Monthly Archives: September 2011

Wine Education

Last week, I was busy working towards completing the WSET Level 2 Intermediate Wine and Spirits qualification, ‘ideal for anyone wishing to be introduced to wine or sprits in an informative and structured manner’, and ‘suitable for both the enthusiast and those entering or already working in the wine and hospitality business’. Well, at £355, you wouldn’t take part if you cared little for wine, would you?

A few weeks ago, my resources arrived – the course textbook, a class workbook, a laminated sheet with a number of key wine tasting terms, a book on responsible drinking (if you didn’t know, a bottle of wine per night is bad for you), as well as a rather interesting Dulux-style wine colour chart – all tucked neatly into a white folder. Despite dipping in and out of this, I didn’t do a huge amount of pre-reading. In hindsight, I do recommend that you give the course textbook some due care and attention, given the number of wine regions and terms you will need to know to pass the exam.

This course can be done as a series of evening classes over a number of weeks, or as a 3-day course (either weekly or consecutive). It was the latter that I opted for, and while cramming the entire syllabus into three days was pretty heavy going and somewhat clinical in terms of layout (taste, spit, comment 18 times per day), I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the main grape varieties, wine regions, and wine and spirit making processes in a little more depth.

On arrival, I was interested to see the mix of people that had signed up – some sommeliers, waiters, restauranteurs, researchers, enthusiasts and a collection of wine PRs. Most of the class (me included) hadn’t completed the Foundation course prior to this one, as it is not a pre-requisite and, according to many that I had spoken to about it, is not particularly difficult if you already have some knowledge of and/or an interest in wine.

On day 1 we were given our 6 ISO (International Standards Official) tasting glasses, which you get to keep after the course (providing you haven’t smashed any), we were introduced to tasting technique, the key components of food and wine matching (fatty, oily food is a great match for wines high in acidity, don’t you know), factors influencing the style of wine, and two key grape varieties; Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. That day we tasted 18 wines, ranging in price, from £4.99 to £42.00, and in style, from a Venetian Pinot Grigio to a Burgundian Gevrey-Chambertin Pinot Noir.

Day two was another varietal day, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah/Shiraz, Grenache, Riesling (and many more) on the agenda. Again we sampled 18 different wines, and although there was a lot to take in on that day (who knew Italy had so many grape varieties?!) we did sample some outstanding wines, such as the 2005 Chateau Batailley Grand Cru Classe.

The third and final day was the most informative for me given that we learnt about several wine styles that I have limited experience and knowledge of – sparkling, sweet, and fortified, as well as spirits and liqueurs. I learnt on that day that I do not like whisky! The day concluded with the exam – an hour long, 50 question, multiple choice paper.

Despite the high cost of this course, it did give me the opportunity to sample some delightful wines that I otherwise would not (£34.99 for a delicious 2006 Chateau Laville Sauternes – sure, put it on my tab), even if we did spit them out! It also taught me a lot about exactly what it is that I am looking at when purchasing, tasting, (hopefully) enjoying, and writing about wine. Hopefully, I’m now a little bit more informed as a wine-writer (be nice!)

If you are thinking about taking part in the course, there are various accredited centres all over the UK, however the main WSET centre, just a 5 minute walk from London Bridge Station, has the highest pass rate of them all (I will update you on where I stand in that statistic), as well as some expert instructors!



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Falanghina at Strada

After a long day shopping at the new Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, followed by 2 hours in the brand new Vue cinema (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is very good by the way), my boyfriend Luke and I decided to treat ourselves to a cocktail in Las Iguanas’ bar.

2 delicious Cana Royale cocktails later (well, it was happy hour), we perused the menus of the various restaurants (all chain I’m afraid) on the top floor of the enormous complex. We finally settled on Strada, an Italian restaurant which never fails to disappoint in terms of value for money.

After eating our fill of garlic bread and olives, to accompany dinner, rather than opting for the cheaper Bianco (£14.95) or Soave, I traded up slightly and chose the Antonini Ceresa from Campania, priced at £16.95 and made from the Falanghina grape of southern and central Italy. Described on the menu as offering flavours of ‘fleshy, sun-drenched white peaches’ ‘with a hint of aromatic spice’, this zingy, enticing white wine held its own with my Salmone con Lenticchie, and with Luke’s Rustica Pizza.

Italy offers some of the best refreshingly crisp white wines (I previously reviewed the delicious 2009 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico), and while Falanghina is a relatively unfamiliar grape, it produces some astounding wines.

If you like Pinot Grigio, you will love this! As wine personality, Olly Smith said in one of his reviews, ‘the truth is, Italy has a myriad of crisp whites beyond Pinot Grigio that offer stacks of character and splendid value for money’ (Daily Mail – 11th August 2011). He recommends the Triade Fiano/Falanghina/Greco 2010, available for £8.99 from Waitrose.

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Moroccan Wine at Momo’s

I was first introduced to Mo café during my friend Angharad’s quirky hen do, where we indulged in some delicious savoury and sweet snacks served as part of the afternoon tea (which I fully recommend by the way!)

(picture courtesy of the bride to be)

Once we’d had our fill of sweet mint tea, a few of us selected a bottle of wine to share. The cheapest on the menu (we have only just finished university after all) was a Moroccan white priced at £17. At the time I wasn’t especially interested in scrutinising the wine, but with its crisp, moreish quality, I knew I had to return to give it another try. Not only did I want to enjoy the wine again, but on a nice sunny day (a rarity in England), I would happily while away the hours on the terrace with an apple flavoured shisha pipe and a fancy cocktail.

