Brut or Extra Dry?


Somewhat counterintuitively, Extra Dry on the label of a bottle of Prosecco actually means it’s got a noticeable amount of residual sugar. Fermentation is stopped short, or arrested, before the yeast consumes all the sugar, leaving some sweetness in the wine. For Extra Dry you can expect 12 – 17 grams per litre. The Extra Dry style is the most famous, the most widely available. Brut styles are less sweet, 6 – 12 grams per litre. I rather enjoy that little bit of extra sweetness, it adds to the soft texture of the gentle mousse and brings out the pear and peach notes. Brut Prosecco has a bite to it, a more linear crispness and lemony tang.

 @proseccodoc #tasteprosecco #italiangenio #proseccodoc #sweettooth #cheers

9 things I’d like to see less of in 2018 …

  1. TCA, not just in wine but in garlic, mango and carrots too.
  2. Glass, come on wine industry be a bit more eco with your packaging.
  3. Wines that taste the same.
  4. One-dimensional wine lists, please let’s get creative, yes, pubs, I’m talking to you.
  5. 250 ml glasses, they’re too big, I’d rather order 2 x 125 ml glasses of something different please.
  6. Finger prints and water stains on glasses, polish, polish and polish again!
  7. Use of the word snob, unless used properly.
  8. Claims that a wine is low calorie/hangover free/great, when it’s not.
  9. Servers struggling to use a corkscrew.

Getting your geek on …

You can really get your geek on when it comes to learning about fortified wines! Port, Sherry and Madeira offer the wine student an opportunity to fill their boots with science and technology from the Maillard Reaction to mould development and the use of solar panels.

This was reflected in a batch of WSET assignments that I’ve just finished marking which asked students to write about Sweetening in Sherry, Maturation of Madeira and Fortification of Port. The answers were overall very good which suggested to me that the students had really enjoyed studying these subjects and had developed a detailed and accurate understanding of the 3 subjects. It was clear that some of them had even been to Spain and Portugal to see how the wines were actually made.

Some of the answers were so thorough with detail on parts of the production method or recent developments that I wasn’t aware of or had forgotten (it was a long time ago I did my WSET L4 exams!) that I constantly had to dip into my library of books or “ask Google” to help verify (or invalidate) facts!

Here are some of the most reliable resources I came across for learning about fortified wines:

Oxford Companion to Wine, Jancis Robinson

The Wines of Madeira, Trevor Elliot

Understanding Wines: Explaining Style & Quality, an accompaniment to the WSET L3 Award in Wines

Court of Master Sommeliers

Once you’ve looked through all the above resources why not have a go at the assignment? Write a 250 word paragraph on one or all of the following:

Sweetening in Sherry

Maturation of Madeira

Fortification of Port

… and see how you get on.

When you’re done why not try some practical study:

Fernando de Castilla Cream Sherry

Graham’s Tawny Port 20 yr old

Blandy’s Madeira Boal 15 yr old

Try and pick out the characteristics in the wine that have come from the winemaking you discussed in your mini essays.

Using the WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT) can be a bit daunting at first but honestly, it’s there to help! There are many sensations that we experience when tasting wine and it can be difficult to put them all in the right order. Our sense of smell, taste and touch are all stimulated when wine tasting and the skill to recognise and characterise them, quickly and accurately need to be learned and developed.

This is what the SAT does.

It provides a framework for analysing a wine, allowing the taster to focus on the key characteristics of the wine in their glass, this helps the taster:

a) determine the style of the wine, is it dry, aromatic, fruity, oaked, unoaked, light-bodied, full-bodied

b) build a portfolio of tasting notes that will build the taster’s knowledge of the world’s wines

c) identify whether the wine is “fit for purpose” for example to serve by the glass in a bar without food or to serve with roast beef for Sunday lunch

d) write an accurate tasting note, for use on a restaurant wine list, for personal records or to help describing the wine to customers or friends

e) make an objective and unbiased judgement on the quality of the wine, is it an entry level wine, a premium level wine, or a fine wine

f) decide whether they like the wine on not

g) to pass the WSET Examination and achieve the qualification!

