Wine-tasting: Getting started

Getting started

If you’re keen to make things official, head for the WSET London Wine & Spirit School (020-7089 3800; Many of the country’s top sommeliers trained there, but enthusiasts are more than welcome. Start with the one-day foundation course (£145)-you can follow it with the three-day intermediate course (£385), an advanced course (£665) and diplomas. Classes are held across the country and online distance learning is available.

The Devon Wine School (01398 331192; run by Master of Wine Alastair Peebles and his wife, Carol, offers a variety of courses held at Darts Farm, Topsham, near Exeter, where you can work towards WSET qualifications. The one-day introduction to wine costs £155, including a buffet lunch.

Scotland’s leading wine writer Rose Murray Brown (01334 870731; runs three- or four-part courses in Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews throughout the year. Her sessions are famously relaxed, but not lightweight-expect Powerpoint presentations and folders full of notes. ‘Enjoying Wine’ is aimed at complete beginners, and a series of masterclasses caters for those with some tasting experience.

Cambridge Wine Merchants (01223 568989; runs a WSET-approved programme of courses from its home town and in Oxford, priced at £135 upwards. The cheerful, knowledgeable tutors will even come to you.

Finally, if time is of the essence, make your way to Berry Bros & Rudd’s 300-year-old cellars beneath St James’s Street for the comprehensive One-Day Introductory Wine School, which costs £249, including a four-course lunch (0800 280 2440;

Give it a try

If you’re serious, you’ll need to taste as many good wines as possible. South Kensington institution The Sampler (020-7225 5091;, which also has an Islington branch, allows budding oenophiles to do precisely this without taking out a second mortgage. Ten enomatic vending machines dispense measures of everything from quaffing reds to Château Pétrus. Stray corks are pounced on by Ivy, the resident border collie. In Mayfair, newcomer Hedonism Wines (020-7989 0085; has a similar set-up and can be booked for private tastings.

Vinum grape-variety-specific glasses, £45 for two, Riedel (0844 800 1143;

Duck-head corkscrew, £700, Asprey (020-7493 6767;

Ships decanter, £50, LSA (

Ercuis Oxygenateur wine funnel, £99.83, Artedona (00 498 945 692 066;

Wine Notes book in red calf leather, £175, Smythson (0845 873 2435;

Make a weekend of it

The English Wine Centre, Berwick, East Sussex

The place to brush up on native vintages. More than 100 English wines are stocked in the shop, and tastings run on the first Saturday of every month-they cost £41.25 per person, including lunch. Explore nearby vineyards and, after dinner in the restaurant (the menu features wines by the glass that you can try before you order), repair to the Green Oak Barn. Rooms from £135 per person, per night, including breakfast. (01323 870164;

Camel Valley, Nanstallon, Cornwall

Three-times International Wine Challenge trophy-winner Camel Valley is at the forefront of the English wine renaissance. Anglers can make for the River Camel and birdwatchers will be in heaven beside the lake. Book onto the Grand Tour and Tasting, which begins with an introduction to the ins and outs of the vineyard year and a question-and-answer session with one of the winemakers. Accommodation comes in the form of two barn conversions. Self-catering from £400 a week.
(01208 77959;

Tips from the expert

* William Birtles, cellar manager of Jeroboams in London’s Knightsbridge (020-7589 2020; gives pointers
* Don’t aim too high-you can end up tasting wines your palate isn’t yet developed enough to deal with. The first time I tried a 2003 Sassicaia, one of Tuscany’s leading wines, I guessed that it was a £7 Côtes du Rhône
* Be expressive. When you’re tasting, write down anything that comes to mind, even if it sounds ridiculous. People are always laughing at the terms I use-cigar box, leather, all that kind of thing
* Use a proper tasting glass. It doesn’t need to be expensive, but going for something with a large bowl will make a big difference. It’s very important to taste your wines at the right temperature, too-overchilled whites and warm reds will be very muted and flat

Read all about it

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2014 Hugh Johnson (Mitchell Beazley, £11.99)

Essential Winetasting Michael Schuster (Mitchell Beazley, £16.99)

The Wine Pocket Bible Andrew Smith and Jenny Dodd (Pocket Bibles, £9.99)

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