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Port – The Fortified Wine Starter Kit

last updated: 24 May 2024
read time: 3 minutes

Vineyards in the Douro Valley

The very last section we cover in our WSET Level 2 Award in Wines course is fortifieds. We only look at two wines in this section – Sherry and Port. We cover them at a pretty high level, which is a good thing – as while they’re styles of wine that many students have heard of before, they’re not styles with which students are familiar.

Australia’s wine making history really rests on the production of fortified wines. Up until the influx of European migrants after WW2, our winemaking (and consumption) was all about locally produced ‘Port’ and ‘Sherry’. We can’t use those names any more but many many wineries continue to produce Port-style wines.

So what is Port? And why don’t we call it ‘Port’ when it’s made here?

The second question is easier to answer so let’s leave that and take an introductory look at the real deal.

As mentioned, Port is a fortified wine – this means it’s a wine that has been strengthened (fortified) by the addition of extra alcohol (clear grape spirit). So while you’re average table wine will hover between 12 and 15% abv, a Port will likely be around 20% abv. The key thing with Port production is that the wines are fortified during the fermentation process. The addition of the extra alcohol kills the yeast and stops fermentation so any sugar which hasn’t yet been fermented stays in the wine. This means that, as a rule, Ports will be sweet.

Once the wine has been fortified, the ageing process comes into play and this really determines what style of Port you end up with. Very broadly there are ruby Ports and tawny Ports.

What Grapes are Used?

There are a LOT of grapes that are technically permitted when it comes to Port production – rated from “very good” through to “mediocre” and “bad”. Unsurprisingly, the grapes at the lower end of the quality scale don’t get too much of a look in! And while there are 30 recommended grape varieties, in practice there are six which are most widely used. They are Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cão and Tinta Amarela. Ports are typically a blend of some or all of these grape varieties.

Ruby Ports

Ruby Ports typically spend their time in larger barrels. This means that the influence of the oxygen (an oak barrel allows oxygen to interact with the wine) is less noticeable – so the wines are reddish in colour, with flavours of red and black fruits and spice. Not all ruby Ports are labelled as such – a vintage Port (the only Port which is designed for extended bottle ageing) and late bottled vintage (LBV) are both ruby Ports (as are Ruby Port and Reserve Ruby Port – but the clue’s in the name there!).

Tawny Ports

Tawny Ports spend their time in smaller barrels, so the influence of oxygen is more noticeable. The wines are (you guessed it!) tawny in colour and the flavours are more aligned with things like caramel, coffee and toasted nuts.

Aussie Ports?

Why is there no Australian Port?

Port has to be made in Portugal, with the wineries in the Douro Valley and the Port lodges in the coastal city of Porto. Waaaay back in 1994 a trade agreement between Australia and the European Community (EC) saw us agree phase out the use of terms such as Sherry and Port. A further agreement in 2008 saw a timeline put in place and by 2010 ‘Port’ was out. As a side note – this wasn’t a one way street – over 100 of our GIs are protected terms in Europe.

Want to learn more? Check out the official site of the IVDP!

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How To Cure A Hangover

last updated 22 March 2024
3 minute read

While we would never suggest that you indulge to excess, the unfortunate fact remains that every now and then, a few too many drinks are drunk and the next morning … suffering ensues.

Unfortunately (and you’ll read this everywhere) – the best way to ‘cure’ a hangover is to not have one in the first place. Now while ‘only having two drinks’ is a great way to do this, if you’re out at a restaurant or a pub over a few hours this is going to be tricky. So instead, interleave your alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic. While you can absolutely stick with water, take the opportunity to try out a non-alcoholic beer (some of these are actually very good indeed), a non-alcoholic wine (often quite sweet) or a mocktail. This has the added bonus of helping to keep you hydrated.

Also in the preventative category, one of my friends swears by a Berocca and two paracetamol before a night out. This is definitely a proceed with caution/infrequently option – both alcohol and paracetamol put stress on the liver and, in general, mixing the two is not advised. A one off? Fine. Long term use … not so good.