WSET Level 3 SAT Tasting Note
WSET Level 3 SAT Tasting Note

At Case Studies Wine School we use the SAT when tasting all our samples on both our classroom and online courses. By the end of the course students will have built a large portfolio of tasting notes (approx 40 for L2 and 80 for L3) of a range of wines and have an excellent understanding of the different styles of wines made around the world.

The examination is a 2 wine blind tasting where students are asked to write a tasting note for the wines that are presented to them. We offer a practical tutorial session where students are able to take mock exams to help them prepare.

Tardieu Laurent Cornas
Tardieu Laurent Cornas

Tasting is usually the bit that students most enjoy about a WSET course, The Tardieu Laurent Cornas was particularly well received when we tasted it during our Rhone class last week. It was a great opportunity to show students primary (blackberry), secondary (vanilla and toast and tertiary (prune, leather) characteristics found in older wines that were matured in oak and have had some bottle age.

Click here for a link to the WSET’s collection of Systematic Approach to Tastings:

WSET L2 Wines & Spirits

WSET L2 Spirits


4 Brand New MW’s

Congratulations to the 4 New MW’s who were awarded their letters today!

I know first hand how tough the programme is and am always delighted to hear of those that have successfully completed it.

The Master of Wine qualification is the ultimate wine qualification for the wine trade and requires application of the key characteristics of learning: knowledge, skills, experience and perhaps most importantly attitude!

These guys have all done it! 🙌🙌🙌🙌

Full details here …

New Masters of Wine!

IT’S PANCAKE DAY – er, well it was yesterday!

Woop, it’s Pancake Day. I woke up thinking about pancakes & probably won’t stop until Mr B has made me his crepes suzette this evening … (update: actually he didn’t in the end 😕).

… the best wines to pair with pancakes really depends on the filling but here are some of my favourites …

  1. The classic, lemon and sugar

Suggested recipe BBC Good Food

Try a Coteaux du Layon, the sweet Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley in France, super ripe grapes, sometimes botrytis, sometimes dried, this wines tart appley acidity will match the sweetness of the sugar and the acidity of the lemon beautifully.

Suggested wine: Domaine des Baumard Coteaux du Layon

2) Bananas and nuts

Suggested recipe: BBC Good Food

I love sweet Pinot Gris, the fruit can be quite exotic but it takes on a spicy and nutty note and that gives it a lovely savoury edge. Acidity not so high in this wine but that’s fine to pair with the bananas. Sadly not that widely available but worth the extra work to get hold of a bottle.

Suggested wine: Rolly Gassmann Pinot Gris SGN

3) Apples, pear and cinammon

Suggested recipe: BBC Good Food

Actually this would work with the Coteaux du Layon too but Tokaji has more intense botrytis (fruit peel, barley sugar and saffron spice) and higher acidity (because of the Furmint base wine), go for 5 Puttonyos to get the sweetness level right.

Suggested wine: Oremus Tokay 5 Putts

4) Chocolate and banana

Suggested Recipe: BBC Good Food

When it comes to chocolate I prefer to contrast flavours rather than match them. Chocolate can be rich, so for me a fruitier contrast works better. Muscat is very fruity, raisins, sultanas and these fortified and slightly oxidised, Liqueur Muscat’s from Australia take on brown sugar and honey notes that compliment both the chocolate and the banana.

Suggested wine: Campbells Liqueur Muscat

5) Rhubarb (omg why I have I never thought about putting rhubarb in a pancake before?)

Suggested recipe: BBC Good Food

Straight to Riesling with this one. A wine that’s high in acidity to match with the tart crispness of the Rhubarb. Germany, France, Austria and Canada all make great sweet Riesling but I like the sound of this one from New Zealand.

Suggested wine: Cloudy Bay Late Harvest Riesling

and finally the ultimate pancake …

6) Crepes Suzette

Suggested Recipe: BBC Good Food

with the ultimate wine, Sauternes, nobley rotted Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc from France that takes on a delicious orange peel and marmalade note. Nice.

