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Wine drinking in class

June 9, 2011
WSET Level 2 class

Picture by I Komang Swasta

Woo hoo! I’ve just received the news about my WSET level 2 examination and I passed…with distinction.   As it is the first examination I have sat in decades I’m delighted. I couldn’t steady my pre-exam nerves with a glass of wine, which was completely at odds to the rest of the course where tasting (and drinking) was part of the lesson.

There is zero tolerance for drinking and driving in Dubai so I cycled to and from the course much to the amusement of the other students.

Wine Glasses at The Vines of Mendoza

Picture by David

WSET stands for Wines and Spirit Education Trust and is a qualification with world-wide recognition.  The course is held at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality in Jumeirah, Dubai (plus other parts of the world) and there were about 30 of us in class.  Most of my classmates worked at various restaurants and bars around town and were looking to further their careers with this qualification.   Only R and I had simply applied for the pleasure of taking the course.


Picture by Andreas Levers

It’s not advisable to look back with regret but if reincarnation and time travel is possible could I request to come back as Jancis Robinson please?  I took her Wine Course book to Saudi Arabia with me in 1995.  Mad you might think (and I’m astonished it wasn’t taken from me at customs) but I knew I’d have a lot of reading time on my hands (albeit no chance to put any knowledge into practise).  When Confessions of a Wine Lover came out in 1997 this too was smuggled in with my luggage and I couldn’t believe that anyone could have had a life that perfect in terms of eating and drinking experiences.

Before and since Saudi-living I’ve been lucky enough to taste some pretty nice wines myself.   Wine-drinking in Saudi? – well let me just say it goes on, but special it ain’t.  I arrived at the course with more enthusiasm than expertise and a few random bits of knowledge thrown together and a few lucky blind tasting results.  No previous knowledge is necessary to join the course.


Picture by Andreas Levers

Over the next 10 weeks we went through the major wine producing countries and regions, grape varieties, methods plus a bit about spirits.  It seemed to knit the little bits and pieces together; every session was really worthwhile and very enjoyable due to the practical tasting.  The WSET systematic approach to wine tasting is a little formulaic but it gave me a reference point for descriptions and assessments of wine.  It means that you can link your previous experience of a certain wine with the one you are tasting now and put it in context.   The course is called ‘Looking Behind the Label‘ and arms you with some great information when choosing wines.  For instance I was looking at Spanish wines in a shop the other day and knew that the terms Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva referred to the amount of time they had spent being aged in oak (which obviously has an effect on the taste and price).

This new-found knowledge (and it’s right at the first rung of the wine information ladder) is not something to use to wax on and on about expensive and rare vintages – *friends now sigh with relief*. It’s more about finding wines you like.

I wish I had done this years ago so I’ve signed up again for September.  Wish me luck with Level 3 Advanced Certificate ‘Exploring the world of wines and spirits’.

I can’t claim any credit for the beautiful images above (click on them to see the clever people that did).

A couple of other wine-related links if you live in the UAE :

The Tasting Class – a range of exciting events around wine plus you can now do your WSET levels 1 and 2 with them. Hooray!

Grapevine (MMI) – special offers, tastings, events for people who like wine.

Dubai Wine Club – informal meet-up group with monthly blind tastings.

Any tips for studying? Any wine experiences you’d like to share? (For non-drinkers, we’re back to food next time).

34/365: Sunset Wine

Picture by Matthew Rogers

  1. June 9, 2011 7:14 am

    Congratulations, wow!

  2. Tricia Evans permalink
    June 9, 2011 8:41 am

    Well done Sally – what a lovely way to combine work & pleasure! Tricia

    • June 9, 2011 9:05 am

      Thanks Tricia – actually it was all pleasure…enjoyed every minute.

  3. June 9, 2011 8:46 am

    Oh my god Sally I am so happy for you – congratulations, well deserved! Reading this post, I really want to take the course too, wine for thought I guess.

    • June 9, 2011 9:06 am

      It’s not a difficult course but it’s given me a level of confidence – I wish I’d done it years ago. You should sign up!

