Sherry Basics


A Flight of Sherries

I am very excited to be attending the grand tasting at Sherryfest in a few days.  To prepare for the event, I’ve been reviewing some basics on sherry…

  • Sherry is a fortified wine made in the Andalucia region of Spain, specifically within 3 towns: Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa María, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
  • Sherry is made from Palomino grapes, although some sweet styles use Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel grapes.
  • Sherry may be aged under a blanket of flor which is a layer of yeast that creates a seal over the wine and prevents oxidation.
  • Sherry is blended using the solera system.  This is a method of fractional blending where wine for bottling is taken from the oldest barrel, and the barrel is replenished from younger barrels.
  • Sherry comes in many styles:
    • Fino – The driest and lightest style of sherry, Fino is under flor for the entirety of its aging.
    • Manzanilla –  This is a fino-style sherry made in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.  The climate of the town leads to a thicker flor, which results in an even lighter wine.
    • Amontillado – This style of sherry goes through 2 stages of aging: first under flor and then without the flor, to let the wine oxidize.
    • Oloroso – This style of sherry is aged without flor, which allows for oxidation and results in darker and nuttier flavors.
    • Palo Cortado – This style is a bit of a cross between Oloroso and Amontillado, and the winemaking varies across producers.
    • Cream – This is a sweet style created by blending Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel grapes with an Oloroso sherry.
    • Pedro Ximenez (PX) – The sweetest style of sherry, PX is made from dried Pedro Ximenez grapes.

I will report back soon with some sherry recommendations. ¡Salud!



Argentina Beyond Event

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I spent a wonderful evening at Somm Time Wine Bar last week for their Argentina Beyond Wine Tasting Event.  As expected, there were plenty of Malbecs to choose from; however, I was particularly taken by the 2014 Calcáreo Granito de Tupungato Malbec.  The Calcáreo had the rich berry flavors that one expects from a Malbec, but also a nice minerality and spice that made it really stand out.

There were a number of Cabernet Francs – a grape that is gaining popularity with the growers in Mendoza.  I enjoyed the 2016 vintage of both Zuccardi Poligonos and Zorzal Eggo Franco.

One new varietals for me was Bonarda  (also known as Douce Noir, Corbeau or Charbono, and not to be confused with Bonarda Piemontese).  This is the second most widely planted grape in Argentina, but it hasn’t received as much attention as Malbec.  I tasted a couple, but none were remarkable. DSC_0068_1

For me, the dark horse of the event was Pinot Noir.   This grape is no stranger to cool climates, and Patagonia, the southern tip of Argentina, seems to be a perfect region for this grape.  Bodega Chacra comes from a long line of Italian winemakers and since settling in Patagonia, they have become a rising star of the Argentinian Pinot Noir scene.  Their 2016 Cincuenta y Cinco was savory, elegant, and did not disappoint.




Certified Wine Nerd


I did not have much time for blogging this summer, because I was so busy preparing for my Certified Sommelier Examination.  All of my studying paid off, and I did it!  I am officially a certified sommelier!!!  Now, you might be wondering – what does it take to become a certified sommelier?  Well…  the examination is conducted by the Court of Master Sommeliers and consists of three parts: a blind tasting, a theory test, and a mock service exercise.

  1. Blind Tasting:  Upon arrival in the examination room, each desk has four glasses of wine: 2 white, 2 red.  The candidates fill out tasting grids to identify key features of each wine through sight, smell, and taste.  Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 10.00.42 PMPoints are earned for the accurate identification of the various characteristics, and the grid also guides the candidates toward their final conclusion of grape, country, and estimated vintage.
  2. Theory Test:  This portion of the exam tests the candidates’ knowledge of wine theory through 45 short answer questions.  The topics vary across all aspects of wine theory, such as information about grape varieties, wine making techniques, the history/geography of wine regions around the world, etc.
  3. Mock Service:  This final part of the exam allows the candidates to demonstrate their ability to safely open a bottle of sparkling wine or decant an aged bottle of wine, all while being a graceful, charming, and knowledgable server.  The Court sets up an imaginary restaurant and places an examiner at each table.  The candidates are each assigned to a table, and then they approach their “guests”.   The guest will place an order, and while the wine is being opened and served, the candidate will be grilled with various questions about wine pairings and/ cocktail and/or beer recommendations. glasses_on_tray

Candidates must pass all three portions of the exam to earn their certification.  It’s a stressful and rigorous process, but the Court aims to establish a high standard for beverage knowledge and service in restaurants around the world.





False Friends

Learning about wine is a bit like learning a new language, and when learning a new language there’s bound to be some points of confusion or “false friends“.  Here are a few wine terms that are easily mistaken.

