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Quote from a Winery

One of the best quotes I have heard recently was  “We are not certified organic because we don’t think we should have to pay to be good.”

Of course, this was in regard to a question to a winemaker about whether they were certified organic. Should a winery need to pay someone to be certified organic? There are two sides to this issue.

Many years ago, Terry and I  were brought up to work hard and to do the best you can do. Most work doesn’t pay a higher salary because you work hard – at least I haven’t come across many occupations. However, for me it is the satisfaction that comes with a job well done.

Winemakers who create wonderful wines work hard and I’m sure there is a wonderful, probably gleeful attitude, when wines receive praise.

So back to why be certified organic if you are already good? Should a winery be more trusted because they are certified organic or certified Biodynamic? Not necessarily. Is it just a marketing ploy?  I’m quite sure the people involved in certifying wineries take their work seriously.

However, there is a price to pay for a winery to be certified organic or Biodynamic. Visits must be made to each winery and records perused to determine what sprays are being used to control fungus and insects. These inspections cost in travel and time. Are they worth it? I don’t really know. Do you?

Perhaps I’m a bit naive on this point but I’d rather trust people until they perhaps prove themselves wrong. So as I continue to visit wineries, I will look for the good aspects of each winery.


Disgorging by Hand Without Freezing the Plug

A few years ago Kathy and I were visiting wineries in Quebec, Canada. At the winery, Le Cep d’Argent we met one of the owners and winemaker François Scieur who is a 6th generation winemaker. His family still owns a Champagne House in Champagne. François demonstrated how to disgorge a bottle of sparkling wine by hand. It was fascinating to watch him take a bottle and a bottle cap opener, aim it into an old barrel that had a cut out, and remove the cap with just a bit of a fizz sound. If you blinked your eyes you missed the disgorging. I decided then that I would like to try disgorging a bottle by hand.

052715aThat dream came true while in the Penedés region of Catalonia, Spain. We were visiting Fèlix  Massana Ràfols and were asked if we wanted to disgorge a bottle by hand. I jumped at the opportunity. Unknown at that time, I was to disgorge the bottle without freezing the plug in the neck. This is more challenging. You don’t want the cava in the bottle fizzing out after you opened the cap. I have previously observed cava producers disgorging bottles by hand. They froze the plug in the neck of the bottles. They could take a bottle with a frozen plug and tilt it slightly upright and quickly open the cap. This time I had to keep the bottle pointed down until the last moment before removing the cap and then cover the bottle’s opening with my thumb. All had to be done quickly.

Fèlix demonstrated how to remove the cap. Very little of the cava escaped his bottle. Of course he had a lot of practice. Donning an apron and a pair of gloves, I held the bottle tilted downward. I held the bottle by its neck with my left hand ready to plug the opening with my thumb. With my right hand I took a special designed bottle opener and place it on the cap. Here’s the trick. You have to look at the bubble in the cava bottle. Since the neck of the bottle was pointed down, the bubble was at the bottom of the bottle which was pointed up. You quickly, or in my case slowly, begin to raise the neck of the bottle and watch the bubble. As soon as the leading edge of the bubble reaches the neck remove the cap and cover the bottle opening with your hand.

I did not work fast enough. But given a case or two of cava, I am sure I would improve. As soon as I removed the cap, a shower of cava spray hit me. I did lose about two inches more cava than Fèlix, who topped up my bottle with cava from the bottle he opened.

052715bIt was then Kathy’s turn to cork the bottle. Using a hand corker similar to ours at home, Kathy followed the steps and corked the bottle. She then put a wire cage (muselet) over the cork and went to another machine that had a wheel to tun by hand. Kathy needed to turn the wheel three times but became a bit carried away, because it was so easy to turn, and gave it an extra turn. Turning the wheel causes the little circle of wire to twist and tighten around the cork and under the ridge of the bottle. I then placed a capsule over the cork and used a double heater to heat and shrink the capsule. This was a two-step process and worked much better than a heater at a winery where I attached capsules to our wine. Fèlix then took the bottle and used a section of a bottling machine to affix a label to the bottle. He signed the bottle and gave it to Kathy and me. We will cherish and remember this bottle that we disgorged and corked.

