I recently took a WSET tutoring session in which I was given quite a few test questions in order to prepare me for the written portion of the exam. Rumor has it, this is where most students have difficulty for a number of reasons, including not using their own deductive reasoning. Just like those nasty word problems you’d get in math class as a kid, sometimes it’s about taking what you do know to help you figure out what you (think) you don’t know.
The above image is from a Simpson’s episode entitled “Visualize the Problem.” I thought this appropriate because I’m about to share a little “proud of me” moment when I did just that. The question was about the Mosel region of Germany:
Due to the challenging climate in the Mosel, all the very best vineyards share similar characteristics. Explain what the climatic challenges in the Mosel are and identify and explain how three of those characteristics help to overcome these challenges.
Alright, so as you all know I am studying for the WSET Level 3. Exciting? Yes. Am I confident? Well, not yet. You ever notice when you studying for something—anything, really—you’re all about whatever chapter, section, topic you’re currently reading. But it seems like by the time you get to the end of the book, all the stuff from the beginning of the book somehow moved to the back of your brain so, if you were to be tested on Chapter 1 (which, is usually foundational stuff you went into the course already knowing), you’d probably fail that test. I use the word ‘you’ but really I mean ‘me’ here.
Por ejemplo, the last chapters of the WSET 3 book covers sparkling wine (production and regions), Sherry, Port, and fortified Muscat. So, now that’s in the front of my brain.
Fun Fact: Sherry must be aged in 600 liter oak barrels, called (get this) butts. (*Snort*)
The fact of the matter is, with this test, you’re really meant to be able to combine that FOB material with the EOB information. Take a look at this sample WSET 3 question:
Identify the climate of Champagne. Explain how the climate in Champagne impacts on the fruit grown and why this makes the wine produced suitable for the production of traditional method sparkling wines.
Pop Quiz! Let’s take a second to answer this question while we’re here…
Champagne has a cool, continental climate. Cool meaning the average annual temperature—during the growing season—is about 16.5°C or below; continental meaning there are large annual temperature variations (extremely warm or hot summers, extremely cool, often frosty, winters), or, in other words, high continentality. Also, as the name pretty much implies, these areas are found away from large, moderating bodies of water. (Fun Fact: This climate condition is far more common in the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern, when talking about vineyard locations.) Continental regions are also usually characterized by short summers with a very quick drop in temperature in the autumn. Put that together with an overall cool climate, and regions like Champagne are most at risk for spring frost, cold growing season temperatures (which can affect flowering, fruitset, and ripening).
Cool, continental sounds dreadful, no? In fact there are grapes that can thrive in these conditions, namely those that bud late and ripen early, as they will more than likely “miss” the spring frost (and because grapes for sparkling wine production are harvested earlier than winegrapes for still wine—to maintain a higher level of acidity—the grapes will also “miss” the winter frost). Grapes that fit that profile include Pinot Noir—one of the three main grape varieties used in Champagne production. The other “cool” thing about the cooler conditions for these late budders is that it will, in fact, slow the ripening process a bit so sugars in the grapes (you know, the stuff that turns into alcohol) will stay pretty low, while (again) the acid will stay high. This is important for the production of Champagne, as the second fermentation process will add about 1.2% more alcohol to the base wine, so harvesting grapes low in sugar will help produce a lower alcohol base wine (somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% ABV).
Did I answer that question clearly enough? So, you see how you have to know things about climate conditions of Champagne in order to start talking about the production of it? They could go on to ask what grapegrowers do or what vineyard considerations they take to better assist the full ripening of their grapes in this environment. But…I think I’ll save that for another post. My point here is…the basics, the FOB material. So, here goes:
CLIMATE: The annual pattern of temperature, sun, and rain during the growing season (April through October int he Norther Hemisphere; October through April in the Southern Hemisphere) averaged over several years.
Cool: Average temperature of 16.5°C or below
Moderate: Average temperature between 16.5°C and 18.5°C
Warm: Average temperature between 18.5°C and 21°C
Hot: Average temperature 21°C and above
Continental: The greatest difference between the hottest and coldest months (high continentality); characterized by short summers with large and fast temperature drop in autumn; dry summers; away from moderating influence of large bodies of water; relatively short growing season; frost hazards at the beginning and end. (Examples: Alsace, Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Northern Rhone, Upper Loire, Rioja, Piedmont, Columbia Valley, Finger Lakes, Mendoza)
Maritime: Cool to moderate temperatures and low annual difference between the hottest and coldest months (low continentality); rainfall is evenly spread throughout the year; temperatures typically warm enough to extend ripening into autumn; there are distinct seasons, but less drastic variations between them than Continental; close to large bodies of water; major risks are spring and summer rainfalls. (Examples: Bordeaux [and much of Western France], Northwest Spain, Willamette Valley, New Zealand, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania)
Mediterranean: Low continentality, BUT summers are warm and dry (compared to Maritime); less seasonal temperature variation and distinction between seasons; long, hot growing season with little precipitation; can get good diurnal swings [ie: daytime-nightime temperature shifts]; because of the warmer conditions, wines are fuller bodied, riper in tannin, higher in alcohol, and lower in acid; major risks include low rainfall (which can be good for grapevine health, but can also lead to drought conditions) and, therefore, irrigation is much more utilized in these regions. (Examples: Mediterranean Region [duh], California, Chile, South Africa, South Eastern Australia
So how’d you like that bit of wine knowledge? It’s interesting that just knowing the climatic conditions of a region gives you a basic clue as to what the wine styles will be. Try that out at the grocery store.
Stay tuned for more. Let’s see what WSET question I pull out of the hat tomorrow for you cool kids. If you happen to have a Pop Quiz you want to give me, leave it in the comments…. Thanks for helping me study!
Oh…did you scroll down here for a wine review? Sure, why not…
About the Wine: 2017 Moon Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon by Ana-Diogo Draper (winemaker at Artesa Estate Vineyards & Winery)
Aroma: Youthful with a pronounced intensity of aromas: black current, blackberry, blueberry, nutmeg, vanilla, eucalyptus
Palate: Dry, high acid, high tannin, high alcohol, full body with a medium (+) intensity of flavors: fennel, eucalyptus, black current, blackberry, blueberry, nutmeg, vanilla, and a background hint of smokey meat.
Medium (+) finish.
Conclusion: Based on the WSET criteria (and, as a side note, my personal opinion totally agrees with this conclusion), Ana’s Moon Mountain Cab is Very Good. You can drink this now but this wine 100% has the potential to age beautifully. (My personal note: I would recommend laying this down for minimum three years. Ana…save me a bottle to relive, ok? 😉 )
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