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Wine Tasting Uncorked: Terroir & Quality of Dry White Wines

What better way to start off the summer months than with a wine tasting comparing white wines? The second wine tasting, in the series of nine tastings, for the Wine Tasting Uncorked series that I started looked at terroir and quality of dry white wines. If you missed the post on the first tasting in the series, check out the blog post here.

As a reminder, this tasting series is based on Michael Schuster’s Wine Tasting Uncorked card set.

The goal of this second tasting in the Uncorked series was to demonstrate that the vineyard site, terroir, where the grapes are grown, can have an important impact on quality. The tasting comparisons highlighted the different characteristics of two more noble grape varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, the aromatic variety, contrasted with Chardonnay, the non-aromatic variety. We also explored some of the effects of new oak on white wine.

NOTE: Noble grapes are also known as international varieties which are grape varieties that are widely planted in most of the major wine producing regions and have widespread appeal.

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What is Terroir?

Terroir (from terre, “land”) (ter-wahr) is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with plant genetics, express in agricultural products. The concept of terroir is at the base of the French wine Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC)  system that has been the model for appellation and wine laws around the globe. At its core is the assumption that the land from which the grapes are grown imparts a unique quality that is specific to that growing site.

And for those of you who love a little history…

Long before the French, the winemaking regions of the ancient world already developed a concept of different regions having the potential to create very different and distinct wines, even from the same grapes. The Ancient Greeks would stamp amphorae with the seal of the region they came from and soon different regions established reputations based on the quality of their wines. For most of its history, Burgundy was cultivated by the literate and disciplined members of the Benedictine and Cistercian orders. With vast land holdings, the monks were able to conduct large scale observation of the influences that various parcels of land had on the wine it produced. Some legends have the monks going as far as “tasting” the soil. Over time the monks compiled their observations and began to establish the boundaries of different terroirs (many of which still exist today as the Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy).

In order to guide this wine tasting, I again asked everyone to prepay for the event so that I could buy the appropriate wine that would allow us to compare the effect of terroir on the quality of dry white wines. I set the event up as a seated, guided wine tasting (see the pics below) that would allow members to taste the four wines side-by side, comparing and contrasting the flavors and aromas.

Collage - Tasting Setup

After starting our tasting event with a social hour (where we enjoyed appetizers brought by each person), we sat down to get started with the tasting. I provided a delicious blueberry goat cheese from Trader Joe’s along with some raisin and rosemary crackers. 

Before beginning the tasting, I did a quick review of several things that I had introduced in the first tasting to aid us in our discussion of the wines:

  • The basic steps of wine tasting
  • Focusing on sight, smells and tastes
  • Wine tasting terms

If you are interested in learning more about the aforementioned “lessons” check out my other blog post that goes over the notes I created to pass out to those in attendance at the wine tasting.

The line-up for the wine tasting was:

  1. Luna d’Or Prosecco Frizzante. Congegliano, Italy.
  2. Domaine Guenault Touraine (2012). Loire, France.
  3. Dm Millet Sancerre (2012). Loire, France.
  4. Jadot Mâcon Villages (2012). Burgundy, France.
  5. Javillier Bourgogne des Forgets (2011). Burgundy, France.

We started with an apéritif of Luna d’Or Prosecco (Italy) to stimulate the palate prior to the comparison wine tasting. At around $10 a bottle, the prosecco was very well-received (just like the last prosecco). The Luna d’Or Prosecco Frizzante was crisp, medium-bodied, floral and fruity. The notes of peach and apricot were widely recognized.

Collage Wine A-Luna D'or Prosecco

To help keep the tasting organized, I created a handout with the wine information listed so that people could keep their own notes. To recreate this tasting, feel free to use my tasting sheet: Dry White Wines & Terroir Lesson 2 – Place Setting. The circles on the the tasting sheet are to help keep your wine glasses straight. :)

We started by pouring about two ounces each of the first two wines. We compared the appearance, nose and taste (including acidity, balance and finish) of the first two wines before pouring the third and fourth wines and then comparing all of them in the same manner.

The first wine, Domaine Guenault Touraine (2012) is from Loire, France and is 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Domaine Guénault’s property is situated on steep slopes overlooking the Cher river, which gives the grapes excellent sun exposure. The Sauvignon Blanc wines here are grassy and scented and a popular choice as an aperitif. The white Touraine (Touraine being the French appellation this wine is from) wines are dry, fairly firm, lively and full, and keep well when bottled. Crisp, Refreshing, Lime, Grapefruit, Melon, Medium-bodied. Many of the participants described this wine as tart and full of citrus. This wine also had hints of melon and quince that helped balance the flavors and quench the palate with a crisp finish.

Accoding to the Loire Valley Wines website, the Touraine appellation spreads across more than 13,000 acres and its soil is highly varied, with flinty clays, clay limestone on a chalk bed, and sand on flint to the east, as well as gravel stones and sand. The Loire Valley Wines website describes the climate in this appellation as an oceanic climate dominating in the west, becoming more continental as you move east. These climatic differences, combined with varied soils, determine the choice of grape variety planted (with later-ripening varieties in the west and earlier-ripening ones in the east) and therefore, the wide variety of wines produced.

Overall impressions of the Domaine Guenault Touraine (2012): Tart, crisp, medium-bodied, lively, citrusy, with floral notes and hints of melon and lime. This is a reasonably priced ($13) wine that would be a good addition at the dinner table in the summer or as a light, refreshing wine to enjoy on its own.

Collage Wine 1 - Touraine Sauvignon

The second wine, Dom Millet Sancerre (2012) is from the Sancerre appellation of Loire, France. The grape varietal for this wine is Sauvignon Blanc. This is an Estate bottled Sauvignon Blanc that is very versatile.

Accoding to the Loire Valley Wines website, the Sancerre appellation plants nearly 5,500 acres of white wine grapes. There are three primary soil types: Terres Blanches (“white earth”) is compact chalk atop kimmeridgean marl is characteristic of the western part of the region; Les Caillottes is gravel and limestone; and Silex (flint) is found in the eastern vineyards.  spreads across more than 13,000 acres and its soil is highly varied, with flinty clays, clay limestone on a chalk bed, and sand on flint to the east, as well as gravel stones and sand. The Loire Valley Wines website describes the climate in this appellation as a temperate continental climate and includes an average rainfall of 32 inches/year, offering a relatively dry growing period.

Overall impression of the Dom Millet Sancerre (2012) : This Sancerre does not overpower the palate. It does show depth and complexity. The bouquet is fragrant and flavors of lime, lemon and apple linger on the long, soft finish. At $25 a bottle, this was the favorite for those in attendance at the wine tasting, after it was aerated.

Collage Wine 2 - Sancerre

The third wine, Jadot Mâcon Villages (2012) is from the Macon Villages appellation of Burgundy, France. This is a light-bodied Chardonnay. The Mâcon Villages area is located in the southern part of Burgundy, close to the Beaujolais area. This appellation is the largest of the Mâconnais area, covering about 2,500 hectares of vineyards and 43 communes. Forty three villages have the right to produce Mâcon Blanc Villages. Mâcon Villages are only white wines. The limestone subsoil of the Monts du Mâconnais are ideal for growing the Chardonnay grapes.

The Jadot Mâcon Villages (2012) is finished in stainless steel tanks in order to extract the maximum floral and fruity aromas and freshness.

Overall impressions of the Jadot Mâcon Villages (2012): Bottom line: A fresh, pale-gold Chardonnay that typical varietal aromas with flavors of apple and melon. Citrus notes with a crisp acidic balance ending in a clean, lively finish. Cost is around $15.

Collage Wine 3 - Macon Villages Chardonnay

The fourth and final wine, Javillier Bourgogne des Forgets (2011) is from the Côte de Beaune appellation of Burgundy, France.  After a harvest and pressing, this wine is fermented in oak barrels. After 17 to 18 months, the wine is bottled with minimal filtration. This wine is loaded with pear flavors and buttered toast overtones. This Chardonnay was crafted by Patrick Javillier from young vines in Meursault.

The Côte de Beaune vineyards lie on the upper slopes of the Montagne de Beaune just above the Premier Cru plots at heights of 300 to 370 meters and on brown limestone and calcium-rich soils, perfect for Chardonnay grape-growing. Patrick Javillier’s Bourgogne des Forgets wine comes from different vineyard appellation Bourgogne Blanc on the territory of Meursault places called “the Grass” and “Vaux” side of Volnay. The soil consists for Grass and part of Vaux.

Overall impressions of the Javillier Bourgogne des Forgets (2011): Bottom line: An intense gold color with an earthy minerality. The nose of this wine is expressive with notes of fruit, flowers and toast. On the palate, this wine shows a nice balance and a beautiful body with good acidity. We found the same aromas on the nose. This wine has a nice long finish.This was a crowd pleaser for those Swirlistas that are fans of oaked Chardonnays. Cost is around $25.

Collage Wine 4 - Bourgogne Chardonnay

This second tasting of the series was a great event! While we love our more laid back tastings, this was a nice change. This type of tasting gave us an opportunity to really study what we liked (and didn’t like) about each of the wines, while sharing our thoughts with the group.  You can see from the photos below that we had a great time. After our detailed tasting, describing the appearance, aroma, taste and overall impressions, we brought our food back over to check out how the wines held up against different types of food (as you can see from the photos below).

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I’m excited to move on to the third tasting in the series that will look at Old World versus New World white wines. By comparing Old World vs. New World wines of the same grape variety, we will explore the profound effect of climate on varietal character and wine style. Check back in August for the next blog when we have our third guided tasting in the series.

Cheers,

Danielle

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