With this in mind, the following week, my boyfriend and I paid Momo’s a visit. While pondering the selection of hot and cold mezze on the menu, we selected a couple of cocktails – I went for a gin martini with olives, which although pricey (£9 a cocktail), was served rather generously, while Luke settled on a Momo’s special – the closest thing to a mojito (his favourite) on offer.

Once we had eaten our share of hummus, chargrilled chicken skewers, prawns…the list goes on…we decided to share a bottle of the Moroccan white wine. This time I noted down the name – Guerrouane Blanc Les Trois Domaines 2010 Les Celliers de Meknes – and paid more attention to its scent and taste. Slightly greenish in hue, this blend of Sauvignon, Clairette and Ugni Blanc grapes is fresh and fruity with a low acidity. It made a refreshing change from the usual wines listed in London venues.

Situated on Heddon Street, just off of Regent Street, Momo’s isn’t the kind of place to visit if you are after a cheap post-work drink, and it is a little bit cliquey. However, if you fancy a treat, or your feet ache after too much shopping, I would definitely recommend sampling one of their tasty cocktails or sharing a bottle of the Guerrouane. If you aren’t lucky enough to have sunshine on the terrace, you can always park your bum on their comfy cushioned chairs inside and admire the impressive selection of chandeliers…

Fancy trying some Moroccan wine for yourself? Head over to The Smiling Grape Company, where you can pick up a bottle of the Guerrouane for a very reasonable £8.99.


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Try Something New Today

No, I’m not quoting Sainsbury’s, I’m encouraging you to divert from the Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Grigios of the wine world – get experimental with your grape choices!

That is exactly what I did when out for a quick Sunday lunch at a Chef & Brewer in St. Albans the other week with my boyfriend, Luke. Rather than being predictable and choosing a Sauvignon Blanc, I opted instead for a German Gewürztraminer. Stupidly, I forgot to make a note of the name of the wine, but, while slightly sweeter than I usually like, it kept my taste buds on their toes and made me think about trying something different once in a while.

With this is mind, when I came across Cono Sur’s 2009 Gewürztraminer, I couldn’t resist picking up a bottle.

Gewürztraminer, a grape variety originally from Alsace, is known for its aromatic flavours, off dry quality and lychee undertones.

The label claimed that it partnered well with ‘fruity desserts’ so Luke and I enjoyed it alongside this delicious homemade raspberry and coconut cake.

This pale Chilean Gewürztraminer had a slight greenish tint. Enticing and aromatic in scent with bold flavours of lychee and melon, this crisp wine was delicious! You can pick up a bottle at Sainsbury’s for £7.49.

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Kumala and Crumble

A long time ago now, I came across a Kumala Cape Classic rosé which – I’m not ashamed to admit – I loved. Since then, I have yet to come across anything other than the red version while perusing the wine aisle. Since bottle 5 of our Tesco rosés was a Kumala (albeit a Shiraz rather than the Classic variety), I was keen to give it a try… What better excuse than the Saturday night of a bank holiday weekend?

My boyfriend mostly drinks beer and the occasional glass of red or white wine (whilst maintaining an intense dislike for rosé), so this one was all mine!

For dinner I was preparing a main of chicken, chorizo and feta tabbouleh, followed by apple and blueberry crumble. The bottle recommended pairing this wine with chicken, and labeled it as, ‘a light-bodied and mouth watering rosé with ripe strawberry notes and a hint of spice’, and so I thought it might make a nice food match.

What I loved about this wine was how versatile it was. As an aperitif, it had the right amount of acidity with, as stated, a nice light body to it. With the main course, I was surprised to find that the chorizo didn’t overpower the wine – rather the spicy undertones complemented the richness of the food. And with the crumble – yum! While a sweeter wine might usually be paired with dessert, I felt that the subtle flavours of strawberry and raspberry complemented the fruit in the pud nicely.

Of the Tesco Case, this has been my favourite by far… Only one to go!

Why not try the recipes for yourself?

Chicken, chorizo and feta tabbouleh – adapted from this one on the delicious! website

Ingredients – serves 2

100g bulgur wheat
1tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Grated zest and juice of ½ a lemon
100g chorizo, sliced
1 chicken breast, cut into small chunks
100g feta, crumbled
½ bunch of spring onions, sliced
100g cherry tomatoes, quartered
Small handful of fresh mint, torn
Small bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Ciabatta bread, to serve
Leafy salad, to serve

1. Cook the bulgur wheat according to the packet instructions
2. Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat, add the chicken and brown
3. Add the spring onions and tomatoes to the pan and cook until the chicken is almost cooked through
4. Add the chorizo and cook for a further 3 minutes
5. Put the bulgur wheat into a serving bowl and mix with the extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest and juice
6. Toss the feta and herbs with the bulgur wheat, and then add the cooked onions, tomatoes, chicken and chorizo
7. Serve with warmed ciabatta bread and a leafy green side salad

Apple and blueberry crumble

Ingredients – makes 2/3 individual potted crumbles

50g flour
50g oats
50g light brown sugar plus an extra tsp
60g butter plus an extra tsp
1 apple, peeled, cored and finely sliced
5 tbsp blueberries (fresh or frozen)
Natural yoghurt, to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 200°c (180°c for a fan oven)
2. In a mixing bowl, rub the butter, flour and oats together using your fingertips
3. Once the mixture resembles chunky breadcrumbs, stir in the sugar to make the crumble topping
4. In individual ramekins, layer the apple slices and blueberries
5. Add a dollop of butter to each and sprinkle over the remaining sugar
6. Scatter over the topping mixture
7. Bake for 30 minutes until the topping is golden and the fruit is bubbling
8. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt (or cream, or ice cream) on top

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