WSET Diploma Study Chronicles #1: The Beauty of Chinon and Bourgueil

It's been too long since I've posted. Turns out buying a house can completely consume your life, in good ways and bad. But I'm now back in the world and studying full time for the Wine and Spirits Education Trust's (WSET) Diploma Tasting exam. If you've seen SOMM, the test I'm taking is akin to what they go through, though not nearly as intense and structured differently. The WSET Diploma Tasting Exam consists of 4 sets of 3 wines that are tasted blind. I'm required to describe each wine as accurately as possible in appearance, on the nose, the palate, and make conclusions on its quality, origin, grape variety, etc. I failed my first attempt at this a year ago, mainly because I didn't follow the formal WSET procedure as strictly as the graders would have liked. The tasting portion is just one stage in the journey through the Diploma, which I'll write more about in the near future.

I live in Denver and I love beer like everyone else in this city but it's not easy finding tasting groups, let alone anyone also studying for WSET. Most of my studying consists of my partner Nicki pouring me blind tastes of wines I've purchased recently. It's not very scientific or methodical and since I've purchased them myself, the blind aspect of the whole thing is more or less a sham. That being said, it's helpful to go through the tasting process for as many wines as possible before the exams. Tonight, I decided to pick a few bottles of Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, one that I purchased from Garagiste online and the other that I got from Argonaut Liquors, my friendly independent wine megastore near my house in Denver. 

I've always had an affinity for Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. Pinot Noir is the end-game for me but Cabernet Franc's inclination for funk, bright red fruits, low alcohol, freshness, and best of all, affordability, has always rubbed me the right way. Both of these bottles were delicious but very different. After I finished taking notes, I browsed the interwebs to see what others had to say about them. I took away some interesting insights from comparing my notes and theirs, some of which I've detailed below.

chinonandbourgueil bottles

Jean-Maurice Raffault 2015 Chinon AOC
100% Caberent Franc
12.5% Alcohol
Highly Recommended

This wine burst out of the glass and was as lively a Chinon as I've ever had. Raffault is one of the most iconic producers of Cabernet Franc in the Loire, and likely the world, and many of their older bottles can be found for ridiculous deals at retail. I recently found a bottle from the mid-80s for $65 in Portland, Oregon. I didn't buy it, for reasons I can't really remember (and regret), but the value for their wines is as good as any other producer I can think of. What I love about Raffault's younger wines is how fresh and well-integrated they are on the nose at such a young age. This was alive with bright red fruits, a distinct vegetal/jalapeno/herbaceous note, and a hint of barnyard funk. Overall, a great effort and one that I couldn't recommend more. 

Domaine Guion 2011 'Cuvee Prestige'
Bourgueil AOC
12.5% Alcohol

I tasted this first and my first whiff was an overwhelming amount of barnyard/manure/funktastic-ness. It dissipated a bit after 10 minutes but it continued to be the defining characteristic of the wine. Bourgueil is known to be darker and a bit meatier than Chinon and other areas that produce Cabernet Franc in the Loire, but this was a whole new level of weird. Domaine Guion is a natural wine producer with certified organic vineyards and minimal sulfur additions so I suppose the funk isn't that surprising. This wine had a more herbaceous/green bell pepper bent than the Raffault and didn't have as much bright fruit, though that can be expected because of the age. It was lower in acidity and creamier on the palate. After several hours in the glass, a hint of cigarette butt developed that was oddly enjoyable. Overall, an intriguing bottle of natural wine that I enjoyed, though I'm not so sure the masses would agree.

I have a tough time discerning and differentiating some of the aromas and flavors of Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. I think it's because they are more unusual than most other red wines and the funk often dominates my thought processes once I attempt to put them on paper. I'm confident I could pick them out blind in a tasting but I'll always have trouble differentiating the aroma and flavor profiles. If I can recommend anything with these wines, it's to drink them slowly over several hours. Sending them through an aerator or two won't ever hurt, as they have as much potential as pinot noir to dramatically change in the glass in a short period of time.