Each month, Erica interviews one of Enjoy Discovering Wine‘s former WSET student’s and the article is featured here. This month Erica has interviewed former WSET Level 1 Student – Lewis Young
What did you want to have happen by attending the WSET Level 1 course?
For me, personally, attending the course was to expand my personal knowledge on wines, and increase my own variety on what I drink. As well as the commercial benefits on being able to advise customers on the wine that they may enjoy, previously, I would be very specific in the few types of red I would have and barely touch any white or rosé because of my amateur opinion that ‘I didn’t like them’ and wanted to expand my pallet. I’ve since found myself trying wine from new regions, and a great deal more white than i would have beforehand. Furthermore, understanding the logic behind pairing food with wine has let me make some great discoveries. It now frustrates my partner when we’re doing our grocery shopping and I spend more time choosing our wine than actually doing the food shop!
Just last week I was having a pan-Asian meal out in Amsterdam and most of the table had their Level 3 certification, so as a way of practising, they handed me the wine menu and let me order for the table. It was amazing and terrifying. These people that had a great deal-more experience were letting an amateur like me choose a wine to be tested by them. The wine list itself was hardly small. I enquired about the type of food we’d be having. And quite confidently ordered a bottle of Riesling, and Sancerre Rouge. The wine arrived and I was holding my breath. We all tested it, another task that I felt surprisingly confident in, and agreed it was fine. And when the food came, everyone agreed it was a great choice. The Sancerre went particularly well with the deep-fried squid. And that is a sentence I never thought I’d say. Unfortunately, because the Student Union carries a limited wine selection, I haven’t been able to advise any customers particularly on their choice. However, I’m constantly suggesting wines to friends and family whenever we go out somewhere. Or even if somebody mentions what they’re having for tea that evening I’ll advise them what to get or what to avoid, usually if they want me to or not.
As part of the course, I remember learning the friends and foes of wines and how various flavours pair off against each other, so when my partner told me we were having chilli for tea, and asked if she should get a bottle of Rioja Tempranillo (my favourite) I told her to go for something less spicy, like a Burgundy, knowing the spiciness of the food would play much better off the fruitier grape, as opposed to making the spicy Tempranillo a much harsher flavour. Recently I went out for a meal with a few friends, and one really fancied a Sauvignon Blanc but couldn’t see it anywhere on the menu. And naturally, I pointed out the Sancerre without even a second thought. Since taking the course, a lot of these things now seem second nature to me whereas before I would have been baffled.
It feels great that after doing the WSET level 1, I do now feel confident about making wine selections for both myself, and others. I enjoy enjoying wine a lot more now, because I really feel like I know what I’m drinking. I now understand not just that I like Spanish wines, but why I prefer them.
What would you say to someone thinking about doing the WSET Level 1 course that says maybe it is too basic for them?
I can guarantee the course has something for every level of knowledge. Personally, I knew very little about specific grapes and regions; but some of the people on the course already seemed to know a great deal, coming from more wine-focused customer service. At the end of the day, it seemed like we had all learned something and everybody left quite high in spirits. Being encouraged to ask questions throughout the day was really beneficial and really let all of us get a personal grip on everything we were being taught.
And then you leave the exam, with that same mixture of excitement and anxiety, confident you’ve done well but doubting every answer you put. Getting my orange pin and certificate made me so happy; I feel an air of confidence looking at a wine menu now, that I never did before. To say I use what I’ve learnt every day would be a stretch, but certainly a few times a week; as I said earlier, sometimes even subconsciously. I hear a food and immediately start wondering to myself what wine would go perfectly with it. I still enjoy doing it now, like a daily challenge for myself. I love that in the space of a day I went from having next to no knowledge about wine, to being very confident in discussing wines, tasting and recommending them. I’m still far from an expert, but I definitely feel comfortable discussing flavours and variations around people a lot more seasoned than myself. Overall, it was a fantastic day, and I still enjoy putting what I experienced on the day to use constantly.