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Everything You Need to Know About Carmenere

3 minute read
last updated 6 September 2023

Don’t fancy reading? Check out the video on our youtube channel!

This post was supposed to be about a grape variety beginning with ‘D’ (you know – so it flowed nicely from Cab Franc …) but it turned out we had some Carmenère coming into the shop and … well, it’s still all in alphabetical order.

Carmenère, a cross between Cabernet Franc and Gros Cabernet, is a grape variety that hails from Bordeaux (so historically part of a Bordeaux blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) although there it has steadily been falling out of fashion. Globally, small pockets of it are grown in many wine producing countries but the place where it really thrives is Chile.

Vines were brought to Chile in the nineteenth century (along with Merlot) and really blossomed in the warm and dry climate. In fact, for a long time, everyone (including the Chileans) thought they were growing Merlot exclusively. In the mid-90s an ampelographer spotted the difference between the two ‘Merlots’ and, following DNA analysis, Carmenère was recognised as an official variety for Chile in 1998.

When this happened – plantings shot up and today, Carmenère is more synonymous with Chile than any other country.

Its flavour profile can be rather green if picked a little unripe – think lots of green capsicum and herbaceous notes. But, as it ripens, red berry flavours develop before morphing into blackberry, blueberry and even chocolate and coffee.


There’s not a lot here … but there’s a little grown in places as diverse as the Adelaide Hills through to the Barossa, Granite Belt and Heathcote. It’s one of those wines that to find a local example, you really will have to keep your eyes peeled.

The World

Well, there’s obviously Chile!

There’s also tiny amounts grown in Italy (where it has been confused with Cabernet Franc), the US and even Canada. But perhaps the most left-field region in which it’s found is China‘s Jiaodong region. In fact, China’s plantings outstrip everyone else’s except Chile! In China, it is often known by one of its synonyms: Cabernet Gernischt.

The Key Facts

  • Carmenère ripens quite late and is, unfortunately, quite susceptible to disease which has contributed to dwindling plantings in Europe
  • key descriptors are blackberry and blueberry
  • like Cabernet Franc – if not fully ripe you will get those notes of green capsicum – some people love that, some not so much
  • key region is Chile

Food Pairing

Because Carmenère is big in flavour but not usually super tannic it works well with any boldly flavoured dish, and you can throw curries and other spiced (and spicy!) dishes into the mix. To riff on things Latin American, why not pair with a chilli con carne or a steak with lashings of chimichurri sauce?

Anything Else I Should Know?

Its name, Carmenère, derives from the French for crimson, carmin. But this doesn’t refer to the colour of the grapes or the wine … instead, it’s the colour the leaves turn in Autumn!


We’ll be keeping our beady eyes out for local examples (or, wines that at least feature Carmenère), but in the meantime, enjoy this Chilean example!

  • Terra Noble Gran Reserva Carmenere 2018

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  • Vina Ventisquero Queulat Gran Reserva Carmenere 2020

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Study Tips For Your WSET Exam

last updated: 23 June 2023
4 minute read

This blog post is going to focus mainly on study for your WSET Level 2 Award in Wines exam. As Level 1 is usually one day there’s not a lot of take home advice I can give you. And much of what applies to Level 2 will also apply to Level 3. Please do bear in mind that Level 3 is considerably more work than Level 2 … and budget your time accordingly.

My first piece of advice, is to listen ACTIVELY during class. Make notes, ask questions. If you’re tired or distracted by your phone (or work) you’re not getting as much out of the class as you could!

The other BIG piece of advice I give my students is to know what is RED and what is WHITE. This might sound ridiculous (it won’t, by the time you hit the Italian varieties), knowing instantly that a Pommard is red or a Gavi is white is probably going to help you eliminate incorrect answers in the exam. Even if you know nothing else about Gavi (for example) there’s a good chance you’ll be increasing the odds of picking the correct answer from one in four to just one in two!

The WSET issues a formal course specification for each level of study – make use of it! It’s linked to on the course page and you’ll have been sent a link to it at least twice. There’s a reason for that! The course spec is almost like the course but in dot point form. It will help you make sure you’ve covered everything and it’s great for getting non-wine-loving friends and partners to quiz you on your knowledge.

At Level 2 the course spec is the course’s bare bones, the work we do in the classroom (so while you’re using the workbook) puts flesh on that and the text book is the fancy outfit (if you will). I appreciate there’s quite a lot of rote learning at Level 2 – and there’s no way to escape that – but take comfort in the fact that you don’t need to know how to spell or pronounce any of the European place names, labelling terms etc. You really just need to be able to recognise them on the paper.

DO NOT underestimate the power of pen and paper. Research is increasingly revealing that writing stuff down old-school lodges that information in our heads far better than tapping away on a tablet or computer. So I really encourage you to crack out the index cards, write notes, draw mind-maps … One suggestion I give in class is to create matrix (fancy word for large piece of paper with a grid on it) and fill it out with grape varieties. You can then add in things like the colour, the regions in which a grape variety is grown and key structural characteristics. On review, you’ll note that a grape variety might not have anything written for tannin (say) – in which case, that’s an indication that you should go back and check the spec, textbook and workbook. It’s possible that tannin isn’t a key characteristic for this grape – so once you’ve double checked, you can put a cross through the box. Depending on the time available to you, it’s worth taking this matrix approach from a couple of different directions.

In the run up to the exam, focus your energies on these activities. You can spend hours trawling the web for quizzes or watching videos but neither of those will help you retain information. Remember that the WSET courses do change over time and you’ll never know how accurate the random quiz you’ve found is, and whether or not it’s suitable for the current version of the course.

And last of all, on exam day, take a deep breath and remember to READ THE QUESTION! But not just the question … the question and all the answers. Eliminate the ones you know are definitely wrong and if you still don’t have the answer, continue reading through the exam. Sometimes, allow the question to percolate a little will mean that when you come back to it the answer is obvious!

If you have an amazing study tip you’d like to share, please comment below – and I’ll update this post as appropriate!

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Everything You Need to Know About Cabernet Franc

3 minute read
last updated 23 May 2023

After looking at Aglianico and Barbera, let’s look at Cabernet Franc! (Can you see what I’m doing here?). You might be forgiven for thinking is this an interesting choice, given that Cabernet Sauvignon, the King of the Black Grapes, might feel like a more natural option … but I’m a fan of Cab Franc and I really want to use this series of posts to try to highlight some of the grape varieties that slip under the radar.

Cabernet Franc is a very important grape variety – it’s the genetic father of Cabernet Sauvignon and it’s European homeland is widely considered to be Bordeaux, although genetic work indicates it may actually hail from the Basque Country in Spain. It is grown throughout France and the other place where it shines on its own (compared with Bordeaux where it’s used in a blend) is the Loire Valley.

The wines are often comparatively pale in colour and are much lighter than, say, Cabernet Sauvignon. When sufficiently ripe, it shows off leafy and herbaceous characters with a touch of red fruit.


Cabernet Franc has been grown in Australia since James Busby brought vines here in the 1830s. The earliest mention of the grape in Australia seems to be quite late – around 1904 (when the Victorian Department of Agriculture was inviting tenders for various grapes, including Cab Franc, grafted on to US rootstock). Today, Cabernet Franc makes up a tiny percentage of our crush – 0.1%, with most being grown in the Limestone Coast region*.

The World

In France, Bordeaux and the Loire – with the Loire actually slightly more important than Bordeaux. The wines of the Loire are single varietal, so Cabernet Franc is grown in its own right, and not as part of an insurance policy against Cabernet Sauvignon not ripening.

