MmmmmMonastrell Monday! 

Taking a break from my studying, I caught myself in a little daydream; thinking back to not long ago and a trip to Jerome, AZ. 

I’d heard of Caduceus Cellars from my nephew, Aaron, who’s really into the bands Tool and Puscifer. What does this have to do with wine? Caduceus was founded by Maynard James Keenan, frontman and songwriter of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer. Established in 2004, Caduceus is described as a ‘small production family owned winery’. Unlike some celebrity winemakers, Keenan likes to get his hands dirty in all aspects of the business; from planting and harvesting to winemaking and marketing.  

From our wine flights, HubbyDoug and our friends Carl and Deb picked the 2013 VSC Anubis (50% Cab, 30% Cab Franc, 20%Petit Syrah). My pick: the 2014 VSC Monastrell (100% Cochise County Monastrell). 

Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre) is a thick skinned grape that provides color, fruit and tannic structure especially when blended with Grenache and Syrah; it is the ‘M’ in GSM wines. On its own, it has intense perfume notes and blackberry flavours along with hints of meat. Age brings out more leather and gingerbread aromas and flavour. 

The wine in my glass had a beautiful garnet colour with sage on the nose (what I imagine the scent a desert flower would have). It had light-medium body with neutral oak, and flavors of basil, thyme, juniper with a kick of licorice and olive. It made me think of a fragrant, lush herb garden. Normally with reds, I expect to have more of a jammy, fruit forward experience, anything herbaceous I associate with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. It wasn’t sweet wine, far from it. But, much like it’s winemaker, its juxtaposition from what I thought it should be, and what it was, I found a true expression of where it was cultivated. 

This Monastrell is hand-picked (by Keenan himself), sorted, submerged cap fermented and puncheon aged for 18 months. Puncheon is an extra large oak barrel (70-100 gallons). The larger size allows for stronger/ stricter controls in the wine’s development due to the higher inner barrel surface – wine ratio. 

I’d only had this varietal before as part of the GSM blend but on its own it was a wonderful surprise to add to my list of exceptional wines with a twist. 


A Noble Steed, and the Fireside Pizza 🔥

Is it the Riesling, or is it still National Pizza  Day? I guess it doesn’t matter since  I’m enjoying both either way.

My research today led me to a chart about pizza and wine pairings. One of the more intriguing was Riesling and Hawaiian pizza; the key element being img_9508pineapple. I’ve never been a fan of pineapple on pizza. Ever. But for the sake of furthering my wine pairing education…

As it so happened, we had a nice 2012  Firesteed Riesling in our collection, and chilling in our fridge (so handy!) and looking on the menu at our local PizzaFire   I found a Za that looked pretty interesting: Free range chicken, red onion, barbeque sauce, and yes, pineapple.

The wine was a lovely, light offering; tasting of tart lemon zest, green, fresh fiddlehead, with just a whisper of white pepper. It paired so nicely with the sweet of the pineapple, and cut a swath through the tang of the barbeque. It really was an unexpected treat. The lack of floral and sweetness in this case worked to enhance the savoury tang of the pizza. Nice!

Whether you observe Pizza Day or not, it’s always good to find new ways to enjoy wine with everyday dining.


©TheWineStudent, 2017

My New Sparkles for Thanksgiving ✨🍾

This Thanksgiving, I wanted to shake things up a little. Instead of serving three wines; a bubbler, white and a red, I’ve narrowed the field to two: Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad Cava and a 2013 Gundlach Bundschu Pinot Noir.

But wait…what is Cava?

Cava is a dry sparkling wine that is produced in Spain using traditional, indigenous grapes from a several select growing regions. The most renown is North-East Spain, particularly Penedès.  It is made from 2-3 grape varietals: Macabea (the Viura of Rioja), Parellada, and the earthier Xarel-lo. While most wines are named after their growing region, Cava gets its name from the type of wine. Unlike other sparkling wines, it’s made in ‘Mètodo Tradicional’ or the traditional method used in creating Champagne.

I’ve written before about how sparkling wines are made but here’s a little review: The traditional method allows for  the fermentation of wine in the bottle for months (and sometimes years).  Bottles have a crown cap (think beer cap) to withstand the considerable buildup of pressure (corks would just pop at this phase and no one likes premature popping). Bottles are then slanted downward and kept in this postion to allow the yeast to settle in the neck. After a time, the next phase occurs where just the bottle necks are submerged in a freezing solution; freezing just those few inches of wine that contains the yeast. An ice plug is formed trapping the yeast. At this point, the bottle is turned upright, crown cap removed and the pressure from the gas inside the bottle expells the ice plug (don’t try blaming the dog). What remains is the sparkling bottle of perfection which is then corked and cellared. A painstaking process, it takes great care to make sure it all comes out the way it should.

This is how the traditional method differs  from other approaches to making wine sparkle. Non-traditional method means the wine goes through its fermentation in large metal tanks, is then bottled and carbon dioxide added to the mix.

Cava vs Prosecco

Cava has flavors of lemon flavors with a slightly bitter, nuttier quality on the finish with a more full bodied mouth-feel, and floral notes similar to Champagne. It has many qualities similar to Champagne except that it has a more affordable price point. Feel free to put two in your grocery basket.

