So just today I reread all the material in the Red Book and I still have quite a ways to go before I’m ready for the WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam this time next week. I’m not quite scared to death, but it’s certainly daunting. Fortunately, I have the entire week, or almost all of it, to just study, study, study.
That’s what I did today, but tonight I’m actually working through questions from past exams. I picked a question at random and tried to come up with a decent answer, within a 30 minute time period. I let myself dig through my book, which unfortunately I won’t be able to do next week. I think I’ll do this every day, perhaps a few questions per day, from now until the exam. Tonight it’s just one, and a tasting note from dinner. First, the question.
Describe how the factors in the vineyard and winery determine the style and quality of Syrah or Shiraz dominated wines from Northern Rhône, Barossa and one other country.
The Northern Rhône has a continental climate, heavily influenced by the Mistral, a northern wind runs through the region. The vineyards of the Northern Rhône are often terraced and/or on steep slopes, inhibiting mechanization. Vines are often individually staked bushes, with little if any mechanization and no irrigation. Some natural amphitheaters create sun traps with ideal aspect for ripening. The difficult condition are such that it is only worthwhile to grow grapes if a premium can be charged for the wine.
In the winery Syrah is sometimes co-fermented with Viognier, Marsanne or Rousanne, sometimes varietal. The ferments are in stainless, concrete or old wood, and better quality wines are oaked for up to three years, exclusively in French oak.
While there is certainly a range of quality of Syrah dominated wines, the emphasis is on higher quality, full bodied wines with great potential for ageing. Some lesser quality and lighter wines are made in Crozes-Hermitage, but the region is most often thought of for higher quality, full wines.
The Barossa Valley has a warm Mediterranean climate, with hot summers and a long growing season. The vineyards are typically flat and vines are trained on wires for easy mechanization. As needed, they can and typically are irrigated. However, there are some very high quality, low yielding bush vines of Shiraz that are in excess of 100 years old, though they are in the minority.
In the winery, Shiraz is sometimes varietal, though often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, sometimes with Grenache and Mouvedre. It is typically oaked, though it can be French, American or Hungarian, and it may take the form of staves or chips.
Barossa Shiraz is produced in a wide range of quality, from the hugely mass produced Jacob’s Creek entry level and Wolf Blass Red Label to the high end of Penfolds RWT or boutique Grennock Creek. The style generally is more fruit forward and higher in alcohol than the Northern Rhône, as fruit is riper when picked. Oak use is generally more noticeable.
Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, in particular Gimlett Gravels, is also known as an area of Syrah production, though only as a relative newcomer. The soil is deep shingle and has excellent drainage.
In the winery, Syrah is typically a straight varietal, and winery methods are very modern with no shorage of new French oak. The wine style is aiming for Old World elegance, and the result is somewhere between your typical Northern Rhône and Barossa Syrah/Shiraz, in quality, price and style.
Looking at the answer, I’m not thrilled. I think I know my way around the Northern Rhône and Barossa, but I really had to think to figure out a third country/region. I’ve been to Hawkes Bay and I’ve had the nice Craggy Range Syrah, but I’ve also had Syrah from South Africa and Chile, but I would have been able to write even less about Syrah from either of those two countries. I could have gone with Washington State, since John Duval is making Syrah there, but that’s the only detail I have and I’ve not tasted the wine. Even digging through the book didn’t help much, in that Syrah just isn’t much of a thing outside the Rhône and Australia. Unfortunately they didn’t give me the option of talking about how people are doing cool climate Shiraz in the Adelaide Hills at places like Shaw + Smith. Oh well, I think that’s one of those questions where I’d need to get my points in the first two parts because the third one wasn’t going to work as well for me.
Right, so I have some wine in front of me and I think I should write about it and go to sleep so I’m rested and ready for more study tomorrow. It’s the Château la Croix du Casse Pomerol 2006. So the basics – France, Bordeaux, Right Bank, Pomerol. Mostly Merlot, though apparently with 20% Cabernet Franc. It’s five years old, which for some Bordeaux wines would mean it’s still very young, though this one is showing significant signs of maturity. It’s gone garnet in the glass, though still deep in colour, and there are loads of secondary aromas and flavours.
Clear and bright, medium-plus garnet colour, slow thin legs.
Clean, medium intensity, developing with notes of red currant, plum, sweet spice, chocolate and some tobacco.
Dry, medium-plus acidity, medium fine tannins, medium-plus flavour intensity, medium alcohol, medium body, with notes of cranberry, tobacco, sweet spice, chocolate, and plums. Medium-plus length with dark chocolate finish.
This is a good quality wine. It has strong acidity and flavour intensity, though not quite enough tannins to have perfect balance. It’s showing nice complexity as far as retaining some fruit but also having secondary flavours, though it does show signs of premature ageing. The intensity is good, as is the length. If there were stronger tannins, I would push this up to a very good, but I think the ageing it’s showing now suggests that it will start to fade sooner rather than later. Drink now if you have some.