Tilbrook Estate Moneypenny Adelaide Hills Sparkling Wine 2010

Origin: , ,

Colour and type: ,
Main Variety:
Contributing varieties:

Tilbrook Estate Moneypenny Adelaide Hills Sparkling Wine 2010

Tilbrook Estate Moneypenny Adelaide Hills Sparkling Wine 2010

Weird week here – the second sparkling wine this week, and two Australian wines back to back.  Not my normal routine, where I do try to mix things up, but this one came out of the blue and it seems like as good a time as any to give it a go.

First off, full disclosure:  I know the owner/winemaker as a friend, and have even done some work for him.  On the one hand, I wouldn’t write anything bad about him or his wine, but on the other hand, I know his wine to be good and therefore I’m not really too worried, despite not having tried this one before.

So Tilbrook Estate, a very small winery in the Adelaide Hills near Lobethal, with James Tilbrook doing almost all the work.  They produce a wide variety of wines, red and white, dry and sweet, and now not only still but also sparkling.  Of particular note, they do a very high quality Reserve Chardonnay as well as a very light and refreshing Botrytis Pinot Gris.

For knowing James, I am approaching this wine in a different manner than I would most wines.  In particular, James is from Suffolk,  England, and while it’s not exactly the deep south of England where some fantastic sparkling wine is being made these days, I’m approaching this sparkler as though it’s an Australian wine trying to be English, as opposed to an Australian wine trying to be from some other part of the Old World.

That said, this wine is made in a very traditional style, somewhat akin to something you might find in France.  The grapes are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which are about as traditional as you can get.  They’re whole bunch pressed, fermented in tank, with the second fermentation in bottle and then disgorged by hand with zero dosage.

Where it’s not traditional in the least is the closure.  This is not the first bottle of Australian sparkling wine I’ve seen under a crown cap, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.  Henschke does a sparkler which is very nice under crown cap as well.  However, it is a funny sight in that my mind immediately thinks it must be a huge bottle of beer.

Right – so having now tasted the wine, it is indeed very nice.  It has a fine colour – slightly less pale than the standard white wine shade and more toward straw.  The bubbles are quite persistent.  The nose is mild, with a little bit of biscuit.  On the palate, there is certainly the green apple advertised on the back label, but also some lemon, and a hint of vanilla.  It’s very well made, particularly as it’s a first vintage, though I believe James has done some work with a sparkling producer in Tasmania.

All in all, a nice drop, with more complexity that I was expecting, and I’m hoping it proves successful enough that we see more of it in the future.

Hugh Hamilton McLaren Vale The Oddball Saperavi 2007

Origin: , ,

Colour and type: ,

Hugh Hamilton McLaren Vale "The Oddball" Saperavi 20007

Hugh Hamilton McLaren Vale "The Oddball" Saperavi 20007

So tonight it’s another interesting varietal, with Saperavi being the star of the show.  The wine in particular is The Oddball 2007 from Hugh Hamilton of McLaren Vale.  First, the winery and region.

Hugh Hamilton traces his family back five generations to the first people to plant grapes in South Australia, which locally is considered back quite a ways.  The winery is interesting for a few reasons.  First, they have a wide range of different wines.  It’s not just red and whites, but rosé, sparkling and fortified wines as well.  That’s not so uncommon in McLaren Vale, but it’s not just the standard varietals, as demonstrated by this wine.

Wax seal on the top of the bottle.

Wax seal on the top of the bottle.

Second, Hugh Hamilton is one of the most heavily branded and merchandised wineries I’ve ever seen.  At some point they decided on sheep and have run with it.  Hugh himself is described as the black sheep of the family, and all of their wines have sheep branding and names.  Visiting their cellar door it, there are far more branded products (and not just hats and t-shirts, but all manner of items) on offer than wines.  The individual products that you can see online are all reasonably tasteful, but it’s all a bit much in the confines of their cellar door.  That said, I like the wax covering the cork with a sheep seal, though I’m afraid my photo doesn’t do it justice.  Very good production values (Hugh Hamilton – not this blog).

