Mid-morning on a Saturday in January I found myself sitting at a table with six empty wine glasses in front of me. Clearly Dry January wasn't happening this year. But before anyone I know stages an intervention, I wasn't actually drinking anything. Tasting, yes. Drinking, no.
The morning wine tasting was part of a one day course, split over two Saturdays, to get the WSET Level 1 Award in Wine. The Wine and Spirits Education Trust is the world’s largest provider of wine, spirits and sake courses and their headquarters happen to be on Bermondsey Street.
Level 1, as you'd imagine, is the beginner's level. The course covers how wine is made, how to taste it, how to put a basic wine list together and how to match food and wine. The WSET pitches it as "a great starting point for the novice wine enthusiast, or those starting a career in wine or hospitality." My fellow students were a mixture of nationalities, some clearly sent there by their bosses to kickstart their wine education. Others were just there to be more confident about their wine choices.
Over the course of two days we learned loads about wine with lessons split into technical and practical. So one minute you're peeling grapes and eating just the skin, to experience how tannin affects the tastebuds. The next you're being taught all about the principal grape varieties and how you might recognise them in a blind tasting.
Of course, the stuff we were all looking forward to were the tastings. You'd hardly credit it, but the school doesn't have a license, so you really are supposed to spit everything back into a spitoon (full disclosure - this didn't always happen). On Day 1 we tried two very basis supermarket wines and one rather nice Cabernet Sauvignon from Berkmann Wine Cellars - looking at colour, clarity, smell and taste. Inspired - and actually gasping for a glass of wine when the class finished, I ended up round the corner at the bar at Londrino, attempting to put my new found knowledge into practice.
Day 2 passed in a bit of a blur. There's a lot to get through before you sit the formal exam, and it did feel a little rushed in places. I particularly enjoyed the tasting this time - when we got to experiment with the effects of food on six very different wines - using everything from monosodium glutamate and sugared wafers to Parmesan and smoked salmon. But the thought of spitting every bit of some of the wines - particularly a gorgeous Sauternes from Liberty Wines - into the spitoon was beyond me and most of the class, I'm afraid to say.
After a brief lunch it was time for the exam and it's done under rigorous conditions. Bags and phones are taken away and you have 45 minutes to complete a multiple choice test comprising of 30 questions. This week I got my results - 93% (the pass rate is 70%). I'm actually pretty chuffed and am now seriously considering Level 2, which involved a tutored tasting of 48 wines and lightly touches on spirits too.
More about WSET
Where is it? 39-45 Bermondsey St, London SE1 3XF
How much is it? There are three ways to get your WSET Level 1 - on three evenings, all in one weekday or across two Saturdays and the course price ranges from £169 - £179.
Find out more: For more information go to wsetglobal.com