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Nothing to be afraid of…

© Cape Times Friday 4th May 2012
I think it is fair to say that, by and large, people don’t understand wine. If you’re reading this and thinking ‘Huh? What’s she on about? I know lots about wine’ then I venture to suggest you’re in the minority, with most people buying a wine for one of three reasons – a) it’s a familiar name, b) it’s cheap or c) the label looks pretty. Not that those are necessarily bad reasons for choosing a wine (I’ve certainly done all three myself in my time), but it does rather limit your choices if those are the only wines you ever try.

So why don’t people try something different? I think it’s a lot to do with this crazy, elitist culture which has grown up around wine and which (I am sorry to say) is constantly being propagated by wine writers and critics – mea culpa. Why do we make such a big deal out of choosing, buying and enjoying a drink? At the end of the day, it’s an agricultural product – something we grow which we turn into something we drink – not much more complicated than bread. But you don’t see people in bakeries nervously agonising over whether a ciabatta or foccacia will make the perfect cheese roll for lunch. The last time I looked, nobody was dithering in the supermarket aisles over wholewheat, wholegrain or rye, before shamefacedly sneaking a small toasting loaf into their basket. And you certainly don’t see people being patronised by waiters for selecting the soft white roll from the bread basket as opposed to a slice of health bread. But when it comes to choosing a wine, deciding if it tastes good or matching it to whatever is planned for supper, it seems as if all confidence vanishes and people become incapable of rational thought.

This lack of confidence stems from the fact that the best time to learn new things is as a small child, not when we are about to start work or university. By the time we are all legally allowed to actually try alcohol, most people have difficulty learning something new from absolute scratch. Rather than confess our ignorance – as we are more prepared to do as small children – we mask it with bluff, bluster, overheard snippets in the queue at the off-licence and continue to drink boring old faithful favourites, without having any clear idea why. Whereas if people only felt confident enough to ask questions and find out more, there is a huge world of exciting and interesting wine-drinking awaiting them.

A great way to get confidence is to sign up for a wine course and actually ask all the questions you’ve always wanted to ask about wine, but never dared to. I’ve been teaching people about wine for nearly ten years now and I still love seeing realisation dawn on the face of someone, previously convinced that wine was only for snobs, when they actually taste the lemons and limes in a Sauvignon Blanc for the very first time. I’m 100% certain that anyone with a tongue can taste wine, it just takes a little thought, a little encouragement and a whole lot of confidence – all of which are dealt out by the bucketload on my courses. And hardly anyone spits. Which always adds to the fun.

If you want to look a bit further afield – especially if you’re considering working in hospitality or wine overseas – then the UK-based Wine & Spirit Education Trust Courses (WSET) may be of more interest. Recognised and taught in more than 55 countries around the world, they concentrate on giving a thorough grounding in international wine styles, with the majority of the wines tasted coming from overseas, so if (in the words of Blur) you want to know ‘your Claret from your Beaujolais’, then these are the courses for you. And finally, the Cape Wine Academy also offers a range of wine courses from a one-day introductory, to a two year Diploma. With winter just round the corner, don’t get stuck indoors every evening, shivering in front of the fire. Pluck up your confidence, pick up your spittoon and get tasting some new wines – you’ll be glad you did!

For more information on the Cape Wine Academy courses, go to

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