For my 30th birthday three of my closest girlfriends booked me into a wine appreciation course. I rock up at 10am at the Sydney Wine Centre to join 13 others in learning all about how to smell, taste, and savor wine. The course today is run by wine writer and educator Rob Geddes whose wine knowledge is absolutely mindblowing. I couldn’t keep up even though we were given notes AND I was madly scribbling notes during the course. We’re told that if we don’t spit out the wines, we’d be smashing down four bottles of wine through the six-hour course. I choose to spit everything, bar a few sips in the last flight of moscato and dessert wines.
Like all edible things, wine tastes like where it comes from. It’s dependant on the geography, the climate and the varietal. We learn that the palate isn’t merely about taste. It’s a palate of flavors, palate of textures, and length of flavor that we consider for every wine we taste.
By 11am we get started on our first flight of wines. We try over 30 wines, starting from whites, to sparkling and champagne, to rose, to red and finishing with sweet and fortified wines. Most wine flights are matched with a morsel of food to give us an idea of how to match food and wine. We go through every wine, assessing the color, the smell, the tastes and how long the flavor lasts.
The process of appreciating wine can be broken down into the following steps: see, swirl, sip, savor, spit or swallow. From the nose to the final after taste, some of the discussed flavor profiles were pretty straight-forward. Fruity smells or flavors were usually the easiest for me to pick, but the other notes that Rob would mention (like vanilla oak, yoghurt, stale apple, pencilly or old wet oak) were often completely lost on me.
Rob explains that being able to describe tastes is a cultural thing. It depends on what tastes you’ve been exposed to in your life. And obviously tastes are very personal and subjective. For me the course confirmed that I still like my whites over reds, and I prefer the fruitier varietals like Riesling and Gewürztraminer. I can definitely say that I’m much better at tasting wine now. I can now pick up the tannins, the length of flavor and even some of the flavor characteristics.
This wine appreciation course was uber-educational – I can’t recommend it enough. I especially loved that there was food matching with the wine tasting. It even got as extreme as lamb cutlets to match Cabernet Sauvignon. My only qualm was that the course was a touch too long. By 2pm I was feeling pretty tired (and a little bit buzzed even though I was spitting out the wine after tasting each wine). Note that you can take a 4-week course instead if you want to break it up into shorter bursts of learning.
Other valuable tidbits I learned:
- Don’t turn your wine bottles.
- Wooded wines and spice don’t marry well.
- Wine is fashion.
- Don’t worry as much about taste. Worry more about length of flavor.
- Cheese negates tannins: it makes the wine taste softer and sweeter.
- I love comte cheese. It was served with the Shiraz flight and I couldn’t get enough of it.
- The old world way of appreciating wine is to look out for a great finish or aftertaste. The new world way of appreciating wine is a fruity taste up front.
- Pinot Gris isn’t regarded as a great grape. Rob compared it to wrestling (big, clumsy, and no future).
- The rise of white wine came about due to ease of refrigeration. White wine suits our era. We need wines for our time.
- Germans are the biggest sparkling wine drinkers in the world. The French like matching food and wine. The Italians like to drink wine as conversation starters, not to match their food.
- There’s a trend towards savory wine.
One Day Wine Appreciation Course
Price: $275, includes food matching and lunch
Sydney Wine Centre has a bunch of other wine courses, including 4-week stints and night affairs.
119 Harris Street, Pyrmont