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…