Pinot Noir. It’s Complicated.

27863500_lAnyone who appreciates a good red wine has most likely waxed poetic over a red Burgundy, a Central Otago Pinot Noir, or a glass of the Willamette Valley’s finest.  I can hear it now – “So Subtle! Layers of flavors! It evolves in the glass!”

If this is you – if you tend to like to say things about the cherry-berry-smoky-earthy-herbal-floral-rose-spicy-awesomeness of a complex glass of Pinot Noir – you are redeemed!

Science has proven it: there’s a lot going on in that glass.

It happened a while back, in 2007, but still amazes me. In a project that took over two years to complete, a group of French and Italian scientists working at the French National Genetics-Sequencing Laboratory just outside of Paris unlocked the genome – the chemical building blocks of the DNA – of Vitis vinifera Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir was the first fruit crop to be sequenced and only the fourth flowering plant. The first flowering plant the team investigated was a strain of wild mustard – chosen for its ease of growth in the plant lab and 6-week life span. This was followed by a series of plants deemed most important to human culture.

Their next plant was rice, followed by corn – and then, as their first choice for fruit – Pinot Noir. And with good reason! The grape, it was discovered, has over 30,000 gene sequences in its DNA. That’s more than a typical human being, whose DNA contains anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000.

The team also provided a scientific explanation for the legendary (and much appreciated) flavor complexity of Pinot Noir. It seems that over 100 of its 30,000 gene sequences are terpenes, tannins, and other compounds whose job it is to contribute aromas and flavors. According to researcher Patrick Wincker, that’s about twice as many as a typical plant.

According to NBC News, the breakthrough is proof that Pinot Noir is “Scientifically delicious.” That’s a pretty good quip, and hard to follow! However, what the mapping of the Pinot Noir genome may mean to the future of viticulture is yet to be seen!

I’ll tell you one thing, though…this Eyrie Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2012 – with its rich, complex, cherry-berry-earthy-spiciness – is going to be tough to improve upon.

secret life janeIf you love Pinot Noir and would like to learn a bit more about this amazing grape, you can catch the Bubbly Professor at one of her favorite seminars – “The Secret Life of Pinot Noir” at the Boston Wine Expo on Saturday, February 14th. See you there!

More information on the mapping of the Pinot Noir genome: If you understand ScienceSpeak and have all afternoon to read through the original publication, click here.  If you’d prefer Soundbyte, as reported by NBC News, click here.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas   missjane@prodigy.net

 

 

Decoding the Amtliche Prüfungsnummer

AP rhineThis is a blog post borne of necessity…in teaching my online CSW Prep Classes, I always dread “Module 8.” Module 8, you see, covers the wines of Germany and Austria.

This does not in any way mean that I dread talking about – or partaking of – the wines of Germany and Austria. As a matter of fact, the Grosses Gewachs Mosel Riesling or Kremstal DAC Grüner Veltliner I am sipping alongside is most likely going to be the highlight of my day.

But it’s all about the words, the language, the umlauts and the eszetts. They are all a bit intimidating and confusing to me, being a native English speaker who never traveled to Europe until the 4th decade of her life.

So, in an attempt to dive straight to the heart (in das Herz) of the matter (von tge Sache) I set about to understand something that had always baffled me: Amtliche Prüfungsnummer. It turns out, the Amtliche Prüfungsnummer, while certainly appearing cryptic and complicated, contains a lot of useful information about a German wine, and absolutely reveals the seemingly complex tangle that is German wine to be a highly organized, useful system.

First of all, for the simple language (thank you, Google Translate).

Amtliche – “Official”

Prüfungsnummer – “Exam Number”

Thus, our Amtliche Prüfungsnummer, commonly referred to as the “A.P. Number,” translates as  “official exam number,” although most wine references will refer to it as the “official approval number.”  The A.P. Number identifies the wine as to producer, village of origin, and testing center where the wine was awarded its official approval. The process is required for all wines bottled under the classifications of QbA and Prädikatswein.

The actual number consists of several blocks of figures – surely you’ve seen one, looking quite complicated, such as this example:

AP wine glassA.P. NR. 2 606 319 011 07

Here is what those numbers mean:

2 606 319 011 07: 2 – The first number represents region where the wine was tested. The wine will be tested in the same general region where it was produced, however, there are only 9 testing centers as opposed to 13 quality wine regions (Anbaugebiete). This testing center – number 2 – handles wines from the Middle Mosel and Rheingau.