We are going to visit several more cava producers over the next several weeks. If any of them want help disgorging by hand I’ll volunteer. I’d like to increase my speed and lose less cava.


My First Franciacorta

052615aJudging cavas and sparkling wines opens access to some sparkling wines that I have not tried. One of these is Franciacorta. This sparkling wine hails from the Brescia Province, Lombardy, Italy. Like cava and champagne, franciacorta is made in the traditional method where the second fermentation takes place in the same bottle as the wine is sold to consumers. There are different types of franciacorta based on the length of time the sparkling wine ages. The Franciacorta non?vintage is aged for 18 months whereas the Franciacorta Satèn sees 24 months of aging. The Franciacorta Rosé is aged for 30 months and the longest aging goes to the Franciacorta Riserva that has to age for 60 months. These are just minimum aging times. Compared to cava and champagne, Franciacorta sparkling wines are aged longer.

052615bWe tasted the Corteaura Rose. The wine was an even blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It was aged for 36 months. The sparkling wine is a reddish orange color with multiple columns of beads forming a mousse in the surface. Red berry fruit like strawberries and raspberries tickled the aroma and were confirmed on the taste. Also on the taste there were freshly baked bread nuances. This is a delightful sparkling wine. The alcohol was 12.5%. We drank the sparkling wine as an aperitif that wet our appetite for dinner.

As of last year, there were 109 producers of franciacorta. The vineyards used to make this sparkling wine are planted in 82% Chardonnay, 14% Pinot Noir and 4% Pinot Bianco. In 2014, there were over 15 million bottles produced and exports accounted for ten percent of the sales.


Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

Below are cocktail recipes that use DeLeón tequila. If you are celebrating the start of summer, you may want to consider making one of these cocktails to enjoy.

Please remember “drink in moderation” and to use a designated driver or to use a taxi!



Platinum Pina Cocktail

Platinum Pina Cocktail

Platinum Pina

“A nuanced tropical cocktail with a kick that allows DeLeón Platinum’s delicate complexity to shine.”


1 ½ oz. DeLeón Platinum tequila
1 oz. fresh pineapple juice
½ oz. fresh lime juice
1 dash of jalapeño syrup

Shake and strain over the rocks in a rocks glass. Garnish with a slice of jalapeño.


Platinum Sage Cocktail with Tequila

Platinum Sage Margarita with tequila

Platinum Sage Margarita

“A modern play on the traditional margarita, the Platinum Sage Margarita uses clarified lime juice to give this drink an incredibly silky mouthfeel, highlighting the smoothness of the Platinum tequila.”


2 oz. DeLeón Platinum tequila infused with fresh sage
¾ oz. clarified lime juice
¾ oz. fresh cane syrup

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass over cracked and cubed ice until thoroughly cold. Strain into a chilled coupe and serve up garnished with a sage leaf.

Platinum Lime Cocktail

DeLeón Unadulterated

DeLeón Unadulterated

“To fully experience the subtle complexity of DeLeón Platinum, serve neat on a clear rock, chilled with a squeeze of fresh lime.”


Pour 1 ½ oz. of DeLeón Platinum over a large, clear cube of ice. Stir seven times to thoroughly chill and serve with a squeeze of fresh lime to complement the bright citrus notes of the tequila.

Many thanks to Page Jeter at PMKBNC for these recipes!



Wines of Uruguay Offers Tannat Tasting Tour

Wine Trail Traveler with Erin Sullivan at Wines of Uruguay tasting, Washington, DC

Wine Trail Traveler with Erin Sullivan at Wines of Uruguay tasting, Washington, DC

If you haven’t heard yet of Uruguay as a wine producing country, plan to learn about the wines they are crafting soon! Uruguay is an undiscovered South American wine region. Today many of the winemakers are 4th generation family.

Yesterday we attended a tasting of wines from Uruguay. Tannat wines were featured but there were also a number of blends as well as a few white wines. Eighteen wine producers from Uruguay were present.

If you want to know more about the wines from Uruguay, plan to attend the next Wines of Uruguay event in New York on May 27 at the South American Wine Conference, “City Winery”, 155 Varick St. This special event is for media and trade members.

