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Learning about wine has too often been a very stuffy pursuit. So many wine courses require you to sit in classrooms, and memorise textbooks. These sorts of wine courses originate from teaching the trade and are well suited. But for consumers, we think there's a better way.
At Wine List, our focus is on learning about wine at home. Our 12-month wine course features classes that guide you through your wine adventure. Starting off, you learn how to smell and taste. Then every month after, you learn the key principles of learning about wine.
We teach you about classic wine grape varieties, but not straight away. We believe that learning principles is most important. And we've worked in conjunction with a wine expert and Master of Wine student to make sure you’re guided correctly.
Wine is beautiful in its simplicity. At its most basic, wine is simply fermented grape juice. If you've ever considered how a plant grows, you will understand the majority of how wine is made.
And yet, the world of wine is made out to be indescribably complex: encyclopedia of wine in every book shop; bottles can can be from the same region and yet taste nothing alike; and then there's the language. Tasting notes seem to get more and more grandiose every year.
We believe that fundamental principles are the most important thing you can learn. There's a handful of steps in making wine – and each one of these impacts what a wine will taste like. By learning these principles, you will learn what wine should taste like without memorising vintage charts.
That's why we call our wine course Wine Roots. These are the root principles of wine. The fundamentals. The core. The roots.
Each Wine Roots gives you an explanation of why the principle is important, and then practical ways to see how it impacts the wine. You can apply the principles of each lesson to all wine.
Most western societies never teach you to taste or smell. These senses have been downplayed for thousands of years. As a result we often confuse the two – and we rarely practice improving either. The average person can only – when blind-smelling – name around 20 aromas. The average wine taster will be able to do so with 80-100. And yet smell is something that can be improved.
Wine Roots 1 reminds us how smell and taste work, and how to apply those things to wine. Wine Roots 1 is a wine class in how to examine, smell and taste wine, and then form judgements on it.
Our online course will go into greater depth to help you understand how smell works principally.
This isn't just a trendy type of wine. Contact with grape skins is one of the biggest differentiators in what your wine will taste like. Why? Skins dictate the colour of your wine. Rose, orange, red, and white – all are driven by the use of skin contact.
Skins are wonderful things. They contain tannins, colour, and flavour. The use of them is a choice which winemakers employ to dictate the profile of their wines. The second chapter of our wine course reveals the impact this eventually has on the wine.
Grape juice requires a vessel to ferment in. The big two are 'oak' and 'stainless steel' but increasingly you might see amphora and concrete as well. Like with skin contact, the vessels are a choice the winemaker has.
WR3 examines how each vessel type affects what's in your glass with clues to look for when tasting wine.
Yeast is the magical ingredient that turns grape juice into alcohol. There are a lot of natural yeasts which will start fermentation, but due to the unreliability of grape growing, commercial yeasts can be used too.
The way a winemaker chooses to use commercial or native yeasts will affect the wine's flavour, style and body. This part of our wine course explores the impact these different yeasts have.
The vineyard is one of the first places a winemaker or grape-grower can make decisions about the wine.
How you grow those grapes will have a huge impact. Choosing to use chemical pesticides will have an impact. Likewise, letting a vineyard grow naturally will impact the wine too.
As the world becomes more environmentally conscious, WR5 will help you understand what those differences look like in the vineyard.
Before we plant a vine, we have to consider where to plant it. The climate of a place will have one of the most significant impacts on grape growth.
Imagine any fruit. Sunshine and heat will help that fruit grow but only up to an extent. Different climates require different grapes. WR6 explores the natural impact climate has on wine.
Terroir is one of those mysterious French wine words. But at its heart it talks about the area a grape grows. There are a lot of romantic connotations to the types of soil grapes are grown on, while the science is slightly less so.
WR7 explores the impact of a grape's soil, local environment and the effect it has on how your wine tastes. This wine course examines this at greater depth online.
Now you've picked your perfect terroir, in the perfect climate, and decided how to farm your land, easy right? Sadly not. Weather changes every day, and progressively changes every year.
You can have a perfect growing season until August, and then a storm wipes out your entire vineyard. WR8 examines what weather means for grapes and helps you understand vintages.
Odd that this comes so late? We don't think so. The place you grow wine and the approach to how you grow it will have as much impact as the grape themselves.
WR9 looks into the classic grape varieties, what to expect from them, and how they change around the world.
Historically, region was how we learnt about wine. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja, Tuscany. These are regions with selections of grape choice and definitive styles.
In our wine course, WR10 explores these classics so we have a base point for understanding regional styles. We then encourage you to find the outliers and understand why they're there.
Not all wines are made equally. And not all old wine is good wine (trust us, we've tasted some appalling 20 year old stuff!). Only certain wines are meant for ageing.
WR11 examines what is required for a wine to age well and how those styles change over time
Our final chapter of our first wine course. Style looks at the broad category of styles of wine. There's not just white and red. But aromatic, crisp, textured, fruity, full-bodied, tannin, phenolic, sea-influenced, green and vegetable – the list is endless.
We explore a top-level overview of wine styles for you to work out where your natural preferences lie and where you may want to dig a bit deeper.
Taste is one part of understanding the flavour of something, but it is not the only thing. Taste requires smell to be complete.
What does a pan of mushrooms, garlic, and parsley taste like fried in butter? You could highlight the earthiness from the mushrooms, that pungent spice from the garlic, the fatty butter or the herbal fragrance. In fact, those are smells. What that dish will taste like is a combination of umami, salty, sour, sweet, savoury, and - perhaps, depending on where the science goes – a few other things. It is the combination of taste and smell that create the wonderful perception of that dish.
Humans aren't taught to taste and smell. Those two senses are often lumped together. And while we have a vast vocabulary for different colours, we have very few ways of describing how something smells.
The first step in learning about wine is really focusing on what smell and taste mean. It's a mindful practice and one you can improve very quickly.
Most humans can only blind-smell and name 20 aromas, the average wine taster can detect and name between 80 and 100. The world experts can detect over 1,000.
While there are so-called super-tasters out there, and certain people more disposed to detecting aromas, we can all improve our sense of smell quite easily and quickly. The first step is taking part in mindful smelling.
While our core product is the physical home course. We also recognise that online works as a fantastic supplementary offering. We're currently working on our online learning platform which will launch later this year.
As part of that expect the following. An online wine course that features video content to help you learn. These will supplement each of your Wine Roots, as well as provide visual tasting notes for each month's wines.
We also believe that learning about wine works better with others. For some of you, that may mean a partner who shares the interest. But for others, access to a wider group of people is harder to find. Our forthcoming digital community will give you access to other people on their learning journeys.
By the end of the year, you should be able to look at a restaurant wine list, or the shelves of your local merchant, and understand roughly what the wines should taste of. What you will learn is that every producer, every plot of land, and every year's weather will impact things so you won't ever know for sure. But, you should be able to get a good steer for what stuff will taste like.
You will also have tasted your way through about 24 styles of wine. These will mostly be red and white, but we will also introduce you to skin contact, pink, and where possible some sparkling wines as well. With knowledge of these styles under your belt, you will have an idea for where you might want to explore further.
Tasting by yourself is great fun (we do a lot of it here at Wine List HQ). But tasting with others is also a great way to improve your learning too.
One of our earliest customers kicked off the habit of inviting friends & family over for dinner, and leading through the tastings each month. "I get to be a sommelier for the evening" she told us. If you do like the sound of this, get in touch and we can add extra tasting cards to your order.