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CELLARING WINES

CELLARING WINES
By James Cluer, Master of Wine

WHY START A CELLAR?

There’s something magical about going down to a wine cellar and rummaging through stacks of dusty old bottles. After lengthy deliberations with yourself, you select the perfect bottle, and then emerge victorious to rapturous applause from your thirsty friends.

It’s great fun to have a stash of wine. It’s one of the pleasures of life. Each bottle has a story to tell. Some might have sentimental value, others are kept for a special occasion, and hopefully most of them have increased in value. Yes, you can potentially make big bucks on wine as an investment, but that’s another story.

The main reason for cellaring wines is to allow them to improve in quality. Over time some wines can develop amazingly complex bouquets and flavors. Great wine needs time to evolve and mature, and it is only with cellaring that fine wines show their true pedigree. Sadly, the vast majority of high quality wines are drunk far too young.

In fact, the current situation in the fine wine world is a bit sad. Consumers typically want immediate gratification and most bottles are opened within 24 hours of purchase. Producers don’t want to be the ones financing stocks. It’s already expensive and takes long enough to make wine, so selling it soon after bottling is the name of the game. The result: great wines are put on the market far too soon and consumers guzzle them before they’ve had time to show their magic.

Coming from me, it’s a bit ironic to say that you should be more patient. But patience has its rewards. Start a cellar, and start thinking and planning long-term. You’ll be glad you did.

But what types of wine should you buy and how can you tell if a wine should be cellared? A certain amount of experience and expertise in tasting goes a long way, but here are the key things to look for.

TASTING FOR CELLARING POTENTIAL

First, evaluate the overall quality of the wine. If it is a poor quality wine then it will usually only get worse.
Second, wines need to have good structure in order to age well. I have a close look at the tannins in reds. Wines should have quite high amounts of fine tannins to give them structure, and these tannins will soften over time. What I’d be worried about is green tannins, and any other signs of a lack of ripeness. Green notes don’t tend to go away…
Both red and whites should have a reasonable amount of acidity too, which will help keep them alive. Acidity is really the spine of the wine, and is the key reason for wines like Mosel Riesling ageing so effortlessly for decades.

There should also be a good degree of fruit ripeness because wines lose their primary fruitiness as they age. If a wine is lacking ripeness and concentration, then it won’t have the stuffing to take it the distance.

Finally, all of these components need to be in balance. So look for some harmony between the fruit, acid, tannin and alcohol. If the alcohol is so high that it feels like you’re drinking Tequila then this is only going to get worse with age.

SELECTING REGIONS AND VARIETIES WITH PROVEN TRACK RECORDS

Another way to approach it is to focus on high quality wines that come from classic regions with a track record of improving with age. White wines like top quality vintage Champagnes, fine German and Alsatian Rieslings, some great white Burgundy (especially Grand Cru Chablis) and Bordeaux, and curiosities like Hunter valley Semillon can all age well. A good cellar has a nice selection of white wines so don’t overlook these.

The list of reds is much longer. I’d get excited to see stacks of northern Rhone reds from Hermitage and Cote Rotie, throw in some Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and a healthy dose of benchmark Burgundy from the Cote de Nuits. From Bordeaux the classic appellations of the Medoc and the wines from St. Emilion and Pomerol are a must. Without them it’s just not a serious cellar.

From Italy the essentials would include Barolos, Barbarescos, Brunellos, Super-Tuscans and Amarones. Don’t forget Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat from Spain, classic Napa Cabernets, and the icon wines from Chile, Argentina and Australia.

Finish off the cellar with a section of the great sweet wines from the Loire, Sauternes and Tokaji. Throw in a few cases of vintage Port and you’ve got enough supplies to see you through any dinner party. Think of it as the ultimate Emergency Preparedness kit.

WHEN DO I KNOW TO DRINK THEM?

The next question is when to actually drink all these treasures? Wines go through three key phases. They are either improving, at peak, or past their best. The trick is to buy at least three bottles of anything you decide to cellar. Check on the internet when the critics are saying the ideal drinking window is. When you think a wine might be approaching its time then crack open a bottle and see how you like it.

If I think a wine is fantastic then I scribble that down on the actual label. I’ll write a note on the label about how much longer I think it can cellar for. So on the empty bottle you’ll read something like – OUTSTANDING! Drunk August 25th 2017, Hold 2-4 yrs more.

But if the wine is not showing well and is simply too young then I’m inclined to give it a long period in a decanter to help it open up, and note on the label that the next bottle shouldn’t be drunk before a certain date.

