Of course I didn’t NEED to take another wine appreciation class. The last class I took from sommelier DiMaggio Washington, the owner of The Cellar, was for my Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level Two. This was an excuse to drink, I mean, to have a refresher course. And, of course, I had all of my wee wine 101 peeps in mind.
I learned, aka had my mind refreshed on, the vineyard, the grape (varietals), the equipment, the winery, the process, wine styles, the aging and the drinking. These are not my headers – the program is written by DiMaggio.
I will give you some points of what I thought most interesting from the three-hour course. (In another week I will have the second three-hours, all on new world wines: think Washington, Oregon, Australia, South America, South Africa, New Zealand.)
Climate matters. Most grapes grown for wines are successful between 30 to 50 degrees north or south of the equator. Any further and the climate grows too cold or too warm.
The soil matter too, but not in the way you would think for growing tomatoes, for instance. Grape vines produce better fruit if the roots have to reach far below ground for water sources. So topsoil that is calcareous, or also filled with clay, sand, lime or chalk, produces better grapes for winemaking.
“Orientation” means how a grower chooses to plant his vines, perpendicular so as to not have the noontime sun or parallel to get the most of the sun’s rays.
Equipment and The Winery
If you want to make wine, take a winemaking class. Ask DiMaggio for that one too as he is a member of the SCV Vintners and Growers Association. I’ve been to his house for harvest and it’s much more fun to watch the crusher, de-stemmer, stainless tanks, pumps, press, barrels and tools…than it is to take notes about it.
The Process/Wine Styles
There are five basic styles of wine: White (no skin contact), Red (skin contact), Rosé (limited skin contact), Fortified (the process of adding clear, odorless Brandy) and Sparkling (capturing the carbon dioxide instead of blowing it off into the atmosphere).
We discussed the differences in the harvest of each, and save white wine, most had the press phase after fermentation as the skins were kept on.
History: France, Italy, Spain, and Germany
Many old world countries have learned which grapes suit their climates and pairs best with the area’s food. With that said, DiMaggio added that most old world wines are made to pair with food, and may not stand up alone for the American palate.
DiMaggio also said that while wines in Spain may be aged up to five years in barrels before release, new world wines might only go 18 – 22 months. Practices are that different. And, if that’s not enough, even though Europeans have settled on the Euro, each country has its own rules regarding their quality ratings.
I could write an entire page on quality ratings. The easiest for me, and wine 101ers, is the length of the acronym. In France a table wine is a VdT and a superior wine is VDQS. In Italy a table wine is also a VdT and the guaranteed best quality wine is a DOCG.
And in Germany the two ratings used are both three letters long: QmP and QbA, but sticking with the rule of length, QmP is for Qualitatswein mit Pradikat and the better wine, QbA, is Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiet. The sweetest wine is the longest one in Germany too: Trockenbeerenauslese. (Unless you’re talking Eiswein, but I expect you too know that one.)
Of course there are several acronyms between these, but heck, this is a wine 101 column, and it’s MY wine 101 column, so this is what ya’ll get.
We tasted 9 in the class, and were invited to linger over the remains once the actual class part was over. I did reviews on 8, but I will, due to space, save the reviews for another story. I thought the number of wines generous, and a generous selection of the different areas. Some of the students had never had some of the varietals presented. I’d had the varietals before but not these exact wines, so it was very worthwhile for me.
Learn more about the different classes that DiMaggio offers by visiting http://www.thecelllarwbr.com or call 661-799-7979 to see if you can join us this Saturday, May 21, at 1pm for the new world wines.