Vintage 2012 – Sorted

Putting Pinot Noir into barrels

Putting Pinot Noir into barrels

Today was the last solid day of work sorting out the 2012 vintage.  I generally define vintage in the winery as the time between when the grapes arrive until where everything is where it should be, meaning grapes are all pressed and gone, and juice or wine is in the proper vessel, depending on which wine is being made.  So as of today, the Chardonnay is all in oak, fermenting away, the Sauvignon Blanc is split between tank and oak doing the same, and the Pinot Noir, having finished its primary fermentation and been pressed, is now getting ready to go through malolactic fermentation in barrel.

And with that, those of us who worked vintage all went out for a beer, because that’s what you do when you spend time making wine.

Anyway, back tomorrow with more wine writing, but for this evening I’m taking a bit of a break.

Domaine la Colombe Petit Clos 2006

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Domaine la Colombe Petit Clos 2006

Domaine la Colombe Petit Clos 2006

Yesterday I thought it interesting to find a familiar grape in an unexpected but familiar place, Sauvignon Blanc in Burgundy.  Today it’s an unfamiliar grape which is completely at home in an unfamiliar place.  It’s Swiss, it’s Chasselas, it’s Domaine la Colombe Petit Clos 2006.

First off, yes they make wine in Switzerland, to the tune of a million HL per year, and they have 15,000 HA under vine.  That puts them at roughly half of Austrian production, or a tenth of Australian production.  However, one could be forgiven for not having tried many Swiss wines, as Switzerland is not a huge exporter.  That is, they drink on the order of 98% of what they produce, and the bulk of the few exports go to Germany.  Also, Swiss wine is expensive.  There’s not a ton of land on which you can grow grapes, and land in Switzerland is not cheap, nor is labour.  So if you want to taste Swiss wine, you generally need to go to Switzerland, and you need to bring some serious cash.  That said, this is the second time I’ve tried this wine in Australia, so some does get out, and while it wasn’t cheap, it didn’t completely break the bank.

Switzerland in general is a continental climate, and though its latitude is well suited to vines, the altitude is a serious consideration.  Most wine is produced in the western part of the country, and vineyards can be at heights of a kilometer. Vines tend to be planted on southern-facing slopes, and ripening is typically not a problem, though chaptalization is permitted, as is irrigation.

The majority of wine produced within Switzerland is either Pinot Noir or Chasselas, with the former having just edged the latter out of the top spot over the past few years.  Gamay, Merlot and Müller-Thurgau round out the top five varietals planted.  Dôle is a Swiss wine made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, and there are a few less commonly grown varietals that are largely unique to Switzerland, such as Gamaret, Garanoir, Petit Arvine, Humagne Rouge, Cornalin, and Diolinoir.

Chasselas is certainly worth a bit more detail.  At one point not so long ago, it comprised the bulk of overall plantings in Switzerland, before being surpassed by Pinot Noir.  It is a white grape, also known as Fendant in the Valais canton and Perlan in Mandement.  It’s a vigorous vine, and the medium sized, thin-skinned berries ripen early.  The fruit itself is sought-after as table grapes in many places

One of the most interesting things about Chasselas though is how it is perceived as a wine grape in different parts of the world.  It is very widely planted geographically, both throughout Europe, North Africa and throughout the New World, though not in any great concentration outside of Switzerland.  However, nowhere is it so highly regarded.  It’s found in the Loire where it is used in relatively low quality wine.  It is on its way our of Alsace where it is unloved for a lack of acidity.  However, it is seen as having some value in Savoie, likely due to its proximity to Switzerland, where it lives up to its potential.

Domaine le Colombe is a producer based in Féchy, a village in the hills of the Côte Vaudoise north of Lake Geneva.  Founded as a vineyard by Jules Paccot, the winery and brand was established by his son Roger Paccot, and is now in turn run by his son, Raymond whose name graces this bottle.  They produce three ranges of wines – a set of varietals they call Wines of Expression, a set of reserve wines, and a set of wines from select vineyards either as varietal Chasselas or blends.  This wine is of the last category, coming off the Le Petit Clos, Mont-Sur-Rolle AOC vineyard, located at 500 meters altitude with old vines on clay soil.

In the glass, this wine was medium minus lemon green.  On the nose there was green apple, but some bruised apple as well, and a developing character of medium minus intensity.  The palate was dry, with medium acidity, medium plus body, medium alcohol, medium minus length, medium flavour intensity.  I tasted red apple, white pepper, sweet spice, and pear drop, with a bacon finish, and who doesn’t like bacon?  The texture was slightly oily.  If I had been served this blind, I most likely would have guessed Pinot Gris, or possibly Chenin Blanc.

This is a good quality wine – obviously very well made and balanced, with a nice texture.  It’s a real shame Swiss wines are so thin on the ground here, though I will make a point of trying them any time they appear.

Heemskerk Abel’s Tempest Chardonnay 2010

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Heemskerk Abel's Tempest Chardonnay 2010

Heemskerk Abel's Tempest Chardonnay 2010

I am not feeling the love from Tasmania.  I’m sure it’s my fault – I spend most of my time in South Australia, and while I’ve been to almost all the other state capitals, I have not yet been to Hobart.  But despite having written about a wine from the Freycinet Coast, I’ve had only a half dozen visitors from Tasmania to date.  I guess that’s an improvement, as I had none prior to that post, and to be fair, I didn’t exactly rave about that wine.  Also, I wrote a pretty complimentary review of a Georgian wine and I’ve had exactly one person from Georgia take notice.  However, I’m hoping for a breakthrough because I did enjoy this Heemskerk Abel’s Tempest Chardonnay 2010.

Heemskerk is, to my ears, an unusual sounding name, but that’s only because I can’t speak Dutch, in which it means something along the lines of “home church”.  It’s the name of a town in the Netherlands, and also the name of a Dutch explorer and admiral.  However, the name of the producer is based on those origins only indirectly, because it is more immediately named after a Dutch ship which was under the command of Abel Tasman on the voyage which took him around the southern coast of Australia in 1642.  His name graces Tasmania itself, the sea between Australia and New Zealand, and a wide variety of other features, geographical and man made, thoughout Australia and New Zealand.  (Tasman himself named the island Van Diemen’s Land after the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies but history shows it didn’t stick.)  The name of this Chardonnay refers to the storm that faced Tasman when he first attempted to land there.

Heemskerk, the wine producer, is a brand within the Treasury Wine Estates stable, which is worth a mention on its own.  I’m going to try very hard to get the order of this right, but the ups and downs of the Australian drinks industry are sometimes difficult to follow.  (I’m sure a lawyer will be in touch if I get anything particularly wrong.)  Once upon a time there was a brewing company known as Fosters, which I remember from before I could drink for importing their beer into the USA in cans that were of a similar size to motor oil cans, 25.4 ounces.  (That is how much fluid is in a typical bottle of wine, or more than twice what is a normal can of beer in the USA.)  In the mid 1990s Fosters began to develop a portfolio of wine companies, eventually acquiring a large Australian wine company, Southcorp.  Alas, it was not a happy union, and a year ago all the wine operations were split into their own company, Treasury Wine Estates.  It has a huge collection of brands (54 according to their website) across Australia, New Zealand, the Americas and a couple in Europe, with some of the more famous being Penfolds, Wolf Blass, and Wynns Coonawarra Estate.

So, I’ve done the boat and Treasury – it’s probably time to actually tell you about Heemskerk, and as it turns out, Abel’s Tempest.  According to their website, Heemskerk was founded by Graham Wiltshire who first planted vines in 1965 and then spent two decades making Chardonnay.  There’s a bit of a blank spot as to what happened between 1985 and the present day, though presumably being bought up by Fosters and expanding the range to include Riesling, Pinot Noir and a traditional Chardonnay / Pinot Noir sparkler feature in that bit of the story.  Flash forward to right now, and they have something of a rockstar winemaker and native Tasmanian Anna Pooley, who was The Wine Society’s 10th Annual Young Winemaker of the Year 2010.  In terms of branding, Heemskerk is making the most of the Tasmanian qualities of cool climate, purity of nature / fruit, and with that a winemaking style of minimal intervention.

I’m not sure if Abel’s Tempest deserves its own paragraph, in that it’s made by Anna Pooley and features the Heemskerk name on the label.  The Treasure Wine Estates treats it as its own brand, but to me it looks like a slightly less expensive version of Heemskerk, in that this Abel’s Tempest Chardonnay features less new oak, uses some large casks/barrels and doesn’t cite a specific region within Tasmania, whereas the Heemskerk Chardonnay uses just barriques, with a higher percentage of them being new, and sources all its fruit from the Coal River Valley.  Oh, and the Heemskerk Chardonnay costs a fair whack more.  Abel’s Tempest also produce a Traminer, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Noir, and a Pinot Noir / Chardonnay sparkler under this label.

Also, as a completely arbitrary and subjective indicator of quality, there is a bottle of the Heemskerk sparkler in my fridge that was brought to a party at my house by a Master of Wine who helped tutor me through the Diploma.  If it’s a wine he’s happy to bring to a party, it’s a wine I’ll be happy to drink.

In the glass this wine had a pale lemon colour.  On the nose it was of slightly less than average intensity, but had a developing character with notes of honeycomb, blossom, and sandalwood.  On the palate it was of medium intensity, with more complexity and fruit than the nose – I got lemon and green apple, as well as some almond and white pepper.  It had medium plus acidity, alcohol, body and length, with an apple and pepper finish.  Most of all, it was unmistakably a Chardonnay.  Varietal typicity for the win.

I really liked this wine.  It has something of a full style, but I enjoy that.  While no one would confuse it with a steely Chablis, it was true to its cool climate origins.  I also like a bit more oak (provided it’s good oak) in my Chardonnays, so I’ll have to give their higher end version a try, because if it’s a significant step up from this I’m sure it will be a treat.

