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My Level 3 course with The Wine Centre was held at Glen Carlou wine estate in Paarl 2015. It...

Testimonial from Taryn Nortje, Sommelier at Restaurant Mosaic

My Level 3 course with The Wine Centre was held at Glen Carlou wine estate in Paarl 2015. It has been the foundation on which I have been building my knowledge of the world of wines. Passing my Level 3 propelled me into my career as a wine professional.

The WSET certificate course gave me the skill set and confidence to become a sommelier at Mosaic Restaurant one of South Africa's most reputable fine dining establishments.

I am extremely passionate about my studies and I enjoy sharing my knowledge with others. I believe that studying the wine regions of the world is like virtual traveling.

Mosaic Restaurant enrolled me as a WSET Level 4 Diploma student earlier this year. This investment in my knowledge and developing my skills as a sommelier is crucial not only to my interaction with guests and cellar management but is to the benefit of the South African wine industry as a whole.

There is an incredible support network for WSET students in South Africa, MW student and WSET APP Cathy Marston is my inspiration as I hope to teach future generations of WSET students and to one day become a Master of Wine.

Nicolò Pudel is a WSET Level 3 graduate and is currently finishing his WSET Level 4 Diploma. Nicolò shares...

Q&A with Nicolò Pudel, Port2Port Retailer

Nicolò Pudel is a WSET Level 3 graduate and is currently finishing his WSET Level 4 Diploma. Nicolò shares with us how his WSET education has helped him with running online wine site Port2Port.

How has your WSET education helped you with running your own online wine business?

The WSET courses I took, especially Diploma which I am currently busy with, has given me a lot of insight in the international trade which is most certainly helping me as we plan to expand Port2Port abroad. The tastings and workshops we are organizing on the side are also a great opportunity to be exposed to wines that we usually are not able to find.

 

Next year Port2Port celebrates its 4th anniversary, what challenges have you faced during the past years and what are some milestone successes?

Port2Port was founded with the vision to build and establish South Africa’s (and beyond) biggest fine wine marketplace, connecting premium wineries, importers and retailers to a rapidly growing audience of discerning wine buyers.

Our mission has always been to consistently offer the most cutting edge digital platform, world-class service, the biggest selection at the best possible price, all presented through the eyes of the producers, the passionate writers and the critics, utilising our enticing wine stories as our main vehicle. My team and I soon discovered that we had been blessed with a very enthusiastic and loyal following. The interest and demand have been - frankly - beyond our expectation and the numbers speak for themselves. Today we are one of the fastest growing e-commerce platforms in the country. Wine-Searcher has awarded us with the Best Wine Catalogue in South Africa and Price Check nominated us in 5 categories at the 2018 E-Commerce Awards, including Best E-Commerce Service. Our revenue is growing at three digits yearly, we sell over 1600 wines from 12 countries, represent 500 brands and 10 specialised retailers to an audience of 200 000 wine lovers.

 

What advice would you give those interested in opening their own wine business?

Research and planning is important, spend a good amount of time on that before you are ready to release a minimum viable product. Don’t waste time on perfecting your concept, you will do that anyway as you go and get feedback from your audience and customers. Most importantly, plan your financials correctly, you don’t want your dream not to come true only because you run out of money. Flexibility is paramount, you need to be able to identify the opportunities along the way and be able to adjust your strategy. Avoid massive overheads, employ remote workers, save on fixed costs where you can. Invest in the team and in your company culture which ultimately reflects on your service.

 

Your site currently lists wines from 12 countries, are there any countries not listed that you’d like to represent?

We would love to represent every single wine that is out there and that meets our quality requirements. The goal for our marketplace to breach the 10 000 products mark within the next 3 years. We will achieve that by opening our European business and adding marketplace seller there.

 

What are the most popular searches on the site for?

The top of the list are brands, among them Kanonkop, Meerlust, Hamilton Russell, Sadie. Then, wine specific queries include Brunello di Montalcino, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc.

 

What has been your most memorable wine moment?

I have a TOP  3. My first Sassicaia with my wife in Bolgheri, a bottle of Harlan Estate with my wife and dear friend Francois in Napa and probably the first bottle of a wine we recently had where we are looking at getting involved directly in terms of ownership and management. But this is still a secret.

 

With a career that started with a Masters in Marketing from Toulouse Business School, Cyril Meidinger, a WSET Level...