So Saperavi – an interesting grape, and not widely planted in most of the world.  It’s origins are in Georgia, the country not the state, and as Georgia claims to be one of the oldest regions of wine production, this grape is potentially quite ancient.  It is typically quite acidic (in a good way) and also very dark in colour.  One of its selling points in the vineyard is its ability to withstand cold weather.  How this has convinced people that Australia would be a good place for it is not at all clear to me, but I’m never one to turn down an interesting grape no matter how unlikely the pairing of it with a terroir might be.

The wine in the glass in front of me is as interesting as one could reasonably expect.  The first thing you notice is the colour – it’s intense right up to the rim.  And even going on five years old, it’s not taken on any hint of brick.  It’s not a really young purple, but it’s certainly holding steady at ruby.

On the palate, there’s certainly the intense berry flavour I was promised, though the body is a solid medium.  There are also some secondary notes starting to come through – I’m getting dark chocolate which is very pleasant and long lasting.  However, what I’m not getting is the searing acidity that I might have expected from my book learning.  It’s not that it’s flabby – it’s just a matter of expectations.  Just a guess, but might it have something to do with being grown in McLaren Vale, which is a fairly warm climate?

In conclusion, this is a very good wine for me.  I love trying new things, especially new varietals.  I have had this wine before, as well as another Australian Saperavi from Domain Day, but I think it’s about time I tracked down one from Georgia to see how they stack up next to their progenitor.  Until then though, I enjoyed this wine as more than just a curiosity, particularly the intensity of flavour and length of the finish.

So on an unrelated note, I’ve started working on getting some maps together with minor success.  Ordinarily I’d say something about not wanting to get too technical because people are here to read about wine, but honestly I think so few people read this that I won’t be getting too many complaints.  So I’m using Google Maps, and it’s interesting.  Project for today was writing up an web page that had three zones on it in different colours.  First problem, not reading the intro section about needing to get an API key.  Next, the Google interface takes coordinates in latitude, longitude pairs, but for some reason the KML files I’ve generated have longitude, latitude, altitude trios.  Final weirdness, it seems polygons can’t have more than 500 coordinates.  Other than that, things are interesting.  I hope to put up a sample wine region map in the next week.  Next step, writing a script that reads in different KML files and gives me a region for each one, so I can keep code and data separate.  After that, figuring out if there is a way to deal with the 500 coordinate limitation.

Villa Jolanda Prosecco

Origin: , ,

Colour and type: ,
Main Variety:
Contributing varieties: , , , ,

Villa Jolanda Prosecco

Villa Jolanda Prosecco

Just a quick update to keep things moving along, with a charming sparkler from Italy. Tonight we opened up a bottle of Villa Jolanda Prosecco, and it absolutely hit the spot.

First, the facts.  I know pretty much nothing about this producer, Santero.  Their website suggests they make a wide range of wines in the north of Italy, but it’s not clear exactly where in their hierarchy this wine sits, in their carved range.  Best I stick with general information about Prosecco.

Prosecco is a white grape, and is typically used in the regions of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia to make sparkling wine.  A somewhat funny thing is happening, or has happened with regard to the name.  Apparently the producers are trying to change the name of the grape to Glera, such that Prosecco will only refer to the wines made within the DOC(G) areas of Italy, and when used anywhere else it must be called Glera.  On the one hand, I can see a region trying to protect its interests, and Prosecco has become a brand on it’s own.  However, I think this is a pretty bogus effort, in that it’s a grape name, and grapes are transportable.  Italy is so difficult with regard to region versus grape name, but this is just silly.  You can protect and maintain, say, Champagne, because it is the name of the region, but trying to protect Chardonnay because it’s one of the grapes used is going too far.

A quick update from months later – I had originally assumed this to be a varietal Prosecco, which means of course I was wrong.  It’s 85% Prosecco, but the remainder is some mix of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Bianchetta, Perera and Verdiso, the last three being native grapes that were unknown to me until I went back to update my data on past posts.

Anyway, Prosecco is generally light and sometimes slightly sweet.  It’s secondary fermentation is done in tank, instead of the traditional method where the secondary fermentation takes place in bottle.  That makes it much cheaper to produce.  This wine is a non-vintage, which usually means it contains grapes from more than one year.  I’m not sure if it is common to blend across vintages with Prosecco in the way that it is with Champagne, but this wine was young and fresh.

