Do you wander around the wine aisle at the supermarket feeling bemused and utterly confused? Do you wish you knew what to say when handed the wine list on a date? We believe there is more to wine tasting courses than initial impressions may suggest, so sent our thirsty reviewer James Wormald along to an evening course in London to test his knowledge and find out more.
James told us, ‘I’m not usually a big advocate of the alcoholic beverage, with my experience of wine limited to the odd glass offered at a party – I’m more of a cider man really.’ Like most of us, James perceived learning more about wine to be a little pretentious; he didn’t want to be the guy that slurped and swirled the wine around in a restaurant, but simply know a little more when browsing the supermarkets. ‘I was interested to learn about what makes wine taste like it does, to know which specific regions I preferred, and generally to see what all the fuss is about. Little did I know, my eyes, mouth and finally my mind would be opened to this new world.’
Red or white?
Wine can ferment for three days or three years; this fermentation process is also what determines the colour of the wine. The skin of the red grape is arguably the most important ingredient of red wine, the pulp of the grape being colourless, the tannins and colour compounds of the skin are necessary to give the wine its shade.
How many of us regularly take time to sit down and try new things? We often find a wine we like, and drink it again and again, until stumbling across something new. For example, did you know there are six different categories of wine; white, red, rosé, sparkling, dessert and fortified? A wine tasting course is a great chance to try lots of different bottles, varieties and regions without spending a fortune. Our newbie James reported, ‘Before I could contemplate the organisers’ heavy use of paper tablecloths (wondering how messy drinking eight bottles of wine could get), I became embroiled in a conversation about the course with my fellow students, discussing the merits of white and red varieties.’
Meet someone new
Remember that even if you know nothing, you are likely to be surrounded by others who have a similar depth of knowledge. An introduction to wine tasting course is nothing to be afraid of, like most occasions involving alcohol, you will be encouraged to chat to new people and have fun. James agrees telling us afterwards, ‘My initial fears of pretention were instantly quelled as it became clear that people were here for two reasons: firstly to learn more about wine itself – what exactly they’re drinking, to discover what they like, and how to match what they like to what they eat; and secondly to have fun. After all, learning is much more fun in a group than on your own at home - especially when it comes to drinking wine.’ As a company that loves an after work drink (or three) on a Friday evening, we couldn’t agree more.
An adult science lesson
Think back to your childhood science lessons and remember the excitement of exploding a mento in a bottle of coke, or vibrating a ruler along the desk; welcome to a far more grown up science lesson. Like all alcohol, the fermentation of wine is a scientific process, with different tastes produced by changing the formula slightly. With his new found knowledge, our wine taster explained, ‘Different tastes are created through differences in grape varieties, climate and soil; as well as viticulture (how the grape is grown) and vilification (how the wine is matured). Learning all this certainly whet our appetite before we reached for the corkscrews!’
Saying this, when signing up to a wine tasting course, it’s not all about the theory! James runs us through what to expect; ‘The first practical lesson was how to taste wine and why it’s important.’ Who knows where this new knowledge might lead– ‘You might want to give an astute description to a fellow enthusiast, to assess the quality before you commit, or make your own label – surprisingly there are over 350 vineyards in the UK. You could simply want to discover what you like and what you don’t, without having to buy a whole bottle every time.’
Swirl, sniff, slurp, spit
‘The first bottle (a 2009 South African Sauvignon Blanc) was our first test subject. We were taught what to look for when reading a wine’s quality: colour, smell, taste and the correct language to use when discussing it. We also learnt tips such as putting it against a white background to judge the colour, as this can give clues about grape variety and whether it was aged in wood. Everyone was a little tentative at first, but before long we were nose deep inside a particularly potent Austrian Grüner Veltliner, sloshing it around our gums and pulling silly faces.’
The dinner party dilemma
If you are someone who invites people round for dinner and then panics at what bottle to pick to accompany the food (always ending up on Google for advice) an introduction to wine tasting course could be for you. You will often learn much more than the bottles you like and don’t like. As James found, ‘armed with our new skills, we all began our wine journey and seven more concoctions stimulated our senses for the next hour. As well as tasting wine, we were encouraged to try the wine with different foodstuffs – bread to cleanse the palate, apple to stifle the sweetness and different cheeses to soften the blow of a particularly harsh wine. I walked away from the class actually knowing what wines I like and now I feel confident in choosing a bottle to complement a meal.’
Savour the flavour
As previously mentioned, wine tasting really is about socialising and having fun, James leaving with a few new contacts to catch up with. ‘At the end of the class, we were encouraged to stay behind and continue drinking our favourite bottle. More than anything, it really feels like a friendly night out, only instead of a headache you leave with more knowledge. I left with a list of my new favourites, searching in the dead of night for an off licence – just like any other night then...’
If James has made you laugh and consider signing up to your own wine tasting course, take a look at all the options available. With plenty of evening and weekend courses available all over the UK, we are sure you won’t regret it.
This article was updated on 03.09.14
Jane McGuire received her BA (English) from the University of Loughborough. A yoga enthusiast with a sweet tooth, in her spare time you will probably find Jane in the gym or online shopping.