2018: Day 8
In 1997, Joel and I were married on a paddlewheeler on the Fraser River. Hard to believe, but back then, Joel and I knew nothing about wine. Well we knew there was red and white varieties, and I knew I liked the yummy sweet white ones (I blame my mother for raising me on sweet homemade blackberry wine). We decided to make wine for our wedding at a local U-Brew place, and trusted the recommendations of the person there. The red wine was “Domaine des Brumes” and the white wine was a “Chablis” – a nice enough sounding name. I don’t remember much about the wine, but it was drinkable. We even made our own “Fraser River Vineyards” labels – hmmm, a premonition of the future???
Last summer when we knew we were headed down the vineyard/winery path, we decided to sign up for the Wine and Spirits Education (WSET) Level 2 course. You can skip Level 1 if you have some knowledge of wine… which I think 20+ years of drinking wine qualified us for. So even though we were very busy getting the house up for sale and moving, we started the 12 week course in October. Each session was 3 hours, and consisted of a lecture and then tasting 6 wines. The course was mainly focused on French wines with a smattering of other countries represented. One of our first few nights we studied the Burgundy region, and the two main wines Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These are two of the grapes that we will be growing, so that was exciting! After learning about various things like how the grapes grow, and how the growing conditions can cause the grapes to express differently, we tasted these wines from hot and cold climates. Yes, now we’re getting into the good stuff! It was very interesting to taste three different styles of the same wine back to back. WSET has a formal system for evaluating a wine based on appearance, smell and taste, so we were going to have to expand past our current rating system of “I like it” or “I don’t like it” which apparently wasn’t a good enough response for our instructor. We were in a class with a variety of people who were in the wine industry, and their palates were way more advanced than ours. While we could come up with “tastes like some kind of citrus”, they would come up with “tastes like Meyer lemon, not regular lemon, and not the juice but more like the white pith”.
Before this course, our wine experience was pretty much limited to Okanagan wineries. We enjoy going to the wineries and doing tastings and getting to talk to the people who make the wine. We had very little experience with any wines outside of BC, aside from wines encountered in our travels (port and vinho verde in Portugal, vin santo and Sciacchetrà in Italy, sewer wine in Vietnam, etc). It can be pretty intimidating to walk into a BC liquor store and venture into the “France” section. The bottles don’t indicate the grape, so if you’re looking for a chardonnay, you’ll rarely find that indicated. Instead, you will likely find plain wine labels listing the producer and region. If the bottle says Burgundy (or Bourgogne – say that in your best French accent) and it’s red, you’re supposed to know it is Pinot Noir and if it is white, it’s a Chardonnay. Apparently all French people are born knowing this.
Burgundy has five distinct wine regions; Chablis is the northernmost, and then a bunch of other names that us non-French people have a hard time saying and yet we had to memorize them because they could be on the test! Because the growing regions are so different, a chardonnay produced in one region will be different from another (winemaking techniques aside). Just like the Okanagan! Chablis is a cooler climate, so chardonnays from there are going to be more acidic, lemon/lime/green apple, and rarely oaked. Chardonnays produced in other parts of Burgundy where it is warmer will be more tropical and have more oak. And then there is the vineyard rating system! The better vineyards are designated as “Grand Cru” or“Premier Cru”, so their soil quality, elevation, sun exposure, drainage, etc are all that much better. It’s also going to translate into the ultimate cost of the bottle.
So in our efforts to better educate our palate and understand French wine, tonight we are having a Chablis which clearly is a Chardonnay. It’s not a Grand or Premiere Cru, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be better than the Fraser River Vineyards Chablis which is likely vinegar by now!
(Did you see I got away with just doing an iPhone photo?!?!)
Oh, as for our results, we both passed “with Distinction” (90%+). Joel beat me by 2 points (one question), but he also had the advantage of taking a concurrent wine course. We are both pondering taking Level 3 sometime in the distant future… if we can improve our palates.