Sometimes people wonder what all the fuss is about with wine. Why are some people seemingly mad about wine? Their passion and excitement can border on a clinical condition. Well, if you’ve tasted fine wines that are a few decades old, you’ll know that the bouquet and flavors are like nothing else on earth.

To become a better taster and learn more about wines worth cellaring take a wine course at www.FineVintageLtd.com It’s time and money well spent.

How to start a career and get a job in the wine industry

I’m fascinated by wine and want to make a career change. How can I get a job in the wine industry?

There are so many different options for working in the wine industry. The two key sectors are production and sales, but there are dozens of others to consider.

If you want to get into production then the best way to start is by getting a job at a winery as a cellar hand. Simply go and visit, and ask to speak to the Winemaker. It’s remarkably easy to get a job helping out during the harvest, which is the most exciting time of the year.

Obviously a job with a fair amount of physical labor won’t pay a fortune, but you’ll quickly figure out if production is for you. Make sure you work for someone who speaks your language, and someone who will take you under their wing. Otherwise, you’ll have no idea why you’re doing the various tasks. Ask to spend 2-3 days doing a task like operating the press, doing punch-downs or working in the lab, and then move on. It’s pointless to spend 3 months doing the exact same thing in a winery.

If you like working in a vineyard or a winery, then it’s time to take some courses. UC Davis in California is well regarded, and they have some good courses in Washington State too. Obviously France, Australia and NZ have some of the very best schools but perhaps less convenient depending on where you live or want to go.

These days it’s important to have formal training. Some growers and winemakers seem to just take a few courses here and there, and miraculously declare themselves as professionals. There’s a frightening amount of this in Canada. My suggestion, if you want to be serious, is to get a degree.

Whilst studying you could start to specialize in a certain area, because expertise in a particular field like irrigation or oak barrels will help you tremendously in your career. Maybe you can be the world expert on a tiny bug that attacks the vine, or develop a new technology to help with the science of winemaking. Then you have something…

On the sales front, many people start in wine retail. It’s pretty easy to walk into a shop and ask for a job paying a low hourly rate. But it is a great place to start. You’ll have the chance to taste lots of different wines and learn from your colleagues. Most importantly, you’ll start to understand consumer behavior and that will be invaluable in the years to come.
Alternatively, one of the best jobs is as a Sales Rep. I loved the freedom to disappear into the city with a trunk full of samples. You’ll get to meet dozens of customers in the hospitality and retail industries. Along with a start in wine retail, this is probably the best way to learn the ropes.

In terms of formal education in Sales and Marketing, you could do an MBA at a number of different schools. Sonoma State, Bordeaux and Adelaide have excellent programs. Having these qualifications, which can often be done part-time over 12-18 months can really open doors and help with your career. And don’t forget, there is much more money in sales and marketing compared to the average salaries in production so that’s something to consider too.

After getting some formal training like an MBA, you could consider working in export sales. It can be fun to fly around the world selling wine, although after a few years hotel rooms and airports quickly lose their appeal. Eventually, many people working in sales start their own import companies or become brokers, or develop their own trading business of one type or another. These can flourish.

There are dozens of other niche businesses. If you want to be a wine writer then getting accredited is a good start, although it doesn’t seem to be mandatory. Writing doesn’t seem to pay much for all but the top 10 in the world and even they seem to moan about the low pay. But they do like the incredible experiences, the travel, the wonderful wines and effectively they can live like a millionaire so that counter-balances the fees paid by magazines and newspapers. Sadly, very few people in the world are interested in reading about wine, at least compared to food.

Designing packaging and websites could be another area to consider, and the top designers can do very well. Or maybe you want to be a professional Wine Buyer or Consultant; although a certain amount of training is required before you make purchasing recommendations or dish out advice. Or maybe you want to rep a line of glasses, or have a wine storage business, or do in-store tastings en masse for large companies, or analyze wines at auction to see if they are fake, or be a Sommelier, or work in logistics, or, or , or… The good news is that there are hundreds of options. Just start thinking out of the box.

To get started you can visit www.WineJobsCanada.com , www.WineJobsUSA.com, www.WineJobsEngland.co.uk, or one of our other sites in HK, Oz, or NZ. I hope you’ll find the perfect job that meets all your needs.

What path should I follow in wine education and who is the best Sherpa?

What’s the story on wine education? What path should I follow?

If you want to take a course that will result in professional certification with international recognition then, in my opinion, there is only one choice: Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET). This is the world’s leading independent wine education institute, operating in over 75 countries and 20 languages. It’s the gold standard, simple as that.
There is an introductory WSET course called the Level 1, which is perfect for beginners. You can progress up to the Level 4 Diploma, which is a challenging 2-year course. After that, the next step is to apply for acceptance into the Master of Wine program. So the WSET offers a clear and structured path.

You can pursue other paths. There is the SWE and ISG, but those organizations have comparatively limited recognition and are more orientated towards the hospitality industry. There are also non-certificate courses by the boatload run by community colleges, private individuals and so on. Some can be good, but all too often the “curriculum” has been made up without the same professionalism you’ll find at serious institutes dedicated to wine education. So buyer beware…

For myself, I took the WSET courses for a reason and then decided to teach them precisely because I thought they were excellent.

What’s the story on all the different wine education providers?

Now that you’ve chosen a path you need to chose a guide. And not all Sherpa’s will get you to the top of the mountain.

I started our company Fine Vintage precisely because I was horrified by the terrible experience I had at some other schools. Shitty wines, boring instructors, and presentations that were as exciting as watching paint dry. Harsh, but true.

You have to be taught by someone who has some qualifications and experience themselves, otherwise it’s like the blind leading the blind. If the instructor doesn’t really know how to taste then they might do you more harm than good. So check-out your instructor. Ours all have the Level 4 Diploma, are in the MW program, or are industry veterans.

Then you need to taste good wines and lots of them. You don’t learn much by tasting a couple of wines that all cost under $20, but the wine school sure saves money… We spend over double, often triple what other wine schools spend on wine. Yup, it stings when I see the monthly wine expense report.

But it’s our Fine Vintage mantra to pour outstanding wines and lots of them. That is a key reason why we have over 4,000 students per year coming back to take their next course with us. We all fell in love with wine because of the amazing aromas and flavours we discovered in that first magic bottle, and that’s why we come back again and again.

Another major point for you to consider are the exam pass rates at the various schools. There’s not much point going to a school where the failure rate is shockingly high. Obviously with the higher Levels the onus becomes increasingly on you to study and prepare for exams because the body of knowledge is too voluminous to be covered exclusively in the classroom. But your Sherpa should be able to help you stay on track, on a schedule, and ensure you know what lies ahead.

At my own schools we have one of the highest pass rates around the world, and have been nominated and awarded as WSET Educator of the Year more times than any other school in the world in the last 10 years. Every day I receive copies of student’s exam results and it’s always a thrill to exchange a few e-mails with our wonderful instructors congratulating them, and then be able to tell our students the good news.

NAPA VALLEY – LAND OF PLENTY

When people ask me what’s my favorite wine region in the world it’s easy to answer. Napa Valley, hands down. It’s always exciting to land in San Francisco, drive across the bridge, and arrive in a valley filled with gorgeous vineyards and hundreds of wineries.

The warm climate, Spanish architecture, swaying palm trees, and the laid back character of the vintners is all part of the appeal. And that’s not to mention the stunning wines, which are among the very finest in the world. Of course, Cabernet Sauvignon is the signature of Napa. But they also produce outstanding Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Merlot, Chardonnay and, for me, the best sparkling wines outside of Champagne.

When you sing the praises of Napa Valley there’s usually someone who starts rolling their eyes. They sometimes criticize it for being pretentious, probably out of jealousy. But nothing could be further from the truth. It’s been a struggle for most wineries. It’s only in the last 30 years that they’ve really thrived and the owners that I’ve met couldn’t be more down to earth.

The history of Napa is fascinating because it’s a region that has shot to fame in a relatively short period. Winemaking started in the latter part of the 1800’s, during the boom times of the gold rush. Italian and German settlers were amongst the first to plant the vine, using their savoir faire gleaned from winemaking back in the old world.

But in the early 1900’s the First World War put the brakes on their success, only to be followed by Prohibition, which almost decimated the industry. Only a handful of producers survived, using their license to make wine for sacramental and medicinal purposes. In the early 1960’s there was less than 20 wineries, and very few tourists ventured up to Napa.
But in the 1960’s a handful of adventurous new producers opened their doors, led by one of the greatest figures in the history of wine, Robert Mondavi. And so the modern history of Napa began, and the most successful wine region in the New World started gathering momentum.

