A little wine education

7 Oct

Recently the boy and I ventured down to Bermondsey, an district in south London, to check out the area’s annual street festival. From the top to the bottom, Bermondsey Street was packed with happy families all celebrating a sunny autumn day and felt very ‘villagey’ despite being in fairly central London.

But we weren’t just there to wander around the well-packed stalls and to take in the sights. We had, in truth, been lured south of the river to take in a wine tasting being put on by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) at lovely little restaurant, Delfina.

If you don’t know of the WSET – which, I admit, I knew not much of until recently – it has been around since 1969 with the goal of providing high quality education and training in wines and spirits. It’s now considered the premiere international body in this field offering qualifications. Last year, 43,000 people sat exams with them.

Outside of the professional side of the business, the WSET also does a whole load of consumer courses, which are led by Russell Dent, who was appointed in 2011 to put together a full-time programme for this group of wine and spirit lovers.

Russell was heading up the short tasting the day the boy and I visited Delfina and we learned loads in a very short space of time about how to taste and recognise wines through the company’s ‘Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine’ outline.

Primed with a pocket sized guide to lead us through, the boy and I sipped and swirled our way to greater wine knowledge, learning about clarity, intensity, colour, aroma characteristics, sweetness, acidity, tannins and much more.

Afterwards I spoke to Russell – who has been with the WSET for 18 months after five years with Majestic Wines – about the courses on offer to those keen to brush up on their wine or spirits skills.

“In response to the growing number of ‘wine enthusiasts’ the WSET has been keen to implement a programme of fun and educational non-qualification courses,” he said.

But, unlike other one-day courses or wine-tasting evenings, which are often sponsored by a company, Russell said those from the WSET stand out because they are only promoting fuller knowledge.

“Our unbiased nature means that samples are always selected for their suitability and typicity, rather than a need to drive sales or promote relationships,” he explained, adding courses are mainly taught by certified WSET educators.

In the past year, Russell has helped introduce “Vine to Glass” and “Introduction to Fine Wine” classes,  that are focused on getting new customers with basic knowledge to try out the courses. But, increasingly, he told me he is seeing interest from people with a lot of expertise wanting to take courses as well.

“I hope to be able to introduce a series of masterclasses looking at specific wine styles/regions (such as Barolo, Ribera del Duero) and iconic producers,” he said.

The company – based in London Bridge – currently runs three events, every two weeks but Russell said they’re hoping to increase that to two courses per week in the near future.

And if you can’t get to a course in London, don’t despair. The WSET has a great ‘three-minute wine school’ online, which can be viewed here.

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