Yes, about this wine in the glass – it was just right.  Normally I try to write about the qualities of the wine that one might expect should it be encountered, and so I have to give a few such descriptors.  It was fairly pale, a bit lighter than straw.  It had medium sized bubbles, which persisted through the meal.  The nose was light and fruity, the palate the same.  Not quite delicate, but crisp and light, despite a hint of sweetness.  It was of good, possibly very good quality.

However, this wine was perfect tonight.  It was a hot, muggy day, and for dinner we had sushi.  The wine went well with the fish, was refreshing in the face of the weather, and at under 12% alcohol wasn’t overbearing.  There are times when a wine is great in a vacuum, but this wine was perfect in context.

Pin is the address of the producer, alas some distance away from the origin of this wine in Veneto.

Pittnauer Zweigelt Burgenland 2007

Origin: ,

Colour and type: ,

Pittnauer Zweigelt Burgenland 2007

Pittnauer Zweigelt Burgenland 2007

First, wine.  After failing the certified sommelier exam yesterday (but before I had the failing grade in hand) I had lunch.  Sad, unfortunate, and in some ways avoidable (certainly for the next time I face such an exam), but alas, even if things are going badly it rarely helps to deny oneself food (and drink).  Thinking of the quote attributed alternatively to Napoleon and Churchill, I knew I was in the category of needing it.  It was fine, but I wouldn’t fill a blog with it, let’s just say.  However, the red wine I had by the glass to go with some lovely venison is worth an entry.

I had my first Zweigelt.  I know, everyone remembers their first Zweigelt, and it’s always special, and this was no exception.

What?  What’s a Zweigelt, you ask?  Well it’s only the most  popular dark grape in Austria!  It’s apparently a cross between Blaufränkisch and St-Laurent, though you could be forgiven for not knowing that (and over the past three weeks I certainly have developed an appreciation for forgiveness in the face of not knowing something).  Austria exports no more than a quarter of their wine, and  most of their exports go to their close neighbours, with roughly 70% going to Germany and the next biggest market being Switzerland.  So to find a Zweigelt on a wine list, much less to find one available by the glass, well who could say no?

Anyway, back to Zweigelt itself.  As I mentioned, it’s a dark grape.  It’s relatively low in acidity and in weight, with common flavours being cherries, peppers, and currants.  It was originally crossed in 1922, so it’s a relatively young variety, and while very popular in Austria, has only started to go international with some plantings in Germany, the United Kingdom, and apparently Japan.

So this one in particular from Pittnauer – I just had one of those moments where I am pleased to have been keeping this blog.  My memory isn’t the greatest (so I’m not sure how I managed to pass all the exams in 2010 and 2011) and while there logo on the bottle was familiar, it wasn’t until just now that I realized that I’ve blogged about them before, in particular about their Pittnauer Rosé 2010.  Now their Rosé didn’t do a whole lot for me, but their Zweigelt was just the thing.

It had a very fruity nose, but with hints of chocolate, that went perfectly with my meal.  It wasn’t heavy, maybe a medium minus body, and the alcohol was medium, but the intensity of flavour on the nose and the palate was fantastic.  I really enjoyed this wine, and would rate it very good quality.

Right, meta update, just for kicks.  This is post 53, which isn’t too bad really.  I meant to mention it when I hit post 50, but didn’t realize until I was already on 51.  I have 4 Likes on Facebook, and I’m not related to any of them (as far as I know).  The number of impressions I’m getting on search results are way up, though I started from such a low base it’s pretty insignificant.  And since I’m on the Internet, I’m getting spam – up to 111 posts blocked so far.

Also, it’s apparently still a done thing to tweet “drunk.com”, presumably when you’re drunk.  Not really much to do with me, and if it makes people happy, more power to them.  I only once saw evidence that anyone who tweeted it had read the blog, which made it even funnier.  I almost feel like I should put up a special page just for people who should hit my homepage via Twitter so they get a special message congratulating them on being drunk and telling them to party on.

