euro scribbles: so this is burgundy, part 2.

Burgundy, french wine, French Wine Travel, travel, Wine Education

2012 has not been easy for Burgundians. They need just about every gulp of sun they can get, and this vintage has just been cool, rainy and unforgiving. That was the repeated theme at nearly every winery we visited. But that does not mean all is lost. Those who know what’s up just have to work for it a little harder is all. And if all else fails, just go with Grand Cru from mediocre years. As Jeremy Seysses of Dujac said, no matter how much you want to take all the credit, mother nature just makes it looks so easy on a consistent basis, whether the vintage is superb or somber.

Due to this trying vintage, our visit with Mikulski (Meursault) was cancelled the day following Dujac. If the weather demanded it so, the vigneron needed to respond. It was a very busy time in Burgundy, as most winemakers here remarked. Just driving down the route des vins, I was amazed to see how many more workers were in the vineyards compared to other regions we had been. Whether plowing or pruning, they were busy bees, trying to do whatever it took to make good of a dire situation.

Still, you ask any one of them, and that’s they beauty of Burgundy. Regardless of what you do, mother nature has her fingerprint on everything here– you will taste the work that was done in the 2012’s. Here, wine is so transparently scribed in each sip. You will sense their long, chill days and the rain. You will either prefer it or not. She doesn’t care.

In lieu of Mikulski, Javillier graciously offered their time, not only to us but to what appeared to be a tribe of misfits. Four separate groups huddled in the damp cellar to taste some magnificent Meursault as well as some other cuvees from various neighboring regions. Meursault is oft noted for its more pregnant style of Chardonnay. Some can overdo the oak a bit perhaps, but if it is done well, they can be some of the best in the land. Javillier was one of those producers.

Before I press onward, I feel I need to describe Patrick Javillier. He might have been my favorite personality sketch I will recall from this trip. In short, he was a sweet, humble man, perhaps 60 years in age and the ultimate, stereotypical Burgundian winemaker I have always imagined: tussled hair, flurried half-sentences, one moment he was grabbing glasses, the next taking a bite of baguette. He appeared a genius with calculations of yeast additions or barrel treatments racing through his big brain. He scurried around seemingly frazzled, when I noticed how lab-like his winery entry felt. Bare bones, concrete floor and definitely like a science lab. I was waiting for stickers of flower power to appear. Or perhaps Austin Power.

Sure enough, as he explained his estate, we learned that he began in 1974. Yes, now that made sense. It also made me like him already. I can’t explain why that ambience resonates with me. But it does. He then took is basket of glasses down to the cellar and began the show of the just bottled 2010’s.

Whether ‘simple’ village Bourgogne Blanc on a plot nearby Puligny-Montrachet or a old vine Meursault from Clos du Clomas, they wines were spot on and illuminating! My favorites of the bunch were:

Bourgogne Blanc Cuvee Oligocene–Taken from a plot nearby Puligny Montrachet, this gives all other Bourgogne a run for its money! Its higher limestone content allows for a little more new barrel (it can take it), the acid is simply soaring, and wet stones on the nose pair nicely with the accompaniment of white flowers that come afterwards.

Meursault les Tilliets– A plot between Meursault and Puligny that sees clay as well as limestone. A very classic presentation of candied lemon, apples and shimmering minerals, it gives this opulent region a more zesty edge. This is what I am talking about when I say I crave Meursault.

Puligny Montrachet– All elbows and knees right now as it awkwardly wrestle with my taste buds, but this ugly duckling is sure to blow many of its companions out of the water with a little bit of maturity. ‘Patience’, a term so many vignerons in this area use to explain their creations. An elegant swan is what I predict in 3-5 years time.

I felt bad spitting these wines out. At our other visits so far, I noticed that the winemaker had us pour it back in barrel or the bottle. So little is made. And Javellier is no exception. The only reason I don’t have it in Colorado is that production is so teeny tiny. Maybe they should start having people give their tastes back so Colorado can see some distribution!

Patrick Javillier’s lovely daughter Marion is also making her mark. Her focus is red wine. She has a couple plots in Savigny les Beaune. The two wines she poured were Les Grands Liards and 1er Cru Serpentieres. Though the former was going through a bit of an awkward stage trying to become something lovely, the latter was already there. Impressively charming wines from an equally charming creator.

We finished that day at Pavelot– a heralded producer in the region of Savigny les Beaune. Their winemaking ancestry can be traced to teh 17th century, but Luc Pavelot would say it goes further than that. On a mere 9 hecatares, they build up and fashion fragrant, fanciful wines of both red (66%) and whites (33%). We partook mostly of the former. I could give you detailed tasting notes and jargon galore. But you must be bored of this by now. No? Well, I am. I am more interested in the character of these wines–the timbre, the presence they imprint on my palate.

In short, I would describe these wines as herbal. Each and every wine we sampled carried the scent of bramble fruit, rosemary, pine and medicinal essences. They were incredibly complicated and varied.

It was here that I came to a revelation: Burgundy cannot be described at all. The differences between terroir is felt. On the tongue. Some nestle themselves in the middle. Other weave back and forth, a tug of war. Others sing on the sides. Yet others play the in the back field. And while it might be easy to say Gevrey-Chmabertain felt remarkably different from Santenay, even more illuminating was the fact that even those that were all from Savigny les Beaune, for instance, also sat on the tongue in a variety of ways.

So this is it! THIS is Burgundy. It was so eye-opening to me, yet not requiring sight whatsoever. On the palate, it is felt. That simple. Frickin’ Burgundy. What will I do with this incessantly paradoxal region. Here I am now calling it simple. Right.

My favorites from Pavelot (all 2010’s):

Aloxe-Corton Village– A well-woven cross-patch work of art, this is a balanced wine with  marked integrity. Classic example of the herbal-kissed bramble fruit I discussed.

Les Serpentieres 1er Cru-– A site that benefits from numerous exposures, this Pinot Noir is polite yet full of purpose. It takes the hallmark combination of Burgundian greatness (balance of mineral, fruit, acid, body, tannin and lightness) and somehow pulls it off.

Dominode 1er Cru– Though closed right now, it has secrets only time will reveal. Tightly wound up and desperate to talk, this wine makes you know you are sipping greatness. Without a doubt, a wine for the long haul of 15-20 years.

And so, that is that. While I would love to recommend places to eat, we did not try firsthand any that were noteworthy. We did, however, hear of many that we were just a little too budget-conscious to try, otherwise they were closed. Everyone is on holiday you see. But here’s the short list:

Ma Cuisine

Bar du Square 

Le Benaton

Chez Guy 

I also recommend you visit the Hospices de Beaune. A little touristy? Yes. But worth it? Certainly. For about 8 euros you get to experience the formative days of this historic auction.

