WSET Level 2

WSET Level 2 - Saturday Number 2 and the journey continues!!

We’re in week two of the WSET Level 2 course and things are in full swing. Last week we learnt how to taste wine and heard about the natural and human factors that affect its style – from the characteristics of the grape itself, to the climate in which it’s grown and finally the many choices the winemaker makes during the processing phase. We then moved on to the grapes themselves, and were introduced to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

This week we’re picking up where we left off and meeting a lot more grape varieties. Whilst I was broadly aware of different grapes before doing the course, today was a bit like being introduced to a lot of people you’ve heard of but never actually met before – I finally put a ‘face’ to a name for grapes I’ve always know of, but little about.

Of course, wines don’t always contain a single grape, and we discovered why some of the most common blends work so well. I’d never realised it, but, in some ways, winemaking is like cooking or even marriage. Some grapes have more pronounced – and potentially harsh – personalities whereas others can sometimes lack a little panache when found alone, but serve as a helpful moderating influence in partnership with another grape.

The right combination can therefore prove to be ‘just right’, with the different properties complementing and balancing each other, as is the case for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, or indeed Syrah and Grenache. In both of these blends, the former provides structure in the form of tannin and acidity, as well as pronounced fruit flavours. The latter, on the other hand, stops the wine being austere by bringing more body and alcohol to the mix.

We see the benefit of this in the difference between the somewhat bland Merlot we taste and the more intense (and dangerously drinkable) Bordeaux Supérieur blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – the perfect way to round-off the morning before lunch.


WSET Level 2 - Afternoon

After a glass of Austrian wine and a bad-for-the-body but good-for-the-soul amount of cheese, we tackle two different white grape varieties – Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Comparing the two gives us an interesting insight into the commercial side of the wine world; Sauvignon Blanc is successful because it is widely known for being clean, crisp and refreshing, an expectation it consistently delivers on. Riesling, on the other hand, is widely appreciated amongst wine connoisseurs, yet little known amongst consumers, many of whom are unaware of its (numerous!) qualities.

When we taste two Sauvignon Blancs, we see for ourselves why certain regions stand out from others for producing good wines – the 2015 Sancerre (from the Loire Valley in France) is dry, acidic and the crisp notes of grapefruit, green apple and hint of minerality all linger pleasantly in our mouths for quite some time after the wine has gone. It’s long-lost cousin from New Zealand fails to equal its balance and complexity, however, and no sooner have we swallowed than the flavours vanish. Whilst certain areas in New Zealand hold a justified reputation for premium wines, this example, judged ‘acceptable’ by our class, comes from an area near – but crucially not quite in – Marlborough. Disappointing, as in fact, wines from this area are usually even more aromatic than their Loire Valley counterparts. The Austrian Riesling we taste redeems the white-grape-team though, with the floral notes on the nose giving way to delicious hints of lime peel and white peach as we taste it.

By the end of the session, my disdain for people who use spittoons is starting to wane, as whilst my head is mostly spinning from the dizzying WSET tour of the world’s grapes we’ve been on, I can’t deny that the 11 wines we’ve tasted have to take at least some responsibility…

WSET Level 2 and 3 Wine Tutor Melanie in full flow!!

WSET Level 2 and 3 Wine Tutor Melanie in full flow!!

Our WSET Level 2 Weekend Course Begins

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.

The WSET Level 2 in South London - Class of 2015

Our latest Wine & Spirit Educational Trust (WSET) Level 2 course began on Tuesday.  The atmosphere was fantastic with people making new friends whilst learning about wine with our WSET course tutor, Melanie.

Over the next few weeks we will be sharing the experiences of our course participants and also adding some wine hints, tips, and important information to help people want to do the WSET Level 2 qualification.

Good luck to everyone in the group - we know you are going to have A LOT of fun!