Category: ZenWine Blog

Washington’s Women Winemakers & the Unique Land Behind Them

One of the perks to living in the PNW is the bountiful amount of exceptional quality wine in our own backyard. Since Washington is a relatively young wine region, the prices are still budget friendly while quality and age-worthiness reigns supreme. The gems of the state lie in the climate, the unique geology and the down-to-earth winemakers bringing their passions to life.

Life is an Offering

Vital Wines is the brainchild of pioneer and winemaker, Ashley Trout. The wine is 100% nonprofit, with the proceeds all directly going back into the vineyard workers of Walla Walla. Every grape, barrel and bottle are donated from the community of winemakers. The 2021 The Given pairs exceptionally well with butternut squash soup & freshly baked sourdough bread. Add a salad of butter lettuce, chevre and fresh herbs like basil and dill to bring it all full circle. The Given is the red blend that keeps giving and is featured in The Enlightened & The Triple Zen wine club for the fall season.

Ice dams into a dam good wine

Ashley Trout’s main label is the monochrome beauty that is Brook & Bull Cellars out of Walla Walla. The stormy label says it all without saying a word.

In the case of Washington’s terroir, it is the loess aka the windblown silt and sand caused from repeated flooding of ice age dams more than 15,000 years ago.

The defining feature of Washington viticulture is this very glacial activity that left behind deposits of deep, low- nutrient and well-drained soils. Quality grapes yield quality wines.

Being named “the Malbec Queen”, Ashley has been a mover and shaker in Washington for over two decades. Find Brook & Bull 2020 Cabernet Franc in The Grateful Reds club for fall because it has the WOW factor. Flavors of boysenberry jam, orange peel, fresh cut cedar; this Cabernet Franc is ready to pair with steak fajita night or a decadent lasagna with crispy garlic bread. It would also be a terrific wine on the Thanksgiving table.

The Power of Place

In the case of Alveare Winery, it’s Samantha that makes the wine and her husband Kent that keeps the bees. Hence the realistic bee gracing the label of this single vineyard wine from Rattlesnake Hills in the Yakima Valley AVA. Find Alveare (also called Orenda Winery) nestled right over in Carnation in what was once a historic farmhouse and now a modern-day winery.

The 2021 Bee & Barrel is a balanced blend of 30% Cabernet Franc, 25% Malbec, 25% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a terrific food wine because it has spice, soothing tannins, and plentiful blue and black fruit. Pair Bee & Barrel to a grass-fed burger or Bolognese.

It’s the people behind the labels, working with the land and alchemizing its expression to create art and an offering. The women winemakers of Washington are creating exceptional wines that don’t fit the mold. Make space on your table for more giving, service and creating beauty with this one, precious life.

The Science of Wine Tasting

Tasting wine can often feel super intimating, especially with the infinite array of options to choose from and the ever-changing landscape of the wine industry. There exists the stigma that only professionals can hold an educated palate, but the truth is everyone can be an expert wine taster. Humans are born with the genetic makeup to recognize, process and recall several thousand unique aromas and therefore it’s important to develop a deeper connection with wine, as if to open a window to the world.

The first step in adopting a mindful approach to tasting is understanding the science of sensory. Honor and hone the capacity to smell, analyze and discuss wine as an experience that utilizes the very complex and magical system of sight, smell, taste, emotion, and memory.

The great wines of the world leave us in awe of their sheer intensity and kaleidoscope of nuances. Take Chablis, Brunello di Montalcino or Cornas; all three completely different varietals, places, and styles, yet all have brilliant flavors that contribute to complexity, character, and beauty.

Being able to claim the quality and age worthiness of a wine is based on how the essence of aromas, flavors and structural elements all collide together. Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, compares wine to a harmonious symphony, rather than a group of instruments playing music together.

Restoring mindfulness when it comes to tasting wine can lead to better focus, increase awareness and a knowing of the people, vines and winemaking regions of the world. By tuning in to what’s in the glass, we naturally expand and connect. Here are the key markers to taste for quality and how to build the sensory muscles for an expansive relationship with our fermented friends we love so much.

The Science of Wine tasting

 The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting by Neel Burton talks about how the flavor of a wine is an interpretation by the brain of several different stimuli from specialized sensory cells. Receptor neurons flash information to the olfactory bulb in the brain once they have traveled through the nostrils and the channel at the back of the mouth. This explains why much of tasting takes place retronasally within the mouth and pharynx, while orthonasal is the action of the nostrils and nose.

