Friday, 15 August 2014

Why I recommend taking a Wine Course

Having recently finished my Level 2 Wines and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) course (pending exam results), I would like to share with you the benefits of undertaking some wine education. No matter what your level of experience is with wine, there is something available at all levels - the only prerequisite is that you are interested to learn more about wine! Even if you only drink wine on occasions, it may still be worthwhile, as I am sure you will find at least one style of vino that suits your taste.

So why not just drink wine? 
Why go to the bother of undertaking some formal education on the topic?

From my experience, I have found that learning more about wine increases your appreciation of it and elevates the enjoyment of every future wine drinking experience. Once you learn a little, it can become quite addictive, as the world of wine is neverending and everchanging, so there is always something new to learn. 

There are many styles of wine education available, depending upon your level of interest, your budget and your aspirations.

Navigating the Bottle Shop

Perhaps you simply want to learn some basics so that you don't feel so overwhelmed when you drop into your local bottle-o. Maybe that feeling is due the sheer number and variety of wines available, often with no clear indication on the label to suggest what the contents of the bottle will taste like? Or is it because you don't want to ask the shop assistant due to either embarassment at your perceived lack of knowledge, or they are  barely of drinking age? 

Either way, there are many easily-accessible wine introduction courses out there, it's just a matter of looking around your local area. Most small independent/boutique liquor retailers have a series of regular wine appreciation evenings available if you sign up to their mailing list. Many wineries these days are also starting to offer some form of wine introduction session, which is often conducted in a small group and likely under $50 per person. If you are lucky enough to live close to a wine region, even if your local vigneron does not blatantly advertise such opportunities, likelihood is they would be happy to take you and a group of friends through a private guided tasting for a small fee - all you need do is ask. 

Impressing Your Friends

This could also be phrased as 'not being embarassed in front of your friends', depending upon the level of wine knowledge within your friendship circle. Due to my high level of interest in wine, I often find that when out with friends at a restaurant or bar or when dropping over for dinner, the choice of wine defaults to me, as it is assumed I will know what is best. This can be quite daunting, as wine is such a personal thing and it is most difficult to find a wine that will suit everyone's taste in a large group and also match the food at the same time! So, if for no other reason, it is nice to learn which styles of wine you like and which are more 'easy drinking', as these styles are the best for that weekend BBQ invite.

Even a basic understanding of the major wine varieties and regions can be gained during WSET Level 1, which can be taken over a weekend. This will arm you with adequate knowledge to decipher your average Australian wine label and obtain a good indication of quality within your price bracket. There are quite a few key descriptive words that can guide you to a fair idea of the contents of the bottle. Such a course will also provide you with some excellent tips on tasting wine, serving wine and storing wine appropriately to ensure you get the most out of the experience, no matter how small your budget. Also, the more you talk to others who are interested in wine, the more tips you will get on good wines to look out for.

If you don't have the time (or the energy) to attend a face to face course, there are some excellent options that you can watch and follow at your own leisure right from your couch. The Everyday Guide to Wine by Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan MW is one that I have watched and followed with great enjoyment recently. It's also fun if you get a group of friends together for something like this, making it a shared experience.

Having Confidence in Your Purchases

The best advice I can give you is to keep buying and tasting more wine. Not really a daunting thing to have to do really! But just make sure you do this over time, not all in one go:

As your experience of wine broadens, your palate will become more attuned to different grape varieties, styles and quality indicators. However, I should warn you, your taste will likely become more expensive too...

There are quite a number of simple methods for self-education:
  • Attend free wine tastings at bottle shops.
  • Holiday in wine areas so you can 'try before you buy' at the cellar door (as well as hopefully getting to learn straight from the producers).
  • Join a tasting group in your area.
  • Start a tasting group with your friends.
  • Read some books on wine.
There are many enjoyable novels out there about wine appreciation, a few I have read recently include: Through a Sparkling Glass: An AZ of the Wonderland of Wine (by Australian Andrea Frost); Red, White and Drunk All Over (by American Natalie MacLean) and Into Wine (by Frenchman Olivier Magny). All three books are not only informative, but also light-hearted and inspirational.

Starting a Wine Collection or Investing in Wine

If you are looking to get serious about wine, to the point where it will have a significant affect on your own bottom line, I would suggest it is about time to start investing some serious time and energy into your wine education. This does not have to be a daunting prospect. As an example, my WSET Level 2 course involved just 2-3 hours on a Monday evening over 9 weeks, with a short 50-question multiple choice exam as the conclusion. At the same time, it was an extremely cost-effective way to try some exotic and expensive wines, without having to pay for the whole bottle.

To avoid it seeming that I am biased towards WSET courses, please remember I am simply speaking here from my recent experience. There are many other options out there, depending upon where you live and what is available near you. Some other globally recognised wine education institutions include the International Sommelier Guild (ISG), Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) and Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS).

Working in the Wine Industry

As per above, when wine becomes part of your job, some formal education is only going to improve your career prospects. In this instance, it's likely that you will also be wanting to ensure that the course you undertake is widely recognised so that it looks good on your resume. Of course, the another positive is that you should also be able to claim your course at tax time. 

In this case, the reason for undertaking wine study extends beyond your own enjoyment and understanding of wine, as it will likely influence that of your customers or clients. The more passion and knowledge of wine you can confidently and informedly pass on to others, the more rewarding wine will become as a complete experience for you. 

In fact, that is why I write this blog!