Le Nez du Whisky Set for Release

March 26th, 2013 by Sébastien Gavillet

It has been almost 10 years since Wine Aromas Inc. has requested Le Nez du Whisky. So it is with great pleasure that I make this announcement. The long-anticipated, much awaited Le Nez du Whisky is finally, finally, scheduled for release in October 2013!


Le Nez du Whisky was developed by Jean Lenoir in collaboration with Scotch Whisky Masters (Masters of Quaich) Sean MacLean and Martine Nouet. The Le Nez du Whisky is designed to train oneself into recognizing the 54 most commonly found aromas in whisky/whiskey. Like the Le Nez du Vin (Le Nez du Whisky’s counterpart for wine aromas training), this whisky aromas kit comes in a gorgeous case containing 54 Aroma Vials and the 143-page Le Nez du Whisky Instructional Book.

The Instructional Book talks about the olfactory memory; by understanding how your brain processes scents and smells, you will learn how to improve your ability to recognize and identify whisky/whiskey aromas. It discusses how whisky is made and provides information on the world’s whisky regions. In its pages you’ll find a new classification of whisky aromas, an aroma wheel, a detailed list of whiskies/whiskeys classified by aroma, and a description of the origin of whisky/whiskey aromas.

The Le Nez du Whisky is a must-have olfactory memory training tool for whisky/whiskey lovers, just as Le Nez Du Vin and Le Nez du Café are must-have tools for wine and coffee enthusiasts, respectively. As the Le Nez du Whisky Instructional Book will tell you, your ability to recognize scents depends on your scent memory. To put it simply, if your brain has no name for a particular scent (that is to say, if your brain has no memory of a particular scent), then even if your nose smells or “senses” it, you still won’t be able to recognize or identify it.

The Le Nez du Whisky works by telling you the names of the most common whisky/whiskey aromas AND teaching you what these aromas smell like. The detailed aroma-by-whiskies classification (over 1200 whiskies/whiskeys listed) also provides a viable starting point in training yourself to recognize the aromas found in specific whiskies/whiskeys.

Keep practicing with the Le Nez du Whisky and you will be able to embed the most common whisky/whiskey aromas in your olfactory memory. Once you have mastered the Le Nez du Whisky, you’ll see a marked improvement in your ability to recognize whisky aromas in your subsequent whisky tastings.

This is definitely a fun, educational way to master the language of whisky/whiskey – and a most original gift idea for your favorite whisky lover/s. For more information on Le Nez du Whisky or any of the Le Nez collections, please visit

Whisky Tasting Is Memory and Technique

Knowing what aromas to look out for is just one part of the whisky/whiskey tasting experience. The other part is technique.

For example, you probably know that whisky/whiskey has a higher volatility than wine due to its higher ABV (alcohol by volume), so unlike wine aromas some whisky aromas are not so easily perceived. In whisky tasting, therefore, watering down whisky is necessary to decrease its ABV, reduce its volatility and increase its openness or unmask its hidden aromas. But “watering down whisky” is not dumping just any amount of water into your snifter. When tasting whisky, water should be of a certain quality, water added by drops, dilution done gradually, and changes in detectible aromas assessed systematically.

To learn the method and technique of “tasting” whisky/whiskey, I highly recommend reading the book I wrote, “Discovering and Mastering Single Malt Scotch Whisky.” Learn more about this book by visiting


Discovering and Mastering Single Malt Scotch Whisky” will immerse you into the world of Single Malt Scotch Whiskies like never before. More importantly, it contains (among other useful things) a step-by-step guide in tasting whisky. Follow that guide when tasting whiskies and you’ll find more meaning in what you’ve learned from the Le Nez du Whisky.

Order your Le Nez du Whisky now. Visit

A Visit to the Pierre Usseglio Winery

March 23rd, 2012 by Sébastien Gavillet

I recently toured the Rhône wine region in the company of France-based American Sommelier, Kelly McAuliffe. Naturally, my wine tour of the region included a visit to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where I (and company) visited the tasting room of the Fédération des Producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape (FEDCN) to sample some of the wines of the Appellation. After our FEDCN stop, we all headed to Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils for a visit with Thierry Usseglio.

The Pierre Usseglio Estate was founded by Thierry’s grandfather, Francis Usseglio, who in 1931 left Italy for Châteauneuf where he got a job as a vineyard worker. In 1948 he acquired his own vineyard and started producing his own wine.

Francis Usseglio had two sons: Pierre and Raymond. Pierre took over the property from his father, while Raymond went on to establish his own estate (Domaine Raymond Usseglio & Fils). Today, Pierre’s
two sons (Jean-Pierre and Thierry) run Domaine Pierre Usseglio, which encompasses 21 hectares of vineyards divided into 15 different parcels across the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Appellation.

The Usseglio brothers make excellent wines and are, in fact, one of the best Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers today. For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Domaine Pierre Usseglio wines, here are brief tasting notes on a couple of them:

Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée de mon Aïeul

The name of this red wine roughly translates to “Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee of my Ancestor,” which is fitting since this wine is the Usseglio brothers’ tribute to their grandfather’s wine making legacy. A special blend of grapes harvested from carefully selected vines from the winery’s La Crau, les Bédines and/or les Serres plots, this is a Grenache varietal wine (aged 50%  in cement tank, 40% in wooden vats or cuves
and the rest in oak barrels).

The wine is day-bright, ruby to purple in color. It presents aromas of bilberry, raspberry, with hints of spices, herbs and grilled meats. On the palate, the wine has medium plus body. It is elegant, beautifully balanced and velvety with silky, perfectly integrated fruit and wood tannins. This is one wine you’ll find very hard to enjoy in moderation.

Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réserve des Deux Frères 2009

Like the Cuvée de mon Aïeul, this red wine is bright, ruby to purple in color. It presents aromas of bilberry, blackberry, toast, Indian spice, and herbs with hints of licorice, smoke and truffle. On the palate, the wine is full bodied, rich, very intense, and mineral – a wine I very much look forward to revisiting in a decade.


