Bottles of wine are performances, more or less well done. And we have very different expectations from them, depending on type, and on price. My own taste in wine – like my taste in music, literature, food – is catholic. I take as much pleasure, in different ways, from a well made wine at £5, as I do from one costing ten times that. I have been teaching wine and wine tasting for thirty years now. Good teaching fires enthusiasm, but perhaps what it does that is most valuable is to teach you how to learn on your own, and that is what fires my enthusiasm, namely giving you the the means to teach yourself – whatever your level. So you can better make up your own mind about the quality and value of those performances!
My teaching philosophy is grounded in:
- The selection of benchmark quality wines to taste, whatever the price level.
- Providing guidelines in the act of tasting itself, in how to ‘see what there is to see’.
- Making sense of what one has tasted, in terms of the numerous questions which might follow relating to description, quality, style, typicity, preference, value for money, drinking context etc.
These apply, in essence, whatever the price of the wines or level of tasting expertise involved; whether I am doing the first evening for a group of amateur ‘beginners’, or providing a number of well-honed Master of Wine candidate palates with yet another opportunity to practise. The degree to which you look and probe, and the depth and scope of the answers you come up with are of course what make the difference. And the extent to which you want to, or can, do this depends first on the quality of the wines involved, and then on questions of choice, time available, expertise and motivation. Just as would be the case with a work of art or literature, a piece of music, a fine building or garden and so on.
I view teaching as an opportunity to both inform and entertain, in a relaxed and informal manner. I encourage questions at every stage and, during courses, the content of each evening is summarised at the end of each session, revised at the beginning of the next.
MY TEACHING METHOD
- I like to taste in pairs. Tasted side by side, wines reveal each other.
- Discovery by comparison is the essence.
- The basic method is to compare specific aspects of carefully selected wines, with a particular purpose in mind, then to make sense of those comparisons by asking various questions.
- It is important, to begin with, not to have too many variables to consider.
- Initially you consider just one aspect at a time, and this leads to gradually building up a pattern of observation.
- Where a wine course is concerned, the chosen aspects to consider will reflect what is appropriate for the particular wine(s), and what suits the course sequence at that juncture.
- As tasters become more confident they will notice more anyway, and begin to ask their own questions as they proceed.
- The ‘rhythm’ of comparison is always ‘to and fro’, left to right, then the other way round. Tasting subsequently in reverse order is often even more revealing.
- In this way you learn an approach to tasting which includes a methodical technique, a set of reference wines and the vocabulary with which to describe them. You also build up a set of criteria for judging different styles of wine.
- Along with a wide variety of questions to ask. For, as every good journalist knows, the real insight comes from knowing which questions to ask in the first place.