My Advice – How to Prepare for the CWE Exam

essay questions 2I first posted an advice column on  “How to Study for the CWE Exam” just about a year ago, and as it has been one of my all-time most visited blog posts, I thought I would post an update.

So…if you are a CWE aspriant and have any questions, this post’s for you!!

As always, I am always happy to answer any questions you have, so send me an email if you do!

Good luck with your studies!

The Bubbly Professor’s Advice on How to Prepare for the Certified Wine Educator (CWE) Exam:

1.  Know the CSW Study Guide.  The CWE material obviously goes “above and beyond” the CSW, but it’s a great place to start. (True fact, when I was studying for my CWE it’s the only thing I used for my dedicated CWE study time.)

2. Study at least one other comprehensive wine reference from the CWE Reading List, such as “Exploring Wine”, “The Oxford Companion to Wine”, or “The World Atlas of Wine.” Click here for a copy of the  CWE Recommended Reading List 2014 . If you will be taking the exam in 2015, you can find the CWE Recommended Reading List 2015 here. Sure, I understand that these books are not easy reading, and while I sympathize, I have to say…they are not supposed to be.

3. When I suggest that you “study” a book what I really mean is read it through, cover to cover, and take notes on everything that you find applicable to your study.  Then, clean up those notes and use them as your study material for the last few weeks leading up to your exam.

4. Keep up with as least one website or periodical from the CWE Recommended Reading List. Current topics, particularly changes in wines laws or regulations, are sure to be covered on the mulitiple choice exam, and might show up in essay topics as well. May I suggest “Wine, Wit, and Wisdom,” the official blog of the Society of Wine Educators. (Full disclosure: I’m the blog administrator…hopefully this advice does not seem self-serving. But…I do try to take the topics from the CSW (and CSS) study guides and go “above and beyond” in my posts on the blog – see point #1.)

Day One Week One Wine Class5.  Get a Wine Faults Kit from SWE and practice with the faults.  By “practice” I mean mix them up, label your glasses and analyze the faults.  Really look at them, smell them, and (if you need to) taste them and write down your impressions.  Then go back and try to “test yourself.”  You probably will need to do this more than once!  It might also be fun, and more educational to do this in a group.  (Just be sure and have some good wine for your friends after all those faulty wines…)

6.  Make your own “wine grape cheat sheets” for the major vinifera varietals and know the following information about each one of them: the major regions where they are grown, and the typical viticulture, vinificaiton, and wine styles made from those grapes in each of their major regions.  This is to prepare you for a compare/contrast essay question as well as many possible multiple choice questions.

7.  Study and be prepared to compare/contrast some of the basic wine making techniques and viticultural topics: stainless vs. oak, the various methods of cap management, single varietal vs. blended, warm weather vs. cool climate viticulture, etc.  This is also to prepare for a possible essay question.

writers block8. Be prepared to discuss some of the more recent trends in wine via an essay question, such as enclosures, high-alcohol wines, orange wines (old but new), emerging wine regions in Asia, fraudulent and “fake” wines, global warming, new rules and regulations via the EU, former Soviet Bloc wine regions re-invigorating their wine industries, the 100-point scale debate, etc.

9.  Speaking of essays, if you are not 100% confident in your writing abilities, spend some time researching the basic format of a “five paragraph essay.” (Obviously, disregard those written for fifth graders and find one from the website of a college or university.)  The “Five Paragraph Essay” is the basic format for just about any type of persuasive or informative writing, and if you are unsure of your writing skills it will help you organize your thoughts and statements, especially when you are faced with attempting to answer an essay question in an hour.  For a great overview of what the essay graders are looking for, click here for a copy of the CWE Essay Rubric – 2014 .