According to Neel Burton, the tongue has five thousand taste buds and the ability to detect temperature, fizziness, viscosity, and extract. The mouth feels the heat of alcohol, astringency of tannins, and waters with acidity. It is the taste receptors on the tongue that are responsible for the five primary tastes of sour, sweet, bitter, salty, and umami.

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson discusses why smells and tastes can trigger big emotions, vivid memories and why humans can recall a memory with a scent. Jancis goes on to say that the human sense is extremely acute and can recognize and memorize 10,000 different aromas.

Everyone is built with the hardware to be an expert wine taster and the practice will fire and wire the capacity to do so. Simply noticing the saturation and color of a wine can lead to so much. Let’s look at a left bank Bordeaux. These wines are deep ruby or brick in color, have potential sediment and shows what gravel soils and sun-ripened Cabernet-based blends with oak from the Medoc look like.

The key to becoming mindful with wine is leveraging conscious intent because that will increase sensory endurance and understanding for the taster.

Being Mindful about Wine Tasting Technique

The practice of consciencely describing wine sensations upgrade and increase the neuropathways in the brain and we do this using language to relay our own interpretation of flavors in a wine. Utilize tools like blind tasting to taste without bias and allow for an honest evaluation, free of notions and pre-conceived beliefs.

Confidently give the wine a swirl and hold the glass up to your nose and mouth. Close your eyes and lightly inhale for a few short rounds. The human sensory organs are a powerful system and can translate thousands of aromas, but the nose and palate tire easily. Taste in a controlled environment because the more distractions, noises, and smells there are in a room, the less likely that you can pick up the cues and aromas from the wine.

Compare and contrast the structural elements in a wine and how acidity, astringency, alcohol, and sweetness effect the ecosystem of the mouth. Note the types and nuances of flavors and intensity of the finish.

Start layering in adjectives to fruit condition as a marker to understand quality and winemaking factors. The wines of Barolo often show notes of dried roses, fresh tar and sour cherries with firm, sticky tannins, and mouth-watering acidity.

It’s good practice to use a tasting grid as a guide and a journal as support. Allow time and space to connect and recall any emotions or memories that may arise. An open mind and calm, relaxed body during the process can connect us to what the wine is trying to convey. Much like a wine needs time to breathe to fully express its character, give yourself time to breathe as well!

The Importance of Practice

 Tasting consistently can have extraordinary effects on mental clarity and bring consciousness to viticulture and winemaking. What’s left is a greater appreciation for the people and cultures that make the ever-evolving liquid in the glass possible.

Since the largest group of genes of the human genome are in fact the genes that code for olfaction, try a variety of wine that exhibit a range of aromas, flavors, and styles.

Classic wines of the world will deliver quality and sing with brilliance. For example, Pfalz Riesling brings vibrant lime zest, crushed shells, and ripe pineapple with a strong core of acidity and moderate alcohol to compliment the fruit and mineral driven nature. We can agree that the great wines of the world leave us fascinated and thirsty for more, and our work is to listen to what the wines are trying to convey.

Specifically, get familiar with secondary aromas like cream, pastry, and parmesan, as well as tertiary aromas like mushroom, dried fruit, and tobacco. Explore the decadent flavors found in Champagne, or wines that have aged on the lees or matured in oak barrels. High quality wines typically display a rich, decadent texture and a long, delicious finish.

The quality level and age-worthiness are important take-aways, proving the why behind style, and will reveal if a wine gets better with time. To age with finesse, a wine (and human!) must start with a solid foundation.

It’s a great reminder that consistent wine studies will build more awareness, naturally. It’s also important to note that everyone has a different taste tolerance, and my cherry might not be your cherry, so developing your palate is key.

Mindfulness in wine tasting can benefit the brain by creating infinite patterns of recognition, build confidence, and create awesome experiences along the way. One of the biggest joys of being human is the ability to eat, drink and be merry with people we love. Wine connects people to earth, brings us together and inevitably, closer to ourselves.

La Spinetta & Creating Your Dream Life

A true dreamer is never satisfied with the ordinary. A true dreamer finds inspiration in the process of becoming, always seeking for the edge. Giorgio Rivetti is always seeking his edge.

Today’s wine and wellness teaching is brought to you by none other than La Spinetta; the charming Piedmont super star that’s drenched in passion, ingenuity and a relentless hunger for growth.