Claret vs Clairette

  • Claret is a British term for red wine from Bordeaux, France.
  • Clairette is a white grape used in winemaking in the Rhône Valley in France

Muscat vs. Muscadet vs. Muscadelle

  • Muscat is a family of grapes that has varieties used in wine making and for eating.  In Italy, the sparking wine Moscato is made from the the Muscat grape.  In France and Spain, Muscat grapes are often used to make fortified wines.
  • Muscadet is a dry, white wine made in the Loire Valley from the grape called Melon de Bourgogne.  It is not related to the Muscat family of grapes – it is a cross between  Gouais blanc and  Pinot blanc.
  • Muscadelle is another white grape that is used for blending in the Bordeaux region in France.  It is not related to the Muscat family of grapes – it is a cross between Gouais blanc and an unidentified grape variety.

Syrah and Petit Sirah

  • Syrah is a red wine grape originating from France.  Syrah is known as Shiraz, in Australia.
  • Petit Sirah is a red wine grape that resulted from a crossing of Syrah and Peloursin Grapes.  Petit Sirah is also known as Durif.

Pouilly-Fumé  vs. Pouilly-Fuissé

  • Pouilly-Fumé is a wine region in the Loire Valley of France that is known for its Sauvignon Blanc wines.
  • Pouilly-Fuissé is a wine region in Burgundy, France that is known for its Chardonnay wines.


  • VDN stands for vins doux naturel.  VDNs are fortified wines, common in the south of France, where brandy is added to the wine to stop the fermentation.
  • VDL stands for vin de liquer.  VDLs are also fortified wines; however, the brandy is added to the unfermented grape juice.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo vs. Vino Nobile de Montepulciano

  • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is made in the region of Abruzzo, from the Montepulciano grapes.
  • Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is made in the town of Montepulciano, from Sangiovese grapes.


Méthode Champenoise


Sparkling wine adds a festive air to any event, but the bubbles in Champagne have not always been a source of celebration.  In the early production of wine in the Champagne region of France, the bubbles were considered a flaw and were causing some major problems.

The Champagne region is France’s northernmost wine region and has the coolest climate.  The cool climate means that the grapes don’t always fully ripen, which results in tart flavors and high acid.  The cool climate also affects the fermentation.  Normally, fermentation will continue as long as there is sugar for the yeast to convert.  However, if the temperature drops below 50°, the yeast will go dormant.  The early vinters in Champagne would see that the yeast had stopped producing COand mistakenly think that the fermentation had completed.  The wine would be aged and bottled, but then, in the spring when the temperature rose, fermentation would begin again and create COin the bottles.  The bottles were not built to withstand the pressure and many would burst.

Eventually, the winemakers realized  that the cold temperature was the root of the problem, so they moved the wine-making underground into the caves, where the temperature was more stable.  Now the grapes could be fully fermented into a still, dry wine.   However, the bubbles had become desirable, so the winemakers started to add a mixture of wine, sugar and yeast (liqueur de triage), to instigate a secondary fermentation to generate a controlled amount of bubbles and pressure.

At the end of secondary fermentation and while aging, the bottles are slowly rotated in a manner that forces the dead yeast cells to accumulate in the neck of the bottle.  This process is known as remuage or riddling.   Next is the dégorgement step, where the neck of the bottle is dipped into a solution that freezes and expels the yeast sediment.  Finally, the bottle is topped up with  a blend of wine and sugar (liqueur d’expedition).  This final step is called dosage and determines the sweetness of the Champagne.  These are the official levels of sweetness for Champagne:

Brut nature: 0-3 g/L
Extra Brut: 0-6 g/L
Brut: 0-12 g/L
Extra Dry: 12-17 g/L
Sec: 17-32 g/L
Demi-Sec: 32-50 g/L
Doux: 50+ g/L

This technique of  secondary fermentation in the bottle has became know as méthode champenoise or méthode tradionnelle.  To protect regional identity, only wines from the Champagne region in France can use the name Champagne or the term méthode champenoise on their labels.  Sparkling wine from other regions in France is usually called Crémant and can list méthode tradionnelle when secondary fermentation is done in the bottle.


4 French Wine Regions

franceFrance has been creating some of the most prestigious wine for centuries.  To maintain this high level of quality, French wine production is governed by the L’Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INOA).  The INOA regulates the different wine regions (AOCs or appellation d’origine contrôlée) throughout the country by providing rules to define a regional style and identity (or terroir) through grape growing and wine making techniques.  Terroir is a French term used to explain how wine reflects its place of origin.  Terroir encompasses all environmental factors that affect the grape/wine, such as climate, geography, soil, weather, wine making techniques, etc.