Funnily enough, I was having a difficult time finding a Heemskerk address but there’s one on the Abel’s Tempest site.  However, when I had a look, it’s at the Cascade Brewery, which is owned by Fosters, so I’m not sure if that’s up to date.  In any case, it’s another pin in Tasmania, so I hope I won’t get put back on the plane when I land there for a visit later this year.

Goisot Saint-Bris 2007

Goisot Saint-Bris 2007

Goisot Saint-Bris 2007

Sometimes I write up wines because the grape, region or producer particularly interests me.  In this case though, it’s a wine that is made to mess with people who think they know about wine.  The wine for today is a classic Sauvignon Blanc from Burgundy, the Goisot Saint-Bris 2007.

Now if you know little or nothing about wine, the words Sauvignon Blanc and Burgundy might all seem fine in a sentence because one is a grape, one is a region, and what’s not to like.  However, when you know slightly more than a little, you’ll believe that white Burgundy means Chardonnay.  Then, just when you think you know what you’re talking about you’ll be able to meaningfully drop Aligoté as a charming, lesser known, Burgundian white grape.  It’s at that point someone will pour you a glass of Saint-Bris, tell you only it’s from Burgundy, and watch you try to decide if it’s Chardonnay or Aligoté.

Honestly though, I love that there is always something to learn about wine – there’s always some obscure region that is worth exploring or a new producer doing something interesting that’s worth trying.  And along the same line, there’s no point in thinking you know very much about wine, because there’s no shortage of things that are unknown, new, or both.

But really, there isn’t much that’s unusual about this wine except to people who think they know more than they do.  Saint-Bris is a region of Burgundy just south of Chablis, which puts it closer to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé than to Côte des Beaune.  So really, instead of asking why Sauvignon Blanc is planted in Saint-Bris, one could just as readily ask why Chardonnay is planted in Chablis?  Fortunately, that’s not actually a question I want to try to answer here, because I’m actually quite fond of Chablis as it is, and as this is my first Saint-Bris Sauvignon Blanc, I’m liking it even before my first sip.

To actually address Saint-Bris as more than a curiosity, it is a proper AOC, since 2001 that is, for white wine within Burgundy, best known as the only Sauvignon Blanc AOC, though Sauvignon Gris is also permitted even if rarely present.  Before the formalization of the AOC system, it was sometimes sold as Chablis, and pre-phylloxera it hosted another white grape, Roublot, though it was largely replanted with Sauvignon Blanc.  The climate is cool continental with frost an annual danger, and the soil is not so different from its northern neighbour, Chablis, with clay and limestone.

Sauvignon Blanc is generally worth a few pages, and this is actually the first varietal I’ve had since I started this blog, but I can’t bring myself to first write it as a grape in the context of Saint-Bris when there are so many other regions more readily identified with the grape.  I will instead put the discussion of Sauvignon Blanc as a grape on hold until I have a Sancerre or a Marlborough offering in hand, and as the summer is fading here, it will need to be sooner rather than later.

Domain Goisot is a family with over six centuries of history Saint-Bris, which has itself been home to vines for nearly 2,000 years.  They’re located in Saint-Bris itself, though they produce wines of a few local appellations, including other Sauvignon Blancs and a Pinot Noir.

The first thing I noticed about this wine in the glass is that it was slightly oxidized.  It was a medium minus gold colour, with a quick film upon swirling.  On the nose was bruised apple, almond, lemon/lime, and a vegetal aroma like a freshly cut open squash or pumpkin.  On the palate there was high tart acidity, with notes of lemon, mineral, and more of the vegetal flavour.  It had a medium plus length, a medium minus body, a medium plus intensity, and a medium length with a tinned asparagus finish.

I bought this wine as a bin end, and while I’ve certainly enjoyed learning about the region and producer, I had some concern this bottle was not in ideal condition.  Being five years old and a varietal not typically known for having huge ageing potential, I knew I was taking a chance, and when it showed notes suggesting it was oxidized, I initially thought it was past its prime, but having looked more closely at the Goisot website, I’m not so sure.

I’m honestly not sure I would have guessed Sauvignon Blanc had I been poured this blind, though the vegetal character, especially the asparagus should have given that away.  I’ve read that Saint-Bris produces Sauvignon Blanc but with Chablis technical treatment.  I’m not actually sure I know what that means, but given that this one has gone through malolactic fermentation, and has spent time on lees, it could mean that there’s a fair amount of winemaking employed on it.    And with that in mind, I’m calling this a good wine, though one I would like to try again in a younger form (the wine, not me).

Having skipped key parts of what I try to keep as my standard post format, I’m feeling slightly guilty that the whose raison d’être of this post is to point out that there’s an appellation in Burgundy based around Sauvignon Blanc.  While that was incredibly novel to me when I first found that out (a few days ago), it’s not a great insight – it’s a bit of trivia you either know or you don’t.  I do enjoy such tidbits, but in the future I’ll try to keep them as asides or footnotes instead of devoting an entire post to one.

