Studying – WSET Level 2

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Dabbling in wine for years was fun but I recently stepped into the land of getting serious. I began this journey with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) last December. WSET is a London based organization founded in 1969. They expanded across the globe to make learning for professionals and wine enthusiasts easier. I’m presently studying with a WSET partner in Bordeaux. There are a handful of other organizations, each with a slightly different slant, including The Wine Guild, The Society of Wine Educators, and the Institute of Masters of Wine.

After weeks of studying, I finally met the person behind the voice: instructor Tracey is originally from Halifax, Canada. This no nonsense, funny woman moves at a rapid pace. We started our first class reviewing the main components of wine: appearance (e.g. clear, hazy, ruby, brown, etc.), nose (condition, aromas and bouquet), and palate (sweetness, acidity, tannin and body). There’s a tasting component associated with all WSET courses surrounding these items. It’s organized a specific way with specific lingo thus understanding them is essential. Assessing them, one comes up with conclusions about the wine.

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Tasting notes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That topic flowed directly into how food and wine interact. How many times have you asked which wine to serve with that herb roasted chicken or Caesar salad with slices of flank steak? Or chocolate? This section helped make sense out of each component of wine that by the way, is also found in food. But we can’t forget umami, bitterness, and an item most of us love- fat.

While I knew hotter areas result in riper grapes and with ripeness comes higher sugar levels, I’d never picked apart all items that affect style, quality and price of a wine. There are so many decisions a viticulturist and winemaker must make, taking into account the climate, vineyard aspect, water, soil, vineyard activities (trellising, pruning, leaf positioning, number of grape bunches on each vine, to name a few).

Back to class- We then began navigating information found on wine labels and wine classification. How a wine is labeled ultimately starts with geographical indications (GI). Each country has its own way of dividing geographical areas of wine and breaking them down into further categories. GIs can be small (one vineyard) or large, covering an entire region (e.g. Bordeaux). Wine worldwide is either in a GI (and adheres to the associated rules) or not.

The European Union established two main categories of GI: Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), each having a set of rules. To go deeper, PDO rules specify grape varieties, vine growing and winemaking specifics for an area, and are stricter. The interesting thing is most countries use their own traditional labeling terms, which fall under PDO or PGI. For example, Italy uses Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) or Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCa). France uses Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) where the Contrôlée part was recently changed to Protégée, thus now AOP. Seems every country has it’s own different terminology and rules.

To make matters more confusing (or interesting depending on how you look at it), the grape name is not included on a PDO wine label (majority of the time) because given the rules, wines produced in a specific area have specific characteristics based on the climate, grape growing, winemaking, etc. Chablis is an example; a wine can only be labeled Chablis if made in one of the four Chablis appellations in the northern part of Burgundy. Chablis is unique to this area with specific aroma and taste characteristics. Such wines are labeled “Chablis”, and would include other appropriate information such as Premier Cru, Grand Cru, the name of the vineyard, producer and year. The name of the grape (Chardonnay in this example) is not put on the label.

When trying to get this all straight, I found helpful information on appellations and GIs here and here.

The above only touches upon the complex world of classification and labeling but is a good start!

Over the course of three days we also dove into the most common grape varieties, and other white and red not as common varieties. With each grape we looked at key areas in the world growing the grape, climate, climatic influences, soils, aspect, and characteristics of the wine made in each area. And we also looked at how wine is classified in each area (which is a necessary evil).

Prior to this class, I knew nothing about spirits, liquor, and the distillation process- hard alcohol is not my thing. However, fascinating chapters and tastings they were! A new appreciation for these items is bubbling under the surface.

Upwards of 40 wines were opened. I haven’t touched upon tasting here but will share more in the future.

To wrap up, here are two common wine terms people frequently ask about. What do they mean and what’s the difference between the two?

Vinification refers to how a wine is made. It’s basically the process of turning grapes into wine. Wine types are usually classified by vinification method, as well as taste, vintage, style, and quality. There are three vinification wine classifications: table, sparkling and fortified wines.

Viticulture is the science, production and study of grapes and deals with events that occur in the vineyard. Pertaining to grapes, it is often referred to as viniculture and is the basically the cultivation of the vines.

Viticulturists monitor and control pests and diseases, fertilize, irrigate, deal with canopy management, monitor fruit development and characteristics, and decide when to harvest and prune vines during the winter months, among other things.

Have any questions? Send them my way!

Santé!

2 thoughts on “Studying – WSET Level 2

    1. Lynn Post author

      Yes, thanks David. I believe you know just how fun and interesting the journey is 😉

      Reply

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