Examiner’s feedback for WSET Diploma D4 – Sparkling Wines (previous Unit 5)

Before you start reading, take into account that I took my exam in June 2018 so some of the information about the sparkling wines exam can be outdated. It is always best to check the newest WSET Diploma Specification.

We have already looked at an example of the examiner’s feedback for the D5 Unit (fortified wines). It’s high time we looked at another one. This time we will focus on the D4 Unit (sparkling wines). We will see my answer to the mock questions, and what kind of feedback I received from the examiners. If you are interested in the exam itself, the questions I had, the wines I tasted, and my results, head over to this blog post.

Question #1: CM (Coopérative-manipulant) 

My answer: CM Coopérative-manipulant is a term that can be found on the labels of Champagne bottles. It indicates that the wines have been produced by a co-operative. Co-operatives buy grapes from the growers that belong to this co-op, make the wine and sell it under the co-ops brand.  The co-ops often group members from a single village and produce wines from the grapes grown around this village.

Co-ops can also sell the wine back to the growers so that they put their own labels on it and sell it as their own, but in this case, the term on the label is RC.

Potentially, co-ops can also send the wines back to growers before the wine has been disgorged and if the wine is disgorged by the grower himselfs/herself, the term on the lavel can be RM instead of CM.

This collaboration with co-ops is good for the growers who don’t have the means (e.g. equipement, money) to produce the wines, especially taking into account that production of Champagnes requires time, equipement and skills. This is important as the average land holding in the Champagne region is around 2ha and for most of the growers it is hard to produce wine only from his own grapes, brand it and distribute. Co-operatives buy the grapes, press them, make the base wine and take care of the 2nd fermentation as well.

The biggest co-op in the Champagne region is CVC – Centre Viticole de la Champagne that produces the brand Nicolas Feuilette. CVC produce about 7% of the total Champagne production.

Points: 16/25

Examiner’s comments:

  • You made interesting points, but what about the relationship between the CM and the big Houses? We could say that the big recent success of the CM brands is creating a strong competition on the market. Furthermore less grapes are available to source for the big Houses.
  • When you use an abbreviation (e.g. RM), try to explain what it stands for the first time you mention it.

Question #2: Saumur

My answer: Saumur is an town in Loire Valley in France, producing sparkling wine with the traditional method and minimum 9 months aging on lees, called Saumur Mousseux. The climate here is temperate oceanic with the continental influences on the plots futher from the Loire river. Soil types include chalky limestone tuffeau, dark schist. 

Typical grape varieties used: whites: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc Chardonnay, reds: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pineau d’Aunis.

Both white and rose wines are produces in Saumur, they are generally softer comparing to the Vouvray. All levels of sweetness can be produced here, from Brut Nature, through Extra Brut, Brut (most popular), Extra Dry, Demi-sec, Sec and Dulce. There is also a number of producers that produce more and more popular pet-nats wines, which are bottles before the 1st fementation had a chance to finish, however, these wines are usually bottles as vin de France.

Some producers from Saumur have also started to produce their wines under the Cremant the Loire appelation. Cremants require higher quality (e.g. lower yields) but the reputation of the cremants wines helps with the sales, so producers take the additional effort to produce higher quality Crémant instead of Saumurs.

There is about 150 producers, producing 11 mln bottles annualy.

The history of sparkling wines production in Loire Valley is related to Saumur as it was here in 1811 when Jean-Baptiste Ackerman produced the first sparklig wine in Loire Valley. Ackerman is still present in the region and is one of the biggest producers of sparkling wines.

Points: 13/25

Examiner’s comments:

  • You could have tried to be more precise in differentiating between the production of Saumur and the one of C. de Loire. For examples, mentioning the different yields (giving numbers), the different lees ageing, the differences in terms of authorised grapes.
  • You should have mentioned in what sub-region of the Loire Valley is Saumur located?
  • Why is the tuffeau so important in the local sparkling wine production?
  • Grolleau, Pinot Noir and Gamay can also be used.
  • Dulce – This is spanish… You have mixed levels with other styles of sparkling here.

Question #3: Black grapes 

My answer: Even though most sparkling wines are white, black grapes play an important role in the production of sparkling wines of all types – whites (either as part of the blend with whites varieties, e.g. Chardonnay or as Blanc de Noir), rose (either though blending, saignee or maceration) and reds.

Some of the most importan red grapes varieties include:

  • Pinot Noir – the most popular black grape used to produce sparkling wines, and the most popular in Champagne (38% of all the plantings). Pinot Noir does well in a cool climate and with good clonal selection and rootstock selection, it can also give good results in warmer climates (e.g. Catalunya – 3% of plantings).  It’s early budding, susceptible to spring frost and coulure. Pinot Noir brings structure, finesse, longevity and red fruit characters to the wines. It’s used for productions of blends, Blanc de Noirs and roses. It’s used all around the world for the production of sparkling wines, e.g. in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and California, Italy (Franciacorta)
  • Pinot Meunier – second most popular grape variety in Champagne (32% of all the plantings). Brings fruitiness and youthfulness to the wines. It’s rarely grown outside of Champagne, however, can be found in England, Australia and California too. Usually part of the blends, however, some Champagne producers produce single Pinot Meunier wines.
  • Trepat – local Catalunyan grape, used for the production of rose Cavas only. It holds about 3% of all the Cava plantings in Catalunya. It brings a high level of acidity, strawberry and raspberry aromas. It’s regaining popularity. Early budding and late rippening.
  • Garnacha Tinta – 3% of plantings in Catalunya, likes warmer climate, had moderate acidity at best and tends to lose colour when the yields are too high. Can have high levels of sugars. Used for the production of rose Cavas.
  • Monastrell – another red Cava grape, used for the production of roses, almost not used anymore. Likes heat, ripens late and needs good conditions (e.g.higher levels of potassium and magnesium).
  • Pinotage – often used as a blending partner for Methode Cap Classique wines in South Africa, brings red fruit character with earthiness and smokiness. Is used for the production of white wines and roses.
  • Lambrusco – a family of varieties, e.g. Lambrusco Salamino, Lambrusco Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa, have different levels of acidy, tannins and intensity. In general produce rather simple sparkling wines with various range of colours (from medium ruby to pale rose).
  • Shiraz – used mainly is Australia for the production of sparkling Shiraz, fuller-bodied wines with aromas of black and red fruit with hints of spice.
  • Cabernet Franc – used for the production of white wines and rose in Loire Valley

Points: 14/25

Examiner’s comments:

  • You could have mentioned some examples of producers for each wine mentioned. There are also more red grapes that can be mentioned to get higher scores, i.e. Brachetto, Merlot, Gamay, etc.
  • You could have mentioned the importance of maceration on skins to extract colour, underlining the difference between the white and the red sparklings.
  • Pinot Noir also brings body and length.
  • You could have mentioned how P.Meunier is different from P. Noir in terms of viticultural characteristics.
  • For Lambrusco, you should mark the difference in terms of vinification method used and the resulting quality. Where is Lambrusco produced?
  • For Shiraz, What is the production method used? What about the quality?


As you can see I did not do great but well enough to get a pass from this mock exam – 43 points out of 75. 

It was a valuable lesson that allowed me to focus on the details. And as a result, I got a really good grade – you can read about it in this blog post.

Anyway, I hope it is useful for you. Let me know in the comment if you’d like to get more post like this one.

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