La Spinetta has charm and innovation deeply embedded into the family roots. Giuseppe ‘Pin’ Rivetti and his wife Lidia engrained the family with humility, respect and ambition. Known as a Piemontese superstar, the brand has passion drenched in every wine they produce. First, with the idea of a single cru status for Moscato; the semi-sweet sparkling sister that has the world under the Spinetta spell ever since. 1985 brought Barbera Ca di Pian followed up with the classic Pin, the Nebbiolo/Barbera blend that is a main player in international exports. This Monferrato Rosso is named some of the Best of the Lange and portrays the winery with firm grasp of the history, as well a strong focus on the future of the region.

Pin embodies the Spinetta style as a delightful blend of 65% Nebbiolo and 25% Barbera. This wine is all sour cherries, savory toasted oak and orange peel. It’s racy, forest action that tantra between power and elegance. The theme here feels like elements in a forest; the rustic Spinetta forest of dried leaves, damp earth and small red berries. Drink in the firm, tight tannins while the core of acidity washes over like the breeze through the trees. Medium toasted French oak barrels that yin the yang of what 30–70-year-old vines provide. The forest flair is met happily with hibiscus and a snap of eucalyptus that drinkers from all over could jump into. Pin shows how to push and pull in the energy of creating something special.

The Spinetta story is always getting better because an ordinary life and ordinary wines just won’t suffice. Take from the Spinetta lesson; find courage in pioneering, seek your edge and dream big.

The Rebirth of Hungarian Wine

The pendulum swings for Hungary as their wine scene is blooming after a tumultuous century of phylloxera, world wars and communism. Hungarian wines are some of the oldest of the old world yet also the best kept secret in the new world. This is a story of scrappy survivalists with a head strong, blood-thirsty fire for life.

The quest to advancement hasn’t been easy. Alas, the dynamic wines of Hungary are brewing a serious comeback. The last 40 years have brought a full-blown wine renaissance that is exposing the brilliance of terrior and varietals that are uniquely Hungarian. Many have fought to live in the Carpathian basin, this low land plain of rolling hills that was once underwater 2.5 million years ago. Once the Pannonian Sea dried out, it exposed an agricultural gem of a land that is laced with loamy soils, basking in minerals and striations. The soil, microclimates and varietals are just as diverse as the styles of wine that are currently being produced.

Since the regime shift, there has been a surge of research on proper clones, harvest times, planting densities and winemaking advancements. Hungary’s wine scene is slowly gaining international attention and they are not seeking to make more generic red wine. They are looking to accurately portray the indigenous varietals and innate terroir of Hungary. Thoughtful, passionate and knowledgeable are the new generation from all across the 22 regions of this land-locked, lake-country of Hungary. Gone is the day of Tokaj Aszú being the most popular and sought-out wine in the world but now is an opportunity to rebuild for today’s industry. This means new styles and the resurgence of nearly extinct varietals like Fekete Járdovány are hitting the market in a sleek fashion. It’s an exciting time for Hungarian wine and its people.

Take Heumann Villány Franc for example. Having 95% of estate vineyards under the premium or DHC status, the lower yields and attention to detail in the winery is being noticed on an international level. It’s a gifted area that is made up of loess, clay and limestone with littered dolomite throughout. Villány is most famous for its warm, Mediterranean Bordeaux reds with the most notable being Cabernet Franc. Heumann Villány Franc was raised for 24 months in Hungarian 225L barriques and is from south-facing in Siklos and some on the Vokany plateau. The wine is deep, bright purple with bright intensity black currant, blueberry satin and dark chocolate. Villány Franc is a full-bodied wine with electric acidity and a deep concentration of flavor. Since Villány offers the highest sunshine hours than any other region in Hungary, the bold red wines make a statement here and quickly becoming known as Bordeaux of the East. It’s worth taking note from the female lead of the family, Evelyne Heumann. Her ingenuity and vision has brought this winery and country into bloom.

Another gem is the St. Donat Winery Magma Kékfrankos from Lake Balaton in the stunning region of Balatonfüred-Csopak. This resort town is the part of the food and wine crazed town of Csopak, which St. Donat planted their winery (complete with an underground cellar and elevated bistro), to officially elevate your experience of food and wine together. The wine has stony, dark raspberry vibes complete with wild strawberry, mint and currants on the palate. Snappy acidity and medium body pairs beautifully with the confidence and personality of the wine. A perfect pairing for the local culinary treats of Hungary, like spicy fish soup. Kékfrankos (Blaufrankish) is the most planted grape variety of Hungary and is now being made into thoughtful, lower-produced wines that offer style, verve and class.