The Complexity of Coffee: Aroma profiling isn’t just for wine

March 04th, 2012 by Sébastien Gavillet

Proper Aroma/Flavor profiling is all too often neglected in Coffee. Coffee Aromas/Flavors are essential to understanding and appreciating coffee. As in wine, coffee gets its aromas or flavors from the soil and the climatic environment in which the coffee plant grows. The coffee variety (genetic) and the method in which the green coffee was processed also contribute to the aromas/flavors.

Like wine, coffee has many variables which can affect its quality. Coffee crops can be harmed by insects, freeze and poor storage conditions during harvest, which may lead to moldy and sour flavors. It can also be contaminated during its processing such as in the depulping and washing of the coffee cherries, and lastly, during the final storage conditions where once again several defects can develop on the beans. These problems are not exactly the same but similar to those which occur during wine production. Coffee has different varieties, as does wine,
which get their characteristics from the soil (terroir). The core aromatic profile of the end product (in the cup) is defined by these characteristics and by the roasters. The coffee blender creates the finishing touch by assembling different roasts. This is very similar to what consulting winemakers do during the wine blending process.

We talk about taste, aromas, flavors, acidity and body in coffee as we do in wine. The main difference between coffee and wine, taste aside, is that coffee is not rated by vintage. Unlike certain wines, roasted coffee does not keep for years. The fresher the roast, the more aromatic the coffee beverage will be. Let it age and you will create unpleasant tastes and aromas; this is especially true for the volatile aromas. The consumer also has an important hand in the outcome of her/his coffee experience as does the wine consumer. In wine, serving temperature, wine glass shape and proper food pairing play an important role in properly enjoying a wine. In coffee this
process is a little different. The important factors are the grinding, blending and brewing process. The grinding size and the water temperature play major roles in the proper extraction of coffee aromas/flavors, as well as the quantity and quality of water used to prepare a good cup of coffee. Ultimately, the coffee drinker puts her/his final touch to the coffee beverage.

In coffee, over 850 volatile aromatic compounds have been cataloged to date. That said, most aromatic descriptions have been simplified or regrouped in terms of flavors and taste. Common flavors found in coffee are fruity, floral, earthy, buttery, caramel, nutty, spicy, smoky, etc. The classification of taste includes acid, bitter, body (thin, watery to thick, heavy). This simplification helps coffee drinkers express their preferences in a basic way. If one wants to gain further knowledge of coffee tasting, then it is imperative to recognize key aromas and flavors in coffee. Especially if you wish to narrow down the country of
origin, variety and profile. One would then be able to differentiate between a Robusta from South East Asia with one from Brazil.

This is something we have been doing for years with wine and which has been available to every wine aficionados for more than 30 years through le nez du vin (Wine Aroma Kits). Using the same methodology, Jean Lenoir, creator of the famous Wine Aroma kits, created two le nez du café (or make scents of coffee) kits.

The first kit is an introduction that includes the 6 most commonly found coffee aromas:

Le Nez du Café Temptation Kit

1) Garden peas 2) Blackcurrant-like 3) Butter
4) Caramel 5) Roasted peanuts 6) Roasted coffee

The second, a more advanced and complete kit, contains the 36 most commonly found coffee aromas:

Le Nez du Café Revelation Kit

01) Earth 02) Potato 03) Garden peas
04) Cucumber 05) Straw 06) Cedar
07) Clove-like 08) Pepper 09) Coriander seeds
10) Vanilla 11) Tea-roses/Redcurrant jelly 12) Coffee blossom
13) Coffee pulp 14) Blackcurrant-like 15) Lemon
17) Apple 18) Butter
19) Honeyed 20) Leather 21) Basmati Rice
22) Toast 23) Malt 24) Maple Syrup
25) Caramel 26) Dark chocolate 27) Roasted almonds
28) Roasted peanuts 29) Roasted hazelnuts 30) Walnuts
31) Cooked beef 32) Smoke 33) Pipe Tobacco
34) Roasted
35) Medicinal 36) Rubber

This unique and extensive collection of aromas will help you train your sense of smell and improve your enjoyment of coffee. The le nez du café (make scents of coffee) kits provide a common vocabulary to describe coffee aromas, taste and flavors because coffee deserves the same attention as wine.

It is no surprise that most coffee roasters and specialists from the world over use le nez du café to train their sense of smell and better understand the aromatics behind coffee.

So if you or someone you
know is passionate about coffee and would like to become a better taster, understand where aromas and flavors originate and how they are associated with the varieties, le nez du café (make scents of coffee) kits are fundamental to the development of your coffee expertise.


February 07th, 2012 by Sébastien Gavillet

My Rhône Valley trip wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Fortunately, it was part of the itinerary set by Kelly McAuliffe, the France-based, American Sommelier who gave us the delightful tour of the Rhône wine region.

A Brief Background on Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a village on the side of a hill overlooking the Rhône Valley and the Rhône River in Southeastern France. It is also a world-renowned Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wine region, which spans the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and three other neighboring villages; namely, Bédarrides, Courthézon and Sorgues.

The name Châteauneuf-du-Pape actually means “The Pope’s New Castle,” which refers to the Papal Château that used to tower over the village. This Papal Castle was built in 1320 by Pope John XXII. At that time, the seat of the Papacy was in Avignon instead of Rome (the period from 1309-1378 is
commonly known as the Avignon Papacy for this reason). Since the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape lies between the villages of Avignon and Orange, it was the ideal site for a Papal summer castle; it was close enough to Avignon to make it easy for the Pope to keep an eye on Papal matters, yet it was far enough from the Papal Palace that the Pope could gain temporary respite from the daily pressure of his office.

Today, only ruins remain of the Papal Château in the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Mercenaries looted the castle when Pope John XXII died. The Protestants of Montbrun destroyed it in 1562, the start of the French Wars of Religion. It suffered further damage during the Germans’ retreat in 1944.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wine Tasting at FEDCN

Kelly organized a visit to the Fédération des Producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape (FEDCN) – the organization of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine producers. The FEDCN is also the place
Robert Parker comes to every year to review many of the wines from the region.

As a matter of fact when we arrived at the FEDCN, we were informed that Robert Parker (or “Bob” as the French calls him) is also in town and has just been to the tasting room for a wine tasting. So we all proceeded to the tasting room with Michel Blanc, the director of FEDCN, who invited us to taste the same wines Robert Parker had sampled earlier. That special treat is definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

As we were finishing up with the tasting, we were greeted by the son of Baron Le Roy. For those of you who do not know, Baron Pierre Le Roy de Boiseaumarié was the man behind the proposal to institute the AOC system in France. He wanted to protect the region from wine producers who claimed to produce Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines even though their estates lay outside Châteauneuf boundaries. In 1933, the French Court of Appeal affirmed Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s production regulations that
set the Appellation’s production guidelines and boundaries.

I had a truly great time sampling wines at the FEDCN. Our tour of Châteauneuf-du-Pape was far from over, however. We had another scheduled stop: a visit to Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils, where we were warmly welcomed by Thierry Usseglio – but that’s a story for another post.


My 2011 Rhone Valley Food Trip

January 20th, 2012 by Sébastien Gavillet

I promised Kelly McAuliffe that I will visit him in Southern Rhône the next time I’m in Europe, so when I went to Europe to participate in the Mondial du Pinot 2011 I decided it was time to make good on my promise.

The only American Sommelier in France, Kelly McAuliffe used to work for none other than world-renowned chef, Alain Ducasse. Now he consults with winemakers, educates novices and professionals alike, and provides private wine tours of the Rhône wine region. He chauffeurs you around, which is great because you don’t have to spit out the wines during tastings. And the best part is, you get what is essentially an exclusive, “backstage” access to top Rhône wineries (many of which received 100 points for their wines from Robert Parker in 2007).

Kelly is hands-down one of the best tasters around, a great story-teller and an excellent educator (and I don’t say such things lightly). So if you want to
get to know the Rhône wine region – and I mean, really get to know the place – look him up (

We stayed on the outskirts of Avignon, in Les Angles where we resided in a beautiful villa that Kelly owns and rents out. It’s very conveniently located; sitting right next to Kelly’s home, it’s just a 5-minute drive from the villa to the heart of Avignon, which makes it so easy to get in and out of town.

Avignon, a historic medieval city, is one of those places you must visit if you ever go to France. The culinary capital of Southern France and the capital of the Black Truffle, this place is ideal for discovering the exquisite delights of southern French cooking.

Speaking of culinary delights, let me tell you about a must-visit restaurant in Avignon.

Restaurant Gérard Alonso

After spending the morning sampling wines with Christophe of
Domaine de la Janasse, we proceeded to Restaurant Gérard Alonso in Sorgues, a few minutes’ drive from the Janasse Estate.

This restaurant is a true treasure. Gerard and his wife run the entire restaurant by themselves. Every dish is prepared to order, yet the timing is perfect and the presentation so impeccable it is hard to believe this is basically a two-“man” show.

The cheese platter is extraordinary with its superb selection of perfectly ripe cheeses. Now, that says a lot about a place! The restaurant has a first-rate wine list with a huge selection of Burgundy, something you don’t often see in Southern France. And the prices – they’re extremely reasonable considering the quality of the food, wine and service.

Restaurant Gérard Alonso is definitely a restaurant you should not miss if you’re ever in Avignon. I’ll go so far as to say that this is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to this year. I agree with Kelly; this restaurant
could easily get a Michelin star if Gerard wants it.

I can spend all day telling you about how incredibly good this restaurant is, but – a picture being worth a thousand words and all that – I figure I’ll let the pictures above do the talking. Again, I urge you to take the time to visit this restaurant. You will not regret it. FYI we paid Euro 29 per person for the lunch menu (wine extra)!


Swiss Fondue and Raclette at Charlie Palmer’s Third Annual Aureole Wine Weekend

August 13th, 2011 by Sébastien Gavillet

It is one thing to make fondue for a few people but making fondue simultaneously for 50 or more people is no easy feat. Nonetheless, it can be done and it has been done. It was just last weekend, in fact, during the Swiss Fondue Party, the 7th and final event of the 2011 Aureole Wine Weekend held at Aureole Las Vegas in Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino last August 5-7, 2011.

The 2011 Aureole Wine Weekend is the third of its kind since 2009. The organizer is Charlie Palmer and the Charlie Palmer Group (owner of top restaurants Charlie Palmer, Charlie Palmer Steak, Dry Creek Kitchen and Aureole).

The Aureole Wine Weekend takes place once a year (on a weekend, of course). It is, to borrow the organizer’s own words, “a wine aficionado’s dream.” Several individual events take place throughout the
weekend, during which time attendees get to sample hundreds of wines. Charlie Palmer’s most loyal gourmands are treated to course after course of heavenly dishes prepared by Aureole’s Executive Chef Vincent Pouessel and impeccably paired with wine by none other than Aureole’s Wine Director, Master Sommelier William Sherer.

What did I get myself into?

Well, this year, William Sherer and Aureole’s GM Kevin Dimond wanted to spice things up. They wanted to try something fun and less formal for the last day of the Wine Weekend, thus the Swiss Fondue Party I was telling you about earlier. They asked me if I wanted to help them organize the said fondue party.

I had concerns, naturally. Again, making fondue for a few people is easy but making fondue for more than
50 people is a lot more challenging. It requires proper execution and impeccable timing.

William Sherer assured me that this would not be a problem. Chef Vincent Pouessel and his staff would be on top of everything. Executive Pastry Chef Megan Romano would be there to assist as well. With such an experienced team behind me, the execution could be nothing but flawless. The opportunity to prepare fondue, Raclette and present Swiss wines at one of the top fine dining restaurants in Las Vegas, moreover, is not something that comes around everyday. How could I refuse, really? So I accepted. But I was still worried, of course.

