Before I started the Leiths course, I wrote about wanting to learn much more about wines. I wanted to be able to understand and write eloquently about its history, culture, production, economics, politics and more. That was probably a little over-enthusiastic. After all, the course only pitched to the Intermediate Level of the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) qualification.
But that is not to say that I gained little from the course.
The wine lectures, delivered by a mixture of WSET qualified speakers (including several Masters of Wine and prominent wine writers) and co-ordinated by Richard Bampfield MW, ran once a week over the intermediate and advanced terms of the Leiths Diploma. (The Foundation level exams took place during the foundation term of the Leiths Diploma.) Each week was a different topic with a few wines to taste and often food matches to consider (I guess that’s the Leiths aspect of the course, rather than part of the WSET qualification as standard). It all led up to the WSET Intermediate Level exam in May – a multiple choice exam with no blind tastings. (Yes I passed.)
So what do you actually learn?
Well, having written about wine here and there, I knew a lot about the topics that I had researched and very little about everything else. This course gave me the opportunity to understand and explore the production process of wine, which I never really understood completely from dashed winery tours. I also learnt much more about grape varieties, the sorts of wines they produce and how they should and could be matched to food. The lectures by Nancy Gilchrist are particularly good. But the thing that was perhaps most obvious was that I learnt how to taste wine.
For work, I get invited to a lot of wine tastings. Most of them are not particularly useful because I have no business interest in wine – I don’t, at present, make wine recommendations or retail wines. So, much of the time spent at tastings are on finding out about stories behind the wine producers and sometimes about the state of the wine market both domestically and internationally. But that’s really for personal interest.
When I go to tastings now, I will of course still be able to discern whether or not I like a wine but also I will be able to critically evaluate a wine. It does seem to permeate to an innate skill.
Is it really useful right now?
Well probably not. But I do have a few ideas on things I’d like to do in the future for which that would be helpful. It’s a bit of a gamble really. In the mean time though, I can happily keep up with my more learned wine peers.