The trend does mean I’ve been asked to sell the domain more times in the last couple of months than in the past couple of years, but that’s fine.  If I ever can’t afford my next drink, I know I can probably cash this in and get a case or two of something good.

Lastly, the future.  I’m going to keep on blogging, though you may have noticed I’ve dropped the formal WSET style of writing up a tasting note.  If it turns out I failed the tasting part of the exam, it will return.  Also, I’m thinking of trying to work out some study materials for myself to do with wine geography.  I love maps, and I have some good ones from a variety of sourse, including Vinodiversity.  However, they mostly sit around and I only look at them when I’m after something specific, not as a general study aid.

So, I’m thinking it might be worthwhile to make up some maps online, probably using Google Maps/Earth.  In an ideal world, I’d love to make up a game where the name of a wine region would appear and you would have to click on a continent, a country, possibly a state, and then zoom into the region itself.  So if, for instance, if Umpqua Valley came up, you would click North America, then the USA, then Washington, and finally click within a polygon that would be the area of the AVA.

The problem, of course, is getting data for the multitude of wine regions into a map.  While there are fine maps out there, I’m not sure how easy I’d find it to use them as reference for making my own, and with something like Google in particular you can zoom down to street level and I’m certainly not going to have that find a detailed set of data for most regions.  There’s also the rights issue with regard to referencing third party maps – I can’t infringe on anyone else’s copyright, especially as there might be some way to turn a penny or two out of having good online maps of the wine regions of the world.  There would be one further problem, and that’s staying on top of region changes.  The Champagne region has increased in size recently, areas are upgraded from DOC to DOCG with increasing regularity, and the USA adds AVAs all the time.  Keeping the maps up to date would be a job in itself.

But first things first – I’ll start having a look at what’s possible and what’s easy, which is always a good way to start.  Thanks for reading.


Not a certified sommelier

Today I sat the certified sommelier exam with The Court of Master Sommeliers. Of the three parts, I failed two. I didn’t put I the hard yards for the theory and so I have no one to blame but myself. It was more geography than anything else, something which is very different from the WSET. There were no questions about wine style or questions which required any insight – just straight geography, with some matching of grape to region. I also failed on service, which was unsurprising given that I have never professionally poured a glass of wine in my life. Still, I had done some prep work but clearly not enough. Finally I did pass the tasting section. I did better with the white than the red, and the structural analysis was my strong point, but alas you need to pass all three in one go.

So I’m a bit gutted, but not completely surprised. Really disappointed with the service result. I didn’t fail by a huge margin. The theory was a wash, but the service was close. Alas, now it’s done and there are a load of things about which I haven’t even been able to think with exams looming. Tomorrow I sleep in and play games, and then it’s on to the rest of my life.

Pradio Priara Pinot Grigio 2007

Pradio Priara Pinot Grigio 2007

Pradio Priara Pinot Grigio 2007

So hey, it’s a post about a bottle of wine that I’m working my way through which is a bit of a return to form I like to think.  Just to bring everyone up to speed as to who I am, what this blog is, and what one might expect to find here, here is a quick recap.

This blog was started a few months back to document my work in preparing for the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Diploma Unit 3 Exam.  The Diploma is broken down into six parts, five of which are typically covered in the first year and are all relatively bite-sized, and cover things like spirits, fortified wines, sparkling wines, what have you.  Unit 3, however, is Light Wines of the World, which is pretty much everything that’s wine which is neither sparkling nor fortified.  So everything really.

Over the last few months I outlined a study plan, wrote about various bits of the course material I was meant to know, and wrote up official WSET style tasting notes for most of what I drank.  Nearly two weeks ago I finally took the exam.  It was challenging, and I wasn’t particularly well prepared, but it’s done and I will know the result in two or three months.  In the meantime, I have another exam in two days with the Court of Master Sommeliers and if I am able to pass that, I’ll be a Certified Sommelier.

So, since I’m done with my first attempt at the exam, this blog could potentially be done, and then I could write a concluding chapter when the results are known?  And hey, I could sell this domain to one of the many people who seem to have expressed an interest since “drunk.com” started being used as some kind of thing on Twitter.  Not going to happen.

