Safe bets & common tasting notes for sparkling wines

This is a summary of all the notes I took during class and tasting sessions.

Appearance

  • Frothy rim? Probably tank method.
  • Colour description should match ageing / development.

Nose

If you smell the wine without sticking your nose in the glass, you know it’s pronounced. Not medium+, it’s pronounced. Dare to choose and don’t overthink it.

Also remember that you can’t combine ‘medium+ flavour intensity’ with ‘simple aroma’s. Make sure your tasting notes are logical.

Primary aromas

  • Perfumed and/or floral aromas – think of prosecco, sekt or asti
  • Aromas of rubber and/or cardboard – think of cava
  • Gout de pétrole – think of riesling sekt
  • Wet wool – think chenin blanc (Crémant de Loire or Cap Classique)
  • Minerality – probably Champagne
  • Make sure you specify the fruit, e.g. jammy, unripe, ripe or baked.
  • Aromas like blossom, gooseberry, lemon, lime, green apple indicate cool climate
  • Hint of tropical but not peachy yet? Use nectarine as a descriptor. In order of ripeness: nectarine – peach – mango.

Secondary aromas (and tertiairy)

  • Autolytic aromas indicate it’s made following the traditional method
  • If the yeast is not very dominant, use brioche as descriptor
  • If there’s oaky aromas and you think of tertiary – mention them.

Palate

It’s finally time to take a sip 🙂

Safe bets

  • Most of the sparkling wines are off-dry. Because of the acidity, it’s hard to detect.
  • Demi-sec champagne can be either medium-sweet or sweet, depending on how it appears on the palate.
  • Champagne usually has a higher acidity (med+ or high), whilst cava is a bit lower in acidity and has a rounder body (med or med+)
  • The body is always light or in some cases medium-.
  • Alcohol is between 12% and 13% for traditional method sparkling wine, meaning always medium.

Mousse

  • Some wines have a frothy, creamy mousse which fades quickly on the palate; others – particularly those which have undergone maturation – have a fine-beaded, persistent mousse which lingers on the finish. (WSET)
  • The mousse can be creamy (average, most wines), aggressive (like CocaCola) or delicate (hardly noticeable)

Conclusion

In your conclusion you assess the quality using BLIC. It stands for Balance, Length, Intensity / Integration of dosage and Complexity.

Balance

  • Balance between fruit and acidity
  • Balance between fruit and autolytical aromas / oak / tertiary
  • What about the texture of the sparkling wine? Is the mousse smooth and well-integrated or frothy and short-lived?

Length (and intensity)

  • The longer, the better.

Integration of dosage

  • Younger wines tend to have a sweet attack. The dosage is not very well integrated yet. If this is the case, check if your conclusions match your SAT (e.g. is the colour also young?).

Complexity (and varietal definition, typicity of origin)

  • Are all boxes (primary, secondary, tertiary) checked? Complex it is!
  • Some wines, for example very aromatic wines, do not check all the boxes, but when a wine shows distinctive aromas and flavours associated with a particular grape variety, it is more likely to be a high-quality example of its type than one that does not.
  • A great wine will also show typicity of style, expressing some of the character of its origin.

Quality assessment: acceptable
The wine lacks intensity and complexity in flavour and length. There’s only primary aromas, no secondary or tertiary character. It’s not good, because there’s no typicity of the grape variety either.

Quality assessment: good
The balance between the sugars and acidity is ok, the dosage is well-integrated, but overall, the wine is lacking concentration and complexity (there’s not much else than primary aromas and a hint of brioche, indicating traditional method with a rather short period on the lees).

Quality assessment: very good
The complexity comes from the tertiary and autolytic notes giving a savoury character and complements the ripeness and sweetness of the primary fruit. The tannic grip contributes to the overall balance of the wine.

Quality assessment: outstanding
There’s a great balance between the fruit and the acidity. The wine is dry, but the dried fruit aromas make it seem sweeter. There’s a good mix of primary and secondary (aromas from autolysis and oak like brioche, bread dough and butter) and tertiary aromas of dried fruit. The wine has a fantastic balance with a mouth-watering acidity. The developed yeast aromas indicate the wine has been made using the traditional method. The mouthful aromas show the complexity of the wine, which comes together in a long lingering finish. I can’t detect a varietal aroma, so the aromas come from vinification and bottle ageing. Traditional method, high acidity and a superbe complexity, I think this is a premium quality champagne and an outstanding sparkling wine.

De Sousa Cuvée Mycorhize Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut

Readiness for drinking and potential for ageing

  • Most sparkling wines do not benefit from further ageing (despite your personal opinion).
  • You have to explain why the wine is ready for drinking now or should be aged a few more years. E.g. high acidity can contribute to longevity, but the wine needs concentration of fruit to support that.

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