TetraPak: Not only for camping anymore.

Kermit Lynch, organic wine, Wine Education

Why didn’t I think of that?

It is a question I ask myself anytime I meet someone new and brilliant. It is a question I couldn’t stop asking myself over two separate dinners at Frasca and Twelve with Matthew Cain, founder of Yellow + Blue, a wine label that is created with the concept that good wine can come in cleaner packaging. Cain has a long history in the wine industry. Most notably before Y+B, he worked alongside Kermit Lynch for nearly a decade. After one particular trip across seas, he cleared his head and heard his calling. It came to fruition upon return when he read an article on alternative wine packaging. Everyone else around the world was waking up and going ‘green’. Why in so many states are so many boxed wines and those in Tetra Pak so mediocre? Can we not have good 100% organic wine, be better to the earth and save some money all at the same time? Simple. But brilliant.

As I started to tell him how great it was to have a glass-less wine that I could whole-heartedly recommend to campers, concert-goers and park dwellers, when he kinda laughed. That actually never crossed his mind at the beginning. But within a few months of its release, it was clear that this was a major, underserved demographic. Why should outdoor activities compromise quality? Why should the fact that is less expensive have to mean that it will lack any sort of complexity and character? I explained to him that in a state like Colorado, this product has been a God-send. Intentional or not, these alternative products are sold to serious wine drinkers only in times that force them to walk away from the bottle—times that do not allow glass in the picture. Y+B has the ability to really change these consumers’ perspectives. In the meantime, those who already get it and subscribe to wine of any race, shape or size now have something a little more interesting to sip!

What struck me about Cain was his genuine, humble nature. He was soft-spoken and had a very serious, intense demeanor, but not so much that you couldn’t strike up conversation with ease. He was driven, focused, and had all the makings of a natural born entrepreneur. His confidence was effortlessly transparent during conversation—a comfortable confidence. It was contagious, as I was inspired to start about nine different businesses over the course of a two-hour discussion. That energy is the kind that makes selling his wine even easier. Without knowing him at all, you can tell in one taste that these wines were selected and shaped by someone with pride and integrity.

Y+B uses Tetra Pak to contain their wine. At a liter, you get about 30% more wine than a standard 750 ml bottle. With the packaging, you are looking at 93% wine and only 7% packaging, whereas standard glass wine packages are closer to 50/50. Y+B takes everything into consideration: production, materials, gas, transport, printing, pesticides, chemicals… According to Dr. Tyler Colman (also known as Dr. Vino), Y+B produces about 54% less of a carbon footprint than the average wine production. A lot of people don’t think about it, but sheer weight and materials that are involved with wine production, shipment and marketing make it one of the more environmentally straining industries.*

I could go on with statistics and figures, but that’s a little more involved than this entry wants to get. At the end of the day, the story is this: we all know alternative packaging is better for the earth. We all know that if we want good wine, our chances for a great box wine is slim (at least in the state of Colorado). If this all sounds familiar, go to your local shop and ask for Y+B–particularly the Torrontes and the Select Red. They distribute to over 40 states, so there is a good chance if your store doesn’t have it, they can get it!

Drinking for a good cause doesn’t have to suck.


*All facts and figures here are found on their website:

an evening with travis scarborough: a washington francophile at heart.

washington wine, Wine Blog, Wine Education

Just a few short days ago, I was invited to attend a dinner at Bittersweet hosted by Scott Thompson, the owner of Sauce Distributing. By his side was a winemaker I have wanted to shake hands with since the moment I learned of his project in Tukwila, Washington: Travis Scarborough of Scarborough Wines. Bearing a name with such weight and distinction, I can safely say he has done the family proud.

Every now and again, a wild hair can go a long way. That is precisely how this winery started—a crazy, far-flung notion that perhaps he had what it takes to make wine in a way no one really had in Washington. He wanted to make it, well, a little more Euro. By that, I mean that he wanted to put terroir and the variety itself up on a pedestal, not obscuring its sensational self with filtration or gobs of oak. And so he did, along with buddy Darryn O’Shea who has recently left to take on his own new adventure.

A native born Napa boy, Scarborough recalls moving to Washington in order to spread his wings. He was a full time accidental bartender/beverage manager at a French restaurant while working full time as a distributor as well when it occurred to him that he had a few more hours in his day to take on winemaking. Who needs sleep? Overrated when you are a young, ambitious buck! After a recent visit back home, he was disappointed with the vogue ‘hang time’ and new oak that sat between him and the wine. However, he was inspired to give winemaking a try. All his readings of Cornas and Bordeaux had him thinking there was a need for something a little different in the Evergreen state.

And so, it began with a garage. And it still goes on in a garage of sorts. He picks his plots with utmost scrutiny. As he said, land of his own would be a very sweet thing… but it ain’t cheap. Not every day do I come across garagistes with such passion and true talent as Scarborough. But man, he has it. The following are a few sips from that night…

2009 Desolation Chardonnay

If you think you know domestic Chardonnay, you will need to recalibrate your perception. Herein lies a wine that saw ½  used oak, ½ stainless steel for fermentation then reunited in used barrel on contact with their lees for 18 months. Racked only twice, this wine gains its rich bodice from that lees intervention that occurs. No malo—something Scarborough is quite quick and proud to point out. The balance is exquisite. Truly silk on the palate.

2009 Midnight ‘MSG’

They like to kid about the normally spelled GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blend that goes into this red. I have to say. I have had many from both Washington and California. But not all are as memorable as this one. Harvested from young, rocky vineyards in Yakima Valley, this wine is a combination of 40% Mourvedre (giving it some beautiful aromatics of crushed rose, blueberries and smoked game), 40% Grenache (providing some heat, tart cranberries and rich ripe cherries and raspberry), and 20% Syrah (a nice touch to give it a little structure and presence across the board along with some distinctive notes of black pepper). While were having this wine, he discussed the importance of barrel integrity—how he meticulously tests each one after every racking. He gets to know them very well—as well as the wine. This is a detail that is often overlooked but critical in Scarborough’s opinion.

2009 Royal

A blend of Merlot (32%), Cabernet Franc (25%), Cab Sauv (24%) and Petite Verdot (19%), this blend is built to make you swoon. At least, it got me to that night. Deep plummy notes and cocoa hug the core, but interlaced are dark petaled floral tones and red, ripe fruit. It is an easy wine, but not overly simple. Scarborough feels it is best out of the gate, whereas some others need a little time to come out of their shell. I would have to agree that of the lineup, this was the chattiest that evening. A crowd pleaser without being compromising in character or elegance.

