Today was a busy day as the WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam draws near. I spent much of the day in the library writing up notes on grape varieties. There’s a common question type on past exams of the form “write a paragraph each on the following grape varieties” and you have to pick five out of six. And for this type of question, they want roughly five or six facts per topic. There’s a similar question for subregions, and I’ll go through them starting on Friday.
So I worked my way through most of France, all of Germany, and a few other bits and pieces. And while I’ve done section one of four, it’s a bigger chunk than that. Sections three and four are mostly New World, which means I won’t have to write anything more for their grapes – I will have covered them in their home countries/regions. So when I get to Australia, I’ve already written up Shiraz (Syrah), Chardonnay, Riesling, and the many, many other grapes grown Down Under. Really once I’m through Italy and Spain tomorrow, my work is nearly done.
And while I worked through everything in the books, I’m going to ignore a bunch of them when I’m committing them to memory. The section on the UK, er England and Wales, for instance has load of different hybrids and crosses, mostly from Germany, that are suited for making bad wine in regions where you shouldn’t be growing grapes in the first place. Honestly, if I open my exam paper and see Huxelrebe as a topic, I might just walk out. For reference, it’s a German crossing of Gutedel (Chasselas) and Courtillier Musqué. Yeah, that’s right, you know the one. OK, I admit I have had a Chasselas, from Switzerland if I recall correctly, but really Huxelrebe? Courtillier Musqué? I enjoy some German wines, and I’ve had some lovely sparkling wine from England, but really, engineered crosses and hybrids very rarely produce what’s generally thought of as quality wine, and I’m hard pressed to memorize the parentage for more than a few of them, much less the score that our book covers. Pinotage is the only cross that comes to mind as far as being interesting, and I know plenty of people who would tell me that it’s not.
Fortunately for anyone reading this, all the notes I took as regards to grape varieties today were by hand an in a notebook, so there’s little chance of them turning up here.
Having spent too much time on the theory side of things, I decided that a tasting test would be interesting. I picked up a set of four bottles of wines, each from a different variety, all from the same producer and all at roughly the same level of quality/price. I’m not horrible at picking out the variety for common white grapes, but I’m often rubbish when it comes to the standard reds. In this case, I was able to get my hands on a Shiraz, a Merlot, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Pinot Noir, all from Taylor’s Wines in South Australia.
I put labels on the underside of the glasses, labels on the bottles, poured samples, and then mixed them up. Tastings like this can be great, because you eliminate as many variables as possible and ideally are left just tasting the differences you want to see. So things like house style and price point can be factored out if they’re all the same.
There’s a downside to how I did it though, in that these are that are relatively mass produced, at a value price point, and in a style that appeals to a broad audience. Or maybe I’m just making things up because I couldn’t pick which was which. That’s not entirely true – the Pinot Noir was easy to pick out, not just for knowing that the four were, but actually as a New World, young, Pinot Noir. I did less well with the others, and honestly that may be down to me more than to the wines.
I have them back in front of me now as I’m typing, and here’s what I’m getting:
Merlot: coffee, chocolate on the nose, gamey notes with some spice, bitter cherry finish
Pinot Noir: potpourri nose, plums and black cherry, cranberry finish
Cabernet Sauvignon: black fruit notes, meaty palate, with some grippy tannins, blackberry finish
Shiraz: cocoa nose, red berry palate, sweet spice finish
Hmmn, they’re certainly not the same as each other. And since they’ve been sitting in their respective glasses for two hours, they’re not even the same as they were when I originally tasted them. Still, looking at the flavours I’ve picked up, I’m hard pressed to match the varieties to the samples. The Pinot Noir was 2010, and the colour was obviously lighter, but the others are all 2009 and very dark purple. Oh, and while the Pinot Noir was Adelaide Hills, the rest were from Clare Valley.
I just had a look at the Taylor’s site and I had a pretty poor hit rate as far as what I tasted compared to what their tasting note showed. Better tasters than myself might fault the notes, but I think I will sit down with their notes tomorrow and give it another try.
Also, just to be clear, their wines are all just fine. I would describe them as good value for their price, and I hope tomorrow to be better able to ascertain their typicity. I’m disappointed I couldn’t pick out what was what, but I think another try tomorrow, might help.
Finally, while my wife and I started dinner with four sample glasses between the two of us, I wanted to have a proper bottle of something we could taste and note once, and then enjoy at our leisure throughout the meal. I picked up a bottle of Malbec, but not one from Argentina as I tasted last month. Rather, it was from Cahors in the South West of France.
We drank the Les Roques de Cana Le Vin Des Noces Cahors 2007, which was very nice. I’m having a difficult time translating their website into something I can understand, and their back label was a bit mystifying, so I’ll stick with what I think I know.
This is an AOC Cahors wine, which means Malbec, or Auxerrois as it’s called there. Well it means at least 70% Malbec, which is good enough for me, though the rest can be Tannat which I like, and Merlot which I sadly cannot pick out of a crowd. My French is rubbish, but I think the name of the wine is something along the lines of the Marriage of Wine (or Wine of Marriage?), and the name of the company is to do with the wedding feast at Cana where Jesus miraculously turned water into wine if you believe that sort of thing. (I cannot resist the use of the word “miraculously” when I can use it literally instead of figuratively.) The back label suggest a link between the ancient heritage of the Malbec grape and that feast, with the implication that Jesus turned water into Malbec. While given a choice, I clearly would have done the same, but I don’t think I want to get this blog any nearer to religious topics than that.
It is a nice wine, but I know my assessment of it is coloured by having it after a flight of four wines which in total cost less than this single bottle, and because Malbec is my favourite variety. No one is completely impartial, myself especially, and I will endeavor to be clear about mine when I can.
Clear and bright, deep purple, with legs apparent.
Clean, medium-plus intensity, with notes of plum, game, spice, and a bit of ceder.
Dry, medium-plus grippy tannins, medium acidity, medium alcohol, medium-plus flavour intensity, medium-plus body, with notes of plum, sweet spice, game, leather, and a black pepper finish with a medium-plus length.
This is a very good wine. It’s well balanced with strong tannins, body and flavour, backed by slightly less strong alcohol and acidity. It has intensity on the nose and palate, with a complex array of both primary and secondary flavours. The only fault that keeps it from being exceptional is that I have higher expectations of Malbec. I want things to be high instead of medium-plus. This is a variety that can shine in a really big style, and that’s not what this wine is. It’s well made, and true to the variety, but it’s not over the top, and that’s what I’m really in the mood for right now.