Q&A with Cyril Meidinger, Robinson & Sinclair Wine Sales Executive

With a career that started with a Masters in Marketing from Toulouse Business School, Cyril Meidinger, a WSET Level 4 student, tells us how he came to South Africa by accident and fell in love with the region and its wines. This then lead to him representing South Africa this year at the Blind Tasting World Championship in Beziers, Languedoc.

 

What inspired you to start a career in the wine world?

Working at a tasting room for a summer job on a Greek Island called Kefalonia opened my eyes and my palate on this amazing product which is wine. But besides the product, I discovered that people in the wine world all share the same values of enjoying good food, good company and share a common way of life.

 

You are currently enrolled for the WSET Diploma, how are you balancing your studying alongside your full-time job?

Luckily my full-time job involves learning about wine and tasting on a regular basis. On top of that, I get to travel every other month overseas and I have the chance to experience foreign wines often. However, every evening and week-ends are dedicated to sit-down studies of the WSET Diploma.

 

How does your WSET education help you in your role?

It gives me more confidence when speaking with both my suppliers (the wineries) and my clients (the importers) and increases my technical knowledge. Also, it broadens my international perspective on wines and on the international trade.

 

You work with both the African and American markets, what would you say are the key differences between consumers and their wine preferences in each market?

As taste profiles, I would say that interestingly enough, both African and American markets tend to go for similar styles, with ripe, round, low tannic wines and sometimes a touch of sweetness. The biggest difference is in their characters and the way to handle the relationships with the clients.

 

What has been your most memorable wine moment?

Hearing the South African National Anthem from the Chateau Angelus bells.

 

What are your plans for your future in wine?

Producing my own wine both in the Southern and Northern Hemisphere.

With a career centered around writing, Malu Lambert, freelance writer and WSET Level 3 graduate, tells us about discovering...

Q&A with Malu Lambert, Freelance Wine Writer / Journalist

With a career centered around writing, Malu Lambert, freelance writer and WSET Level 3 graduate, tells us about discovering wine as a waiter and how her interest in wine grew into a career.

Tell us a bit about your journey on becoming a journalist.

Since 2006 I have written features on food and wine. I was previously employed by Good Taste magazine and Eat Out. Since then I have continued to write features on food, wine and personalities in a freelance capacity, but with a regular columns: I am the wine editor for Food & Home magazine, I also write for Winemag.com, WOSA and wine.co.za

 

When did you first develop an interest in wine?

As a waiter at very fancy restaurant in London I got to taste all the wines before pouring them for the guests as we needed to check for corkage—unlike here at home, where the guest checks themselves. I wasn’t complaining.

 

How has your WSET education helped you in your career?

I’ve so enjoyed the WSET sessions with Cathy and The Wine Centre, it’s such a safe space to geek out on wine. WSET has helped me structure my tasting notes—which I now write around 12 a month! Wine can be overwhelming to figure out, and WSET has helped me think logically and systematically about tasting wine. Plus I’ve found my Level 3 qualification means both magazines and wineries trust my level of expertise to write for them.

 

What has been your most memorable wine moment?

Discovering the concept of luminosity in wine.  Wines with pure crystalline fruit; that fizzle with energy and have acidities that border on electric. Luminosity in a wine is something you can’t quite put your finger on; drinking one feels almost celestial. I recently had this experience at a tasting of the 2017 releases for Alheit Vineyards. Somehow winemaker Chris Alheit has managed to bottle the spirit of the vineyards he works with. The Huilkrans Chenin Blanc 2017 in particular stood out for me. It has an almost metaphysical energy and it sings of its place of origin, the Skurfberg: an isolated mountainous outpost, old vines, and a cliff that weeps when it rains.

 

You won the Veritas Young Wine Writers Competition in 2015, do you think competitions such as these are beneficial for wine professionals’ career progression?

Yes absolutely, it’s the same as a wine getting a gold badge—it doesn’t make the wine inside any better, but what it does is shine a spotlight on it. It’s the same for writers, you can work and work and work, and nobody really pays too much attention until the industry you work in pays you recognition. We desperately need a senior wine writing award in South Africa, any sponsors out there keen?

 

What advice would you give to aspiring wine writers / journalists?

Be willing to work for free. I know this goes against everything millennials believe in, but no one is going to take a chance on you before you prove yourself worthy and willing. I interned at Good Taste for two years while I studied, and I was rewarded with a job at the end of my studies. Even though they kept saying “we don’t have a job for you”.

With a career deeply entrenched in the South African wine industry, Carolyn Martin, co-owner and marketing director at Creation...

