Nervous about your WSET Diploma D3 tasting exam? Yeah, me too. Kind of. The best advice I can give is to remember that the tasting portion of the exam is exactly like the theory part of the exam—but instead of written prompts, they’re presenting you with wines.
If you’ve made it to the Diploma level of the WSET, that means you have a pretty strong palate and have practiced writing tasting notes utilizing the SAT grid already. So trust yourself, trust your notes, and use what you see, smell, taste, and have written down to answer the proposed question(s).
Easier said than done. But let’s put this into practice using one of the very first regions you study in D3—Burgundy. You don’t have to taste along—instead, I encourage you to write a few dry tasting notes (following the grid and SAT format) for the wines listed. Then, take a look at the theory questions I’ve created and see if you can answer those based on both your knowledge of the region(s) and using your tasting notes as evidence to back up your answer.
At the very end, I’ve listed my tasting notes and conclusions about the wines (which I did, indeed, taste). And if you feel so inclined, post a few bullet points about how you’d answer these theory questions. The more we interact the more we remember.
QUESTION 1: Describe the following wines in the form of tasting notes.
A) Joseph Drouhin 2019 Chablis
B) Joseph Drouhin 2018 Chablis Premier Cru Secher
C) Michelot 2016 Meursault Bourgogne Blanc
D) Joseph Drouhin 2018 Pouilly-Fuissé
QUESTION 2: Wines A and B are from the same area within the same wine producing region. Evaluate what accounts for the stylistic differences between these two wines.
QUESTION 3: Wines B, C, and D are from different areas of the same wine producing region. Describe the environmental and winemaking factors that account for the stylistic differences in each of these wines.
WINE A: Joseph Drouhin 2019 Chablis
Appearance: pale lemon
Nose: medium intensity: lemon, lime, green apple, green melon, chamomile, bread dough, biscuit
Palate: dry, high acid, medium alcohol, medium body (with slight effervescence), medium intensity flavors—lemon, lime, green apple, green melon, chamomile, bread dough, biscuit—medium finish
Assessment of quality: (6 marks) This wine is of good quality. The racing acidity does well to uplift the primary fruit aromas and flavors of lemon, lime, green apple and melon. There was a dominant aroma of bread dough upon first smelling the wine, which indicates to me the use of lees aging, which adds to the overall body of the wine. Luckily, that aroma, so forward on the nose, was not as forward on the palate and did not dominate the fresh fruit notes innate to the Chardonnay grape. Similarly, the moderate/medium alcohol added just enough lift and body to the wine, without overwhelming the delicacy of those fruits and floral notes.
While the acidity certainly lingered on the palate, I found the primary fruit flavors fell away at about a medium length. Further, while the primary fruit aromatics and flavors were certainly present, I did not find them particularly intense, simply medium. Thus, while the wine is well balanced in all its structural components, and showcased some complexity in winemaking as indicated by the notes of lees aging, the lack of intensity and medium finish means I cannot rate the wine any higher than good.
Suitability for bottle ageing: (3 marks) I do not think that this wine in suitable for bottle aging. Firstly, the intensity of aromatics as well as the finish are lacking. In time, these fruit flavors will not intensify, in fact they will fade, leading to an unbalanced wine. Secondly, the joy in this wine are those fresh primary fruit and florals and thus this wine should be enjoyed now before those characteristics fade.
WINE B: Joseph Drouhin 2018 Chablish Premier Cru Secher
Appearance: pale gold
Nose: medium (+) aromas: brioche, lemon, lime, lemon curd, yellow apple, baking spices (nutmeg, vanilla, clove, cardamom), biscuit, bread dough, hint of cream, pear, hint nuttiness, chamomile
Palate: dry, high acid, medium body (round, smooth soft), medium alcohol, medium (+) intensity of flavors—brioche, lemon, lime, lemon curd, yellow apple, nutmeg, vanilla, clove, cardamom, biscuit, bread dough, cream, pear, nuttiness, chamomile—the palate also has a noticeable phenolic grip around the tongue, the finish is long (lingering with fresh apple)
Assessment of quality: (6 marks) I’ve concluded that this wine is of outstanding quality. The high level of acid does well to keep the fresh primary fruit flavors alive from start through to the long lingering finish. With the notes of curd and cream, I do suspect that there’s at least a percentage of ML used in the winemaking process, that does allow for that high acidity to be perceptively smoother, encompassing the perimeter of the palate instead of sending a direct piercing line down the center. The use of lees aging, adds body and structure to the wine—this wine has a softness, a roundness to it that provides a richness and decadence. And yet that acid does not let the wine become fat or flabby. I do get a hint of oak usage in terms of vanilla and baking spices, but as well as those subtle hints of nuttiness that, to me, indicates a slow integration of oxygen during the maturation process.
