For many of us, the words ‘back to school’ evoke memories of oversized uniforms you’re told you’ll grow into or smelly gym kits with your name sewn into them. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
I should know – I started back at school this week.
My return to the world of learning was very civilised. There were no dusty chalkboards and paraffin heaters in prefab huts. No, my class took place in Brighton’s stylish Hotel du Vin.
I’ve signed up for another wine course. Last year, I took the Wine and Spirit Education Trust’s Level 3 course – I’ve heard it described as a kind of A Level in wine – and passed with merit.
This year, I’m taking a 9-week course to become a French Wine Scholar. Run by the Sussex Wine School, the programme has been developed by the Wine Scholar Guild in conjunction with France’s Ministry of Agriculture.
At the end, I’ll get letters after my name. (Assuming I pass, of course.)
What’s more, my employer has contributed £250 to the £600 cost of the course. Not because it’s relevant to my role but just because I passed my 5-year anniversary at work this month. Nice, eh?
The first class, on Monday evening, went well. After introductions, we learned about the wines of Alsace. I have to be honest, this is possibly my least favourite wine region of France – well, after Jura and its vins jaunes, that is.
We covered the four noble grapes of the region – Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Riesling – plus the three other primary grapes of Alsace: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Sylvaner.
We also looked at regional blends, namely Gentil and Edelzwicker, and the region’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée and its 51 Grands Crus wines.
“By the time we had worked our way up to a decidedly aromatic Gewurztraminer, I was struggling to hide my lack of enthusiasm”
Some 80% of the region’s wine is labelled according to the grape, rather than the place – more in the German style than the French. Arguably, that is because the region has switched between the French and the Germans over the years.
My classmates got very excited when it came to the tasting part of the proceedings. It all began OK with a blend and then a Riesling, but by the time we had worked our way up to a decidedly aromatic Gewurztraminer, I was struggling to hide my lack of enthusiasm.
My face always gives me away, I am told.
Never mind – our next class will be all about Champagne. Then we’ll cover Burgundy, Beaujolais, the Loire, Bordeaux, Languedoc, Roussillon, Provence, Corsica and, finally, the Rhône. Happy days!