Class 6 of the WSET Intermediate Level course, led by Jessica Bell, was a foray into the world of Rhone-style wines and the varieties that make them so delicious including grenache and syrah/shiraz. In addition, we spent a short time delving into the riesling variety, discussing where it grows best and the remarkable styles of wine it creates.
Grenache and syrah (or shiraz in Australia) are very different grapes that winemakers have been using for centuries to make single varietal wines or blended wines using variations of the two (or more) varieties.
Grenache, a large thin-skinned grape that originated in Spain (where it’s called garnacha). It loves hot climates and does well in warm places like Spain and France’s southern Rhône Valley. It has made its way around the world and can be found anywhere that syrah thrives. On it’s own, grenache makes full-bodied wines with lots of ripe red fruit and spice, but it gets better when it is blended with other varieties that add some more complexity. Syrah is just one example.
Syrah is a dark, tannic grape that makes full-bodied wines with dark fruit flavors and complex animal and vegetal chracteristics. Like grenache, it also does well in warm regions and is usually found in a blend. Wines from the northern part of the Rhône Valley are made primarily from syrah with grenache and many others filling out the rest of the blend. Examples of syrah can be found in warm places around the world, inlucding the United States and Australia. Shiraz, as it is known in Australia, is made into bold, spicy, fruit-forward wines with intense black fruit and sweet spice.
Riesling, on the other hand, is the polar opposite to grenache and syrah. Riesling is at home in cool regions like Germany, Alsace and Austria. It can even be found in the cooler regions of the United States, Australia and New Zealand. But Germany is by far the premier location for riesling. The Germans have mastered the art of coaxing this grape into ripening under some of the most challenging growing conditions in the world. The cold northern latitude force the winemakers to leave their grapes on the vine longer so they can fully ripen (if at all). Steep rocky vineyards along rivers like the Rhine, with their east facing slopes, are difficult to manage but necessary to capture the warm sunlight needed to ripen the grapes. Dry riesling wines can have floral aromas, white fruit and bright citrus flavors with bracing acidity and steely mineral notes. Riesling can also be made into delicious sweet dessert wines such as beerenauslese, trockenbeerenauslese and eiswein.
Rendell Thomas will present sparkling and sweet wines later this week
Wines Tasted (Class 6):
- Perrin et Fils Reserve 2006 (Côtes du Rhône, France)
- Domaine la Clotte-Fontane 2006 (Languedoc, France)
- Calcareous Tre Violet 2005 (Paso Robles, California)
- Layer Cake Shiraz 2008 (South Australia)
- Weingut Johann Peter Mertes Riesling 2006 (Saar, Germany)
- Buried Cane Riesling 2006 (Washington State)