 10 To prepare for the wine identification portion of the exam, taste, study and take notes on the basic, well-known wines of the world.  In my opinion, these would include:  German Riesling, Vouvray, Alsatian Gewurztraminer, New World Chard, White Burgundy, White Bordeaux, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Lodi Viognier, Fumé Blanc, Sancerre, Muscadet, Rías Baixas, and Torrontés.  For the reds, I’d study Beaujolais, Red Burgundy, Oregon Pinot, Red Bordeaux, Napa Cab, Napa Meritage, Paso Robles Zinfandel, Rioja, Chianti, G-S-M, Argentine Malbec, Australian Shiraz, Cahors,  one of the Nebbiolo-based wines, and a varietal Grenache.

wine class11.  Get a copy of the SWE Tasting Rationale 2014 Wine sheet and practice using it.

12.  As you make your way to the presentation skills demonstration, take a look at the Tips on Writing a CWE Presentation Skills Outline that will be Approved and the CWE Presentation – Rubric 2014

More information may be found on SWE’s website. 

Bubbly Disclaimer:  This is my own personal advice, based on my own experience and that of my friends.  This is not to be considered “official” advice from any school or organization.  I hope that you enjoy your wine studies and that you are successful in your certification endeavors.  Cheers!

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

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Merlot

Cabernet TopThe Soundbyte:  Thank goodness we are ten years past the movie “Sideways” and we can stop defending Merlot.  Ha! Ok, that was a fantasy.  I still find myself defending Merlot. Like this:  despite some serious bashing, Merlot has a lot going for it.  Merlot is loved for its supple texture and forward fruit characteristics.  Merlot is often thought of as just a blending partner for Cabernet Sauvignon, and indeed these two grapes are often combined in some of the world’s greatest red wines.  Merlot does just fine on its own, however, and those very qualities that make it a great blending partner also make it an ideal match for a wide variety of foods.

Typical Attributes of a Merlot-Based Wine:

  • Medium tannin as compared to many red grapes, due to the large size of the grape “berries”, giving it a higher juice-to-skin ratio than most red wines
  • Smooth, soft, and supple texture…many winemakers say it’s all about the texture when it comes to Merlot
  • Rich Red Color…often belying the smooth character or the wine
  • Moderate to lively acidity, fruit-forward flavors
  • Lighter than Syrah and heavier than Pinot, Merlot ranks just under Cabernet Sauvignon in the heft rankings.
Well, hello my little vixen. You try to look so tough and edgy, yet I know you are velvety smooth...

Well, hello my little vixen. You try to look so tough and edgy, yet I know you are velvety smooth…

Typical Aromas of a Merlot-Based Wine:

  • Fruity:  Grapes – Merlot is the one red wine that tastes like grapes:  Welch’s Grape Juice, Grape Jelly, Grape Jam; Blackberry, Boysenberry, Strawberry, Raspberry, Cranberry, Plum, Ripe Cherry, Currant, Fig, Prune
  • Floral:  Rose, Violet
  • Oak-Derived: Cedar, Cocoa, Cigar, Tobacco, Vanilla, Smoky
  • Herbal:  Mint, Bay Leaf
  • Spicy:  Cinnamon, Clove, Licorice, Coffee
  • Sometimes: Candied Fruit, Fruitcake, Sandalwood, Truffles, Tobacco

Where The Best Merlot is Grown:

  • The Bordeaux region of France, where it is a large part of the blend of most wines, and the predominant variety in the wines of the Right Bank
  • The Languedoc-Roussillon and throughout Southern France
  • Surprise, surprise…Merlot is the most widely planted red grape in all of France (who’s Merlot-bashing now?)
  • California, particularly the North Coast Regions
  • Washington State
  • Italy, especially Trentino-Alto Adige, Tuscany, Veneto, and Fruili
  • Australia, Chile, and Argentina
I'll have what she's having.

I’ll have what she’s having.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Veal, Venison, Pork
  • Lamb – Merlot does especially well with Lamb.  Everywhere that Mary went, Merlot was sure to go…
  • Duck, Turkey
  • Cheddar Cheeses
  • Blue Cheeses

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Mushrooms, Onions, Garlic
  • White Beans – weird but really really true
  • Rosemary, Mint, other fresh and dried herbs
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Blackberries, Boysenberries (but be careful with the sweetness)
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes
  • Eggplant, Fennel, Beets
  • Bacon, Pancetta
  • Dijon Mustard

Are you ready to stop bashing Merlot now?  Don’t make me get out the Petrus!

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

Food, Wine, and True Love

Wine and CharcuterieWhat do you think makes a great pairing of food and wine? 

Some people like to base a food and wine pairing on aromas, textures, or intensity.  Some like to match or contrast flavors.  Others ponder occasion, quality, and variety.  Many people prefer to keep it simple and think the best thing is to just “serve what you like!”

As with beauty, whether or not a pairing is “good” or “bad” is in the eye of the beholder. But the truth remains, food and wine transform each other, and in many cases, this transformation is predictable.  When food meets wine, you can be certain that one of the following things will happen:

The food will exaggerate a characteristic of the wine.  For instance, salty foods can turbocharge the acidity of a white wine, and matching a big red wine with a mild cheese will emphasize its fruit flavors.  Both of these matches would most likely be pleasant combinations to most people.  However, sometimes this reaction will throw a wine out of balance.

The food will diminish a characteristic of the wine.  This is especially obvious with the basic taste components of acid and sweet, which tend to cancel each other out.  Serving a wine with an acidic food, such as lemon, vinegar, or tomatoes, will make the wine taste much less acidic.  This is considered a “good” match by most, if your wine has the acidity to stand up to the food.  However, if the wine was low acid to begin with, it may taste flabby and dull.  Sweetness has the same diminishing effect – sweet foods and sweet wines make each other taste less sweet. (Try saying that five times fast.)

Cabernet and ChocolateThe flavor intensity of the food will obliterate the wine’s flavor, or vice versa.  In my classes I call this “Godzilla versus Bambi.” Think about pouring chocolate sauce on a salad.  Or serving Albariño with blackened ribeye.  Imho, this combination would render the wine flavorless; this might be a good time to “serve what you like” or crack open a beer.   

The wine will contribute new flavors to the food.  If your Trout Amandine tastes a little bland, you can give it a squeeze of lemon.  Or, you can serve it with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and add a squeeze of acidity along with the flavors of lime and dill.  If your steak is boring, you can reach for the A-1, or, better yet, pour a glass of Red Zinfandel and add the flavors of black pepper and red berries to your meal.

The wine and food will remain neutral.  In this scenario,nothing turns more acidic, or more harsh, or less sweet.  Everybody just goes their separate ways.  It’s ike going to the movies with your parents.  Better than nothing, but kind of dull.  You would have had more fun with your pals, but at least your stalker ex didn’t show up.  

The wine will provide a refreshing “jolt” to your palate and make the flavors of the food more clear, forward, or noticeable.  One of the great pleasures of wine is its acidity and its tannin, both of which make for excellent palate cleansers, allowing you to experience your food more fully.  The acidity of many wines also stimulates saliva flow (gross, I know…), which ups your ability to taste foods and experience their flavors.

The wine and food together can create an unwelcome third flavor.  I call this the “third wheel”.   I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but bad pairings do happen. Which can be helpful, in the case of unwanted guests. Break out the salty snacks… serve up a big, earthy, tannic Syrah…soon everyone’s mouth will be filled with the lovely flavors of tin can, dentist’s drill, detergent, and copper penny.  One by one, your unwelcome guests come up with clever excuses to leave.  Which is good if you hate them.  It’s really bad if you were hoping (ahem) they would stick around a while.  

Chenin Blanc BottomThe wine and food combine to create a totally welcome new flavor. This is the magic moment of  synergy! A match like this is often so individual to the flavors and textures of each dish and each wine that it can’t be predicted.  But when it does..its great! For instance, Ruby Port  and Roquefort Cheese combine to create butterscotch and vanilla flavors, or the combined forces of Prosciutto ham and dry Riesling create a dried fruit, clove, and cinnamon symphony (cue the violins).   

Confusing?  Yes indeed.  Anyway, it’s magic and can’t be reduced to a formula. It’s like true love.  You can’t explain it, but you know it when you find it.  

Then again, you can always just serve what you like.

Click here for more information on Food and Wine Pairing!

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

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Carmenère

CarmenereThe Soundbyte: Carmenère is often called “the lost grape of Bordeaux” and was part of the original Bordeaux blend.  However,in the 1880’s as phylloxera ravaged the vineyards of Europe and all the vines needed to be re-planted, Carmenère resisted grafting and was essentially lost. 

Many of the original vinifera vines planted in Chile were brought from Bordeaux during the mid-1800s, as phylloxera was ravaging the old world. Along with its better-known cousins such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot, Carmenère arrived in Chile at the same time.

 Carmenère thrived in Chile, where it was often mistaken for Merlot in the vineyard. In fact, much of what was bottled as a particularly spicy style of Chilean “Merlot” before 1994 quite possibly contained quite a bit of Carmenère. The mystery was solved in 1994 when Professor John-Michel Boursiquot of the Montpellier School of Oenology noticed the distinctive character of Merlots from Chile and soon discovered that much of what was considered to be Chilean “Merlot” was actually Carmenère—and not a local clone of Merlot, as had been believed.

In the vineyard, Carmenère is often the last grape to be picked, and it requires a lengthy season to reach full maturity. Therefore, it is not well suited to Bordeaux, but in the right areas it can produce great wines. Chilean Carmenère is rich in color, redolent of red fruits, spice, and berries, and has softer tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon. Chile is currently the only country growing Carmenère on a wide basis. Many consider Carmenère to be the signature grape of Chile.

Typical Attributes of a Carmenère Based Wine:

  • Rich with dark fruit flavors of ripe berries and plum.
  • grilled steak for carmenre with tomatoesFirm structure, full body and heavy tannins; lush, velvety texture.
  • Deep, dark color.  This is a “big red wine”!
  • Carmenère is distinguished by fruitiness accompanied by the flavors of “spice and smoke”
  • Some experts think Carmenère is a long-established clone of Cabernet Sauvignon, and the grapes do share many qualities
  • Underripe Carmenère, or grapes from a cool growing season, can taste vegetative, like green bell peppers. Carmenère  takes longer to ripen than other red grapes, so be on the look-out for these flavors.

Typical Aromas of a Carmenère Based Wine:

  • Fruity: Blackberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Currant, Dark Plum, Cherry
  • Spicy: Black Pepper, White Pepper, Dried Herb, Cinnamon, Anise, Vanilla, Licorice
  • Earthy:  Smoke, Wet Earth, Leather, Tobacco, Coffee
  • Oak-Derived:  Oak, Chocolate, Mocha, Cocoa
  • Vegetative:  Green Bell Pepper, Green Olive, Herbal, Lavender

Where The Best Carmenère is Grown:

  • Chile, where vintners have staked a claim on Carmenère as their “signature” grape variety. Chile is currently the only country that grows Carmenère on a widespread, commercial basis.
  • A few wineries in California and Washington State, where it is largely used in Meritage blends.  The Guenoc Winery in Lake Country brought the grape, which has to withstand a three-year quarantine before being planted, to the United States from Chile.
  • Italy’s Eastern Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions, including the Piave DOC, which since 2009 have been allowed to produce a varietally-labeled Carmenère.
  • Bordeaux, France; where the grape is grown on a very limited basis, but is still considered part of the Bordeaux Blend. Grande Vidure is a historical synonym sometimes used in Bordeaux. Chateau Clerc Milon has the largest plantings of Carmenère in the region, but there are still less than ten acres in all of Bordeaux.

Grilled spicy steakFood Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork
  • Poultry when prepared in a rich, hearty manner such as grilled, smoked, or braised…
  • Grilled Foods, Smoked Foods    

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Garlic, Onions, Mushrooms
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Rosemary, Oregano, Basil, fresh Herbs of all kinds
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Eggplant, Bell Peppers
  • Black Pepper, White Pepper, Green Peppercorns, Spicy flavors
  • Barbeque Flavors, Hearty, highly seasoned foods 

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

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Chardonnay

Well, the Bubbly Professor cannot believe she has not yet published a cheat sheet on Chardonnay…but these things do happen.  In case you are a fan of wine grape cheat sheets, here’s the one you might have been waiting for…

Chardonnay Salmon PastaThe Soundbyte:  Chardonnay may very well be the world’s most widely recognized grape variety.  It was very likely the first wine you ever heard of, and what you will most likely be served if you order a glass of “white wine” at a cocktail party.  The grape itself is quite neutral, but can be transformed via wine making magic into an oak-infused butter bomb, a crisp, citrus-and-mineral balancing act, or even a front porch-chugging box wine.  There’s a lot to be said about the chameleon known as Chardonnay!   

Typical Attributes of a Chardonnay-Based Wine:

  • Creamy, complex, high alcohol and lush flavors.
  • The fruity aromas wary widely depending on the climate.
  • The grape itself can be called “delicate” in aroma and flavors, but Chardonnay is very susceptible to the influence of wine making, and can be laden with aromas and flavors of oak, butter, cream, yeast, and vanilla, among others, through wine-making processes.  Whether or not these are “good for the wine” is a matter of personal opinion and much debate.
  • Attributes of a European “Chablis Style” Chardonnay: Crisp, Medium-bodied, terroir-driven, fruity, and mineral
  • Attributes of a New World, “California Style” Chardonnay:  Full-bodied, highly alcoholic, likely oak-aged, and “buttery”
  • Chardonnay is also used in Sparkling wines, including Champagne and Franciacorta.

Typical Aromas of a Chardonnay-Based Wine:

  • Fruity:  Green Apple, Red Apple, Baked Apple, Pear, Peach, Apricot, Pineapple and Other Tropical Fruits, Citrus:  Lemon, Lime, Orange
  • Caramel: Honey, Butterscotch, Caramel, Brown Sugar
  • Nutty: Hazelnut, Toasted Hazelnut, Walnut
  • Yeast-Derived: Toast, Baked Bread, Oatmeal, Popcorn
  • Butter (from malo-lactic fermentation…of course!)
  • Mineral: Flint, Wet Stone, Wet Sand
  • Oak-Derived: Vanilla, Coconut, Sweet Wood, Oak, Smoke, Toast, Tar

Chardonnay HarvestWhere Chardonnay is Grown:

  • The Burgundy Region of France, especially the Côte de Beaune and Chablis
  • The Champagne Region of France
  • Other regions of France, such as Alsace (where it is only allowed to be used in sparkling wines) and the Languedoc-Roussillon
  • California, where it is grown in many diverse regions and produces a wide range of styles
  • Oregon, where it shines in both still wines and sparklers.
  • Australia, where it is a leading white wine grape
  • New Zealand, where it is the #2 white wine grape after Sauvignon Blanc
  • The cooler regions of Chile
  • Franciacorta and other regions in Italy
  • Canada, including Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia
  • And…almost anywhere wine is grown!

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Seafood of all kinds
  • Crab Cakes, Lobster, Shrimp dripping with butter and garlic…
  • Chicken, Turkey, Game Hen, Duck
  • Roast Chicken…Roast Chicken…Roast Chicken
  • Veal, Pork…Beef.  (About that beef…be careful with the preparation. As certainly as the heavier bodied white wines, including Chardonnay, can pair with beef, that does not mean that it is a good substitute for red wine in every case.   Keep your dishes plain and simple, seasoned with herbs, mushrooms, or grilled onions.  Unless you want to hurt someone, avoid Texas Chainsaw Barbeque Sauce and other condiments that are over-the-top rich and heavy in flavor, texture, sweetness, or spiciness. Trust me on this one.)

 Roasted Chicken for ChardonnayFood Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Corn, Pumpkin, Squash, Polenta
  • Tarragon, Basil,  Thyme, Oregano and other fresh herbs
  • Soft cheeses such as Brie or Camembert (especially good with unoaked versions)
  • Semi-firm cheeses such as Havarti, Monterey Jack, Meunster and Gouda. Smoked      versions of Gouda are especially good.
  • Firm cheese such as Swiss, Emmentaler, Gruyère, Manchego, and Jarlsberg
  • Nutmeg, Cinnamon, and Allspice (but resist the temptation to go sweet…think savory…savory…savory…)
  • Hazelnuts, Cashews, Walnuts, Pecans, Coconut (savory…savory…savory…)
  • Butter, Brown Butter, Cream, Sour Cream, Olive Oil
  • Bacon, Ham, and other cured pork products
  • Mushrooms, Onions, Garlic
  • Dijon Mustard (think about it…where is the town of Dijon?  hmmmm….)

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

WineGeo: Escarpment, and Bench

Niagara on the lakeJust yesterday, following a lovely trip to Toronto and the Ontario Wine Country, I was doing a bit of research in order to write up a blog post about the four sub-appellations of the Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA.  For the record, they are:  Niagara River, Niagara Lakeshore, Four Mile Creek and St. David’s Bench. According to the website for the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake, these four areas are differentiated by soil types, weather, elevation and proximity to “three unique geographical features: the Niagara Escarpment, Lake Ontario and the Niagara River.”

I have to stop right there and promise to write the blog post on the sub-appellations (they are quite lovely) at a later date, because I just realized that in that one short paragraph I spouted off two words that I have no earthly idea how to really define.  And you, dear wine student, if you honest with yourself, must admit that you have done the same thing; you use the words all the time (chatting about wine is so-much-fun) but can you tell me, in your own words, just what exactly is an “escarpment” and what, geologically speaking, is a “bench?” 

Well, neither could I. So, I did some early morning research and am going to try to define those geological terms in simple, regular person’s language, with just a teeny bit of wine geek thrown in.

Escarpment:  An escarpment is basically an area of the Earth where the elevation changes suddenly. An escarpment is often found along the ocean shore, such as the Devil’s Slide area of California Highway 1.  An escarpment can also refer to an area on dry land that separates two level land surfaces, such as Africa’s Great Rift Valley and the Niagara Escarpment (only a small portion of which hosts the famous falls.)

A tiny piece of the Niagara Escarpment

A tiny piece of the Niagara Escarpment

An escarpment usually indicates two different types of land, such as the area of a beach where tall cliffs surround a lower area of sand.  Escarpments between two areas of level land are usually composed of different types of rock or rocks from different geologic eras, one of which erodes much faster than the other. Escarpments can also be formed by seismic action; such as when a fault displaces the ground surface so that one side is higher than the other (scary).

Significant Wine-Related Escarpments include the Niagara Escarpment, the Côte d’Or, the Balcones Fault in Central Texas, and the Darling Scarp in Western Australia. The term “scarp” technically refers to just the the cliff-face of an escarpment, but the two terms are generally interchangable.

Bench: Admit it, you’ve talked in hushed tones about the amazing flavor of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Rutherford Bench….but do you know what is meant, geologically, by the term bench?  Neither did I.  Tchnically, a bench or a “benchland” is a long, narrow strip of relatively level land that is bounded by distinctly steeper slopes above and below it. Benches can be formed by many different geological processes, such as a river (as in a river’s flood plain, or an “abandoned” river bed), waves (if alongside an ocean), or the varying levels of erosion of different types of rock.

Cross Section of Different Types of "Bences"

Cross Section of Different Types of “Benches”

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the diagram of “Bench Structure.” The diagram shows the different ways benches can form, such as structural benches formed by the  erosion of shale beds overlying limestone beds and the more common “river terraces.”

The famous “Rutherford Bench” is a stretch of the Napa Valley, about three miles long, starting in Oakville and heading north to Rutherford.  The bench sits in the middle of the valley floor, surrounded on two sides by small hills. The famous soil of the Rutherford Bench consists of gravel, loam, and sand, much of which was deposited there by earlier advances and retreats of San Pablo Bay.