2009 Main Event

This one is made to age…and impress. For the big red drinker in your life, this is how you introduce them to Scarborough and his style of winemaking. For although it was the heaviest hitter of the evening, this red by no means crosses the line that so easily turns these hefty boys into flabby, uninteresting men. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (76%), Merlot (16%) and Petite Verdot (8%), Scarborough says if the Royal was his ‘Right Bank’ red, then this would be his ‘Left Bank’ alternative. I have always gravitated towards the right, so I must admit, I was a little more into the Royal. That’s how it’s supposed to be, though. Ask me to retry these in 5 years, and I bet I go the other direction.

But honestly? It was the Chardonnay and MSG really won me over. At least that night.

Thankfully, nutty notions such as Sacrborough’s get our country to move forward with creative, dynamic and diverse winemaking. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for a big, fruity oak bombs of wine (I think?). But they verge on all being clones of one another. One cannot discern if the wine is Central Coast or Mendocino, St. Helena or Walla Walla. And that’s a problem. What’s the point in the end? The most resonant thing Scarborough said that night was this: “I want to taste what the vineyard and vintage will do from year to year.” Take the good with the bad—that is life and that truly is the meaning of bottling a vintage.

Some people like to tease me that I am a Francophile. Truth is, I derive as much pleasure from wines like those of Scarborough, as I do those across the pond. The common denominator is that I can smell a sense of place…and passion. It is that personality I remember that makes an impression on me. The fact that there might be more in Europe at this point is just how it is. But damn, I get excited when I can discover how Washington, California and Oregon truly ‘taste’ through thoughtful wines like Scarborough’s.

How to saber bubbles (and generally look badass).

Bubbles, Wine Education

Ever dreamed of winning friends and impressing thousands with one simple act? The vision of you being thrown onto the shoulders of loved ones and strangers alike, all shouting your name and cheering? We want to teach you a trick that just might help. Resolve to be hard core this year by learning how to master the art of sabering sparkling.

Sabrage, an awesome vocab word they never put in my GRE flashcards, dates back to Napoleanic times when the soldiers wouldn’t have the dexterity to open a bottle while riding a horse back to their bases. They would pull out their sword and have at it in order to celebrate (or mourn) the battle outcome. Nowadays, it is merely a tactic to impress friends, out-cool your colleagues or get laid (good luck with that).

First and foremost: Saber at your OWN risk. This is potentially very dangerous and could put out more than an eye if done incorrectly. It is only for the very courageous.

You will need:

  • A very, very cold bottle of bubbles (go cheap while practicing); do not freeze the bottle. Just don’t let it sit out for long.
  • A saber or butcher’s knife. We will be using the dull side of the knife. This is about pressure, not actually cutting the glass with a sharp knife.
  • Protective eyewear if you are smart and don’t care about people pointing and laughing at you.
  • A place outside that you can launch a cork thousands of miles per hour.
  • Lack of a conscience, as you might take out a small family of birds in the process.

Okay, here we go.

Step 1: Remove the foil entirely, you need a clean edge to slide the blade.

Step 2: Remove the cage, sure to keep the bottle ALWAYS pointed away from you and your audience, who should stay behind you at all times, we don’t want you to blind anyone or, God forbid, behead someone by accident with your blade.

Step 3: Find the most dominant vertical seam in the bottle. This is the vulnerable point.

Step 4: Hold at a 45degree angle and note the little rim, that will be where you want to hit the bottle with the dull side of the knife.

Step 5: You want to do this in one forward follow through motion. Just hit that point with little force and follow through.

Step 6: Before attempting any of this, watch some YouTube videos for motivation and visual aids.

Step 7: Enjoy being a total badass.

24 hours with Terry Theise.

Wine Blog, Wine Education

There are about 5 people in the whole industry I have ever wanted to meet. They are my ‘celeb’ equivalents to Oprah, Madonna and the ‘Bieb’. They are more than famous. They are the bedrock of my career and passion for wine. Though Jancis Robinson may always hold the number one spot in my heart (what a badass), Mr. Theise isn’t far behind. For it is he who has possibly turned me onto wine in a way that is more applicable than any other wine hero in my book. See, Terry Theise helped me find the language I needed to discuss it.

Words are possibly my fondest fetish. I was maybe seven, and I remember laying on my itchy pink bedroom carpet by the teeniest little Mickey Mouse nightlight (I had to pretend I was afraid of the dark to petition for that one) in order to read any number of books, whether Boxcar Children, Laura Ingalls Wilder or Shel Silverstein. I used to write ridiculous picture books and try to sell them at school, thinking I might get on Good Morning America or something.

That never happened.

I did, however, have a string of incredible teachers (who in hindsight were very much a product of the ‘60’s) imbue unto me a love so great for well-strung words, I nearly slept with the Thesaurus every night. I believe it was the author Julia Alvarez who once said that she writes in English not because it is more marketable, rather, there are so many words in our language that are never used. Something to that effect. It’s so provocative and encouraging for a writer that our own language is so untapped…or un-stretched, rather.

I took it pretty far—a grad degree and a couple papers to prove it. But the more political and theoretical it got, the more I began to drift from the aesthetic that had anchored my passion in the first place.

Over wine, I would lament my failed choice of Academia—with a BIG ‘A’. I sat in my little NYC apartment and drank $10 wine. But still, no matter the cost, I found myself researching them more than I did Lacan or Freud. They took my imagination to a place that was more tangible. I could taste the evidence of words in my glass.

Suddenly, my fuzzy life came into focus. There is merit to learning how to articulate the enriching moments of life. Outside the window, taxis honked, people were running to catch a subway and a dog peeing on a tree was being pulled by his impatient owner to hurry up. And there I was. Sniffing away. Marveling at the garnet hue. Seeing the legs slowly dribble on the bowl. Smelling grandpa’s cherry tobacco, the leather saddles of my aunt’s horse stable, a walk in the Wisconsin woods when I was ten and the raspberries I used to pick with my ma. I thought about the family who made the wine I was drinking—their generational longevity and involvement, their standards, integrity and hard work. The vintage—when it rained, how much was lost, when it was picked, if they stomped them in a celebration. The soils, the sunlight, the rivers that cut through… I thought about the meal I am eating—its own particular personality, and how it changed with the wine.

And then, I explain it to others.