Q&A with Carolyn Martin, Creation Wines Co-owner and Marketing Director

With a career deeply entrenched in the South African wine industry, Carolyn Martin, co-owner and marketing director at Creation Wines, tells us about her journey in wine and how the WSET courses have helped both her and her staff.

Tell us a bit about your journey in wine.

I suppose one could say that I’m ‘to the manner born’ – quite literally – as I was born in a red Ford Anglia, at the farm gates of my grandparents’ wine estate, Hartenberg. My dad, Walter Finlayson, had to play midwife!  My earliest childhood memories are of my grandparents’ farm and more specifically, of my grandmother Eleanor. She taught me so much about wine, cooking and entertaining.

I conducted my first wine tasting at the age of five when I was unable to find Grandma to attend to visitors. I knew the guests had to be taken care of, and I reasoned that I’d heard enough to get by. Eventually we found Grandma half way through a cellar tour.

After school I went to study design at the Michaelis School of Arts at the University of Cape Town, and wrote my thesis on champagne. I then moved to London where I eventually launched my own design company, focusing on brand development of world-renowned brands such as Laurent-Perrier. During this time we pioneered canapé and wine pairings, serving petit fours from Le Gavroche with the famous botrytised wines of Tokaj, or Scottish salmon gravlax and caviar with Laurent-Perrier champagne. It was a period of much learning and travelling to different wine regions around the world.

In 1999 I married the Swiss winemaker, Jean-Claude (JC) Martin and we settled in the Winelands of Neuchâtel where JC was a director and co-owner of the famous winery of Grillette. Three years later we bought Creation on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and set out to turn what was virtually a wilderness, never planted to vines before, into what has become a successful wine estate as well as a popular wine destination.

 

You’ve put a great deal of your staff through WSET qualifications – why do you think they are important?

The qualification is globally recognised and respected, equipping the successful student with in-depth knowledge (depending on the level) of a wide range of subjects – from grape growing and winemaking through to the different styles of wine. We have seven pairing options on offer and it is important that they are presented by knowledgeable and confident ambassadors.

 

Do you think having a WSET qualification helps your staff sell more wine?

Yes. Apart from the above, I want to stress that most of our visitors want to know more about our wines and about wine in general. In our Tasting Room selling is also about educating and building trust. What I also enjoy about WSET is that it gives the staff a chance to explore wines through a structured tasting process, transferring the knowledge and terminology to accurately describe wines. Depending on the level of qualification, they are able to explore specific wines with clients and compare them in terms of type and style to others around the world.

 

Creation is widely recognised for its food and wine pairings, what’s your secret?

Growing up on Hartenberg, a working farm and vineyard, I developed a natural love for food from a young age.  This led to experimentation, using guidelines such as flavour (which includes aroma), taste (which can be broken down into salt, sweet, bitter, sour and umami), texture, colour, balance and even temperature.

While the above properties all play an important role in pairing, I also believe that there is no formula when it comes to finding the perfect match. Both experience and intuition are important and the most unexpected pairings are often the best. Instead of tried and tested combinations, use your imagination and be creative. Also remember that the environment – the mood, the atmosphere and the company – plays a critical role in our appreciation of food and wine.

 

You’re quite the seasoned traveller, how do South African wines fare against their international counterparts?

Very well, but many of the wines are still undervalued. We need to make sure that we recognise their place on the world wine stage. In South Africa, certain winegrowing areas definitely have the ideal terroir combined with know-how to create winning wines that excite the palate and tantalise the imagination.

 

What has been your most memorable wine moment?

Having to step up to the mark when I was five and do that wine tasting!

 

Do you have any advice for cultivating a career in wine?

Do this if you love wine; it is part of a great lifestyle and you meet interesting people on the way! It can open many doors, to the hospitality industry, for instance.

To be successful you need to be passionate, innovative, knowledgeable and multi-faceted. You need to be an individual as well as a team player and definitely a people’s person, as the feedback from clients plays an important role in your success. It furthermore requires good organisational skills and the discipline to enjoy without overindulging.

With a career steeped in broadcast journalism, Guy McDonald, Breakfast Host at Magic 828 AM radio and WSET Level...

Q&A with Guy McDonald, Magic 828 Breakfast Show Radio DJ

With a career steeped in broadcast journalism, Guy McDonald, Breakfast Host at Magic 828 AM radio and WSET Level 2 graduate, tells us what sparked his interest in wine and how he’s incorporated his passion into his career.

 

Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a radio DJ.

