Getting more out of the glass



For many people, the thought of textbooks, revision and exams is not one to be relished; but make sampling a dozen interesting, well-crafted wines a requirement of every lesson and it becomes a different story…

I’ve just completed the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) advanced course and I’m now nervously awaiting the results. The tutorials took place in Berry Bros. & Rudd’s brand-new tasting room, just a couple of doors down from its Warehouse Shop in Basingstoke (a dangerously tempting place to have within walking distance as I discovered!).

Although the WSET courses are primarily set up for wine trade professionals, for anyone that has a personal passion for wine, it’s a great chance to gain in-depth knowledge about the thing you love. The course takes you out of your comfort zone of familiar wines and introduces you to some new grape varieties and regions. Although there was a business incentive for many of our classmates, the main thing that brought the eight of us together was a love of wine and the desire to understand it better.

The advanced course isn’t to be taken on lightly. There’s a pretty hefty text book to tackle before the nine-week course even begins, and to get the most out of every lesson, you really need to put the revision hours in. However, as with all of the best things in life, the more effort you put in, the more enjoyment you get out, and at least with wine you can happily keep up the practical aspect of the course long after the final exam.

I started the lessons with a passion for Pinot, a general appreciation of aromatic whites and a bit of knowledge about Bordeaux, but there were a lot of gaps to fill. As a food writer and stylist, I pride myself on having a pretty good palate, but the tutorials really helped me to calibrate my taste buds with the wider industry. It has also been a real inspiration for planning future vinous-themed holidays and has helped me with everything from wine-matching my recipes, through to pruning the vine at the allotment.

Having completed the intermediate course several years ago at a local sixth form college, I cannot recommend Berry Bros. enough as a venue. Having a tutor that’s fully immersed in the wine trade with personal experience of many of the regions – and even vineyards – in question is priceless, and where else would they have access to such diverse and high quality wines with which to illustrate the theory?

These are my top-five personal favourites, as discovered on the course:

2010 Domaine Rolly-Gassmann Riesling Silberberg, Alsace, France
Dried apple and honey with the zingy acidity of a whole treeful of limes. So much vitality, it’s almost alive.

2011 McHenry Hohnen Burnside Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia
This is a wine that keeps evolving as you get further into the glass. Fresh ripe figs, lemon marmalade and beautifully-integrated vanilla oak.

2012 Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand
I usually prefer my pinot a little more mature and farmyardy, but there’s something about the combination of concentrated sweet red berries and savoury smoky oak in the 2012 that demands to be enjoyed immediately.

2001 Bodegas Amezola de la Mora Rioja Gran Reserva, Spain
A wine that’s perfectly ripe for drinking; all prunes and game and satisfying savoury leather.

Almacenista Pata de Gallina Oloroso, Jerez, Spain
Incredibly intense and lengthy flavour of walnuts and forest floor. The perfect partner for cave-aged Gruyere or a crumbly five-year-old Gouda.

Susie Carter is a Hampshire-based food writer and food stylist.