On Wednesday I proposed that the tasting portion of the WSET D3 exam is still a theory exam. I threw a couple of made-up theory questions based on your dry tasting notes (my experiential tasting notes) to put that into practice. (Read WSET Diploma Tasting—Burgundy’s Chardonnay Spectrum for the original inquiry and my full tasting notes.)
I got some great feedback on how to tackle those questions. Based on my notes and yours, I’ve put together some bullet points on what to cover in the theory portion. If you have additional thoughts or notes you want to add to this post—you know how to reach me. Cheers
PS: For more Burgundy info, read Wine Regions of Burgundy and a Wine Review and The Australian Alternative to French Favorites based on my studies for the Level 3 exam.
Question 1: Read WSET Diploma Tasting—Burgundy’s Chardonnay Spectrum
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.
• Describe the Burgundian hierarchy system and what this means in reference to the two wines: one being a basic Chablis, the other a Premier Cru.
• Environmental Factors:
Chablis has a cool, continental climate.
- This is a large area of Kimmeridgian soil (soil with a mixture of limestone that contains a considerable amount of fossilized seashells, gives resulting wines a distinct mineral note).
- The vineyards of both Petit Chablis and Chablis are predominantly on flat or on gentle slopes—thus less light/heat interception from the sun, increased risk of frost damage (which is already a major risk in this cool continental climate). Aspects vary, but many face north (away from the equator—brrrr).
- Because of the flatter terrain, grapes are most likely harvested mechanically.
- This typically means lighter bodied wines with higher acid and flavors that stay in the citrus and green fruit side of the spectrum
Chablis Premier Cru:
- Includes 40 named vineyard sites
- Most planted on south and south-east facing slopes
- This increases light interception (heat/warmth from the sun) due to the south/southeast aspect
- Better drainage due to slope grade—reduces vigor of the vine, increases concentration of grapes
- As a result of the two points above, grapes will ripen more fully, resulting wines will be more concentrated in fruit flavors, still maintaining a m(+) to high acidity and fruit flavors may include stone fruits as well.
- Vineyards are managed by hand—increasing quality, as grapes for these wines will be specially selected and sorted in the field (and probably once again in the winery)
- Soils also Kimmmeridgian-based (mineral note)
- Harvested mechanically
- Can retain freshness of fruit flavors due to night harvest and quick transport to the cellar, however some fruit may get crushed, increasing risk of oxidation
- Little/no sorting upon reception
- Direct to press
- Fermentation is typically in stainless steel
- Storage in either stainless or concrete for a few months before bottling
- ML is common to help reduce piercing acidity (malic acid has smoother mouthfeel)
- Wine may also spend time on lees for texture—this will be dependent on the producer, if they want to spend the extra cellar time on that (which will delay release and add to production cost)
- If aged on lees, most likely will not undergo battonage (would add to labor/cost)
- Resulting wines will be crisp, bright, with high acid and green/citrus fruit flavors
- Harvested manually
- Sorting for best fruit in the field and upon reception
- Individual blocks kept separate throughout winemaking process (allows for blending options at the end and to decide which wines may be better suited to lower tier wines or sold off)
- May be fermented in barrel—depending on the producer with some using old oak, others incorporating new, and still others preferring the stainless and/or concrete route
- Lees aging common, with or without battonage for added texture/flavor—again depending on the stylistic preference of the producer (I understand most don’t stir, so as to prevent an over-voluptuous body and add excessive lees aromas/flavors that could overwhelm the primary fruit flavors/aromas)
- May age in time for barrel (typically not new oak, as that would overwhelm flavors, but as with the fermentation process, there are producers in different camps)
- Resulting wines will have a slightly smoother texture, added aromas/flavors from lees aging (and possibly barrel), still maintaining a m(+) to high level of acidity imparting freshness of primary fruits, which will span the spectrum from citrus, green, and stone
•In the Market
- Will cater to low-involvement consumer.