The country of Uruguay has been producing wines for a long time but most of it has been kept in the country. Now the wineries are looking forward to exporting more of their wines.

In addition to the wine tasting, we enjoyed a seminar by Gilles De Chambure, MS. He talked about the country of Uruguay before delving into the wine industry that was accompanied by a tasting of eight tannat wines from eight different wineries.

Facts About Uruguay

  • Population: 3.4 million
  • The size of the state of Washington
  • Literacy: 98%
  • Located in the southern hemisphere between the 30th and 35th parallel. (This includes wine regions of Chile, South Africa, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.)
  • One of the purest natural ecosystems in the world.
  • 475 species of birds
  • 82% of the land is agricultural
  • In addition to wine the country also produces olive oil.

The primary wine regions of Uruguay include: Colonia, Canelones, Montevideo, and Maldonado.

The main grape variety grown in Uruguay is tannat. Other red varieties include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Other minor red grape vareties include Tempranillo, Syrah, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Marselan and Arinarnoa.

The major white grape is Chardonnay. Other white varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Semillón and Viognier with minor plantings of Albarino, Petit Manseng and Roussanne.

Interested in finding wines from Uruguay? Check out your favorite wine shop or Total Wine!

Later we will be writing about some of the specific wines we tasted yesterday.


Tannat on My Radar

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 7.53.09 AMI enjoy many different wine grape varieties and the wines they make. I do have a short list of favorites though. Among my favorites are red grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Sagrantino,  Saperavi and Tannat. Today I have the opportunity to taste Tannat from Uruguay.

I was first introduced to Tannat in Virginia, where it is beginning to gain a foothold. Several producers in the state are making single variety Tannat wines, while others are using the grape in a blend. What call me to this variety was the dark purple almost black color and the outrageous tannins that many of the single variety Tannat wines possessed. I like tannins, especially those that I call kissing tannins because they pucker your lips.

The emphasis at the Wines of Uruguay Tannat Tasting Tour is on this variety originally from France but now has found a home in Uruguay. Of the 22,000 acres of vines in Uruguay, one-third are planted with Tannat. Other varieties also thrive in this South American country along the Atlantic Ocean and wedged between Brazil and Argentina.  Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño and Viognier all do well in Uruguay. If one looks at a map of the positioning of vineyards in Uruguay, they are roughly equal to vineyards in Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and the North Island of New Zealand.

I am looking forward to tasting different Tannats. I enjoyed this grape variety so much that in 2010 I made a blend of Lake County California Cabernet Sauvignon 80% and Virginia Tannat 20%. I want to make a bold wine bolder. I succeeded.

The Wines of Uruguay Tannat Tasting takes place today in Washington D.C. at the Sofitel Hotel, Lafayette Square, 806 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20005. The tasting is open for members of the press and trade from 12:00 noon until 4:00 pm.

For more information visit: Wines of Uruguay and Uruguay Wine Tours


Sparkling Wine Anyone?

A carbonized Muscat

A carbonized Muscat

This year seems to be the year for sparkling wines. The International Wine Tourism Conference was in Champagne, France and next year’s conference will move to Barcelona, Spain – cava country. In January, Kathy and I judged Virginia sparkling wines. Later this month, we are going to judge cavas. We are currently writing a book about cava and thoughts turn to sparkling wine methods. I want to make a sparkling wine this year.

I know that making a sparkling wine takes patience, that is if you make it following the protocol of the traditional method. In this method, the winemaker vinifies a wine, creates a blend, bottles the blended wine and adds sugar and yeast to the bottled wine prior to capping the bottle. The secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. Afterwards the wine is aged for several months to several years. The charmat method is quicker. The wine is racked to a pressurized tank and the secondary fermentation takes place in the pressurized tank. There are also other methods that are rather time consuming.

In a moment of weakness, where I did not exhibit patience, I decided to make a sparkling wine by carbonizing a still wine. I used one of those small units that you can pour a bottle of wine into it, screw on the top, screw on a small carbon dioxide cylinder and listen to the gas hiss into the container. After moving the stainless steel container to mix the contents, I placed it into the refrigerator for several hours. After pressing the button on the covering to release excess gas, I poured the contents into flutes.

