Back to school

It’s definitely weird, after 10 years or so of actual work, to go back being a student. The perspective of classes, homework, and reading materials seems deliciously youthful. This week, I started the WSET Level 3 course (I took and passed the Level 2 back in 2014) so the studious feeling is very fresh in my mind.

The class is split roughly between two thirds of people from the wine industry (buyers, sales, restaurant) and one third of people like me who would just like to learn more and maybe, one day, God willing, weather allowing, stars aligning and pigs flying, transition to the wine industry. My girlfriend’s reaction when I told her that my classmates worked for certain restaurants in Boston: “Be sure to network, so we get invited to their events.” She is the best.

Most of the class was devoted to introductions and to the tasting approach that will be emphasized. A very structured, systematic approach, that is similar to the one I learned for level 2, but much more detailed. The cheat sheet for the methodology is roughly twice the size than the level 2 one. So is the textbook.

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That seems to be the point overall, Level 3 is supposed to be challenging, it is the first “real” class of the program, and the exam at the end will be significantly tougher. The next part of the class was discussing the exam format. On top of the multiple choice and short answer questions, the exam will include blind tasting of two wines, one red, and one white. Basically we will have to give a structure description of looks, nose, taste of the wines and conclude by guessing the nature of the wine, judging its quality, ageing potential, and estimating its price range.

I’m not going to lie to you, it seems daunting at first. Especially after we did a couple wines as a class, so that the educator could take us through the methodology. I felt that it was going fast, that I didn’t get most of the things other students did. It was scary. Test subjects were a very enjoyable Auslese Riesling from the Mosel, and a meh Chinon from the Loire Valley.

And it immediately got scarier as we concluded the class with a mock exam: 2 wines, 2 tasting sheets and 20 minutes! I was panicking a little bit as I started taking notes, sniffing, checking the color against a white background,… Time seemed to fly as I was debating between passion fruit and pineapple notes, between pale lemon or medium lemon-green color. When the clock ran out I was dejected.

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The teacher then took us through the results. As it turned out, I would have passed. I got a 40 out of 50, 26 being the passing grade. I did well on the quality/price range/ origin conclusion but flunked both color appreciations. I also misjudged some of the acidity/body/intensity/alcohol levels. To me this will always be the tough part “how do you distinguish between medium + and high acidity, or between medium – and medium body? Apart from those “calibrating” issues, I was a bit relieved. It helped that both wines had fairly distinctive profiles, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Rioja Reserva.

Overall, I’m excited to start on this new learning journey, for a couple hours every week I get to be a student again, on a subject that I happen to love. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some homework to do.

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And we’re back

All right, I know, I’ve been slacking on this blog lately. I have some good excuses; I also have some bad ones. On the good excuses side, well, I got a new job that is significantly more challenging and time consuming than the last one. I also moved into a new place, which meant well, moving, home improvement, getting situated in a new (and awesome) neighborhood. And I have been travelling quite a bit, hitting Paris, Chicago, New-York, Wisconsin and Chicago again. My life has been busier lately, which is a good thing. As for the bad excuses, well, it’s just the one actually, I’m a generally very lazy person, so there.

But, I’m now starting to get back on my feet work-wise, apartment-wise, time-wise and wine-wise. Steps have been taken. Namely, I have registered for the WSET Level 3 courses, I’m starting next February. That means I have to step up my tasting game. Also, there are holiday parties, with wines to select, match and drink. Tis the season to get rosy cheeks.

Back in the saddle then, with a classic 2 wines evening. Let me see if I still know how to write a blog post,…

And Co, The Supernatural 2010, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand – ($20)

100% Sauvignon Blanc, the funky grape variety that is New Zealand’s main white grape

20141213_203111A very nice medium gold color. Low to medium intensity on the nose with bunches of tropical fruits, mostly passion fruit. A little bit of grassy notes too. The wine has a medium body with low to medium acidity. Tropical fruits galore (the label promises passion fruit, and it’s not lying). I also got some apricot and some pretty strong gooseberry aromas (the latter being completely absent from the nose).

Overall a good crisp Sauvignon Blanc, not necessarily on the funky side but more fruity and playful. Also the bottle looks cool and opens with a beer opener, that’s novelty.

Domaine de Baron’Arques, 2010, Limoux, France – ($35)

Blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Malbec and Merlot

domaine-de-baron-arques-limouxWell, this wine too is a novelty. Limoux in Southern France, is an appellation primarily known for sparkling wine, the Blanquette de Limoux. It turns out that there is also a small Limoux Rouge appellation that produces red wine. This particular bottle is produced by the Rothschild family, of Bordeaux fame, and it’s interesting as a case study because it blends the Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) with the Rhone grapes (Grenache, Syrah) and the southwest grape (Malbec).

It’s a deep ruby wine, red fruits and black pepper on the nose and palate. To me it was mostly reminiscent of a Bordeaux wine with a hint of Rhone spice. I felt like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah dominated the blend.

As I said, it’s a novelty wine, more interesting for the idea of it than for the quality. It’s not bad by any standards but I don’t think it’s worth the price.

It’s good to get back on the saddle. Hopefully I will  manage to have a more consistent posting schedule, we shall see !

A (fun) study in white

Last night’s dinner turned into an impromptu tasting session. This might be the favorite sentence I ever wrote. Unplanned wine tasting session on a Thursday night, it’s called winning. My temporary roommate cooked a chicken with lemon and white wine while a friend and I provided the actual wine.  A couple of other friends were here to provide conversation. Teamwork, it’s always about teamwork.

Wine selection was heavily skewed towards white wines. We started off with a Ritual 2011, a Sauvignon Blanc from the Casablanca valley in Chile. Very well made, a little oaky without it being too much, citrus and tropical fruit and a nice acidity along with a long finish.

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We followed up with a Chenin Blanc from Ken Forrester, the Petit 2013 from Stellenbosch in South Africa. I already tried a South African Steen a while ago and enjoyed it very much and this one did not disappoint. Beautiful green apple, pear and quince without too much acidity, very refreshing.

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Next up was another Chenin Blanc, this time from Columbia Valley in Washington State, a 2011 L’Ecole No 41. A different take on Chenin Blanc than the previous wine, with more emphasis on tropical fruit. It was somewhat closer to what a Chenin from the Loire Valley (the traditional home of the variety) would taste like.

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Finally we finished the evening with a O Rei de Campoverde, an Albarino from Rias Baixas in the Galicia province of Spain (just north of Portugal). It was a first from me, I do not know much about this grape and it was definitely surprising. Lots of citrus (grapefruit mostly) and some mineral character. Need to investigate further!

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Anyway, all in all, a superb evening of white wines, singing, great food, new and old friends. I also like the fact that wine took us from Chile to South Africa, back to the West Coast of the US and then to Spain for less than $100 and without leaving my apartment in Boston. By the way, the jet lag was minimal, even with all the “traveling” that we did, hardly a headache was felt this morning.

Safe travels and a happy weekend to everyone.