The infamous Paris tasting in 1976 catapulted the region to fame, when Stags Leap Wine Cellars and Chateau Montelena won in a blind tasting against the finest wines from France. Americans finally started to realize that truly great wine could be made in Napa. Sales skyrocketed, prices increased, and newcomers like Baron Philippe de Rothschild started ventures in the valley.

But during the boom times of the 1980’s Napa suffered another set-back. Phylloxera, the deadly vine louse, attacked and destroyed most of the vineyards. Some vintners packed up and left, but others persevered and replanted using the latest viticultural techniques, and focused on just a handful of classic grape varieties. In many respects, there was a silver lining to the phylloxera disaster. Up until then most vineyards were planted with a mishmash of lesser known varietals, sometimes even in the same row. Now, Napa started to build a brand around top quality Cabernet.

The hospitality industry developed alongside the rapid pace of the vintner’s success. Stunning hotels and resorts were built, and some of the best chefs in America created restaurants that became culinary temples. Limousines rolled up Highway 29, and cult wines became all the rage, with stratospheric prices to match.

In the 1990’s the Napa vintners stated to refine their understanding of the vastly different terroirs that you find in the valley. Whilst it only takes about 45 minutes to drive from Carneros in the south to Calistoga in the north, the climate varies dramatically. The fog that rolls in off the Bay, particularly in the summer, shrouds the vineyards in the southerly part of the valley, making it cooler and better suited to early ripening varieties like Pinot Noir. Yet up valley, around the quaint town of St.Helena, it is significantly warmer because the fog burns off faster, and sometimes doesn’t even reach that far north.

It also became clear that the soils varied dramatically. Over 33 different soil types have been identified from the heavier clays in Carneros, to the red soils of Oakville, and the shallow hard rocky soils found on the hillsides. Stylistic differences between the wines became obvious based on the different terroirs, and so Napa was carved up into dozens of AVA’s, resembling the French appellation model.

I’m a big fan of the hillside AVA’s, especially on Spring and Howell Mountains. The Cabernets tend to have more tannic structure and less overt sweet fruit. But there’s no denying that AVA’s like Oakville, Rutherford and Stags Leap produce stunning wines, which are rich and opulent, warm and generous, with blackcurrant, vanilla, chocolate and sometimes a minty character.

But it’s a mistake to think that Napa is just about Cabernet. Saintsbury and Cuvaison make some lovely Pinot Noirs in Carneros, and the sparkling Houses of Schramsberg, Chandon and Domaine Carneros make some excellent bubbly too.
Whilst Sonoma has a reputation for the finest Zinfandels in California there are some beauties made in Napa too. These are big, rich and ripe wines with some baked characters and a slight jammy style to the fruit. Caymus and Storybrook Mountain make some excellent Zins.

And Merlot can be fabulous too, even as a stand-alone varietal. Duckhorn led the charge back in the 1970’s and there’s no denying the wines are gorgeous.

It is actually possible to go to Napa valley for the day from San Francisco. It’s only about 60 minutes drive across the Golden Gate bridge to the vineyards of Carneros for a glass of bubbly, and then another half hour up to St Helena which is the winemaking HQ. So turn off the e-mail, close the computer, and discover the greatest wine region in North America.

Albert Bichot, Meursault, 2009

Chardonnay
Albert Bichot, Meursault, 2009
Burgundy, France

Albert Bichot was recently named amongst the “Top 100 wineries in the world” by Wine and Spirits magazine. When Bernard Bichot founded the house back in 1831 it’s doubtful that he would have imagined such success.

This wine comes the famous appellation of Meursault, which is synonymous with top quality white wines. Meursault typically produces the richest and most buttery wines of Burgundy’s prestige appellations. It’s located just south of the historic town of Beaune, the winemaking capital of Burgundy.

The nose shows classic yet youthful aromas of hazelnuts, peach and citrus. It beautifully dry, crisp and refreshing, and has a light toasty note to complement the minerality.

Food and wine pairing: The perfect complement to chicken dishes, richer fish and pasta in a cream sauce. It also drinks beautifully all by itself.

Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, 2001

Tempranillo & Garnacha
Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, 2001
Rioja, Spain

Lopez de Heredia is one of the most fascinating wine producers in the world. It is an icon amongst all wineries, known for their long ageing periods and natural winemaking.

They still ferment the wine in oak vats that were built over 100 years ago, using natural yeasts. Instead of using computers to control the fermentation temperature they simply open the cellar doors at night. They make their own barrels and mature the wine for longer than almost any winery in the world, which is often 8 years in barrel before release.

