Swatting up on plonk

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I am teaching the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Intermediate course this week so thought it apt to talk about wine education. 

During the course, students – some from the hospitality and wine industries, some just interested in wine – taste through about 70 varieties from around the world. 

They have to get acquainted with a thick text book and it all ends with an exam for which they can get a pass, merit or distinction. 

It’s a big commitment and while the information is not complex, it’s broad and requires a fair bit of self-study. I am there to guide them through the tastings, clarify points and answer questions. 

So how much is there to learn? The intermediate is really the first step. From here you can do the advanced, the diploma, the higher diploma and then, if you are selected, the Master of Wine exam, the highest qualification in wine on the planet. 

Wine is a lifetime of learning. You can only ever know a small amount and you can only ever taste a tiny percentage of the world’s wines. The course is mere glimpse at the subject, the first step on the ladder. 

Wine is always changing. Styles, climates, winemakers and methods evolve quickly and new regions emerge. We also change and our tastes evolve as we get older. We look for different nuances and experiences. 

The one thing I love the most about wine is its breadth and the fact that I will always be a student of wine.
Having said that, you wine drinkers only really need to know the following; all of the flavours, aromas and textures of wine come from grapes. 

That’s it. No flavor enhancers (apart from oak, sometimes), just grapes. All of the descriptors like ‘wild strawberry, ‘cut grass’ or ‘wet stone’ come from one source. 

It’s a fact that if you make wine from blackcurrant, it will taste like blackcurrant. The same goes for raspberry, cherry etc. Wine made from grapes will taste like every fruit on the planet apart from grapes. With that you can add herbs, flowers spices, earth, mineral and much, much more. 

The process of making wine is easier to understand than beer and spirit production. Ripe grapes and yeast, that’s all you really need. But the result is incredibly complex, unendingly fascinating and forever changing. 

I once did a tasting for a group of doctors and amongst them was an impassioned wine collector that introduced himself to me and told me how much wine he had amassed. 

I started the tasting with the above point, that the myriad of flavours found in wine come from the grape only, with no flavor additives, and I saw the light go on in this doctor’s mind. With all the money he had spent, he had never considered that one, simple fact. 

He sat there for the rest of the talk, gob-smacked. I imagined him going back to Australia, opening his cellar and seeing it in the light of his new discovery for the very first time, even more proud of his collection than he was before.