Anyone who has followed the latest entries, knows that Tina and I are big fans of Italian reds. We also have been mighty lucky to taste some spectacular Niagara, South African and Calfornia wines. Now I have returned to the classroom to learn a little more about New World Wines. SO much fun.
The first week we focused on Australian and New Zealand Wines. A few things to note about Australian wines:
- What you see is what you get. Australian wines are all about consistency and blending. There is less guess work with Australian wine – that $20 wine you bought last year will be just as good when you buy it this year.
- Australia is at the forefront of innovation – labour shortages and much more flexible rules allow winemakers to do what they need to do to make sure the wine tastes the same for the consumer.
- One hard fast rule – 85% of the grapes must be the varietal or from the area listed on the label.
- Australia is the 6th biggest wine producer in the world.
- Most popular red grape is Shiraz. Most popular white is Chardonnay.
Being the embarrassingly obsessive note taker and homework keener, I “forced” my husband Steve to do a tasting of Australian wines with me this weekend – for educational purposes only of course :). Try your own tasting, it’s lots of fun. I did this with the group in Italy and they ranged from people with virtually no wine knowledge – to people with a some vineyard exploration experience. We had a blast. Who cares if you are guessing?
I picked three wines; a Shiraz from Barossa Valley, one from Victoria and a Shiraz-Grenache blend from McLaren Vale – one of my favourite regions that rarely disappoints.
We covered each bottle with a brown paper bag and started comparing. I was supposed to print off a sheet from Wine Spectator with some options to circle, but I forgot and I needed the practice for school because we have to remember all the descriptors by heart.
A tasting is separated into three parts: Sight, Sniff and Savour. Some questions to consider…
- What colour is each wine?
- Are they the same colour?
- Are they red or purple – garnet, ruby, cherry red, brick?
- Which wine is darkest and densest?
- Can you see your fingers when you look through the glass?
- When you swirl, are the secondary legs – the second wave of drips down the glass, slow or fast?
- Which is fuller bodied – think of the comparison between skim, 2% and homogenized milk? Slower legs could indicate a higher alcohol level or higher residual sugar which could indicate a higher alcohol level.
Sniff: Stick your nose in the glass and take a big whiff.
- Are the aromas strong when you put your nose to the glass? Compare them.
- Are their aromas you can identify? ie; Blackberries, plums, spice, pepper, licorice? (or like me in the first 8 classes – “it smells like red wine.”)
- Is there a presence of oak – American oak will smell like coconut, dill pickles and brown sugar. French oak will be more mellow and vanilla notes are more common . New oak will have a stronger presence. Does it smell toasty?
SIP :Take a good sip, swish around your mouth and then slurp in some air to get the full result.
- Is the wine thick or heavy?
- Do you taste the tannins – the pucker feeling? The tannins come from, the skins, stems and seeds and they also come from the oak barrels. Fruit tannins will be apparent in the front of your mouth, wood tannins in the back.
- Are the tannins grippy, silky, grainy, velvety? Did the wine seem silky or smooth which could suggest lower levels of tannins or make your mouth feel dried out – which could mean high levels that need to open up?
- Are the flavours the same as the aromas or do you taste something else?
- Is there any bitterness? Do you feel a burn at the back of your throat – which could suggest high alcohol?
- Acidity can be determined if it makes your mouth pucker which sounds just like the tannins doesn’t it – still working on that one. You feel the acidity on the sides of your mouth. I will report back if I get a clearer definition.
- Do the flavour hang around for 1-5 – short finish, 5-8 medium finish, or 8 seconds + a long finish.
We lined up the wines. Took notes and made our conclusions (or guesses – don’t tell my teacher) based on what we knew about the wines or the regions. You start to notice things like the colour of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are much darker than Pinot Noir and Sangiovese. It doesn’t matter if you get it right, what matters is you start comparing similar markers for wines. You get used to the terminology. You don’t have to be a nerd or a cork dork. It is a terrific way to find out what types of wine appeal to you the most and it gives you more knowledge when buying wines you have never tasted before. And here’s what the winners who picked the right wines looked like when we did this in Italy.
Here are the three Steve and I tested:
Grant Burge Shiraz 2009 from the Barossa Valley (available at LCBO and SAQ). This Shiraz from a fifth generation winemaker has aromas of ripe plum, blackberry, and black cherries with notes of spice and chocolate and hint of mint. Yummy taste and great value at $17.95.
And finally Paxton AAA Shiraz-Grenache 2010 from McLaren Vale (one of my favourite regions) at $19.95 – I had tasted this one before with considerable appreciation. But I must say, stacked up against the two others – it was our third pick. The colour was lighter than the others which was our first indication that one of these things was not like the others. The smooth and balanced wine is a blend was 70% Grenache and 30% Shiraz with aromas of raspberries and pepper. Full-bodied with grippy tannins.
I have to say they were all pretty good and worth trying. But Tahbilk was by far our favourite.
Planning a tasting is also a way of getting the chance to try a few pricier wines when friends are each bringing a bottle. Enjoy and let us know if you taste something worth sharing.
Skol! (Cheers in Swedish)