2 606 319 011 07: 606 – The second number, which may be two or three digits, represents the particular village within the larger testing region, where the wine was produced.

2 606 319 011 07: The third number represents the particular bottler (producer).

2 606 319 011 07: The fourth number represents the sequential order that the wine was submitted by that produce. In other words, this is the eleventh wine submitted for testing in this particular year by the producer.

2 606 319 011 07: The fifth number represents the last two digits of the year that the wine was submitted for testing, usually the year after the vintage.

Whew! Do you have information overload? It’s a lot of data, but remember, this is all to protect the quality and reputation of German wines, which is good for everyone – even us consumers. Producers are required to keep sample bottles of each wine for a certain number of years, and thus the system is such that, if a complaint were received or someone had reason to doubt a wine’s authenticity, a bottle of the specific wine could be located and tested.

Simple? No.

Effective? Yes.

I sleep better at night knowing my Pflaz Riesling (5 594 022 17 12) and my Rheingau Spätburgunder (4 383 675 01 11) is signed, sealed, and approved!

The Bubbly Professor is…”Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – jnickles@prodigy.net

 

 

The Good, The Bad, and the Diffuse

Structure

Structure

Last summer when I was putting together my “Palate Tune-Up” session for the SWE Conference in Seattle, I spent a great deal of time researching, thinking about, and (yuck) experiencing wine faults. After all, the main premise of the session was to learn to recognize faults – sulfur dioxide, TCA, excessive Brett and other such imbalances – in wine.

It soon occurred to me, however, that giving such a session based on the ick-factor might be something akin to career suicide. Why would people choose to attend the ick-factor session, when Cru Artisan Bordeaux was being poured right next door?

With that in mind, I decided to start the course off by pouring three spectacular wines – each chosen to represent a specific aspect of what we expect in an excellent wine – before we tested the faulty wines. So, my next challenge was to define – and then demonstrate – what makes a wine “excellent.”

As every wine lover knows, defining what makes a wine “excellent” is a challenging – and very subjective – proposal. Every time I came up with a succinct definition, I could hear the arguments and rebuttals from my future audience.

Balance

Balance

Thus, it was several weeks before I came up with my examples. I would choose a wine to represent the following three aspects of an excellent wine: Complexity, Balance, and Structure. Complexity and balance were relatively easy to define, demonstrate, and provide with near-perfect examples.

Structure, on the other hand, eluded me. I thought I knew what it meant, and I could definitely recognize both its presence and absence in a wine, but it was difficult to put into words without talking around and through the matter for less than ten minutes.

So…of course I went on a research bender. What did the wine experts among us have to say about structure?  The New Wine Lover’s Companion had a pretty good definition, basically stating that structure referred to a wine’s “architecture – its plan – including the building blocks of acid, alcohol, fruit, glycerol, and tannins.”  It went on to say that the term “structure” is meaningless without an adjective in front of it, such as “well structured” or “strong structure.”

The Wine Spectator’s online glossary also had a decent enough definition – saying it was related to “mouthfeel.”  Many other references used the rather clichéd “its like milk versus cream” line of reasoning or provided a multitude of synonyms for body – texture, backbone, weight – or provided adjectives to describe it – mouth-filling, brawny, rich, lean, gritty, velvety, smooth.

Complexity

Complexity

But I still wanted to know just what it was…the technical-sorta definition as to what provides a wine with good structure.  Professor Emile Peynaud came as close as anyone could possibly, it seemed, to delivering what I wanted to know with his definition of “structure” as “impressions of volume, form, and consistency.” In other words, structure is the taster’s sense of the wine’s physical make-up.

But it still seemed that I would need to write my own definition to convey just exactly what I meant to say. So I came up with the following: I would explain what is meant by a wine’s structure beginning with the interplay of the same set of attributes that contribute to balance in flavor. In my definition, therefore, a wine’s structure is composed of the sensory impact of acid, sugar, fruit, tannin, extract, and alcohol – but instead of noticing how these components impact flavor, we draw our attention to how they work together to create the tactile sensation of the wine.

So much for the definition! Now, I needed to define and demonstrate how a lack of structure would be described in a wine. Defining the opposite of balance was easy: unbalanced. Defining the opposite of complexity was very easy: monotony. But the only “textbook” opposite of “structure” I could find was “unstructured.” That just didn’t seem right.

