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Wine Location Specialists January 2011 Class Announced

25 Wine Professionals Become Certified WLS Specialists, Thirteen with Distinction

The  Center for Wine Origins has announced the Wine Location Specialist (WLS) Certificate Program January 2011 class. The WLS Certificate Program is a collaboration between the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) and the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP). Authored by Sandy Block, Master of Wine, the program is a comprehensive guide covering two leading wine regions: Champagne and Porto.  These regions represent unique locations where climate, soil and years of wine making experience guarantee a certain standard of quality.

As the second-ever class of Wine Location Specialists, 25 wine professionals from varied wine-centric backgrounds and locations are now accredited by the CIVC and the IVDP and certified to lead wine education seminars, tastings and dinners specific to Champagne and Port.

“This exclusive program now includes 44 wine professionals from across the globe who are dedicated to protecting wine place, names and origins,” said  Center for Wine Origins Director Sonia Smith. “Our Wine Location Specialists are critical to educating consumers about the importance of location. The rewarding program enables the specialists to take the useful knowledge gained from the exam and conduct educational sessions in their respective markets. We  have high expectations for the newest class of Wine Location Specialists.”

The inaugural Wine Location Specialists included 19 wine professionals who were certified in October 2010. The January 2011 class of 25 wine professionals represent all facets of the wine industry, including:

  • Emily Adams, Student, University of Southern Mississippi. One of the first students to receive the WLS certificate, Ms. Adams is in her last semester of business school at the University of Southern Mississippi, set to graduate in May with Latin Designation and an emphasis in Hospitality Management. She is also separately studying wine, self-guided, in accordance with the Court of Masters. Currently she is Level I qualified and she is preparing to be a Certified Sommelier by Fall 2011. After graduating in May, she plans to move to Destin, Florida, and focus on her wine career.

  • Luiz Alberto, The Wine Hub, New Jersey. Brazilian by birth, Italian by blood, American by heart, Mr. Alberto has more than the simple desire to imbibe the drink, he has a smitten urge to appreciate and learn everything that relates to wine. In 2003, he started a project called The Wine Hub—a website containing a plethora of wine-related information for consumers and industry leaders. In recent years, the site has transformed to focus more on education and oenotourism. In 2008, Mr. Alberto joined the Institute of Masters of Wine. He is excited about the long journey ahead as he masters the world of wine.