D-Day: Swiss Cheese, Swiss Wine and Friends

August 7th, the day of the fondue party, finally arrived. The day began with a Bouillabaisse Breakfast, Sunday’s first event and the 6th of the seven Aureole Wine Weekend events. It was nothing
like any breakfast I’ve had before. Aside from the fact that the food was extremely good, it was a breakfast paired with 7 Rieslings. Yes, that’s 7 glasses of Riesling – for breakfast.

After the Bouillabaisse Breakfast, we headed down to the kitchen to start preparations for the Raclette as well as the Cheese and Chocolate Fondue. When I walked into Aureole’s kitchen and saw the army of cooks working so capably and efficiently under Chef Vincent Pouessel’s supervision, my worries eased.

As an aside, Aureole’s kitchen is a sight to behold. It’s almost bigger than my entire house. It’s so big that Chef Vincent Pouessel actually uses a microphone when things get loud in the kitchen. Even Remy, the mouse from Ratatouille, would have been impressed!

Anyway, after my amazement has sufficiently passed, we started our preparations for the fondue party. The cheeses for the Raclette needed to be cleaned
and the wheels cut into halves. The cheeses (Gruyere and Emmenthal) for the fondue needed to be grated, mixed and placed in fondue pots. Wine, garlic, kirsch eau-de-vie, pepper and other fondue ingredients (Chef Walti Wegmann’s recipe) also had to be prepared.

Christophe Tassan (MOF and the Wine Director of Mandalay Bay properties – e.g. Mandalay Bay, THEhotel, Four Seasons and Socialite), William Sherer and I started uncorking the wines to prepare them for service. Each wine had to be sampled to ensure that no faulty wines would be served. It was also the perfect moment to catch up with two close friends who are often so busy we rarely get the chance to get together for a little chat and a glass of wine.

Then it was time for the Swiss Fondue Party. The guests made their way back into Aureole’s dining room and, once they were properly seated, the fondue party officially started. We started the meal with
cold cut meats, and the first flight of wines was served. Chef Vincent Pouessel’s team started making the fondue. The Raclette machines were turned on and the wheel halves were placed in cheese holders. That was my cue to start my presentation about Swiss wines and Switzerland’s recent wine “R”evolution.

1st flight: Dry Swiss White Wines

Wine 1: Domaine E. de Montmollin Fils Neuchâtel 2009 for the Fondue/Raclette

Made from the Chasselas grape, this wine comes from an award-winning winery managed by brothers Pierre and Jean-Michel de Montmollin. The de Montmollin family owns four estates: Auvernier, Areuse, Chauvigny and la Brosse, all of which are on the north bank of Lake Neuchatel.

Tasting notes: This Neuchâtel is refreshing with its fresh lime-tree fragrance, vine blossom aromas, distinct mineral notes, and
citrusy flavor.
Pairing: Like all Chasselas wines from Domaine E. de Montmollin Fils, this Neuchatel is perfect as an aperitif. It’s great with Raclette and fondue (of course) but you should also try it with seafood, cold cuts and cheese.
Varietal: Chasselas
Appellation: Neuchâtel

Wine 2: La Baudelière Yvorne 2008 for the Fondue/Raclette

This Chasselas wine comes from a family-owned winery in Yvorne, which is part of the Chablais wine region in Switzerland’s Canton of Vaud.

Tasting notes: Intense aromas and flavors (but not overwhelmingly so) with distinct mineral notes. This is a very elegant wine. Dry (as expected of a Chasselas) with a delicate finish.
Pairing: This wine is great as a starter drink. Like the Montmollin Neuchâtel, this
Yvorne pairs extremely well with cheese and seafood.
Varietal: Chasselas
Appellation: Yvorne

Wine 3: René Favre & Fils Petite Arvine Chamoson 2007 for the Raclette

This excellent expression of the Petite Arvine grape comes from a family-owned winery based in St. Pierre-de-Clages, Chamoson in the Canton of Valais. The René Favre & Fils winery is currently under the management of brothers Mike and John Favre.

René Favre & Fils specializes in old-vine Petite Arvine wines; in fact, the René Favre & Fils Estate is home to the world’s oldest Petite Arvine vines. Learn more about René Favre & Fils and its wines in one of my winery visit posts, René Favre & Fils – The Princes of Petite Arvine.

Tasting notes: This wine presents fruity, fresh and citrusy (even tart) aromas with floral notes. It is soft and mellow with mineral hints, has great balance and structure and finishes with a slightly salty tang.
Pairing: This can be served as a starter drink or paired with seafood, poultry dishes and veal. Spectacular with aged cheeses.
Varietal: Petite Arvine
Appellation: Chamoson

2nd Flight: Semi Sweet to Sweet Swiss White Wines

Wine 4: Jean-René Germanier Amigne de Vétroz Valais 2008

A superb expression of the Amigne varietal, this award-winning wine comes from a family winery founded in 1886 and based in the village of Vétroz in Switzerland’s Canton of Valais.

Tasting notes: Fresh and fruity on the nose, this wine is lightly tannic (remarkable for a white wine), slightly sweet, polished, and perfectly balanced.
Pairing: This wine is great as an aperitif but is divine with foie gras and sweets (dessert).
Varietal: Amigne
Appellation: Valais

Wine 5: Jean-René Germanier Mitis Amigne de Vétroz Valais 2007 for the Chocolate Fondue and accoutrement prepared by Executive Pastry Chef Megan Romano

A complex and layered expression of the Amigne varietal, this award-winning wine from Jean-René Germanier was aged in oak for 18 months.