I tell of the time I saw a dozen bins get rejected in an instant at Pride. How the cutest little old lady in the world (hand shaking with each delicate, slow pour) threw down an impressive amount of alcoholic liquid before 11 a.m. at Saint Cosme. The time I saw the final Piemontese grapes come in on the sorting table at Vajra: the hard to find Freisa varietal. The musty, mineral smell of the chalk caves of Champagne. The humble meals at home where friends and I have contributed homemade food, time honored wines and singular conversation.

Wine has managed to enrich my life in a way that has been so rewarding, because it’s not just about my own selfish harvest of happiness. I can help others learn how to better open their own senses and minds to its endless stories. Wine’s endless words. When you understand a piece of life better, you tend to enjoy it more. People find this when they return from a trip. Napa isn’t so intimidating anymore. Italian reds kinda make sense.

Like Theise, it is difficult not to get enraptured with grower Champagne and small production, traditional farmers. They keep it real to the region and don’t seem to topple over one another for an arbitrary rating to keep them motivated to put out another vintage. They are, as he said, transparent in their ways and honest. And you can taste it.

We mostly had wines from the 2010 vintage. A really weird vintage, to say the least. Mouth-ripping acid that had to be tamed with de-acidification measures (and apparently if anyone tells you otherwise, they are lying, for everyone needed to turn down the naturally high acid) and unusually high sugars as well. It is a vintage for the true acid freak. I believe that I learned I am not as ‘freaky’ as I thought. Even my palate needs a little TLC. And by that, I mean sugar. Or oak. Or malo. Or lees. Anything to take that edge off! I am eager to see what they become, though. They were more than promising. I fear they were a bit shocked coming into the state just days ago. They seemed edgy and wound—like a nicotine addict going through withdrawals. They need to chill out. Right now, they conjure an image: running with scissors, like that one memoir. I bet they turn a corner in about a year and surprise us all!

Like Theise said, there’s really no other vintage to compare it to. It is a lone ranger. A rebel without a cause. A question to be answered.

My short time meeting Terry, listening to him discuss wine and his love for wine with the metaphoric prowess of Shakespeare, I was inspired, as I always am. I am humbled, completely and totally in the face of true talent.

And so, I continue to drink, contemplate and spread the good word about wine to those who will listen, raise a glass and approximate sensual density in life one more sip at a time.

A handful of tasting notes in a very Terry style:

2010 Hirsch Gruner Veltliner #1—A trip down the rabbit hole, its characters are never-ending, they play on the tongue for a very long time, showing both light and dark features. It’s playful and not too seductive. Fun but slightly mocking.

2010 Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner ‘Hefeabzug’—A term they have trademark which refers to the time these wines spend on their lees, the Hefeabzug has long since won my heart. It is quite simply all I ever really want at the end of the day: a wine that is just serious enough, showing vastly beyond its price tag, precocious, smart and possibly one of the more serenely intense wines I have ever experienced under $25.

2009 Hirsch Riesling Heiligenstein—An impressive showing before it even makes it to the tongue, this Riesling is possibly best described as Terry put it, “Like it emerged from a Wiccan ceremony.” And it felt like that. It was blowing a little incense, a smoky shady tone that was mixed with dark places yet positive omens. It had seductively sweet flavors, but it had a tart bite, expressive yet reserved. It was dry. So dry. But tricky for all its blossomed, ripe fruit.

2010 JJ Christoffel Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett—This one was so unusual. So enticing. It put me somewhere lush. A damp garden. You might imagine it came from Great Expectations. Overgrown vegetation. Basil, mint, sweet peas and mineral rain dew. Deep yellow fruits were pregnant with ripeness. More extract and body. But still, like this vintage is showing, it changes mid palate. It becomes a porche of sorts. You feel its anatomy, its engine, it angular ways. You simply feel these more. They aren’t as untouchable as Riesling can often be. They aren’t necessarily less austere. They are still difficult to describe. But they evade superficial descriptors and rather are felt on the palate.

You must feel this vintage. It is paradoxal. It is profoundly unique. And it has a sense of humor despite its very promising future.

bootcamp diaries, day 3: mother nature’s rotten ways.

california wine, Wine Blog, Wine Education, Wine Travel

My final full day on Spring Mountain I woke up early and followed my nose to the Schweiger’s home just across the road from Paloma. Coffee and a delicious homemade breakfast awaited me. I, along with a few others from the group, sat around and talked shop. One guy runs a Wine Styles store near my hometown in Wisconsin. I was happy to hear the industry was beginning to boom in the midwest.

I admit, a little jealousy set in when I learned that those who were staying on at Schweiger for their morning group project might be harvesting grapes. No one was really picking at this point anywhere else, but knowing I’d be spending my morning at one of my favorite wineries: Pride Estate, I couldn’t get too green with envy. Especially when I learned, that we too may be crushing a few…

Pride had received a shipment of Chardonnay from Carneros for their base tier label. While they have a one-acre block they devote to their 100% estate grown Vintner Select Chardonnay, they source fruit for their other label– I believe the only wine they source fruit for, in fact. But as the bunches rolled in, gasps began to fill the autumn air. The grapes they had checked up on just the week prior—grapes that were beautiful, golden and only days from peak ripeness—were now rotten and botrytis-affected. Heaps of them, all sad and ugly.

In that moment, I realized that I don’t think I could quite handle being a winemaker.

All that time that went into pruning the vines in winter, cultivating the soils in spring, praying through budbreak, holding one’s breath through fruit set, trimming the canopy, dropping the fruit in order to get your babies to the day when they could be transformed into wine. And then, to see them all decay after a few days rain.

We went through the motions, picking through the masses of mold on the sorting table, chucking pound after pound of bad grapes until finally we were told to stop. They had to make a decision if this was worth the time or not.

Alas, it was not. The grapes were refused.

Just like that, profit margins change, allocations change, wineries lose money, farmers retrace every step and wonder if they should have picked a week from ideal ripeness. It all changes with a little rain.

Harvest is all about letting go of control. You can cross every T and dot every I but still, in the field, it’s up to the almighty Mother Earth if a grower is going to have a stressful harvest or not. On that mountain, though, I was explained something that I will always remember. A ‘bad’ vintage does not mean you will necessarily have bad wine. A bad vintage means that a farmer will really have to exercise his/her knowledge when it matters most—throughout all the stages. Good vintages lend themselves to novices. Fruit set and harvest are crucial, though, and if rain, hail or frost occurs, you need to have about 10 backup plans and the confidence to execute them at the right time.

What separates the boys from the men (or the girls from the women) when it comes to viticulture, is truly knowing what is best for those vines.