It all began with performing Puppet shows behind the washing-line for my beautiful Grandmother and sitting in a tree house talking into the end of a skipping rope that was connected to a real car battery imagining I was the main announcer at an Agricultural show. After school, I got the Weekend “afternoon drive” on Mfm in Stellenbosch. After 5 years of Community radio I got my first paying gig on a retail radio station, The Sound of Ackermans before moving to Kfm 94.5, then Good Hope FM and now I find myself at Magic 828 AM.

 

When did you first develop an interest in wine?

From a very early age, my Mom always gave me a tiny glass with dinner “so that I wouldn’t feel left out”. My interest was really piqued though in Grade 10 when I travelled the winelands with my Dad during “work experience” week and realised I had a passion for the industry as a whole.

 

As a radio DJ, how would you say your WSET wine education has helped you with your wine feature on Magic 828 and your career in general?

Personally, I learned a lot about wines of the world. I had done other wine courses previously that focused on SA wine and always felt very ignorant because I haven’t travelled to other parts of the wine world. The WSET course gave me solid insight into other markets as well as into the world of Spirits. Hosting a Whisky feature and a Wine feature now, I feel more confident in my opinions. I am hoping it will lead to greater things career-wise.

 

What has been your most memorable wine moment?

Wow… So many! Having Ken Forrester pour me wine in his dining room was special as I had always held his wines in high regard and here he was, the man himself, pouring for me!!

Lunch with Danie De Wet of De Wetshof is another highlight! He kept disappearing into the cellar and returning with something “even more special for you, this time from Portugal”.

 

If you could own a winery anywhere in the world, where would it be, which wines would you make and why?

An American friend of mine spends time with her parents in the Napa Valley and from her Instagram shots, it looks amazing!! So it would be Napa because diverse soils, climate and topography mean I could also make a rich, full-bodied Chardonnay; silky, seductive Pinot Noir and ripe, velvety Merlot. They have also been smacked by floods, an earthquake and, last October, devastating fires. So maybe property prices are cheap!?

 

What is your favourite cultivar and why?

I have an enduring love affair with Chardonnay. As much as other varietals impress and tantalize my palate, and despite the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement, when I read this question the first word to pop onto my tongue was Chardonnay. I think it’s because it can be adapted to many styles, from crisp, citrusy unoaked wine to creamy oaked wine. Being such a neutral grape, it offers a blank canvas for winemakers to paint in any style they choose. There’s a remarkable balance of richness and acidity that well-crafted Chardonnays can achieve.

© Cape Times Friday 17th June 2016 For many of us parents, the last few weeks have been particularly wine-filled...

Wine opens doors for students

© Cape Times Friday 17th June 2016

For many of us parents, the last few weeks have been particularly wine-filled as we cajole, encourage, berate and coerce our children to revise for exams. It’s been a first time for us and I have to say, we’ve felt the strain, somewhat eased by a good few swear words and a nice glass of wine at the end of the day. How much more fun it is to teach and learn about wine, when drinking a glass is counted as revision itself!

Which leads me nicely to some students who want to do just that and who are trying to raise money to allow them to do so. Elsenburg Agricultural College, along with great rivals Stellenbosch University, is the training ground for almost all winemakers working in the South African wine industry today. Chief winemaker and head lecturer, Lorraine Geldenhuys and I have worked together over the last couple of years and I know her to be a passionate and inspiring lecturer. Her biggest aim for her students is that they are work-ready when they leave the college. This means lots of practical experience and Elsenburg has made wine and brandy for the past few years under Lorraine’s guidance, with plans afoot for gin to be added to the repertoire as well.

The biggest problem the Elsenburg students have – in fact, the biggest problem most students of wine have in South Africa – is learning how wine is made in other countries, particularly in Europe which has a tradition of winemaking stretching back thousands of years as opposed to our measly 350. European wine laws are generally much stricter than South African, with regulations surrounding grape variety, planting density, pruning, yields, winemaking practices, minimum alcohol and a whole host of other rules all designed to improve quality. The challenge for South African winemakers is to understand the thinking behind these rules and to learn which ones could be usefully applied to South Africa and which are best ignored. And in order to do that best, first-hand knowledge is required.