I’ve actually enjoyed writing this blog, and so since I’m likely to be drinking for quite some time, I’m going to continue to write about what I drink so that I have a record of what I was drinking when.  And who knows, some people might find it useful or entertaining.  (Yeah, right.)  But seriously, I’m doing this because I’m enjoying it, and see no reason to stop, even if this has outlived it’s initial charter leading up to the exam.

So anyway, tonight we opened up a bottle of Priara Pinot Grigio 2007 from Pradio.  This wine is from DOC Friuli Grave, which is of course in Italy, in the North East over by the border with Slovenia.  Two weeks ago I could have recited a fair bit about Friuli, but tonight I had to pull out a map, which is a bit embarrassing.  I do remember that the region is dominated by a huge collection of varietal wines, some of which not really well known in the greater wine world.

Pinot Grigio, on the other hand, is one of the few Italian varieties that has been elevated to International status.  Actually I’m not sure that’s completely accurate – it’s Italian, but Pinot Gris is French, and the same grape.  So maybe it’s one of those grapes, like Grenache, which has been International from the get go.  So while I know that there are great Pinot Gris from Alsace, I still think of Pinot Gris/Grigio as Italian/International.

So this wine is not bad, but it’s a bit of a morality tale in terms of cellar management.  I bought this wine three years ago as part of a mixed case after a lovely wine dinner held by a local wine merchant.  It went into the cellar, and then when we moved house, some of it went into storage as the temperature in our new place has some serious fluctuations.  I’m not sure how/when this bottle moved from storage back to the house, but it did so a year or two later than would have been ideal.

I liked wines that have a few years on them.  The Ridge Monte Bello from a few nights ago was fantastic at the 20 year mark.  Even whites I have been known to enjoy after careful cellaring.  My favourite aged varietals are Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and to some extent Riesling.  Semillon and Marsanne can also age very well.  Pinot Grigio though, is not especially well known as a cellaring wine, and there are reasons for that.

This wine was not bad, with some candied pear notes and still a little citrus zest.  However, I’m sure it was much better two or three years ago.  It’s my own fault – I’ve had this wine that whole time, but have not carefully managed my cellar and so things like this wine have peaked and started to fade without being drunk.  So this year I resolve to get a handle on what wines I have so as to not let this happen again.

Theory section

So, I’ve covered the four flights of wines that were served blind during the exam, but I have yet to discuss the questions asked in the theory section of the WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam.  I’ll do so now, almost two weeks after the fact, though it must be said my enthusiasm have waned somewhat.  I guess I’ll just try to ease into it.

First off, my predictions from a few weeks back were not very close to the mark.  I expected the obligatory question to be either Bordeaux or Burgundy.  Right country, wrong regions – it was actually on the topic of Languedoc-Roussillon, with the question being to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of it as a wine producing region.  There was nothing on Germany, but a question each on Italy and France.  Nothing on California, but one on South America.  There was a New Zealand question, but with Australia as well.  There was no grape specific question, though the Italian and Spanish questions certainly required grape knowledge.  Instead of Pinot Noir, there was a bit question about Merlot. And instead of a question about the Rhône, it was a Bordeaux question.

I think most students thought it was a reasonable paper, and I would not disagree with them.  Unfortunately, my heart sank as I realized I could give possibly better than halfway decent answers for the compulsory question and three out of the four required other questions, but one of my answers was going to be weak from the get go.

So here’s the rough text of the exam questions:


Strengths/weaknesses of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region.

Pick four out of six:

Wax poetic about Merlot.

Write about five of these topics as they relate to Australia/New Zealand:  Hawke’s Bay, Grenache, 2011 harvest in Australia, Tasmania, Screw Cap, Pinot Noir

Write about the classification systems in St-Emilion and Cru Bourgeois, and recent developments therein.

Write about five of these topics as they relate to South America:  Carmenère, El  Niño, Coquimbo, Bonarda, Joint Ventures, Brazil

Write about three wines of Piemonte.

Write about the white wines of Rioja, Rudea, and Rías Baixas.