Prosecco originates from around the Valdobbiadene region of Italy and is a dry, slightly sweeter, complex bubbler. It’s fermented in steel tanks and has light, crisp flavors of pear, peach, yellow apple, and apricot. Like Cava, it is an inexpensive way to get your bubble on and can be mixed without guilt in a bevy of cocktails.

Whatever you choose to celebrate this Thanksgiving, I wish you all a happy and safe holiday!


Breaking Bud

For the most part, this past winter was not one of discontent. Unless, perhaps if you’re a winemaker. It’s a balancing act when it comes to managing freeze-thaw cycles in a vineyard. Most vines are resilient enough to withstand the below freezing temperatures for a time only to rise and bloom when it’s safe to wake up. This winter and spring were a little different, though.

While bud break  in March is not unheard of, it usually it begins when the danger of frost has safely passed. Winter bud damage can occur at temperatures below -25 C; vine damage can occur between -28 and -30C. The level of damage also depends on the grape: Vidal and Cab Franc being heartier varietals can withstand extremes, but the more delicate Pinot Noir, and Gerwurtztraminer suffer the most when they are exposed to temps of below -10C.

But like anything in nature, adaptability is everything. According to an article in the University of Maryland Extension, buds acclimate in two ways:

  • Dehydration ~ where water contained inside the bud and vine move into intercellular spaces. Shrinkage, if you will.
  • Cryoprotection ~ sugar and protein complexes that bind water work as cryoprotectants which lower the freezing point of water allowing contents of the cell to ‘supercool’ without the generation of dangerous ice crystals.

The difficulty facing winemakers here in the Ohio River Valley is that spring came on early and strong with record mild temps, potentially causing grape buds to emerge earlier than usual. Bud break occurs approximately around late April through mid May. While early bud break allows for the potential of a longer growing season and riper fruit, it also increases the vulnerability to a late spring frost. If shoots are lost, the crop size decreases, yet the quality of the resulting wine can increase.

Matt Meineke, owner and vineyard manager of M Cellars in Geneva, Ohio says [via e-mail] , “with the mild winter early bud break was a concern but we do feel things should be in the clear at this point. Many growers use fans and we actually use a potassium/ calcium spray, and a little luck, to get by on our estate vineyards. On the vineyards we manage we use fans and of course luck!”

Temperatures in North East Ohio for March ranged from 28F on March 2 to a crazy high of 75F on March 8, with variations on that theme throughout the month, ending with a high on the 31st of 70F. It’s no wonder the buds were confused — I was. As temperatures began to decrease again, the frost, snow and ice could likely encroach upon the tender new vines, and damage could then take hold. Just how much damage remains to be seen. As Meineke explains, “ any extreme temperature fluctuation will cause the plants to deactivate from winter hardiness which is always a concern regardless of the variety. Some varieties are more tender, especially the vinifera wine grapes we grow such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, etc.”

So what happens if frost bites the young vines? Having a plan B is essential to a successful season. According to Meineke, “if we have an early frost that causes damage, we would be using our secondary buds for production. This would cause production to be down and typically ripening may be delayed as well. That said, we would probably not be in a good position to make premium red wines, we should be considering premium rose wines as that is what nature has told us to do.”

As for any changes the consumer might see in terms of pricing, Meineke explains, “as far as pricing goes I don’t think we have a lot of room for an increase to the end consumer. We find local wines hard enough to sell on the open market and this would simply be one more reason for the end user to look elsewhere for their wine purchase.”

Even with this season’s fluctuations in temperatures, by the looks of things, the vines are all right. And so will be this year’s vintages.


©TheWineStudent, 2016

Celebrating Women of the Vine 🍷⚗🔬

To honor International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I revisited Women of the Vine, an inspiring book by Deborah Brenner. In it, she examines a varied cross section of women who are making great strides in what has been, over centuries, a male dominated profession. 

Some of the women profiled came into their calling dynastically (Stephanie Gallo), some discovered their passion along the way ~ punching down the cap of discrimination  (Merry Edwards) to have a satisfying career, and one blended her love of science and unique ability to identify aromas and tastes (Dr. Ann C. Noble). 

To create exceptional wine that stands the test of time, it’s a marriage of science, instinct, wisdom, and perseverance. These women understand that very well. 

From sommelier to winemaker to marketing, to creating the wine aroma wheel, Women of the Vine gives an interesting perspective for all wine lovers, and also for girls studying science who may be looking for an alternative in science-based careers. 


Pop! Getting the Fizz into Your Favorite New Year’s Sparkler



Your bubbly is chilling, the perfect glasses shimmer waiting for the strike of twelve and the pop of the cork. But what exactly makes your sparkling wine the effervescent delight you save for special occasions? The answer lies in the method.

The classic method is commonly used for the fermentation of sparkling wines, (Champagne, Prosecco, Moscato D’Asti and Cava). While many grapes are picked when the sugar content is fairly high, Champagne grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) are picked earlier when sugar levels are low and acidity is high. The juice of the grapes is pressed off early to ensure little skin contact which keeps the wine white.The first fermentation occurs the same way as all wine, converting the natural sugar in the grapes to alcohol while the carbon dioxide is allowed to escape, producing the base wine. Because of the higher acid content, the wine at this point isn’t very tasty. The blend or assemblage occurs, using base wines from various vineyards and occasionally, vintages.

