ManicMammy's Blog

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Wine, wine, wine and some spirits

Posted on | October 31, 2009 | 6 Comments

The Charles Bridge, inverted through wine and lipstick
Creative Commons License photo credit: Matt Biddulph

This summer I completed the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Advanced course in Cork. It was run by the Wineboard of Ireland. The lectures and tastings were carried out mainly by Gary O’Donovan. His experience and tales from working in the wine industry for many years  made for entertaining and informative lectures.

I don’t work in the wine industry and don’t know if I ever will, but I am interested in wine and the more I learn the more interested I become. I’m not great at motivating  myself to find time and  study alone, I prefer  structured lessons  so these courses grabbed my attention. I found the intermediate course an excellent start and so was looking forward to tackling the more challenging advanced course last Spring. So for 14 weeks or so, each Tuesday evening from 7pm till 9.30pm, I headed into Cork. There were about 20 or so people doing the course.  Many in the trade, working in off licences, restaurants and hotels and others, amateurs like myself.

The first thing I must say was that it was a great gang of people. The course whilst very information intensive was good fun. Most classes incorporated a blind tasting of a few wines or spirits, depending on what region or spirit we were studying on a particular evening. Retsina tasting was particularly amusing, it brought back memories of Ios 1988, difficult to forget the pine resin flavours. ;-)

I found the tasting part of the course to be very subjective. Whilst guidelines were given and it was good to learn a systematic approach to evaluating and tasting the wine, I felt there was alot of interpretation involved which very much depended on the person doing the tasting. One man’s medium(-) bodied seemed to be another’s medium(+) bodied etc etc.

The range of wine producing regions and countries was huge. Before doing the course, I had only a very basic knowledge of Italian, Portugese, Central and Eastern European wines. Not to mention some New World regions. I really enjoyed learning about the vast range of different climates, topography, grape varieties grown, how they’re grown, the different wine making  and aging techniques.

I loved learning about the different production methods/tastes in sparkling  and dessert wines. I found the fortified wines and spirits section less interesting, but this is probably because I never drink these. The course finished with a blind tasting and a written exam.

What I have mainly taken away from this course, is an ability to understand labels and to choose grape varieties  and wines from around the world that I like and which will suit whatever I’m eating at a particular time.  I am also now more likely to try new wines as I have an inkling of what they may taste like.

I have heard gripes/complaints that courses like these should only be for people working in the industry and at cost of approximately €700, it is expensive to pay for yourself. However, I don’t believe this to be true. As result of doing the WSET course, I’m more likely to pay that extra few euro on a bottle of wine, to splash out on a more expensive wine occassionally as I hopefully will have an idea of what it may taste like and  appreciate what traditions, costs have gone into bringing this wine to my local wine warehouse. This would appear to be a win-win situation for both me and people selling wine in this country.

My wine palate has definitely expanded and I have realised there is so much more to learn. Onwards and upwards I go!

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6 Responses to “Wine, wine, wine and some spirits”

  1. Paul Kiernan
    November 2nd, 2009 @ 12:40 pm

    There is massive subjectivity in tasting alright, even with people supposedly singing from the same hymn sheet (i.e. the SAT card). When we taste a wine blind in Dip classes, almost every well-known grape will be mentioned at least once by students when we are predicting what that mystery wine is! Huge variation.

    I think non-trade people should be welcomed into the WSET courses too. As if organisations can turn away money these days! And, as you correctly said, educated consumers are far more likely to buy more expensive wines. Or, to put it another way, someone who knows zero about wine will see no reason to spend above a very low amount on a bottle.

  2. Maurice O Mahony
    November 2nd, 2009 @ 12:49 pm

    Great post. Brought back great memories. I too found it excellent and very enjoyable. In fact, I miss not going on Tuesdays. The course was excellent (as was Gary O Donovan) and as you say, the people on the course were great. And you were the swot of the class ! ;-)

  3. Manic Mammy
    November 2nd, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

    Hey Paul,
    Glad to know it wasn’t just me then regarding the tasting confusion. Guess we all need much more practice. Well thats my excuse for continued purchase and quaffing of wine. The WSET diploma appears to be a huge commitment in time and workload compared to the advanced course? Its a pity its not run in Cork as would think about doing it in the future.

    Yep Maurice,
    it was a great mix of people and good craic. A very enjoyable reason to escape for a few hours on a Tuesday. Enough of that guff, you know you were much better than me with the theory and tasting! ;-)

  4. Kevin Ecock
    November 2nd, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

    Manic Mammy the swot!

    Years ago when I suggested to the Wine Development Board that they give courses to consumers I was eaten alive. When I then suggested that consumers be invited onto the ‘trade exam’ courses I was spat back out again as something that was more than a bit disagreeable.

    All courses should be open to everyone. The big players in the Irish wine trade closed the WDB courses down simply because the finances of the WDB depended on attracting bums onto seats; and the trade wasn’t providing enough bums. Let’s hear it for the enthusiastic Irish wine consumer. First you weren’t allowed into the WDB. Then you were keeping it open. Finally you ware all kicked out again!! Does the Irish wine trade have any idea what it’s up to? Does it care?

    You ‘loved learning’. That’s enough for me.

  5. Manic Mammy
    November 2nd, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

    Thanks Kevin, I couldn’t agree more.

    I see no point in keeping courses and education limited to an elite group of people working in the wine trade. It just doesn’t make sense. The more the merrier!

  6. Decisions, decisions. : ManicMammy's Blog
    July 28th, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

    [...] Diploma course to see whether or not I wanted to apply to do it. I really enjoyed completing the WSET advanced course and my wine knowledge increased immensely. But the diploma course is a massive jump in both money [...]

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