For Pride, it was about making a difficult call with grapes they hadn’t nursed along the way, but they had picked from an excellent source. That they had lost them to rain was no one’s fault. Chardonnay in particular is a very small berried, tight clustered varietal. Once excessive water gets in there, good luck. The best thing they could have done at that point was turn them away. Bad wine will only compromise the integrity of an estate. To sell wine at prices that don’t meet their quality standards is not something an honorable winery would do. I had great respect for Pride that day. I saw how hard that decision was. And I thought of the source of their grapes as well—a very reputable winery. What would they do with the loss?

I believe around Napa and Sonoma in general, there will be a bit of shared loss this year. But I can assure you, the wine that comes from this vintage will be terrific if you trust that the grower knows how to bring it full circle from the bud to the bottle. This vintage will draw a line between hobbyists and true artists of the vine. And I witnessed the latter everywhere on Spring Mountain—blow drying wet grapes each morning, sacrificing fruit so berries had a better chance of ripening, training the canopy differently, etc. But once that mold comes… man… there’s just nothing anyone can really do. You pick and hope for the best. Or you let them go. A season’s work. Done.

We did some other things that day at Pride, learning how to add nutrients to barrels that were undergoing fermentation already, keeping the yeasts sustained with additions. On the mountain, some were more focused on natural yeast fermentation, while many still believed inoculation was really best for the full maturity and control of product. ‘Divergent in thought’ should have been the subtitle of this trip, so many of the winemakers held tight to their way of thinking. And the funny thing was? No one was right or wrong. Not to be kindergarten teacher about it, but really, you could taste their various philosophies and methods in each and every wine.

After a really great afternoon at Terra Valentine, all our groups convened at Vineyards 7 & 8 for an eye-opening formal tasting of 16 wines from different Spring Mountain producers. Many were from the 2007 & 2008 vintages, so we could truly ‘taste the terroir’, as it was so uniquely expressed in each individual wine. These wines were so different from one another, but one thing they shared: a deep minerality that just can’t be found in most California reds to this point. It was this rocky note, this undercurrent, which spoke to them all and gave the region a distinct flavor. Spring Mountain contains over 25 different soil types (of the world’s 34), not to mention each vineyard describes a totally different typography and geologic feature, whether river, sun exposure, aspect or soil series. It’s not too surprising they built an entire program to demonstrate just that: their variant timbres. Some were very earthy (Cain Five and Guilliams), powerful and rich (Fantesca and Vineyards 7 & 8), fruit forward and elegant (Paloma), classic and stately (Keenan and Pride), amongst so many other personalities. None of these wines were heard over the rest, rather they all spoke with intention and integrity.

My time in Spring Mountain was unforgettable. It was my first taste of Napa…my first taste in a vineyard. And though I am not sure emotionally I have what it takes to give it all up for the secateurs, I more than ever desire to work on the farm for a true harvest start to finish. Or longer…

Gluten in some wines?: Why celiacs may not need to cross wine off their list just yet.

Wine Blog, Wine Education, wine news

I just had to share the following email correspondence between a customer and myself regarding gluten in wine. Surprisingly, I have not had to confront this question until now. I always assumed it was gluten free, as my celiac customers would buy their GF beer and a bottle of vino. Turns out, that’s not always true. The good news is that it takes a very, VERY rare and sensitive celiac wine lover to be affected. Read on…



Dear Ashley,

I have read that a lot of wines will have gluten in them due to a wheat based paste they use to seal the barrels.  Also, some will even get cross contaminated from barrels being reused after making of barley based spirits.

What do you know?



Hey M.,

Thanks for the question! I have many celiac customers. All of them drink wine. If any amount of gluten (from clarifying or pre-barrel treatment), it’s so low it doesn’t affect any of them. We are talking LESS than 1 parts per million (ppm) in most cases, though it can be as high as 20 ppm, if you are extremely sensitive. Even ‘gluten free’ foods/beverages can have a small amount but not enough that it can’t declare itself GF. It does seem, however, that it is mostly linked to wine clarification and barrel sealing. Therefore, logic tells me stainless steel tank fermentation or concrete barrels would not have any gluten, or at least the lowest levels comparatively.

I am not a doctor, so I hate to tell you it’s totally fine. That said, you are likely in the clear. The best way to know is just by emailing the winery if the information is not readily available on their website. It may be a pain in the butt, but if you are severely reactive to gluten, it at least allows you to continue drinking wine if the liquid in question is, in fact, gluten free! And some wines DO claim to be ‘gluten-free’, at least according to:

Here are some other great sites that should help you decide if it’s right for you! –This one was written by a celiac for the hopeful of heart. Very easy to read and gratifying if your end goal is to justify a continued relationship with wine. –Very pro-wine as well. Includes a personal testimony from a winemaker who has a wine-drinking celiac wife. Even gives links to learn more about barrel production and wine clarification.– Fairly cut and dry. Thumbnail explanation. The basic facts.– A hard-nosed opinion by a doctor who specializes on the topic. (Apparently, according to her, I should be taking wine consumption down to 3 glasses per week. I’m in trouble…)

Good luck and stay healthy!


euro scribbles: parisian bites, bottles, beds and other bits.

food pairing, french wine, French Wine Travel, travel, Uncategorized, Wine Education, Wine Travel

I couldn’t miss an opportunity to share the foodie details, so it might help you plan your next trip to Paris…

Cafe de Flore:A tad bit overrated? Sure. But worth it at least once? Definitely, at least if you are someone like me who likes to imagine what it was back in its prime for the best writers of the early twentieth century. Keep it to a bowl of French onion soup at 8 euros, and you can escape without having to wash dishes. It was perfect in the late afternoon with a damp, drizzly chill outside.172 Bld Saint-Germain. Tel  33 1 45 48 55 26.

Chez Dumonet: My second time here, it is still our favorite spot in all of Paris for an old school, bistro meal. Here, the wine list is jacked, the waiters are high-strung (but so incredibly accommodating) and the food…incomparable. Don’t even try to understand the carte du vin (wine menu). Just tell them what you want. For us: nothing over 150 euro with age and complexity. The result: a ’99 Lalande Borie Saint Julien Bordeaux. It was drinking perfectly! Rich black cherry and currant fall from the rim as an uplifting trace of tomato leaf brightens its dense demure. The acidity still rippin’, the tannins taut and the integration beginning to works its magic from the core of the sip to the finish. A dramatic wine from beginning to end, it is powerful showing the softness and self-confidence of age.