- Intended for immediate consumption
- Lower production cost means lower bottle price for consumer (typically mid-price)
- Will cater to the high-involvement consumer
- Wines typically have age-ability
- Higher production cost means higher bottle cost for consumer (premium or super premium)
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 B is from Chablis; Wine C is from the Cote de Beaune; Wine D is from the Maconnais. They’re also at different hierarchy levels: Wine B is a Premier Cru; Wine C is at the commune/village level; Wine D is also at the commune/village level BUT according to our text, “The Mâconnais is in the final stages of formalizing premier cru status for the best sites in villages like Pouilly-Fuissé”—which is an important thing to note (I think) in an essay.
Can we agree that we can use most, if not all, of the points above to answer this question? (PLEASE let me know if there’s something else that should be added to answer this question more fully.)
Meursault, Cote de Beaune, Cote d’Or
- Meursault is an AOC for white wines only
- The climate is moderate continental
- Has less coverage from the Morvan hills, thus there’s more rain than in the Cote de Nuits, which is a threat particularly near/at harvest (can affect resulting yields)
- The Cote Beaune has more clay, and soils are deeper (than Cote de Nuits—which is why the Cote de Beaune is better suited to Chardonnay, Cote de Nuits to Pinot Noir).
- High density planting helps control vigor
- Village level wines are restricted to 45-47 hL/ha for white grape (controlled/limited yields help increase concentration of flavors/aromas; it’s also noted that many growers will restrict yields even further—but that’s more likely with the Premier and Grand Crus levels)
- Slope, aspect, soil types all important and because of the mountain ranges, there are a lot of options—best sites are found mid-slope with well-draining, shallow soils, good sun exposure, and some frost protection and better ripening potential
- Due to all these factors, the Chardonnays here are fuller, rounder, and “more powerful,” with fruits spanning from citrus to green to stone fruits.
Pouilly-Fuisse, Maconnais, Cote d’Or
- Slightly drier, warmer than Cote d’Or
- There are mixed soils, including limestone and clay
- Aspects are even more varied than Cote d’Or—thus, again, location is key
- Pouilly-Fuisse is special because the hillsides where the vineyards are planted create a semi-circle, further aiding in the retention of warmth, development of fruit flavors, again resulting in wines that are fuller and more structured
Again, I think we can pretty much utilize the information from our previous Chablis question.
In the Cote d’Or and Maconnais…
- Grapes typically always hand harvested
- Sorting in the vineyard and the winery
- Lots kept separate throughout the process (aids in blending option at the end)
- Direct to press
- The Pouilly-Fuisse may have been clarified using sedimentation (a longer process that would add to production cost and resulting wine); the Meursault may have been as well or clarified with quicker methods (reducing cost and getting the product to market faster)
- NOTE: it’s common for winemakers in the Cote d’Or, Cote Chalonnaise, and Maconnais to utilize hyperoxidation to produce a final wines less prone to oxidation (may or may not be the case for either of these two wines)
- Fermentation via native yeast is common for village level wines
- Fermentation in either stainless steel or oak is possible for either Wine C or D
- Aging in barrel would be common for either of these two (with a small percentage of new oak possible)
- Here is where your tasting notes will come in handy. Did you indicate any secondary aromas/flavors from barrel usage? I perceived some baking spice notes on both which, to me, indicated barrel use, but there was no excessive indication (no overwhelming ‘oaky’ notes), thus I would conclude that percentage of new oak would be minimal or zero.
- ML carried out in barrel—probably just a percentage of ML, so as to keep a balanced level of acidity
- again, percentage of ML will depend on producer, and you’ll want to refer to your tasting notes
- Lees aging (with or without stirring, depending on style)
- again, this will depend on producer, and you’ll want to refer to your tasting notes
- It’s also noted that white wines are commonly filtered, as cloudiness may be perceived as a “flaw” to consumers
What other factors did you include in your answer? Share some thoughts and bullet points in the comments.
Based on this discussion, I hope you see how theory and tasting overlap. These questions could have easily been the concluding inquiries of the tasting portion: ie: What is the common grape variety? What is the common region of origin? Based on your tasting notes and what you know about the environmental conditions and winemaking techniques, you could write and justify your answer to either.
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