Tiberio Pecorino Colline Pescaresi IGT 2009

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Tiberio Pecorino Colline Pescaresi IGT 2009

Tiberio Pecorino Colline Pescaresi IGT 2009

I swung by Bottega Rotolo the other day looking for some cool black salt they sell and decided to have a look through their wine selection in case there was something interesting.  I walked out with a mixed half-case, and while I won’t write about them all, I’m certainly going to go into some detail about at least a few over the coming weeks.

Today is something that’s rare, even in its home country of Italy, the Tiberio Pecorino Colline Pescaresi IGT 2009.  As is often the case in this blog, the name of the wine really needs to be unpacked a bit to have a better understanding of what we have here.  Tiberio is the producer, Pecorino is the grape, and Colline Pescaresi is the region.  Not one of these names was familiar to me before I found this bottle, though Italy is diverse enough that sometimes there are aspects of it that are unfamiliar even to the experts.  Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator had a similar level of unfamiliarity when presented with this wine a couple of years ago, as detailed here, and he’s what I would regard as very much an expert.

(Funnily enough, some other blogger really didn’t like the article, and seemed to think Kramer was unhappy with unfamiliar regions, varieties and producers – exactly the opposite as to how I read the original article, as I thought Kramer was celebrating them and drawing attention to them.  As for me, I hope my regular readers will know that I take great pleasure in trying new varietals and learning about new regions and producers.)

Italy though I find particularly challenging, and I mean that in a good way.  If you take a map of France and colour in the wine regions, you have a relatively manageable collection of blobs, typically discretely set apart from one another into clumpings, with areas not under vine between them.  So while the Loire Valley is quite extensive as far as subregions pushed together, in order to get from there to Chablis to the east or south toward Bordeaux (or even Cognac), you have an area in between which is not a wine region.  On the other hand, in Italy it is possible to go from the heel of the boot to Turin in the north, covering over 1000km, without leaving wine country.  Granted, it’s not a straight line, and the mountainous spine of the country does not feature vines very often, but still, a wine map of France is a collection of different regions, while a wine map of Italy is a map of Italy.

What drew me to this bottle is the grape, Pecorino.  When I said it was unfamiliar, I wasn’t quite truthful.  Pecorino is a word I know, but it’s unfamiliar as a wine grape, but rather better known as a type of Italian cheese, coming from the root pecora which is “sheep” in Italian but “cattle” in Latin (according to Google Translate).  So what is this grape, and why is it named after cheese or livestock?

The facts online are somewhat sparse, but what’s worse somewhat contradictory.  The grape itself is white, early ripening, with thin skins, medium sized bunches and mid density of grapes on the bunches.  It typically produces medium to full bodied wine, with medium acidity, and while it is secondary to the fruit, minerality is a widely mentioned tasting note.  It’s presently grown in the center of Italy, primarily in Marche and Abruzzo on the east coast, Umbria in the center and Lazio on the west coast.

It’s widely agreed that Pecorino is an Italian grape with a long history, but and that it’s been recently rediscovered in Marche after having fallen out of commercial production.  What’s not clear though is why it fell out of production.  One source cites low productivity, while other sources describe the variety as giving moderate to good yields.  Another source says that the wines were considered too astringent.  Whatever the reason for it falling out of fashion, I’m glad that it’s back, and not just in the “diversity is good” sense, but more in the “I like this grape” sense.  As to why it’s named after a cheese or livestock, your guess is as good as mine.

While there is an appellation for the grape called Offida Pecorino in Marche, this wine in particular is Colline Pescaresi IGT in Abruzzo, the next area to the south.  Colline means hills, and Pescara is a town along the coast, so while I can’t find many details, I am guessing the region is in the hills of the surrounding area.  Vines intermingle with olive trees, oak groves and of course, sheep farms.  The soil is largely red clay, with some grey and bits of limestone here and there.  The climate is classic Mediterranean, with moderating influences from the Adriatic Sea.

The Tiberios are a family with a long tradition in the wine and grape growing trade, though working for others until the present generation’s Riccardo Tiberio planted 31 HA of native varieties in 2000.  Working with the University of Bologna, and oenologist Dr Riccardo Cotarella, they aim to bring back and improve local varieties that have all but disappeared.  They produce six wines, a Chardonnay / Sauvignon (Blanc?) blend, two Montepulciano D’Abruzzo reds, a Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Rosato, a Trebbiano D’Abruzzo, and this Pecorino.  Their vineyards are at approximately 300m altitude on average, and their winemaking seems much more modern than traditional.  This wine in particular was grown on limestone, fermented in steel, and bottled without malolactic fermentation.

(I did first stumble across another Tiberio that produces wine in Italy, but they seem to be a relatively small producer in Tuscany, they don’t list a Pecorino, and their labels look nothing like this bottle, so I kept searching.)

In the glass, this wine is medium lemon green – a bit darker than your standard white wine.  There was a veritable diamond mine of crystals at the bottom of the glass on the final pour, so I’m guessing this wine was not cold stabilized.  The nose was fairly intense with aromas of lemon and toast – a very savoury nose, with some development.  On the palate I found more lemon, lanolin, lime, and grapeseed oil, with a waxy finish.  It was dry, with a rich texture and full bodied, with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, medium minus length.

