You are at a new restaurant, and you want to order a bottle of Chardonnay. But you look at the wine list, and you've never heard of any of the wines on the list. The server is fast approaching, and you start to panic.
Server: “Would you like to order some wine?”
You: “Yes, but I’m not familiar with the ones on the list”.
Server: “What style of Chardonnay do you normally like?”
You: (thinking to yourself) I don’t know, just something good that tastes like the Chardonnay that I like. I just drink it!
I recently took the Level 1 WSET course offered at The Chopping Block by James Cluer, owner of Fine Vintage, LTD. Believe it or not, by lunchtime everyone attending the course could evaluate any of the basic characteristics of any wine. I'm not exaggerating. Every single person in the room could blind taste a wine and identify the wine's color, intensity of the smell, aromas, acidity level, level of tannins, the body of the wine, whether it is it dry or sweet and the flavors of the wine. Just think, in a half day, you could master the art of describing what you like in wine and what you don’t!
By the end of the day, we had tasted around 22 wines. It's imperative to spit the wine in order to be able to taste for the length of the course, which is 8 hours. The wines were delicious. Our Master of Wine said his goal was to provide very classic examples of each varietal and region so we could begin to get acquainted with them and learn the difference. We tasted all of the wine blind (you can see, but the bottles are covered). I was a little nervous about that initially, but James said again and again, he was not trying to stump us. Instead, he was helping us be able to evaluate the wine quickly and trust ourselves.
By the end of the day, everyone could evaluate any wine for its basic characteristics, we could speak to the general difference between a Chablis and a California Chardonnay (both made with Chardonnay grapes), Merlot and Cabernet, Gewurztraminer and a Riesling, to name just a few.
We also had a much greater understanding of what wine to pair with what food. For example, if you pair an acidic wine like Sauvignon Blanc with an acidic food like a salad with vinaigrette, the acidic quality of the wine is reduced. If you paired a lower-acidic wine like Chardonnay with the same salad it makes the wine taste flabby… basically the Chardonnay tastes kind of oily and flat.
One of the really important things that I got from this class was the same thing we teach in our Cooking Lab series. You need to actually concentrate and pay attention to what you taste. James mentioned that you need to build your vocabulary of flavor, and that's the exact same thing I say about food. When you actually notice what you taste and what you like, it makes your experience of eating, drinking and cooking that much better. It’s like slowing down and really noticing the beautiful experiences and things in the world around you… it makes those experiences just that much more special when you really pay attention to them.
I’m enrolled in the Level 2 WSET as well and look forward to reporting on my experience in that course. This course is three 8-hour days, so I’m really taking my wine knowledge it to the next level! I hope to gain a greater expertise in identifying the quality and region a wine is from. I will let you know how it goes.
In the meantime, I would love to hear what you want to learn about wine. Of course, we have our new WSET classes with Fine Vintage, but I would also love to put a few one night classes on our calendar again. So, I'd like to know, what are you looking for in wine education?