From the editor: A month into the French Wine Scholar program, Stephen Sherrill continues chronicling his experiences in class. If you missed his first post, find it here. Otherwise, journey on. – Jonathan Cristaldi
What It’s Like to be a French Wine Scholar (Part Deux)
by Stephen Sherrill, C.S.W., A.W.S.
My journey through France continues. Region by region and wine by wine, I continue to discover new and exciting winemaking traditions and styles of wine I have never tasted. While the amount of information has become rather overwhelming, and most certainly complex, I have to admit that the joy of discovery is growing ten fold in comparison.
Continuing from Burgundy and traveling slightly south to Beaujolais, this is what we’ve learned: Beaujolais is a region planted almost entirely to the gamay grape and often viewed by scholars as an extension of Burgundy–though this seems hardly to be adequate or even factual. While Beaujolais, a semi-continental region, is dominated by one grape variety, the diversity in styles is incredible. From nouveau style, early-drinking wines made through carbonic maceration (annually released on the third Thursday of every November to celebrate harvest), to beautifully structured wines made in the northerly 10 Crus, this region was one of the more unique to study.
A real highlight of the tasting portion was this beautifully structured Delys 2013 Morgon, coming from the Morgon Cru. In my humble opinion, this wine offered a refreshing contrast to the many “fruit bomb” Nouveaux that I have tasted–showing earth complexity complemented by elegant cherry, ripe strawberry and more red berry fruit. Almost pinot noir like, this wine has me looking at Beaujolais in an entire new light.
Perhaps even more exciting was the introduction to the Jura and Savoie–regions rarely a topic of discussion among consumers, but are areas producing some of the most eclectic and unusual wines in unique and distinguished styles.
In the Savoie, production focuses primarily on dry white wines made from the jacquère, altesse, and chasselas varieties–wines that are almost completely consumed by the locals and tourists visiting the ski resorts in the region. From the Jura, we tasted one of the most exciting wines in class, a Vin Jaune, made of 100% savagnin blanc produced in an oxidative style (similar to Spanish fino sherry, though not fortified). The wine comes in a 21-ounce bottles called a “clavelin” and showed many sherry-like notes including nutmeg, almond flour, cream and dried citrus fruit with distinct oxidative and aldehyde notes.
Next up, we explored the Loire Valley–a surprisingly diverse region beginning on the far western coast of France and snaking east. If you enjoy beautiful wines with refreshing, racy acidity, red wines with nice earthy complexity, and gorgeously textured sparkling wines, you’ll be just as intrigued as I was to find them all in the Loire. The region owes its diverse wine styles to its diverse climate (maritime on the coast and continental in the Upper/Central Loire). 75 percent of Loire Valley production is of AOC status, so it’s no shock to find many gems in this region. One in particular, a 2013 Muscadet Sevre et Maine, was tasted in class.
This lees stirred wine produced from the Melon de Bourgogne grape in the Pays Nantais sub-region of France showed beautifully racy acidity, bright citrus fruit, and a creamy mouth-feel and mid palate that is signature of extended lees contact. This wine had me dreaming of oysters on the half-shell.
Of course a quick transition south to Bordeaux was one of great excitement as well. With history steeped in complex arrangements resulting in numerous important marriages between English and and French royalty, not to mention complexities brought about by war, this segment of the course is a bit like learning of long lost fairytale stories. Of the wines tasted, we sampled many red Bordeaux wines from the left and right banks, a white Bordeaux, but the most riveting wine tasted was a Chateau Coutet 2001 Premier Cru Classé Sauternes from Barsac, a sweet dessert style wine produced from botrytized grapes (noble rot), and showing notes of honey, creamy vanilla, botrytis, and hazelnut–this wine was a real treat to taste.
My journey is now about two-thirds of the way through the French Wine Scholar course, and I find myself wishing there were another 20 regions to delve into instead of just a handful more. Up next we explore the Southwest, Languedoc-Roussillon, the Rhône Valley, Provence and Corsica, followed by a 100-question multiple choice exam, and then (hopefully) the post nominal F.W.S.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Sherrill, C.S.W., A.W.S. began his wine endeavors in the humble state of Tennessee as an all around “cellar rat” and wine educator, combining his love of people, food, wine and art. With an exciting genesis of scrubbing tanks and cleaning the crush pad, Stephen quickly began building upon his wine knowledge, seeking out courses and certifications through the Court of Master Sommeliers as well as the Society of Wine Educators, the world renowned Wine and Spirits Education Trust based in London, England and the Napa Valley Wine Academy, where Stephen earned the post nominal Certified Specialist of Wine as well as passing the American Wine Studies™ course with distinction. He hopes to one day be a full time educator, writer, and consultant for any and all things vino.