On 21st January this year I found myself all suited and booted siting in the hallowed vaulted ceiling of the Guildhall London. Joe Fattorini, from the Wine Show, was the guest speaker to an audience comprising of students from 18 different countries. His proclamation to the hushed room? “There are more people that know how to work the Large Hadron Collider than have the WSET Diploma – you’ve joined wines elite.”
My story goes back a few years and is a bumpy road of late nights, empty bottles, coloured pens and coffee.
Some 30 years ago my father introduced me to the Wine Society and the amusing and bemusing world of wine. I was hooked and my studies (not all from books!) began. I decided to formalise this with my Advanced Certificate in Wine from the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) back in 2002. I took holiday from work and studied in the wonderful surroundings of Vintner’s Hall in London.
Jump forward 14 years to 2016 and my decision to tackle the WSET Diploma. A bit of study they said. Drink some wine they said. Meet like minded people they said. I didn’t see the small print about the endless nights of reading, testing, tasting, smelling, spitting (yes, not even I could drink that volume), writing and coffee. Oh the coffee. Often the lifesaver to wake me up after a long evening of study and also the bitter strength of support from my favourite stop off in Borough Market during my tutorials in London.
The two images above look stunning and may make you drool with envy over the eclectic selection of sweet wines above or the ports below. They were indeed incredible wines and a true pleasure to add them to my tasting repertoire – however, both images were taken at 9am in the morning. The waft of Colegate clashing with the Monbazillac or the 20 year old silky port jarring with the morning coffee. “Good morning class”.
The WSET Diploma can be completed with two years of study and at this time also included spirits. It was all about balance. Not just the balance of a wines, fruit and tannins but also the balance of life and work. Study was wedged in and around my full time job and family life which includes our set of 6 year old triplets and a 12 year old young lady who suddenly acts like she’s 20. Obviously coffee was my ammunition but my secret weapon was my wifey. She supported me in so many ways from taking more than her fair share of child duties to assisting me with in-house taste tests of single malts, verticals of Rhone wines and even encouraging me to run ad hoc wine tastings for our friends.
My two year study plan was elongated as I took a year off to straighten things out after losing my father. The gentle giant that started me on this vinous path of all things grape related. Its still gut wrenching that he wasn’t there for the graduation but I hope I did him proud. Qualis pater talis filius.
So what does the Diploma entail? After the months of study you’re blind tested on tastings of spirits, fortified wines, still wines (red & white separate papers) and sparkling wines of the world. With each of those 5 tasting exams comes the theory papers. Plus a separate exam on viticulture, wine making and a private study submission provided by the exam board.
This image shows the other side of studying at home – left overs from the 250 plus bottles of wine I purchased over the Diploma for home tasting. On top of this was a wonderful array of 24 spirit miniatures which befuddled the brain and fumigated my dining room.
Questions within the papers ranged from the broad brush such as “account for the commercial success of New Zealand wines” to the more specific such as “describe and account for factors in the vineyard and winery that affect the wines of….” to the down right fine tuned “write about Muy Añejo Tequila”.
All in all, graduation earlier this year was the culmination of so many things surrounding the Diploma and my continuing study of wine. I still have so much to learn and so, so, so much to drink. Wine is a wonderful thing to get your ahead around and I would wholly recommend any of the WSET courses or keep your eye out for open wines in your local independent shop or come to a tasting at Rathfinny to expand your palate. Surely its better to study wine than the Hadron Collider?
Onwards and upwards….