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How wine courses, wine training and wine tasting courses can make all the difference when it comes to understanding wine and developing true wine knowledge
| By Cameron Mowat
The world is full of wine drinkers. In 2021 the total wine consumed around the world stood at 23.6 billion litres, so it’s safe to say wine is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in the world. It is also a deeply complex liquid, with vast swathes of different grapes, regional styles and production methods.
Lots of people know something about wine. Not many know a lot. There is a clear difference between someone that is an ‘enthusiast’ and someone that is an expert. The reasons for this are many but they mostly come down to wine education and quality wine courses. We run wine classes in Dublin and wine classes in Mallorca for this very reason, to help turn wine enthusiasts into wine experts!
Wine is one of the most ancient forms of alcohol in the world. While no-one truly knows when alcoholic beverages came into existence for human civilisation, it’s a fair guess to say that wine was one of the first. It might not have been the grape wine that we know today, but fruits of all sorts would have been used for early alcohol.
Fruits like grapes have a high sugar and water content, as well as naturally occurring yeasts that can be used for fermentation and the creation of alcohol. While grape wines may have come after some other fruit, we do know that grape wine is at least 8000 years old, dating back to the Stone Age.
Wine: A Liquid With Deep Roots Into The Past
The earliest evidence of full scale grape cultivation and wine production was found in Georgia, in a place called Gadachrili Gorda. Here archaeologists found shards of pottery that indicate they were originally large jars, with not only wine residue but grapes decorated on them. They also found strains of pollen that indicate that the hills around the dig site were once populated by grape vines.
Chances are then that winemaking had been experimented with even earlier. From the Stone Age to the modern day winemaking has become more and more established and complex. It has also played a part in every major civilisation since. It’s well documented that empires like the Chinese Dynasties, Egyptian, Greek and Roman all had wine as a staple of their drinking cultures, and it has only grown and intensified over the millennia.
Nowadays wine is not only one of the most prolific, but also complex forms of alcohol in the world. Almost any country that can grow grapes makes wine, and there are thousands and thousands of vineyards all over the globe. And while wine drinking is an obsession the whole world shares, the same cannot be said of wine knowledge…
The Rise Of The Sommelier
Wine experts are often referred to as ‘Sommeliers’. These individuals have dived into the depths of the absurdly complex world of wine and trained for years to gain real understanding of the liquid, from how it’s made to the regions it’s made in and beyond.
The term actually originates from the French phrase ‘bête de somme’ or ‘beasts of burden’. This refers to the official that would oversee the transportation of the French royalty’s baggage in the 14th Century. The other job the ‘sommelier’ had was to choose the wines that would be served during banquets and dinners. It would also be their responsibility to taste the wine for the King to check for poison.
It’s quite poetic that the term has survived for over 700 years and is now used to describe wine waiters and wine experts. Just like back in the middle ages, Sommeliers nowadays are required to have years and years of study, training and experience to gain the title.
Experts vs Enthusiasts
There’s no denying that wine is one of the human obsessions. Wine knowledge is often associated with class, implying that to gain said knowledge one must have sampled many fine wines and travelled to some of the more important wine areas of the world. It’s fair to say that many people claim to know a lot about wine.
But there is a huge gap between those that ‘know’ wine and those who truly understand it. That isn’t to diminish or insult the everyday wine enthusiast, but it’s important to understand that between knowing and understanding wine is a huge, chasmic gap. The reason is of course very simple. It’s because of the overwhelming complexity of a liquid that is millenia old.
Here’s a good example. In 2008, a study was conducted by Stanford into the effect that the price of wine affected the perception of its quality. Wine drinkers were given a range of different wines with false prices, some expensive but labelled with a low price tag and some low price labelled as expensive. The results were clear. The participants across the board found the cheap but more expensively labelled wines to taste better and be of better quality overall. Conversely the expensive but low price labelled wines were rated the lowest.
This is not a trick that you could get past a sommelier. Taste for the sommelier trumps perception, and this is because of the training their palate has undergone to recognise quality through understanding rather than guesswork and hints like price.
Other studies show a similar result. An Oxford study found that simply having an image of a chateau on the bottle could massively sway wine drinkers into assuming it was the most expensive of a range, when it was actually the cheapest.
The Road To True Understanding
The point is that hands-on experience can only ever give you so much knowledge. Real understanding usually comes from wine classes and wine education.
Wine knowledge is more than just a passion, it’s a skill. Like any skill the best way to learn and improve is to spend focused time with experts that have worked out how to streamline their years and years of experience and training into easy to consume education.
We run the WSET course for that very reason. Our in-house sommelier Anke Hartmann leads our WSET wine course in Dublin and WSET wine courses in Mallorca. We run WSET Level 2 in Dublin and WSET Level 2 and WSET Level 3 in Mallorca.
WSET – The Global Standard For Wine Education
If there is one institution that is really pushing the global level of wine knowledge it’s the WSET. The institution was founded in 1969 in the UK as a way of increasing the knowledge within the British wine trade, but it has since become the most notorious and well respected wine certification across the globe.
Our WSET courses involve all the essential facets that make up a top quality wine course. We cover the essential grape varieties that dominate the world stage, as well as some of the rarer more speciality types, the famous and crucial wine regions that make some of the world’s top wines and of course the most important aspect: tasting.
The guide to tasting is really what sets the WSET apart from other wine courses. The WSET Systematic Approach To Tasting ™ is the best tried and tested methodology for approaching the tasting, analysis and description of wine. Each level of the WSET expands on this system, allowing for you to build your lexicon, improve your palate and begin piecing together the sort of understanding of wine that top sommeliers around the world have.
By the end of our WSET courses you’ll have serious, in depth knowledge on all the major wine styles, be able to recognise not only regional and grape differences but also differences in quality among them. The best and arguably most important thing you gain from taking a WSET course, aside from the WSET diploma is this ability to analyse wine and then describe it accurately and informatively. On the WSET Level 3 course a highly important aspect is your palate, so you’ll learn how to recognise wines just by perception, aroma and taste alone, which is a skill most wine enthusiasts would envy.
There are thousands, if not millions of wine enthusiasts out there. When it comes to wine experts on the other hand the number is much lower, and for good reason. Expertise comes from experience, practice and education. If taking your passion for wine seriously and starting on the road to sommelier-level wine knowledge is something you’re interested in or have dreamed about then check out our range of WSET wine courses in both our Dublin Academy and Mallorca Academy.
The world of wine is waiting for you to explore. Dive in!