The term “bench” appears in the discussion of wine regions (though not necessarily AVAs or appellations) frequently:  the Rutherford Bench and the Oakville Bench were both at one time or another considered for AVAs of their own, but to date have not been designated as such. There are however, five “official” wine regions that I could find that use the term:  Kelsey Bench-Lake County AVA, and four VQAs in Ontario: Short Hills Bench, St. David’s Bench, Beamsville Bench, and Twenty-Mile Bench.

References/for more information:

Deconstructing Llicorella

PrioratThis morning I set about to research the wine region of Priorat for a blog post.  I already knew the basics of the region, such as the fact that it is one of Spain’s two DOCa wines, the main grape variety is Garnacha Tinta, and the area came to international attention in the 1990s.

Wikipedia (I know, not the best reference but in this case, just a starting point) also had this to say, “The area is characterized by its unique terroir of black slate and quartz soil known locally as Llicorella.” I already knew that the soil in Priorat is mainly Llicorella…at least I knew the word, and could have guessed it correctly on a multiple choice test.  But being in a Monday sort of contemplative mood, I wondered if I really understood Llicorella.  Of course, I didn’t. So I set about to deconstruct Llicorella.

First of all…just what exactly is slate? Slate is a fine-grained, foliated, homogeneous metamorphic rock derived from sedimentary rock composed of clay or volcanic ash. It is the finest grained foliated metamorphic rock.

Slate...a Metamorphic Rock

Slate…a Metamorphic Rock

Metamorphic Rock? Metamorphic rocks are created from the transformation of existing rock types.  Metamorphism means “change in form.” Rocks under the earth’s surface change form by being subjected to heat, generally temperatures from 300° – 400°F, which can cause both physical and chemical changes in the rock itself.

Sedimentary Rock? Sedimentary rocks are formed by the solution of mineral and organic particles within bodies of water. Sedimentation is the name for several different processes that cause mineral particles and organic particles to settle and accumulate first into a dissolved solution and later into sediment.  Sediment is then transported to dry land by water, wind, or glaciers, or is left behind when the bodies of water dry up.  With time, the slushy sediment hardens into rock. Sandstone is probably the most well-known sedimentary rock.

Clay? Clay is a very fine-grained soil type made up of very fine minerals such as aluminium phyllosilicates, iron, magnesium, and a bunch of other chemicals I have never heard of. The minerals that make up clay soil are the result of weathering…the breakdown of rocks, soils, and minerals through contact with air, water, and living creatures.

Licorella

Llicorella

Volcanic Ash? Volcanic ash is made up of pieces of pulverized rock, minerals, and volcanic glass that are created during volcanic eruptions. Pieces of ash must be less than 2 mm in diameter – larger fragments are referred to as cinders or blocks. At least this one I can understand!

Foliated? There are two types of metamorphic rocks:  foliated rocks and non-foliated rocks.  Foliated metamorphic rocks, such as schist and slate, have a “layered” appearance that has been produced by exposure to heat and directed pressure.  Non-foliated metamorphic rocks such as marble and quartz do not have the “layered” appearance.

And what is quartz? Quartz is the second most abundant mineral in the Earth’s continental crust, after feldspar. There are many different varieties of quartz, several of which are semi-precious gemstones. Quartz is the most common element of sand and sandstone and is used in glassmaking.  Quartz is almost immune to weathering and is a component of granite and other igneous rocks.

Aha- that’s why sand is coarse (quartz doesn’t “weather”) and clay is fine (its made up of materials that do weather or “breakdown”).

I think I’ll stop there. But for those of you who are curious, igneous rocks are rocks that are formed by the cooling and solidification of lava or magma. Granite and obsidian are igneous rocks.

So now, when someone says, “Llicorella is a unique soil made up of black slate and quartz,” what do you know?

Vineyard in PrioratSources (in addition to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priorat_(DOQ)):

http://geology.com/

http://www.quartzpage.de/index.html

http://www.mineralszone.com/

http://www.turismepriorat.org/en

http://www.in-spain.info/top20/spanish-white-wine-priorat.htm

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