The wines that are being made in today’s scene are electric and playful in all their seriousness and they are laced with soul and stories. There is a real sense of relief and triumph in the new wave of Hungarian wines and pure authenticity is on the menu.

The Three-Tier System & Why Service First Always Wins

The beverage industry is a complex landscape of passion, money, drama, earth, science, and art. Alcoholic beverages have been a main ingredient in human history since the dawn of civilization. Wine, beer, and distilled drinks carry the scars of both celebration and failures of the modern world in the last century, proven by its tumultuous relationship as part of the fabric of United States history.

The alcohol industry was famously cut from legal status which ignited the collapse of a national industry. During prohibition, the businesses that manufacture, distribute, and sell alcohol were outlawed and it caused real life people to lose their businesses and be forced to shut down. The end of prohibition may have brought alcohol back to legal status, but the disjointed laws and heavy regulations continue to plague the industry.

The Three-Tier System was designed to create a checks and balances by removing dominance in the market by one brand, with the goal to create a dynamic industry in which the consumer always wins. In practice, this model serves to benefit a few rather than many because it’s the large distribution companies that occupy the most shelf space. At a glance, one could fear the reality that big business wins, continuing the endless challenges of small businesses to thrive in industrial America.

The business of beverages has since flourished in terms of consumer demand, although its heavy taxes and three-tier system continue to restrict small businesses within the system. The inner working of the alcohol industry is incredibly complex, has questionable integrity and is not an even playing field. It’s the very reason that customer service and building long-term relationships is the mindset for thriving in this business. Showing up from a place of appreciation and service while supporting local is the magic ingredient for the drinks business.

Working Within a Complex System

The Three Tier System of selling alcohol was put in place and each state was mandated to control their own liquor traffic once prohibition was ratified. Tier one is the manufacturers, the importers, or producers. The importer is the liaison of importing alcohol into the US and producers are brewers, winemakers, distillers, and importers. Tier two are the wholesalers or distributors, which buys alcohol from the producer and sells it to retail chains, restaurants, wine shops, hotels, and grocery stores. Tier three are retailers that sell to consumers.

Still in many states today the only source of inventory to a retailer is buying from a distributor because no one entity can have business interest in another tier. However, in other states like California, an importer can be all parts of the system. It’s also common that a national wholesaler can set up a brick-and-mortar retail store to sell direct-to-consumer. Southern Glazers is the biggest national chain, responsible for 17 billion in sales and they currently own one third of the US marketplace.

Big business has major advantages because it siphons consumer access to wines of the world. Consumers should have a choice to support a small family producer that organically farms and makes a living producing consciously made wines. This is a mindful approach to the wine business. Small business should have a choice to support other small business, choosing wines that have place and people behind them. It is not surprising that the level of authentic service and love of the craft offered by winemaking families in the old world is some of the best.

Boozy beverages bring people together, however, there remains a corporate and money-driven industry that powers bottles to shelves and into our glasses. Turning up the volume on small producers creates a truly dynamic market and it happens when consumers choose to buy from a local farmer, local importer, and local wine shop. Shopping small yields big results in which we can educate, support, and connect with one another, one glass at a time.

Why Service First Always Wins

At the bottom of the chain lies the invaluable customers who drink wine, beer and spirits. The amazing thirsty souls that seek to explore, taste, drink, and quite frankly, get lit. The best kind of drinker is the curious consumer, one that strives to continually chisel an educated palate and seeks thoughtfully produced beverages.

Service first not only creates long-term relationships but also a level of premiumization that push product quality across the channels. The bonus is the boost in wine education for both consumer and staff, but it comes with higher priority to provide the best service. The dynamics of this industry are that there are infinite channels to educate staff and empower them to confidently communicate with customers.

Choosing to buy from sustainable, thoughtful, and passionate people are how we support the small business owners and how everyone gets a slice in a profitable yet challenging world of wine. There is a stigma in the drinks business that good wine is expensive, this is a harmful myth created by big companies that have the funds to occupy marketing and shelf space. Buying real wine from real people are the ways to get affordable, high quality, authentic products that truly create the checks and balances in the system. As a consumer, wholesaler, and retailer, I hope to share this news with people to bring awareness of wines made with love and intention. Let’s shine a light on the people that make a livelihood within a complex and heavily broken system we call the beverage industry.