  • Paul Ashe, Student, University of Westminster, United Kingdom, With Distinction. One of the first students to receive the WLS certificate with distinction, Mr. Ashe was born during harvest and has never left the vineyard. After a tailored degree in wine and spirits marketing from Florida International University in Miami, Mr. Ashe moved to London to pursue postgraduate studies in the rejuvenation of the Port wine trade. He has experience introducing and servicing beverage labels in foreign and domestic markets, with particular expertise in the development of AVA wine regions and branding places of origin.
  • Richard Auffrey, The Passionate Foodie, Massachusetts. Mr. Auffrey is a seasoned wine and food writer. He currently writes a food, wine, sake and spirits blog, The Passionate Foodie, and also maintains a sake-dedicated website, Passionate Sake.  In addition, he writes a regular food & wine column for the Stoneham Sun newspaper and has been published in various other periodicals. Mr. Auffrey is a Certified Spanish Wine Educator and a Certified Sake Professional, teaching educational classes and presiding over tastings and dinners, as well as consulting. He especially enjoys promoting niche wines and beverages as a way to help others to expand their palates.
  • Kathryn Barnett, Michael David Vineyards, California. Ms. Barnett was first introduced to wine making in Carlo Rossi’s family home in Genoa, Italy, where the senior Rossi graciously and enthusiastically showed her the process. She enrolled at the University of Western Sydney to study viticulture, enology and sensory evaluation, and was certified as Australasian Wine Specialist. She researched growing conditions in Tasmania and New Zealand for a thesis on Pinot Noir. With the university’s faculty, she studied in French wine regions, including Champagne, and Spain, including Penedes, where her passion for bubbles began in earnest. Ms. Barnett has worked for Michael David Vineyards in Lodi, California, since 1999, and plans to further her wine studies with an emphasis on Champagne.
  • Maxine Borcherding, Oregon Culinary Institute, Oregon, With Distinction. Ms. Borcherdi is currently the president of Discovering Wine LLC, a company that specializes in wine education for individuals who regularly entertain clients in restaurants and wish to be more knowledgeable about ordering wine; consumers who enjoy wine and want to expand their knowledge; and hospitality industry professionals who need personalized training in developing staff wine knowledge, purchasing wine and/or food and wine pairing. She is the Lead Chef Instructor of the Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon and  holds several certifications, including one from the International Sommelier Guild Sommelier Diploma Program, and is a Certified Spanish Wine Educator from the Wine Academy of Spain.
  • Joanna Breslin, Bridge2Worlds Wine Agency, California, With Distinction. For eight years, Ms. Breslin was the Wine Director of Ana Mandara, a Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco. Now she has her own company, Bridge2Worlds Wine Agency, which sells wine to several importers and distributors. Bridge2Worlds is dedicated to offering boutique wines that are expressive of the places where they are grown and made. Joanna writes about South African wines for Sommelier Journal. According to Ms. Breslin, “South Africa is rapidly exploring and delineating its wine regions based on their terroir, and I believe it is very exciting to see this process unfold in a country with a long wine growing history, but only a recent ability to make the most of its potential.”
  • Lynn Krielow Chamberlain, iWineRadio, North Carolina, With Distinction. Ms. Chamberlain hosts and produces iWineRadio, Wine and Dine Radio and VinVillageRadio. She is an independent broadcast journalist and oral wine historian. Ms. Chamberlain’s work is motivated by a thirst for knowledge, the desire to connect with people around the world via the language of wine and a low tolerance for misinformation. Educated at Ohio State University, she earned a Master of Science in Food Processing and Technology – Oenology in 1981, while researching malolactic fermentation.  A Certified Wine Educator with the Society of Wine Educators, her more than 30 year wine career includes working in wine retail and wholesale, education, on- and off-premise consulting, judging, publishing (Food Tastes Better With Wine newsletter) and consumer advocacy, as well as a sommelier, columnist, freelance writer, and entrepreneur in commercial and internet radio syndication.

  • Christine Collier, Cipher Cellars, Oregon, With Distinction. Ms. Collier is an Oregon girl who loves making wine, selling wine, writing about wine, and of course, drinking wine. She graduated from Oregon State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Entrepreneurship. During her senior year of college, she worked as the Social Marketing Coordinator for one of Oregon’s largest wineries, where she pioneered innovative new ways to connect with consumers. Ms. Collier currently works as a Wine Specialist at the Harry & David Country Village Wine Cellar and as a Marketing, Social Media & Wine Sales Consultant. Her latest venture has been the creation of her own wine brand, Cipher Cellars, set to release May 2011.
  • Carson Demmond, Wine & Spirits Magazine, New York. Ms. Demmond was born in Atlanta, Georgia, into a food-centric family and began working in some of the city’s finest restaurants at a young age. She graduated summa cum laude from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, with a degree in French literature, having spent half of her college career abroad at Paris X and Paris IV (Sorbonne). A move to Tuscany marked her return to the food and beverage industry, working under Maria Teresa Berdondini organizing gastronomic tours with a focus on the wines and cheeses of the region. After a brief interlude in cheese, Ms. Demmond worked as a Sommelier on Belinda Chang’s team at The Modern in New York City for more than two years. She currently holds an Associate Editor position at Wine & Spirits magazine.
  • John Patrick Fetherston, Columbia Room, Washington, D.C. Mr. Fetherston works at the Columbia Room, consistently ranked as one of the top cocktail bars in the country, as a bartender and head of research and development. He has a Masters Degree in history from both the London School of Economics and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Mr. Fetherston has lived in Spain, Chile and the UK, but is originally from northern Virginia. He is a proud member of the DC Craft Bartenders Guild and has passed the BarSmarts Advanced course. He is also a member of the Guild of Sommeliers.
  • Summer Haines, Quarter Kitchen/Andaz, San Diego, With Distinction. Ms. Haines is the restaurant manager for the Quarter Kitchen and wine director for Andaz San Diego. She became a certified sommelier in 2005 after a stage in Maury, France, with Clos de l’Origine. After five years as the wine director at The Steakhouse at Azul La Jolla, she moved her passion to the Gaslamp District of San Diego. She currently manages a 3,000 bottle inventory and a wine bar featuring 88 wine selections available by the glass on Napa Technolgy Wine Stations. Ms. Haines prides herself on eliminating the intimidation factor from wine and assisting her guests with choosing the perfect wine for the perfect occasion and meal.
  • Beth Hickey, El Gaucho, Seattle, With Distinction. Ms. Hickey is currently the Wine Director at El Gaucho Seattle. She began her career in the restaurant industry nearly twenty years ago and says the romance, drama and social aspect of the dining experience captivated her. She has worked with Wolfgang Puck, Larry Stone, Drew Nieporent, Michael Bonadies and Jonathan Sundstrom. She is currently studying and tasting in preparation for the Advanced Sommelier test.
  • Katherine Little, Little Paradiso, Italy, With Distinction. Ms. Little is a Texas-born expat who has lived primarily in the Cinque Terre area of northern Italy since 1989. She is a certified Italian tour guide and holds a sommelier diploma from the Italian Sommelier Association (AIS) as well as a Masters degree in Enogastronomic Culture and Traditions from the University of Rome, Tor Vergata. Ms. Little’s company, Little Paradiso, organizes and leads wine-based discovery trips in Europe, concentrating on the important ties between a territory’s products and its culture. Her clients include wine and food professionals, as well as curious individuals and groups.

  • May Matta Aliah, In the Grape, New York, With Distinction. Ms. Matta-Aliah is a New-York based wine educator, and the president of In the Grape, an organization dedicated to making wine and spirits education accessible to everyone from the curious appreciator to the wine trade professional. She is a long-time instructor at the prestigious International Wine Center, where she has been teaching since 2001. She has designed and taught custom courses to established industry firms, as well as support organizations such as public relations and branding firms. Ms. Matta-Aliah was a guest wine instructor at the Schiller International University, a culinary school in Switzerland. In her teachings, Ms. Matta-Aliah leverages her oenological knowledge; her direct experience at Astor Wines & Spirits, New York City’s largest retail store; and her first-hand winemaking experience at Lenz Winery, on the North Fork of Long Island. As of April 2009, she has been the Armagnac Ambassador to New York and has been training retailers, restaurant wait-staff and bartenders on the diverse pleasures of France’s oldest spirit. She holds a diploma from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, is a Certified Wine Educator from the Society of Wine Educators and a French Wine Scholar from the French Wine Society.

  • Katie Nelson, Columbia Room, Washington, D.C. Hailing from Greensboro, North Carolina, Ms. Nelson arrived in Washington, D.C., in May of 2001 and has been there ever since, save a couple of stints living in Paris, France, and in Oregon. She has worked in a variety of fields, including events planning, teaching English in the public elementary school system of France, public relations and business development in the defense industry, and in several different roles in restaurants and cafés. Realizing that, all along, her key interests had intersected in the realm of the beverage and culinary world, Ms. Nelson was fortunate enough to land the Service Manager position at the Columbia Room, a small private bar within the Passenger restaurant, and embarked on a focused study of classic cocktails under the tutelage of Derek Brown. Outside of making or drinking cocktails, Katie loves music (specifically, singing and playing her ukulele), cuisine, travel and writing. She graduated Cum Laude from Mary Baldwin College with a double major in Music and International Relations and a double minor in French and Political Science. Katie has also passed the BarSmarts Advanced spirits and mixology course and the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Introductory Course Examination.

  • Victor Orozco, Wine Master, California. Mr. Orozco has spent more than 30 years in the wine service industry, many of those dedicated to studying Old World wines and serving as a sommelier for exclusive restaurants, clubs and hotels around the country. As New World wines took center stage, he profusely studied the wines from California, Chile, Argentina and Australia, and dedicated the last six years to the distribution business, direct sales and training sales personnel. Since 1999, Mr. Orozco has taken three of the four required examinations to obtain the title of Master Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers in the United States, and a very extensive course on Italian wines sponsored by the Associazione Italiana Sommelier (AIS). He has been a member of Commanderie de Bordeaux” since 1986 and the “Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin” since 2004, with the induction ceremonies taking place at Chateau Lagrange, in Bordeaux, and at the Château de Clos de Vougeot, in Burgundy, respectively.

  • Gary Pelvis, Rutgers University Professor, New Jersey. Dr. Pavlis is a professor and agricultural agent at Rutgers University, which allows him to work with his number one passion, wine. He has served nationally on the board of directors of the American Wine Society and as president in 1998. Dr. Pavlis regularly appears in print, on the radio and on television educating the public on the intricacies of growing grapes in New Jersey or touting the benefits of drinking wine. He has been a professor for over 25 years, is an international vineyard and wine consultant and purveyor of a 3,000 bottle wine cellar.
  • Joseph Roberts, Wine Writer, Pennsylvania, With Distinction. Mr. Roberts is the voice behind the award-winning website 1WineDude.com—one of the top online destinations for intermediate wine lovers everywhere. Mr. Roberts has also been recognized as an international thought-leader on the topic of wine and social media, and his opinions have been cited in outlets as diverse as the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, CNBC.com, Mint.com, Sommelier Journal, and Publix® Grape magazine. His wine reviews appear in popular iPhone and PDA wine applications such as HelloVino and Pocket Wine Assistant. Mr. Roberts holds the London-based WSET Advanced and Washington, D.C.-based SWE Certified Specialist of Wine qualifications.

  • Aileen Sevier, Terlato Wines International, Illinois. Ms. Sevier’s passion for wine developed as an undergraduate at Kenyon College where her Anthropology Honors Thesis examined its role in the formation of group identity. She has an extensive restaurant background. As an MBA candidate at Brandeis Universit,y she interned with Master of Wine Sandy Block at Legal Sea Foods, a Boston-based restaurant group, where she rose to Assistant Director of Beverage Strategies after attaining her degree. She is now Associate Marketing Manager for Chicago-based Terlato Wines International.  Among her most memorable travel experiences were an evening spent at Chateau de Saran in Epernay and a strenuous day in the lagar at Quinta Vargellas during the 2008 harvest. She is currently enrolled in the WSET Diploma program and embraces every opportunity to both learn more about wine and help educate others about the stories behind each region and bottle.

  • Glen Siegel, Sommelier and Wine Educator, Ontario, With Distinction. After graduating from the Sommelier Diploma program of the International Sommelier Guild, Mr. Siegel worked as the Sommelier and Wine Educator for the Queen’s Quay Vineyards Estate wine store, the largest private-sector wine store in Ontario. He has worked as Winery Sommelier at Chateau des Charmes since May 2010. Mr. Siegel also writes for a number of publications including the popular website www.tasteto.comand has recently opened his own website Everyday Sommelier.