  4. June 9, 2011 8:55 am

    that fantastic Sally, but as I would expect of you!! I can’t be asking you to open the Friexnet in future then?!well done you xxx

    • June 9, 2011 9:04 am

      Now you know why I was so skilled at removing the those corks (nothing to do with years of practise!)

  5. June 9, 2011 9:39 am

    Love those pictures – all yours?

    • June 9, 2011 10:07 am

      I wish! No – click on them to see some very talented people’s work (with the generosity to have a creative commons permission).

  6. June 9, 2011 9:46 am

    Congratulations Sally! I love the visual of you cycling to and from the class. Made me giggle 🙂

    • June 9, 2011 10:07 am

      I had lots of comments about being tipsy in charge of a bike – heaven forbid!

  7. Anna permalink
    June 9, 2011 10:20 am

    I like the bike riding too! Looking forward to revisiting that lovely wine bar in Montpellier, Cheltenham, and making good use of your expertise!

    • June 9, 2011 11:00 am

      Had forgotten about that lovely place.

  8. June 9, 2011 10:34 am

    Well done! That’s the kind of schooling I would happily return to! ha! And…what a great collection of wine-related shots!

  9. June 9, 2011 11:14 am

    How cool!

  10. June 9, 2011 11:17 am

    What wonderful and exciting news – Congratulations Sally!
    What incredible photographs!
    🙂 Mandy

  11. June 9, 2011 12:08 pm

    well done! My wine appreciation is DRINK IT or WON’T DRINK IT 🙂

  12. June 9, 2011 12:51 pm

    Congratulations Sally!! Now I’m tempted to take a course as well at the Emirates Academy…would love to study something on food, anything really…

    And these photographs are phenomenal. Are all these photographers fellow students in your class?

  13. June 9, 2011 4:32 pm

    Wow, this sounds like fun. I love taking courses just for the heck of it, no pressure but leaves you with a great sense of achievement. Sommelier level next?! Well done for getting a distinction too!!

  14. June 9, 2011 6:32 pm

    Congratulations……..I believe every food lover should understand wine. Except you’re me………no aptitude yet! Good on you and congratulations again1

    • June 10, 2011 2:33 pm

      I’m taking a lot of inspiration from your blog Oz so really appreciate your nice comment.

  15. June 10, 2011 1:25 am

    Really cool!
    I write for a bulgarian food and wine magazine and sometimes they ask me to take an interview with the wine makers from the wine cellars near by. It’s interesting but a kind of exhausting for me as there is a lot of tasting work, although I don’t swallow the wine, at the end I feel totally tipsy. So I don’t know how you’ve managed to cycle after the course 🙂

    • June 10, 2011 2:32 pm

      I’ll come and drink it for you next time Silvia! Seriously, I love interviewing winemakers, which I’ve had the opportunity to do a bit for work-realated projects. They are very in touch with the land and how it affects tastes and other senses.

  16. Karen permalink
    June 10, 2011 10:29 am

    Congratulations Sally, it is so great that these courses are run in UAE! Hope you enjoy the next one too! xx

    • June 10, 2011 2:33 pm

      Ah yes – I shouldn’t think they have them in Kuwait Karen!

  17. June 10, 2011 4:19 pm

    Congratulations! And what stunning photographs. I’d really like to learn more about wine someday.

  18. June 11, 2011 9:17 am

    Oh wow, Sally, I’m so impressed!! I know how hard the WSET exams are – well done you! Master of Wine next, girlfriend… 🙂

  19. June 11, 2011 9:23 am

    Thanks for visiting my blog and congratulations on passing your course! It sounds really interesting, and it must be nice to know about wines in more depth.

  20. June 13, 2011 3:56 pm

    Well done you!! I have been meaning to enrol in that WSET course for the longest time – did the basic level (or its equivalent) through the Cape Wine Academy in SA years ago and have always meant to continue… Sounds like you had a ball and congratulations on your excellent mark!

  21. June 17, 2011 11:02 am

    Clapping hands. Big smiles.


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