Monthly Archives: May 2013

New York Wines – Here I Come

Shocking but true I am on my way to my college reunion in upstate New York. I am a bit nervous to see some of the crowd but otherwise excited I must say and I have a great exit strategy. If all else fails, I am going up towards New York State wine country.

While I am going to be a bit far from the bulk of the wineries, there are a few clustered around my former college town. It should be quite interesting. While never a big beer drinker in college, certainly wine did not reign in my circle of friends. My parents did buy my roommates and I a case of Champagne for graduation but that is because wine always graced my dinner table not theirs. That said, no one in my posse could be called a teetotaler, that’s for sure. I am very curious to see what my former roommates drink these days. We shall see…

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Filed under Memorable Events, New York, USA Wineries

Wine of the Week: Rosso Conero DOC 2008 from Tenimenti Spinsanti in Le Marche

My wine of the week is from Le Marche, a beautiful region that is still a little bit under the radar in terms of its gems, meaning its wine & artistic treasures. I first discovered Le Marche on a vacation to Recanati in 1998. I remember driving around with my boyfriend to buy “vino sfuso.” Together we discovered Rosso Conero, a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese. Rosso Conero was given the DOC designation in 1967. To put DOC on the label, the wine must contain a minimum of 85% Montepulciano. I liked the freshness and the acidity that it had and I liked the price too, very inexpensive when bought by the damigiana or cask 15 years ago.

Fast-forward 15 years and I’m having Rosso Conero by the glass in Manhattan during the Spring of 2013. Shocking but true, New York seems to have every wine under the sun on its varied wine lists.

The wine was refreshing and had nice acidity as I remembered but it also had depth and a nice structure. It worked perfectly with the Branzino I had as well as with the crudo (raw fish). It didn’t over or underwhelm either part of my meal. A lovely summer wine with meat or fish in my book.

The wine I had was from the Tenimenti Spinsanti, a winery near the city of Ancona. I liked the fact that the website also describes what work should be done in the winery during the various phases of the moon. I found the wine on at between $17-$20.

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Filed under Italian DOC Wines, Italian regions, Le Marche, Wine of the Week, Women in Wine

Women in Wine: Miss Jane Nickles Who Introduced Me To Texan Wines


Sometimes you meet people only for a brief moment in time and they leave a big impression on you. Sometimes of course the opposite is true, even of people you have known for many years. Miss Jane A. Nickles, CWE is one of those people who left a mark on me after taking one of her classes on wines of Texas at the Society of Wine Educators conference a number of years ago.

Jane is a wine educator with over 15 years of experience in the culinary field as a hotel chef and food and beverage director. For the past 20 years she has been a wine educator and instructional designer, teaching professional wine studies, beverage management, and food and wine pairing classes both on the ground and online. “Miss Jane”, as her students call her, is also the author of “WineSpeak 101.” She’s also got a popular blog called, “The Bubbly Professor.”

All of that is part of her official bio but what I remembered most was the way she taught her class. She made Texan wines seem as if they were Pomerol or Lafite. She talked up that wine to such a degree that I remember leaving and thinking I have been missing out not drinking Texan wine. What was it about her teaching that left such an impression on me? I think it was her cheerful demeanor, her sexy approach to it all and the fact that she was playful. Of course, she knew her stuff perfectly but that I would expect. I didn’t expect her to be so refreshing.

The new format of my Friday interviews with women is to send them a series of questions and to publish their answers. I think this works well with some people and less so with others. With Jane, it was a perfect way to give a sense of her.

How did you get into the wine business?

I’ve been in the hospitality business all my working life. I started out cooking in restaurants as a college student, and after I graduated (with a degree in Political Science, no less!) I just continued on that path. I stayed in the kitchen, working my way up the “chef ladder” for about ten years, then moved to the front of the house as a manager, and eventually ended up as a Hotel Food and Beverage Director. During that time I had my “falling in love with wine” epiphany and just took every opportunity to learn about wine and put on wine events in my hotels. One day the President of the Texas Culinary Academy came to one of my wine dinners and asked me to be a guest speaker at his school. After that, he offered me a full time job teaching his wine classes, and I’ve been a wine educator ever since…for about 20 years now.

What has been the hardest part of the wine business for you in terms of gender issues, if any?

As a wine instructor I haven’t felt any gender pressures, maybe because teaching in general has often been considered “women’s work”, or maybe just because now I am older and I just don’t pay attention to all that! However, back in the day when I was working in hotels there were very few women working in food and beverage. This was in the 80’s. I knew lots of women who were working in hotel management positions but they were almost all in sales, housekeeping, or human resources. I really didn’t know any other female food and beverage directors. I will never forget the time I attended a food and beverage directors’ conference in Houston…there were 200 F&B Directors and I was the ONLY female in attendance. Luckily, I knew many of the attendees and they were my buddies. I kind of found my through in the male-dominated field by being “one of the guys” – I just kind of rolled with the punches and laughed at or ignored a lot of things that might be a bit sexist or non-PC today. I have to admit the guys were great to me. At the conference’s closing dinner, they gave me a standing ovation as I walked in the room. That was pretty cool!