Suggested wine: Chateau Briatte Sauternes

… Maybe I’ll get my pancakes tonight?

The WSET Examination – how to prepare

I get as nervous as my students when it comes to exam time. They all work so hard and I just want them to do their best and show the examiner why they deserve to be given their wine qualifications. So I have the following revision advice to help them fully prepare:

Revision is an ongoing process, not something you should be doing the week before the exam, here are some of my favourite techniques and exercise:

Record cards are among my favourite tools, they cost about £3 a pack from a good stationers and are incredibly useful.

  1. Write a question on the front, the answer on the back create a whole deck per chapter of text and go through them, over and over until you’ve learnt them all.
  2. They are also great for learning flow charts (gin production for example). Write each step of the process on a card, mix them up and then spend a few minutes putting them back in the right order. Keep doing it until you do it in your sleep!
  3. One thing I know many students find difficult is remembering wine names and grape varieties (particularly in Italy!), use your record cards to help. Write the wine name on one card (Barolo), the grape variety (Nebbiolo) on another, mix them, then match them.

Alternatively use the Chegg Flashcards app then you can easily carry your questions with you and use them whenever you have a spare 5 minutes!

Mindmaps are an excellent way of recording notes an organising your thoughts particularly if you’re a visual kind of person. Use flipchart paper (that way you get everything on one sheet) or the Inspiration app on your tablet write the topic in the middle. Chardonnay for example. Draw a circle around it, or if you’re a little bit arty you could draw a grape.  Then draw lines, like the spokes of a bicyle wheel that lead to more bubbles with facts that you need to remember about Chardonnay. Take the flavours of Chardonnay for example. It could look something like this …

Wine Study Skills Chardonnay Mind Map

Re-draw it, refine it and soon you’ll have remembered all the information on it!

Multiple choice questions are used in the WSET exams so why not write your own. This is such an excellent revision tool that I wrote a whole blog post on it click here. Or, trawl the internet for quizzes that have already been created, like the WSET Level 2 quiz from Decanter magazine. I also found this one …

Another great tool is the WSET Knowledge Centre click here and in particular their 3 minute wine school and 3 minute spirit school series.

However you choose to revise don’t overdo it, only let yourself study for 40 minutes at a time, then stop and have a cup of tea, look out the window, go for a quick walk. Breaking regularly will keep you fresh and focussed!

And my final piece of advice …

Keep calm and remember your SAT

Clare Bassan, WSET L3 Graduate

“Having done my Level 2 online I decided to take my Level 3 in person and they could not have been more different. Being able to meet and discuss and taste wines on a weekly basis was fantastic. I found Claire’s teaching method incredibly informative and  enthusiastic within a nicely relaxed approach. The support I received in our weekly sessions and the feedback from my assignments gave me a great understanding, enabling me to go into the exam and gain a Distinction. More importantly she gave me the confidence in my own knowledge. I have now got a job working in the wine trade and an studying for my WSET L4 Diploma”

Clare Bassan, WSET L3 Graduate

James Mackenzie, Monachyle Mhor Hotel

“At Monachyle Mhor Hotel, we are huge believers in the need to invest in our staff in order to continue the upward trajectory of a flourishing Scottish hospitality industry. Our close work with Claire Blackler has been nothing short of a complete success for us and our staff. The flexibility of the services offered by Claire has been of great help in allowing us to utilise the training to its maximum. Our staff have benefited hugely from the skill and attention to detail delivered by  Claire and her tutors, resulting in many of our team discovering a passion for wines and spirits that they never knew they had.

Our work with Claire has resulted in increased employee retention, happier staff and, most importantly, increased profits. I cannot recommend Claire Blackler highly enough and look forward to continuing our work with her in the future”

James Mackenzie, Hotel Manager, Monachyle Mhor Hotel

Jo Radford, Timberyard

“Having had a number of staff taught by Claire at Case Studies Wine School it is clear to see the benefits Timberyard has seen. The knowledge and confidence those staff now possess has increased hugely. Case studies Wine School really has given us the building blocks to help understand the world of wine and spirits.”

Jo Radford, Timberyard