But let’s assume the horse has bolted and you’ve woken up feeling less than stellar.

  • Drink water. And that doesn’t mean drink a litre in one fell swoop – drink little and often (the same way you would if you were dehydrated … because that’s what you are!). The little sips are also more likely to stay down if you’re feeling nauseous.
  • Eat. A lot of people forget to eat while they’re drinking so the next morning your body is running on very low blood sugars. Simple carbohydrates are a great way to nudge those blood sugar levels high relatively quickly – toast is a great start (and perhaps have a sip or two of juice – more sugar and more fluid).
  • Pain relief. Once you’ve had something to eat. Avoid the paracetamol (see above) and, if your stomach is feeling dodgy, avoid ibuprofen as this can irritate your stomach further. That does still leave you with aspirin.
  • Caffeine. OK – this one isn’t going to fix the hangover but it is going to make you feel a bit more alert!

You’ll notice that this is short and simple. Science might be awesome but it hasn’t yet provided the silver bullet hangover cure. And maybe that’s a good thing because it does teach us prevention is better than cure!

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Easter Food & Wine Pairing

last updated: 12 March 2024
3 minute read time

With an early Easter just around the corner this year, it’s definitely time to start thinking about what you’ll be serving your Easter feast. It’s important to keep in mind that it could be quite warm so keep your ideas flexible and remember, the best food and wine pairing is the one you enjoy the most – regardless of any ‘rules’!

Canapés and Seafood

I’ve bundled these together because quite often they work in similar ways when it comes to wine pairing. Canapés are traditionally served with a sparkling wine – the wine’s high acidity in particular will cut through the richness of your bite-size morsels, from oysters to smoked salmon to charcuterie. Choose a dry sparkling wine, ensure it’s well-chilled and you’re good to go.

The sparkling wine will also work well if you’re serving seafood at any point during the meal. The flavour profile of non-vintage sparklings is typically light enough to not overwhelm a delicate piece of fish and again, the acidity works incredibly well against the richness of a prawn cocktail sauce.

More robust fish, perhaps cured salmon or tuna, will work well with a high acid white wine such as Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc and, if you have die-hard red wine drinkers to please, opt for a lighter red, such as Beaujolais or a fresh, young Pinot Noir. If it’s a warm day, don’t be afraid to pop these wines in the fridge for half an hour before serving.

Meats

Many people serve lamb at Easter in which case a very safe pairing is a Cabernet Sauvignon – it has great acidity to cut through the lamb fat, it has plenty of bold flavours to stand up to however you’ve cooked the lamb (the char from the BBQ, the rosemary, the garlic and so on) and the fruitiness of the wine will be a great contrast to the savoury flavours on your plate.

If you’re going with a ham for your centrepiece, consider Shiraz as a great option. One from a cooler climate will have more peppery notes to it which will work well with the smokiness of the meat. For white wine lovers, a Riesling is a great choice here.

Dessert

Typically the trickiest part of the meal to pair with wine, because the sweetness of the food will swamp all but the sweetest of wines. If you’re serving a lighter, less sweet, dessert, such as fruit salad or a colomba, then a sweet sparkling wine, such as a Moscato, is a brilliant choice. As the flavours and sweetness ramp up (pavlova, anyone?), you need to up your sweet wine – start looking to botrytised wines, such as Sauternes, or even fortified wines, such as Port (which is a great choice if your dessert features chocolate).

These are just guidelines … if you want to drink sparkling wine the entire way through your meal, I most certainly will not argue with you!

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Five Food Pairings For Your Favourite Sparkling Wine

last updated: 22 Feb 2024
4 minute read

Now, I am a big fan of a glass of sparkling wine on its own. On a hot afternoon, sitting down with a chilled glass of bubbles and having a chat with friends or family is a really lovely way to decompress – no food required!

However, if you’re entertaining, you’re likely to want to have at least one plate of something to pass around.

The thing to keep in mind with sparkling wine is its high acidity – that’s why so many of the classic choices are fatty, oily or rich (or all three – smoked salmon, I’m looking at you!). Not all sparkling wines are bone dry

This list could easily be five absolute classics that you’ve already heard of … and there’s no fun in that so I’m bundling ‘the classics’ together as food pairing no 1 … let’s go!

1. The Classics

Smoked salmon on blinis (with or without horseradish crême fraîche), oysters and caviar. I’m going to add in creamy cheeses here too … think brie (even truffled brie) or goat’s cheese on a cracker. And if you’re really pushing the boat out, then pick up some foie gras.

2. The Italians

Sparkling wine isn’t just a French thing. The Italians give us a range of sparklings, including Prosecco and Franciacorta. These are two quite different styles so you do need to match the food to the wine (or vice versa). Prosecco typically has a little sweetness to it and its flavour profile is very fruit driven. Keeping this in mind, you’ll want to think about pairing with sweeter things – perhaps a chilled fruit salad or a slice of panettone. Franciacorta is much more in line with Champagne (they’re produced using the same method) – so go with some Italian classics like linguine alle vongole (with clams), a risotto milanese or ravioli with pumpkin served in a burnt butter sauce.

3. The Spanish

We can’t forget Cava! A lot of Spanish food is just made for snacking so take your inspiration from tapas. Boquerones, the big fat white pickled anchovies, or whitebait (tiny fried fish) are perfect with a dry sparkling wine. Similarly, some salted toasted almonds, chicken croquetas or stuffed olives are all easy to eat and a great match. Very finely sliced jamón, perhaps served on pumpernickel with a remoulade, will also be ideal.

4. Head to Asia

Sushi and sashimi are often seafood dominant, and the richness of other flavours – including kewpie mayo and avocado – work brilliantly with sparkling wine. Don’t go too heavy on the wasabi or soy sauce though! Sparkling wines that have a little bit of sweetness to them will work surprisingly well with spicier dishes from through south-east Asia. Although a super spicy larb is well beyond sparkling wine’s remit, the more gentle heat of a pad thai, or a Goan fish curry will both sing with sparkling. And don’t forget finger food, such as spring rolls, samosas or pakoras. The acidity in the sparkling wine will cut through the fat in a jiffy!

5. Hit the Beach

Closer to home, we’re blessed with a lot of food that works with sparkling. Fish and chips (by the beach or not) – check. Salt and pepper squid – check. But if you’re cooking roast pork in the oven (so you’re not overloaded with smoky, charcoal flavours), crack out a bottle of sparkling wine and it will cut through the fat amazingly. And if that’s after a prawn cocktail – then so much the better. If you’ve come across a bottle of sweet sparkling, then you could do worse than pair it with pavlova.

Let us know your favourite (or most quirky) sparkling pairing below!

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Remote Invigilation – An Overview

For students studying one of our online WSET courses, remote invigilation is a popular way to sit the exam. It allows you to sit the exam at a date and time that suits you and, for interstate and regional students, it means you don’t have to make the trek to Adelaide.

The first thing to do is to read through this page and watch the videos. This gives you a step by step overview of both the system check and exam day process.

When Can I Sit My Exam?

Remote invigilation is extremely flexible. There are a handful of days each year that aren’t available (they’re usually things like Easter and Christmas) and there is a black out window each day between 2230 (10:30pm) and 0000 (midnight) UK time (so either GMT or BST). We will tell you what times you need to avoid when we first send through our standard remote invigilation but you can also check yourself here. We will also double check the time when you book in and will let you know if there’s an issue.

Why Does It Cost Extra?

Yes, there is an additional charge for remote invigilation. The cost of your exam is covered by your course fee BUT remote invigilation is an add on (and yes, we are charged extra too!). We don’t invoice students for this in advance – once you’ve decided on remote invigilation and picked out the date and time for your exam we’ll send through an invoice.

The Invoice

Your invoice is SUPER important! This is what we book the exam from so please, PLEASE double check that it’s as you expect – BEFORE YOU PAY THE INVOICE!

It’s important you check (and check) again:

  • your name – this needs to match your name on your photo ID. You don’t need to worry about your middle name (unless you’d like it to appear on your certificate) but your first name and last name need to match your photo ID. So, if your name is John Smith but you call yourself Jack it really does need to be John! Similarly, if you’re a Susan but called Sue – we need to register you as Susan. The certificate will be printed with the names on the invoice, in left to right order.
  • the date, time and time zone of the exam – yes, all three! We give you the day and the date and we give the times in both 24 hour clock and am/pm. We also give you the time zone. By default, this is the time zone of the state that you gave as your address when you signed up for the course. This means that if you live in Broken Hill or Lord Howe Island (or anywhere else that happens to have a time zone that doesn’t match its state!) you need to tell us. Similarly, if you’ve moved states, you need to check that the time zone is still correct. Remember, in summer, Queensland and the Northern Territory have different time zones to their southern counterparts! We use the standard time zone abbreviations and if you have any queries at all, please get in touch!
  • finally … read the WSET’s Remote Invigilation Essential Guidance and work through the pre-check. Payment of the invoice is telling us that you’re happy with the exam’s technical requirements.

What Next?

Once your invoice is paid, we’ll register you for the exam. The next thing that will happen is that you’ll receive the system check email. This should arrive between 14 and 10 days before your exam (if 14 days is a Saturday or Sunday it will be sent on the Monday UK time – so might hit your inbox Tuesday morning). Please complete the system check as soon as possible – REMEMBER, we can only cancel your exam with a minimum of 7 working days’ notice but also, if there are issues, the more time you have to resolve them, the better! Also – you can only complete the system check once – do it using the devices and internet connection you plan to use for the exam.

You will receive a reminder email from us (which will include the date/time/time zone of your exam).

Approximately three days before the exam you’ll receive your exam email. You do need to sit your exam at the date/time you nominated: DO NOT BE LATE. You first need to perform the room scan and set up – generally this only takes 5-10 minutes but if it takes longer DO NOT PANIC. It’s important to get it right and it is not eating into your exam time.

If you have issues make use of the online technical support. We cannot guarantee that we’ll be able to answer the phone or respond to emails the instant they come through – especially if you exam is out of business hours, but also we may be teaching or attending to an event etc. Your interactions with the online tech support are logged so that, in the case of issues, they can be reviewed subsequently.

If your exam issues can’t be resolved and you can’t sit your exam, there is the Digital Issues Form that you should complete.

If you are unable to sit your exam for other non-technical reasons (medical, for example) please contact us and we’ll get the relevant paperwork underway.

How Long Do Results Take?

Yes, it’s an online multiple choice exam but no – your results are not instantaneous! The video footage for all exams is reviewed at least once and this takes time. Sometimes we receive results in a week but we advise students to wait a month before contacting us. Certificates then follow – we’ll be in touch to confirm the best delivery address.

What If I Fail?

While it is certainly possible to fail, we find that only a handful of students do (it’s far more common for students to think they’ve failed and then do quite well!). Re-sits are an option – please note that these are charged in full (not just the remote invigilation fee). They are currently $200 for Level 1 and $250 for Level 2 (prices are subject to change) and do require the usual 15 working day lead time to lock in.

I Need To Change My Exam Date!

Unfortunately, this isn’t something that can be accommodated at the last minute. At least seven working days out from your exam, we can cancel it without any charge. However, we can’t simply reschedule to (say) two days later – we need to re-book completely, so the 15 working days lead time kicks in. Fewer than seven working days, it’s not possible to cancel without charge. This means that your next exam is considered a re-sit and will be charged at the full rate ($200 or $250, depending on course level).

For further information, head over to our YouTube channel to watch this video. And if we’ve missed something, or you’ve got a burning question – please leave a comment below!

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Five Steps To Navigate a Restaurant Wine List

3 minute read
updated 19 December 2023

For many people, that moment in a restaurant when you’re handed the wine list is one fraught with danger. There are so many unknowns, unpronounceable words and rules (“never order the cheapest wine”, “never order the second cheapest wine”, not to mention the challenge of food and wine pairing.

Never fear … Team Wine Academy can definitely help out here!

Firstly – don’t fret about the food and wine pairing unless you’re seriously geeking out on food, wine or both. If you love drinking Shiraz with everything then that’s what you should do! This is especially the case when you’re in a restaurant and paying a hefty mark up* on the wine.

These days wine lists are becoming much more diverse (and expensive) but – in good news – they are very often online, so you can do a bit of research before you head to the venue.

Let’s assume you haven’t had the luxury of doing that although what follows you can do from the comfort of your sofa before venturing out too.

1. Breathe

Take your time. You don’t have to have digested the wine list and made a decision in 10 seconds flat. Very often, wines by the glass will be listed first – although many shorter wine lists will have the ‘by the glass’ price listed alongside the bottle price. If you know you’re only having a glass then you’ve got much less to take in.

2. Budget

Figure out your budget and remember that there is no shame in having a budget. This is going to help narrow down your choices but will also be invaluable if you end up asking questions of a sommelier or waiter.

3. Enjoy

What do you dining companions enjoy drinking? I have a friend who doesn’t like Riesling so, no matter what, I wouldn’t order that in a group. If tastes are very diverse, then wines by the glass are definitely your friend.

4. Familiar

Look for the things with which you’re familiar. That might be a producer, but also a region or a grape variety. If you’re not an adventurous drinker, then save the experimentation for the bottle shop.

5. Ask

ASK QUESTIONS! This tip should really be in first spot, but the reason that I’ve left it til last is that often, even the most experienced, wine-list savvy eye, will end up tossing up between two or three wines. This is where the restaurant staff come in – especially if the restaurant has a dedicated sommelier or other wine expert. Ask what wine (or wines) they’d recommend to go with the dishes you’re choosing. If you don’t see anything familiar (see #4) ask for a suggestion along the lines of “I normally love Clare Valley Riesling – what can you suggest as an alternative?”. And, if you are preparing to experiment then open with “I’m thinking of the Adelaide Hills Chardonnay but I always drink that – what can you suggest that I might enjoy that’s a bit different?”. And, if you’re very lucky and the wine is being poured by the glass, sometimes you’ll be offered a little taste before committing!

* That’s not a criticism of restaurant pricing … they have staff to pay, rent to pay, dishwashers to run and the list goes on.

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Does Vintage Matter? The Truth Behind Vintage, Wine Quality and Aging Potential

5 minute read
last updated 6 December 2023

Almost every single bottle of wine you pick up has that magic number on it – the wine’s vintage. And, if you’re ducking into the bottleshop to pick up a wine to go with dinner, do you really care? The answer is, in most cases, probably not. Sure, if you’re paying big money for a collectible wine then you probably do care (a LOT) and you’re likely to have done your research – although often that will be more about the wine’s resale value and investment potential than whether or not it’s a great drop to drink.

What does the year mean anyway?

In Australia, putting the vintage on the label is actually optional*. There’s no legal requirement to put it there … but once a producer does include it it has to be accurate. And accurate means that at least 85% of the grapes have been harvested in the vintage year. If a producer lists more than one vintage then they do have to add up to 100%.

* See Wine Australia’s Domestic Labelling Requirements.

Is the vintage important?

Yes and no! This really depends on the wine itself.

For example, if you’re purchasing a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and you love that bright, fresh, grassy, tropical fruit character then you want to choose the youngest wine on the shelf.

If you’re purchasing a cheaper wine that is made in large quantities year in year out, then vintage probably isn’t important. Firstly – the producer is aiming for a consistent product that is going to deliver what the consumer expects, year in, year out – and they’re going to use their winemaking skills to do just that. Secondly, these are wines that often sell in high volume so you’re unlikely to be faced with choosing between, say, a 2023 and a 2009 wine. If there is vintage variation on the shelf, it’s likely to be only a year or two and you can purchase either safely.

But … once the price starts to go up things do shift. The producer is likely to be seeking to make the best wine possible from the fruit grown in a given year. He or she isn’t bothered about creating a carbon copy of the previous year’s wine – they just want to produce a delicious wine. And this is where vintage does start to play a role.

Was it a really hot year? Fruit might have ripened very quickly (and the natural acidity in the grape might have dropped off very quickly) so perhaps the flavours might be a little simpler and the winemaker will have needed to correct the wine’s acidity levels.

Was it a cool year? The fruit might have struggled to ripen – if so the flavours might be quite lean or underripe (for example, green apple instead of stone fruit in a Chardonnay, very tart blackberry instead of ripe blackberry in a red wine) and the wine might be very high in acidity.

Was there inclement weather around vintage? If so – was the producer’s hand forced to pick earlier than they would have liked?

Or … was it a magic year, where the grapes were able to hang on the vines, ripen slowly, build up loads of flavour and be picked at a perfect balance between flavour ripeness, sugar ripeness and acidity levels? If you know a year was like this in a given region, you can usually choose wines with confidence! (Barossa 2018, for example!).

How does this affect quality?

Well, this is where what the winemaker did has an impact.

In a perfect year, you’ll find that a lot of the wines are pretty good indeed. Modern winemaking is a sophisticated beast and while it’s possible to make a terrible wine from great grapes, in general – if the grapes are amazing then the winemaker has an awesome starting point.

In less than ideal years (and let’s face it, that’s most of them), then the winemaker’s choices definitely come into play. Perhaps there’s more or less oak used, perhaps instead of producing a straight Shiraz the winemaking team decided to create a blend to add complexity, body, colour or to balance out some of the wine’s characteristics.

And Aging?

The first rule of thumb when it comes to aging your precious bottles is that time in the cellar is NOT going to transform an average wine into a stunning wine. (The second rule is that if you’re storing wine long term, you need to invest in the right conditions – that means a cellar or wine fridge or other means of keeping the bottles in stable, temperature controlled conditions).

So that $10 a bottle mass-produced wine we talked about first up? Vintage doesn’t matter. You’re not aging it. Just don’t do it. Some wines are ‘drink now’ wines – that’s not a bad thing.

But let’s say you’ve spent $50 or more on a bottle, or maybe it’s a gift you’ve received … does vintage play a role in how long you can tuck it away for? The answer here is … yes … and no.

Great wine from a great vintage, made from a grape variety such as Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon? Yep – it’s likely got aging potential. Something like a Sauvignon Blanc – not so much.

To age, a wine needs a few things …

  • pronounced fruit flavours
  • high acidity OR high tannins OR high sugar
  • flavours that develop well

This last is where Sauvignon Blanc falls down – over time even the greatest Savvy B from the greatest vintage is going to become more and more vegetal. Do you like aromas and flavours of tinned asparagus in your wine? I thought not!

The final thing to remember when aging a wine is how do YOU enjoy wine? Over time, a wine will become much more savoury as the fruit characters develop into more leathery, meaty notes (red wines) or toasted nuts, honey notes (white wines). Some people love that, others not. Your sweet spot for enjoying an aged wine is likely going to be unique to you. There are plenty of resources out there to help guide you with aging (starting often with the back label on the wine itself) but ultimately it’s all about your palate. Buy yourself a few bottles and try one every year until you hit your own personal jackpot!

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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.

Australia

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!

Thirsty?

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

    $35.00
    Add to cart
  • Vina Ventisquero Queulat Gran Reserva Carmenere 2021

    $27.00
    Add to cart
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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.

Australia

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!).

Thirsty?

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

    $30.00
    Add to cart
  • Domaine Frederic Mabileau Les Racines Bourgueil 2015

    $55.00
    Add to cart

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