This shows just a small selection of the wines I tasted one day earlier this week, as part of a class I was running for a group of students – a couple of enthusiastic amateurs but mainly people already working in the wine industry (in hotels, restaurants or wine shops) – who wanted to further their careers by studying for professional qualifications via the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET).
They had reached Level 3 of their study (Level 4 – the Wine Diploma – is the highest WSET course only topped by Master of Wine, of whom there are just a few hundred in the world). The Level 3 stage is when the class focuses on the question ‘what makes this wine taste as it does?’ That sounds quite simple but, at this fairly advanced point of their journey, it is anything but – for me, also, at times, as their enthusiastic questioning often challenges my knowledge!
As we consider the question, we look at the vineyard – its soil, its slope, the climate, how good is its exposure to the sun – and the decisions taken by the grower – whether to go for quality or quantity and, perhaps most important of all: when to harvest the crop for optimum ripeness.
Then, there’s what happens in the winery: are you going to ferment with whole bunches, grapes only or carbonic maceration – explaining that one is always challenging (I’ll leave it for another day, but you can Google it if you’re interested!). Also, are oak barrels used to hold the wine or stainless steel? And how long is the wine kept before it is bottled and shipped out?
And all this while tasting (and spitting out, of course!) more than 20 wines. Just another day in the life of a wine educator – or student!
Happily, not all the classes I teach are this detailed or aimed at would-be professionals. For those who enjoy a glass of wine but simply want to learn a little more, I also run regular 1 day events at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre. The next one, “Anything but Chardonnay, Anything but Cabernet” is on Saturday 17 November. Places are still available, but it is booking up fast. Go to www.bristolcourses.com for more details and to book.
I hope to meet some of you there.