I’ve gotten some feedback that many folks studying for the D3 WSET Diploma Exam are interested in calibrating their palates and practicing their tasting and note-taking techniques. Those of you who are preparing (or have taken) the WSET exams know that there are very strict criteria about how how to evaluate the wines (following the SAT guidelines) but also about how to correctly draw conclusions about the wines you’re tasting and how to communicate those conclusions.
I’ve been taking some tasting classes geared toward WSET Diploma with a Master in Wine in preparation for my exam. Over the holiday, I thought it would be fun to have my partner help me with a blind tasting mock exam.
Following the WSET taste testing format:
Wines 1–3 relate to Unit D3 of the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines
All are made from the same or predominantly the same grape variety. Describe them under the headings below.
Follow along on my tasting notes and see if you can figure out what the common grape variety is. Note: This exam also, for two points, asks examiners to determine the country of origin for the wine (but not qualify that determination). I’ve included my deduction in each tasting note below. However, I’ll leave the wine reveals to the very end of the post. Good luck and have fun!
Appearance: pale ruby
Nose: medium (+) aromas: strawberry, raspberry, bramble, rose, hint oak wood, toast/smoke, hint toasted nuts/almond skin, hint baking spices (nutmeg) (fruits are ‘just ripe’ in nature)
Palate: dry, high acid, medium tannins (fine-grained, subtle), medium alcohol, medium body, medium (+) intensity of flavors; flavors include: strawberry, raspberry, bramble, rose, hint oak wood, toast/smoke, hint toasted nuts/almond skin, nutmeg pomegranate, cranberry and red cherry, vanilla
Finish is medium (+) length
Assessment of quality: (6 marks) This is a very good wine with a high level acidity that keeps the fresh fruit flavors of strawberry, red raspberry, red cherry, cranberry fresh and alive from start to finish. These vivacious fruits are balanced by a good oak integration that imparts secondary aromas/flavors such as toast and smoke and just subtle hints of baking spices (such as nutmeg). There is clearly not a high percentage of new oak used here, as no barrel aromatics overwhelm the delicacy of the fruit flavors. The tannins are fine grained, smooth, subtle, and do not overwhelm the palate, instead simply providing structure to the wine which has an overall medium body. This wine, I think, is still in its youth, though I do detect a bit of tertiary notes such as dried earth as toasted nuts or almond skin which leads me to believe this wine has already began to develop additional complexity. While I found good intensity on the nose and the palate—alive with both secondary and primary characteristics—the finish did fall just shy of long for me at a medium (+) length. Thus, I cannot rate the wine as outstanding, but conclude that it is very good in quality.
Suitability for bottle ageing: (3 marks) Given the high level of acid, the freshness of the pronounced primary fruits mentioned above, as well as a solid medium level of tannins, I do believe that this wine does have the structural components to age in bottle, adding depth and complexity of fruits, which will become cooked or dried in nature, as well as more earthy tertiary aromas such as forest floor, dried leaves, and perhaps even more of that toasted nuttiness.
Identify the country of origin: (1 mark) France
Appearance: pale ruby
Nose: medium (+) aromas: black cherry, chocolate, vanilla, nutmeg, cedar wood, toast/smoke, hint herbal-y anise, black fig, black berry (fruits are fully ripe in nature)
Palate: dry, medium (+) acidity, medium tannins (mature, plush), high alcohol, medium body, medium (+) intensity of flavors: black cherry, chocolate, vanilla, nutmeg, cedar wood, toast/smoke, hint herbal-y anise, black fig, black berry
Finish is medium in length
Assessment of quality: (6 marks) I conclude that this wine is of good quality. The aromas and flavors had a good level of intensity, speaking to darker fruits such as black cherry, black berry, even some black fig. There is clearly oak integration in this wine, which speaks to complexity in the winemaking. However, I did find that those oak notes of cedar wood, toasted wood, slightly overwhelmed some of the fresher fruit flavors in the wine and that dominance is what made the finish fall to simply medium in length, as there was a lack of fruit that could truly hang on. The tannins, which were medium, were full, plush, clearly mature and did well to add to the overall body of the wine. As did the use of alcohol, which was high, and that high level complemented the fully ripe nature of the fruits, providing an almost jammy quality to them.
Suitability for bottle ageing: (3 marks) I do think that this wine could age in bottle, the level of acidity, tannin, and alcohol all provide the structural components that would lend to longevity. The fruits that are fully ripe in nature now, bordering on that jammy quality will perhaps become more cooked/jammy in nature, adding to the complexity of the wine. The judicious use of oak, now so obvious, may also tone down with time and become more integrated with the wine.
Identify the country of origin: (1 mark) U.S.
Appearance: pale ruby
Nose: medium (+) aromas: red cherry, red raspberry, rose, mineral, sandy earthiness, salinity?, subtle toast, subtle baking spices (nutmeg), subtle charred wood, hint cacao
Palate: dry, medium (+) acid, medium tannin (ripe, fine-grained), medium body, medium alcohol, medium (+) flavor intensity: red plum, red cherry, red raspberry, rose, mineral, sandy earthiness, salinity, subtle toast, nutmeg, subtle charred wood, hint cacao, cardamom —fruits are ‘just ripe in nature’
Finish is long
Assessment of quality: (6 marks) This wine is of outstanding quality. The level of acidity keeps the primary flavors of red cherry, red raspberry, rose, fully alive on the palate, while a good use of oak integration adds just a touch of heat and earthiness from spice notes such as nutmeg and cardamom as well as a subtle toasty/smokey quality. And it is the combination of these flavors that linger together on the palate during the lengthy finish. The medium amount of tannins adds a good amount of structure without detracting from the freshness of the primary flavors; they are mature in nature, and dissipate over the course of the tasting, leaving just a gentle coat toward the end before disintegrating all-together. There’s a moderate use of alcohol, that again does not detract from the fresh nature of the fruit nor overwhelm the palate with excessive heat. Because it hit all the marks for me in terms of balance, length, intensity, and complexity I cannot rate this wine any lower than outstanding in quality.
Suitability for bottle ageing: (3 marks) This wine is suitable for bottle aging. The level of acidity, tannin, and alcohol all provide the structural components that would lend to longevity. The fruits which are ‘just ripe’ right now will mature further, more earthy aromas and flavors will impart, and the wine, in general will become deeper and more complex with layers of primary, secondary, and tertiary flavors.
Identify the country of origin: (1 mark) U.S.
Identify the common grape variety: (5 marks) Give reasons for your choice: (5 marks)
This wine is a Pinot Noir. The first and third wines share fruit characteristics innate to the grape—red fruits such as red raspberry, pomegranate, red cherry, strawberry. All three showcase a use of oak integration, a common vessel for both fermentation and maturation. The first wine shows restraint in its oak usage, leading me to believe this is an expression from the old world, while the second one showed excessive new oak integration which leads me to believe it is a new world expression. The first and third wine also showed a moderate amount of alcohol, which is typical to the Pinot Noir grape from cooler climates, though the second wine did show a higher level of alcohol. However, across the board tannins were moderate in nature, which is typical of the thin-skinned grape, as is the medium (+) to high acidity and overall medium body and the pale ruby color.
Wine 1: Joseph Drouhin Chorey Les Beaune 2017
Wine 2: Panther Creek 2017 Du Ponte Vineyard Pinot Noir
Wine 3: Pisoni Family 2018 ‘Lucia’ Soberranes Vineyard Pinot Noir
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