This carried us through one of the best gazpachos I have ever held on my tongue, a tray of langoustines to share (a kind of lobster that looks like a shrimp), steamed artichokes with mixed greens, a healthy dose of boeuf bourguignon, my partner’s omelette with fresh black truffles and a dessert of Chantilly cream cuddling with fresh rasberries in a pastry shell. Not recommended for those on weight watchers. This restaurant is oh so decadent… oh so French. 117 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th. Tel: (1) 45 48 52 40. Closed Sat and Sun.

Le Cinq: Because we have always wondered what went on behind the curtain at this swank restaurant at the Four Season/George V, we just went for it. When better than just after a huge feat, like coming in first as a team for the Tour de France? This hotel has one of the grandest entrances I have ever seen. Thousands of dollars worth of massive floral arrangements nearly overwhelm your eyes. This time it was several varieties of purple flowers. If for no reason other than to grab an overpriced drink at their bar, you simply must visit this hotel.

Billecart Salmon rose in hand to start our great feast at Le Cinq (within the Four Seasons/George V Hotel), we toasted to Paris, to the team…and to us. Seven courses later, after a pricey bottle of ’99 Meo Cazumet Vosne-Romanee, odd experimental nouvo cuisine and a very strange, strange sommelier that reminded us of someone from Tales of the Crypt doing a radio show, we weren’t convinced that it was worth the hype. For one thing, tomatoes should not be made into a mid-meal ice cream, random droppings of wasabi and goat cheese should not just show up on your plate with no purpose, and foam…is getting kind of old, right? Although the cold avocado crab lasagna and olive oil ice cream was delish, it was a high price to pay for a moment on the lips.

In a stately, ornate, high-end restaurant that carries with it the monarchial grandeur of its namesake and a crowd that is best described as ‘stuffy’, it is no time for chemistry and pop rocks in the cuisine. The plates lacked synergy with their environment. And as such, tasted incomplete and out-of-place. Duck confitwith a gold lined cloth to dab on the corners of my mouth may have seemed a little more genuine. 31, avenue George V, 75008.Tel. 33 (0) 1 49 52 70 00

Les Ombres: An absolutely stunning venue for which to have the Tour de France dinner party. At the base of the Eiffel Tower, there is no closer place to see this phenomenal structure over an upscale meal at Les Ombres. Knowing that they prepared this 3 course meal for over 180 people, I can only imagine the quality of a small intimate affair. 27 Quai Branly, 75007. Tel. 01 47 53 68 00. Closed Sundays.

La Romantica Caffe: You know, this place was not fancy, nor really worth going out of your way. But if you are in the Place Vendome area of Paris and not sure where to start, you’re just getting in from a long travel, this is a little place that has dependable, good Italian food. Here, I ate one of the best versions of caprese: a delicately peeled whole tomato stuffed with burrata and basil. I know, I know, but you are in Paris! Well, then I suggest you head straight to Willy’s Wine Bar. Grab a cab and go! It’s open late and they will scratch your itch for French food. 96 Boulevard de la Tour-Maubourg, 75007. Tel. 01 44 18 36 37. Closed Sundays.

O-Chateau Wine Bar: An impressive wine program… a shame it doesn’t totally come together. Their idea? 40 wines by the glass, kept ‘fresh’ with a system that gasses the wine, allowing them to taste the same for days, even weeks… or so they claim. I get asked about this a lot. Do I think it works? I never say never, and with wines like ’81 Petrus and ’91 d’Yquem Sauternes on tap, I figured it was worth a try to check it out. Had I 68 euro, I may have tried the Petrus, instead I selected a more humble flight of ’07 Chabloz-Champs Gain Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru, ’02 Landmann Grand Cru Riesling from Alsace, ’10 Domaine de la Garenne Sancerre, ’05 Domaine Courtade Cotes du Provence, ’98 Lynch Bages, ’99 Chateau Cure Bon St. Emilion, ’96 Berthaut Fixin and ’10 Marcel Lapierre Morgon.

The Sancerre, Puligny-Montrachet and Riesling were off the hook. They expressed their individual terroirs perfectly, sang notes of minerality and were incredibly balanced. Everything one could want from these regions’ best. The reds, sadly, were less than lovely. Their structure seems compromised, their bouquets rather volatile showing notes of acetone and mildew, and their overall character was not correct. Some of it blew off, but they didn’t seem…right. The servers seemed insulted when they asked my honest opinion after seeing that I wasn’t finishing my 2 oz pours, and I mentioned that they may be a tad bit off, but I wasn’t sure. Well, they were. I couldn’t have been made to feel more like leaving any faster had they grabbed the broom and swept me out the door. Ah well. The whites were worth it, if you are ever in the 1st and want a place to chill for an hour. I have yet to research more about reds on tap. I am definitely suspect now. 68, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau – 75001. Tel. 33(0)1 44 739 780.

Kinugawa Japanese Restaurant: The best in town, or so the rumor goes. I am not a huge sushi freak, as so many of you know (though I strangely like the occasional sushimi toro), but my partner in crime was certainly satisfied. Though he claims it is no better than the best in Denver (Sushi Sasa, in his humble opinion), he was by no means disappointed. They have an extensive list, including non-fruits-des-mers options (non- seafood). I had seared salmon, which was done perfectly with a side of some of the best textured pearly white rice I have honestly ever had! Seems silly to wax poetic about, but if ever grains of rice deserved it, theirs would be ones. Plus, their ‘simple’ house white by the glass was no less than the ‘02 Latour 1er Cru Beaune ‘Les Aigrots’ at 9 euro. Not that I typically get into this negociant’s products, this selection was rockin’ right now, and only that much better at a steal of a price! It demonstrated the briny, nutty, textural similarities to a Lopez white. For a restaurant that by no means seems to put their wine program as a number one priority, they know what they are doing for sure. 9,rue du Mont Thabor, 75001. Tel. 01 42 60 65 07

Le Chardenoux: Our final evening was reserved for a recommendation. A very fine one at that. A hop, skip and 34 euros later in cab fare we found ourselves in a Parisian pocket we had never been before. Or so we thought. It wasn’t until after dinner that it occurred to JV that not only had he been here before, but there was a restaurant he completely forgot about that I would love. We stopped in on the way back to the hotel to glance at the wine list, and he couldn’t have been more right. It may have been the most exciting wine list I had yet seen in a Paris eatery–stocked with traditional, stinky backvintages of Chateauneuf, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Loire.

Les Chardenoux was the real deal. Inside were real people–Parisians having a night out. The was classically prepared to perfection. I settled on an heirloom tomato salad followed by a rib eye with béarnaise sauce, while Jonathan got the tartare. We couldn’t have been more satisfied, washing it down with a ’04 Leoville-Barton St. Julien Bordeaux. It was a big, fat wine, bearing copious cocoa notes, dark black berries and a ton of tannin. It hit the spot, and couldn’t have been better with the meat.1, rue Jules Vallès, in the 11th Arrondissement. Tel. 01 43 71 49 52. Lunch and dinner every day.