What trends and changes have you seen since you started? What do you see happening in the next 5 – 10 years in your sector of the industry?

My experience in the wine industry, at least for the last 20 years, has been pretty specialized. I’ve never really sold wine, worked as a somm in a restaurant, or made wine. As a matter of fact, I hesitate to say that I worked in the wine industry, but I can certainly speak to the wine education part of the industry. And even within the wine education industry, I’m pretty specialized as I have always taught at the college level, and not so much for consumers or wine professionals. So, I can definitely speak to wine and culinary education trends in colleges! First of all, wine and culinary education has exploded at the college level. Many community colleges and traditional colleges now have culinary programs, complete with culinary labs and student-run restaurants. Proprietary schools such as Art Institute, the Escoffier Academy and Le Cordon Bleu-North America (where I work) now collectively have hundreds of campuses all across the country. Each of the programs has at least one, and sometimes several wine classes in their curriculum, and some also offer wine certifications as part of their programs of as an elective. So we have tens of thousands of students a year getting a good solid foundation in wine education.

As for trends, the obvious development is towards online education. I would say in the last 6 years of teaching wine full-time, half of my classes have been taught online and half have been brick-and-mortar. A lot of people are amused by the thought of teaching wine online, and I can understand why! The online format of teaching, in my opinion, is great for teaching the grapes and places, the laws and regulations, the steps of service, the history, and so on. In other words, online classes are a great place to teach knowledge. However, as any trainer knows, we teach Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes – KSA. As for the skills of wine, tasting, how to pour, how to pair, those will always be best taught face-to-face. As for the attitudes of wine service, such as how to interact with guests, how to give service without being overbearing, how to keep the pretense out of wine, I also think that is best taught in person, although I am sure some could argue it can be done online via video. So while online education is here to stay, I think that there will always be parts of the wine experience that just need to be taught in person.

What do you think about the level of wine education in the US?

I think consumers and chefs alike are much better educated in all things wine than they were 10 years ago. When I first started teaching wine classes, most of my students had never even tasted wine! I had to spend the first hour of class explaining why Boone’s Farm and Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers were not “real wine.” These days, I would say at least 50% of my students show up on the first day of class with some significant wine knowledge or experience. Which means, of course, that over the years I have had to “up my game!”

What advice do you give to aspiring wine educators?

Three things: First, Spend just as much time studying and mastering presentation techniques, public speaking skills, and audience management as you do studying wine. As a matter of fact, spend more time studying them. Knowledge is everywhere in our society…every student in your audience has all the information you are going to spill forth for them readily available on the little e-gadget they have in their pocket. They don’t need you to provide them with information…they need you to provide them with a way to understand, remember, and be engaged with the information.

Second, if students are answering questions or describing wines, find what’s right in every contribution. No one should ever be embarrassed or belittled for speaking up in class. Appreciate everyone’s attempts to answer your question or participate in your class even if they are technically “not correct”.

Third, don’t quit your day job. Very few people make a living teaching wine classes. However, there’s nothing wrong with working the floor of a retail wine shop, pouring wine samples in a grocery store, or waiting tables to make ends meet. While working at a retail store might not be your dream job, a job at a retail store (or restaurant or grocery store) just might lead to many opportunities to teach if you are willing to “make it happen”.

Don’t you just love her? I think her answers to these questions show exactly why I found her such a joy in the seminar on Texan wines. I look forward to seeing her in Orlando in July at this year’s Society of Wine Educator’s conference.

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Filed under USA Wineries, Women in Wine

Remembering Giovanni Falcone – May 23, 1992

Every year May 23 is a day that I mark in some way. It is the anniversary of the murder of a famous judge in Italy named Giovanni Falcone. His picture is on my refrigerator along with those of my family and Bruce Springsteen. Falcone was a hero in my world, a crusader for justice. He was also a man who was murdered with his wife and members of his “scorta” or protection detail by the Mafia. He was someone who was trying to do the right thing and make living in all parts of Italy, a country I love, better and freer for all.

Here’s a post I wrote about him a couple of years ago. I wonder what Italy would be like if he had lived and been able to continue his fight these last 21 years.