Tempranillo is the classic grape of Rioja and gives flavors of strawberry and notes of soft leather. Garnacha provides spice and body, and soft smooth tannins. This wine is a model of complexity, elegance and delicacy. We hope you enjoy the complex and unusual flavors.

Food and wine pairing: The classic match is lamb, but the wine also complements beef and hard cheeses.

Chateau Brane Cantenac, AC Margaux, 2nd growth, 2007

Meritage – Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot
Chateau Brane Cantenac, AC Margaux, 2nd growth, 2007
Bordeaux, France

Chateau Brane Cantenac was classified as one of the best wines of Bordeaux in 1855, ranked as a 2nd growth. In recent years the owner, Henri Lurton, has catapulted the quality to a new level, garnering significant attention from wine critics.

The beautiful chateau is tucked away in the Margaux appellation, a region known for wines of great elegance and finesse. The gravelly soils are well-drained and reflect heat back onto the vines, which is ideal for the late-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes are harvested by hand and then sorted using a state-of-the-art optical selection machine which only allows the finest grapes to be fermented.

Medium to deep ruby in color, the nose shows red and black cherry aromas, a hint of earth and soft leather, and the sweet aroma of vanilla. The palate is dry, medium to full bodied, with cassis and chocolate flavors.

Food and wine pairing: Perfect with lamb, beef, and a variety of red meats. It will also pair well with a selection of cheese.

Domaine Weinbach, Grand Cru Furstentum, Vendange Tardive 2008

Gewurztraminer
Domaine Weinbach, Grand Cru Furstentum, Vendange Tardive 2008
Alsace, France

This stunning wine is made by Domaine Weinbach in Alsace, considered to be one of the finest producers of Gewurztraminer in the world.

The grapes come from a single Grand Cru vineyard called Furstentum. They are picked late in the season, when they have high levels of sugar in the berry and tropical fruit flavors have developed. This results in a sweet dessert wine, but one that is exceptionally well-balanced by the lively acidity.

The aromas are intense, perfumed, and laden with tropical fruits and honey. The palate is sweet, full bodied, with concentrated flavors of pineapple, spice and butterscotch. The length lingers for minutes, which is the sign of a top quality wine.

The winemaker, Catherine Faller, believes in a non-interventionist approach to creating fine wines. The secret is to harvest at the perfect moment from a top vineyard site.

Food and wine pairing: The sweet character of the wine will best suit foie gras, or sweet desserts and fresh fruit plates.

Laurent Perrier, Brut, 2002

Champagne
Laurent Perrier, Brut, 2002
France

Laurent Perrier is a House that uses a significant proportion of Chardonnay in their best wines. Michel Fauconnet, the winemaker for the last 27 years, prefers wines of elegance, freshness, lightness and complexity. These are the characteristics that Chardonnay brings to the final blend.

Produced only in outstanding vintages, this 2002 vintage Champagne is the epitome of the Laurent Perrier style. Fine, tiny bubbles stream to the surface, highlighting the lemon gold hue. The nose shows a range of ripe apple, citrus and toasty characteristics. The palate is dry, medium bodied, with multi-dimensional flavors of mineral, toast, nuts, and lemon.

This wine has spent almost 10 years maturing in bottle in the labyrinth of cellars that weave beneath this historic Champagne House. Michel at Laurent Perrier also produces “Salon”, one of the most iconic and rare Champagnes.

Food and wine pairing: The ultimate aperitif, and a perfect complement to caviar, smoked salmon, lobster and a variety of seafood.

Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, 2001

Tempranillo & Garnacha
Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, 2001
Rioja, Spain

Lopez de Heredia is one of the most fascinating wine producers in the world. To say they do things traditionally is an understatement. It is an icon amongst all wineries in the world, known for their long ageing periods and natural winemaking.

They still ferment the wine in oak vats that were built over 100 years ago, using natural yeasts. Instead of using computers to control the fermentation temperature they simply open the cellar doors at night. They make their own barrels and mature the wine for longer than almost any winery in the world, which is often 8 years in barrel before release. The wine is then given substantial bottle ageing before being shipped.

Tempranillo is the classic grape of Rioja and gives flavors of strawberry and notes of soft leather. Garnacha provides spice and body, and soft smooth tannins. This wine is a model of complexity, elegance and delicacy. It is the opposite of a modern fruit driven wine. We hope you enjoy the complex and unusual flavors that are appreciated by wine lovers.

Food and wine pairing: The classic match is lamb, but the wine also complements beef and hard cheeses.