Restaurants/Wine Bars I still really want to go to:

Helene Darroze- 4 Rue D’Assas, 75006, Tel. 01 42 22 00 11

Bistrot Paul Bert- 18 Rue Paul Bert , 75011 Paris,Tel : 01 43 72 24 01

La Tour d’Argent15,quai de la Tournelle, 75005. Tel. 01 43 54 23 31

La Verre Vole- 67, rue de Lancry, 75010. Tel: 01 48 03 17 34


Great places to lay your head:

Renaissance Parc Trocadero (Marriott)–A bit more removed from the bustle, here you are right next to a bunch of great museums and lovely strolls. A bit harder to maneuver for runs, but walking is great. The homes here are reminiscent of old wealth aristocracy. A fabulous boutique across the street by Bonpoint (a children’s French couture shop) for adults called Yam. The breakfasts at the Parc Trocadero will quench your thirst for an American coffee fix–one pot per person.

Renaissance Place Vendome (Marriott)–Modern and chic, this happening hotel gives you the feeling of the top luxury hotels in the city at half the price. So close to the Seine, you are steps from major museums, shops, plazas and outdoor recreation. A first class spa awaits you if you seek decadence.

Castille Hotel–A bit more classic decor, this place is quaint, central and full of character. Great service and extremely comfortable beds. I have seldom slept so well. Next door Chanel and zillions of other top notch brands and boutiques await your pocketbook. Be sure to check out my favorite shoe shop: Michel Perry. Just a few steps from the Seine for some great running.

Cooking with Wine: Does it Matter?

cooking, Wine Blog, Wine Education

We’ve all been told to cook only with wine you would drink. But what does that mean? Wine that you can swallow without wincing? And what about specific kinds of wine for a recipe. Does it matter if you use Pinot Noir or Cab? Chard or Sauv Blanc? When it comes to cooking with wine, are there more rules to keep in mind before submerging our meal in fermented grapes?

What follows are a few things to keep in mind the next time your recipe calls for the good stuff.

1) Do only cook with wine you would drink yourself.

Regardless if you buy the right kind of red or white, what matters more is that it is something you could see yourself finishing after you pour your cup or two in the skillet. There is no reason not to buy a decent quaffable wine what with all the choices in the world today. I have tried many $10 bottles that annihilate all the bulk, mass-produced plonk at $7 that people somehow feel more comfortable buying due to brand recognition (‘ahhh, yes, that label and price seems to be telling me this is ‘cheap’ wine, therefore fantastic for my demi-glace!’).

Plus, beware! Some of those jug wine have a lot of sugar added to them (this is called chapitalization) to hide the faults or beef up the alcohol. Reduce that in a sauce, and not only will you be able to smell those faults, you will also be adding some unnecessary and possibly detrimental sugar to your recipe. Dry, decent quaffable wines are out there. Just ask an experienced salesperson/wine expert.

2) Do not use ‘Cooking Wine’.

It seems logical (doesn’t it just add some acid the dish needs?). But it is not a good idea. Not only are you not really saving much money, if at all, but you are actually adding a ridiculous amount of salt and artificial flavorings to your dish.

If you are going to take the care to roll up your sleeves and make a meal that calls for wine and other lovely natural ingredients don’t bastardize it.

3) When it calls for White Wine…

If a recipe isn’t specific, the white that I reach for 9 times out of 10 is Italian—Pinot Grigio, Friulano, Falanghina, Gavi, Verdicchio, Vernaccia, you name it. Why? They tend to be lower in alcohol, light to medium in body, less intense on the nose and medium-plus to high in acidity. You don’t want aromatics, body or oak to overwhelm the flavors in a dish. Sauv Blanc can imbue too much citrusy grapefruit, Chardonnay can be oaky, Viognier a bouquet of flowers and lacking in acid, Chenin Blanc has a honeyed nose.

Here are some inexpensive picks (pretty consistent vintage to vintage, so not named):

-Ca del Sarto Pinot Grigio: $9.99

-Santi Apostali Pinot Grigio: $9.99

-Piccolo Gavi: $13.99

-Fattoria il Palagio Vernaccia: $11.99

-Santa Barbara Verdicchio: $11.99

-Anselmi Friulano: $11.99

4) When it calls for Red Wine…

Back in 2001, Cooks Illustrated took out the guesswork for me and tested a bunch of red wines on all the classic sauces. What they found, time and again, was that it pretty much boiled down to two kinds of reds for any given recipe: medium bodied, lesser to no oak, fruity red blends, or… Pinot Noir. Pinot was the only single varietal that was a success with consistency, in fact. They are often less oaked, fruity, medium bodied and high in acidity. They synergized with the other compounds in the dish as opposed to defeating them with their strength, perfume, oak, tannin or fruit. Merlot made sauces seem overcooked and jammy, Cab ‘bullied’ other flavors with its muscles and oak, Sangiovese was fine for red sauce but flattened every other sauce with a cardboard taste, and Zin also made the sauces too jammy and stewed.

So how to choose between Pinot and a red blend? Use your instinct. If a lighter, earthier dish, go Pinot or a light Cotes du Rhone—especially if it incorporates herbs, mushrooms and spice. If a heavier, heftier sauce/dish, go with a heartier, fruitier red blend—particularly one from California or Washington.

Here are some great, inexpensive standbys:


-E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone-$13.99

-Domaine des Rozets Cotes du Tricastin: $9.99

-Apaltagua Pinot Noir: $10.99

-Pinot Project Pinot Noir: $13.99


-Parducci Sustainable Red: $11.99

-Laurel Glen Reds: $11.99

-Ass Kisser GSM: $10.99

-Pedroncelli Friends Red: $11.99

5) Never, EVER cook with flawed wine. It only gets worse…

Perhaps you’ve been there. You open a wine. Perhaps it is corked, tainted, whatever…something’s not quite right. You shrug your shoulders and decide you won’t waste it. You put the cork back in and throw it in the fridge for cooking wine. The thing is, when you reduce a wine, those flaws only exacerbate. Just take it back to the store and get credit. Flaws usually affect one bottle, not a whole case. You just had bad luck. No need to chuck it…and certainly no need to reuse.

