Friday, 5 September 2008

Eureka moments

For me it was realising that white Burgundy is made from Chardonnay. OK, it may not be up there with Archimedes shouting “Eureka!” in his bath, but it was a real lightbulb moment for me. It happened in the course of the first evening class on wine appreciation that I took, many years ago. And of course the connection between Chardonnay and Burgundy is blinking obvious to anyone who takes even a casual interest in wine – but for me, it was an exciting discovery.

It’s moments like that which have kept me going on the wine education trail ever since. I went on to study and pass the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Intermediate and Advanced Certificates. I knew things had got out of hand when I found myself embarking on the two-year WSET Diploma in Wine & Spirits, but it seemed my thirst for wine knowledge could not be quenched. With the Diploma now under my belt I occasionally mull over whether I’m hard enough to take on wine education’s ultimate challenge: Master of Wine. Gaining this gruelling qualification is surely the wine world’s equivalent of winning an Olympic gold medal. Since its beginnings in 1953 only 264 people across the entire world have been awarded the title of Master of Wine – that’s less than five a year.

When I’m running a wine tasting I get a real kick out of answering people’s queries – things that have obviously puzzled them for ages and they finally get the chance to ask. “What’s the difference between Pouilly Fumé and Pouilly Fuissé?” for example. Well apart from both being difficult to pronounce and coming from France, they have little in common: Pouilly Fumé comes from the Loire Valley and it made from Sauvignon Blanc; Pouilly Fuissé comes from Burgundy and is made from Chardonnay. Easy when you know – but how do you get to know? Taking a wine appreciation course is a good first step.

Apart from learning about the different types of wines made all over the world, the most important aspect of wine education has to be tasting wines. You can imagine that a lecture about car maintenance could be fairly useful - just think how much more useful it would be to actually get some hands-on practice on a real engine. It’s the same with wine: learning about the different styles of sparkling wine can be interesting, but it really comes alive when you can taste and compare these wines at the same time. All of the pieces of the puzzle come together and you learn so much more – quite apart from the fact that tasting wines with other people is one of the most fun and sociable things you can do.

If I’ve sparked your own interest in learning more about wines there are many ways that you can take things further. If you know you’d like to go straight for a qualification in wine, then the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) is the place to start. Their website ( gives you information on their qualifications and where you can study around the country. On the other hand, if you’re not sure that you want to go the whole hog and study towards a specific qualification then you might be interested in the courses that I am running from September to December in East Horsley and Guildford.

These are wine courses for people who don’t want to go on courses! You can sign up for all six evenings, or just come along to the sessions that really interest you. If you can’t make a particular evening in, say, Guildford, you can swap to East Horsley if it suits. The evenings will be relaxed, friendly but informative, with plenty of time for questions – and there is no such thing as a silly question! As a firm believer in practical experience there will also be ample opportunity to taste, with six different wines on offer each week.

The topics for the six evenings are:

Exploring the world of wine – an introduction to wine focussing on grape varieties: how wine is made, why wines taste different, how to taste them
Food and wine matching – demystifying this topic, practical food and wine matching session for you to discover what works for you
Organic wines – a hot topic in wine as in food: what does it mean? How do the wines taste?
Sparkling wines – there is a huge range of wines with fizz: try them and find your favourites
Champagne – wine’s ultimate luxury: but what does Vintage mean, versus Non Vintage? Do you prefer Blanc de Blancs or Demi Sec? Discover the range and styles of Champagne and decide.
Wines for Christmas – be relaxed about wines for the festive period and explore some special wines for special occasions.

Each evening costs £25 per person, or £125 if you book all six sessions – so you get one session free. Everything you need is provided, including tasting glasses and handouts. If you’d like to come along to any of the evenings, booking information can be found on my website:, or you can email me on

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