It is also grown in much smaller quantities in north eastern Italy and Spain. There are tiny plantings in eastern Europe, but a little more found in the eastern Mediterranean, in sunny spots such as Cyprus, Turkey and Malta.

In the new world, California, Canada and Uruguay (as well as Australia) all have plantings.

The Key Facts

  • although considered ‘mid-ripening’ the fact that Cab Franc ripens earlier than Cab Sav means it’s easier to ripen fully
  • key descriptor is leafy
  • if not sufficiently ripe, can be quite aggressively herbaceous – blame that on methoxypyrazines!
  • the key regions are Bordeaux (blends) and the Loire (single varietal)

Food Pairing

Because it’s usually a lighter style of red wine (when alone) it pairs well with certain chicken and fish dishes. Because of the wine’s slightly herbal and leafy character, some pan-fried chicken with a tarragon cream sauce would work beautifully. Another great pairing would be lamb (again, served with tons of herbs – perhaps a salsa verde or a herb crust) and it is a grape variety that will also work well with vegetarian dishes, such as a spinach and feta pie, or grilled asparagus or artichokes.

Anything Else I Should Know?

Those methoxypyrazines, the ones creating the notes of green capsicum in your wine? They help act as Cabernet Franc’s natural insect repellent! (Please don’t try using the wine in place of your favourite mozzie spray!).


OK so there’s not a lot grown in Australia but we love it so we do try to keep some on hand, both produced locally and from further afield!

  • Bleasdale Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2021

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  • Domaine Frederic Mabileau Les Racines Bourgueil 2015

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* Check out Wine Australia’s Vintage Survey for the latest numbers for your favourite grape variety.

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Unveiling the Mystery of Cork Taint

3 minute read
updated 18 May 2023

When it comes to the world of wine, there’s one wine fault that wine lovers dread: cork taint. Scientifically known as trichloroanisole (TCA), cork taint has the power to alter the flavours and aromas of wines. It creates a musty or mouldy odour – think of a dishcloth that someone hasn’t wrung out & has left scrunched up on the side … or wet cardboard.

Let’s take a look at the science behind cork taint. We’ll explore its causes, and discover how the industry is working to combat this phenomenon.

Understanding Cork Taint

Cork taint is caused primarily by the presence of TCA, a chemical compound that can contaminate cork. Unfortunately it then affects the wine. TCA is formed when certain fungi interact with naturally occurring compounds, such as airborne mould spores or chlorinated phenolic compounds that are used in the production of cork.

However, it’s not JUST about the cork – TCA can be found throughout a winery (for example, contaminated barrels, cardboard boxes). The North West Wine Report (US based) attempted to crunch the numbers around how much cork taint comes from sources other than the cork. Their estimate? Roughly 6%. Although it wasn’t a massive sample size, it suggests that using something other than cork to seal a wine goes a long way to reduce the risk of cork taint.

The Impact on Wine

When TCA contaminates a wine, it can lead to a range of negative effects on its sensory profile. The most common is a musty or mouldy aroma. Think damp cardboard or wet newspaper. At low concentrations, TCA strips a wine of its (delicious) fruity aromas and flavours. This often causes more problems for producers than a really obviously faulty wine – because the wine just tastes ‘meh’, consumers can take this on board as “well, wines from XYZ brand are all just a bit boring”.

Industry Response

The wine industry has not turned a blind eye to the issue of cork taint – it’s a BIG problem after all.

In Australia, we’re very lucky to have had parts of the industry pioneer the use of alternative closures. In the early 2000s, Clare Valley producers banded together to produce whole vintages of wines under screwcap and today, well over 90% of Australian wines are sealed with a screwcap. This goes a very very long way to eliminating cork taint.

But there are plenty of consumers who love the pop of the cork and associate it with fine wine. And there are plenty of producers around the world still using it … so what can they do?

  • Quality Control: Stringent quality control measures are implemented during cork production to identify and eliminate tainted corks before they reach the wineries.
  • Improved Cork Production: Cork manufacturers are continuously investing in research and technological advancements to reduce the risk of TCA contamination in their products. Innovations such as steam cleaning, supercritical carbon dioxide treatment, and individual cork testing are being implemented to improve the quality of natural corks.
  • And, of course, hyper-vigilance in the winery to eliminate the small percentage of cork taint issues that aren’t cork based.

And what to do if you find a wine affected by cork taint? Well, if you’re in a restaurant you should be offered a new bottle. If it’s a wine you’ve purchased retail, take it back to the bottle shop and they should replace it for you. Of course, this only really works if it’s a recent purchase (and you still have the receipt!). If it’s a wine you’ve cellared for years or bought at auction, then unfortunately you just have to to chalk it up as a (disappointing) experience.

Want a wine NOT sealed with cork? Even super premium producers avoid cork in Australia … for example, Henschke wines, such as the Mount Edelstone, often come under both screw cap and Vinolok.

  • Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz 2016

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Wine At The Right Temperature – Part III

2 minute read

And … it’s the final part of wine at the right temperature where we look at REDS. Yep – as it’s coming into winter this is certainly a timely post!

Fortunately, with reds things are relatively simple (or are they?!). The rule of thumb for reds is “room temperature”. But what does that mean?! I always tell my students to imagine “room temperature” as being in a French château 200 years ago in the middle of winter. That might be a bit chilly, to be fair, but it’s far closer to the ideal than having your bottle of Grange sitting in full sun, next to the BBQ on a 40°C day!

In terms of numbers, you are looking at 15-18°C. The lighter the red, the more you might want to consider chilling it lightly (especially on a hot day). In fact, with our summers, I’d go as far as suggesting you should never be afraid of popping any red in the fridge for, say, 15 minutes on a super hot day.

The thing to keep in mind is that most reds are relatively low in the acidity department and, as I’ve mentioned previously, chilling a wine helps our perception of that acidity. Acidity not only make a wine feel refreshing, it’s an important structural component too (think of it like part of a skeleton). Without appropriate levels of acidity or served at too warm a temperature, a wine may feel a bit flabby, unstructured or cloying.

And, especially if it’s a warm day, that’s the last thing you want!

Now – you might be wondering what constitutes a ‘lighter’ red. Well, it’s not your big, bold Barossa Shiraz! Keep those more on the 18°C side of things! Some Pinot Noir can be very light, and European wines like Valpolicella and Beaujolais are also very well suited to a few minutes in the fridge.

As always, it’s best to work out what suits you. Put the wine in the fridge for a touch too long? Pour a glass, leave it aside for a little while and it will warm up! Just don’t try to warm it up in the microwave …

  • Cantine Pra Valpolicella La Morandina DOC 2020

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  • Sons of Eden Marschall Shiraz 2021

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Wine At The Right Temperature – Part II

Wine in the fridge … ready to warm up!

4 minute read

Last time, we covered off the ‘right’ temperature at which to serve sparkling and sweet wines. The headline there is … well-chilled. While you can worry about a temperature range, straight out of the fridge is going to serve you well as a guideline.

This time, things are a little trickier. We’ll talk about whites and rosés, but, of course, there’s whites and then there’s whites! You’re probably wondering if you would you serve your light and breezy Pinot Grigio at the same temperature as your very serious white Burgundy … and you’re right to do so.

In general, we do want to serve our lighter whites and rosés a little cooler than we want to serve our big, serious wines.

Chilling a wine does a couple of things. A quick recap if you don’t remember!

Firstly, it enhances our perception of the wine’s acidity. Acidity is the mouth-watering characteristic of wine which makes us reach for another glass and gives us that sense of refreshment. That sounds like a great thing, right? And yes, it is. But the flip side is that chilling a wine can start to mask flavours and if we’ve got a fabulous, complex Chardonnay, we want to be able to enjoy every one of those flavours, even the most subtle ones.