6) When cooking a regional dish, consider a regional wine to cook and consume with…

Yes, I said blends and Pinot are just about the best no brainer ways to cook with wine, but so is considering the source of the meal. If you are making a hearty red sauce, think Italian. If going for a rustic, Provencal dish, try a red blend from Southern France (there are a million). If an All-American steak with potatoes, consider a reduction sauce to pour over it using a Zinfandel—Jammy flavors actually compliment a red, juicy steak.

7) The higher the price tag, the better the sauce.

According to Cooks Illustrated, this is true. But… it’s not a huge difference. The consensus is that you should buy a decent $10-12ish bottle of wine. Increments of $10 thereafter are noticeable in a taste test, but marginally significant overall.

9) Port.  Ruby or Tawny?

If a recipe does not specify which to use, again use your instincts. If it is a richer, deeper sauce to compliment nuttier flavors, go Tawny. If trying to compliment a berry reduction, go Ruby.

I mean, for the most part, Ruby port is a little more versatile when cooking, as it doesn’t tend to see much oak and therefore puts forth fruitier flavors, much like a red wine. So unless it calls for Tawny, or you just feel intuitively that Tawny would be a better choice (for example, charred sirloin with fig and tawny reduction), maybe safer to go Ruby.

8) Slow and low…

Finally, you probably know this already, but don’t crank up the heat to high when making a reduction. You want the flavors to intensify and develop. If you want to speed it up, don’t increase the temperature, rather, make the sauce in a larger skillet, so the added surface area allows for faster evaporation whilst not compromising the flavor evolution.

Follow these simple rules, and you should make it through any recipe just fine! Email me with any other questions you might have, too, about this topic. I am happy to sleuth out some answers for particular recipes.

Wine 101: Where does one even begin?

Wine Blog, Wine Education

“How did you learn about all this!?’  It is a question I am familiar with, as my job is to daily assist people with their wine purchases. These purchases often lead to discussion on wine pairing, regions, wine styles and varietal differences. Other times, we talk about organic, biodynamic, sulfites, tannins and alcohol levels. No matter the topic, customers and friends always want to know how to learn more.

It’s a hobby, right? So don’t get so overwhelmed. I chose to do wine as a career, so not only do I spend 40 hours in a store, I also spend several hours researching and writing, not to mention drinking and thinking. And on top of that, I am always tinkering with some certification or another, so I force myself to study. A lot. It takes around the clock obsession for me to feel that I can answer half the questions that come my way. There is a lot to know… and that knowledge keeps growing by the millions of bottles every vintage.

So where to start? I decided it was time to write down exactly what it is I recommend to those who want to know how to excel in their wine skills. Take it as far as you want. Tips begin gradual—bottle by bottle. But if you are starting to think this might be the line of work for you, there are suggestions on where to begin on that journey as well.

1. Think while you Drink: Buy a notebook. Record every wine you bring home. Jot down a few simple things about your initial impression: smell, taste, like, dislike. Google some info on the varietal (i.e. Cab, Chardonnay, Syrah, Albarino), region (i.e. Bordeaux, Rhone, Sonoma, Barossa Valley) or producer (i.e. Seghesio, Rodano, D’Arenberg). That’s how it started for me.

2. Free Local Wine Tastings: Check out free local wine tastings at legitimate shops that are really into what they do. My shop, Little’s Wines & Spirits, offers two tastings a week with a focused theme. This weekend, we are learning what the terms ‘traditional’ vs ‘modern’ style winemaking means as well as how to choose the correct wine for cooking certain dishes. It’s fun, free and as educational as you make it!

3. Attend Wine Events: Sources like and the local newspapers have an ongoing list of events you can take advantage of in your town. Some are free…some are not. But you can choose what’s right for you.

4. Read: There are so many books out there that have helped me understand wine along the way—from hobby sipper to certified sommelier. Check out the following:

How to Taste, by Jancis Robinson

Windows of the World: A Complete Wine Course, by Kevin Zraly

Red Wine with Fish, by David Rosengarten and Joshua Wesson

World Atlas of Wine, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson

Oxford Companion to Wine, by Jancis Robinson

Adventures on the Wine Route, by Kermit Lynch

A Life Uncorked, by Hugh Johnson

5. Take a Class: This will be different for every city, so if you need some help finding your way outside the Denver area, don’t hesitate to drop a note. If you are, however, in the mile high city, here are a couple places that always offer wine classes:

Cook Street Culinary School:

International Wine Guild Public/Consumer Courses:

Colorado Free University:

Local Wine Events:


6. Keep your Day Job, but…: If your passion is seriously making you reconsider your career, then it may be time to stick a nose in the trade. Figure out what appeals to you most and acknowledge your natural talents. Is it business? Perhaps you can combine accounting with a shop or a small wine bar. Maybe you will eventually want to start one yourself. Is it sales? There are hundreds of wholesalers and distributors in the state. Perhaps a small one would let you try it out part time. You can make good money if it’s second nature to you. Always wished you could have lived your life at a fancy restaurant, pairing one exquisite bite after the next with the perfect wine? If you’re sniffer and palate is up to par, you just may be the next Master Sommelier with time and dedication. Dream of writing and traveling in far off places, like Austria, the Mosel and the Rhone (ahem…this is my dream), it’s next to impossible. But… it’s not entirely so. Therefore, you keep your day job, start a blog, hope to God you get a couple unique visitors a day, and tirelessly submit work to publications (I have yet to honestly do that last part… I need to get over rejection!).

Get Certified: Okay, so you were bitten by the wine bug. You’ve turned in the resignation letter or gotten your useless degree in Leisure Studies, told your family you are going to dedicate yourself to alcohol and gotten your dream job at the local [insert career here: liquor shop, bar, door to door booze salesperson].

It’s time to make it official.

Some people turn up their noses at Academia, so if it’s not for you, it’s not a big deal. That said, depending on the route you take, it may be crucial to consider some credentials. Here are some terrific programs:

International Wine Guild Professional Program:


WSET: or, for Denver specifically go to


Court of Master Sommelier:


Society of Wine Educators:



I joke, but this was the best decision I have ever made. I was neck high in term papers, getting through graduate school, staring at a bottle of wine when it occurred to me that if I applied the same energy to studying viniculture and viticulture as I did to Virginia Woolf, I just may have a shot at making a successful career at my hobby. It was a huge risk. I always thought I wanted to be a professor. But the truth is… I only have one life. I couldn’t see arguing over beautifully written language for the rest of my life. I love literature and writing. I’m just not cynical enough to hack it with the academics. Wine offered a way for me to endlessly learn, research, write, educate, interact and feel alive. It is a way to see the world, understand soils, climatic influence, food pairing, culture and customs.

You choose how far you want to take it. Regardless, wine studies is a path you won’t regret.