  • Mark Shipway, International Culinary School, Vancouver, With Distinction. Mr. Shipway is a displaced Englishman who upped sticks and moved to Vancouver six years ago but his passion for wine started at an earlier age during annual family holidays to France. He only decided to turn his amateur enthusiasm into a serious vocation much later life whilst living and travelling in New Zealand when he decided he wanted to make wine instead of just drink it. He studied winemaking & viticulture at the University of Brighton as well taking the WSET Diploma in Wines & Spirits in which he graduated with honors in 1999. Mark has had a diverse experience in the wine industry having worked for wine estates in South Africa, a supermarket buying department and in sales and marketing for a major UK retailer. He currently works for International Culinary School where he teaches and administrates their award winning WSET wine program. Mark has been a regular judge for the UK’s premier International Wine & Spirit Competition and is also contributing writer to Vendor, The Publican & The Foodists collective.

  • Eugene Tang, 1515 restaurant, Owner, G.M., Sommelier, Colorado. Born and raised in the heady surroundings of Hong Kong’s opulent hospitality industry, Mr. Tang’s parents ran a bouquet hotel with a continental cuisine restaurant famous for above-and-beyond customer service. Early on, Mr. Tang’s hotelier parents impressed two very important standards upon their son: treat guests as royalty and offer them unparalleled service. Mr. Tang immigrated to Chicago to further his education at the prestigious University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. He opened 1515 restaurant, featuring a wine selection of 450 different wines, music and a national-quality chef in 1997. He has been continually improving the restaurant ever since, relying on his extensive background in European travel and cuisine. Mr. Tang insists that all his chefs acquire basic French cooking techniques together with the cutting-edge cooking knowledge known as molecular gastronomy. Mr. Tang has also achieved the first level of Master Court Sommelier and serves as the restaurant’s wine program director. He is a student of wine, attending wine seminars including Willamette Valley Pinot Camp, Russian River Pinot Forum, Colorado Wine Country Tour and Wine Australia tasting.

  • Jennifer Westra, Mountain Dome Winery/Hayden Lake Country Club, Washington, With Distinction. An Idaho native, Ms. Westra currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she has fallen in love with the local wine industry. Both in Spokane and in the greater Washington area, she has discovered an incredible variety of delicious, local wines, and she finds the wineries very proud of their distinctive terroir. She has worked at several local wineries and is currently working with Mountain Dome Winery. In addition, as the Member Services Coordinator at Hayden Lake Country Club, she has introduced a range of wine programs for her members, including winemaker dinners, rotating wine flights and pairings, as well as weekly wine tastings.

  • John Wilkinson, Oceana Restaurant, New York. Mr. Wilkinson works for the esteemed Livanos Group, under the direction of Pedro Goncalves, the wine director of Oceana restaurant, in New York City. He currently presidew at the Glass Brasserie in Sydney, Australia; Public; the Monday Room and Corton in New York City. He has received his Advanced Certificate from the Wine, Spirits and Education Trust (WSET), a Level 2 Certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers and is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators.

Registration is now open for the May 7-9, 2011, exam to approved sommeliers, beverage directors, wine educators and retail beverage directors. Registration closes April 5, 2011. There is no registration fee to take this exam, however intensive study preparation is recommended in order to achieve successful passage. For more information on the program please CLICK HERE. Registrants must complete the ONLINE APPLICATION in order to be considered. Upon acceptance, registrants will be provided with a comprehensive study guide and sample test questions. For more questions please email us at info@wineorigins.com.

“Spotlight on Bloggers” Author Richard Auffrey

Feb 7, 2011
Posted in Media Center, News Coverage

The Center for Wine Origins is pleased to present this week’s author on “Spotlight on Bloggers,” Richard Auffrey. Auffrey, licensed attorney and life-long resident of Massachusetts, has been involved in food and wine writing for nearly six years. He currently writes a food, wine, sake and spirits blog, The Passionate Foodie and also has a sake-dedicated site Passionate Sake. His work is featured in the Stoneham Sun newspaper and has been published in various other periodicals.


