The Wine Parlour – morning
The final week of our WSET Level 2 course started with a bang – or rather a pop, as our tour of the world of wine took us to Champagne to discover sparkling wines. If you ever mock the people who insist on the importance of holding the cork once you’ve removed the wire cap, you shouldn’t – the pressure in a bottle of sparkling wine, we learn, is the same as that in a London bus tyre.
Luckily, Melanie is adept at opening bottles and before we know it, we’re sipping a glass of light, acidic Champagne. Its notes of citrus and stone fruits alongside the characteristic biscuity, pastry flavours that differentiate sparkling wines made using the traditional method (such as Champagne and Cava), from their fresher, fruitier tank-fermented counterparts – think of Prosecco – are wonderfully balanced.
It’s not only the complex array of flavours that sets premium sparkling wines apart, they also have finer, smoother bubbles that are more pleasant than the sometimes prickly or aggressive bubbles found in cheaper wines. Our second example of a traditional-method sparkling wine, this time from South Africa, demonstrates this difference well: it’s simple aromas are not particularly intense and gone before you know it, depriving us of the pleasant, lingering finish we enjoyed with the Champagne.
In the real world, however, you can’t judge on the basis of taste alone and the difference in quality is of course reflected in the different price tags (£30 for the Champagne versus £13.99 for the sparkling wine). As we head to lunch I wonder how much my wallet is going to suffer from my more nuanced appreciation of and growing interest in good wine…
The Wine Parlour – afternoon
By the time we start our afternoon WSET Level 2 London session, we’re starting to feel like more independent wine-tasters – this morning, instead of guiding us through each wine we tasted, Melanie set us loose in groups to taste together. But by now we should have realised that she doesn’t like to let us rest on our laurels, and before we know it we’re plunged into a whole new category – sweet and fortified wines.
Memories of my grandmother sipping (or at times inhaling) a glass of sherry fade as we learn that the demand for sweet wines, sherry and port remains high and try to get our heads round the array of different production methods and quality rankings. Whilst I can’t claim that either the dry or lusciously sweet sherries we tried converted me to the cause, the Austrian ‘Trockenbeerauslese’ wine, made from grapes sweetened by a helpful fungus called noble rot, is definitely something I’ll be adding to my repertoire of dinner drinks.
It doesn’t take long for thoughts of my grandmother to be overtaken by blurry and sometimes painful memories of raucous nights out though, as we move on to our final topic: spirits. I’d never really considered the prospect of sipping neat vodka or tequila and describing the flavour aromas, but by adding a dash of water to the measures in our glasses we learnt that spirits can be described and evaluated using the same approach as wines.
All that’s left now if for us to practise our newly acquired skills on as many wines we can get our hands on...although maybe after we’ve revised for our exam, which Melanie reminds us is coming up in a few days. Perhaps we can compromise and take the exam, then celebrate the completion of our course with a nice glass of wine.