I really liked this wine – it had the good qualities of a rich Chardonnay or possibly a white Rhône blend.  While it wasn’t hugely complex, it had excellent texture and mouth feel, and the flavour profile was lovely even if not overly complicated.  I can’t find any examples of wine made from this grape outside of Italy, but I do hope that changes as I think it certainly can make a good drop and may have potential in other parts of the world.

Krug 1998

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Krug 1998 (and caviar)

Krug 1998 (and caviar)

I’m not sure if I mentioned this or not, but I passed my exam.  Really.  I think I may need to start each post with that reminder for the next year or two, because it’s going to take that long to sink in.  And as with a few other excellent episodes in my life, I celebrated with a very nice bottle.  In this case, Krug 1998.

There are a few points in my life I can tell you exactly what I was drinking.  I remember my first taste of Port Ellen, my favourite single malt whisky, back in 1996.  I proposed over a bottle of Sassicaia, and then celebrated my engagement the following night with a bottle of Cristal and an Esk Valley The Terraces.  For studies though, it’s been Krug, with a bottle when I was accepted into graduate school, another when I had completed my Masters, and now one to go with the WSET Diploma.

This is actually something of a difficult post because Krug is so iconic.  However, lest I be accused of posting exclusively to draw attention to the fact that I’m drinking Krug, I suppose I should stick to the format.  First off, the basics.  Krug is Champagne, and indeed it’s been said that Krug is the finest of all Champagnes.  Unpacking that a bit, it’s a sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France, under a certain set of rules regarding grape varieties, vine density, yields, winemaking, maturation, and release.

Actually, I can’t be asked to talk about the region, the grapes, and the winemaking because if you don’t already know all about that, I’m not going to be able to convey what a special bottle this is.  Instead I’ll talk a little about Krug, the 1998 vintage in Champagne, and what was inside this bottle.

Krug is of course a Champagne house, based in Reims, established in 1843, and now part of Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH).  It’s a négociant-manipulateur (NM) meaning that like most larger houses, they make their wine from grapes not exclusively from their own vineyards.  They produce two non-vintage wines, vintage bottlings in particularly good years, and two single vineyard vintage wines.  Their house style is based on fermentation in barrel, extended time on lees, but no malolactic fermentation, so there’s oak, nuttiness, but more zing in the acid than cream.

The 1998 vintage in Champagne is at present well respected, though apparently had something of a slow start with limited expectations that have been exceeded with the passage of time.  Krug beautifully supplies notes with their vintage Champagne that detail the vintage, and they describe 1998 as uncertain in August with alternating heat and rain, but perfect by harvest and yielding “particularly fine quality wines”.  The notes on Berry Bros. & Rudd suggest not everyone was so certain at the time but that the consensus now is that it is a vintage from which the wines continue to improve.  Speaking of which, I just had a quick look at the BBR listing of maturity of the eleven 1998 Champagnes that they stock and only one is listed as “For laying down” – Krug.  So yes, of the many 1998 Champagnes available, I picked the one that might have been better with a few more years.  To be honest though, they’re almost certainly right – while I’m a Diploma graduate, they in fact seem to employ the majority of MWs, including Simon Field as a Champagne buyer.

I will put in a small word about the grapes themselves so I don’t completely lose my form.  As everyone knows, the main grapes of Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and as far fewer people know there are actually a good handful of others permitted such as Petit Meslier, Arbanne, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.  Of the three main grapes though, Pinot Meunier is the least noble (whatever that means) and is generally less prominent in the literature of Champagne to the point of many houses making no mention of it as a component of their wines.  I can’t find any sources to back this up, but I was told that for the longest time many houses denied that they were using any Pinot Meunier at all until someone with Krug spoke up and said that Pinot Meunier was an important component of their blend and that they absolutely relied on it, at which point others were less hesitant to admit that they likewise were making great use of it.

In the glass this wine was clear and bright with a pale gold colour.  The bubbles were amazing – not the restrained fine bead that is typical but more a tornado in the glass.  Small bubbles but with an intense energy, particularly immediately after being poured.  The nose was of slightly burnt toast, of sesame seeds that are just about to go from being slightly off white to black.  (I have a hard time toasting sesame seeds – really, the do seem to instantly transition.)  There was something else on the nose – almost maple syrup.  The nose as a whole had a medium plus intensity, and was very developed.  The palate was dry, with high acidity.  The body was a medium, which in the context of sparkling wines is fairly heavy.  The alcohol was medium minus and came in at ABV 12% on the label.  I picked up lemon, lime and bitters on the palate with a bit of sea shell.  It was very fresh and crisp.

This was a beautiful wine, and the perfect way to celebrate graduating with the Diploma.

Thoughts regarding the WSET Diploma

WSET Course Materials - First Day, February 2010

WSET Course Materials - First Day, February 2010

For those of you new to this blog, I started it in November six months before I was to take the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Diploma Exam for Unit 3, just as a study aid and a way of keeping myself focused on the task at hand.  Here is what the WSET website says about the course as a whole:

The Diploma is a specialist qualification where detailed knowledge is combined with commercial factors and a thorough system for the professional evaluation of wines and spirits.

[...]

Who it is aimed at:
People employed in the wines and spirits industry required to make managerial decisions, interpret information and have a thorough understanding of market trends and requirements.

The course is divided into six Units, with five of them taking up one year, covering topics from viticulture and winemaking through the industry, fortified wine, sparkling wine and spirits.  The remaining unit, Unit 3, takes the second year, and essentially wines of the world, excluding those covered in the other sections.  Having passed all the section in the first year, I sat the Unit 3 exam in January with some trepidation.  And as I posted yesterday, the results arrived and I passed.

First off, I’m incredibly relieved.  I won’t have to retake the exam in June, but more importantly, I won’t have to put three months of intense study in between now and June.  Also, I can just put a tick in the Diploma box and that’s all there is to it.  There’s a great sense of completion.  Also, I hadn’t really appreciated that I was starting to get very anxious about the result.  Immediately after the exam, I certainly had my doubts if I had managed to scrape by on the theory section, but somehow that was submerged for almost all of the last eight weeks until I had an email saying I should phone up for the results.  I then spent an excruciating 15 minutes trying to get through, with my stomach turning with each busy signal.

Second, there’s the question of what’s next?  I’m primarily looking at getting back to my non-wine longer term career, while keeping up wine study as a hobby.  Without the specter of resitting the exam, I should certainly be able to focus on that more.  The next step up in wine education would be to go for the Master of Wine, though that is a bigger commitment than even the Diploma and would likely be much easier to do somewhere like London or New York where there is greater availability of wines of the world.  Another option is to pick up teaching qualifications, but I’m not sure how much that interests me.  I enjoy learning new and different things about wine and spirits, but I’m not sure how well I’d be able to handle covering the same material over and over for different groups of students.

A shorter term option is an Honours Diploma, which is essentially a 4000-5000 word research paper that is supplemental to the Diploma.  I’m not sure how much it counts, for instance, if one were applying for a position in the trade, but since I’m essentially writing roughly 1000 words on different topics for this blog on most days, I can’t imagine it would be too difficult.  Obviously there’s a huge difference between doing original research and the collection and distillation that I do here, but still, 5000 words is nothing, provided I could find the right topic.  (Speaking of distilling – possible topic, boutique gin production in Australia and New Zealand?)

Finally, the big question is what will become of this blog.  It’s been an interesting experiment, firing up a blog from the void and seeing what happens.  There are really two sides to the coin in terms of this – how useful it is to me, and how useful it is to other people.  I started out only caring about my personal use, both in terms of researching and tracking what I’m drinking, and have been happy settling into a format of grape/region/producer/wine and a pace of roughly one post per day.  I’m sure I actually use the blog much more than everyone else in the world combined – I pull up notes of what I drank and when so when I want to tell people about a special bottle from a few weeks ago, I don’t have to rely on my poor memory.  And so long as I continue to enjoy writing about what I’m drinking, I intend to continue the update this blog.

The other side involves readers, and so I’ve done things like setting up Facebook and Twitter accounts, done some (very) small amount of promotion and even brought posts to the attention of those about whom they were written.  That’s been more work that I would have expected, and I’m not sure to what end as my goal has never been to have anyone actually read this.  I expect it to always be true that most people who type in drunk.com are not looking for a wine blog, so it’s hard to get a good sense if I have any readership, but since at least a few people who have read it seems to find some value in it, it’s not a bad thing.  And really, the minimal promotion I do in terms of Facebook and Twitter takes up next to no time compared with researching and writing posts.  So I’ll probably keep it up.  What I should stop doing is looking at Google Analytics if I really don’t care if anyone is reading.  Also, I should stop thinking about who will be interested in a particular wine write-up and if it will generate any traffic, because it is all about what I want to drink.  So look forward to a few wines in the next couple of weeks that are so obscure, there’s no way anyone else will have even the slightest interest.

Anyway, if you’ve made it this far down the page looking for something about a specific wine, I’m sorry to disappoint you with random introspection after passing my exam.  I can promise more wine posts in the next day or two, but I’m still getting my head around being a diploma graduate.

Vinteloper Winery Project

Vinteloper Winery Project - Cellar Door

Vinteloper Winery Project - Cellar Door

The normal format for this blog is that I get a bottle of wine, take a few notes while enjoying it, and then write up a bit about the grapes, the region, the producer, and then finally my notes about the wine itself.  It lets me do a bit of research and then at a later point I’m able to refer back to what I wrote, if only to remember what I had to drink.

However, with this piece I really want to write about the Vinteloper Winery Project.  I’ve enjoyed tasting Vinteloper wines on a few occasions and figured I’d pick up a bottle (which I did – McLaren Vale Shiraz 2009) and write up a standard column about it and mention the Winery Project.  However, I think the Project is worth it’s own column.  So apologies to everyone who is looking for details of a grape, region, producer, and specific wine – this is all about a project.  (I look forward to drinking the wine at a later date.)