Tasting notes: Sweet with hints of honey and candied / ripe fruits. Rich, intense and complex, presenting multiple
layers of flavors that complement and are consistent with its aromas. Great structure and perfectly balanced.
Pairing: An extremely enjoyable dessert wine. Perfect pairing with blue cheeses and fruit-based desserts. Also pairs well with foie gras.
Varietal: Amigne
Appellation: Valais

Wine 6: Provins Valais Maître de Chais Grains de Malice Valais 2008 for the Chocolate Fondue and accoutrement prepared by Executive Pastry Chef Megan Romano

This award-winning late-harvest wine is a blend of Marsanne and Pinot Gris aged in oak for 15 months.

Tasting notes: A subtly layered and complex wine with flavors consistent with its aromas. Balanced and elegant.
Pairing: Pairs extremely well with desserts in
general and blue cheese and foie gras in particular.
Varietal: 90% Marsanne, 10% Pinot Gris
Appellation: Valais

An Open Invitation

The Swiss Fondue Party last August 7th was a great success, thanks to Chef Vincent Pouessel, Pastry Chef Megan Romano and their staff. As William put it, “Fondue has not been this much fun since the 70’s.” As for the wines, well, there was not a drop of wine left over at the end of the event. They were that good!

To anyone out there who considers himself a gourmand: the Aureole Wine Weekend is the food and wine pairing event you should not miss. It is worth so much more than it costs. In fact, it is an absolute bargain! I’m already looking forward to next year’s wine weekend. If I’m in town then, I’ll definitely be attending,
although I’ll be sure to come as one of the guests next time (less stress, even more fun).

Bon Appétit and Cheers!


The Swiss Fondue Party wouldn’t have been the great success it was if it weren’t for the invaluable assistance of Aureole’s Executive Chef Vincent Pouessel, Aureole’s Executive Pastry Chef Megan Romano and every member of Aureole’s highly professional staff. I owe you all a big thank you.

Where you can go for additional information about the Third Aureole Wine Weekend and its participants:

    • The Third Annual Aureole Wine Weekend in Las Vegas Program

    • Aureole
      Las Vegas

    • Aureole Las Vegas Staff

    • Executive Pastry Chef Megan Romano’s website

Where you can go for more information about the Swiss wines listed above, all other Swiss wines, and places in the USA where you can get Swiss wines:

    • Swiss Cellars

    • Swiss Cheese

Mondial du Merlot 2010

February 15th, 2011 by Sébastien Gavillet

Last time, I told you about my trip to Sierre, Valais, Switzerland for the Pinot Noir 2010" href="">2010 Mondial du Pinot Noir. Just recently, I was in Switzerland again. This time, I made the trip to sit in the jury of a smaller but no less prestigious wine competition, the 2010 Mondial du Merlot, which was held from the 12th to 14th of November in Lugano, Ticino, Switzerland.

Mondial du Merlot: A Brief Background

Mondial du Merlot is a wine competition organized by the VINEA Association.

Side Note: The VINEA Association is the current administrative seat of VINOFED (World Federation of Major International Competitions for Wines and Spirits), publisher of the Swiss Wine Guide and organizer of the Swiss Wine Fair, the Grand Prix du Vin Suisse, and the world-famous Mondial du Pinot Noir.


As its name suggests, Mondial du Merlot is a wine competition focused on Merlot wines, both varietals and blended Merlots.

Side Note: Why Merlot? Merlot is one of the most popular red wine grape varieties in the world. While it has recognizable varietal characteristics, a Merlot wine’s qualities still depend greatly on terroir as well as a
producer’s viniculture and winemaking techniques. Mondial du Merlot was established mainly to reward Merlot producers who can create the best possible expressions of the Merlot variety and to provide wine buyers with a reliable Merlot-buying guide.

A Mondial du Merlot award is a guarantee of excellence accepted and recognized worldwide. This competition is one of the 10 members of VINOFED and, as such, no more than 30% of the wine entries can win an award.

Mondial du Merlot’s credibility – specifically the credibility of its jury and its evaluation criteria/procedures and the reliability of its results – cannot be questioned. Mondial du Merlot has the patronage of the Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin (OIV), the Union Internationale des OEnologues (UIOE), the Union
Suisse des OEnologues
(USOE), and the Association Suisse des Sommeliers Professionnels. This is your guarantee that, in Mondial du Melot, the highest possible standards for wine tastings and evaluation are strictly enforced and followed.

The Competition

In this year’s Mondial du Merlot, 300 plus Merlot wines competed. They hailed from the various Merlot production regions of France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Croatia, Greece, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Ururgay, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Australia, and the United States.

There were 3 main categories:

nThere were also 3 main awards:

  • Great Gold Medal, awarded to wines with 94.01 points or greater
  • Gold Medal, awarded to wines with 89.01 to 94 points
  • Silver Medal, awarded to wines with 84.01 to 89 points

For Great Gold Medal and Gold Medal awardees, special prizes were also up for grabs:

  • The VINOFED Prize: For the wine that satisfied most of the judges (that is, the wine’s individual scores from jury members showed the smallest difference)
  • The Banca WIR Prize: For the best Merlot in the competition
  • The Older Vintage Prize: For the wine with the highest number of points in the Older Vintages category
  • The VINEA Prize: For the best assemblage (blend) Merlot
  • The ISICOM prize: For the producer
    that received the greatest number of medals
  • The Univerre Trophy Prize: For the Swiss Merlot varietal wine that received the highest overall score
  • The City of Lugano Prize: For the foreign wine that received the highest overall score
  • The Best Merlot per Country Prize: For the best Merlot of each country

The winning wines were selected by a panel of 25 professionals from different parts of the world. These jury members are seasoned oenologists, wine journalists, professional tasters, sommeliers, and wine buyers.

Housed, Wined, Dined, and Entertained in Style

I can sing only praises for the organizers of the 2010 Mondial du Merlot. VINEA Association is exceptionally organized, as you would expect from
event and competition organizers of their caliber. They were also very hospitable, making me (and the rest of the jury members, I’m sure) feel right at home.

