Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Wines & Spirits Course - Cabernet Sauvignon & Sauvignon Blanc

I had mixed emotions as I drove to Week 4 of my WSET Level 2 course. On one hand, I was desperate to learn more about the epitome of the wine world - Bordeaux. Opposing this was my avoidance of Sauvignon Blanc in recent years. My fingers were crossed that the Sav Blancs we would be tasting were not just from Malborough (does this make me a wine snob?).

Whites were first on the agenda for the evening and, besides running through the basic characteristics: high acidity, herbaceousness and affinity for cooler climates, it was interesting to learn just how many regions around the world grow significant quantities of this grape variety. Apart from Marlborough in New Zealand, whose rise to fame in recent decades has been astronomical, the classic heart of Sauvignon would be the Loire Valley in France. It is here, in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, that spine-tingling acidity and smokey minerality are expressed at their best. 

It was a real contrast to try a Sancerre, backed up by a Marlborough version.  The Vincent Panard 'Cuvee Flores' had pear and asparagus on the nose, then tastes of acidic lime, green pepper and stoniness.  Villa Maria's expression was more 'tropical fruit and vegetable' with passionfruit aromas lacing the grassy, tomato-leaf flavours.

As we moved onto the topic of Cabernet Sauvignon (and its long-standing partner merlot), I sat up a little straighter in my chair. We discussed the reason that softly tannic, full-bodied Merlot works so well when blended with highly tannic and acidic Cab Sav. The analogy that is often used is that Cabernet is like a doughnut and merlot's smooth, full mouthfeel fills the hole in the mid-palate. In Australia, a similar feat is achieved by blending with Shiraz instead, although such wines tend to be much weightier in terms of both body and alcohol content.

So what did I get to try? Without giving everything away, let me suggest that the two 2009 Bordeaux wines we tasted are definitely worth giving a go. And they are reasonably priced to boot.

1. Right Bank (85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc):
Seducing nose of red plum, roasted hazelnut and smokey bacon.  Smooth tannins on the palate, with blackcurrant and black and green pepper.

2. Left Bank (unusually Merlot dominant - usually more Cabernet):
Rich, meaty aromas with sweet cherry fruits and mocha.  The palate was quite complex with black olive, bell pepper, cloves, blackcurrant and cedar all coming to light, ending in a luxurious, long finish.

I don't know about you, but I'm off to try some more Bordeaux...