Intro to the Court of Master Sommeliers

Wine is my passion, there’s no question about that, but I didn’t turn it into a career until late in life. I was a fitness professional until only a year ago! It wasn’t until I joined the Traveling Vineyard on April 1, 2014 that wine became my driving force. I knew I wanted to go as far with it as I could. I find incredible beauty in wine. It isn’t just a beverage to me, it is so much more.

During last year’s Traveling Vineyard convention, which is called Harvest, we had a guest speaker, Eddie Osterland, America’s first Master Sommelier. Our CEO Rick Libby told us to watch the documentary SOMM in preparation, so we would have some understanding of what it was to be a Master Somm. When I saw this documentary, I was hooked. My passion was magnified tenfold. This was something I wanted and wanted badly! Then came Harvest and I got to see Eddie Osterland in person. I was mesmerized. Star struck, even! The way he spoke about wine, about food pairing, about entertaining… I wanted to be part of this world. I craved to know more! I was inspired. I might not be one of the 210 Master Somms in the world someday, but I wanted to be a somm nonetheless. It was on my bucket list. I WOULD become a certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers someday, end of story.

 IMG_6475Eddie Osterland, MS and me at Harvest, 2014

I went home, looked online, and wow. WOW! The curriculum is insane. The price is hefty, as well! Something to work toward, I thought. In due time. There’s so much information to absorb… the geography, the history, the appellations, the individual terroirs, and then the blind tastings! With the amount of time I was devoting to my job, it would certainly take a good amount of time to also devote to studying to prepare for these exams, so someday!

Fast forward almost 4 months to Christmas Eve. My love Dennis gives me my gift. The first thing I opened was two small boxes, one was a box of pencils and one was a package of pens. ???? I had no idea what he was doing. I opened the next gift, which was a leather portfolio. I opened the portfolio to find a print out that said I was registered for the introductory course for the Court of Master Sommeliers in Manhattan at the International Culinary Center on March 23-24th, 2015. Tears streamed! I couldn’t believe it! Once again, this man is making my dreams come true! In addition, March 24, 2015 is my 40th birthday. What a way to go into a new decade!

Then it hit me… I had exactly three months to prepare for this course and exam. Oh. My. God. HOW? I had ten tastings scheduled for January, ten for February, eight for March, plus a regional meeting to present at, several guest speakings for other teams, my own team meetings to lead. My head was spinning! But this is what I wanted and I was not going to blow this opportunity, so it was time to get down to business. I had to arm myself with the proper books, so we bought the following:

– The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil
– The Sommelier Prep Course by Michael Gibson
– The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson
– The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson

Within the first weekend I read the study guide they provide us cover to cover. After that I went back and started picking apart each region one at a time in each book. It was incredibly overwhelming, I’m not going to lie! Trying to remember all these appellations, regions, villages, etc. Yikes! Over the first month or so, I really devoted a good amount of time to studying and was able to balance work and study time, but after that, work just took over.

The closer the course/exam got, the more I freaked out. The weekend immediately prior was going to be insane. I had a local tasting Friday night in central Mass, then had a tasting in Maine on Saturday night, had to drive back home to central Mass after the tasting, got up at 6am Sunday morning to drive 3 hours to Queensbury, New York to present at the Traveling Vineyard Albany Regional meeting from 11am-4pm, then drove 3 hours down to Dennis’s house to stay and get ready to head down to Manhattan the next morning for the course, where I had to check in at 7:30am. To say I was exhausted is an understatement!

We checked in between 7:30-8am on Monday, March 23, 2015. There were just under 60 of us in the course. I had no idea what to expect, but I was incredibly excited. This is what I sat down to.


So exciting! Day one was instructed by Laura DePasquale, MS, Scott Carney, MS, Laura Maniec, MS, and Pascaline Lepeltier, MS. We went through the viticulture, viniculture, food and beverage pairing, the deductive tasting method (tasted three flights of four wines each), all of France, Italy, and Greece. IN ONE DAY! Dennis is such a doll… he took the day off from work to drive me down to Manhattan, and while I was in class he went to visit his old cop friends. During lunch he brought me a lobster roll and lobster bisque from the Chelsea Pier and spent the hour with me. Seriously? Best man EVER!

I was very confident in what I knew about the history of wine. When we got to the blind tastings, I was pretty surprised at how much I didn’t know. I’ve been blind tasting myself for a few months, and I need a LOT more practice. For some reason, practically every single white wine I smelled on day 1 I thought was a Riesling. LOL Of course then I tasted it and realized I was way off, but that really isn’t like me. I can usually detect these aromas pretty well. Wine #1 in flight 1 was a Chablis! How I could ever confuse the Chardonnay grape is beyond me. Then in flight #2, wine #1 actually WAS a German Riesling from Mosel, and I didn’t identify that it was from Mosel! LOL I live for Mosel Rieslings! At this point I was just baffled. Italian Pinot Grigio… thought it was a Riesling. LOL What the hell? These blind tastings really knocked me down a peg, because this is something I’m typically decent at. Guess not! Perhaps the lack of sleep had something to do with my sense being completely off.

On the drive home after this day, I don’t think it’s necessary to say I passed out in the car. We got home and I passed out almost immediately. Sleep, oh heavenly sleep!

Day 2, the alarm goes off at some ungodly hour. Noooo! But hey, it’s my birthday! Let’s get this show on the road! Dennis drives me down to the city again, and day 2 begins with our first tasting flight at exactly 8am! This day our Master Somms were Laura DePasquale, MS, Laura Williamson, MS, Matthew Citriglia, MS, and Michael Englemann, MS.


FINALLY I identified a Viognier. Thank God I’m not losing my mind! I truly think I was just over thinking things. But even the Viognier I thought was old world and it turned out was new world. I also identified a Vouvray AND the year, so I redeemed myself somewhat. Maybe that good night’s sleep had something to do with it. What really blew my mind was when we blind tasted Catena Malbec and I didn’t get this. I drink this particular Malbec often. How this slipped by me is mind boggling. It tasted much more tannic than I am used to. Even when they told us what it was, I was blown away. I kept going back and tasting it in shock. I LOVE Catena Malbec. Super disappointed I didn’t get that one. The last two wines I did get, a Sancerre and a Shiraz, so I guess I ended on a positive note. Much work to be done for the next level!

Before lunch we covered Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, South America, South Africa, and North America. Dennis met me for lunch again and helped me study as much as possible for that hour for the exam. He is such a doll. I truly don’t know what I would do without him!

After lunch we covered dessert and fortified wines, beer/sake/spirits, and wine service and salesmanship. Then it was time for the exam! Seventy multiple choice questions. This level doesn’t require a blind tasting, thank the lord, because I’m just not ready for that yet. The next level does, however. I went into this exam with less confidence than I have had in ages. That is so unlike me. I truly did not feel prepared. The amount of detail required for this is insane! But I’m not one to back down, so I gave it my all.

I finished the exam and passed it in at about 4:25pm. We were to meet back at 5:00 for the results. I left feeling 50/50. I knew a lot of the answers, but there were definitely some I had no idea. I was preparing myself for the worst case scenario… it was a great learning experience, and at least now I know what I need to do to prepare for the next time. Study the hell out of the regions and AOCs!

They didn’t call us back in until 5:15 or so, and at this point I was dying! Thank the lord for my best friend Angi texting me and my wine sister Susan for PMing me on Facebook during the waiting time trying to help me through! Of course Dennis was always texting me words of encouragement. He never had a single doubt. As we entered the room, they handed each person a glass of Champagne. We all walked in and gathered in a circle. Laura DePasquale started off by thanking everyone involved in the course, and then proceeded with the announcements. There was one gentleman who passed with a PERFECT SCORE! Mad props to him! Then Laura announced that the class had a 100% pass rate. I PASSED!!!! OMG!!!! I’m not going to lie… I had to wipe a tear away. Just the release of the pressure! I did it! In the wine business less than a year, and prepped for this course in less than 3 months, I did it! OMG!!! As soon as I wiped the tear away and chugged down that glass of Champagne, I grabbed my phone and texted Dennis that I passed. As soon as I had done so, my wine daughter Stephanie texted me asking what was going on. I replied that I had passed, and her reaction was priceless! They announced each person’s name and passed out our certificates and pins. Once we each received them, we left. I raced down to Dennis and couldn’t wait to celebrate with him!


There is so much information to absorb in this course, but the greatest thing I took away from it is this: wine tells a story, and as somms, we are story tellers. Wine tells the story of everything that happens in the vineyard, from the weather that year, what is growing nearby, what the winemaker did. It is up to us to relay that story. Beautiful!

Dennis took me out to celebrate my 40th birthday at this incredible Spanish restaurant in Greenwich Village we just love called Sevilla. They have the most incredible seafood paella ever! A perfect ending to a perfect day.

10428613_1631424133745862_8211558483696859205_nI now have three years to take the level 2 exam to become an officially certified sommelier with the CMS, and I am more inspired than ever to do so! Each wine truly tells its own story, and I can’t wait to be able to relay that story to others.


Dissecting a Red Blend: Tanglerose Backyard Red, Lot 12A-NC

Last night I held my monthly team meeting at my house for my Traveling Vineyard team of wine guides, The Winelist. Each month I give them a bit of wine education along with other business related things. Our wine education consisted of dissecting one of our Traveling Vineyard wines. It’s an incredibly delicious red blend that is one of my absolute best sellers called Tanglerose Backyard Red. This particular blend is Lot 12A-NC, which is the latest blend. It is a California blend and consists of the following:

37% Napa Valley Tempranillo, 28.8% Napa Valley Syrah, 13.3% Sonoma Carneros Merlot, 10.9% Lake County Cabernet Franc, and 10% Sonoma County Petite Sirah.


What I wanted to do for my team was dissect the blend and taste each of these grapes alone as single varietals, go through the four steps of wine tasting for each varietal to determine the color, body, aromas, and palate, pair each varietal with a proper food pairing, and then finally after we finish the five varietals separately, we would taste the Tanglerose Backyard Red blend and try to distinguish how each varietal lends its characteristics to the blend to make it what it is.

What we needed, of course, was wine! Since Tanglerose Backyard Red is a blend of California grapes, it would have been ideal to taste the individual varietals from California. Unfortunately, each team member wasn’t able to find their designated varietal from California, so we had to make do with some of the varietals from other regions. No problem, I made sure to note any flavor differences that a California wine would have had. These are the wines we tasted:

Tempranillo: We began with the varietal that is the most abundant in the Tanglerose Backyard Red blend, in particular, Campo Viejo Rioja 2012 Tempranillo which team member Jen Favata brought. We learned all about the Tempranillo grape, from the climate it thrives in and the soil it prefers to the fact that it ages incredibly well. Because we were tasting a Spanish Tempranillo and not a California one, we focused on the similarities in both flavor profiles, such as red cherries, strawberries, red berries and red plum, as well as the herbal quality of dill. Most of us were able to detect notes of dill, which was fun. Both Spanish and California versions often contain essence of tobacco, vanilla, leather, coffee, and tea. Our conclusion? There were only a couple of us who have had Tempranillo before, and we were not impressed with this particular brand. I prefer my Tempranillos heftier with more smoke qualities, and this just seemed bland to me. We paired it with smoked Gouda, and we all decided we liked it much better paired with the cheese. I think the cheese gave it all its character!

Syrah: The second most abundant grape in Tanglerose is Syrah, so this came next. Again, not from California, we sampled the 2013 Fabrizio Dionisio Castagnino Syrah Cortona, Tuscany, Italy, which Winelister Jen Turner brought. The Syrah grape is a thick skinned, beautifully dark grape, blueish, almost black in color, and it grows in large, tight bunches. These wines tend to be quite tannic and can be aged for quite a while. Much like the Riesling grape, Syrah has the ability to reflect where it was grown in its flavor. These wines are usually big with black raspberry, blackberry, and cherry, but with notable black and white pepper. It’s not usually a high acid wine, but instead a wine high in tannins. Therefore, a Syrah requires a big food pairing, something to smooth out those tannins and a big flavor to stand up to it. When we smelled this wine, spice just hit us in the face. It was wonderful! On the palate it was very tannic with very low acidity, as expected. It was everything a Syrah should be. We paired this with black licorice to bring out the notes of anise, and boy did it ever! It was incredible!

Merlot: Next in the blend is Merlot. Winelister Gina Brown brought a 2011 Murphy-Goode Merlot from California. Merlot is a thin skinned grape, and because of that thin skin, it would naturally be lower in tannins than say a Cabernet Sauvignon that has a thicker skin. Merlot ripens early, so it tends to avoid any damage caused by an early fall frost. Merlot displays great fruit flavors, such as blackberry, black cherry, plum, and black currant in addition to red fruits such as red cherries and raspberry. However, really good Merlots aren’t all about fruit, they are also balanced out with earth notes, such as oak, tobacco, chocolate, and cedar. The Murphy-Goode was no exception. Earthy notes were one of the first aromas to hit my nose, even before the fruit aromas. When we tasted it, I was even more pleased. Not usually a big fan of Merlot, this wine really impressed me. It had great spice to it, earthy notes to it, and was well rounded out with fruit. Winelister Donna Rutigliano made a flourless chocolate cake to pair with this wine, and was it ever heavenly! OMG!! It brought those chocolate notes of the Merlot right to the forefront. This is a Merlot I would absolutely drink again, and that is saying a lot!

Cabernet Franc: Winelister Stephanie MacGinnis brought our Cabernet Franc, a 2010 Domaine des Chesnaies ‘Lame Delisle Boucard’ Bourgueil Cuvee Prestige, Loire, France (gotta love French wine labels!) Interesting fun fact, Cabernet Franc is actually a “parent” grape to Cabernet Sauvignon, the other “parent” grape being Sauvignon Blanc. Cabernet Franc tends to bud early and therefore ripen early. They are large grapes that have fairly thick skins, but are not overly tannic due to their pulp to skin ratio. Cabernet Franc wines have great balance of acidity and tannins with great fruit and spice. They are spicier than Merlot, but more herbaceous than Cabernet Sauvignon with less tannins. You’ll tend to find notes of blackberries, plums, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and cassis. Earthy and herb notes tends to be mint, green olives, anise, green peppers, nutmeg, leather, oak, cedar, and hints of violets. The California versions of Cabernet Franc tend to have more tannins and less acid than the French versions, so we kept that in mind while tasting this French bottle. On the nose, this was very spicy (black pepper). It was phenomenal on the palate. Only once we tasted it did we finally find notes of violets on the finish. No one could find any mint, but I have to wonder if we paired it with something chocolate mint if that flavor wouldn’t have come right out. What we did pair it with was olive tapenade on crackers, and oh my word, it was heaven! Smoothed it right out and brought those olive flavors to the forefront. Incredibly delicious!

Petite Sirah: Our last varietal in the blend is probably the most powerful of the five, which is why it is so often used as a blending grape to provide heft, tannins, structure, complexity, and length of finish. Winelister Lisa Woods provided a bottle of 2012 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah from California. Petite Sirah is a slow grower and has a problem with rot because of its tightly bunched grape clusters. One can deduce it doesn’t do too well in humid climates, because of this, so it thrives in the drier hillsides of the California Coast. Petite Sirah is bold… bold in flavor, in color, and in tannins. It has a deep, inky color and can be described as chewy in the mouth. It can be aged for quite some time. Common flavor and aroma profiles are black pepper, plum, black cherries, blackberries, coffee, smoke, caramel, anise, cloves, and leather. We absolutely smelled leather the moment we swirled and smelled this. I LOVE leather smell in my red wines. This had an incredible full body to it. We paired it with peppered salami, and wow, was it delish! Petite Sirah is not for the timid wine drinker!

Put it all together! Tanglerose Backyard Red Blend Lot 12A-NC: I provided Traveling Vineyard’s Tanglerose Backyard Red. Our winemaker Francis Sanders didn’t just put these grapes together all willy nilly. He had a plan! Straight from our tasting notes: “While blending this wine we aimed to leverage the best qualities of each varietal, highlighting the dried cranberry, cinnamon and toasted cedar notes from Tempranillo. The Napa Valley Syrah lends unctuous notes of cassis, violets and some spicy black pepper. A bit of Merlot from Sonoma’s Carneros region delivers suppleness and ripe fruity notes with floral and cherry aromas. The Lake County Cabernet Franc lends the wine a note of seriousness with notes of olives and nuts while the addition of Petite Sirah gives the wine necessary heft and tannin.” This blend is a beautiful slightly translucent garnet to brick in color and is a medium+ body. On the nose, you will find red, brown, and black fruits, pepper, spicy ginger, earthy, herbaceous notes,  and a toasty quality. On the palate, you will taste all the flavors you smell and then some. It is an accessible wine, fruit driven yet dry with an earthy quality at the end. This is your go-to BBQ wine! We paired this wine with pulled pork, and WOW! This is also incredible with smoked Gouda, chocolate anything, and all of the pairings we had with our single varietals.
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Want to try Tanglerose Backyard Red for yourself? It will be delivered right to your door! This gem is only $16.99 a bottle! At that price, it’s worth buying a case! You can find it at SKU: CAL962

Pics of our team meeting:


2012 Clio, Jumilla Spain Review

Dennis bought me this beautiful bottle of Spanish wine for Christmas that we’ve been waiting to drink when we can really enjoy it. We figured waiting until March was long enough, as it was just staring at us begging to be tasted! The 2012 Clio is 70% Monastrell (Mourvedre) and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and is produced from the Bodegas El Nido winery. Both of these grapes were harvested from very old grapevines that have low annual yields. Jumilla is in the deep south of Spain.

The 2012 harvest took place quite early in Jumilla due to the climate. There were long periods of drought and above-average temperatures, therefore the grapes had already reached their peak ripeness during the last weeks of August.

Monastrell by nature is a grape that has difficulty picking up oak characteristics. When I read a little about Clio, I noticed that after maceration and fermentation, it was transferred and aged in new French and American oak barrels for 24 months. I can only assume that lengthy time is so these grapes could really soak up the oak characteristics. Once I smelled and tasted this wine, it only confirmed my assumption.

Okay, enough about that… let’s get to the fun part! We hit Widoff’s Bakery on Water Street in Worcester, MA to purchase our chocolate pairings. We got a little bit of everything… German chocolate cake, peanut butter ball, tiramisu,  red velvet cake, a deep chocolate brownie, and a chocolate cupcake. We aerated the wine, and then, showtime!

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This wine is very dark, opaque even, with a garnet rim. Just gorgeous. The body? It has legs for days! It took me forever to actually sip this wine because I was mesmerized by the aromas! The first thing that hit me in the face was pencil shavings/graphite and cedar. Now to those who think this is a weird aroma in a red wine, I assure you, it isn’t. In fact, I just love it. For some reason, I am really good at picking out that graphite/pencil shavings aroma in wines. It dawned on me tonight why, especially when Dennis couldn’t smell that aroma at all and I found it so overwhelming. I’m a fine artist and have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours creating graphite pencil portraits and drawings. I’ve been up to my elbows in pencil shavings! It only makes sense this is an aroma I am very sensitive to. But I digress… So pencil shavings and cedar overwhelmingly, even before any fruit registered on my nose. Then what hit me was almost a butterscotch. I dug deeper and think maybe it was more caramel and toffee notes. There was plenty of deep red and black fruit in there, mostly blackberry.

Finally we sipped… WOW!!!! This wine is very dry and heavy in tannins, but what struck me was the tremendous acidity. Even more, the fruity finish just lingered on and on. This wine is a wine lover’s wine. I think we drank an entire glass before we even thought about pairing it with our chocolate delights!

In the order we tried them, the pairings:
German chocolate cake: OMFG! Seriously, that was our reaction. It was ridiculous.
Red velvet cake: Not as good as the German chocolate cake, but not terrible. This wine needs a deeper chocolate. It did something weird to the cream cheese frosting, too.
Peanut Butter Ball: Wow, this was fantastic. The pb ball was almost mousse-like in texture rolled in chocolate sprinkles.
Tiramisu: This was amazing. This brought the coffee undertones in the wine right to the forefront. We hadn’t even noticed the notes of coffee in the wine until we paired it with this.
Brownie: The brownie smoothed the acidity right out. This was nice, but nothing amazing.
Chocolate Cupcake: Pretty much the same as the brownie, but lighter in texture. It smoothed out the acidity, but it was nothing spectacular.

Pairing conclusion: The German chocolate cake, peanut butter ball, and Tiramisu were home run pairings with real WOW factors.

We are in love with this wine. We will absolutely hunt down some more bottles of this, and really look forward to pairing this with dinner next time, in particular something Spanish!


Oh Malbec, How I Love Thee

My love Dennis and I absolutely LOVE a great Argentinian Malbec. In fact, when we go out for a nice steak, one of us will order a Malbec and the other will order a Cabernet Sauvignon so we can see which we like better and go back and forth. Yes, we’re wine geeks like that. This year as part of his Valentine’s gift, I wanted to get him a couple of really nice bottles of wine, so I went to a local wine shop a couple of miles down the road from me called the Wine Vine on Highland Street in Worcester, MA. Dennis and I just love this shop. The owners Sang and Camille are wonderful… knowledgeable, friendly, just a really nice couple. So I went in asking for a nice Argentinian Malbec, and Sang suggested the Marta’s Vineyard 2008 Reserve Malbec. He explained that this particular wine only comes out with a vintage every 10 years, so of course this 2008 was the latest vintage. Marta’s Vineyard is a family business. They grow the vines, handpick the grapes, and select the very best to go into their wines. Their winemaker then makes the wine under the watch of Marta Lunardi, which is who the business is named after and led by, and then they cellar and bottle it. I was absolutely sold, so I bought a bottle for $32 and went on my way.

We finally opened this bottle the other night, and oh my what a treat! We aerated it through an instant aerator/decanter, and then took a few sips before pairing it with a deep chocolate cake. The first thing I noticed was how smooth it was as far as tannins go, but still had decent acidity to it. The fruit, oh the fruit! Blackberries, plum, even chocolate, you name it! It was heaven. Little did I know, that was just the beginning. Then this came…

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No words! NONE! It was heavenly! The cake brought out all of the chocolate undertones of the wine and completely smoothed out the acidity of the wine. It was like a chocolate/fruit party on the palate! As incredible as this wine was alone, I didn’t want to keep sipping without pairing a little bit of the cake with each sip, that’s how delicious the combination was.

We also paired it with pot roast later on (yes, dessert before dinner… we just couldn’t wait for the chocolate and Malbec pairing!), and although it was also delicious with the pot roast, it was far better with the chocolate cake as a pairing. I imagine it would have been incredible with a nice medium/medium-rare steak. Guess there’s only one way to find out!

I went to the Marta’s Vineyard website in hopes of finding some more detailed information about this particular wine, but I couldn’t find anything at all, so I emailed them in hopes of some more info. Bottom line? It’s amazing, and at $32 a bottle we will certainly be returning to the Wine Vine to purchase another bottle!