So we really don’t want to over-chill a white wine. Something which is light, relatively simple – so with one or two key flavours – we want it to be refreshing so we’re going to serve it a little cooler, but not sooooo cold that those flavours disappear altogether. We’re looking at about 10°C. This is the type of temperature where you want to get the wine out of the fridge maybe half an hour or so before serving – and, unless it’s a fearsomely hot day – you probably don’t want to dump it in a bucket of ice. Wine in the bottle takes a surprisingly long time to warm up when the ambient temperature is relatively normal so you don’t need to worry about your wine getting too warm. If anything, Australians are shockers for serving their wines too cold!

And, of course, if your wine does start to warm up … then pop it back in the fridge.

Bigger, more complex wines we want to serve them a little warmer again – so this time around 13°C. Cool enough that the wine’s acidity can still shine but also warm enough that you can appreciate the range of aromas and flavours.

OK – this is all well and good – 10°C for some whites, 13°C for others. But – what’s what here?

As a guide, wines that haven’t seen very much in the way of winemaking are often the ones best served slightly cooler. Think of a Pinot Grigio or a Sauvignon Blanc – bright, refreshing, lighter bodied wines that generally won’t have had time in oak barrels (or lees contact or gone through malo … all the wine-making things!). Riesling would usually fall into this category, alongside grapes like Vermentino, a Semillon (or a Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blend) and a Grüner Veltliner. Rosés also fall into this category – predominately a rosé is, after all, about refreshment!

The slightly warmer wines would be wines like a premium Chardonnay that has spent time in small oak barrels (and so on). The tasting notes on the back might make mention of spices, dairy characteristics, a fuller body – rather than just rattling off a list of fruits. Not just Chardonnay, of course – Fiano, some wines labelled Pinot Gris, and grape varieties like Roussanne. Some Sauvignon Blanc gets the oak treatment too, in which case those wines would be a candidate for the slightly warmer temperature.

It’s worth having an experiment to find out where your sweet spot is … perhaps pour a couple of small glasses of the same wine and taste them over the course of an hour or two. You’ll be able to see for yourself the difference the temperature makes!

  • Montevento Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2022

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  • West Cape Howe Cape to Cape Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2022

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  • Catlin GB’s Rosé 2021

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Wine At The Right Temperature – Part I

Sparkling wine just chilling!

3 minute read

Sparkling & Sweet Wines.

I’m going to start this by saying that really, the ‘right’ temperature for a wine is the temperature at which YOU want it. You’re drinking it after all – so if you prefer your Shiraz straight from the freezer … then that is absolutely what you should do!

However, if you’re up for a bit of experimentation and want to see if you can really get the most out of your wines, here are some really simple guidelines.

The first thing we need to acknowledge is just how cold a domestic fridge is. And it’s cold: 4°C kind of cold. That’s almost freezing. And this means that if you’re wine has been in the fridge for, say, 24 hours (or a week) then that’s how cold your wine is. And yes – that pretty much is the perfect temperature for a beer on a hot summer’s day! But for many wines … it’s not so great.

Let’s start with the wines for which, actually, straight from the fridge isn’t so bad: sparkling wines and sweet wines. Why is that?

Sparkling Wines – a bottle of sparkling wine is under a huge amount of pressure because of all that lovey carbon dioxide trapped inside. Now – gas as it warms expands so a warm bottle of sparkling wine will be under even more pressure and it’s super likely to pop its cork on you in some kind of dramatic and unexpected manner. You can try this out by taking a bottle of sparkling wine, removing the foil and cage and leaving it on a table for a while. Eventually, yep, the cork will remove itself. By chilling the wine, the gas contracts, there’s less pressure and opening the bottle is much, much safer.

Secondly (and importantly), our perception of a wine’s acidity is heightened when the wine is chilled. And acidity is the thing that makes us think the wine is refreshing. And what do we want from a sparkling wine? More often than not, a refreshing drink that is going to work brilliantly with all those tasty canapés. There’s a double whammy here too – as often those canapés are things like smoked salmon – which is a little bit oily and yes, the acidity cuts through the oil, meaning everything just works.

Sweet wines – it’s a similar story! Here we need the acidity to cut through the sugar in the wine. The acidity literally refreshes our palate so instead of our mouth feeling like it’s wading through spoonfuls of honey, it feels like it really wants another sip of something delicious. I’ll often say to students that, if your lips feel a bit sticky but the inside of your mouth doesn’t, that’s a great indication that a sweet wine has great acidity.

A caveat on all this chilling though … one thing that chilling a wine does is that it starts to dull down the flavours (and, if a wine is dramatically overchilled, mask them altogether!). Obviously that’s not desirable – you want to be able to taste something after all (otherwise you’d just have a glass of water, right?). With sparkling wine, the bubbles help release the flavours and aromas and with sweet wines, their flavours and aromas are typically so dense and pronounced that they can handle that chilling and still deliver.

So … straight from the fridge is fine for sparkling and sweet wines. Ideally, you probably do want them just a touch warmer (think 6-10°C) but by the time the wine is poured into a glass and you have a chat (and one or two snacks) it’s likely to be just perfect!

Thirsty? Here’s some ideas to whet your palate …

  • Dal Zotto Pucino Prosecco NV

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  • Champagne Paul Dethune Rose Grand Cru NV

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  • Royal Tokaji Aszu Gold Label 6 Puttonyos 2016 (500mL)

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Bust a Myth: All Wine Gets Better With Age

(and its friend – “but only if it’s red!”)

4 minute read

I’ve often come across people who have received a ‘special’ bottle of wine which they’ve carefully put away for a ‘special’ occasion. When they’ve come to open it, they’ve been wildly disappointed. “But wine is supposed to get better with age!”.

Sadly, this is, in general, NOT the case. In Australia, most wine is drunk within 24 hours of purchase (and someone from a big chain once told me that internal research showed it was closer to THREE hours) – so if you’re a producer, what kinds of wine are you going to release to the market? Ones that need to sit in a carefully controlled environment for 10+ years before they look good? Or ones that consumers can buy on their way home from work and enjoy with dinner?

You don’t need an MBA to figure out the answer there!

The other thing is, that in order to improve with age a wine needs to be good (nay, bloody good!) in the first place. Something average is going to stay average and, honestly, get worse over time.

In order to age a wine needs a combination of some or all of the following:

  • great tannins
  • great acidity
  • intensity of flavour
  • flavours that develop in an appealing way

The tannins and acidity act as the wine’s bone structure. Generally, it’s tannins for reds and acidity for whites. There are some black grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, which have great tannin and acidity and that makes them ideal candidates for ageing. The tannins and acidity will both soften off over time – so that Semillon which feels like it’s shredded the enamel from your teeth thanks to the high acid will feel very different in 10 years’ time.

The intensity of a wine’s flavours will also decrease over time, so if a wine is a little insipid and boring now – it’s going to get MORE insipid and boring if you leave it for 5 years!

And finally – the flavours do need to develop in an appealing way. This might sound a bit odd – but Sauvignon Blanc is a great case in point here. Savvy B has really intense aromas and flavours and high acidity, so it sounds like an ideal candidate for ageing, right?! Sadly – no. Those beautiful intense notes of grass, passionfruit and gooseberry will actually develop into increasingly vegetal aromas and flavours. The passionfruit will give way to notes of broad bean, pea and asparagus. And this is not everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to wine. A few years ago I was lucky enough to taste a Coonawarra Sauvignon Blanc that was about 15 years old. It smelt and tasted like tinned asparagus! So if you’re after the bright notes most people associate with Sav Blanc – stick with the young ones!

And it’s not only the reds that age! Riesling and Semillon are two wines that, in general, have amazing ageing potential thanks to their naturally high acid levels. Many years ago, I went to work overseas for 4 months – leaving my (university budget) wine collection in a cellar. When I returned 8 years later, almost everything was stuffed – EXCEPT for my collection of Clare Rieslings. None of these had been wildly expensive wines in the first place, but thanks to early adoption of screw caps and Riesling’s amazing ageing ability, the wines all looked FAB!

A lot of good quality, high end Chardonnay also can age – less reliably and in general for not as long as a Riesling or Semillon but still good for a few years in the cellar.

So – what are the Wine Academy ageing hints & tips?

  • if in doubt – drink now! It’s demoralising to pull out that special bottle and discover it’s on its way to vinegar
  • if your budget allows – buy a case and drink a bottle now, see what you think. If you think there’s ageing potential, drink the next bottle in 12 months time. Rinse and repeat until your palate decides the wine’s hit its sweet spot. Remember – everyone’s palate is different. Some people prefer fruit-forward younger wines while others prefer the more savoury character of older wines – and you might be in the middle!
  • invest in good storage. If you’re storing wine long term, you do need to store it properly – in at least temperature controlled conditions (potentially also humidity controlled if your collection is predominantly cork)

Looking for something with ageing potential? Browse our Rieslings and Cabernet Sauvignons as a start!

And sign up to our mailing list so you never miss a post!

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Everything You Need To Know About Barbera

Barbera grape (Vitis vinifera) from Pomona Italiana (1817 – 1839) by Giorgio Gallesio (1772-1839) – via flickr

3 minute read

It’s been over a year since the last look at a grape variety, and for the sake of my sanity, I’ve shifted from Aglianico to Barbera. And while we remain on the Italian mainland, we’ve shifted from south to north. Barbera is one of my favourite grape varieties (my list of favourites is quite long, so make of that what you will!) – I love its approachable, easy-drinking nature, its food-friendliness and, in its Italian format, the fact that it’s vastly more affordable (in general) than its geographically close neighbour, Nebbiolo.

While Barbera’s exact origins remain unknown, its homeland is Piemonte, in Italy’s north-west. DNA research does indicate it’s genetically quite different to its Piemontese stablemates so perhaps it arrived in the region more recently.

The wines showcase the typical cherry aromas and flavours that many will associate with northern Italian reds. Tannins are soft but acidity is generally quite high. This means that you don’t have to pop it in the cellar for years before you can think about drinking it, and it will be easy to pair with food.


Barbera was actually introduced to Australia in the 1960s (although – fun fact – the first mention I’ve found of Barbera in an Australian newspaper is from the Bendigo Advertiser of 1868, in a short piece about Italian wines) but it’s only in recent years that it’s started to take off. When I say ‘take off’ – it still comprises well under 1% of total vineyard area*. Most of it is found in Riverina, with the King Valley a distant second.

The World

In Italy’s Piemonte region we find Barbera d’Asti DOCG as well as Barbera d’Alba DOC and Barbera di Monferrato DOC. It is also grown in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna.

Beyond Italy, it’s popular in California, with limited plantings in Argentina and South Africa.

The Key Facts

  • although relatively late ripening, Barbera retains its acidity well, even when fully ripe
  • yields do need to be limited to ensure generous wines
  • the key descriptor is cherry
  • the key region is Piemonte in northern Italy

Food Pairing

As a northern Italian red – choose your food accordingly. Pasta with wild boar (cinghali) ragu, perhaps? If you can’t track down cinghali locally (!) – substitute with pork. Barbera’s natural acidity will cut through pork’s fat easily. I once suggested pairing Barbera with pizza in a class with an Italian student – it didn’t go down well (given pizza’s southern Italian origins) but I’d still recommend giving it a try! And, if you love garlic, why not try it with bagna cauda, a fabulously garlicky, anchovy based hot sauce, served with raw vegetables for dipping.

Anything else I should know?

In Piemonte, Barbera will often be blended but you won’t see those grapes on the label. Here in Australia, you may well see a Barbera Shiraz (because, after all, Shiraz goes with everything!).


You’ll find we often have the odd Barbera in stock – we teach it in our WSET Level 2 Award in Wines courses and we’re always keen to showcase Australian examples. If you’ve got a favourite Barbera you want to track down, let us know!

  • Paolo Scavino Barbera d’Alba 2020

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  • Coulter C5 Barbera 2021

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  • TarraWarra Estate Barbera 2018

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*Wine Australia

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WSET Level 1 Award in Wines: What To Expect

Maybe you’ve just signed up for the WSET Level 1 Award in Wines class or perhaps you’re thinking about taking that first step in the WSET journey. Either way – this blog post is for you!

On completing check out you should receive two emails – the first will be the payment receipt email and the second will be a confirmation email with some details about the course. If you haven’t subscribed to our email list then this second email is sent manually so there might be a delay – keep an eye out for it! Sometimes emails do end up in spam so if you haven’t received anything then your junk/spam folder is an excellent place to look.

Approximately a week before the course, you’ll receive an email with all the final details. This includes important details about how to find the venue, parking and a reminder to bring along photo ID. This last point is really critical – we can’t let you sit the exam without it!

On the day of the course, please endeavour to be on time! You don’t need to be super early but aim to arrive at about 5 to 9. If you are running late (and we get it – these things happen), please send a text so we know whether you’re 5 minutes or 2 hours away! This is a courtesy to both the person teaching the course and your fellow classmates.

When you arrive, you’re welcome to start the day with a coffee (or tea or other beverage of choice).

After starting with introductions, we then get into the serious side of things! Every student receives the textbook, as well as a handout, a wine list and a pen. You literally do not need to bring anything other than your photo ID. However, a lot of students do bring their own notebook or tasting book and pens/pencils. It’s up to you!

The first part of the day is quite a lot of talking but don’t worry – we do taste wines! We generally taste seven wines (covering off the major grapes and styles) and you will have a spittoon. Please make sure you spit (after all, you have an exam at the end of the day!) and also keep yourself well-hydrated. We have water and glasses on all tables.

Around 1230 we break for lunch. This is included so please make sure you let us know of any dietaries at the time of booking. After lunch, there’s an option for another coffee before we head back to the classroom.

In the afternoon session we delve into food and wine pairing that includes a fun, interactive exercise. Then, we’ve got a practice exam, some revision time and then … the real thing.

For your exam, again – aside from your photo ID you don’t need to bring anything. We supply the pencils and erasers. The exam is a 30 multiple-choice question exam. The pass mark is quite high – 70% or 21/30 so make sure you read the questions and answers carefully AND make sure you answer everything!

It is a closed book exam and you’re not allowed any devices or paper etc. You are allowed to write on the question paper and a lot of people find that really useful in terms of eliminating incorrect answers and so on.

You have 45 minutes to complete the paper – some people will finish earlier than others but don’t worry! You’re not inconveniencing your tutor by being the last to finish and it’s definitely NOT a race to see who will finish first!

You can expect to be finished by 5pm at the latest. Then – if you wish – take yourself to the bar downstairs!

When you’re finished, you need to hand in both the answer paper and question sheet. These are then returned to the UK for marking. We send the papers International Express so they are tracked the whole way and get back as quickly as possible (obviously covid delays make some journeys less ‘express’ than others …). The WSET’s current SLA for issuing results is 6 weeks from receipt – so we ask students not to email us the next day asking for results!

The results are emailed to us and we’ll email you. The certificates follow shortly after that and when we receive your certificate we’ll be in touch to confirm the best postal address. Please do let us know your address as promptly as possible – every now and then we find ourselves holding on to certificates for years!

We hope this information is useful and gives you a good idea of how the day will run. If you have any questions, please just get in touch!