Today’s assignment is to read through the past examiners’ reports, which go back covering about a dozen incarnations of the exam I’ll take in January. There are three main points to this exercise. First, the questions are included, and exam questions tend to have a way of being recycled. For the sparkling wine section, one of the questions on the exam (cremants) I took had been asked just a few years prior. Second, example answers from students are given, both good and bad, so it’s nice to have an idea of what you’re expected to know and even how much they’d like you to be able to write in the time allotted. Third, the comments from the examiners, usually along the lines of how disappointed they were that students weren’t able to specify such and such are very helpful indeed. If you get a repeated question and the examiners were keen that students mention say the amount of rainfall for a region in question, it really pays to make sure you include it.
However, I still have some ways to go. I’ve downloaded all the reports, and quickly gone through them and pulled out the questions as well as the pass rates for each. The next step (other than obviously reading them all in great detail) is to go through and pull out keywords. For instance, Tannat and Malbec came up as varieties three times, while Furmint, Torrontés, and Pinotage came up a couple of times each. Maipo Valley, Walker Bay and Casablanca Valley each had a couple of questions. AWRI and UC Davis each had a question. That’s not to say that I’ll only study things that have been on past exams, but rather I’ll be sure to have some reasonably pat answers should those turn up again before I start to commit to memory the properties of Malaga Blanc, a popular table grape in Thailand, but also used to make wine there. (And of course having said that, Malaga Blanc is not taking up valuable space in my memory that really should contain something more useful.)
When I wasn’t studying, I was out having lunch around the corner, and with it some wine. The wine for today is Viña Arana Reserva 2001, a red blend from Rioja DOC in northern Spain made by La Rioja Alta group. The nearest I’ve been to Rioja is Bilbao, and it was before I was especially interested in wine, so I have no firsthand knowledge of the region or this producer. Red Riojas are typically Tempranillo dominated blends, and this one is no exception with Tempranillo making up 95% and Mazuelo (which I know better as Carignan) making up the remaining 5%. As a Reserva, this wine would have spent a minimum of a year in oak and not been released until it was three years old. In fact, this particular wine was in American oak for three years.
I typically enjoy wines that can age more when it’s been cellared for at least a few years, and when I have an opportunity to have some that’s a decade or more old, I generally look upon it as something of a special treat. As such, I was really looking forward to this wine. It showed promise, in that it was garnet in the glass, going a bit brown toward the rim, but with lively flavour on the nose. The palate was soft, with dried fruit and a number of developed characters, but somehow it just didn’t live up to my hopes. With so many wines being made in a “drink now” style, I always expect something special from a wine that’s been put away for a decade, and while this delivered just what I expected from a Rioja, there wasn’t anything overly special about it. Nothing wrong with it, mind you, but I think I would have enjoyed it more without the expectations I had when I ordered it. But here’s the note.
Clear and bright, with a medium garnet colour going brown toward the rim. Slow legs.
Clean, with medium intensity, fully developed. Dried red fruit, potpourri spices, orange peel, tobacco, and bitter chocolate.
Dry, with medium acidity, medium intensity, medium-minus velvety tannins, medium alchohol, and medium body. The palate had chocolate, tobacco, dried red fruit from cherries to cranberries, with some vanilla. The length was medium with a chocolate/cranberry finish.
I thought this was a good quality wine, despite wishing it would turn out to be very good. It was certainly balanced, with mediums almost across the board, but in that it lacked intensity. There was a fair amount of complexity, in terms of fruit, spice and developed notes, but they were all slightly faded. It was as though any freshness had gone, taking most of its intensity with it, which showed in its length of only medium.
It was, however, a very typical Rioja Reserva, from the brick to brown colour in the glass and the dried fruit and American oak on the nose and palate. I’d be pleased to find this on an exam as I don’t think I’d have any trouble picking it. At $80.00 in a restaurant it’s not what I would term a value wine, and I expected a bit more from it.
Readiness to drink – I think it should be drunk now and will decline given more time. The tannins are so soft already that they need no more time, and the intensity is likely to dwindle.