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A Natural Introduction…

The term natural wine conjures a plethora of reactions. To some it symbolizes a cultural movement towards honest winemaking, to others it is merely a fad for funky wines. The term is as vague as it is vast.

There are some who believe natural should refer only to zero-zero wines (wines that have no added sulfites and apply a minimalist winemaking approach). However, the term is more generally understood as an umbrella status which encompasses any wine made with an attention to the ecosystem and biodiversity, low intervention vinification, and an authentic representation of terroir.

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Introduction

This short article is a follow up to my webinar for WSG of 7th June, 2022. It is primarily a reference piece which aims to give more detailed information than the power point format allows. It includes full listings of the Rive sub-zones, terroir areas identified in studies of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene denomination and lists of producers currently bottling Rive wines.

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Dining in the Barolo and Barbaresco Zones

Wine professionals and consumers share a similar aspiration when they visit a wine region; they want to enjoy the area’s best dining experiences so they can pair their favorite local wines with the territory’s typical food offerings.

While commonplace throughout Italy, this situation is nowhere more prominent than in Piedmont, especially in the region’s southern Langhe district. Lunch or dinner in the Barolo and Barbaresco production zones here is more than a simple pleasure; this is wine, and food pairing elevated to an art form.

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Reinventing Abruzzo: Rising Stars

For much of the wine history of Abruzzo, large cooperatives established a perception that the region’s wines were pleasant and technically correct, but offered little in the way of excellence. Today, the image of Abruzzese wine has taken on a new light, as dozens of smaller producers are crafting more sophisticated offerings that not only display superior complexity, but also offer greater elegance and aging potential as compared with the typical wines of the past.

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Bordeaux. Burgundy. Barolo. Rioja. Just the mere mention of any one of these wine regions conjures images of the world’s best wines all sharing the ability to age for decades. The wines of Rioja have earned their place amongst this elite group; and whilst consumer tastes may swing like a clock’s pendulum, the practice of aging wines in Rioja helps define its successful past, present, and future.

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Most wine lovers live to eat, so at best wine tourism is also a gastrotourism. The restaurant scene is Champagne is not quite as bubbly as the name suggests, but thanks to champagne houses’ entertaining and champagne tourism, the region has many fine restaurants: L’Assiette Champenois with three Michelin stars, Les Crayères and Racine with two stars and a handful of one-star places. Outside the top restaurants, the local cuisine is rather traditional, so do not expect gastronomic triumphs all around. It is worthwhile getting to know the best places in advance. Here are my 10 favourite addresses around Reims and Epernay.

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The vintage chart and harvest reports provided by the Wine Scholar Guild gives you the ranking for every French wine region and vintage from 2000 to today.

Andrew Jefford, award-winning author and columnist in every issue of Decanter and World of Fine Wine, Co-Chair Decanter World Wine Awards; Vice-Chair Decanter Asia Wine Awards as well as Wine Scholar Guild Academic Advisor, gives us his insight about the 2020 vintage in France.

The COVID pandemic made 2020 difficult in France as elsewhere in the world, but France’s winegowers had every reason to feel a sense of relief and gratitude as the year ended. Their future prosperity depends on both the quantity and the quality of each year’s harvest. Every French wine region was satisfied with quantities in 2020 and thrilled with quality. Sales may have been difficult in 2020 with the restaurant trade in abeyance and export markets disrupted, but after the run of good to great French vintages since 2015, no one had cause to complain about stocks.

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Finally, we have reached the end of the winemaking year. 

In the vineyard, soil health is a common topic of discussion now that the vines are dormant.  This is a great time to dig soil pits and send samples off to discover more about the composition of the soil layers around the root system of the vines. 

Soil pH plays a large part in the health of a vineyard as it controls nutrient uptake.  Even if the soil contains plenty of a particular nutrient, if soil pH is wrong, that nutrient might not be available in a form that the plant can use.  This can lead to micronutrient deficiencies or toxicities. For this reason, it is very important to manage the soil pH.

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At the start of November, areas with long growing seasons are still wrapping up harvest, but most wineries in the northern hemisphere have brought their grapes into the winery.  An exception to this rule is any fruit being left out for ice wine production.

Ice Wine Production

Grapes destined for ice wine production must hang on the vine until temperatures reach a consistent 20°F/-7°C or below. Only at this point, can the frozen berries be harvested.

November begins with a lot of activity in the winery and ends with everyone taking a collective sigh of relief.  The growing season is at an end and most wine production professionals can take a moment to reconnect with their families and friends and take a well-deserved vacation. 

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This article is the first of an upcoming series by French neuroscientist Gabriel Lepousez. Gabriel is part of the Scientific Committee formed by WSG in the context of its "Architecture of Taste Research Project". He has also presented a fascinating segment on "The Neuroscience of Wine Tasting" as part of The Science of Wine Tasting Webinar Series which will resume with new episodes in the Spring of 2022.

