WSET Diploma Tasting, Part 2

February 2, 2014

USING THE SCALE… When looking/nosing/tasting a wine on any scale consider how that wine would fit into a 3 point scale. For example, if you were grading the level of acidity, is the wine low, medium or high. If you feel the wine fits the medium category, graduate further within the medium band: is the wine at the lower end of the scale (M-) or the upper end at (M+)? The tendency of students doing the examination is to have + or -.  I suggest you go for the 3 points and be opinionated. The choice for + or – is really a reconciliation. Some wines may fit right in the middle, although there should be fewer in this category on a 5 point scale. Do not be afraid to use Low or High (or its equivalent in other scales); the wine does not have to be the lowest you’ve ever tasted or the highest, although the graduations within either of these categories at the extremes is less marked than in the medium categories.
APPEARANCE
In general the main reason to look at the appearance of a wine is to see any signs of faultiness. Clues for faultiness would be turbidity (suspended matter, lack of clarity) or dullness at the surface, or a color that is deeper or browner than you would expect of a wine of that age and type.

 

It is important that the same amount of wine is in the glass; samples should be poured to 3cm(an inch) in depth. It is equally important that as little time as possible is spent on color. Hopefully the tips below for this part of the wines analysis will help to move this along and prevent you spending too much time on an area of assessment that has a maximum of 3 marks.

 

CLARITY

 

Clarity = there are particles suspended in the wine that scatter light. A wine may appear opaque, but at the rim light can penetrate enough for you to see whether it is clear. The opposite of clear is turbid.

 

Brightness = how reflective or ‘glossy’ the surface is. The opposite of bright is dull.

 

Clarity is not judging how see-through the wine is; the main purpose is looking for evidence of faultiness. As the wines you will be presented in class and the exam will be free from fault, they will be clear and bright.

 

A couple of tips for red wines: assess intensity by looking through the top of the wine. If the wine is about 3cm deep, then for most wines you can see a small circle where the stem of the glass meets the bowl of the glass; these wines are medium intensity. If you can’t, the wine is deep in color. And if you can read print of the size of that printed on the SAT through the wine, then it is pale. Alternatively, look at how far the color extends to the rim: the more saturated the wine is, the closer to the rim the color will extend; the narrower the rim, the deeper the color.

 

Intensity of color for white wines can also be assessed by seeing how deep the wine needs to be before a distinct tint appears, the narrower the rim, the deeper the color. The amount of tannins is one of the explanation for this.

 

INTENSITY

 

The scale extends to 6 points at Diploma. However, this expansion does not necessarily mean a greater degree of accuracy is achieved: it is easy to ‘sit on the fence’ and use just M- or M+. Please use these mainly to further graduate wines in the medium part of scale if necessary.

 

6 point scale
3 point scale
Water-white (use for rim only, which is true of the majority of whites wines & white spirits)
Pale
Pale
Medium (-)
Medium
Medium
Medium (+)
Deep
Deep

 
COLOR

 

The words used are common to the world of wine and can be used consistently. Don’t use ‘straw’ or ‘brick’ because we found no consistency as to its meaning.

 

Important point: there is NO difference in hue between the core and the rim. Wine is a homogenous liquid, and any apparent differences are just due to there being less wine, and it therefore appearing paler. (This is why it is important that you have the same amount of wine in each glass.) A wine will not change from a ruby core to a garnet rim. If a wine is garnet at the rim, it is a deeper intensity of garnet at the core.

 

White wine colors represent a scale from greenish-yellow to brownish yellow. The color of white wines is most easily assessed at the core (where the wine is deepest). Nearly all white wines fade to a water-white rim, where the color is imperceptible.

 

Red wine colors represent a scale from bluish-red to brownish-red. For red wines, look at the rim to see if it is still basically pink-red (i.e. ruby) or is showing some orange/brown (i.e. garnet). Almost all wines are one of these two. Save ‘purple’ for wines that still display a distinct youthful blue color at the rim, and save ‘tawny’ for wines that are distinctly brown in color.

 

For both red and white wines, avoid the temptation to think that tiny variations in hue or intensity mean the wines need to be described differently.

 

For rosé wines the colors range from Pink (bluish pink)-  Salmon (pinkish orange) – Orange (brownish pink) – Onion Skin (brownish-orange)

 

OTHER OBSERVATIONS
The color of the rim will be the same as the color of the core (except paler, and may be so pale that there is no discernible hue). As a general rule for red wine, you could describe the rim as one step paler than the core, a medium garnet wine will have a pale garnet rim. For white, there are very few exceptions where the rim is not water-white.

 

All wine shows tears, in a suitable glass. We suggest you mention them only if they are remarkable (e.g. if the wine is so deeply colored that the tears are stained, or if they are very viscous). BUT in your exam always write this as an observation as it is possible to gain a point for it.

 

You should draw attention to deposit and petillance (dissolved CO2) if a wine shows these in the glass Decanted exam wines are unlikely to show these properties.

 

Tints and highlights: use as needed in an examination to maximize opportunities for points when you are not so sure of the color e.g. green highlights for a wine you are not 100% sure is lemon or lemon green, but it is best to be confident and precise in your assessment of color so you do not need to resort to this tactic.

 

NOSE
CLEANNESS AND FAULTS
The wines in your tastings will be free from fault; all notes should state a wine is clean.

 

INTENSITY
When benchmarking the intensity bear in mind the guide below:

 

Light – simple, generic and relatively undefined aromas the nose; can be described fully by a limited number of descriptors, and little or no secondary aromas (e.g. basic inexpensive Italian white or Muscadet sur Lie, basic Cotes du Rhone).

 

Medium – aromas should have clear easily defined fruit/varietal character, possibly secondary characteristics (in particular, oak). If oak aromas are dominant and the wine’s fruit characteristics are less pronounced the aroma would be of medium intensity. There may also be some tertiary character. Examples of wines in the medium category are Premier Cru Chablis, Australian inexpensive Chardonnay, and fairly young Claret.

 

Pronounced – aromas should be distinct and concentrated, it will probably have secondary and/or tertiary characteristics and quite often have several groups of aroma characteristics (e.g. Grand Cru Gewürztraminer, Tokay Azsu, Premium Californian Cabernet blend)
Medium( - ) & Medium (+) – Use to further define a wine in the medium category. For example a Jacobs Creek Chardonnay could be medium intense in aroma, but would be more accurately described as medium(-) as it is at the lower end of the medium scale. A claret such as the Ch Batailly may be placed in the medium category too but would be more accurately described as medium (+).

 

 

5 point scale
3 point scale
Light
Light
Medium (-)
Medium
Medium
Medium (+)
Pronounced
Pronounced
 
 

 

DEVELOPMENT
It is helpful to cluster the aromas into ‘primary’ (deriving from the grape, but probably including some fruity fermentation esters); ‘secondary’ (deriving from the production, including malolactic by-products, lees extracts, and oak extracts), and ‘tertiary’ (deriving from ageing processes, whether reductive or oxidative).

 

‘Youthful’ indicates the wine is dominated by primary and for some wines secondary aromas (mainly fruit and oak). It is common for secondary aromas, when present, to stand apart from the fruit at this stage.

 

‘Fully Developed’ indicates that the main aromas are tertiary. The secondary aromas are usually fully integrated at this stage.

 

Many wines pass from ‘Youthful’ to ‘Past their best’ without ever being ‘developing’ or ‘fully developed’. Only use ‘Developing’ if the wine is changing in ways that will lead to it being interesting in the future; otherwise there is a danger that it becomes a default for almost all wines.

 

 

CHARACTERISTICS
People have widely different thresholds for aroma perception, and widely differing abilities to convert these perceptions into words. Try to be disciplined and accurate, and try to avoid long, fanciful lists of aroma descriptors. The list on page 2 of the SAT should be sufficient in its list of descriptors. Exam marking keys will quite often be limited to this list.

 

With fruit aromas, it is easy to generate a ‘shopping list’ of fruits that are valid descriptors of the wine. This can give a false impression of complexity when they are all attempts to describe one ill-defined aroma, rather than all separately and distinctly present in the wine.

 

Below are two examples of character descriptions for a basic inexpensive Pinot Grigio of acceptable quality:

 

Note 1: Apple, pear, lemon, white stone fruit, peach and honeydew melon.

 

Note 2: Neutral with simple fresh green apple, pear and lemon fruit aromas.

 

Note 2 most accurately describes an inexpensive, acceptable quality Pinot Grigio wine. Note 1 ascribes aromas to the wine which are not present, in an attempt to use as many fruit descriptors as possible and in turn it describes a wine far more interesting and aromatic than it actually is. When a wine is very simple, it is possible that its aromas can be completely described with 2 or 3 fruit descriptors.

 

It is good discipline to think in terms of ‘clusters’ of aromas: primary fruit (type of fruit, is it under-ripe or over-ripe, fresh or jammy), lees/autolysis, malolactic, oak, reductive tertiary characteristics, oxidation. A wine is not fully described unless at least some descriptor from each of the main clusters present in the wine has been named. For a wine to be described as complex it must have the presence of several aroma clusters.

 

PALATE
When assessing levels of components present in a wine, students should be trying to assess the actual level present, trying to look beyond the masking effects of other components (e.g. how acid masks sweetness, or extract masks tannin and alcohol). However, students are not expected to state levels in g/L or % by volume.

 

SWEETNESS
The following table is a guide for calibration:

 

Description
Examples
7 point scale
Sugar below threshold of perception (<5g/L)
Chablis, Pauillac,
Champagne Brut Nature
Dry
Some sugar is noticeable but finish is dry
(5 –  9g/L), but with apparent fruit sweetness
‘Dry’ Alsace Gewurztraminer
Barossa Shiraz, Champagne Brut, Many high-volume
brands
Off-dry
Noticeable sugar content, but not enough for the wine to seem sweet. Often masked by high acid. 10 – 18 g/L
Vouvray demi-sec
Champagne sec or extra dry
Med-dry
Enough sugar for the wine to have noticeable sweetness, but not sweet enough for most desserts. 15 – 45 g/L
Mosel Riesling Spätlese
Champagne demi-sec
Medium
As above, but 40 – 100 g/L
Mosel Riesling Auslese
Med-sweet
Most Classic sweet wines, but not so sweet they are sticky. 90-150g/L
Sauternes, Bonnezeaux
Asti, Port, Tokaji 5 putts
Sweet
Sticky, viscous and concentrated. 140+ g/L
PX, Liqueur Muscat, TBA
Luscious

 
ACIDITY
You may find this hard to separate from alcohol (both cause a burning, mouth watering sensation).
Tip: use the dribble test, look how quickly your mouth fills with saliva after spitting the wine. The faster this happens, the more acid there is, consider the persistence of the acid in the mouth.

 

5 point scale
3 point scale
Low
Low
Medium (-)
Medium
Medium
Medium (+)
High
High

 
TANNIN
Assessing tannin is a two-stage process which includes level and nature of the tannin. Using a 5 point-scale for tannin, again start with the three main groups (low-medium-high) and if you think it is best described within the medium category, which part of medium scale may best describe the wine. As an example consider two wines from Chateaunuef-du-Pape, one Grenache dominated the other having a good amount of Syrah in the blend; both may be categorized as medium tannin on a three point scale. However, the Grenache version could be more accurately graduated as medium or possibly medium (-) and the Syrah version as medium (+). But the difference would not be enough for it to be graduated as high.

 

As you are describing the tannins’ texture, you can use any of the tannin descriptors in the SAT under the texture and balance section. Using texture in addition to level can show how a wine with a low level of unripe tannin can seem very astringent, and a wine with high levels of ripe tannin can seem soft and velvety.

 

ALCOHOL
Easy to confuse with acidity (see dribble test above, but also look at the weight of the wine on the tongue and the viscosity, which are evidence of alcohol). You do not need to put down the % alcohol; you are attempting to measure the level of alcohol present, however, the perception of alcohol in the wine is important so there is a degree of flexibility.

 

 

Use table below as a guideline and to help you calibrate your palate:

 

Low
Mosel Kabinett
10.5%
Medium -
Muscadet
10.5% - 12%
Medium
A great many wines!
12% - 13.5%
Medium +
Warm climate Chardonnay
13.5% - 14.5%
High
Zinfandel
14.5% +

 

There are some overlaps here (e.g. a wine that is 13.5% could be described as med or med+, and of course a wine labelled as 13.5% could be 13% or 14%).

 

BODY
Body is actually a rather troublesome concept as it is a property that emerges from several factors that may compete with one another. It can be useful to relate body to milk (skimmed, low-fat, whole milk, half-and-half, light-cream, heavy-cream). Alcohol, sugar and extract contribute to body, whereas acid seems to lighten body. Ripe tannins can add to body but hard tannins can make a wine seem thinner.

 

Wines that are high in sugar but low in alcohol are hard to assess. Look at the viscosity. Wines that are high in acid and tannin (such as Barolo) can seem hard and thin, but look at the weight, concentration and viscosity to justify them as full-bodied.

 

FLAVOR INTENSITY
Assess whether the concentration on the palate exceeds or falls short of what the nose suggests, and relate this to assessment of quality. Use the assessment of intensity on nose as a guide to your assessment of intensity of flavor.

 

FLAVOR CHARACTERISTICS
The same organ detects flavors and aromas. The only differences are how the aromas get there (via nostrils vs. retronasal passage), and the temperature (aromas perceived retronasally will be released from wine that has been warmed in the mouth). Therefore, the list of aromas present in both cases should be the same (though warming the wine in the palate can release enough of an aroma to lift it over the threshold of perception in some cases).  What is more interesting is the relative balance of flavors, compared to the nose. (Woodiness and spiciness tend to increase; floral notes tend to be less noticeable on the palate). As with the nose as you should consider the groupings of the flavors to ensure you are describing the wine fully and accurately.

 

OTHER OBSERVATIONS
This is an opportunity to show that you can describe how the components work together or not (balance), how the texture of the wine is best described and the overall impression you have of the wine. Above all, this is an opportunity for you to show your ability to differentiate between wines that may have similar profiles in terms of their levels of acidity, tannin, etc BUT are different in terms of the nature, balance, texture of these component parts.

 

Avoid making bland, unsupported statements for example: ‘the wine is balanced’ or ‘the wine has good texture’. Any observation should be supported by your reasons and should support your quality assessment later.

 

Below is an example of a note where the use of other observations linked to the components brings a note to life and gives the student greater opportunity to make-up points if they don’t get the level right. It also gives you more evidence to use when drawing your conclusions:

 

The wine is dry, with medium but refreshing acidity, medium (+) ripe, velvety tannins, medium (+) body and medium flavor intensity of fresh blackcurrants, vanilla and oak. The alcohol is medium and the length is medium (+).

 

LENGTH
At the WSET we mean ‘finish’, or how long flavors last after spitting or swallowing. Specifically, this refers to how long the pleasant flavors last. A wine where the fruit disappears immediately, but has a long lingering bitterness would be described as ‘short’.

CONCLUSIONS
Quality
Quality for WSET is ‘absolute quality’ within the categories of red wines, white wines, rosé wines, sparkling wines, fortified wines. You are also not judging against a price category. Value for money (VFM) should NEVER be regarded as a criterion of quality. VFM is a quite separate concept, and can only be judged when the absolute quality and the price are both known.

 

In order to judge quality use more general quality criteria (balance, length, complexity, concentration, attractiveness, typicity…)

 

When selecting a quality category, the key questions are ‘is it basically in balance’ and ‘does it show any expressive character’ (moving from Poor to Acceptable to Good), and ‘how well does it express its origin and variety’, and ‘how elegant, complex and long is it’ (moving from Good to Very Good to Outstanding).

 

Using ‘good’ as a default: a ‘good’ wine is basically balanced and free of faults, and shows some character of its grape varieties or its origin.

 

A ‘very good’ wine displays very clear expression of grape variety, and more precise regional character (representing its region, rather than just its climate, say). It may also show some elements of elegance, concentration, length or complexity that lift it out of being merely ‘good’.

 

An ‘outstanding’ wine should be almost entirely free of criticism. It should precisely represent a classic style, and be elegant, and well crafted.

 

A wine is merely ‘acceptable’ if it shows some expression of origin, but is marred by some elements being a little out of balance or poorly integrated, or if it is basically balanced but entirely generic in character (lacks expression of variety or origin).

 

A wine is ‘poor’ if it lacks any character expressing its origin, and also has elements that are unbalanced enough to make it unpleasant.

 

Any assessment you make must be supported by the reasons for your assessment; these should not contradict the evidence (your tasting note) or the assessment given, for example stating that a wine is good and then listing a series of negative comments.

 

Price Category
It is best to state a single price, however a narrow price range is also acceptable e.g. $9-$12

 

Age
How old is the wine in years; again you can give a single age or a narrow range  e.g. 3-5 years. Please don’t put down a vintage.

 

Readiness For Drinking
Needs time to develop - a wine may be drinkable (although in some cases it may not be very pleasant), but it has so far to improve that drinking it would be a waste and it has been opened too early. This would be a wine classified as ‘needs time to develop.’ (Very few wines fall into this category.) If you categorize a wine as needs time to develop you must state how long it will be before it is ready to drink

 

Ready to drink, but can improve - a wine is drinkable and pleasant but has not yet reached its full potential and by aging will be expected to improve in some way (e.g. complexity/integration of components/softening of tannins). You must state how long it will be until it is past its best

 

Ready to drink, but will not improve – most inexpensive wines are released at this point; nothing will be gained by keeping these wines and many will have nowhere to go but to decline. Some premium aged wines may hold for several years, once they are fully developed but will not improve. You must state how long it will be until it is past its best

 

Too old - wine has declined so far that it represents an almost worthless amount of pleasure compared to what it offered at its peak. Of historical interest only.

 

If the paper allocates between 3-4 points for this section you will need to briefly give reasons for your assessment. The Pinot Grigio referred to earlier in this document would be assessed as follows:

 

Ready to drink but will not improve, should not be kept for more than 1 year as the wine is simple and lacks concentration, its light primary fruit character will fade in a short time leaving a wine out of balance, thin and acidic.
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