Session one - morning
The round of introductions on the first morning of the WSET Level 2 course at The Wine Parlour in South London showed that our group was interested in wine for many reasons – a few of us had jobs linked to wine or were considering a career change, others had been given the course as a Christmas present and some just wanted to learn more about wine, knowing nothing other than how enjoyable it is to drink…
One of the first things we learnt was how, whilst we’ll be learning how to describe the wine’s aromas and flavours using the WSET’s systematic approach, this will never be a fully objective process because people’s sensitivities to certain tastes differ. Our teacher Melanie demonstrated this by passing round small strips of paper which we were instructed to keep on our tongue until they started to taste unpleasantly bitter – as we took them out one by one, we saw what she meant: some of us had tasted the bitterness faster than others.
We went on to meet our laminated guide to how to taste wine – this will be our best friend over the next three weeks as it provides a structure to what to describe when you taste a wine and how to describe it. It seems quite complicated, but it’s actually format sticks to how you would naturally approach a glass of wine: start with its appearance, follow with what you smell and finally what you taste.
Seeing as by now we’d heard the theory (and it was past midday), it was time to put it into practice and taste our first two wines. As our sense of taste and smell is closely linked, Melanie demonstrated a technique reminiscent of Chinese noodle slurping, through which you can maximise the impact of the flavours to help you identify them. So, within two hours of meeting each other, we were practising our sniffing, slurping and spitting (in theory anyway), before taking a well-earned break for lunch…
Session one - afternoon
After a delicious selection of cheese and charcuterie, washed down with a crisp glass of German Riesling, we were feeling very relaxed as we returned for our afternoon session. But there was no time for an afternoon snooze, as we were keen to meet our grapes of the afternoon – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are next up for our WSET Level 2 course.
Chardonnay is an unusually versatile grape variety, capable of growing in a range of different climates and producing different flavours depending on the conditions in the vineyard and winemaking techniques used. White Burgundies are famed throughout the world, with French winemakers expertly using the process of malolactic fermentation (MLF) to soften harsh acids and add a weighty, creamy texture to their wines. Other examples, such as the Chablis we tasted, see no oak or MLF, allowing the grape’s delicate, pure fruit flavours to shine through – something we appreciated in the notes of lemon, crisp apple and minerality common to wines from this village. The example we tasted from California demonstrated how, in hotter climates, Chardonnay will express riper, tropical fruits such as mango or banana, as well as a more creamy lemon.
Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is known for being a difficult grape variety to grow. This is unfortunate as it widely appreciated for producing wines that are extremely easy to drink, a reputation it doesn’t have for nothing, as we learnt from the deliciously spicy Spätburgunder we tried, with notes of strawberries, red cherries and plums – and no, the wine didn’t dilute our concentration – Spätburgunder is the German word for Pinot Noir, and in fact Germany produces some of the finest examples of this grape in the world. Sadly, our second Pinot Noir failed to live up to the first, unusually expressing a very different personality on the nose than on the palate and showing us why wines are sometimes described as confused. At the end of the session, we leave fairly exhausted but eager to see what wines Melanie has in store for us next week.