You can see what Schuster means. Hundreds of wine courses and clubs that used to run each week all over the country – not to mention large-scale events with audiences running in the hundreds or thousands such as Tesco’s Wine Fairs or Decanter magazine’s Fine Wine Encounters – have not been in session for the best part of a year. With all that spitting and slurping, they’re the definition of a super-spreader event.
But the appetite for learning about wine hasn’t gone away. In many ways lockdown – which if nothing else is certainly generous with its time – is highly conducive to a bit of auto-didacticism, whether it involves sourdough, crochet or the finer points of burgundy.
There are some first-class materials around for those who want to do a DIY wine-tasting course. Schuster’s book, Essential Winetasting is clear, unfussy, and filled with good advice and the author’s mix of dry humour, elegant phrasing and deep knowledge. Pair it with the most rewarding reference book – Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson’s World Atlas of Wine – and a range of wines Schuster’s book suggests for 10 practical at-home tastings and you’d be well on your way to connoisseurship.
If you’re looking for at least a semblance of human contact with your learning, a number of the country’s smarter wine merchants have adapted to the video-conferenced reality of 2021 with at-home tastings with winemakers and experts that mimic the experience of the real thing. Among those I’ve attended or heard good things about are events by Justerini & Brooks, Honest Grapes and Hedonism. But the standout in this field is probably Berry Bros & Rudd, which in normal times operates a respected wine school in its 17th-century cellars under St James’s Street (and which a couple of years ago published a couple a rival for best no-nonsense introductory wine-tasting guide book, Exploring & Tasting Wine). This week alone has Berrys events on Burgundy, Italy, and wine and cheese, with prices ranging from £215 to £365, which includes delivery of six to eight bottles.
In wine, the certificates and diplomas offered by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust are the international industry standard, and, like every other educational institution in the world right now, the trust is firmly set up for online, with some seriously learned tutors. Many of us have contemplated, either idly or of necessity, changing our jobs in the past year. The WSET is where to go if, when all this is over, you like the idea of making your hobby your new career.
Educate your palate with these six wines
Cave de Lugny Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs Burgundy, France NV (Waitrose, £11.50)
A dry white wine made from chardonnay in southern Burgundy such as Cave de Lugny Mâcon Villages 2018 (£11.50, Waitrose) is all fresh melon and pear. But when the same producer uses the same grapes to make a sparkling, all kinds of yeasty patisserie flavours emerge.
Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, New Zealand 2020 (£9.50, Asda, Tesco)
Villa Maria make a benchmark example of the joyously vivacious, passion fruit and elderflower-scented Marlborough take on sauvignon. Compare and contrast with a leaner greener Loire sauvignon such as Morrisons The Best Pouilly-Fumé 2019 (£12, Morrisons).
Domaine Les Yeuses Les Epices Syrah IGP Pays d’Oc, France (£11.99, or £9.99 as part of a mixed case of six, majestic.co.uk)
Domaine Les Yeuses makes a brilliant example of the supple, succulent, berries-and-pepper style of red wine made from syrah in southern France – an intriguing contrast with a typically richer, lusher Australian take on the same grape, Willy Willy Shiraz 2019 (£10.99, laithwaites.co.uk).
Cave de Turckheim Gewurztraminer Alsace 2019 (£10.99, Waitrose)
Learning about wine is mostly a question of pinning down and remembering the flavours and textures of a given style. A great place to get used to doing that is the gewürztraminer grape variety, with its immediately distinctive and memorable Turkish delight aromas.
CVNE Imperial Reserva Rioja, Spain 2016 (£19.75, The Co-op)
To see how wine changes over time in barrel and bottle, line up three increasingly mellow red wines of different ages from top rioja producer CVNE, from the youngest (Crianza 2017; £9, Sainsbury’s) to the oldest Imperial Gran Reserva 2011 (£50, noblegreenwines.co.uk)
Tesco Finest Late Bottled Vintage Port Douro, Portugal 2015 (£11, Tesco)
For a study in the effects of sugar and fortification with grape spirit, try a glass apiece of the Symington Family’s rich, sweet, super-svelte (fortified) LBV Port, and their Altano 2018 (£10.95, bcfw.co.uk) table wine, made from the same grape varieties in the same region.