The Perfect Father’s Day Gift. Peter Morrell reviews a course that your Dad would just love
Created by some of the biggest names in the wine and spirit trade in 1969 the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) has formalised the training programs for people who want to become more knowledgeable about the drinks industry and the products that are sold.
Despite having been a regular wine drinker for the last 30 years I always felt that ordering a bottle in a restaurant or choosing a wine in the supermarket was based on a little knowledge and a big shot in the dark. To rectify this I recently attended the WSET Level 1 Award in Wines course which is aimed at beginners.
My course was located at the WSET headquarters next to London Bridge station but courses are given by affiliate organisations throughout the UK and worldwide, the WSET website has the full list.
Level 1 is a one day, classroom based course which ends with a formal written exam. There were about 20 people on my course with a range of backgrounds – gastropub owners, chefs, hotel managers, wine shop staff and enthusiastic amateurs like myself.
Our tutor for the day was Lydia Harrison who holds the WSET Diploma, a qualification which requires 600 hours of study time, so was confident that I was being taught by a real expert.
We started by going right back to the basics, the science of how wine is made and what gives it colour and flavour. From there we progressed to hearing about where it’s produced and how climate is a major factor in influencing both the grapes grown in different areas of the world and how this in turn dictated the styles of wine made.
We learnt about the most popular grape types grown and took a more in depth look at some of the most famous wine growing areas.
After a break it was time to taste three wines but before that we sampled some flavoured water to train our taste buds to detect both acidity and sweetness, two key factors which make a wine distinct. It was time to look, swirl, sniff and finally taste the wines and then describe their characteristics. This was a fascinating exercise that helped us identify acidic wines and another essential component, tannin, the same compound found in tea.
A session on how to store bottles correctly, open them and use properly shaped glassware had some useful tip, so from now on all the champagne will stay in the bottle rather than go all over the floor. The legal and social implications of the supply and potential misuse of alcohol were also covered.
One of the most insightful segments of the course came after lunch. It was a tasting of 6 wines followed by a session on food matching. We paired different wines with a sweet waffle, cheese, smoked salmon, a lemon, salt, and a spicy cracker. The food variously enhanced or muted the flavours of the wine. At the end of the exercise we were each given a dummy wine list and and menu and challenged to choose the right wines for a list of dishes. This was a great confidence booster for people who feel nervous about making the right wine choice in a restaurant.
The moment of reckoning approached, the exam, but before that we completed a mock revision test which, like the real exam, was a series of 30 multiple choice questions. We all surprised ourselves by doing quite well, all the answers had been in the day’s syllabus.
As all the WSET qualifications are recognised professional qualifications, so the final exam was very formal. We had to produce photo id, put our phones and any notes away and wait for the lecturer to say GO. There is a 45 minute allocation to answer the 30 questions and the pass mark is 70%.
Some people rattled through the paper but I took time to re-check every answer before finishing. I now sit with baited breath to see if I have passed.
I thoroughly enjoyed the course, the lecturer was a confident and patient tutor who made sure the entire class was keeping up. For me it was a codification of my scant knowledge together with many new facts about wine, its handling and how to pair it with food. After taking the course I’ve got a greater level of confidence about buying, ordering and tasting wine.
I can recommend this course to anyone interested in wine as it will help to increase the appreciation and enjoyment of this most versatile drink. As well as treating yourself to the course it is also an ideal birthday, Christmas or Father’s Day gift.
For details of the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 1 Award in Wines go to:
For more about the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and where courses are available visit: