Thursday, 29 May 2014

My Wines and Spirits Course

Everyone has a few of those things that they have been wanting and meaning to do for a long time, but just never seem to be able to get started.  Well, it was with a sense of excitement that I started my 'one of those things' this week.

On Monday night, I attended my first lecture of the nine-week WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits.  The course is called:  Wines and Spirits:  Looking Behind the Label and the only way you can take this globally recognised course in Western Australia is through Full Bottle Wine Education & Events, which was established by Paul (Ed) Edwards.  Ed was there to welcome us on the first evening of the course and will be lecturing, along with a few of his experienced colleagues. 

As with any course, the first step was for everyone to introduce themselves and explain why they were attending (as well as name their favourite wine and why).  Usually I dread this activity, but it was quite amazing to hear the variety of reasons for attendance as well as their current roles and relationships with wine.  I would estimate approximately 70% of the class were in some facet of hospitality or sales and was impressed with the calibre of the restaurants/bars they were working at (such as Bistro Guillaime, The Print Hall, Balthazaar).  From an outside observer, I gauged that these high quality wine establishments must inspire people to learn more about wine through staff educational tastings.

Session One was all about Tasting and Evaluating Wine.  We went through a discussion of how to appropriately prepare for wine tasting.  There are some recommendations that many people might consider a slight inconvenience such as:

  • Do not wear perfume - it can inhibit/distract your ability to detect aromas.
  • Do not drink coffee, smoke or brush your teeth within two hours of the tasting - this will mean your palate is not clean (supposedly chewing a piece of bread can help).
  • Use a proper tasting glass - WSET use what is called an ISO glass, which has a rounded bowl, allowing concentration of the aromas and preventing spillage of wine when it is swirled.
Once the above criteria have been met, supposedly you are ready for tasting.  The next consideration is the WSET Level 2 Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine.  This structured and rigorous approach to tasting is divided into four stages:

  1. Appearance
  2. Nose
  3. Palate
  4. Conclusions
I do not seek to bore you with the details of each stage, but it is enough to say that each stage is very clear on the terms and definitions that may be used to define the wine.  There are 22 sub-categories of aroma and flavour characteristics to choose from, with each sub-category having an average of 4 to 5 descriptors.  So there are over 100 words there that you can use to describe the wine.  Funnily enough, I still found myself wanting to use words outside of these!

Ed was very good at explaining that the reason for being restrictive on the wine description vocabulary is to make tasting accessible and communicable.  What this means is that if you use the WSET conventions, all of the descriptors are smells or flavours that an ordinary person would be able to relate to (rather that an obscure childhood memory, such as the smell of your grandmother's carpet, for example). Also, they are globally consistent terms, meaning that if you were in another country talking to someone else who has studied through WSET, they would understand exactly what you were talking about.  

Big, Bold Barolo
Six wines were tasted during the first lecture, with a focus on styles with easily recognisable characteristics.  I felt this was like a 'warm up' to get us all into the swing of the WSET approach.  Without giving too much away (for those who would like to take the course in future) the wines were:

1. Pinot Grigio from Italy
2. Gewurztraminer from Alsace, France
3. Sauvignon Blanc Semillon from Margaret River
4. Valpolicella from Veneto, Italy
5. Barolo from Piedmont, Italy
6. Tokaji from Hungary

I have been told that part of the deal is 15 hours if study in our own time (there is an exam at the end). So here I go, first time I have studied in a long while!!

WSET Study Guides