Enjoy Discovering WineUpdate from Richard Barrett: September 2016

It’s been two year’s since your interview, how have things changed since attaining your WSET Level 1 Award in Wines with Enjoy Discovering Wine?

After WSET Level 1 my thirst (!) for knowledge was activated, so on to the WSET Level 2 Course.  In the meantime there was a new found confidence to food and wine pairing as well as a curiosity to discover and try different grape varieties. It meant the wine list arriving at my place when dining out with friends, but nothing new in that.  Fortunately, increasing numbers of restaurants offer a choice of glasses of wine albeit from a limited range.  Inevitably there’s one guest who’ll ask “I don’t know that one, would I like it?” Or the more abstruse “Have I had it before?” in response to the choice offered.  In which case the knowledge from the course came in very handy. One friend simply says” Go for the house wine – it’s always good” which a) is not always true and b) misses the point.  Wine is to be enjoyed.

WSET Level 2 was a different experience.  For a start it wasn’t held in the glorious surroundings of the Terra Vina with a very fine lunch.  Given the merit of the course however, just as well; passing the exam at the end of WSET Level 2 gives an entree to the commercial side of the wine trade and the old axiom ‘now the learning begins’.

With Erica leading us gently through three full days of classroom learning and the tasting of forty or so wines it was, above all, fun. Yet it was also serious enough when it came to the end of course multiple choice exam.

‘The more I know the less I know’ is a very suitable maxim on completing the course. But with that added confidence – on the couple of occasions it’s happened to me in a restaurant recently (no, not the same restaurant!). When the wine hasn’t  been up to scratch and therefore rejected, I’ve been able to say why. How often in the pre WSET days have I inflicted dodgy wine on friends, and me, I now wonder?

You’ve purchased some of Enjoy Discovering Wine’s Food & Wine Pairing Lunches as gifts for friends and family, how did they enjoy those, and how does that affect your food and wine pairing when you are all together?

To judge by the noise level and the babbling enthusiasm on the journey home from the lunch (I was the chauffeur) it was a roaring success, with the white Burgundy the star of the show. Of the three recipients of the gift both sons have an interest in wine – probably inherited – but not so much experience as the third member of the group. She is a dear friend, who is both interested and very knowledgeable.  And keeps a very good cellar.

Did that disparate background make a difference?  Apparently not.  Each learned a great deal from the day and found the pairing especially interesting (as I had on WSET Level 1).  All agreed that so much of the pleasure was because of the tutoring and how the subject of pairing was approached.  Coupled with that the setting was suitably informal and the ambience increasingly relaxed as the meal progressed so that it felt like the best form of dinner party.

I should add that my trio was the last to leave as a certain amount of, er, hoovering took place.  Reinforcement of knowledge gained?  Perhaps, or maybe no-one liked to leave unfinished bottles.

To put theory into practice I let them choose the wines for dinner that night, though by then their judgement was, shall we say, clouded.  Since then opportunities to dine out with our sons have been limited; however on those rare occasion it’s been good to hand the wine list to them and we’ve enjoyed their considered choice.

So what’s next for you Richard? Are you considering going onto WSET Level 3?

Selling, purchasing and eventually moving house took up eight months of our lives and now in the aftermath I’m gradually putting everything back in its new place. The wine racks in what passed for a cellar couldn’t be taken off the walls and brought with us, because of the insulation material binding them, leaving me with several (!) cartons of individually wrapped but randomly boxed bottles of wine.  Does this go some way towards answering the first part of the question?

As a long standing member of the Wine Society it’s been very comforting yet almost too easy to rely on the choice of their excellent buyers to order wines.  Salisbury lacked a small independent wine merchant so I’m determined to branch out (don’t tell the Wine Society!).  Erica, I remember, is a great fan of the Fareham Wine Cellar and I can still conjure up the Cotes de Nuit St Georges we tasted on the WSET Level 2 course.  With the opportunity to do something similar here (where there is an independent store) I shall boldly go.

WSET Level 3?  Yes, I did consider it seriously. At the time there was too much going on that I didn’t think I could commit to the study days, enjoyable as they would have been I’m sure.  Now there’s another problem for me now living in East Devon because I’m too far away from Bournemouth for a day release.  But I do have ‘the book’ to accompany the course. I dip in and out of that on occasion and, goodness me, there’s a lot of information there – unsurprisingly.  Have I given up, therefore?  Of course not!  But it’ll take some organisation on my part and if it meant study nearby, would it be the same pleasurable experience?  For certain, studying wine could be a life’s work – maybe a short one if taken to extremes – but what fun!

Enjoy Discovering Wine Interview of the Month – September 2014 – Original Interview with Richard Barrett

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 – Richard Barrett.

Why did you sign up for WSET Level 1?

I was signed up to the WSET Level 1 Course as a birthday present and very glad of it too. I’ve had an increasing interest in wine over the past thirty years, partly through becoming a member of The Wine Society whose enthusiasm (and powers of persuasion) is limitless. As a consequence I’ve been able to enjoy wines from around the world that I would have been unaware of otherwise, guided by the tasting notes supplied.

What did you want to have happen on the day?

Begin at the beginning, I think. With a subject so vast it’s difficult to know exactly where to start, particularly without knowing the knowledge base of the candidates. So, begin simple – which is what happened. A day in the classroom, albeit in the unmatchable Terra Vina, is going to be a tiring experience and so the amount of information was about right. Anyone should come away feeling more confident about choosing wine and knowing what to expect. Especially when in a restaurant and being able to have a reasonable stab at matching wine with the meal. And probably dying for a cup of tea by the time they got home!

More important, and I suppose this is what I wanted to have happen, it opened the door to a treasure house of untapped information and experience for those wanting to go further. Whether for professional reasons or, in my case, intense curiosity. And I would be very surprised if any of the other six decided not to carry on!

How did you enjoy the day?

We tasted a variety of wines we hadn’t met before. Then we tasted them at various points in the day – when they’d been exposed to the room temperature and atmosphere (to me, fascinating particularly the suggestion for chilling some reds). And we paired them with food to discover what matched and, more importantly, what didn’t. This appeared to be one of the main points to the day: pairing. At the end of the afternoon we would all have a budding degree of confidence to order wine that compliments a meal. That said, given the variety of grapes, blends etc, there’s a very long way to go. Even Gerard [Bassett OBE – Best Sommelier in the World 2010 and owner of Hotel TerraVina] is still learning, which is daunting for the humbler of us!

Apart from that, we were encouraged to develop our experience. OK, a little knowledge can be dangerous, but not where wine is concerned!  Producers are becoming more savvy and provide more information on bottle labels. Often the grower/importer supplies tasting notes and lists the grape varieties if it’s a blend. Cellaring advice and serving temperature is not uncommon and certainly the alcohol concentration features somewhere. It’s not unusual to find suggestions for food pairing too. So scrutinising the label’s a useful starting point (I wonder how many people bother?).

There’s so much advice from every watchable/readable source be it Waitrose recipe cards or TV cookery programmes (no, I don’t watch them – but I did see Oz and Jilly on the Food and Drink show many years ago!), even in Sunday newspaper supplements. So, if you have an interest, there’s no excuse, you won’t have to look too far to pursue it. Simply put, buy it and try it: that’s experience in a nutshell.

Numerous clubs or societies exist to foster a wine drinking experience. Some go further. For example, The Wine Society has broadened its appeal recently by including expert advice on food pairing (among its many services to promote interest in wine).

How have you used your WSET Level 1 qualification since the course?

I’ve bored as many friends as will listen about the merits of the WSET Level 1 course. The result of this is they immediately hand me the wine list if we go out to dinner just to keep me quiet! When that happened before I found WSET Level 1 it was something of a chore, now it’s fun. My advice to anyone contemplating signing up is straightforward. If you want to begin learning more about an endlessly fascinating, not to say enjoyable, subject – do it. Although it may seem geared towards those in the wine and spirits business it’s no bar to the curious. At the end of the first rung of the ladder you’ll know more than when you started. Some myths will be demystified for you, and you’ll feel more confident ordering wine for yourself or for friends. But there’s a catch. You’re likely to want to know even more and there are two routes to satisfying this. Either you’ll plough your own furrow which, in a hit-or-miss fashion, will uncover some good and some bad experiences! Or you’ll sign up for WSET Level 2 and be guided. Life is complicated enough, make it simple.