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37 yrs old, mom of 2, wife of one, married for 12 years and genuinely loving life
Based on experience, buying wine can be quite confusing- even when you know the grape variety involved. With Old World wines, it can be downright intimidating because no grape variety can be seen on the label. So, I thought it would really help if I understood even just the basics- especially about French wines.
In part 1 of this post, I identified the grape varieties grown in the regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais and Alsace. Today, I will look at the other parts of France.
The Loire Valley
The central valley regions of the Loire are best for growing Sauvignon Blanc. The main appellations are Sancerre AC and Pouilly Fume AC.
In Tourraine, the Chenin Blanc variety is widely used. These are mostly medium-bodied wines with medium sweetness, high acidity, usually unoaked with some citrus notes as well as green fruit and herbaceous aromas. The main appellation for Chenin Blanc is Vouvray AC (could be dry, medium or sweet).
In the Nantais (still part of Loire Valley), medium bodied, dry, unoaked white wines are made from the Melon Blanc grape variety. The main appellations are Muscadet AC, Muscadet-Sevre et Maine AC and Sur Lie (these wines have been bottled with dead yeast left over from fermentation and may appear a bit “hazy”).
The Rhone Valley
Divided into Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone, this region is known for Syrah/Shiraz and Grenache.
In the Northern Rhone, the main appellations are: Crozes-Hermitage AC, Hermitage AC and Cote Rotie AC.
In the Southern Rhone, the main appellations are: Chateauneuf du Pape AC, Cotes du Rhone AC, and Cotes du Rhone Villages AC (offering wines that are more complexity, intensity and length than the Cote du Rhone).
Majority of France’s IGP (Pays d ‘OC) wines are produced here. Most of them are red wines- made from a blend of local grape varieties that usually involve the Shiraz and the Grenache grapes. Quality and style do vary. The wines are mainly inexpensive and straightforward with the following appellations: Languedoc AC and Minervois AC.
IGP and Vin de France
Inexpensive wines are produced here made from international grape varietes such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. With these wines, the variety is usually written on the label- avoiding confusion. If no mention is made of the variety, chances are its made of a lesser-known grape. The main southern IGP is Pays d’Oc IGP. Huge quantities of inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay are sold as Vin de France. This particular designation allows the producer to blend wines throughout France- not from any particular region.
Whew! That’s it for now. I hope it helped you as much as it helped me. This is actually a good way for me to study for my course. Let’s see what blog post I can come up with next. Maybe an entire article on Spirits? Do I hear a “yes?”
We started off our class with a 30-item multiple choice quiz. I actually did pretty well- with only 1 mistake due to carelessness.
After the test, we proceeded with discussing the rules for storing and serving wine. Three important things to note when storing wine (this goes for both screw top and corked wines):
1. Store them on their side to keep the wine in contact with the cork. This prevents air from entering the bottle and contaminating the wine.
2. Keep wine in an area with constant temperature (ideally between 12-14 C). Temperature changes will spoil the wine.
3. Make sure wine is kept away from direct sunlight or any harsh artificial light. Heat from light sources may change the flavor of the wine.
Each of us were asked to open a bottle of wine each- corked, of course! I was tasked to open this beautiful glass of Alsatian Riesling. Beautiful, slim bottle- but oh, so hard to open. Cutting the capsule was difficult because the material is plastic not foil.
This Riesling was among the nine wines that we were asked to taste that day. As with most Alsatian Rieslings, this was dry, medium bodied with licorice and fennel flavors. Low acidity and some oak were also present- a refreshing wine that can be enjoyed with seafood. This was my favorite of all the 5 white wines that we tasted. The runner up would be a surprisingly reasonably priced Cava (sparkling wine from Spain) that would be a perfect apperitif. Yummy!
The 4 bottles above were the red wines that were part of our tasting exercise. The first one, a 2008 Pinot Noir from Burgundy, looked and smelled okay but was quite faulty- oxidized- upon tasting. Too bad! It was our first wine of the day, too.
My favorite red was a 2009 Merlot from New Zealand- Sileni The Triangle. At first, I thought it was a Cabernet Sauvignon because of its structure and tannins. Imagine my surprise when the bottle was revealed and it was actually a Merlot. I will keep my eye out for this bottle the next time I go and replenish my wine stash.
The white wine bottles were placed in this ice bucket while waiting for their turn to be tasted. On top of the Cava and the Riesling I mentioned earlier, we also tried a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Marisco The King’s Favour 2009), a Californian Chardonnay from 2 days ago (Hess Select) and a sweet wine from France (Clos de Verdots 2010)- a blend of Semillon and Muscadelle.
In between tastings, we had to cleanse our palate with a flavorless biscuit to prepare for the next wine.
This cracker was perfect for the job- bland, flavorless and fat-free pa!
Now to dispel the notion that people in WSET class come out tipsy after drinking 9 to 10 different kinds of wine- let me issue a disclaimer. Each student is given a spitoon- in our case a paper cup- to spit the wine in after we taste.
“Tasting” is different from “drinking.” In tasting, we look at the wine, we smell it and then we sip it (allowing some air into the mouth to fully appreciate the flavor and aroma). After swirling the wine all over our mouths, we spit out the wine and then wait for 10 seconds to judge the wine based on sweetness, body, flavor characteristics, acidity, oakiness and level of tannins.
It was an excellent second day in class. Up next- food and wine pairings and of course, the certification examination! Wish me luck as I try to study over the weekend :)
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