Wine Location Specialist Certification: a Sense of Place

By Richard Auffrey

February 2011

In the beginning of January, I took an exam for the Wine Location Specialist (WLS) Certificate Program.  The Center for Wine Origins recently initiated this program, which is also a collaboration with the Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) and the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP). This is only the second time that the exam has been offered, and nineteen wine professionals passed the inaugural exam.

Sandy Block, Master of Wine and the VP of Beverage Operations at Legal Sea Foods, authored the program, writing its comprehensive study guide. The guide details the regions, vineyard management and wine making practices of Champagne and Porto, unique places where terroir is very important.  Concern for terroir is a common theme throughout the study guide.

As a Wine Location Specialist, you are considered to be accredited by the CIVC and IVDP, so you can lead education seminars, tastings, and dinners specific to Champagne and Port.  The Center of Wine Origins will support your efforts too, providing additional resources which can help in your educational endeavors.

Why did I take the course?  First, it was a personal challenge, to learn more about these two important niche wines.  Though Champagne and Port have their adherents, they still remain in many ways niche wines. And many people don’t know much about them beyond the basics.  My own knowledge of these regions was lacking in some respects, so it was a great opportunity to learn the greater depths of these wines.  Second, I want to be able to share my knowledge, to teach others about these wines.  I have fun running classes and tastings, and this certification will allow me to expand those topics which I feel comfortable teaching about. I get to share my wine passion with more and more people.  Third, it will help my writing when I discuss Champagne and Port, allowing me a stronger foundation upon which I can build.  In the end, the question was more, Why not take the course?

The test consisted of fifty multiple choice questions and one short essay.  The test was not too tough, though there were some tricky questions.  The hardest part is that once you answer a question, you cannot return to review it. So you must be very careful when answering the questions as you only get a single shot at each answer.  Time management is also a concern as you only have one hour to complete the test, so you can’t spend too much time on individual questions.

You generally have at least a couple months to study for the exam, and you receive a comprehensive study guide which contains everything you need to know. I suggest reading over the guide once just to understand the main concepts, and then rereading the text a few more times, paying greater attention to the details.  Devote a little time each day to your study, rather than trying to cram it all in the week before the exam.  Yes, you could consult the book during the exam but due to the time constraints, you don’t have lots of extra time to skim through the book. So, using the book during the exam is a potential trap which could eat away at your limited time.

Less than two weeks after I took the test, I learned that I, and 24 others, had passed the exam and were awarded certification.  I should make it clear though that I still have much more to learn about these regions and their wines. Yes, I have a solid foundation now but there are plenty of more details for me to learn. Matters may change as well, such as when new laws go into effect, when new techniques are invented, etc.  No single course can teach you everything about a region and its wines.  A certification is a beginning not an ending, and it is up to us to continue our studies, honing our knowledge so we can represent these regions in the best way possible.

I encourage other wine writers to seek certifications, if only for the personal challenge of learning something new.

Richard Auffrey is a Certified Spanish Wine Educator and a Certified Sake Professional, teaching educational classes, presiding over tastings and dinners, as well as consulting.  He especially enjoys promoting niche wines and beverages, trying to get others to expand their palates.

Each month we will feature a new wine blogger committed to sharing with readers their passion and knowledge of wine. If you are a wine blogger and are interested in being featured on our website please email us at info@wineorigins.com.

“Spotlight on Bloggers” Author Lance Mayhew

Jan 11, 2011
Posted in Media Center, News Coverage

The Center for Wine Origins is pleased to present this week’s author on “Spotlight on Bloggers,” Lance Mayhew. Each week we will feature a new wine blogger committed to sharing with readers their passion and knowledge of wine. If you are a wine blogger and are interested in being featured on our website please email us at info@wineorigins.com.