We were housed in the hotel where the competition took place, the Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola. It was very convenient as we didn’t have to travel to the competition venue whenever it’s time to taste wines. More than that, however, the Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola was truly an excellent choice of accommodation. This 5-star resort hotel is set on the shores of Lake Lugano and has its own subtropical private park, so it provides an amazing scenery and a very relaxing atmosphere. The hotel’s service is also impeccable, and we were immediately given whatever we asked for or needed.

The organizers certainly did not neglect our palates. They spoiled us with succulent lunches and dinners that were overwhelming in quantity. We were also served delicious local meals in grottos and
medieval castles.

Of course, we also did some sightseeing. We made a trip to the old city of Belinzona, and we visited the only winery in Lugano designed by the acclaimed architect, Mario Botta. Oenologist and jury member Cristina Monico also gave us a personal tour of her operations.

To the organizers of the Mondial du Merlot, thank you for inviting me to be one of the jury members. I very much enjoyed your wonderful hospitality and, of course, I loved sampling the best Merlot wines that the world has to offer. Your selection standards are truly first-rate. I was very impressed with the overall quality of the wine entries, and I was especially delighted to discover some real gems.

To Merlot wine producers, if you think you produce great Merlot, participate in next year’s
Mondial du Merlot competition. Winning a Mondial du Merlot award is solid proof that you make truly world-class Merlot!


Le Mondial du Pinot Noir 2010

December 23rd, 2010 by Sébastien Gavillet

What would you call spending 3 days in the incredibly beautiful district of Sierre, sampling the best Pinot Noir wines the world has to offer? I’d call it heaven, but the VINEA Association calls it by a more earthly name: Le Mondial du Pinot Noir.

A Brief Background

Le Mondial du Pinot Noir is an international wine competition organized by the VINEA Association.

Side note: The VINEA Association is publisher of the Swiss Wine Guide and organizer of the world-renowned Swiss Wine Fair (held every September) and the Swiss wine competition, Grand Prix du Vin Suisse.
Since 2006, it has managed the administrative side of the World Federation of Major International Competitions for Wines and Spirits (VinoFed). The VINEA Association organizes two prestigious international wine competitions, Le Mondial du Pinot Noir and Le Mondial du Merlot (which it co-organizes with ISICOM SA). Both of these competitions are members of VinoFed and enjoy the patronage of the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) and the Union Internationale des OEnologues (UIOE).

Le Mondial du Pinot Noir is a competition focused on the Pinot Noir variety and other Pinot varieties (Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc). Every year (starting from the very first Le Mondial du Pinot Noir in 1998), winemakers from various Pinot Noir-growing regions worldwide would gather in Sierre to present their best Pinot Noir appellations
for sampling and judging by a panel of highly skilled international tasters.

The competing wines are tasted and judged using an evaluation sheet that combines the OIV form and the UIOE form for international competitions. The competition is organized strictly according to the rigorous standards set by the OIV. A computerized system is used to ensure that the competing wines are evaluated and rated in an orderly and systematic manner. The fairness and credibility of results are guaranteed; the composition of wine-tasting panels and awarding of prizes are in strict compliance to VinoFed’s rules and standards.

Side note: Wondering why Pinot Noir wines deserve special attention? Pinot Noir, with a total surface area of 85,000 hectares worldwide, is a very unique variety. Pinot Noir wines are exceptionally expressive of terroir[/ glossary] and their producers’ vine-growing and [glossary]winemaking techniques. Le Mondial du Pinot Noir, therefore, serves as a venue for wine producers to showcase their terroir and winemaking skills. Those who can produce the best expressions of Pinot Noir are rewarded with the worldwide recognition they deserve. Pinot Noir lovers, on the other hand, leave knowing which Pinot Noir wines they must absolutely try next.

This year, Le Mondial du Pinot Noir was held from the 20th to the 22nd of August at the Chateau du Mercier in Sierre, Valais Switzerland – and I’m glad to have been part of it.

The Wines

A little over 1,100 Pinot wines of different vintages, colors (red, white and rosé) and styles (dry, sweet, still, and sparkling) from 21
countries competed. The wines were grouped into three major categories: the Mondial du Pinot Noir Category, the Pinot Family Category and the Pinot Noir Producers World Champion Category. Le Mondial du Pinot Noir is mainly a Pinot Noir wine competition, but Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc wines have a special place in the Discovery subcategory (under the Pinot Family major category).

At stake were gold medals, silver medals and the various special prizes: the Univerre Trophy prize, the Bourgogne d’Aujourd’hui prize, the Older vintage prize, the VINOFED prize, the Producers of Pinot Noir World Champion Syngenta prize and the Vitisphere for Digital Communication prize.

The jury was composed of 60 experienced wine tasters from Argentina, France, Germany, Italy, Malaysia,
Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States

The Royal Treatment

I was one of the members of the jury, and this was my first time attending a VINEA function as a judge.  Although I’ve heard numerous accounts of how Le Mondial du Pinot Noir is always so superbly organized, the event still exceeded my expectations.

Top marks go to the competition’s organizers. Their excellent planning, outstanding preparation and faultless execution ensured the smooth flow of activities and made the event what it was: a huge success. Their impeccable hospitality, moreover, made for a truly memorable 3 days.

The organizers gave me and the rest of the jury a taste of the region’s history and culture by taking us on a tour of the nearby museums. We visited Fondation Pierre Gianadda and
enjoyed the Nicolas de Staël Exhibition (this temporary exhibition will end on November 21st ). We also made a special trip to Chateau d’Aigle, a 12th century fortress towering over rows and rows of vines and home to The Vine and Wine Museum.

The organizers also treated our palates to the best food and wine the region has to offer. The most memorable are the Chamoson Raclette dinner set amidst the world’s oldest Petite Arvine vineyards (owned by Rene Favre & Fils) and the luncheon at Hotel Le Terminus’ gourmet restaurant, Didier de Courten (rated 2 stars by the MICHELIN Guide and 19 points by Gault Millau).

Le Mondial du Pinot Noir was truly a treat. I enjoyed every minute I spent walking around the beautiful Sierre countryside with its lovely weather, stunning mountain vistas and endless vineyards. I loved sampling the Pinot Noirs and other Pinot varietals,
and I deeply admire the wine producers’ dedication to bringing out the best in these varieties. Most of all, I appreciate the warm hospitality the people of Sierre and the VINEA Association have shown me and my fellow members of the jury.

Pinot producers, do you think you make one of the world’s best Pinots? There’s only one way to find out. Enter your wine(s) in Le Mondial du Pinot Noir! For more information about Le Mondial du Pinot Noir, please visit


Villa Poggio Salvi di Montalcino

August 30th, 2010 by Sébastien Gavillet

After making our way through the scenic countryside of Val D’Orcia in the Tuscany region of Italy, we reached the gates of Montalcino. Nestled on top of a hill, Montalcino offers a superb view of the surrounding region. Instead of entering the gate, however, we veered left and traveled on a dirt road towards the boundary of the Montalcino appellation. A few miles down, we reached our destination: Poggio Salvi di Montalcino, home to the renowned Italian wine producer, Villa Poggio Salvi.

As we made our way through the estate, we could see the vineyards and the lavender bushes that surround the estate’s vineyards. We visited the estate’s cellars, the barrel (vat) room where the wines age for up to 3 years depending on the wine type, and the rest of the estate’s wine production facilities. We also visited the private tasting room, which offered a spectacular view of the estate’s vineyards and the surrounding lavender
fields. The wines we sampled – every one of them – surpassed all of our expectations. Villa Poggio Salvi’s aim is to make traditional Italian wines more approachable to new world markets; hence Villa Poggio Salvi Brunellos tend to open up sooner than traditional Brunellos.

Villa Poggio Salvi: Estates

Villa Poggio Salvi has two estates: Poggio Salvi in Montalcino (the estate we visited) and Casavecchia in Monteriggioni. Both of these estates are ideal for growing wine grapes. The soil is rich in marl, while the breeze blowing from the Tyrrhenian Sea provides great ventilation, helping prevent rot and other vine diseases.

Poggio Salvi di Montalcino: Poggio Salvi is located on a Montalcino hillside facing the Tyrrhenian Sea (Mar Tirreno). This unique location plus its altitude (some 300 to 500 meters above sea level) gives Poggio Salvi its fresh and clean air. This has made Poggio Salvi or “Safe Knoll” a favorite refuge among the
people of the Maremma region in times of plagues and epidemics.

In 1979, Pierluigi Tagliabue bought and started developing Poggio Salvi. Now, this area serves as Villa Poggio Salvi’s headquarters and houses Villa Poggio Salvi’s winemaking facilities. Poggio Salvi is also home to Dr. Luca Belingardi, who is in charge of Villa Poggio Salvi’s day-to-day operations.

Villa Poggio Salvi owns around 23 hectares of vineyards in Montalcino. All of these vineyards are planted with Sangiovese grosso grapes.

Casavecchia: Monteriggioni, like Montalcino, is located on a hillock and lies around 200 meters above sea level. Villa Poggio Salvi’s estate in Monteriggioni spans some 20 hectares of vineyards planted with Sangiovese and Merlot grapes.

Villa Poggio Salvi: Winery and Wines

nVilla Poggio Salvi knows the value of modern technology in wine production. To further improve its productivity and wine quality, Villa Poggio Salvi’s winemaking facilities in Poggio Salvi di Montalcino has been undergoing renovation over the past few years. The side of the hill on which Villa Poggio Salvi di Montalcino lies – even the land on which the Villa stands – has been extensively excavated in the spirit of modernization. Newly built structures now dot the landscape. Old buildings and facilities have also been revamped, restored or improved.

Villa Poggio Salvi makes DOCG, DOC and IGT wines.

DOCG wines

  • Villa Poggio Salvi Brunello di Montalcino (red wine)

Villa Poggio Salvi Brunello di Montalcino is made according to the winemaking rules of the Montalcino DOCG. It has two variants: Villa Poggio Salvi Brunello di Montalcino Annata and Villa Poggio Salvi
Brunello di Montalcino Reserve.

Villa Poggio Salvi Brunello di Montalcino is 100% Sangiovese grosso. To make this wine, Villa Poggio Salvi uses only grapes harvested from its best, southwest-facing Montalcino vineyards. The grapes for the Reserve come from vineyards 300 to 520 meters above sea level. The grapes for the Annata come from vineyards 320 to 480 meters above sea level.

After fermentation, Brunello di Montalcino Reserve undergoes 40 months of aging in Slavonian oak and 6 or more months of aging/refining in bottle. Brunello di Montalcino Annata, on the other hand, undergoes 30 months of aging in Slavonian oak and 6 months or more of aging in bottle.

  • Villa Poggio Santi Caspagnolo Chianti Colli Senesi (red wine)

Villa Poggio Salvi Santi Caspagnolo Chianti Colli Senesi is made using grapes from the Villa Poggio Salvi estate in Monteriggioni. As the name suggests, Caspagnolo is made using grapes from the Colli Senesi (
Siena) sub-area of the Chianti wine region and according to the Chianti DOCG appellation rules. Caspagnolo is 90% Sangiovese grosso and 10% Merlot. Before public release, Caspagnolo is aged briefly in Slavonian oak barrels then refined in bottle for about 3 to 4 months.

DOC wines

  • Villa Poggio Salvi Rosso di Montalcino (red wine)

Villa Poggio Salvi Rosso di Montalcino, made according to Rosso di Montalcino DOC rules, is 100% Sangiovese grosso. This wine undergoes a shorter period of aging than the Brunello DOCG wine. Specifically, it is aged in Slavonian oak for 12 months then aged in bottle for 2 or more months.

  • Villa Poggio Salvi Aurico Moscadello di Montalcino (white wine)

Moscadello di Montalcino is a Montalcino DOC wine that is steeped in history and tradition. Montalcino has been making this
wine since the 16th century. The appellation accepts three Moscadello wine styles: still, sparkling or late harvest.

Villa Poggio Salvi makes the third type. Villa Poggio Salvi Aurico Moscadello di Montalcino is a late-harvest wine. This dessert wine is 100% Moscato bianco (white Muscat). Villa Poggio Salvi lets the grapes dry directly on the vines then, in mid-November, the withered grapes are handpicked then pressed. The must undergoes oak fermentation and the resulting wine is aged in oak for 2 years then aged in bottle for 6 months or longer.

IGT wine

  • Villa Poggio Lavischio Toscana Rossi (red wine)

Villa Poggio Salvi Lavischio Toscana Rossi is 100% Merlot. It is made using grapes harvested from Villa Poggio Salvi’s vineyards in Monteriggioni. It undergoes 3 months of
Slavonian oak aging and 5 months of bottle aging.

Other wines

Apart from the wines listed above, Villa Poggio Salvi also makes the following wines:

  • Brut Rose Spumante: This pink sparkling wine is made using Sangiovese grosso grapes (100%).
  • Vaio: This red wine, made according to the rules of the Morellino di Scansano DOCG appellation, is made using grapes from the village of Scansano. This Morellino varietal wine undergoes 3 to 4 months of bottle aging in Poggio Salvi di Montalcino cellars.
  • Vermentino: This white wine belongs to the Toscana IGT appellation. This Tuscan white wine is made using Vermentino bianco grapes from Scansano. It is aged in stainless steel tanks, after which it undergoes bottle refining for 2 to 3
  • Tosco: This Toscana IGT red wine is 100% Sangiovese grosso, made using grapes from Villa Poggio Salvi’s Monteriggioni vineyards. It is aged in Slavonian oak for 10 months then refined in bottle for 4 months.


Villa Poggio Salvi also makes its own pomace brandy or grappa. When Villa Poggio Salvi makes Brunello di Montalcino, the grape skins that remain after pressing the Brunello grapes are carefully screened. Only the choicest grape skins are used to make grappa; these are distilled at the Nannoni Distillery within 24 hours of pressing.

Villa Poggio Salvi makes two pomace brandy variants: Grappa di Brunello and Grappa di Brunello Reserve. Grappa di Brunello is a young grappa while Grappa di Brunello Reserve is a Grappa Riserva. Grappa di Brunello Reserve is simply
Grappa di Brunello that has undergone 4 years of aging in French oak.

That’s it for now. Next stop: Tenuta Greppo – Biondi Santi.[1] Cheers!

[1] Italian wine producers Villa Poggio Salvi and Biondi Santi have joined forces, creating a formidable entity that would represent to the world the passion of Montalcino winemakers as well as the quality and history of Brunello di Montalcino and other Montalcino wines. Incidentally, the families that run these two great estates are related.

An Afternoon at the Biondi Santi Estate

August 12th, 2010 by Sébastien Gavillet

As I journeyed through Italy, visiting one sumptuous winery after another and meeting winemakers and colleagues I have either worked with or befriended through the years, Luca Belingardi of Poggio Salvi told me he had arranged a very special visit for me.

And what do you know. It was a visit to Tenuta Greppo, the Biondi Santi Estate where I met with none other than the great Dr. Franco Biondi Santi himself. Now 88 years old, Dr. Franco Biondi Santi remains at the helm and still has final say on the Biondi Santi Estate’s wine production. For the benefit of those who don’t know, the Biondi Santi Winery makes superb wines. In fact, the 1955 Biondi Santi Reserve is one of Wine Spectator’s Top 12 Wines of the Century – and it is the only Italian wine on that list.

The Biondi Santi Estate and Cellars

Tenuta Greppo,
nestled in the spectacular hillside of Montalcino, is more than a century old. It (and the rest of Montalcino) is part of Val D’Orcia, which was declared a “World Heritage Site” by UNESCO in 2004.

[Word of advice: If you are ever in Val D’Orcia, beware of the Carabineers or the Italian Police!]

As we walked through the cellars that still echo the sounds made by winemakers past, our translator pointed out four old casks. He said they hold what’s left of Biondi Santi’s famed first vintages. Today, these vintages are still being used to “soulify” Biondi Santi’s 6-month-old wines. I was also shown the Biondi Santi’s valuable wine collection. The oldest vintage on hand is a Reserve 1888.

The Biondi Santi Topping Up and Recorking Ritual

In 1927, Biondi Santi started topping up and recorking estate-owned bottles of famous Biondi Santi Reserve vintages. By replacing the cork and
topping up the wine, Biondi Santi ensures that its wine collection is correctly preserved and will always remain in perfect condition.

In 1990, Biondi Santi started offering its topping-up and recorking service to its clients. Every year in June, Biondi Santi clients can send back their bottles of famous Biondi Santi vintages to Tenuta Greppo. Dr. Franco Biondi Santi opens each bottle and checks the wine it contains for flaws. Any bottle that passes his inspection is topped up with the correct vintage from Biondi Santi’s own collection, corked with a Biondi Santi-branded cork and sealed with a red Biondi Santi-branded hood. It also gets a recorking certificate, proof that the wine is in a perfectly preserved state. On the other hand, any bottle that doesn’t pass his inspection (i.e. found to be flawed due to incorrect storage) is not topped up. It is simply sealed with an unbranded cork (minus the hood) and returned to its owner.

Owners of topped-up bottles are
charged for every mL of wine used to restore the wine content to the correct level and for the time spent by Biondi Santi staff in the topping up and recorking operations.

Tip to Biondi Santi Wine Collectors

In my Biondi Santi visit, I was taught the proper way of enjoying Biondi Santi wines. Apparently, Biondi Santi wines should not be decanted in a traditional decanter. Rather, you should uncork it, pour out a small amount of wine (until the wine level is only up to the shoulders of the bottle) then let it set for 8 hours.