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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Catarratto Bianco from Sicily

Catarratto bianco is a widely planted grape on the island of Sicily. There are two very common types of Catarratto grown: bianco comune e bianco lucido. According to experts, the latter produces more elegant wines than the former. Catarratto is a high yielding grape which does well on this Mediterranean island, especially in the province of Trapani. Catarratto is also one of the main grapes in Marsala, together with other white varieties – Inzolia (Insolia) and Grillo. It is also the main grape used to make Vermouth.

I tried a number of wines made from Catarratto during Vinitaly this year. One that really stood out for me was from Tasca d’Almerita. The wine from the Tenuta Regaleali estate, Catarratto Antisa was full-bodied and luscious on the rose and palate. I was surprised at its freshness but then I learned that the estate is located at 400-900 above sea level and therefore the grapes do get to rest from the heat of the hot sun.

I spent a lot of time tasting the wines of Tasca this year and was richly rewarded by all of them. I was also impressed by their commitment to preserving biodiversity and the environment. I will write more about Tasca separately for today is indigenous varieties day at Avvinare.

Also, today can’t go by without mentioning the horrible events in Oklahoma. My thoughts & prayers are with the people of that state which I visited in 2011 and wrote about here. My hope is that many survivors of the devastation are found quickly and that they are brought to safety.

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Filed under Indigenous Varieties, Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian regions, Italian wineries, Sicily

New World Wines: South African Wines Continue to Excite Me


Thanks to the Snooth PVA blogger weekend, I had the occasion to try a number of wines from South Africa paired with South African cuisine at the Institute of Culinary Education.

I have written about South African wines a number of times on this blog after a wonderful introduction to these wines in 2010 at the Society of Wine Educators conference.

I also had the great fortune to work on a project for Stellekaya and to befriend the wonderful Ntsiki Biyela, their wine maker. All this to say that South African wines have a special place in my heart although I still have not visited that beautiful country. I can’t write about South African wines without mentioning my admiration for Nelson Mandela, one of my heroes.

At the Snooth luncheon we tasted through a number of wines made from international varieties and one Pinotage. I’ve never been a huge Pinotage fan but I was willing to be more open-minded.

I showed my open-mindedness by trying ostrich for the first time as I am already quite familar with Biltong, a South African cured meat.

Of the wines, my favorites were the following:

Graham Beck Brut NV with its refreshing, yeasty aromas and flavors coming from the 15 months it spends on its lees.

Raats Family Chenin Blanc 2009, a wine I know well from previous tastings. It was lush and rich with the right waxy, mineral notes I look for in Chenin. They also make great Cabernet Franc wines.

De Morgenzon Chardonnay 2012 was not my usual style, a big, oaked Chardonnay but something about it pleased me that day whether it was the pairing or the fact that they pipe Baroque music into their winery.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2010 interested me because I had never had a Pinot Noir from South Africa. As you would expect, it had mushroom, earthy notes and was lighter than most of the other red wines we tried.

Warwick Pinotage Old Bush Vines 2011 with its full bodied mouth and rich chocolate flavors made me think that Pinotage can have a place at the table. I might have put it at the end of the meal with dessert.’

Ken Forrester “T” Late Harvest 2010 was a delicious late harvest wine in the same style as many from Alsace. I am a crazy about sweet wines so this one fit the bill. Forrester is another winery that I know well, having tried much of his Chenin Blanc at previous tastings.

According to a report I read recently on, the harvest this year in South Africa is supposed to reach record levels. I look forward to seeing what the year brings forth.

Please check out Ben Carter’s great review of the wines of South Africa from our tasting at Benito’s Wine Reviews.


Filed under South Africa, wines

Women In Wine Fridays: Websites to Follow – Wine Julia

On Fridays I have been trying to write about women in the wine industry. At first this column was only going to be about Italian women in wine but then I discovered the wonderful world of women in the industry right here in the US.

In March I met Julia of the great blog Wine Julia. We met at the Snooth PVA weekend for bloggers in New York during a Peking Duck/Oregon wine pairing. Julia actually hails from Oregon so she was pretty much in the know about all of the different wines from that part of the world. I also discovered after chatting that she used to own a wine bar and then became a writer. I am always interested in how different people get into the wine industry and from which angle. I love the 1/2 day vacation posts that Julia writes. I’m about to take a half day vacation today and go sailing on the Shearwater with a friend. Very excited.

I am pretty much a novice when it comes to Oregon wines. I know, I may be the only person in the US that hasn’t tasted all of the Pinots that are available, noir and gris. I’m hoping to take a trip out that way. I also was thinking of doing a comparison tasting between Tuscan pinot noirs and Oregon ones to see how they measured up.

Oregon is the home state of another of my favorite women in wine my friend, Danica Stitz who works for VOS Selections. Danica and I did diploma together at the International Wine Center and have remained fast friends ever since. She has an amazing palate and was a great tasting group partner.


Filed under oregon, Tuscany, wines, Women in Wine