David Bowley, aka Vinteloper, decided set up a winery and cellar door in the middle of the Adelaide central business district.  You’ve heard of the trendy pop-up restaurant concept?  Same sort of thing.  This is more of a salute to what I think of as both a great idea and execution than it is a review, but I’m going to try to outline why I think that.  I’ve been twice, and on the most recent visit I sat and jotted down a few notes in terms of how much work must have gone into it, some of which I think is worth explaining.

First off, Adelaide is a relatively quiet city (and that’s being generous) most of the year, but for a few weeks, perhaps as long as a month, things pick up with a number of events that both draw in people from outside of the immediate area and energize the locals to go out on the town.  So the first challenge is making sure vintage overlaps with that critical time, because setting up a winery in an unusual space doesn’t count for so much if no one visits.

Vinteloper Winery Project - Fermenters

Vinteloper Winery Project - Fermenters

Next, there’s the matter of the space, with the requirements being sufficient room for the winery itself (fermenters, a press, barrels) and access for a truck.  Oh, and water and electricity.  Well that sorts the winery part, and for the cellar door you need more space, and comfortable furnishing, and ideally some access to sunshine or cover in case of rain.  Oh, and washrooms.  And since you’ll be leaving things there overnight, you’ll need to be able to lock everything away.  And then heaven forbid you be above board with the local authorities and get all the required licenses and permits involved with operating both a winery and a cellar door.  Finally it all has to be in an area that is close enough to the festivities that foot traffic can easily find its way to you.

Assuming you’ve been able to overcome all the work of finding an appropriate space and getting it set up with all the required kit for the winery and the cellar door, then you have to run the thing.  That means not just keeping the cellar door manned and guests entertained, but also getting grapes delivered, and last but certainly not least, making the wine.  I don’t know if the wine he makes at this temporary winery will constitute his entire vintage or if it will be a side project released under a different label, but either way it’s a huge undertaking and if it’s not his main vintage it’s certainly taking up big chunks of his day.

Finally, beyond having an workable space and a functional cellar door, you need to make the installation work as a whole.  It needs to convey the character of the producer, communicating the goal in producing wine.  Some places do that with signage or informational displays, but it can also be done with complete transparency, allowing people to come to their own conclusion.

So let me condense the preceding paragraphs into what I see as the four great challenges of the project – location/timing, winery, cellar door, and promotion.  As far as location and timing, it’s been pretty well spot on.  All things considered, it might have been even better if the project had been launched a week or two earlier, but it was close on the heels of the Adelaide Cellar Door Wine Festival.  Still, it has been active for the busy time in Adelaide and I hope it has built enough momentum to carry through vintage.  And the location is very near to the center of activities for the various festivals in Adelaide, so well done on finding the space.

Vinteloper Winery Project - Incoming grapes

Vinteloper Winery Project - Incoming grapes

I can’t really judge the internal workings of the winery, despite it being completely open to view, in that I can’t say how happily the operations are going.  But for the purposes of this project, it’s more about being seen to operate a winery, and on that basis it is a complete success.  All the equipment is on display, and if you are there at the right time of day on the right day, you can see steps in the vintage process.  I know that coming from my relatively pampered vintages involving nearly level concrete floors and access to hot and filtered running water, I might not operate so well under the conditions of the pop-up winery, but the Vinteloper aesthetic is all about minimal intervention winemaking, and so the primitive conditions reinforce that.

As to the cellar door, it is both perfectly functional and charming.  There are plenty of wines available to taste as flights, and full bottles are purchasable to take home.  Sofas and chairs are plentiful, and the space has a welcoming, quirky feel to it.

As far as promotion, I want to say it’s a great success, but I must first acknowledge my biases.  During vintage I go off to the Adelaide Hills and do a fair amount of work helping to produce wine.  Some of it is easy to describe in terms of the physical action (standing on a ladder holding a hose) but more complicated in terms of how it results in a bottle of wine.  I love the idea of a winery in the middle of the central business district where people can see for themselves all the steps that go from grape to bottle.

That said, I can say without reservation that it’s generated a fair amount of buzz, and there’s been no shortage of visitors.  (Photos were taken just after opening on a Sunday, most likely the quietest time ever).  I suspect most people who have been in to enjoy a taste or a few of the various wines have not spent any time in a working winery, or been able to walk up to a ferment in progress.

So apologies that this is not a piece about a particular wine, with details of grapes, region, and producer, but if you are in the Adelaide area I would recommend you drop in for a visit at 188 Grenfell Street behind the Crown and Anchor.  Also, I’ve heard that this is not the first such urban exhibition winery, so if there is one in your area, I hope you’ll drop in to have a look.

Chateau Musar Red 2002

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Chateau Musar Red 2002

Chateau Musar Red 2002

Chateau Musar embodies many things that I love in a wine/producer.  First, it’s interesting and unusual.  Second, it’s excellent.  Third, it has class.  Join me for a bottle and I’ll tell you what I mean on all three counts.

The wine today is the Chateau Musar Red 2002.  If you only know one thing about Chateau Musar, it will be that it is Lebanese.  If you don’t know the wine, I highly recommend you stop reading right now, find a bottle, and give it a try.  It’s neither an Old World wine nor a New, and it’s not trying to be either.  It’s Chateau Musar, which is weird, quirky, and above all, unique.

Chateau Musar is a family run producer based in Ghazir, 15 miles north of Beirut.  Founded by Gaston Hochar in 1930, it has now passed to his two sons:  Serge who is the winemaker and Ronald who manages the business.  Based out of an 18th century castle, their grapes are from the Bekaa Valley some 25 miles east of Beirut.  In the same way that vignerons talk about vines producing better wine if they’re stressed or planted in soil that forces them to drive their roots deep, I think the wine trade as a whole has a sense of reverence regarding Chateau Musar’s production.  Lebanon, particularly in the vicinity of Beirut, is not the most accommodating area in which to grow grapes or produce wine.  The distance between winery and vineyard is not insurmountable, though the local transport infrastructure is only a minor concern when compared to the regional conflicts that spring up.  However, only two vintages have been cancelled due to wars, though a third was declassified as not up to standard.

The Bekaa Valley, heart of Lebanese wine production, was historically known as a breadbasket when the region was under Roman rule, and remains the most important agricultural region in Lebanon.  It features a Mediterranean climate, with wet cold (and sometimes snowy) winters, with warm, dry summers.  The soil has a limestone base, covered in gravel and rich in iron, and the average altitude of vines is 1000m.

Lebanon does not get much international attention as a wine region, and when it does, it’s almost always in the context of someone writing about Chateau Musar.  However, winemaking in the region has been dated to the Bronze Age, and there are contemporary wineries that pre-date Chateau Musar, including Chateau Ksara, founded in 1857 by French Jesuit priests and Chateau Nakad founded in 1923.

The region as a whole has a strong connection with France, and Chateau Musar is no exception.  Gaston Hochar spent time in Bordeaux prior to planting his first vineyard in Lebanon, and befriended Major Ronald Barton (of Château Langoa-Barton – a Saint-Julien Third Growth) while he was stationed in Lebanon during World War II.  Serge did his winemaking studies at the University of Oenology in Bordeaux.

One could be forgiven for thinking that such influences would result in yet another Bordeaux-style red wine.  And while this wine is a blend of which Cabernet Sauvignon is often a major component, this is not a Bourdeaux blend in recipe or in spirit.  Carignan and Cinsault, grapes found in France but much more commonly in Languedoc-Roussillon than in Bordeaux, are the other major components.

The grapes are hand-picked, fermented with ambient yeast in concrete, and then stored in inert wooden vats for a year before spending a year in French oak, and then further years in vats.  Very little sulphur is used, and the wines are neither fined nor filtered.

A blend of grapes not historically found together in France, handled in a slightly unusual way – that really doesn’t do justice to the style of Chateau Musar Red.  The quality most commonly associated with it is one of volatile acidity.  This can give the wine an acetone or nail varnish remover aroma, which is not considered a good thing by everyone who encounters it.  In some other wines, or in high concentration, it is generally considered a fault.  Like brettanomyces, some people see it as a sign of sloppy winemaking, while others enjoy the complexity it lends in small amounts.  I’m not enough of an expert to know if it’s microbial instability in the form of acetic acid bacteria due to oxygenation, a reflection of their specific terroir, or if it’s something else entirely.  What is clear though is that it is part of the house style, not a fault.  It’s absolutely not to everyone’s taste, but it the Chateau Musar style and they remain true to it.

They also make a number of other wines, with a white and a rosé in their Chateau Musar line, a single vineyard red under the Hochar Père et Fils brand, and a series of red, white and rosé wines from younger vines released in a fruitier, drink-now style under the Musar Jeune brand.

This wine threw very little deposit despite being ten years old, unfined and unfiltered, in addition to having been stood up for three days.  However, out of those ten years, less than seven were spent in bottle.  The colour was medium garnet, with a particularly rich colour.  Their notes call it blood red, which I would not dispute.  The nose was clean with ripe fruit – cherries and plums – as well as fresh tobacco and sweet spice.  It had a medium plus intensity and was still developing.  The palate had sharp acidity, with tart cranberries being the dominant fruit.  The tannins were velvety and soft but abundant.  Plums, cherries, coffee, and chocolate were present in the very full flavour profile.  The alcohol provided palate weight, but was only a supporting character.  The length was fairly long, with chocolate on the finish.

This is an excellent wine, and I enjoyed it to the last drop.  There was something different about it that I don’t think I can quite capture, but to my nose and palate that just made it more interesting.

Finally a word about why I think Chateau Musar is a class act.  In 1984, Decanter Magazine in London nominated Serge Hochar as their first “Man of the Year” for his work at producing quality wines despite the civil war that raged through Lebanon.  Every year since, Chateau Musar has bought ad space in the annual “Man of the Year” issue congratulating each subsequent winner.

Pin in map is their office address in Beirut, as I couldn’t find the ’Mzar’ castle in Ghazir.