Chris and I taught a Level 1 WSET award in wine on Saturday – to five lovely people who were there to dispel their imagined fears of the intricacies of wine. We had Jason and Katelyn who were both teachers in Charlottesville, Holly who works at Veritas as one of our pourers in the tasting room – as does Jason by the way, Karli whose husband had bought the course for a Valentine’s present who just wanted to know about wine and Elliot a forth year Law School student at UVA waiting to graduate before moving up to New York – he wanted to learn because he had some spare time as he had spent the last four years learning about the intricacies of law he might as well learn about something he was actually interested in!

You may think that teaching Level 1 to naïve beginners would be a piece of cake but as many of my colleagues have told me it is a lot more challenging than you would think. Take for example the following statement from the WSET PowerPoint presentation in talking about wine and food pairing:

So Elliot who by the way is going into Patent Law asks the question  -“Well if sweetness makes a wine taste more drying and bitter how can it at the same time make the wine more acidic because acidity makes the saliva flow- Right? We assured him he was pursuing the right career track.

It is very satisfying to be able to actually demonstrate to a class in real time and with real wine one of the most basic tenets of wine, namely the importance of balance.

We had opened two examples of a “full-bodied red wine” namely a Shot Fire Ridge 2011 Syrah or Shiraz as they say in Oz and a 2007 Mondavi Napa Cab. It was a great pairing because the Shiraz first off was a little “bricky” in color. Jason commented the wine smells like “chalk” that we were able to tell him that, in Winespeak – we call that “dusty tannins.” When we tasted the wine it was all out of balance everyone experienced the alcohol burn of the 14.5% abv, the tannins were harsh and the fruit was muted. Against the Syrah, the Cab – 2007 vintage was deep ruby with an almost purplish hue. The aroma was primarily of black fruit with nuances of herb and oak.

The wine was perfectly balanced there was absolutely no alcohol burn despite the fact that the alcohol was actually higher at 15.5% abv compared to 14.5% abv in the Shiraz.

So if you think teaching is for those who can’t, forget it; because teaching is for those who can and more importantly those who continually seek to improve. From personal experience, there is no better way to improve your own understanding of wine than by successfully teaching to a group of innocent and willing believers.