The AOCs vary in size and can be nested within each other.  Below I will outline some of the appellations within 4  key regions: Loire Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone Valley.


Loire Valley
Climate: Maritime to Continental
Geography: Loire River
Soil: Chalky
Grapes: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, Cabernet Franc

  • Pays Nantais (Muscadet)
    • Sèvre-et-Maine AOC
  • Anjou-Saumur
    • Savennières AOC (Chenin Blanc)
    • Quarts de Chaume AOC (Sweet, botrytized Chenin Blanc)
  • Touraine
    • Chinon AOC (Cabernet Franc)
    • Vouvray AOC (Chenin Blanc)
  • Central Vineyards
    • Sancerre AOC (Sauvignon Blanc)
    • Pouilly Fumé AOC (Sauvignon Blanc)


Burgundy (Bourgogne AOC)
Climate: Cool-Moderate, Continental
Soil: Limestone and Marl in the North; Granite in the South
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay

  • Chablis (Chardonnay)
  • Cote d’Or
    • Cote de Nuits (famous for Pinot Noir)
    • Cotes de Beaune (famous for Chardonnay)
  • Cote Chalonnais (mostly Chardonnay)
  • Maconnais (mostly Chardonnay)
  • Beaujolais (Gamay)


Bordeaux (Bordeaux AOC)
Climate: Moderate, Maritime
Geography: Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, and the Gironde estuary
Soil: Gravel over limestone
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Carmenère; Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle

  • Left Bank (Cabernet Sauvignon dominated red blends)
    • Haut Médoc AOC, which contains four famous wine communes:
      • St. Estèphe
      • Pauillac
      • St. Julien
      • Margaux
    • Graves AOC
      • Pessac-Léognan AOC
      • Sauternes AOC (Sweet, botrytized white wines_
  • Right Bank( Merlot dominated red blends)
    • Pomerol AOC
    • St. Emilion AOC
  • Entre deux Mers (Dry, white wine)


Rhône Valley (Côtes du Rhône AOC)
Climate: Moderate, Continental to Warm, Mediterrannean
Geography: Rhone Rivers
Soil: Granite and clay in the North; Stoney (pudding stones, aka les galets) in the South
Grapes: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier

  • Northern Rhone (Syrah dominated wines)
    • Côte-Rôtie AOC
    • Condrieu AOC (white only from Viognier)
    • St-Joseph AOC
    • Hermitage AOC and Crozes-Hermitage AOC
    • Cornas AOC
  • Southern Rhone (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre blends)
    • Châteauneuf du Pape AOC
    • Gigondas AOC
    • Tavel AOC (rosé only)


Wine Pairing Basics

We all know that food and wine were meant to be together, but not all combinations are ideal.  It can be quite daunting to try to find that “perfect pair”, but here are some basics guidelines:

  • Match the overall quality and intensity of the food and wine 
  • Decide whether to complement or contrast the flavors
  • Wine and food from the same region are usually complementary
  • Acidity in wine can cut through fatty foods and balance out saltiness
  • High tannin wines can over power delicate flavors, but also cuts through fatty foods
  • Spicy food can be alleviated with a sweet wine, while high tannins will increase the heat sensation

I was able to put these ideas to the test the other night in my sommelier class with seven different pairings.



  • Goat Cheese with 2015 Cailbourdin Pouilly Fumé, AOC Loire Valley, France    
    • This pairing neutralizes some of the acidity in both the cheese and the wine, making the cheese seem even creamier.         
  • Grilled Chicken with 2013 Faiveley Mercurey, AOC Blanc Clos Rochette, France  
    • The light oak on this Chardonnay accentuates the grilled flavor on the chicken.
  • Duck Breast with 2014 Lynmar Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley AVA, California   
    • The acidity cuts through the fattiness of the duck and the earthiness of the Pinot complements the gamey flavor of the duck.
  • Roast Pork with 2011 Rocca di Castagnoli Chianti Classico, DOCG Tuscany, Italy 
    • The fruit in the wine brought out some nice flavor in the pork.
  • Seared Ham with 2015 J.H. Selbach  Riesling Spätlese, QmP Mosel, Germany
    • The subtle sweetness of the wine was delicious with the salty ham.
  • Foie Gras with 2009 Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes, AOC Bordeaux, France
    • This sweet wine brings out some of the saltiness of the foie, and the foie balanced out the sweetness of the wine.
  • Roquefort NV Graham’s Six Grapes  Ruby Port, Porto DOC, Portugal 
    • Another sweet-salty combination, that smoothed out the blue cheese and highlighted the richness of the port.

Overall, each person has slightly different tastes, but when you do find a “perfect pair”, it is delicious.