Wine & Spirit Education Trust Bermondsey
‘So you think you know wine? Prove it,’ said a friend at a dinner party earlier this year. Having been part of the food industry and reviewing restaurants for over a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to sample some fine wines and grape varieties, and I’d like to think that I have something relevant to say about them. But could I tell you why a pinot noir is lighter in colour than a cabernet sauvignon, or a Australian shiraz drinks differently to French? No, I could not.
The same friend and I enrolled on the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level One Award in Wines course, taken from WSET’s HQ near London Bridge, to answer these questions. It’s an internationally recognised qualification with outposts all over the world, and there are four levels, with the fourth a sommelier-grade diploma that lasts as long as a degree. Level One, however, is a day course with an exam at the end to introduce us to wine and how it’s produced.
As I enter the classroom, it strikes me that it’s the first time I’ve been in front of a teacher since university. But there’s no sign of musty bookcases, mismatched furniture and questionable tailoring here. Rather, a perfectly turned out, air-conditioned room replete with tasting glasses, notebooks and course syllabus. As I look around the class, there are several people representing the on-trade, a group of guys on a team-building exercise, and several bankers looking to add weight to reading a wine list. Our teacher, Lucy Stevenson, is excellent. Clearly spoken with staccato syntax and repetitive emphasis on important elements, her style is friendly, with a succinct answer to any question the group may have. The course begins with an introduction to cool- and warm-climate wines, immediately answering my query as to why shiraz from the southern hemisphere tastes different to that grown in Europe. It’s the heat.
The first round of tasting begins with four idiosyncratic wine styles. Lucy explains the process – look, smell, taste – then discusses the kind of aromas that characterise the world’s most popular grape varieties. After lunch, we move into pairing wine with food. Small bites of cheese, salmon and fruit are laid out to match with red, white, sweet and rosé wines. We’re encouraged to try them with the food to see how they work – or don’t, for that matter. Lucy explains it’s the tannins in dark-red wines like cab sav that means they do not go well with fish, yet do so tremendously with meat. As an introduction to tasting wine and learning why elements drink like they do, it’s a great way to spend a day. I passed, too. MS. WSET Level One one-day wine course from £169. wsetglobal.com