Primary fermentation begins as soon as yeast is added to the must (the freshly pressed grapes). And like a party of kids hopped up on pixie stix, in this phase there is a lot of activity; lots of foam, and crazy bubbling. The yeast at this point grows quickly because of the sugar, nutrients and oxygen. Up to 70% of the total amount of alcohol is produced during this phase which lasts about three-five days. This is known as aerobic fermentation because the fermentation vessel is left open to air.

When secondary fermentation occurs, there is no more oxygen and sugar is minimal which now makes it anaerobic fermentation, where air must be kept at a minimum. This allows the yeast to give its energy to making alcohol. Alcohol levels then rise to the point where any remaining yeast dies off. Secondary fermentation can last between one – two weeks and produces 30% alcohol. It’s the most important part of the whole process in making sparkling wines, it is the only way to produce a fully sparkling wine.

At this time it’s a mixture of still wine, sugar, yeast and a clarifying agent. It’s then bottled and then and capped with a temporary ‘soda’ cap to allow for the further addition of yeast and sugar. These components then react with one another, creating the fermentation inside the bottle. Fermentation then converts the sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide, which is now trapped inside the bottle, infusing the wine with bubbles.

There are other ways that bubbles can be infused into sparkling wines:

  • Carbon Dioxide Injection ~ (the soda pop method)
  • Metodo Martinotti ~ pioneered by Federico Martinotti, and adapted by Eugene Charmot in 1907, and used specifically for Prosecco and Moscat D’Asti, secondary fermentation occurs in bulk tanks and is then bottled under pressure.
  • Methode Champenoise ~ effervescence is produced by secondary fermentation within the bottle as above but this is specifically used to produce Champagne.
  • Transfer Method ~ which takes the wine blend to bottle for secondary fermentation, which increases the complexity. but then transfers the wine out of the individual bottles into a larger tank after spending the desired amount of time on yeast.

So now that we’ve established how the bubbles get there, what is the difference between Champagne, Prosecco and Cava? Bubbles are bubbles, right? No. No they are not.

Here’s the basic break down:

Champagne ~France ~ Secondary fermentation occurs in the sealed bottle. Grape varietal(s)~ Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier. The flavors have a tendency to be more complex and rich. While it can be more expensive, many lovers of this sparkler wouldn’t have it any other way. They are very loyal to their bubbles and to their brand. Notable brands: Dom Perignon, Vueve Cliquot, Moet and Chandon, Pierre-Jouét.             $60-$300+. Moderately priced Champagne will run between $60-$80.

Prosecco ~ Italy ~ Secondary Fermentation occurs in the Martinotti-Charmot method: occurring in large vats and then being transferred to bottle once fermentation is complete. Grape varietal: glera. Steadily gaining traction in the sparkly bubbles market, Prosecco is becoming becoming well-known among Millenials who prefer a price-friendly, lighter, fruit-forward bubbler. LaMarca, Sensi. $14-$30.

Cava ~ Spain ~ Large vat secondary fermentation is the prime method for Cava. Varietals include: Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo grapes. A lighter vibe (and price) is again why many choose Cava as an alternative sparkler to Champagne. Freixenet, Segura Viuda. $12-$20

Whether you choose Champagne, Prosecco,  Cava, or sparkling cider, I hope you have an amazing New Year’s Eve and a spectacular 2016!


©TheWineStudent, 2015

Tricks and Treats: my top picks for Hallowe’en ’15! 

The witching hour is nigh! And to celebrate, I narrowed down my choices this year to two bewitching vintages. The label art had a little to do with it. But what was listed on the label was most intriguing.

I offer up to you, in no particular order (and also because I haven’t tried them… yet) ~ my top two Hallowe’en wine picks!

2012 Alma Negra M Blend (black soul) ~ a blend so mysterious, they don’t even list what’s in it! Which, frankly, is what piqued my curiosity. A little trip into the catacombs to research was indicated. Grape varietals in this blend are Bonarda and Malbec. Oh, the skeleton references i could make about Bone-arda (bad pun = everybody sip). Bonarda, described as the ‘workhorse’ grape of Argentina, produces large yields is lighter-bodied than Malbec yet fruit forward with flavors of cherry, plum with moderate acid and light tannins. This vintage was aged eight months in 50% American – 50% French oak barrels.

 2014 Sinister Hand ~ This spirited vintage, while young, is made in the Rhone style, blending Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault. Prone to rot in damp conditions (think nasty zombie),  Cinsault thrives in hot appellations. When added to Rhone, it adds structure, perfume and softness, making this offering sound beautifully complex indeed.

Anyone who loves a good horror story can tell you, it’s not the simple tale that’s spine-tingling. It’s the one that builds, and has complex twists and turns that are the most satisfying.

The real trick for me will be to not rip into these treats before Hallowe’en!

©TheWineStudent, 2015