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Study Diary for the WSET Level 3: Day One: Tasting Technique, the Vineyard, Burgundy & More

Study Diary for the WSET Level 3: Day One: Tasting Technique, the Vineyard, Burgundy & More

Exciting times have started!

I am now studying for my WSET Level 3 after a brilliant Christmas trade. I’ve been trying to get on this course for some time now, but I’m glad I’ve had the extra opportunity to read around my subject more. My aim is to go for the top spot and get another Distinction, like I managed at Level 2. Got to aim high, right?!

So on Monday just gone, 11 January, I travelled up to Bordeaux Quay in Bristol for Day 1. It’s always interesting to see what sort of crowd you might end up next to, but luckily everyone I met was polite and, best of all, interesting. It seems many of them were studying out of a pure passion for wine, as opposed to being in the trade (although there were a few of us too!), and it’s always easy to get along with people who just love wine.

Anyway, the course is being run by well-known wine educator Lys Hall, who took her WSETs a while ago now but doesn’t seem to have lost any of the passion for the subject over the years. Lys is an engaging speaker and a fascinating hub of knowledge gained from her years of travelling, tasting and visiting vineyards.

Lys began the day with some introductions, and so I found out I was in the room with people from the world of social enterprise, semi-retirement, geology, bars, wine merchants, Waitrose, and English Heritage. A good mix!

After introductions, Lys spoke a little about grape varieties and how vines themselves had spread in our ancient history – mainly thanks to the Romans and their empire. Of course we touched upon the English and Danish problems with bringing back and spreading phylloxera, the small aphid that devastated many vines, but luckily the Old World rebuilt itself quickly.

Next up we did some work on tasting technique. It was a little difficult for me to switch immediately back to just how systematic tasting wine is in WSET courses, especially finding what terms I could actually use to describe flavours as opposed to engaging a journalistic brain. We tried four, of which I’ll upload tasting notes to hear at some point.

Following the tastings, a bit on the grapes, particularly the Noble grapes – Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc. – and a reference to Italys some thousands of varieties, ex-sommelier and restauranteur Bob Reynolds gave a passionate lecture on the management of vineyards. From winter pruning when the vines are dormant to the tense period of flowering, right to veraison where the grapes ripen and colour kicks-in to the exciting times of the Autumn harvest, learning about vineyards is fascinating for someone like me who hasn’t touched on agriculture and gardening since school.

Bob did have to rush through the winemaking section a bit for times means, but I am happy that I finally conquered the (turns out, very simple) method of malolactic fermentation. It’s done by adding a bacteria to the wine that changes Malic acids into Lactic acids, thus softerning the wine. See this nice diagram below for a metaphorical clarification:

Malolactic fermentation diagram - wine

Anyway, that aside, we breaked for lunch. Bordeaux Quay tends to do very nice meals but part of me was craving a glass of wine with my pasta after the morning wine tasting.

Luckily I didn’t have to wait long and we were treated in the afternoon to a lecture on Alsace and Burgundy by Mimi Avery, of Avery’s in Bristol. It was great to get someone with such a strong link in the wine industry and such a reputable name, but talk about throwing us in the deepend with a Burgundy lecture on Day 1!

Alsace in France Burgundy in France

I couldn’t complain too much though when I saw we would be tasting a Gevrey-Chambertin. I love Rhone wines, but these in particular are earthy and full, with an almost dusty note over potent juicy fruit. Gorgeous! We also dabbled in some dry Rieslings, which anyone who knows me will know I love (I actually drank a Riesling on Christmas Day last year and it was one of the best tipples I’ve had in a while).

I’ll try and upload all these tasting notes soon… But for more WSET L3, I’ll be back to chat next week.


The day’s events –

Introductions with Lys Hall

Grape Varieties & Tasting Technique with Lys Hall

Viticulture and Winemaking with Bob Reynolds

Alsace & Burgundy with Mimi Avery