WSET Level 3 - Week 5 Already!!

It’s week five of our WSET Level 3 course in London and we’re really getting into the swing of things. Saying Auf Wiedersehen to Germany and Bonjour to France, we head off to taste our way through Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley.

We start off in Burgundy, where the we appreciate the effect of the region’s range of climates and winemaking practices on the two white Chardonnays we taste. The youthful Chablis Premier Cru has notes of green apple, lemon and minerality from the cooler climate in which it’s grown, whereas we taste some riper peach and even banana and creamy, buttery flavours in the Les Aigrots wine from the warmer Côte de Beaune.

The advantage (other than for our bank balances) of visiting these regions through our wine glasses rather than physically trekking out there there is that, with the pop of a cork, we jump from southern Burgundy to the Atlantic coast and Loire Valley.

Here, we taste two famous examples of white grape varieties, one Sauvignon Blanc and one Chenin Blanc. The Pouilly-Fumé delivers on the expectation for a flinty edge accompanying its notes of gooseberry, grapefruit and blossom. Not to be outdone, the Vouvray sec we taste is a fine example of a wine from its region and grape: dry, with hints of stone and citrus fruit alongside a deliciously toasty, coconutty note. To ‘very good’ wines and, unusually for a white, the latter even has ‘potential for ageing’ (if you can bear the wait).

Finally, with a hop, skip and a jump down the coast, we’re revelling in the deliciously balanced sweet Sauternes wine we try: its deceptively high acidity keeps the sweetness in check, allowing us to relish its deliciously complex array of flavours, which range from fresh grapefruit and quince to gingerbread, honeysuckle, marmalade and even a hint of mushroom. Sound like a strange mix? Try for yourself, it’s irresistible and has a Melanie-approved assessment of ‘very good’. Not bad for a Monday evening in February.

Here are a few of the things we cover in this weeks WSET Level 3 programme

 

Bordeaux

Bordeaux is the biggest wine-producing region in France in terms of both volume and value. A few, premium wine producers can claim responsibility for its prestige, but the bulk of production is designed to be simple table wine.

Bordeaux has a moderate, maritime climate that benefits from the warming effect of the Gulf Stream, and is divided into two main areas: the Left Bank and the Right Bank. However, just like us London commuters, winemakers struggle with the problems brought by ‘inclement weather’ (in this case rain and humidity), which means that each vintage varies greatly. As a result, most wines from Bordeaux are blends; it’s too risky for winemakers to rely on a single variety, as a heavy shower could ruin the whole crop in one fell swoop.

The main black varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. White grapes do offer one exception to the ‘blends’ generalisation, with Sauvignon Blanc increasingly found alone. The other main grape, Sémillon, is susceptible to noble rot and thus often used for sweet wines. Finally, Muscadelle supports both sweet and dry wines with its floral, grapey flavour.

 

Burgundy

Burgundy is at once very complicated and easy-as-pie: it is home to enough appellations and producers to give you the kind of headache only a Burgundy Premier Cru will clear, and yet only two grape varieties predominate throughout: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

It’s continental climate ranges from cool in the north (hence the green fruit and high-acidity of Chablis) to moderate further south (where you’ll find riper fruit flavours in wines from Mâcon). The soils in Burgundy are as varied as the weather hazards winemakers face (which range from a wet growing season and spring frosts to dystopian-sounding summer hailstorms). The best sites are located on south or east-facing slopes where they’re protected from the worst of the weather and gusty westerly winds.

Burgundy’s heartland is the Côte d’Or, which splits into two main areas. For the full-bodied Pinot Noir of your dreams head to the Côte de Nuits, or if it’s a wonderfully expressive Chardonnay you’re after, follow the Massif Central down south to the Côte de Beaune.

The Loire Valley

The crucial stretch of France’s longest river is the last few hundred kilometres before it reaches the ocean. Why? This is where the Loire Valley’s most important vineyards are located, loosely grouped into the four sub-regions: the Central Vineyards, Touraine, Anjou-Saumur and Nantais. As you move from the inland Central Vineyards towards the Atlantic, the climate changes from continental to maritime.

The Central Vineyards is the place to go for Sauvignon Blanc, the grape in the famous Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé wines. The best examples of the former are known for being particularly expressive, whereas the latter are said to have subtle smoky notes, as the name suggests (‘fumé’ means smoked in French).

Moving west to Touraine, you’ll find the bulk of less-premium Sauvignon Blanc, along with some excellent examples of Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc wines. Finally, a whiff of sea breeze tells you that you’re in the Nantais region, where the early-ripening and frost-resistant Melon Blanc predominates.