So, I had to take the compulsory question, which was fine.  I don’t actually know that many specific facts about the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region, but I think I had enough to have passed the question.  Essentially it’s something akin to a New World region within an Old World country, meaning it has lots of different grapes, people trying new varieties and techniques, and making lots of wine with the name of the grape variety right on the bottle.  On the other hand, if someone gives you a bottle from Languedoc-Roussillon you really have no idea what to expect.

I went for the Merlot essay, because essay questions are relatively easy.  The point of them is to make a convincing argument, and while I’m not sure I did that, I think I was moving in that direction in terms of how successful it has been as a wine and how it’s great in the vineyard, blah, blah, blah.  Not an amazing piece of work, but not bad I hope.

Australia/New Zealand – how could I resist?  I didn’t write about Tasmania, largely because you risk the wrath of the examiners if you mention sparkling wine and that’s what I know best from Tassie.  All the others were pretty straightforward.  I even name checked some of my favourites in the Pinot Noir section, in particular Barratt Wines, Shaw + Smith, and Ashford Hills.

So, St-Emilion and Cru Bourgeois – skipped it.  I was in St-Emilion in June and really all I remember is that their classification system get re-evaluated periodically, and the last few times they’ve tried to do so, it’s ended up in the courts.  I am not a fan of a grading done in 1855 being pretty much set in stone, but on the other hand having classifications go to court every time one is changed is pretty silly as well.

South America – somewhat iffy.  Carmenère – hero grape of Chile, Bonarda – mystery grape of Argentina, Joint Ventures – would have been more convincing if I had mentioned a few more actual companies, Brazil – big country, makes wine, consumes most domestically, too warm really.  I wrote something down for El  Niño but I don’t think it was worth any points and I’m too embarrassed to look it up.

Finally, Piemonte or Spanish whites – I went with Piemonte but it was an incredibly weak answer.  A shame as well, because I do like a good Nebbiolo once in a while, but really I just didn’t have the knowledge in me.  At least it was the question I did last so perhaps the examiners will think I ran out of time.  Or maybe they’ll just laugh.

I could go through and make an estimate as to how many points I managed to pick up for each question and see if I think I’ll pass, but I’d rather just move on for now and hope for the best.  If I have to retake the exam in June, so be it, but with any luck I’ll be through by the skin of my teeth (which are very thin skinned, a bit like Pinot Noir).

On an unrelated note, I’ve been practicing for the Certified Sommelier exam.  As I mentioned, there is a service component, and I have it on good authority that typically candidates are asked to open a bottle of sparkling wine and serve it to six or eight guests without having to revisit any glasses.  I picked up the cheapest case of bubbles I could find and am about halfway through it doing just that – practicing professional service.  It’s harder than it looks, it must be said.  Still, if I can pick up a pin and a professional certification this week, I’ll be happy.  And it’s nice to have an excuse to brush up on cocktail recipes.


Ridge Monte Bello 1992

Origin: , ,

Colour and type: ,
Main Variety:
Contributing varieties: ,

Ridge Monte Bello 1992

Ridge Monte Bello 1992

I still need to finish the write-up of the exam, now fading fast as a distant memory.  I also want to write a bit about the upcoming CMS exam.  But you know, I recently celebrated my birthday, and had an awesome bottle of wine, and that’s far more interesting than any other topic on the agenda.

So once upon a time I lived near a wine merchant who had a small but perfectly curated shop in London.  His selection was on the high end of things, and while he also had some value wines for everyday drinking, I suspect he remained in business through a small group of regular customers who picked up a dozen cases of their favourite listed Bordeaux every year as well as the odd case of Krug when they were throwing a party.  While there were wines that he highlighted every week from the New World, they came and went, while the bulk of wines on display week in and week out were almost entirely French.

That said, he always had one or two shelves which had some wine from California, and Ridge was commonly seen on it.  I’m not sure exactly when I noticed he had the Monte Bello 1992 in particular, but it would have been roughly ten years ago.  I bought two bottles, and having had one last year, we opened up this one last night.

So I don’t know a whole lot about the wines of California, despite having spent a fair amount of time there in the days before I cared so much about wine.  I can, however, remember my first bottle of Ridge in the days leading up to the millennium at a restaurant in Colorado.  They had a dozen listed on their extensive wine list, and unfortunately it took the sommelier a few tries to bring out the exact bottle I was after.  However, the effort was worth it in the end.

