On a particularly hot day in June I stepped out of the particularly hot tube station and map in hand spent the next half hour trying to find the Wine and Spirit Education Trust offices. After asking the only police officer in London who didn’t know the area and walking around in a big circle I found the offices and was grateful for their industrial air-conditioning.
I was in London to do the trust’s Foundation course in Wine. The level 1 course is an introduction to wine aimed at those who work in the industry as well as those with an amateur interest. We started the day with an introduction to the basics of wine – how wine is made and the different styles – taking into account colour, sweetness, body and acidity. The course is accompanied by a study guide that includes helpful information as well as space to add your own notes. As a dedicated student I scribbled away – underlining key points and adding my own understanding of the subject.
We then moved on to the main grape varieties – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah. This is where things started to get interesting for me. I will admit that up until this course I was a ‘white’ wine drinker who, after a couple of bad experiences with heavy-handed oak, avoided Chardonnay. But the tutor talked about flavours and aromas in the same semi-erotic way television chefs talk about their latest culinary creations. Chardonnay became something that could be green apple fresh or buttery and creamy; Cabernet Sauvignon was bursting with blackcurrant fruitiness; Riesling, in its many versions could be anything from minerally to peachy to petrolly in aroma (still not sure about the appeal of the latter).
Our final session was the one most of us were looking forward to – the tasting. First we were given an introduction on how to taste and the WSET guidelines which give a standard of words that the trust uses. Someone with more experience may find the ‘set’ words limiting but to beginners they give a solid grounding from which to start understanding the liquid in front of you. The main focus of the session was how to match food and wine so we were given plates of apple, cheese, smoked salmon, chocolate and spicy crisps and asked to try each wine with the different foods. The wines we tasted included a Pinot Grigio, Shiraz, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. This proved to be a fascinating experiment as we tasted the heavily tannic Cabernet Sauvignon with the spicy crisps and all reached for glasses of water as the tannins reacted with the spice increasing the heat or when we had the white oaked Burgundy with smoked salmon and our mouths were overwhelmed with metallic flavours. It was a great way of introducing us to the precarious world of food and wine matching and one that was particularly beneficial to the numerous waiting staff that were on the course.
We finished the day with a short multiple-choice exam based on everything we had learnt throughout the day. The course was a fascinating introduction into the world of wine and one I would highly recommend to either those just starting in the industry or amateurs who want to learn a bit more about their favourite tipple.
Wines we tasted:
- Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc (2010) £8.99
- Vignale Pinot Grigio (2010) £4.99
- Maison Chanson Gevrey-Chambertin (2006) £27.99
- Chapel Hill Cabernet Sauvignon (2005) £12.99
- St Hallett Blackwell Barossa Shiraz (2007) £17.49
- Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Auslese (2003) £19.49
- Merlin Pouilly Fuisse Terroir de Vergisson (2007) £20.95
- Domaine Hubert Brochard Sancerre (2009) £14.99