Mousse on the surface of the sparkling Muscat

Mousse on the surface of the sparkling Muscat

It worked! I had a sparkling wine. This was only one bottle so there was not a lot to go around, but it was sparkling. There were multiple beads of bubbles forming a mousse on the surface. The muscat wine was slightly sweet and paired well with cheese and a cake made from blueberry wine. There were not as many bubbles as there were in the cavas I’ve observed. The stream of bubbles would not last as long as they do in some of the cavas we’ve tasted. If you’re thirsty, that doesn’t matter though.

I still would like to make a sparkling wine using the traditional method, but I realize it will take years before it is ready. The carbonizing method does allow you to experiment in case you’ve ever wondered what a still wine would taste like if it was a sparkling.


Cava: A Delicious Sparkling Wine to Share with Friends and Family

Canals & Munné Cava

Canals & Munné Cava

This weekend we shared a bottle of delicious cava from Canals & Munné. This cava was a Brut Nature Gran Reserva. Ours was bottle #066914. The vintage was 2010 and the cava had 12% alcohol.

This pale yellow cava had many bubbles, multiple beads with a delicate mousse on the surface. The aroma included freshly baked bread and vegetal notes including lettuce. The taste profile reminds one of honeysuckle. The cava was crisp and refreshing.

Consider serving this cava with white fish, strawberries and flavorful hard cheese.

Check out the article we wrote about Canals & Munné online.


Free Online Burgundy Wine Class Starts Soon

Clos St-Louis in Burgundy

Clos St. Louis in Burgundy

This morning I came across an article in Decanter by Jane Anson, “University of Burgundy launches free online wine course.” This particular course offered by the University of Burgundy will be available in French and English.

The wine class will be offered through the European MOOC (Massive Open Online Course.) According to the article the class will include: viticulture, terroir, tasting and more.

Wine education involves a lot more than just drinking wine. Unfortunately for too many people, the cost of “official” wine courses and degrees are just too expensive. Taking free online classes is a potential opportunity for people to learn about wine.

For anyone interested in classes that require wine tasting, that can be an additional expense but do-able. One does not need to purchase a bottle of wine to taste it. Other options available for tasting wines includes the use of wine preservation machines found in wine shops and restaurants.

The European MOOC concept reminds me of a traditional library where information/books are available for the general population. For anyone with access to a computer online is a sign of the times.

By the way,  I just signed up to take the class. Will you join the Burgundy wine course? Information is available at


Cheers! Kathy



Sagrantino: What You Need to Know About this Italian Grape

Experimental Sagrantino vineyard at Arnaldo Caprai Winery in Montefalco, Italy

Experimental Sagrantino vineyard at Arnaldo Caprai Winery in Montefalco, Italy

Sagrantino is likely to be indigenous to Montefalco. Some believe the grape variety was introduced to the region by Franciscan Friars perhaps by St. Francis. Today the grape is said to only be grown in Mantefalco. However, we know of a winery in North Carolina and a winery in California that are growing Sagrantino.

Wine lovers who enjoy tannins and those who enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon wines may well enjoy Sagrantino wines. The wines are often dark purple to black in color and exhibit aromas and flavors are dark fruits. Those we had in Umbria had very bold tannins, some with kissing tannins.

According the the Sagrantino website, food pairings include wild boar, fine game, lamb, braised meat, free-range country pigeon and aged cheeses. Other suggestions include pairing it with chocolate and cigars.

Research has shown that Sagrantino wines have a long aging possibility.

History of Sagrantino in Umbria

Prior to 1960’s, not many winemakers grew Sagrantino. However by 1979 Montefalco received DOC for its wines and in n 1980 a D.O.C appellation was given to Montefaclo Sagrantino.  This final designation required that the Sagrantino wine must be 100 percent Sagrantino and aged for 30 months.

With considerable support from  Arnaldo Caprai in Montefalco, Sagrantino received DOCG status from Montefalco Sagrantino.

We were fortunate to visit Arnalda Caprai after the International Wine Tourism Conference. The Wine Trail Traveler article is online.


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