A podcast for people who like wine but not the snobbery that goes with it. We talk about wine in a fun, straightforward, normal way to get you excited about it and help you drink better, more interesting stuff. The Wine For Normal People book is available on Amazon! Back catalog available at http://winefornormalpeople.libsyn.com.
Matt Walls -- Author of "Wines of the Rhone," Rhone Guru, and the Nicest Guy in Wine
Matt Walls is a freelance wine expert and an award-winning wine writer and consultant. He is a contributing editor to Decanter, and writes regularly for timatkin.com and Club Oenologique. He is also the author of "Drink Me!" Which won the Fortnum & Mason ‘Best Newcomer’ Award, among others, and he wrote an opus on the Rhône Valley, “Wines of the Rhône,”** which is a brilliant book that has everything you want to know about the Rhône.
Buy Matt's Book!** Photo: www.mattwalls.co.uk
Matt judges wine competitions, presents amazing master classes, AND he’s probably the nicest person in the entire wine industry and fun too, as I learned when I met him in the Rhone in 2022 at an industry event in the Rhône.
Photo: Credit: Wine For Normal People
Here are the show notes:
Matt tells us about how meeting a French winemaker with breathtaking passion, and being outstanding at French led him to consider a career in wine.
We discuss the research that went into “Wines of the Rhône,**"the most comprehensive look at every appellation in the Côtes du Rhône and the larger Rhône Valley.
We get into a lot of dorky details about the Rhône that Matt writes about (beautifully and succinctly) in the book. We cover:
The complex geological history of the Rhône and all the “ingredients” that make the terroir what it is today The biggest differences between the northern and southern Rhône How climate change needs more attention from Rhône producers and how winegrowing and winemaking practices (trellising, too much destemming, the fashion of “phenolic ripeness”) have augmented the alcohol and “bigness” in many Rhone wines Irrigation and acidification and why each have their positives and negatives The grapes of the region, the diversity of those grapes ,and which will be the winners or losers in climate change
We discuss some specifics of the regions:
Châteauneuf-du-Pape, specifically why there are so many different styles and why some are $20 and some are $500 Crozes-Hermitage and how to find a good one (hint: Matt’s book is how you find a good one**! Matt mentions the town of Gervans as a granite area. Cave de Tain has good quality wines too) We touch on Côte Rôtie, Tavel, and Rhône whites Matt gives us a great tip: IGP Collines Rhodaniennes is for Northern Rhône wines that didn't make the cut into Côte Rôtie, Condrieu or other northern appellations because the vines may be young, regulations are odd, or the harvest was plentiful and they had enough grape to be selective and put only the top grapes into the AOP wines.
To end, Matt tells us the areas he finds are highly underrated (Costieres di Nîmes, Luberon, Ventoux, Duché d'Uzès, Vacqueryas for white are mentioned) and he tells us some great tips to consider when traveling to the Rhône.
Matt’s book is a thoughtful and easy to read guide to this magnificent region, so if you want to get great wines from this area, which is packed with outstanding wines, many of them underpriced, his book needs to be on your shelf. I no longer shop for Rhône wines without consulting it.
Plus, he is such an awesome human we should all want to support his work!
Buy Matt's Book!** Photo: www.mattwalls.co.uk
**This is an affiliate link and I may earn a small commission if you buy through this link
I could not be happier to announce my partnership with Wine Access, once again. For 2023, I will be working with this outstanding company, which is my go-to source for the best selection of interesting wines you can’t find locally. Every box you get from Wine Access is meticulous -- tasting notes with food and wine pairing, serving temperature suggestions, and perfectly stored wine. It's no wonder that Wine Access was rated the best wine club by New York Times Wirecutter and is the official partner and wine provider of The MICHELIN Guide. Go
Tucked into the middle of the Italian peninsula is the verdant, hilly land of Umbria. This small province is overshadowed by its neighbor, Tuscany, for many things, but Umbria has history, culture, and wine all its own. In this show, we explore the long history of Umbrian wine, what makes the province unique in its grapes and wine styles, and why Umbrian wine is too often unfairly forgotten in the pantheon of great wines of Italy. We review the three major wine regions of Umbria – Orvieto, Torgiano, and Montefalco – and give many reasons to give these wines a try.
Photo: Umbrian countryside. Getty Images
Here are the show notes:
As of January 2023, Umbria has just 2 DOCGs, 13 DOCs, and 6 IGPs, 48% is DOP wine, 42% IGP, 10% table wine. 12,400 ha (30,600 acres) is 7.2 million cases of wine
The main grapes of the region are: Sangiovese, Trebbiano Toscano, Grechetto, Sagrantino
Umbria has had winemaking for more than 3000 years
Climate: Landlocked Umbria has no sea breeze, although its lakes do help moderate the temperatures. The climate varies, but is mostly Mediterranean with cold, rainy winters and dry summers with abundant sunshine to ripen grapes
Photo: Chiesa in Assisi. Getty Images
Umbria is 29% Mtns, 71% hills, no plains. Most vineyards are on terraces cut into hillsides. The vineyards have good diurnals, which maintains acidity. Umbria is the only Italian region with no coastline nor a common border with another country. It is partly hilly and mountainous from the Apennines, and partly flat and fertile from the Tiber River Valley and the Umbrian valley around Perugia
53% red/rose, 47% white Sangiovese 20% of plantings, Trebbiano Toscano –12%, Grechetto 11%, Sagrantino 7%
Grechetto is two distinct grape varieties, Grechetto di Orvieto and Grechetto di Todi Grechetto di Orvieto: is light bodied, high in acidity with apple, pear, citrus, white flower notes Grechetto di Todi is Pignoletto (called that in Emilia Romagna). It is very floral with a soft mouthfeel Trebbiano Spoletino: Only found in Umbria around Spoleto and Montefalco. This wine is like limes, it can range from light to heavy and high in alcohol and can be barrel aged, or made into orange wine – no set identity
Reds: Sangiovese and Sagrantino with Colorino, Mammolo, Vernaccia Nera
International grapes: Cab, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc for, Umbria Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)
Photo: Sagrantino. Getty Images
Producing wine since the Middle Ages when it was a famed sweet wine, today this wine is more of a dry white. Despite a long history, Orvieto was the victim of overproduction in the 1960s and its reputation suffered There are many styles and it is Umbria’s biggest appellation – 10%+ of all Umbrian wine production Known for whites made of mostly Trebbiano and Grechetto, DOC Orvieto and Orvieto Classico. Other grapes include: Malvasia Bianco, Drupeggio, Verdello, Canaiolo bianco Styles: very simple and boring from Trebbiano or wines that use more Grechetto Red wine and 8 varietal wines sold under Rosso Orvietano DOC—French grapes plust Aleatico, Barbera, Canaiolo, Colorino, Dolcetto, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Cesanese, Ciliegiolo
Wine made in hills around Torgiano, southeast of Perugia where a tributary joins Tiber River Torgiano DOC is 81 ha/200 acres, 40K cases Whites: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Trebbiano, Riesling Italico (Welschriesling) (Labeled by grape, 85%+ of grape in bottle), Torgiano Bianco – 50-70% Trebbiano Toscano with Grechetto Reds: Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Nero, Sangiovese (known for elegance, high-quality Sangiovese). Rosso di Torgiano DOC is made with 50–100% Sangiovese Rosato of Sangiovese min 50% and other approved native grapes Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG, can age for decades It must be made with 70–100% Sangiovese with other native grapes. It must age at least three years before r
Ep 456: The Grape Mini-Series -- Merlot Revisited
This podcast is a refresher on Merlot (it’s been 12 years, so it’s time!). It’s one of the titans of the wine grapes, and yet it’s not often that we encounter it as a varietal wine. Because it is frequently blended, Merlot can often be forgotten or not given its due.
Photo: Merlot. Getty Images via Canva
But Merlot will not be forgotten! It is the second-most planted grape in the world, the most widely grown grape in Bordeaux, and its pedigree as part of some of the world’s most prestigious and well-known Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style wines makes it royalty in the wine world.
But Merlot is not without challenges. When it’s not grown on the proper soils or managed meticulously, wine made of Merlot bears little resemblance to great wines of Bordeaux or other regions that are famed for blends that use it. The reputation of Merlot as a boring, flabby, dull wine is not the fault of the grape, and although it was a convenient scapegoat, it’s also not the fault of the movie “Sideways.” The fact is that Merlot is not as easy to grow as people thought, and in 1980s and 1990s, opportunistic companies used high-yielding clones on bad rootstock and in bad sites to churn out high alcohol fruit bombs, lacking all the nuance that make the grape esteemed in its homeland.
This says nothing about the grape, but much about the people who defiled it. Although it is entirely capable of making boring, cheap wine, Merlot simultaneously makes up 95% of Château Petrus, Bordeaux’s most expensive wine and is used in fine wines all over the world for its ability to elevate a blend. In this show we pay homage to Merlot, and this time, shed some light on the recent past for Merlot and why, ultimately, it has done little to harm the grape’s reputation among winemakers and those who take the time to know the grape.
DNA and Parentage
Merlot originates from Gironde or SW France or Basque country. It’s the child of Cabernet Franc and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes from Brittany Merlot Gris: Pink color mutation of Merlot Merlot Blanc: A cross of Merlot x Folle Blanche created in 1891 NOT WHITE MERLOT, which is just Merlot made like white Zinfandel
We discuss the history of Merlot – from its first mention in Bordeaux, to its more modern history - its rise in the 1990s and its fall in the early 2000s in California, Australia, and the global consumer market.
Photo: Merlot. Getty Images via Canva
In the Vineyard
Merlot is an early budding variety, making it susceptible to spring frost – it needs good weather at flowering or it won’t have a great vintage. The grape needs cooler, well-drained soils – cooler limestone and clay soils are best Because Merlot is thin skinned with loose to medium density bunches it is also susceptible to disease (downy mildew) and botrytis (bad). It is bad in drought, which raises the question: how will it do with climate change, which we discuss. Merlot ripens about 2 weeks earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon and it’s the first red grape picked in Bordeaux. That makes it a great agriculture hedge – if it does well, there is less pressure to have a huge Cabernet Sauvignon harvest. The grape has milder tannins, higher sugar, and lower acidity (especially malic) than its relations Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. It can be vigorous, so yields must be managed and picking decision is important, since Merlot loses acidity quickly once ripe. Two main styles result from picking decisions (among other factors – terroir!): Bordeaux style: Merlot is harvested earlier, leading to a more acidic, medium alcohol wine (Pétrus). These wines tend to have moderate alcohol and show more red fruit flavors (cherry) along with “other” things like: green and black tea, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, earthy, mushrooms, green pepper, green olive
International style: Concentrates on physiological ripeness, with long hang time to have hardened stems and
Cava (update), plus the Other Quality Sparkling Wines of Spain
Much has changed since our original 2017 episode (199) on Cava and Spanish sparkling wine. It's time for a refresh and an update!
Photo: Cava cork. Credit: cava.wine
In this episode we fill you in on the roller coaster the DO has been on since 2017 and where it stands today. The story shows how Spain has moved from just being ON the radar of international wine buyers to moving to a level of sophistication that demands its regions have the kind of terroir focus of the other great wine nations of the Old World – France, Italy, Germany, and Austria, to name a few.
We review the regulations, changes, and the strife in the region and discuss what to seek out to get the best of these highly accessible, delicious, and decidedly Spanish wines.
Here are the show notes...
We start with the statistics on Cava -- it encompasses 38,133 ha/94,229 acres and made 253 MM bottles in 2021 91% of Cava is white, 9% is rosado (rosé)
Various zones produce the wine, but Penedés is the heart of Cava production, with more than 95% of total output We discuss the early history of the area, beginning with the first sparkling production in 1872 with Josep Raventós to the point where the DO is formed in 1991 – we leave the modern history until later, as complex and muddled as it is!
Map: The overly spread out regions of Cava. Credit: Cava DO
We then get into the grapes and winemaking:
Whites: Since most Cava is white, the white grapes dominate. Most important are the indigenous grapes, Macabeo (Viura, the white of Rioja), Xarel-lo, and Parellada. Chardonnay is also authorized, as well as Subirat Parent (Malvasia) for semi-sweet and sweet Cava.
Photo: Macabeo. Credit: D.O. Cava
Reds: Used for rosado (rosé), native grapes are Garnacha (Grenache), Trepat, and Monastrell (Mourvèdre). The Cava DO authorized Pinot Noir for use in rosado in 1998 Winemaking: We discuss the vineyard requirements for the making of quality Cava, including the importance of gentle picking and transport to the winery to prevent oxidation We briefly review the Traditional Method (Champagne Method) of winemaking, which is how all Cava is made
Photo: Riddled Cava, ready for disgorgement.. Credit: D.O. Cava
We discuss the aging qualifications for Cava, Cava Reserva, Cava Gran Reserva, and Cava Paraje Calificada that range from a minimum nine months to several years, and what each style yields We review the various dosage levels so you know what to look for: “Brut Nature” - no added sugar Cava Extra Brut – very little sugar Cava Brut: Slightly more added sugar in the dosage, sugar is barely noticeable Cava Extra Seco: heavier mouthfeel, noticeable sugar Cava Seco: Dessert level, very sweet Semi Seco: Even sweeter Dulce – Super sweet
We discuss why Cava is such a big mess, with much infighting in its modern history, and why not all sparkling Spanish wine is created the same:
We talk about the first fissures in Cava, with the 2012 break off of Cava OG producer Raventós i Blanc leaving the Cava DO because the quality standards were too low -Vino de la tierra Conca de l'Anoia (their own site) Photo: Raventós i Blanc Rosado, Vino de la Tierra
We discuss the 2015 formation of The Association of Wine Producers and Growers Corpinnat (AVEC) or Corpinnat. We define the group and talk about its requirements for the small member producers: Mission: Create a distinguished, excellent quality, terroir-driven sparkling wine based solely on Penedès, rather than far flung regions that make lesser wine. To raise the profile of Cava from cheap shit to good stuff
Photo: Corpinnat corks. Credit: Corpinnat Website
Corpinnat Requirements At least 75% of the grapes must be from vineyards owned by the winery, wine must be made on the premises of the winery Minimum price paid for livable wages to the growers Certified organic and hand harvested grapes 90% of the grapes must be indigenous varietie
The Grape Miniseries -- Aglianico
In this show, we cover Aglianico - the best red grape you may have never heard of. Widely considered one of Italy’s top three red grapes with Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, many consider the wines of Aglianico some of the world’s top bottles too. That said, because Aglianico is a grape of the more obscure regions in southern Italy (Campania and Basilicata, mainly), the wine hasn’t gotten its due. It is much less expensive than top Barolos and Barbarescos or Chiantis and Brunellos – although it is slowly catching up. It is a grape well-suited to warm Mediterranean climates, and for the changing climates of once cooler growing areas like regions of California and Australia. Aglianico is historic, yet modern and there has never been a better time to get acquainted with the wines of this beautiful grape.
Source: Taub Family Selections, Mastroberardino Page
Here are the show notes:
We cover the history of the grape and discuss possible origins.
Aglianico is considered to be one of Italy’s oldest grapes and it was always thought to be an import from the Greeks who colonized Campania and other parts of southern Italy. Today, Attilio Scienza, the foremost Italian grape scientist, has changed that theory. He believes the grape is native to southern Italy and the name is related to the Spanish word for plains “llano” (ll=gli, both sounds like y sound in canyon). The grape may have been domesticated from grapes growing on the plains We discuss how the grape was nearly extinct after phylloxera, and how Antonio Mastroberardino - preserved and propagated Aglianico to make one of the best red wines in Italian history – the 1968 Mastroberardino Taurasi Riserva. The D’Angelo family revived Aglianico around Monte Vulture in Basilicata around the same time. The success of these two families on the world stage, encouraged others to start making wines from Aglianico, and today there are many great examples of wines from the grape
Photo: 1968 Mastroberardino Taurasi Riserva, widely considered one of Italy's best wines
Aglianico produces medium to small, compact bunches. The individual berries are small, round, and dark blue-black with quite thick skins. The grape requires a long, warm growing season with a warm fall to fully develop flavors and calm tannins and acidity. It is early budding and late ripening. Overly cool or overly hot conditions don’t do good things for the grape. Aglianico is one of the latest harvests in Italy, with Vulture often starting harvest in mid to late November According to Ian d’Agata, the top English-speaking writer on Italian wine, Aglianico has three biotypes (variations of the same grape, but not different enough to be clones): Taurasi, with small berries, less vigorous, and sensitivity to spring weather that may reduce the harvest Taburno (also called Aglianico Amaro -- but not because it’s amaro /bitter, rather because it’s higher in acidity) is less fertile with big bunches. It is earlier ripening, with higher alcohol and higher acidity del Vulture is most intensely flavored biotype, with strong fruit aromas and flavors, and it seems to have fewer viticultural issues The grape also has clones, the most popular of which are used to create bolder, darker wines
Aglianico prefers volcanic soils. The Campania DOCGs are on extinct volcanoes or have influence from nearby Vesuvius. The volcanic activity makes these soils rich in nutrients, well-drained, and very complex. The grape loves elevation and it thrives in spots where other grapes can’t ripen. Although Aglianico needs dry climates with abundant sun, it must have diurnal temperature swings at night so it can retain its acidity and build flavor slowly
Photo: Mastroberardino's Aglianico vineyards
Source: Taub Family Selections, Mastroberardino Page
Generally, Aglianico has the following characteristics: Very high acidity and tannin. Floral (r
So, You Want to Get Into the Wine industry?
I welcome back Jim Morris, industry veteran, hospitality pro, and hiring manager for major wineries to help me answer the question I get frequently:
“I love wine, how do I get into the industry?”
We address the three main verticals for entry into the biz: the executive/business side, the production side, and the sales/hospitality side. Then we talk briefly about wine education and wine media. Jim’s first tip is a really essential one:
“No matter what you do, do everything in wine”
From production to shipping, learning it all will make you understand the entire business. And that is essential because wine is one huge, long supply chain!
Here are the show notes:
The Management Side/Business Side: This is the executive side, where you can enter into the industry from another professional job with a set of skills.
Your skills are likely applicable if you are from a related industry (law, logistics, consumer packaged goods marketing or sales, executive management etc.), but go in with eyes wide open — the regulations in wine are a bit crushing. The wine industry is driven by what it CAN’T do - be prepared for a world of regulation and compliance! There are many transferable skills and jobs that could fit if you have an area of expertise on the business side. You will have a learning curve but if you are ok with that it can be a great place. On the downside: none of it pays particularly well!
Photo credit: Unsplash
The Production Side: Winemaking, vineyard management, cellar work, including bottling, etc.
This is a very physically demanding part of the business! You don’t have to go to school, but you have to work your way up if you don’t. Start small, talk to small winery owners and winemakers about what they do. Network with people, get a feel for what is needed in a winery, and what you can or would do if you worked in a winery. Just get out there and talk to people! If you are earnest and serious, and network you will get opportunities to work at wineries —whether it be in the US, Germany, Australia, or Mexico. Learn and absorb as much as you can and then make a decision about whether production really what you want to do, and then you have to convince someone to invest in you. Remember to have humility — you are asking someone to invest in you to teach you this craft, it’s important it’s a good fit and you go in understanding you are asking someone to take a chance on you. Possible career paths: work harvest as and intern for free, become a paid harvest intern, cellar rat, assistant winemaker, winemaker, or vineyard worker/manager, work in logistics, bottling, etc.
Photo credit: Unsplash
Wine Sales and hospitality – retail and restaurant/ Tasting room employee/ Wine club management
Sales is the single most important job in wine. It is the most valued – without the sales, even great wineries fold. Sales is the most common job in wine and the easiest path to get into the industry. We discuss three or four main ways to get into wine sales and hospitality.
We frame all of this by saying that sales and hospitality are skills -- hospitality is dealing with the public, we give tips on how to do that well, but if you don’t like dealing with people, these are not jobs for you! In sales/hospitality NEVER fake it ‘til you make it, people know when you are wrong and you’re going to get called out on any lies you tell or stuff you make up. Just admit that you are learning – there is a LOT to know! If you get into a hospitality or sales job, you are not above doing things they may ask you to do – cleaning dishes and glassware, serving food, setting up events – it’s part of the job. All wine positions — tasting room, wine club, hospitality, wine educator for a winery, etc — all are sales positions. If you don’t like selling, this isn’t for you!
We discuss the p