Ridge is something of a legend in the annals California wine.  The Monte Bello vineyard produced its first vintage in 1892 (which makes this bottle the 100th anniversary), but Ridge Vineyards itself was founded in the 1960s by a group out of Stanford University.  Paul Draper was hired in as the winemaker.  From very humble beginnings, he quickly established Ridge Monte Bello as a world class wine, with the 1971 being featured in the Judgement of Paris tasting.

Ridge makes a number of wines, with the Monte Bello being a Cabernet dominated Bordeaux red blend.  I just had a quick look at their site and was surprised at how many other wines they have – I would have listed their Lytton Springs and Geyserville Zinfandels, but they also have ten other Zinfandels and other varietals with which I’m not yet familiar.  While they do some “estate” wines, the emphasis is very much on single vineyard productions, with each expressing as much about that particular property as possible.  I believe the Monte Bello is still their flagship.

So this bottle, as I said, already had a fair amount of age on it when I picked it up almost a decade ago, and I managed to put it away for another decade.  While in theory I wish I had been able to keep it under better conditions, it was subjected to a cross-equator move, spend some time in storage in a less than ideal environment, and undoubtedly was stood upright for a little too long on at least on occasion.  However, it’s brother bottle that was opened last year had shown well, and I retained high hopes for this one even though it took two attempts to get the entire cork out of the neck.  We had it decanted (we BYO’d this to a restaurant) and as you can see from the side of the bottle there was a fair amount of deposit.

The wine itself was still very dark in colour, with a lovely brick rim.  Over the last few months we’ve tasted a fair amount of wine, but I can’t remember the last time I had one that was a full 20 years old.  So while a recent 10 year old Bordeaux had signs of ageing, the colour of it was nowhere near as brick as this Ridge.

On the nose was a wide spectrum of lovely secondary characters.  There was tobacco, spices, chocolate, and even a hint of coffee.  The fruit wasn’t entirely gone – it had turned into a perfume of sorts.  On the palate was much the same – very rich.  It was so different as compared to drinking a wine when it’s released, that I had to stop myself and actually try to refer to the WSET tasting guide.  Nothing about the acidity or tannins made me consider them, but when I concentrated on both I was glad I did.  The acid was actually still very zingy, and the tannins were definitely there.  I didn’t initially notice either because everything was so perfectly balanced.  I don’t know for how long they had been that way, but the tannins were silky and incredibly well integrated.  An absolute joy to drink.

Having a look at the label, this blend is 80% Cabernet (Sauvignon – pet peeve when people don’t use full variety names), 11% Merlot and 9% Petit Verdot.  I can’t say I could pick out the influences of the constituent parts, but they fit together wonderfully.

I wish I had taken a photo of the back label as well, because the note from Paul Draper from 1994 when it was bottled said something along the lines of it’s fine to drink now, but will continue to develop further complexity over the next 20 years.  That’s quite a bold statement for any winemaker to put out there, but in this case he was absolutely right.  It was such a thrill to open up such a bottle and to have it at just the right time.  And it’s certainly a bit of a wake-up call in terms of having a look through my cellar as to what I should be drinking now lest I let something slip past its peak.

Quick note on what’s happening with this blog

So I’m done with my exam, or at least I’m done until I have to retake it (should that be required).  However, rather than just drop it, I have every intention of continuing to write about drinks, mostly wine but certainly other beverages as they cross my palate.  Now that the exam is finished, I will feel less guilty drinking things other than wine.

This week I haven’t actually had much to drink.  After the exam, I did have a drop of single malt whisky, and then over the weekend that followed there was much beer consumed, but this last week has been dry in a mild detox.  However, it must be said that I hate not drinking, and will certainly be back to it shortly, though possibly not until I write up a recap of the theory part of the exam.

One thing worth a mention is that while the big exam is finished, I have another exam next week for which I’m now studying.  The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) is coming to town, and while the qualification they offer is similar to the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, there are areas where they differ.  I passed the Introductory Course with CMS 18 months ago, and will be attempting the Intermediate Course which is the one you need to pass to call yourself a Certified Sommelier.

