greater appellation.  Much of this belief was built during our visit to Bordeaux last summer.  This event promises to be “a private, networking event recognizing the wine world’s most technologically forward people, business and practices”…and these are the peeps that need to know Bordeaux!

See you on the Right Coast vinopanions, and cheers!

As Le Wine Buff for EnjoyBordeaux.com, I am paid a nominal fee for most of my participation.  I also receive free wine samples and my participation on this trip is courtesy of the CIVB.

Excited: North American Wine Bloggers Conference

I’m very excited to announce that I will be attending the very first North American Wine Bloggers Conference when it hits in October in Sonoma County.  Wine Bloggers ConferenceMany of the wine bloggers that you may follow and that are nicely listed by Catavino at WineBlogger.info will be attending. Fast-growing wine biz networking site OpenWine Consortium and global (wine) adventure company Zephyr Wine Adventures are organizing the conference right on the heels of the very successful first European Wine Bloggers Conference that took place earlier this month. The conference hits town October 24-26.  A very big thanks goes out to Jason and Kim of WineLog for giving me the opportunity to attend!

The conference will be located at the Flamingo Conference Resort & Spa in Santa Rosa.  While there are no longer discounted rooms available, the resort does have other rooms available, as do many hotels within walking distance (as of the posting of this article).

The Agenda for the conference is chock full of wine-related activities such as multiple tastings and live-blogging segments, vineyard tours by their managers and owners and dinners hosted by Wine 2.0 luminaries such as Gary Vaynerchuck of Wine Library TV.  There are also many educational and informative breakout sessions, such as the blogger ethics panel.

So register and come out to Sonoma just in time for the end of harvest!  I’m personally looking forward to some wine education and mayhem with Vinquire, WineQ, Winehiker and Wannabe Wino.  I’ll be blogging live throughout the conference and uploading wine reviews as quickly as possible to my WineLog. Join us!

K&L Wines UGC Bordeaux (2005) Tasting

KL Wine MerchantsOn Saturday 01/19/08, I had the outstanding opportunity to attend the latest K&L Wines Bordeaux tasting, fortuitously all from the very well-regarded 2005 vintage. I have to thank Jason & Kim for the chance to attend and big shout out to my friend Spesh (WL) who first notified me of the event. It was held in the hall of the old Federal Reserve Building in San Francisco. I hopped on BART at 2pm and headed out to the first major French tasting that I’ve ever had the chance to attend.

Union des Grand Crus de BordeauxStepping back a little, I had a bit of confusion when I first heard about the event. I initially saw an email that said it would include all Classified Growths from Bordeaux, which was actually in error. There is an organization of Bordeaux Chateaux separate from the Bordeaux Official Classification of 1855 (Grand Crus Classes en 1855), somewhat misleadingly called Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux. It is made up of both classified and unclassified growths of Bordeaux vintners.

Regardless of my misinterpretation of which Chateaux would be pouring, I had a brilliant time tasting all of these wines, particularly the ones that I will probably never be able to afford, ever again. Bordeaux, as a regional whole, is probably the best “vintage marketing” region in the whole world. This means that they are kings and queens at seemingly declaring every couple of vintages the “vintage of the decade” or “the century.” This doesn’t mean that they’re just blowing hot air, they’ve actually had a string of outstanding vintages since the millenium, with the classic 2000 (compared qualitatively with the legendary ’82s), and good to great vintages in 2003 and 2004. 2005, however, truly might be even better than the 2000’s and Bordeaux has taken that as their rallying cry, declaring this to be a legendary vintage in the making.

What does this mean to us, the consumer, however? Does it just mean that there are yet more ethereal wines out there that have even higher prices than before? Not necessarily…in fact, it becomes quite a coup for the average consumer, even with the crappy value of the US dollar. All of those cheaper 2005 $8 – $20 Bordeaux that you see in the store right now are filled with phenomenal quality, far beyond the value ratio’s that you’d normally see from the bottom of the Bordeaux market. It’s the same purchasing situation as we saw with the 2000’s back in 2002 through 2004. As an aside, 2005 was also unusual in that it is considered a classic vintage in Burgundy, as well, allowing for the same increases in quality across the board. Go get them!

With all of this information in mind, I was very excited when the event staff finally let us file into the foyer of the old Federal Reserve Building. We each handed our own engraved Riedel Overture Red Wine glass, made of non-lead crystal. Riedel had a display right as we walked in, actually, which (embarrassingly) made me incredibly excited. Ever since I’ve become seriously into wine over the last decade, I’ve somehow become obsessed with crystal stemware and Riedel is my favorite designer and manufacturer. Later on I would have a wonderful conversation with Sylvie, the West Coast Sales Manger for Riedel Crystal of America. I found out about some of the new lines that they have coming out and why they have chosen to produce only varietally correct crystal, instead of regionally correct designs.

The people at the event were from a wide-range of wine expertise. Some were somewhat comfortably knowledgeable about wine and were clearly excited about the opportunity to greatly expand their limited high-end Bordeaux knowledge, much like myself. Others were long-time collectors and/or wine professionals, spitting their way through almost all of the 50+ Chateaus. Still others were novices, happy to be at a prestigious event and perhaps much more visibly “happy” by the end, after a whole lot of great wine!

But onto the wines! As a whole, they did fit into my preconceptions of high-end and high-quality Bordeaux. The wines were not fruit forward, except with some notable exceptions and were in a closed and monstrously tannic phase in their early lives. Incidentally, I only tasted one wine that was corked out of the 30+ that I had time to taste during the event. Black fruit abounded, without that red cherry nose mouth that I’ve come to expect from the much more fruit-forward domestic Bordeaux varietal wines that I also enjoy and of which I have a lot more experience.

I was also pleased to get a chance to appreciate the differences between the various sub-appellations of Bordeaux, as all of the Chateaux were grouped by sub-region. Some differences to note were the lack of a discernible nose in the majority of of the wines coming from Pomerol. This can be expected from these Merlot-dominated blends and it’s traditional less-fragrant nose, but I was still surprised time and again, at how little I could pick up from these wines with my (learning curve) nose. The wines from Margaux were also closed on the nose, but these Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blends were just too tight right now with their powerful Cab Sauv backbone. Don’t get me wrong, however, I loved almost all of the wines that I tasted that day, but when compared to each other, these differences become clear and very interesting.

Léoville BartonThe stars of the tasting were the wines that came from Saint-Julien, Saint-Émilion and the Sauternes. The two Saints were wonderfully complex with depths of red and black fruit that are still to be enjoyed when more mature. Their tannins were muscular and yet still rounded enough to try now with a nice cut of steak and red wine reduction, but as with virtually all of the wines that day, their true beauty will only be revealed after another decade, at the very earliest. The Sauternes were beautiful dessert wines, truly unique from anything I’ve ever tasted. The mouthfeel was incredibly glycerine and smooth, with a velvet elegance that was just amazing. Their light citrus notes and tastes were very compelling.

The winners for the day for me included the Léoville Barton Saint-Julien (quite happily so, as I blindly bought futures from BevMo last year), the Lynch-Bages Pauillac, the Lascombes Margaux, and the Lafaurie-Peyraguey and Château Guiraud Sauternes.

What an incredible day, just a really special wine experience. Please check out the reviews for all of the wines I tasted that day using the links below. I’ve tagged this group of wines with “UGCB2005” so that you can list them all at once within WineLog. Enjoy!

Margaux:

Moulis-en-Médoc:

Pauillac:

Pessac-Léognan:

Pomerol:

Saint-Émilion:

Saint-Estèphe:

Saint-Julien:

Sauternes: