Wine course wrap: Forget everything I said about France

Imagine a bunch of aspiring wine geeks sitting around a table at Betty’s saying sternly and indignantly to each other “But that was absolutely not a typical California Chardonnay” and you have a pretty clear picture of the aftermath of the Wines 1 final exam last night.

Most of us seem to have missed what should have been an obvious blind tasting item, a fresh and very lightly oaked white with buttery and floral notes, which I personally went out on a limb and identified as an Australian Semillon. My embarrassment should be assuaged somewhat, however, by the spectacle of three of Toronto’s top wine experts misidentifying a Burgundian Chardonnay in similar fashion (above) as recently as this week in the Wine Align* video series So you think you know wine. So this week’s final lesson is about the versatility of the Chardonnay grape, I suppose. For further life-affirming tales of grape-spotting gone awry, I refer you to the Bonny Doon Roussanne scandal.

The more important thing for us at this stage in our development as wine aficionados is not identifying grapes and regions in blind tastings – which, it seems to me, will always involve some guesswork and remain more of a parlour trick than a practical exercise – but to interpret the characteristics of a wine, its aspect, nose, and palate, and articulate those in a clear and consistent fashion. We must also memorize a baffling array of Geographical Indications and grape names.

And here’s where I apologise for complaining about the French AOC system. You actually get used to it pretty quickly, and you get a sense of history, as well as that particular Gallic pride and posturing that has led them to do such idiosyncratic things as suggest that the results of the 1976 Judgment of Paris were inconclusive. In fact, having absorbed all this arcane knowledge myself, I felt my own nose getting a bit out of joint in sympathy upon hearing about the now entirely legal trend toward varietal labelling under the Vin de France designation.

I will instead turn my ire to the Italians, and admonish them as only the Canadian son of an ex-pat Sicilian should be allowed to do, for their insistance on not only coming up with a different name for every varietal, but calling them, in some instances, two different things within the same region, or establishing four distinct DOCGs – in a single region – with the same damned grape. Come on guys, learn to share. The guy from down the road isn’t coming to blow up your car, he just wants to try your wine.

I’ll take a break from formal studies for a couple of months and let all that settle in, perhaps take a swing at creating my own aroma kit, and, finances permitting, treat myself to an inexpensive wine fridge. I may clean up my study card set on Flashcard Exchange and try to drill some more of those Italian DOCs into my head. Then on to Wines 2 in September. I don’t expect I’ll be getting my final exam back, so before I forget them altogether, here are the results of the blind guessing tasting as related to me by a classmate:

New World Wine 1
My guess: Australian Semillon
Was in fact: California Chardonnay

New World Wine 2
My guess: Argentinian Malbec
Was in fact: Argentinian Malbec

Old World Wine 1
My guess: Loire Chenin Blanc
Was in fact: Loire Muscadet

Old World Wine 2
My guess: Loire Cabernet Franc
Was in fact: Loire Cabernet Franc

*Please ask me for a referral if you want to join Wine Align, as they do have a referral program – I recommend the full subscription service highly to anyone within the grasp of the LCBO.