As you might expect, CMS has an additional emphasis on service which WSET does not. So for the Certification Exam, I’ll have a theory test, a blind tasting test, and a service test, which will be either wine service, sparkling wine service, or decanting.  Sadly, I’ve never been paid to open or decant a bottle of wine, so this is all a bit new to me, but I’ll be giving it a go.  I mean there are videos on YouTube as to how to do it, so it can’t be that hard, right?  Sure.

The theory and blind tasting, however, are largely a subset of the material covered by the WSET, with a few exceptions.  I’ll need to brush off my mixology skills as cocktail knowledge is required.  Likewise, some information as to beer and sake is covered.  But really, pass or fail will come down to me being able to open and pour a bottle of wine while being asked questions by a Master Sommelier (of which I think there are less than 200 in the world).

Anyway, that’s where things stand at the moment – me not drinking, recapping the exam of last week, and getting ready for another one next week.  This time next week I’ll be finished with the exam itself, and will have an hour until I know the results.  Most likely I’ll be enjoying a stiff drink of something.  So wish me luck, and I’ll get back to studying, and practicing.

Exam Tasting recap (part 4)

Flight 4, the last flight, and with it the end of the tasting section of the WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam.  Nearly there.

So flight three was a selection of three red wines, and we were told nothing about them except that they were from areas covered in our studies.  So no wines from say, Madagascar, which as I just Googled it, does in fact produce wine. (Who knew?)

It’s not a week since the exam, and my recall has faded somewhat.  Suffice to say, I could have put down “Madagascar” for each and been just as correct as the answers that I did put down.  Only by looking at the sheet in front of me as to what the wines actually were can I recall in the slightest as to what I was tasting and what I thought they might be.

As I said, they were all red, they were all relatively young, and here’s what I remember:

Wine 10 – cherry and light.  I guessed a Valpolicella, with the grape being Cortese.  Unfortunately, the grape that goes into Valpolicella is actually Corvina, so even if I had correctly guessed the country and region, I flubbed the actual grape.  Bah.

Wine 11 – tart and full of cranberries.  I guessed a Bordeaux, of moderate quality, with Cabernet Sauvignon at its core.

Wine 12 – ripe, juicy red berries, and a bit of fruit sweetness (not residual sugar).  I guessed a Barossa Grenache, which was a bit dumb, in that if they were going to give us a Barossa wine, it would have had to have been a Shiraz.  Still, it was clearly (to me) New World and I thought it was Granache, and so Barossa or McLaren Vale were my best choices.

So how did I do?  Well, not brilliantly.  Wine 10 was not Italian, rather French, a Beaujolais Villages from the best known producer.  Where was the bubble gum and/or banana in my tasting note?  A real shame, as I am a big fan of Gamay, and I failed to pick it.  In my defense, on my De Long’s Wine Grape Varietal Table, Gamay and Corvina both are shown as moderate to high acidity, and on adjacent rows as far as lightweight versus light/welterweight.  And they’re both Old World.  But no, they’re not the same, so I might have picked up a fair few points for the observation part of the note, but alas not quite right with the region or variety.

Wine 11 was a Chinon from the Loire Valley.  Well I was in France, and it’s a type of Cabernet, but really, I wouldn’t even be so bold as to call it a near miss – more the type of shot that would leave an observer uncertain as to my actual target.  They both have moderate to high acidity, but Cabernet Franc produces a much lighter wine than a Cabernet Sauvignon, so a careful observer would not be likely to confuse the two.  Alas, right World, right country even, wrong grape and region.

Wine 12 was a California Zinfandel, not a Barossa Shiraz.  Geographically, this was the furthest afield, on the order of 13,000 km.  Zinfandel and Granache on the chart are on the same row, but Zinfandel is in the high to very high acidity range and Granache is in the low to moderate acidity range.  Still, both very fruit forward, berries and a bit peppery.  OK, I’m kidding myself – no one would mistake the two, but somehow I did.

Anyway, that’s it for the tasting section of the exam.  I really couldn’t say if I passed or failed, but fingers are crossed, and I have a sense that I may have done better on the tasting than I did on the theory, which I will start to describe tomorrow.