26
Oct
09

Back to School

I went back to school last week. It brought back so many memories – I had a little pencil case with my best pens in, and a folder where I put my work, and a text book that I wrote my name neatly in and underlined it with a ruler, and a set of 6 wine glasses and a spittoon…… Unfortunately I never had those last two when I was a kid, though I’d argue a spot of wine appreciation at an early age could be a valuable addition to the National Curriculum. The school I went to last week was a special magical school called the Wine School. Who’d have thought such a place existed? If only I’d lived within the catchment area when I was 11, my memories of school would be far sweeter.

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It’s Monday morning on the first day of my WSET Advanced Certificate course. I arrive, all excited and apprehensive about what’s to come. A quick scan around the other students reveals a good range of ages, which is a relief as I was half expecting a room full of glamourous housewives of the more mature variety and pompous old gits. There are restaurant managers, wine retailers, sommeliers (though I’m sure they should really know a fair bit about wine already shouldn’t they?) and a few interested parties from outside the wine industry. I’m kind of neither, having just left my job in a major high street wine merchants but not having yet found a replacement. I suddenly feel a bit giggly and excitable, this is going to be fun!
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The burning question is “how much do they already know?” We were advised to put in a fair amount of study time before the course started, but I’m secretly hoping that everyone else has neglected to do so. I’ve done a pretty decent amount of reading around the subject but don’t want to launch into any in depth debates about carbonic maceration or guyot vine training until I know my position on the starting grid. I try to act a bit aloof, as if I know old Vitis Vinifera so intimately that my very presence in the room will humiliate the others and show them up as the charlatans they really are. Doubting I will make any friends this way, I soon revert to polite chatter mode, whilst expertly dodging any wine based questioning.

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Day one starts with an overview of viticulture and viniculture before starting on the many wine regions of France. First off is Burgundy. Before I know it I’m tasting wines from top villages with price tags equivalent to my entire weekly food’n’booze budget, or that nice pair of Topshop boots I had my eye on. It’s all totally fascinating and a tad overwhelming. Having said that, we later tried a £2.99 bottle of Claret from Sainsbury’s which was unbelievably good for the money. “I shall buy more wine for under £3” I declared inwardly, as I realised I had unwittingly become a bit of a price snob.

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The week continues, working our way through the rest of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, the US, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, not to mention whisky, brandy, gin, Champagne, Sherry and Vintage Ports. I’ve heard the term ‘palate fatigue’ bandied about but I’m not sure I truly appreciated what it meant until Thursday afternoon last week. Faced with a powerful Argentinian Malbec of very high quality I take a sniff and a gulp. My tastebuds are numb, my nose is lined with a thin membrane of various vintages, and as hard as I struggle to pick out individual aromas and flavours my inner voice is screaming “But it just tastes of wine!” I scribble something down about medium-plus tannins and think back fondly to the previous Friday night when I hoovered up a bottle of reduced price red without a second thought to whether the rim was purple, ruby or garnet or which pruning method had been used on the vine. Don’t get me wrong, I find the whole thing fascinating, but a week-long sudden and intense submersion into the intricacies of wine is enough to test anyone’s stamina. There are certainly worse things you can do for a week, mind.

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Friday afternoon arrives and the impending exam suddenly becomes a stark reality. I feel a bit giddy and have started to get the giggles again. I think it’s a defence mechanism – a vain attempt to forget about what horror lies ahead. The exam room is set out with our individual desks and a big scary ticky-tocky clock on the wall. The invigilator is already there. The tutors during the week have all been laid back, affable and highly approachable. They’ve obviously kept this last guy saved up as an end-of-week treat for us. Tweed blazer, leather elbow patches, all severe haircut and horn rimmed glasses. “Ladies and gentleman” he booms, “we shall NOT make eye contact with any other student, we shall NOT rustle bags or clothing, we are permitted to leave the room when finished ONLY with my permission and ONLY in a quiet and orderly fashion!” I’m utterly terrified, and the lovely Australian girl at the next desk looks like she might cry.

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Two hours later and it’s all over. I don’t know yet how I’ve done, though I surprised myself with how much information had actually embedded itself neatly into the appropriate brain cells during the week. Part of the exam was a blind tasting and I’m pretty sure I nailed that one. It was a Barolo, all cherry like and oaky and lovely. I vote all exams should start with a glass of fine wine, it’d certainly help with the nerves. Perhaps not such a good idea in a driving test. I do feel a sense of achievement, and I definitely have a much firmer basis of wine knowledge. I’m really at the start of something very exciting and I hope you’ll enjoy reading my further Adventures in Wine™. I might even get a theme tune…

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2 Responses to “Back to School”


  1. November 9, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    A theme tune? “…can you tell me how to get, how to get to Se-sa-meeee streeeeetttt…..”
    🙂


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