The wine tasting paradox

There is a real paradox in the experience of tasting a product like wine. Tasting is such a familiar, instinctive, and seemingly obvious act; something that we take for granted. At the same time, wine is a one of the most complex sensory objects that we put into our mouths.

Indeed, wine is one of the rare sensory objects of our daily life which solicits all at the same time:

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Italian Vintage Chart, from 2010 to 2019

Wine Scholar Guild is pleased to provide its readers with vintage and harvest reports for some of Italy’s most famous regions, from 2010 onward. We felt it was time that we expand our assessment of vintages and harvest reports outside of France and Italy was first on our list. To compile this in-depth report, we reached out to Italian wine specialist Tom Hyland.

Tom seemed like the perfect fit for this project, as he has been reporting on and promoting Italian wines for more than twenty years as a journalist, educator, and photographer. He has made more than 75 trips to wine regions throughout all of Italy from his home in Chicago. In that time, he has written for numerous publications, including Decanter, wine-searcher.com and most recently Wine Spectator. He has written two books on Italian wine: Beyond Barolo and Brunello (2013) and The Wines and Foods of Piemonte (2016). Tom has conducted seminars on Italian wine for the trade and public; over the past year, he has led more than two dozen webinars with Italian producers; among these were several for Wine Scholar Guild. He also served as US ambassador for Consorzio I Vini del Piemonte for five years. He is also an accomplished photographer, having been named Wine Photographer of the Year (Category: Places) in 2020 at the prestigious Pink Lady competition in England.

Andrea Eby, Italian Programs Director, asked Tom to provide a short blog article describing how he went about compiling this fantastic resource. We hope you enjoy the article and find the vintage charts as useful as we do. As always, we look forward to your questions and comments!

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In October, most areas of the northern hemisphere are in harvest and going full out!

Many white varieties finish in early October. Although some reds (particularly early-ripening Pinot Noir) may have started harvest in September, generally, October is the month when most red varieties are picked. 

In September’s post, we explored the harvest parameters for white grapes.  The factors that a winemaker considers when picking red grapes are similar… flavor, acid, sugar, etc.  However, there are two key harvest parameters that are more important (and impactful) for reds than whites: tannin ripeness and anthocyanin accumulation (color). 

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The Architecture of Taste: Research Begins

On the 6th of September 2021, Wine Scholar Guild hosted the first large-scale blind-tasting panel as part of its recently announced The Architecture of Taste Research Project.

Hosted at the Bristol Hotel in Colmar, Alsace, this panel tasting launched WSG’s research on the tactile and geosensorial tasting approach it developed over the past year.

The tasting was designed specifically to assess the experimental and innovative tasting grid that had been developed as part of the Architecture of Taste Research Project. Its eventual aim is a tactile and geosensorial tasting method which focuses on a wine’s energy, induced salivation, geometry/shape, texture, and consistency.

Such a tasting method would provide students of wine with an enriched and universal lexicon that not only assesses the qualities of a wine but also dives into the nature of a wine’s personality and, perhaps, its corresponding terroir signature. 

The panel of tasters included owners or representatives of twenty top Alsace estates such as Albert Boxler, Weinbach, Marcel Deiss and Albert Mann. They were joined by a dozen wine professionals, including Pascaline Lepeltier MOF, a member of the ATRP Scientific Committee, as well as a dozen serious wine lovers. All in all, over 45 panelists participated in the tasting.

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It is a regular occurrence, even for the most accomplished wine aficionado: a loss of words to describe exactly what’s going on in the glass. Try as we might, the language of wine will always be a tricky landscape to navigate. But, as educators and students of wine, it is a necessity. Whether scratched into a notepad or typed into a report, tasting notes help us commit our experience to memory, and serve as a vital avenue for sensory translation.

Nonetheless, issues abound when it comes to finding a common understanding of these experiences. 

In this edition of our Great Debate series, Andrew Jefford — wine writer and the Wine Scholar Guild’s Academic Advisor — is joined by William Kelley, wine critic for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, to discuss a host of issues facing the language of wine and its primary vehicle of communication: the celebrated (or maligned, depending on your point of view) tasting note.

“A good tasting note should communicate as relatably and usefully as possible the character and perceived quality of the wine,” notes Kelley, who reviews roughly 5,000 wines annually from Burgundy and Champagne for his publication. However, he cautions, “it is a very limiting genre.”

By and large, Jefford agrees, but he also calls for “an equivalent of the ‘natural wine’ movement for wine writing” to refresh the possibilities and broaden the perspectives of wine language worldwide. 

In the end, this debate is a fascinating look into the process of crafting tasting notes from two of the industry’s most accomplished practitioners. But both admit that there remains plenty of open area for discussion on how to best utilize language to communicate the magic (or lack thereof) in the glass.

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