“Don't worry - I’ve done it all: I’ve choked and coughed my wine out on the table, I’ve dribbled it onto my chin and drooled into my lap.”
This post is about my experiences learning about wine at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust’s Level 1 course held in St. John’s in October. In a nutshell: it was a blast. We tasted wine from 9am to 5pm on a Sunday. We were taught by Erin Turke, former sommelier at the beloved Raymonds, about why to pass up a Pinot Grigio and hail a Riesling, about pairing a Sauternes with a jube-jube, about why you shouldn't eat spicey food with a Barolo. In fact learned so much about wine on that windy autumn Sunday in October that I find it genuinely hard to believe the attendance was so low: only seven people showed! So I’m going to share a thing or two about the secrets us lucky seven were let in on.
We went over the fundamentals of wine. We peeled a grape to taste the tannins in the skin. Tannins cause that dry puckering in the palate. You get the same effect from over-steeped tea. I was surprised to learn that the skins of grapes go into red wine but not into white - which explains why whites, without any tannins at all, shine so clearly to the taste compared to reds.
In the afternoon we rushed through seven reds, a Pinot Noir, a Bordeaux, a Merlot, a Syrah, a Shiraz, a Chianti, and a Rioja. The flavours were generally bolder and more complex than that of the whites, probably due to the tannic effects, the mild spiciness leant by aging in oak barrels, and the more nuanced flavours that come with aging in bottle (like leather, forest floor, and mushroom notes, for example). I was surprised to learn that the Syrah and Shiraz were the same grape, the difference being where they are cultivated (the former in France, the latter in Australia).
I finished the test and left with my loot bag: six beautiful dishwasher-safe Spiegelau wine glasses. I drove straight to Sunday dinner at my grandma’s for roast beef and Jigg’s. There was wine on the table and as we tucked in I couldn’t help but notice how my aunt lauded the Beaujolais (a light and fruity red which I had learned generally goes better with umami-bombs like the clumsy peas pudding and salt beef on my plate). What’s more, no one bothered to comment on the full bodied and tannic cab sauv blend which sat on the other end of the table (which would naturally taste more bitter and less fruity with such a pairing). Amazing. Level 1 shifted something, it shone a glimmer of light on the mysterious world of wine… but what I really learned was that there's so much more to learn.
I'm Erik, the Burnt Chef. I'm a Finnish-born Newfoundlander living in Norway. I have a passion for cooking and a deep fascination for the culinary history of the North. Simplicity guides my cooking. Time, place, and history guide my storytelling. This is my personal blog about food.