IMG_0569IMG_0568Those Italian Wines Advanced Nov 2009Phew! We’ve done it!! And I very much do mean “we” in this instance – our first WSET® Advanced Certificate in Wines & Spirits, with me as Tutor for the 5 Day course, and hubby Nigel, embarking onthe course as a Student. Well, its over now – the last run to the bottle bank under the cover of darkness, (with over 100 bottles opened over the 5 days, not even FWW can pretend this is normal
household consumption as we tip the glass into the recycling bin!).

Our morning ritual is no longer driven by the need to revise furiously (Nigel) nor to put the finishing touches to a lesson plan or double check a Wine fact (Helen) in the magnificent Hugh Johnson “Wine Atlas” or to confirm the ampelography and parentage or synonym of a particular grape variety with Jancis Robinson’s excellent “Vine’s Grapes and Wines”. Nor indeed, is the kitchen a buzz with late night cooking madness that is us setting out to provide a first class lunch for all the students each day as a welcome respite from the intense vinous absorption of knowledge and wine itself. I have to say, though, that the FWW lunches during a Wine Course have become almost legendary as I try and match a menu to the wines we are likely to have opened during that mornings Sessions.

During the Advanced course we dined on a Seafood Lasagne with various dregs of Chablis and Chassagne Montrachet; a classic Coq au Vin with a passable Nuits St Georges and my Sweet and Sour Pork met its match with a selection of Rieslings from Germany, Alsace and Australia. The last day (yup, the “big Exam in the afternoon” day) of the course gave me the dilemma of the last two course work sessions being Fortified (Sherries and Ports etc) and Spirits. Not ideal as a match for Lunch! However, we’d skipped tasting the two Greek wines in a previous session as the WSET had reviewed and revised some of the Wine regions before this new academic year and Greece, alas, had fallen from grace and was no longer part of the mandatory tastings. I had, however, already purchased said wines as the course had originally been planned for earlier this year in June – you have to be one step ahead with sourcing some of the wines for these courses…have you tried picking up Greek wines here in France?? So, a flash of inspiration and the final days “brain food” consisted of a Meze of the usual Taramasolata, Hummous, stuffed Vine Leaves and a particularly garlicky home-made Tzsatziki. Then I griddled some Oregano Marinated Lamb with Olive Oil for a sort of Souvlaki, served with a big, fresh and juicy Greek Salad of Feta, Tomato and Cucumber. The Greek white, a Vilana from the Peloponnese was a bit underwhelming but the Xynomavro from Naoussa hit the spot superbly. I think, having checked the candidate’s Answer Sheets and assessed the Practical Blind Tasting element of the exam, that “a little of taste of Corfu” at lunchtime prepared the students admirably for their arduous 2 hour long exam. The papers themselves were couriered back to London for final marking, so we shall just have to wait with baited breath for the results!

One final “share” with you all: the intriguing results of a little Champagne tasting we did on the penultimate day! You are probably aware by now, that we are the sole representatives of Vilmart champagnes here on the Côte d’Azur and so convinced are of their sheer quality and “wow” factor that we wanted to “blind taste” them head to head with market leaders in their particular category. As we had a room full of Wine Professionals and Yacht Crew, all candidates for the course and as we had to crack open Champagnes anyway as part of the syllabus, we pitted our Vilmart Grand Cellier Brut NV (35€) against the standard Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut NV (also approx RRP of 35€). Only one vote went to the Veuve whereas the Vilmart (or at this stage it was simply Wine B) was otherwise unanimously praised for the finesse of its mousse, the creaminess of its texture and the full on elegance of the liquid in the glass. The second duo was our top of the range premium Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée 2000 (74€) versus the mighty Dom Perignon 2000 (approx 120€) – one would think that the extra Fifty smackers would have leapt out and throttled you in terms of obvious quality and class, but alas, it was a tricky call between the two of them. This time it was Vilmart’s (Wine A this time) energy and freshness which captivated the tasters against a rather vegetal and subdued DP – a bit of a triumph for our “just different” Vilmart wines. Do check out the Vilmart page on the website to get the full story (and place your orders for Christmas, of course!!)

Helen Brotherton