Drinking History, Exploring Georgian Wines

By Lance Mayhew

The Republic of Georgia’s wines are little known in the United States, but with arguably the world’s oldest tradition of winemaking and a renewed focus on traditional methods and improved quality, Georgian wines are an undiscovered treasure worth exploring. Georgian qvevri (a traditional, amphorae-like clay vessel lined with beeswax used to age some Georgian wines)  have been discovered in archeological excavations that date to 6000 B.C. Wine and winemaking practices have a long tradition in Georgia and wine is inextricably linked to music and food in Georgian culture. Many Georgians grow and make their own wine for personal consumption and commercial winemakers are beginning to focus on Western markets and higher quality wines than were produced under 75 years of Soviet misrule. During the Soviet era, Georgian wines were produced with an eye towards volume rather than quality and were generally characterized as insipid, bulk wines, with few if any producers having a reputation for quality.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, the first Georgian wines to come to the West were of the same style, resulting in many Western wine enthusiasts dismissing Georgian wines entirely. In 1998, the Law of Georgia on Vine and Wine was instituted, followed by the Law of Appellations of Origin and Geographic Origins in 1999. Both laws were an effort to move away from the practices of the Soviet era and adopt standards in line with high-quality winemaking in the EU. Additionally, the frequent counterfeiting of Georgian wines, and the closure of the Russian market to Georgian wines in 2006 spurred the adoption of an appellation of origin labeling system similar to many other European countries, to allow consumers the confidence of knowing the wine they purchase is genuine and comes from a particular appellation.

The Republic of Georgia is located at approximately 40 degrees north latitude, the same latitude as vineyards in the south of France or central Italy. Kakheti, the largest wine growing region in Georgia, is nestled in with the Caucus mountains on the eastern side of the country and grows approximately 80% of Georgia’s grapes. This region generally features alluvial soils as the Alazani Valley is the site of an ancient seabed. The western portion of Kakheti has a mild, cool climate similar to Bordeaux, while the eastern portion is drier and hotter and more similar to growing regions in southern Italy. The Kartli region near the capital of Tblisi has a climate similar  to the Napa valley, with warm days and cool evenings. The best wines from this region feature grapes with a higher acid content that are often vinified into sparkling wine.  Additionally, the proximity to the Black Sea has a moderating effect on the climate in the growing regions of Georgia.

While there are over 540 native grape varieties in the Republic of Georgia, about 40 are used for commercial production. The most important red grapes grown in Georgia are Saperavi and Tavkveri. Saperavi is the single most important red grape in Georgian winemaking, producing deep, rich and long lived wines with a relatively high alcohol content. Saperavi vines flavor profile will vary greatly depending on the terroir of the region it is grown in. It is the base grape for wines labeled as Saperavi, Kindzmarauli and Mukuzani and is also used for blending. Saperavi based wines are generally  perceived as the highest quality red Georgian wines in Western markets and evidence exists that Syrah descended long ago from the Saperavi vine. Tavkveri is generally used in dry and semi-dry red wines, rose wines as well as fortified wines.   The best of these Tavkveri wines are medium-bodied, approachable and food friendly.

White wines from Georgia have seen more initial success in the international market. Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane, Khikhvi and Chinebuli are all well known Georgian whites.  The Chinebuli grape is used in the production of high-quality Georgian sparkling wines. Rkatsiteli is grown throughout eastern Europe, but the finest wines made from Rkatsiteli all hail from Georgia. Perhaps Georgia’s most important white grape, Rkatsiteli is high in acid and offers floral and spice notes within its profile. Mtsvane is often blended with Rkatsiteli. On its own it produces dry, fruity and aromatic wines. Khikhvi is used to produce dessert wines that are generally well-regarded.

Traditional Georgian winemaking practices include the use of qvevri, clay vessels lined with beeswax that are then buried in the ground during fermentation. Qvevri are original to Georgia, and different from amphorae in that qvevri are always buried in the ground and only used for fermentation or aging, never the transportion of wines, while amphorae are above ground vessels (occasionally they would be half-buried) and were frequently used in the transportation of wine. The even temperature of the buried vessel allows fermentation to occur, and both red and white wines are fermented on skins, stems and pits. These wines take on a very distinctive character, making them almost an entirely new (if one can call an ancient style of winemaking new) category of wines. These wines experience a prolonged amount of skin contact, resulting in a deep amber hue for white wines and a body more reminiscent of red wines. The size of the qvevri can vary from 700 liters all the way to 4 tons depending on their use. Generally, fermentation occurs in smaller vessels, while the larger qvevri are used for aging. For those with an interest in history, or that appreciate wines that are true to their origin, traditional Georgian wines are an exciting find.

For those interested in trying Georgian wines, I suggest trying three styles. First, Georgian sparkling wines are made from grapes native to the region and can be both powerful and elegant at the same time. Next, try both a native Georgian white wine and a native Georgian red wine made in the traditional Georgian style. You’ll quickly see that neither the red or the white fit the traditional definition of a red or white wine and instead need to be recognized as styles of their own. Both the traditional Georgian white and red wines are food-friendly and complex styles. While Georgia has a rich history of both food and hospitality, it may not be easy to source traditional Georgian foods to pair with these wines. I suggest pairing these wines with Greek or Lebanese cuisine for an eye-opening experience.

One of the best examples of Georgian sparkling wine on the US market is Bagrationi 1882 Reserve Brut. Made with a blend of Chinebuli, Mtsvane and Tsitska grape varietals, the Bagrationi winery uses the Methode Champenoise pioneered by the French in the production of Champagne to ensure high quality. Whole grape clusters are pressed and vinified before liqueur de tirage is added to the blended wine which are then sealed in individual bottles. Just like Champagne, the sparkling wine from Bagrationi is subjected to the time consuming process of riddling, and after one year, this Georgian sparkler is ready to go. The result is a well-made sparkling wine at an affordable price point. It features big apricot and peach notes, a lively acidity and a clean, crisp finish.

Traditional Georgian wines are hard to source in the US, however, the best producer of Georgian wines, Pheasants Tears, does distribute here. If you have trouble finding either of these next two wines, ask your local wine shop to order some in. It may take some time and effort to find Pheasants Tears, but your efforts will be richly rewarded.

Pheasants Tears Saperavi, also known as black wine in Georgia, is a big, bold and complex wine with notes of earth, black currant and toasted almonds. Pair this with a roasted leg of lamb or venison for best results. This is a wine that is drinkable now, however, this wine is also capable of long cellaring should you so desire.

Pheasants Tears Rkatsiteli is an amber-hued, full bodied dry wine. Notes of beeswax, apricot and walnut are apparent on the palate, and while this wine will match well with full bodied meats and robust cuisines, there is a nice balance to this wine that will also keep it from overwhelming more delicate dishes. Try this with Lebanese food for an interesting pairing.

As Georgia continues to increase its production of quality wines, you can expect to see more of these wines appearing on the shelves of reputable wine merchants and better wine lists. For now, wine enthusiasts should seek out some of these great wines and discover for themselves the quality, history and passion behind Georgian wines.

The author would like to thank Jonathan Wurdeman, Pheasants Tears winery, and Olga Walsh and the staff at LANE public relations for their help in researching Georgian wines.

Quit Pigeonholing Champagne!, Slate

Jan 7, 2011
Posted in Media Center, News Coverage

Like mistletoe, eggnog, and despised relatives, Champagne is something that people typically see only during the holidays. Even when Champagne is broken out at other times of the year, it is usually to mark special events—births, marriages, weddings, divorces, graduations, promotions, etc. Champagne is the ultimate celebratory tipple, yet this limited, somewhat frivolous role obscures a fundamental point—Champagne is a wine, one that happens to pair exceedingly well with all sorts of foods and that can offer year-round pleasure. As someone who drinks Champagne whenever possible and often with meals, I would love to see it embraced as a regular wine, one uncorked as routinely as cabernets and syrahs. But what are the chances of that ever happening? Read the full article HERE.

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