Diffuse

Diffuse

So I went on another month-long research bender to find the perfect word that meant “unstructured.” I could find many ways to discuss wines with inadequate or unbalanced structure. For instance, the term “hollow” is also used to denote lack of structure; hollow wines are diluted and lack depth. A “brawny” or “rustic” wine may be described as a hefty wine with plenty of weight, flavor, and grit; but lacking in the complexity needed to bring the elements together in a refined way. And everyone’s favorite – “flabby” to describe a wine lacking in acid, or missing its “backbone.”

But there was no real “winespeak” term to define lack of balance, texturally speaking. So I found an excellent word to portray what I meant – diffuse. The term diffuse is used to describe a building or structure with no strength, or something that is scattered, spread out, or dispersed.  Remembering that “structure” refers to the elements of texture and their relationship, I think it describes a wine lacking in the regard quite well.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – missjane@prodigy.net

 

 

Long Time Gonna Study This!

LTGSTLong time gonna study this!

No…this is not the Bubbly Professor slipping up and using poor grammar…rather, it is shorthand for the method I’ve been using for the past several decades to introduce and teach about (region by region) the wide world of wine!

Long Time Gonna Study This is a mnemonic device to help me remember the 5 most important things one needs to know about any wine region – in order to really understand (and not just “memorize”) the facts and figures, grapes and places, and other details about the area. The letters stand for: Location, Terroir, Grapes, Styles, and Terminology.

This is not the “easy way out” for studying. This is, however, a very effective study technique as it gives meaning and context to what you are studying. As I’ve said so many times before…your brain just does not like (and is not good at) fixing random words and numbers into long-term memory. What your brain is really good at remembering are things that are personal, contextual, spatial, surprising, physical, and humorous in nature.

So…how do we use this knowledge to make our wine studies more effective? We make our studies more contextual (the background story), spatial (how this location relates to other locations), physical (taste the wine, look at the label, pick up the bottle even if you can’t afford to buy it), personal (draw a map, say the words out loud, visit the region). If it can be made to be surprising or humorous along the way, so much the better!

Here is a more detailed explanation of the use of the LTGST study method:

LTGST terroir 2Location:

  • For starters, we need to know the basics: where is this area located?
  • Get specific – latitude, proximity to well-known cities and landmarks, and location in relation to other wine regions.
  • Research the topography – rivers, lakes, oceans, mountain ranges.
  • The best way to do this is trace a map, get to googling and draw in the cities, mountains, and rivers. By doing so you are making your studies more physical, which as we know will greatly improve your memory of the topic.
  • It’s important to study this first, as it sets the stage for the information to follow.

Terroir:

  • What is the local climate, soil, topography, etc and how does it affect the wine?
  • Knowing the details on the location (latitude, near-by mountains, rivers, and oceans) will translate into a better understanding of the terroir (see how that works)?

Grapes:

  • What grapes are grown there?
  • Are they blends, or single varietals?
  • Understanding the location, which leads to a better contextualization of the terroir, will lead to better understanding of what grapes grown in a certain location and why. There’s a good reason that Alsace grows mainly white grapes and Bordeaux can grow botrytis-affected Semillon so well – and it has everything to do with location and terroir!

LTGST terminologyStyles:

  • After we know the overall climate and the grape varieties that are grown in a certain region, we’re ready to study the types of wines made in a region.
  • What styles of wine do they produce? Dry, sweet, still, sparkling?
  • What unique production techniques create these wines?

Terminology:

  • What terms do you need to understand the wines and their labels?
  • Some regions, such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, have a vocabulary all of their own and this list can get very long indeed; others are much simpler.

So there you have it…the LTGST method of studying the wines of the world. Like I said earlier in this post, it is certainly not quick or easy, but I guarantee you it’s effective.

Good luck with your studies, and please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or success with this method!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas   missjane@prodigy.net

Just in case you were wondering…

Nervous at computerHi Everyone!!

Just in case your were wondering…well, about just about anything having to do with wine education, education in general, or maybe even wine in general..

Yours truly, The Bubbly Professor, will be hosting an “Ask Me Anything” panel over at Reddit starting later today and going “live” – Sunday, February 23 – at 12 Noon to 2:00 pm Central Time.

So go ahead…make my day and ask me anything.

Can you tell how nervous I am?

How to Study for the CSW (Or any other Exam)

Wine 2In the past few weeks, I have received dozens of emails from people asking “How do I study for the CSW?”  It’s a good question, and one that I thought I’d address here on the blog as it seems so universal.  By the way, most of the inquiries I get have to do with the CSW, but having been a professor for decades, I know that these study techniques will work for any knowledge-based set of material…even other wine certifications!

I think the problem stems from people confusing “reading” with “studying.”  Reading is a good first step, but it’s only the beginning.  Studying is so much more….so here’s my advice on how to “really study.”  By the way, if you are looking for the easy way out, you are NOT going to like me!

My Advice…How to Study for the Certified Specialist of Wine (or any other) Exam

Learning, unfortunately, takes time. Unless you have a have photographic memory, learning requires repetition, active study techniques, and concentration.  Here are few simple tips to help you get the most from your study time.

Read and Take Notes:  Reading alone does not do much in terms of long-term learning for most people. Do you remember that little jingle about “people only remember 10% of what they read?” It’s actually less than that. If you want your study session to result in long-term memory, you need to take notes while you study. Read your study guide section by section, taking notes all the while. Then, clean up those notes and use them as your study material for the last few months or weeks leading up to your exam.

How to study 1Study Actively:  One of the reasons that taking notes is so effective for most people is that writing involves more energy and more of the senses than just reading or listening. The more energy and senses that are involved in studying (or any activity); the more new material will make it to your brain’s “recording disk.” While it might feel silly, reading out loud or reviewing your notes out loud is one of the best ways involve more of your senses in your studying.  Writing, a kinetic activity, also increases memory.  Instead of staring at maps, draw them. Instead of just reading over your notes, copy them over.

Don’t just Memorize – Strive for Understanding: There are two ways to memorize:  by rote (mechanically) and by understanding. Telephone numbers and computer passwords are better learned by rote.  However, anything that needs to be understood must have some meaning behind it. The more association you can elicit for an idea, the more meaning it will have; the more meaningful the learning, the better one is able to retain it. This is the main reason why travelling is such a good way to learn wine…once you’ve driven from Greve to Montalcino, its easy to remember the distances and directions…you totally understand it (and will never forget it, most likely, if you tried to drive yourself)! While you might not be able to travel to every wine region you are studying, you can try to find the context behind the facts.  You can do this by comparing and contrasting, noting similarities in ideas and concepts, tying new ideas to something you already know, and trying to put new information in its proper place in a larger system of ideas, concepts and theories.

Rephrase and explain:  Anyone who has ever taught a wine class knows that one way to really learn something is to teach it.  Teaching requires us to organize and explain material, which just happen to be two of the most important facets of learning. To use this concept in your study sessions, experiment with stopping every five minutes to try and rephrase and explain the material.  This is also a great way to stop your mind from wandering. Remember, if you can’t explain something quickly and succinctly, you don’t really know it well.

how to learn slideUse Spaced Repetition:  Memories fade away rapidly when not reviewed or used. The curve of forgetting is like a playground slide; we forget most of what we learned within the first 24 hours after studying, from there the curve of forgetting proceeds much more slowly.  To combat the “24-hour brain dump,” try to fit in a study session every day, even if it is just ten minutes (although an hour a day is better). The more times around the learning circuit, the longer lasting the impression will be.

Simulate the Required Behavior: When studying for an examination, the most effective approach is to closely simulate the behavior you’ll ultimately be required to perform. What this means is that one way to effectively study for a multiple choice test is to take multiple choice practice tests.  However…what’s even more effective is writing your own test questions. Writing test questions after studying a section of material is also a great way to keep from getting bored or losing your concentration.

I hope these these study techniques – even if you only use one or two, will help you in your studies.  If you have any questions or comments, let me know!!  Good luck with your studies!!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas  missjane@prodigy.net

The Pisco Wars

I’ve spent the better part of the last month researching the iconic South American brandy known as Pisco. Unfortunately, most of my work has revolved around books and the internet instead of a shot glass.  Suffice it to say, there is a lot of conflicting information and historical turf wars going on surrounding Pisco. But, I’ve discovered the official government websites and culled information from dozens of producers, so here is my article on Pisco!!

Pisco SourPisco has been produced in South America since at least as early as the 1700s, and is thought to have originated with Spanish settlers who brought their technology and traditions of wine production to the New World.

Brandy is widely produced in South America, although Chile and Peru are the only two countries permitted to use the term “Pisco.”  As of May 16, 2013, the TTB (Trade and Tax Bureau) of the United States recognized “Pisco Perú” as a distinctive product of Peru, and “Pisco Chileno” as a distinctive product of Chile.

The birthplace of Pisco, the origin of the name “Pisco,” and even the right to use the term as the name of a beverage is a subject that has long been, and continues to be, hotly debated between Peru and Chile.

While the debate rages on, one thing both countries seem to agree on is that an excellent way to drink Pisco is in the popular cocktail known as the Pisco Sour. The Pisco Sour is considered the “national drink” of both Chile and Peru, and each country even has a national holiday with which to celebrate it. However, both countries claim to be the birthplace of the cocktail, and, like Pisco itself, both have their own version. The Peruvian Pisco Sour is made by mixing Peruvian Pisco with lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white, shaken and served over ice, and garnished with a dash of Angostura bitters.  The Chilean version is made with Chilean Pisco, the juice of Pica Limes (similar to a Key Lime or Mexican Lime), and sugar, shaken and served over with ice.

Pisco MasChilean Pisco:  Chilean Pisco is produced in the Atacama and Coquimbo regions, two official D.O. (Denomination of Origin) wine-producing regions established in 1931.  The Elqui Valley subregion of Coquimbo has emerged as the premier Pisco zone.  The government-based Pisco Chile trade group was formed in 2009 and has set new standards for Chilean Pisco.

The main grapes used for making Chilean Pisco include Pink Muscat, Muscat of Alexandria, Pedro Jiménez, and Torontél.  While Chilean Pisco is traditionally a pomace brandy, some versions are produced using wine. Chilean Pisco is generally double-distilled via pot stills to a maximum strength of 73% alcohol by volume. All Chilean Pisco must rest for a minimum of 60 days before bottling, however, unlike Peruvian Pisco, Chilean Pisco is sometimes aged in wood.

Chilean Pisco is sometimes diluted with water, or cut with neutral spirits to alter the final alcohol content by volume. The products are categorized, based on its minimum alcohol strength by volume, as Pisco Corriente or Tradicional (30%), Pisco Especial (35%), Pisco Reservado (40%), or Gran Pisco (43%).  The minimum alcohol by volume is 40% for those products exported to the United States.

Chilean Pisco, including some of those exported to the United States, is often labeled with the term “Transparent Pisco.” These products are aged for required sixty days, generally in glass, stainless steel, ceramic, or inactive wood. The following styles of wood-aged Pisco are also produced in Chile:

  • Pisco de Guarda: Aged in active French or American oak for a minimum of 180 days.
  • Pisco Envejecido (Aged Pisco):  Aged in active French or American oak for one year, though most producers age for two or more.

Pisco PeruPeruvian Pisco:  According to the Denominación de Origen, Pisco may be produced in the Peruvian departments of Lima, Ica, Arequipa, and Moquegua, as well as the valleys of Locumba, Sama, and Caplina in the Department of Tacna. There are eight grape varieties authorized for use, categorized as “aromatic” and “non-aromatic.” The aromatic varieties are  Italia, Moscatel, Albilla and Torontél; and the non-aromatic varieties include Quebranta, Negra Criolla, and Mollar.

Peruvian Pisco is produced via pot still distillation. Peruvian Pisco is unique in that it must be bottled at the same level of alcohol as when it was produced: additives of any kind – including water and neutral spirits – are prohibited, so the distillation must be precise. Per the regulations of the governing body, the Comisión Nacional del Pisco of Perú, the alcohol percentage must be between 38 and 48 percent.

Peruvian Pisco is not aged in wood, but is required to be aged for a minimum of three months in vessels made of copper, glass, stainless steel, clay, or other inert material. There are three official styles of Peruvian Piscos:

  • Pisco Puro (“Pure” Pisco): A Pisco made from a single grape variety.
  • Pisco Acholado (“Blended Pisco): A Pisco produced with more than one grape variety, generally referring to a blend of aromatic and non-aromatic varieties, or product made with several different types of Pisco blended together.
  • Pisco Mosto Verde (“Green Must Pisco”): Produced via the distillation of partially fermented grape musts before the fermentation is complete.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net