I used to think I couldn’t drink wine. Especially red. My parents like dry reds. Very tannic reds. The sort of reds that suck the moisture out of your nose when you put it near the glass. And I figured all reds must be like that.
So, as a young adult, I drank Arbour Mist. Wine, right? (Wrong).
However, over the past few years, I’ve started experiencing more and more wines, and the variety that comes with it. I ‘d say that the turning point was a ladies event I attended at J. Webb in the latter half of 2011 – there were many wines for tasting and I started to get a feel for some of the varietals I most enjoyed, namely syrah and pinot noir.
With that, 2012 saw our first visit to the Okanagan for wine touring, and we’ve been out at least once a year ever since. I think the number of cases we buy doubles every time we go out now.
Since then, I ‘ve branched out. Cab sauv is a nice, bold wine that goes well with meals. Merlot is great with or without food. I’m starting to get into whites, especially oaked, like some chardonnays from California. And we’re finding that rosés can be quite tart, not the sickly sweet rosés of times past that we all drank when we were in our late teens – a perfect addition to a barbeque or on the patio in the sun after work.
With this in mind, for the better part of a year I looked at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust courses that are available through Fine Vintage in Calgary. I put it off, partially due to the cost, and also because the program runs on Tuesdays and Miki and I volunteer at a seniors home on Tuesdays. But, the stars aligned and I managed to find a session of the course earlier this year during which I’d only miss one visit with Miki out of the four weeks. I justified the cost as spending money on my own development and a hobby I have great interest in.
I learned so much when I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the subject. The format was four weeks (although they also offer it in a one-day course) in the evenings. We tasted seven to nine wines each class, but you are required to SPIT, which is a foreign concept for most of us (the one-day format must be cheaper because they taste fewer wines – there’s no way you could do that many in one day, even though you spit). You learn how to properly taste, identify characteristics of the wine, guess the aroma and taste on your palate (sometimes the answer is obvious but quite often no two people would have the same answers written down). I’m also much more particular about what wines I pair with food (or without).
Throughout the four weeks, you get to know your fellow students. An interesting observation is that less than half of the attendees work in the industry, either hospitality or with wine directly. Most of us were just there for general interest, or a possible career change. The instructor said this was fairly typical, but as you start going up in levels you’d see more and more industry members and fewer “just checking it out” students.
We also learned about different varietals, their characteristics, what terroire is and how it affects the wine, the difference between viticulture and viniculture, and many things in between.
At the end of the course, there is a test – it is sent to the WSET headquarters and you receive your grade in six to eight weeks. If you don’t pass, you cannot take the next level. It’s a bit nervewracking, even though the pass rate is fairly high. However, if you did the math, about two of the people in our class were slated to fail. (Don’t worry, I passed. In fact, I aced the test. I’m a keener).
Did I enjoy it? Well, I signed up for Level 2 before I even knew if I’d passed Level 1. Happy birthday… and Christmas… to me, for the next few years. I would recommend Level 1 for anyone who has a keen interest in wine. Your ability to hold long conversations about wine at parties will explode. I’d recommend the four-day, instead of the one-day marathon – after one night of tastings, we all felt that our palates were shot. No idea how you’d do it all in one day.
Several people have asked me if I’m doing these courses to become a sommelier. To be honest? I’m not sure. The further you go in the program, the more of a commitment, to the point that they liken Level 4 to a university program and it takes two years to complete. At this point in time, I’d say I’m not interested in going that far. But, who knows? Five years ago I’d’ve laughed if you said I’d be taking wine courses. The world is a strange place.
Has anyone else done the WSET courses? Past Level 1? Thoughts?