WSET Level 2 - Saturday Number 2 and the journey continues!!

We’re in week two of the WSET Level 2 course and things are in full swing. Last week we learnt how to taste wine and heard about the natural and human factors that affect its style – from the characteristics of the grape itself, to the climate in which it’s grown and finally the many choices the winemaker makes during the processing phase. We then moved on to the grapes themselves, and were introduced to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

This week we’re picking up where we left off and meeting a lot more grape varieties. Whilst I was broadly aware of different grapes before doing the course, today was a bit like being introduced to a lot of people you’ve heard of but never actually met before – I finally put a ‘face’ to a name for grapes I’ve always know of, but little about.

Of course, wines don’t always contain a single grape, and we discovered why some of the most common blends work so well. I’d never realised it, but, in some ways, winemaking is like cooking or even marriage. Some grapes have more pronounced – and potentially harsh – personalities whereas others can sometimes lack a little panache when found alone, but serve as a helpful moderating influence in partnership with another grape.

The right combination can therefore prove to be ‘just right’, with the different properties complementing and balancing each other, as is the case for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, or indeed Syrah and Grenache. In both of these blends, the former provides structure in the form of tannin and acidity, as well as pronounced fruit flavours. The latter, on the other hand, stops the wine being austere by bringing more body and alcohol to the mix.

We see the benefit of this in the difference between the somewhat bland Merlot we taste and the more intense (and dangerously drinkable) Bordeaux Supérieur blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – the perfect way to round-off the morning before lunch.

 

WSET Level 2 - Afternoon

After a glass of Austrian wine and a bad-for-the-body but good-for-the-soul amount of cheese, we tackle two different white grape varieties – Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Comparing the two gives us an interesting insight into the commercial side of the wine world; Sauvignon Blanc is successful because it is widely known for being clean, crisp and refreshing, an expectation it consistently delivers on. Riesling, on the other hand, is widely appreciated amongst wine connoisseurs, yet little known amongst consumers, many of whom are unaware of its (numerous!) qualities.

When we taste two Sauvignon Blancs, we see for ourselves why certain regions stand out from others for producing good wines – the 2015 Sancerre (from the Loire Valley in France) is dry, acidic and the crisp notes of grapefruit, green apple and hint of minerality all linger pleasantly in our mouths for quite some time after the wine has gone. It’s long-lost cousin from New Zealand fails to equal its balance and complexity, however, and no sooner have we swallowed than the flavours vanish. Whilst certain areas in New Zealand hold a justified reputation for premium wines, this example, judged ‘acceptable’ by our class, comes from an area near – but crucially not quite in – Marlborough. Disappointing, as in fact, wines from this area are usually even more aromatic than their Loire Valley counterparts. The Austrian Riesling we taste redeems the white-grape-team though, with the floral notes on the nose giving way to delicious hints of lime peel and white peach as we taste it.

By the end of the session, my disdain for people who use spittoons is starting to wane, as whilst my head is mostly spinning from the dizzying WSET tour of the world’s grapes we’ve been on, I can’t deny that the 11 wines we’ve tasted have to take at least some responsibility…

WSET Level 2 and 3 Wine Tutor Melanie in full flow!!

WSET Level 2 and 3 Wine Tutor Melanie in full flow!!

Our WSET Level 3 Course continues.........

WSET Level 3 Week 4

I think week four of our WSET Level 3 course might have been my favourite so far, as whilst technically we spent the evening in South London, virtually we went on a trip to the regions that produce some of my favourite wines – Germany, Austria and Alsace. I even discovered a new wine region that I’d never even heard of before – Tokaj in Hungary.

Having road-tripped through the Mosel Valley this summer, I realised what a good excuse this course is giving me to go on more ‘educational’ wine-drinking holidays. Having tasted the wines in situ, enjoying the spectacular view of neat rows of vines beside the meandering river Mosel, Melanie’s explanation of how the steep slopes and reflected sunlight from the river make this region the producer of world-famous Rieslings really came to life.

Moving on to Alsace, we learnt how the Vosges Mountains protect the wine-growing region from rain-bearing, westerly winds, and how this, combined with the prevalence of sunlight and steep slopes, gives rise to the Alsace Grand Cru wines – the region’s best. We taste a Riesling from this area, whose characteristic high acidity and good intensity of stone and citrus fruit flavours, with a certain roundness to it, earn it a ‘good’ assessment from our class, with a ‘drink now: suitable for ageing or further ageing’ (Riesling is a white wines that can develop well with age).

We round off our session with a sweet Tokaji wine – confusingly with a different name to that of the region where it’s grown (Tokaj). Whilst German Rieslings haven’t quite shaken off the association with being sweet’n’cheap, from when the UK used to bulk import such wines in the 1970s, Tokaj is renowned for its sweet wines, which are top quality and anything other than cheap – a shame, because the 2011 example we taste is absolutely delicious and leaves me wanting to explore more of what Hungary has to offer…

If you are interested to learn more about German Wines, visit the wines of Germany webs-site, dedicated to raising awareness of German wines in the UK.

WSET Level 3 - Week five

It’s week five of our WSET course and we’re really getting into the swing of things. Saying Auf Wiedersehen to Germany and Bonjour to France, we head off to taste our way through Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley.

We start off in Burgundy, where the we appreciate the effect of the region’s range of climates and winemaking practices on the two white Chardonnays we taste. The youthful Chablis Premier Cru has notes of green apple, lemon and minerality from the cooler climate in which it’s grown, whereas we taste some riper peach and even banana and creamy, buttery flavours in the Les Aigrots wine from the warmer Côte de Beaune.

The advantage (other than for our bank balances) of visiting these regions through our wine glasses rather than physically trekking out there there is that, with the pop of a cork, we jump from southern Burgundy to the Atlantic coast and Loire Valley.

Here, we taste two famous examples of white grape varieties, one Sauvignon Blanc and one Chenin Blanc. The Pouilly-Fumé delivers on the expectation for a flinty edge accompanying its notes of gooseberry, grapefruit and blossom. Not to be outdone, the Vouvray sec we taste is a fine example of a wine from its region and grape: dry, with hints of stone and citrus fruit alongside a deliciously toasty, coconutty note. To ‘very good’ wines and, unusually for a white, the latter even has ‘potential for ageing’ (if you can bear the wait).

Finally, with a hop, skip and a jump down the coast, we’re revelling in the deliciously balanced sweet Sauternes wine we try: its deceptively high acidity keeps the sweetness in check, allowing us to relish its deliciously complex array of flavours, which range from fresh grapefruit and quince to gingerbread, honeysuckle, marmalade and even a hint of mushroom. Sound like a strange mix? Try for yourself, it’s irresistible and has a Melanie-approved assessment of ‘very good’. Not bad for a Monday evening in February.

 

A great example of Austrian Wine from Sonnenmulde - an exclusive wine to ByChix, sold at Vintage1824 in Herne Hill

A great example of Austrian Wine from Sonnenmulde - an exclusive wine to ByChix, sold at Vintage1824 in Herne Hill

Our WSET Level 2 Weekend Course Begins

Session one - morning

The round of introductions on the first morning of the WSET Level 2 course at The Wine Parlour in South London showed that our group was interested in wine for many reasons – a few of us had jobs linked to wine or were considering a career change, others had been given the course as a Christmas present and some just wanted to learn more about wine, knowing nothing other than how enjoyable it is to drink…

One of the first things we learnt was how, whilst we’ll be learning how to describe the wine’s aromas and flavours using the WSET’s systematic approach, this will never be a fully objective process because people’s sensitivities to certain tastes differ. Our teacher Melanie demonstrated this by passing round small strips of paper which we were instructed to keep on our tongue until they started to taste unpleasantly bitter – as we took them out one by one, we saw what she meant: some of us had tasted the bitterness faster than others.

We went on to meet our laminated guide to how to taste wine – this will be our best friend over the next three weeks as it provides a structure to what to describe when you taste a wine and how to describe it. It seems quite complicated, but it’s actually format sticks to how you would naturally approach a glass of wine: start with its appearance, follow with what you smell and finally what you taste.

Seeing as by now we’d heard the theory (and it was past midday), it was time to put it into practice and taste our first two wines. As our sense of taste and smell is closely linked, Melanie demonstrated a technique reminiscent of Chinese noodle slurping, through which you can maximise the impact of the flavours to help you identify them. So, within two hours of meeting each other, we were practising our sniffing, slurping and spitting (in theory anyway), before taking a well-earned break for lunch…

 

Session one - afternoon

After a delicious selection of cheese and charcuterie, washed down with a crisp glass of German Riesling, we were feeling very relaxed as we returned for our afternoon session. But there was no time for an afternoon snooze, as we were keen to meet our grapes of the afternoon – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are next up for our WSET Level 2 course.

Chardonnay is an unusually versatile grape variety, capable of growing in a range of different climates and producing different flavours depending on the conditions in the vineyard and winemaking techniques used. White Burgundies are famed throughout the world, with French winemakers expertly using the process of malolactic fermentation (MLF) to soften harsh acids and add a weighty, creamy texture to their wines. Other examples, such as the Chablis we tasted, see no oak or MLF, allowing the grape’s delicate, pure fruit flavours to shine through – something we appreciated in the notes of lemon, crisp apple and minerality common to wines from this village. The example we tasted from California demonstrated how, in hotter climates, Chardonnay will express riper, tropical fruits such as mango or banana, as well as a more creamy lemon.

Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is known for being a difficult grape variety to grow. This is unfortunate as it widely appreciated for producing wines that are extremely easy to drink, a reputation it doesn’t have for nothing, as we learnt from the deliciously spicy Spätburgunder we tried, with notes of strawberries, red cherries and plums – and no, the wine didn’t dilute our concentration – Spätburgunder is the German word for Pinot Noir, and in fact Germany produces some of the finest examples of this grape in the world. Sadly, our second Pinot Noir failed to live up to the first, unusually expressing a very different personality on the nose than on the palate and showing us why wines are sometimes described as confused. At the end of the session, we leave fairly exhausted but eager to see what wines Melanie has in store for us next week.

WSET - Week Three & the blind tasting!!

As I made my way to The Wine Parlour on this rainy Monday in South London, I wondered what Melanie had in store for us this week… it is already week three of our WSET Level 3 course! Never failing to surprise, when we arrived we were confronted with our first ‘mock exam’ – two wines to taste and describe on two, very blank, pieces of paper.

So far, we’ve had Melanie prompting us about what we need to describe and, of course, giving us clues as to what we might be identifying in the wine. But apparently there’s no time like the present to give it a go alone and so we got peering, sniffing, swirling and sipping and spent 30 minutes scratching our heads and changing our minds.  The WSET Level 3 exam has a separate blind tasting element to the exam, so this experience is very valuable.

Whilst going solo was an unnerving experience, it taught us the kind of valuable lessons you only learn by making the mistake yourself. For example, don’t forget to state the wine’s development in the nose section (we’re not at WSET Level 2 anymore) and… be strict about time keeping! Half an hour disappears surprisingly quickly when you’re deliberating just how much saliva your mouth is producing after a sip (an indicator of acidity) or peering into your red wine glass and wondering whether you can see the stem clearly enough for its colour to be described as light rather than medium.

Finally, Melanie rewarded us with our cheese and charcuterie platter and a detailed account of the winemaking process: once they are harvested, the grapes are taken to the winery, where they will be treated, fermented and left to mature in accordance with the kind of wine that the winemaker wants to produce. Whilst some elements are common to the process of making any wine, some choices – for example length of skin contact or the kind of vessel used for maturation – can be used to achieve a certain style of wine. The grapes have not quite reached our glasses yet, but they’re certainly getting closer…

 

Week Two For Our WSET Level 3 Students

In week two of our WSET Level 3 wine course, our focus shifted from describing the wine to learning about the beginning of the grapes’ journey from seed to becoming the wine in our glass, with our topic of natural factors in the vineyard. The important factors are the soil, grapes, climate and the weather (in case, like me, you wondered what the difference is, the former doesn’t change from year-to-year, whereas the latter varies on a daily basis).

The influence of these factors can be detected in the wine, and it turns out that they provide further clues as to why the wine tastes the way it does, and Melanie gave us an exercise to demonstrate how this works in practice. Firstly, we described the colour intensity, tannins, acidity and flavour characteristics you would typically expect from four grape varieties. Then, she gave us two red wines to taste. The task? Identify which grape the wine came from.

This turned out to be just as difficult as identifying aromas, although with our helpful flipchart of typical characteristics, once we’d written our tasting note it was something of a game of mix and match. It would have been too easy if everything had fit perfectly though, so in the end it was put to the vote – with a narrow, but justified, win for Merlot. Both wines were high in acidity (not medium as you’d expect of Merlot) and this had set some of us on the wrong track; a good lesson that wines don’t always give you the flavours you’d expect from a grape.

Some characteristics didn’t lie though, with the riper fruit of the Napa Valley bottle expressing the hotter climate in California. Most importantly of all, I could genuinely taste the prune! One step on from week one and things are already starting to make more sense…

Our Latest WSET Level 3 Course Begins!

Session one of the WSET Level 3 course kicked off on a cold January evening in South London last week, with Melanie welcoming our group and going through the course programme. Our journey will see us taste 60 – 70 wines and learn about the factors that influence style, quality and price, with visits to some of the world’s major wine-growing regions along the way.

At Level 3, students learn how to taste wine and assess it using the WSET’s standardised technique. This means that we’ll be able to take a few sips of any glass of wine and give a precise description of how it tastes, an explanation of why it tastes the way it does, as well as a reasoned – and objective – evaluation of its quality. A step up from the Level 2 course is that we’ll also learn to determine whether a wine is ready for drinking and/or has potential for ageing, another vital skill for anyone investing money or anticipation in a cellar full of wine!

Exciting as this prospect is, on day one it certainly feels as if we’ve got a long way to go to reach our destination… “time to get drinking”, you might think. But our teacher Melanie is no walkover, and before a drop passes our lips, we need our ‘phrasebook’ – the vocabulary defined by the WSET to describe a wine’s appearance, nose and palate. This is what we’ll use each time we taste a wine and so it’s vital we become comfortable using the terms on the (helpfully laminated) tasting card we’ve been given.   

Finally, we hear that long-awaited ‘phut’ of a cork being removed from a bottle and we’re on our way… with Melanie’s guidance, a taste of four wines shows us how we can apply the technique and reach an assessment. We certainly need her to hold our hand for the moment, but we’ve taken our first steps and will be back for more next week… 

Our on-line Wine Shop goes live!

Our on-line wine shop is now live - please take a look at www.winesbychix.com.

We have put a lot of effort into passionately describing our wines, offering tasting videos, aroma wheels, and much much more.  If you live locally we will deliver your wine for free, or you can come and collect it and enjoy a glass of champagne on us.

Sante

New Artist Luke Adam Hawker is in the house!!

Last year we really enjoyed showcasing Martin Grover's artwork here at The Wine Parlour.  So for 2016, we are very pleased to have a new artist, Luke Adam Hawker, exhibiting his work with us.

Luke is a practising Artist, Designer, Illustrator.  He studied Interior Architecture and Design at Nottingham Trent University, this architectural background is evident within his work. Drawing on location in pen and ink, Luke's main focus is London's architecturally rich urban environment and our interaction with it.

Please do take a look at his work next time you are with us.  You can buy his work at The Wine Parlour, or by visiting his web-site http://www.lukeadamhawker.com/

Small Business Saturday - THIS SATURDAY!!!

£10 off a case of wine - Saturday only - 12pm - 7pm here at The Wine Parlour

Small Business Saturday UK is a grass-roots campaign which exists to support, promote and inspire small businesses, on the first Saturday in December, and beyond.  We are proud to be a small business here in Brixton and be part of Small Business Saturday.  Small businesses make a real difference to your local area.  Show your support by shopping with your local small businesses on Saturday.

Come into The Wine Parlour and get £10 off a case wine during the day!

Our favourite Tweet of the Month so far!!

We love it when customers share their experiences of The Wine Parlour on social media.  Here is a great photo from chef, Walter Ishizuka.  If you are enjoying a special moment with us, whether it is in a Wine Tasting, Sherry Tasting, WSET Level 2 Course, or just a glass of something special at the barrel, please share it with us!

Sherry Tasting At The Wine Parlour

Lovely Sherry Tasting evening in The Wine Parlour on Thursday evening.

Sherry really is a fascinating subject and people love rediscovering it during our Sherry Tastings.  We take you right the way through the full range of Sherry's from dry to sweet including Fino en Rama, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso, and Pedro Ximenez.  We explain the key differences between the two different types of Sherry  - Fino & Oloroso.  One of the things we love about Sherry is it's history and part of the evening is spent sharing the wonderful story of sherry with people.  Visit the wine courses page to find out more about this tasting.

Our WSET Level 2 Courses continue

Our WSET Level 2 courses here in Brixton, South London are already half way through the syllabus!

Students have been busy learning about Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as other important aspects of the WSET Level 2 course such as wine with food, and the factors affecting wine style, quality and price!

Our approach to delivering WSET Courses is different to many other schools.  We work in small groups rather than larger classes, we encourage discussion rather than just listening, and we work across different teaching methods, from the text book, to presentations, to films and videos, to work shop style discussions.  We believe this creates a more relaxed atmospher which allows people to learn more and enjoy their WSET courses at the same time! 

If you would like to talk about doing one of our WSET courses next year, please pop in and speak to us.  Our WSET Level 2 Courses in London can also be booked on line by clicking here