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Grape Expectations

In advance of the three VantagePoint Wine Festivals next year, we are revisiting some of our past wine articles. Tickets to one or all of the Wine Festivals, taking place in Farnham in April, Guildford in May and Dorking in September. Tickets are on sale now at www.vantagepointevents.co.uk and make great Christmas presents for any wine lover. Here Jeremy Blood discusses wine courses…

Have you ever wanted to be more daring whilst choosing a bottle of wine in the supermarket or restaurant? Have you ever wanted to astound your guests with your wine choice at dinner? If you have, then read on.

There are more and more choices out there for wine lovers of all levels of knowledge, so making informed choices gets more and more difficult. The latest edition of the fantastic book, The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, details how much the wine world has increased in size over recent years. So getting to know which countries produce wine and in what style has become crucial in the pursuit of that perfect drink.

The good news regarding wine education is that it’s not just theory. Learning about classic wine countries and their grapes is fascinating, however it’s the tastings that most of my visitors enjoy most. I am always amazed how quickly wine novices start identifying flavours and aromas after only one session. And yes, some of the aroma descriptions I get to hear during tastings are priceless. But remember, practice is one of the best ways to improve, so the more you taste the more you learn. I discovered this whilst studying for my Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) exams over the last two years. It was a tough job but somebody had to do it…

But you don’t have to take exams to start learning about wine. A large number of people who visit Surrey Wine School just want to have a bit more knowledge so that they become more confident when buying wine, thereby reducing the odds of choosing one that tastes awful. Knowing something about wine styles will not only steer you towards a better purchase, but your improved understanding will increase your enjoyment of wine dramatically.

Aren’t wine tastings and courses stuffy and full of pretentious people, I hear you ask? Absolutely not, at Surrey Wine School the courses and tastings are geared towards people of all knowledge levels and experience. The atmosphere is friendly, relaxed and in no way intimidating. During the tasting you will learn essential elements of tasting which you will find are easy to learn and will help you to discover the wines you like or dislike and why.

Julie who came on the eight week World of Wine Course told me, “I thoroughly enjoyed it as you could probably tell. I got my husband to go through the whole see, swirl, and smell and taste scenario with the wine. I almost sounded as though I knew what I was talking about”.

We have a wide range of different courses available, from the fantastic Saturday Introduction to Wine day which includes Champagne, 12 wines and a two course lunch. The eight week World of Wine course will transport you to the greatest wine regions in the world, tasting all the best wines on the way. I also have cookery and wine matching workshops with Chef Maxwell McKenzie, and a new collaboration with Flavour Tastings learning how to match wine and cheese – a slice of Saturday Kitchen comes to Guildford. After all those you will be learning fast so a four week course on Italy, Spain or France would round off your education perfectly.

As we are not affiliated to any wine merchant, I can buy wine for the courses from wherever I think it’s a good example of the country being showcased. All the tastings take place with the accompaniment of finger foods specially selected to match the wines. You will also get to try the wines in proper tasting glasses and at the conclusion wine notes will be supplied.

Most importantly, it’s the atmosphere at the tastings that has to be spot on, as Anne commented after the Burgundy and Loire evening. “It was a really fun evening pitched just right with the level of knowledge we could take in while getting a bit merry. It was funny how the volume in the room rose as the evening progressed”.

Although Surrey Wine School has only been operating for a year, we are part of the Local Wine School Network that was set up in 2000. 17 wine schools operate out of different locations around the country, proving that there is a demand for wine education. It is not surprising to see why as it is very hard for most people to find out much about wine these days without knowing where to look on the Internet.

This is also the case in some large supermarkets where wine advice and guidance from staff can be non-existent. It is, however pleasing to report that Marks and Spencer and Majestic are investing in higher-level staff training and in providing wines to taste in store. Marks & Spencer arrange free wine tastings for customers in Camberley and Guildford, where at least six wines and food are provided every three months. I run all these sessions, locally, and have been getting 50 to 60 attendees at some of them. Majestic staff all undergoes WSET training and run some of their own tasting periodically.

Locally, our area has some great independent wine merchants who all provide their customers with opportunities to taste or invest considerable time giving advice on their wine range. I would certainly recommend The Guildford Wine Company, Taurus Wines, The Vineyard in Dorking, Ranmore Wines and The Vineking in Reigate.

But remember, nothing beats the fun of a proper, well organised wine tasting.

All courses and tastings are available to buy as gift vouchers for Christmas, birthdays and other special occasions, and can be booked online. For more information about upcoming dates and prices, visit www.surreywineschool.com, email info@surreywineschool.com or call Jeremy on 01306 898569 or 07436 072518.

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