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Somm Scam!


My digital friend Alfonso Cevola posts on his blog, On the Wine Trail in Italy, about how an Italian culinary and wine education school, the Alma Wine Academy, is selling a “Master Sommelier diploma” for 1,044 Euros (about $1,354). This so-called Master Sommelier certification, it need not be added, has nothing to do with the real Court of Master Sommeliers, the U.K.-based organization whose tough examination parameters entitle 129 North Americans to add the prestigious letters M.S. after their name.

The Court issued a statement denying any link to the Alma Wine Academy and said it is “currently seeking through legal channels to clarify the situation.”

Alfonso learned of this through a post on a blog called Just a Good Little Wine, entitled My Master Sommelier Thesis: Josko Gravner’s Ribolla gialla and the orange wines in the U.S. market. In it, the blogger, Cristina Coari, says she is “proud to announce I’ve recently got my Master Sommelier diploma” on the basis of her thesis on “orange wines…whites so defined by the Americans for their amber and orangish color. Today, this type of wines [sic] are produced all over the world, from France to California, from New York State to Australia, from Georgia to of course Italy.” In her thesis, Cristina writes, she studied the market potential for these wines. Unfortunately, her thesis (available on her blog through a link) is in Italian, of which I speak not a word, except Ciao! and various food terms.

At first I thought Cristina’s post was a put-on, but then I Googled “orange wines” and got quite a few hits. Here’s one that calls orange wines “a current favorite of hipster sommeliers.” Here’s another, from Imbibe Magazine, that describes orange wine as “White wine that has been left to get chummy with the grape skins and seeds,” a technique uncommon in the vinification of white wines. Its introduction in New York State, by Red Hook Winery, “kicked off a whole new facet of New York winemaking and inspired other New York producers,” according to the author. And here’s one, from 2009, from our own Jon Bonné, at the S.F. Chronicle, that calls orange wines the “ultimate reactionary drink.” Jon said that 2009 “seems to be their breakout year,” but I don’t think it was. I haven’t come across any orange wines in California, haven’t heard of them, and if there’s any breaking out, it’s failed to come to my attention.

Incidentally, I looked up Josco Gravner (the subject of Cristina’s thesis) in Wine Enthusiast’s database and found a 2008 review by our Italian bureau chief, Monica Larner, of his 2003 Anfora Breg ($120), a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Riesling Italico. She loved its “deep golden color and intense aromas of caramel, butterscotch, mature apricot and chewy caramel,” and gave it 92 points.

Have you heard of orange wines? Are you a somm who serves them? Know any Cali winemakers who make them? Let me know.

  1. Dear Fabio, thanks for that valuable information.

  2. In 1980 I asked s couple of UC Davis professors why white wines were not made like red wines. Historically, this was the way wine was made before technology and taste changed things. The answers were not satisfactory. They basically said that you couldn’t do it and certainly shouldn’t try. My curiosity got the best of me so I took some of what were probably the most expensive grapes in the state at the time, chardonnay from Winery Lake Vineyard and made them like pinot noir. I bottled it and labeled it as Gonzo. The wine was truly orange, had a fair amount of phenolics and, except for appearance, was very red like. A subsequent survey showed that exactly half of the people polled thought that I was a creative genius. The other half said that I was a raving lunatic. I repeated the experiment twice more (once for a grower who was a fan), both times with chardonnay but in both of those cases the wine was more like a rich white wine than a red wine. This year I decided to try it once again but with a grape that already has a little pigment, pinot gris. We made it just like our pinot noir–some whole clusters, open top fermenter, punch downs, etc. It is now in barrel, and despite my calling it orange wine, it is more of a strawberry color. If it makes it to the bottle I will make sure that you get one. At this point in time, it is really fun!

  3. Orange wines are gaining popularity in the SF Bay Area. I’ll have to check out Cristina Coari’s thesis. Nice site! Cheers! I’ll be drinking orange wine for Halloween…

  4. I’ve been writing about orange wines, including several made in California, for over two years now. Steve, where’ve you been?

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