Suitability for bottle ageing: (3 marks) I believe this wine could age further in bottle. I believe the nature of the fruits are such that they could develop into their cooked/baked form and become richer and more decadent. Further, that slight phenolic grip along with the high acidity and solid medium level of alcohol tells me there are structural components to this wine that can potentially lend it to longevity. There’s also that hint of nuttiness that could be an indication of tertiary notes already beginning to present themselves. With time, more nut notes (almond, hazelnut) as well as caramel and honey tones may further present themselves, again, lending to the decadence of this wine.
WINE C: Michelot 2016 Meursault Bourgogne Blanc
Appearance: pale lemon
Nose: medium (+) intensity: ripe apple, biscuit, vanilla, chamomile, honey, lemon, toast, pear, just ripe nectarine, just ripe peach, hint of smoke, grapefruit, baking spices (cardamom, nutmeg, clove)
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium body, medium alcohol, medium (+) intensity of flavors—ripe apple, biscuit, vanilla, chamomile, honey, lemon, toast, pear, nectarine, peach, flint, grapefruit, cardamom, nutmeg, clove, the finish is medium (+) in length
Assessment of quality: (6 marks) I’ve concluded that this wine is of very good quality. There’s clearly been a good integration of oak, as indicated by the secondary notes of baking spices that perfectly complement the primary fruits that range from citrus to pomme and even stone fruit in nature. These components are clearly present on the nose and on the palate as indicated by their medium (+) intensity. The acidity is calmed by the use of at least some ML, and the use of lees aging adds a bit of body and structure to the wine, as well as a bit of drying around the perimeter of the palate. Further, the wine is already starting to show some signs of age/age-ability with those honey tones. The finish, however, was just shy of long at a medium (+) length. Thus, though it had balance, intensity, and complexity, I could not rate the wine as outstanding, but it is very good quality.
Suitability for bottle ageing: (3 marks) As noted, the wine is already starting to show some indication of age with the honey tones. I do think that with time, more tertiary flavors will develop, such as the apple, which is already ripe in nature, would develop into its cooked/baked form. Further, with the solid medium (+) level of acidity, the presence of those phenolics, the alcohol level, and the intensity of the fruit flavors tells me the structural components are present for this wine to age.
WINE D: Joseph Drouhin 2018 Pouilly-Fuissé
Appearance: pale lemon
Nose: medium(+) aromas of incense, toast, smoke, mineral, apple, lemon, lime, bread, brioche, just ripe white peach, just ripe white nectarine, blossom, baking spice (cardamom, coriander)
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium body, medium (+) intensity—incense, toast, smoke, mineral, apple, lemon, lime, bread, brioche, white peach and nectarine, blossom, cardamom, coriander, and medium (+) length of finish
Assessment of quality: (6 marks) I’ve concluded that this is a very good wine. There’s a good dose of primary fruit aromas and flavors (apple, lemon, lime, and just ripe stone fruit), however, I find that it is the earthier components—smoke, mineral, florals (both dried, as in the incense—and fresh, as in the blossom) are truly the highlight here. These are uplifted by the subtle spice notes from possible barrel usage (cardamom, coriander). I also suspect that there’s been some lees contact/aging, as noted by the aroma of bread and brioche. While that was less present on the palate for me than on the nose, I do get a bit of a drying around the perimeter of the palate, that does, indeed, confirm phenolic inclusion. All of these points above tell me there is complexity in the winemaking. Further, that structural components of lees aging and the moderate alcohol give the wine good structure and body that can stand up to those more earthy aromas and flavors. While I found that the aromas and flavors were pronounced on nose and palate, I did find that the finish fell shy of long at a medium (+) length. Thus, while it has good balance, intensity, and complexity, I could not rate the wine as outstanding, but it is very good in quality.
Suitability for bottle ageing: (3 marks) I struggle with whether or not this wine is suitable for aging beyond a two or three year mark. While it has structural components—phenolics, alcohol, acid—I find the primary fruits are not as prominent as those earthier notes which, to me, means that those fresh fruit components will only fade further in time and the wine will potentially become imbalanced. I think the joy in this wine is experiencing the quality of it’s terroir expression now and should not be aged further.
Wines A and B, though both from Chablis are completely different expressions of the Chardonnay grape based on both site selection and winemaking techniques, one being a basic Chablis, the other a Premier Cru. In your answer, did you account for both environmental (topography, soil type, slope, aspect, microclimate) and human factors (vineyard management, winemaking techniques) that would influence the style of the wine? Did you remember to talk about how those factors influence quality and price as well?
Wines B, C, and D span the spectrum of Burgundy Chardonnay from north to south: Wine B from Chablis; Wine C from the Cote de Beaune; Wine D from the Maconnais. As such, its imperative we include the climatic and topographical differences between Chablis, Meursault, and Pouilly-Fuisse. Because of those differences as well as the regional style of each of these areas, vineyard management and winemaking techniques will both differ, resulting in unique expressions. It’s also important to consider the price-point of these wines—Premier Cru versus basic Bourgogne etc.
What other factors did you include in your answer? Share some thoughts and bullet points in the comments and let’s see if we can collectively create a well rounded answer together.
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