WSET level 1, Element 1: An Introduction to Wine
WSET is globally recognized and they provide education in wine, spirits, and sake, both for professionals and enthusiasts.
Below are my notes from the course and the Specification issue from 2012 for the Level 1 award in wines. The study guide is going to be noted in 4 sections. The 3 official sections from the study guide and the last one is going to be the notes and the pictures from the course.
WHAT IS WINE?
Wine is a drink made from fermented grapes. Known as the most natural of all alcoholic beverages.
Fermentation: caused by yeast, it is a natural process.
Yeast: organisms that live in the grapes, the vineyard, and the winery. Yeast is "eating" the sugar found naturally in the grapes and converts it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Yeast made in laboratories is also used, but the best wineries use only natural yeast.
Sugar in grape juice (fructose + glucose) + yeast = alcohol and carbon dioxide/bubbles.
Light wines: under this style, we can put almost all wines. This style of wines have between 8 and 15% alcohol. Wines from this category can be named after the region they are coming from (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja, Chianti). Wine producers from the New World are naming their wines by the grape they used to make the wine (Chardonnay, Shiraz).
Sparkling wines: simply said wines with bubbles or more right wine with carbon dioxide in the bottles. Commonly used wines for celebrations, but nothing is stopping you from drinking Champagne on a causal Thursday. The most known examples of wine in this category are Champagne (made with the champagne method) from France Champagne region (only wine coming from here can be called Champagne), Cava (championese traditional method) from Spain, and Prosecco (Charmat-tank method) from Italy.
Fortified wines: to half or fully fermented wine there is extra alcohol added, therefore their alcohol level can be up to 15-22%. Known examples are Sherry from Spain and Port from Portugal.
Colour: The wine color is determined by the grape type used to make the wine and or the way the wine is made.
Red: red wine is made from black grapes. During fermentation, the grape juice is fermented together with the grape skins, which is giving color to the grape juice/wine.
White: white wine is mostly made from white grape juice. But it can also be made from black grape juice if the skins are removed before fermentation.
Rosé: rosé wines are made from black grapes, where the wine was in short contact with the skins.
SWEETNESS: Grape juice is naturally sweet. During fermentation when the yeast eats the sugar the grape juice becomes less sweet. The yeast is dead once there is 15% alcohol or all the sugar is dead. The remaining sugar in the wine is determining how sweet the wine will be.
Dry: most of the wines are dry because the yeast has eaten up all the sugar and converted it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Examples: Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Fino Sherry from Spain, Brut Champagne from France, Châteauneuf-du-Pape from France, Chianti from Italy, and Cabernet Sauvignon from California.
Medium: usually white and rosé wines, in the winemaking process the winemaker removes yeast before it eats up all the sugar, or he adds not fermented sweet grape juice to dry wine. The sweetness in these wines should not be cloying or sickly. Examples: German wines, Rosé wines, White Zinfandel from California.
Sweet: sweet wines feel thicker and richer due to the amount of sugar in them. They are usually made from very rich in sugar grapes, that the yeast is dead before it eats up all the sugar. The sweetness is balanced with acidity to prevent the wines from being cloying. The yeast can also die when extra alcohol is added. Examples: Sauternes from France, Port from Portugal, Reccioto della Valpolicella from Italy.
BODY: the general feel of the wine in the mouth.
Light-bodied: these are refreshing and easy to drink wines. They are medium to low in alcohol and reds have low levels of tannins. Examples: Pinot Grigio from Italy, Beaujolais from France.
Medium-bodied: the wine feels richer and more substantial, due to the grapes used or if the wine was in oak barrels (gives extra texture to the wine). Examples: white Burgundy and Merlot from Chile.
Full-bodied: powerful, concentrated, and heavy wine. It's due to the ripeness of the grapes or the oak used in some wines. Examples: oaked Chardonnay from California and Shiraz from Australia.
OTHER FACTORS - The next 3 factors are often used when describing a wine.
OAK: If you see "oak" on the wine label, it means that the wine has been fermented or matured in oak. The wine could have gained flavors, tannins, and texture while being in contact with the wood. White wines can be buttery with vanilla flavors. Red wines can be more smooth with a spicy character.
TANNIN: can be found in black grape skins. While drinking wine, we can feel the tannins on the teeth, gums, and tongue and it makes the mouth feel dry. Tannin makes young wine feel harsh. Tannins can give structure and complexity to the wine, and they also help the wine mature.
ACIDITY: it comes from grape juice, and it is giving refreshing qualities to the wine. Acidity can be detected when we get a mouth-watering sensation. If the wine has too much acidity, it makes it tart. While if the wine has too little acidity, it will be flat. Acidity is also helpful for maturing the wine, like the German Riesling. Acidity is stopping the sweet wines from being cloying and sickly by cleansing the palate and giving it balance. The amount of acidity depends on where the wine is coming from.
WHAT MAKES WINES DIFFERENT?
Grape ripening: it needs sunshine and temperature. When grapes ripen: sugar levels rise, acid levels fall, black grapes change skin color from green to red and deep purple.
When the grapes don't get enough sunlight and heat, they become too acidic and not sweet enough. If wine is made from these grapes, it will taste thin and sour.
When the grapes get too much sunlight and heat, they cannot keep enough acid, and they become too sweet. If wine is made from these grapes, it will taste overly alcoholic flabby, and lacks balance.
The amount of sunlight and heat = climate. Knowing the region's climate, we can learn the expected temperature and weather conditions, the grape experience, and the style of the wine that would be made in that region.
- If it is too cold, the grape will not mature
- Regions: Northern France and Germany
- Wines are refreshing, mainly white wines, high acidity, and low sugar, lower in alcohol (11-12 %).
- If it is too warm, we get grapes with high sugar and low acidity.
- Regions: Southern France, Central Spain, and Australia.
- Wines are rich in flavor (more mature grapes), have high alcohol (14-15%), and are mainly red because black grapes need more heat to ripen.
PRINCIPAL GRAPE VARIETIES
These are the seven noble grape varieties. Each of the grape varieties has an easily recognizable character of flavor, depending on the region where the grape is grown.
Chardonnay - Shar-don-nay
Could be said, that is the best-known grape in the world. Chardonnay is planted all around the world, and it is producing great dry white wines. Easy to grow. Usually is full-bodied with a rich, creamy texture. Most of the Chardonnays are kept in oak barrels, and developing flavors of vanilla and spice.
- Cool region: Chardonnay can have flavors of green fruits like apples, citrus, and high acidity. Light to medium body. Example: Chablis and Champagne from France.
- Warm region: the wine can have flavors of stone fruit like peach and tropical fruits like pineapple and banana. Medium to full body. Example: New World.
- Other possible aromas to find in Chardonnay: cucumber, apple, lime, honey, fig, peach, perfume, melon, pineapple, tobacco, hazelnut.
Sauvignon Blanc - Sew-vin-yon-Blonk
Sauvignon Blanc wines are high intense fruity and aromatic, light to medium-bodied with refreshing but high acidity. Almost all wines are dry.
- Aromas: green fruit, citrus (grapefruit, lime), herbaceous notes (cut grass, green bell pepper, asparagus).
- Wines worth mentioning: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé.
Riesling - Rees-ling
Riesling wines are very fruity, with high levels of acidity, can be dry or sweet, light or medium-bodied. In Rieslings, we can get flavors from stone fruits (apricot and peach), citrus (lime), and also floral notes. Aged Rieslings can develop aromas of petrol and dried apricot.
- Riesling is known as the classic grape of Germany, and it can produce a dry or sweet wine.
- Alsace and Australia's Riesling wines are dry. In New Zealand's Riesling, we can taste tropical fruit, melon, and pineapple.
Pinot Grigio - is a white grape variety worth mentioning. It is grown in Italy and used to produce dry white wines light in body and flavors, with high acidity.
The black grapes described in this section can age. It helps them to soften the tannins and allows the wines to gain complexity. They could also develop aromas as leaves and mushrooms.
Cabernet Sauvignon - Ca-bur-ney-Sew-vin-yon
Planted all around the world, it produces wines with deep color with a lot of tannins, acidity, and intense aromas. The grapes it selfs have thick skin. The wines can be medium to full-bodied.
- Flavors: black fruit (black currant, black cherry), herbaceous notes (bell pepper, mint).
- Oaked CS: oak is added to soften the tannins and to add the flavors of spice and vanilla.
- CS has high levels of tannins, therefore is often found in blends with Merlot in Bordeaux (adds softness and body to the blend). In California and Australia CS is often blended with Shiraz (adds richness and spice to the wine).
Merlot - Mer-low
Famous as the softer alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot wines are full-bodied with low to medium tannins and acidity.
- Flavors and aromas: red fruits (strawberry, plum), black fruits (blackberry, black cherry).
- St Emilion is Merlot wine from Bordeaux. From the New World, Merlot from Chile can give a wine that is rich and fruity (dark berries).
- If Merlot is matured in oak, it is gaining aromas of spice and vanilla. When blended with CS it gains tannins, acidity, and aromatic fruits.
Pinot Noir - Pee-no N-wa
Pinot Noir is light in color and body compared to the other red grape varieties. The Pinot Noir grapes have very thin skin. The wines can have low to medium tannins and high acidity.
- Flavors: red fruits (strawberry, raspberry, red cherry).
- Pinot Noir is the grape used for red Burgundy. New Zealand's Pinot Noir is a wine with a fuller body. Pinot Noir could also be used in Champagne.
- If aged in oak it would gain tannins.
Syrah or Shiraz - Si-rah, Shi-razz
Syrah in France and Shiraz in Australia. The wines are rich, powerful, deeply colored. Full-bodied with medium to high tannins.
- Flavors: black fruits (cherry, blackberry), spice (black pepper, cloves), mint.
- When oak aged the wine gains flavors of vanilla and spice.
- Northern Rhône gives medium bodied wines with high tannins and black fruit aromas.
- Australia (Barossa Valley) produces full-bodied, spicy wines with soft tannins.
Named wines after regions they are produced in
In Europe, we can find wines named after the region they are coming from.
- Chablis: French light-bodied dry wine. Made from Chardonnay. Unoaked has high acidity, apple, and citrus aromas.
- Champagne: French sparkling wine, made from only Chardonnay or blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
- Sancerre: from Sauvignon Blanc grape. French medium-bodied wine with high acidity, flavors of green fruit, and herbaceous notes.
- Red Bordeaux: typically a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Medium-bodied with high tannins French wine. Oaky aromas.
- Sauternes: sweet wine from Bordeaux. It has a full-body with stone fruit and honey flavors and is well balanced with acidity. Made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle grapes affected by the Botrytis cinerea.
- Soave: Italian light-bodied wine with citrus and apple flavors and high acidity. Made from Garganega grape.
- Cava: light-bodied sparkling Spanish wine. Made from Macabeu, Parellada, Xarello grapes.
- Châteauneuf-du-Pape: a full-bodied red wine from France, with red fruits and spicy flavors. It has around ten grape varieties allowed in the produce, both white and red grape varieties.
- Rioja: Spanish medium to full-bodied red wine with red fruits and spicy oak flavors. Made from Tempranillo (over 70%), Mazuelo, Graciano, Maturana Tinta.
- Chianti: Italian medium-bodied red wine, with high tannin and acidity. Made from Sangiovese (over 70%), Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc.
- Beaujolais: French light-bodied red unoaked wine, with fresh fruity flavors of red fruits and low tannins. Made from Gamay grape.
HOW WINE IS MADE
Wine grapes are usually harvested in Autumn.
- Red wine: black grapes are being crushed and their stems removed. The juice is kept in contact with the skins during the fermentation process to give color to the wine and to add tannins.
- Rose wine: the juice spends less time in contact with the skins, just enough to get the pink color.
- White wine: only grape juice is used (without the skins). Tannins and color are not wanted. White wine is mostly made from white grapes, but since the juice in black grapes is uncolored, it can also produce white wine.
- Fermentation: when fermenting the juice the winemaker can choose to use wooden vats or stainless steel tanks. The vats or the tanks can influence the final style of the wine. He could also add flavors or not.
- Freshly fermented wine is removed from the fermentation vessel, and for the red wine, it is pressed to remove the wine from the skins.
- Maturing: after fermentation, the wine is going to maturing. The time for maturation is different, depending on the style of wine the winemaker wants to have. If wine is matured in oak barrels, it will catch on the oak flavors and aromas.
- Bottling: the final step is bottling the wine. Some of the wine can be drunk right away some of them need further maturation in the bottle.
WINE TASTING - How to taste like the Professionals
Look at the wine over a white piece of paper. The primary classification is white, red, rosé. If we wish to describe more detailed, we would say light yellow, deep red, deep brown.
Visual assessment - the color of the wine
- Color (intensity and depth), clarity, color can indicate age and style of wine, tears/viscosity.
Smell: Sniff - swirl - sniff. This simple process releases aromas. Smelling the wine gives some indicators of the wine's character.
- Faulty aromas are easy to spot. Some of the most common are a musty smell, damp cardboard, vinegar or nail varnish smell, or other unpleasant smell.
Take a sip of the wine. Let some air through the teeth without dripping the wine. This will release the flavors and aromas in the wine.
- Sweetness: dry, medium, sweet
- Flavor characteristics:
- Fruits and Flowers: indicators of a certain grape variety. Cabernet Sauvignon can have a black currant flavor; Riesling can have flower aromas.
- Spices and Oak: Vanilla (sweet spice) can indicate the use of oak. Shiraz can have spicy, peppery aromas.
- Vegetables: herbaceous flavors (green bell pepper, asparagus, and cut grass). Often found in fresh young wines like Sauvignon Blanc.
- Other flavors: if a wine has been matured in a bottle for a long time it can develop the flavor of wet leaves and mushrooms.
- Body: light, medium, full-bodied
- Other characteristics: tannin, acidity
Where we taste what?
- Salty on top of the tongue - Acidity/sour on the sides of the tongue
- Bitter on the back of the tongue - Sweet/umami on the middle
Link to part 2. WSET level 1, Element 2