Lorraine and her nine final year students have planned a trip in November which will take them, and her assistant winemaker Solomon Monyamane, on a technical tour of some of the major winemaking regions of Portugal and France. They are being supported on this trip by various means, including a donation from the Cape Winemakers Guild, but the majority of money should come from two charity auctions, one to be held at Beyerskloof wine farm on July 26 and the other in Johannesburg at a later date. The UK-based International Wine Challenge has donated lots of exciting international wines which have been carefully matched to equivalent, leading South African examples to create really interesting lots. In addition, there will be a series of once-in-a-lifetime lots such as skydiving, wine farm stayovers and other winery insider experiences. The auction is open to all and for more information, contact Lorraine on Lorraineg@elsenburg.com 

And on the subject of students learning about wine, congratulations to the 2016 class of the Pinotage Youth Development Academy who graduated a couple of weeks ago. This is an amazing programme taking young people though an eye-opening practical journey into the wine industry aimed at giving them skills and confidence and ultimately, jobs. On top of their industry-endorsed qualification, two-thirds of the group now also possess an internationally-recognised wine qualification from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, funded by the Cape Wine Auction. Let’s hope the Elsenburg auction achieves equally successful results for their students as well.

© Cape Times Friday 20th March 2014 How do you buy your wine? Do you load a couple of...

How do you buy your wine?

© Cape Times Friday 20th March 2014

How do you buy your wine? Do you load a couple of bottles into your basket as you scurry around the supermarket? Do you take time out to go and get specialised advice from a store? Or do you prefer to do your shopping online in the wee small hours of the morning and get it delivered later? A few decades ago, we would all have had our own wine merchant, buying up top Burgundy and Bordeaux for us and laying down a few pipes of port for our children’s 21st birthdays. But time is a precious commodity nowadays, although it does make me a bit sad to think that buying wine is no more exciting than buying baked beans and toilet roll.
Enter Wade Bales, owner of the eponymous Wade Bales Wine Society, who makes it his mission to seek out small parcels of the unusual and the interesting and bring them direct to your doorstep. IN particular, I can highly recommend the range of wines made personally for him by winemakers such as Thys Louw from Diemersdal and Beyers Truter from Beyerskloof. I tried the Sauvignon made by Thys last year and it was a triumph – wonderful Sauvignon fruit, zingy acidity and a lipsmacking finish and all at a very good price. If you’re seriously lazy, you can get him to simply deliver wine to you without choosing it at all by signing up for a bi-monthly case of wines which comes with Wade’s guarantee of enjoyment – how’s that for personal service?!
Convenient though buying online is, sometimes there is no substitute for face-to-face contact. Caroline Rillema has been mind-reading her customers and anticipating their wants for almost 20 years in her store on Strand Street, and has just opened a new branch of Caroline’s Fine Wines in the Southern Suburbs. It’s a nice location, in Tokai right next to Societi Brasserie and just round the corner from Steenberg Village, but the biggest plus for me is the people in the store. With so many wines to choose from, many people find it hard to know what will suit their tastes, budget and occasion.
Enter manager Lara Jordaan and assistant Lusanda Thom, both of whom have passed the internationally-recognised Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) exams at different levels – I have to confess an interest here since I taught them both! But what this means is that they have a broad and wide-ranging knowledge of not only the local labels, but also the international wines for which Caroline is famous. If you want personal suggestions, from people who genuinely listen to you and want to find you your perfect wine, then this is definitely the way to go.
Of course Caroline’s is not the only fabulous wine shop in town – you could also try Wine Concepts, Vino Pronto and Norman Goodfellows, all of whom offer personal service with knowledge, flair and a smile. And equally so, Wade isn’t the only online retailer out there by a long chalk, with the likes of Cybercellar and Getwine happily filling the cellars of many of a thirsty drinker. Lots of wineries run their own private wine clubs which are great ways of saving money on your favourite wines AND getting invited to exclusive events, and don’t forget your big independent retailers like Ultra Liquors who boast a WSET-trained wine advisor in most of their stores. Wine is such a personal thing, that you really should buy it from people - whether you pop into a shop, fall in love with a particular farm or grow a great relationship with a buyer you trust. I promise you it will taste better if you do!

© Cape Times Friday 16th November 2012 This year was the first time I’ve tasted for the Platter Wine...

Helping to fill the new Platter

© Cape Times Friday 16th November 2012
This year was the first time I’ve tasted for the Platter Wine Guide. This institution in the wine world (and not just the South African wine world either) celebrates its 33rd year this year – a far cry from something started on the dining room table of John and Erica Platter back in 1980. They took on the then Herculean-task of tasting 1,250 wines (as opposed to the more than 7,000 currently shared amongst 18 tasters) rating them, reviewing the farm and providing a fascinating snapshot of South Africa’s wine history. The oldest edition I have been able to find is 1985 and I love flicking through it, to see which winemaker started their career where, which farms are still going and which have changed hands and overall, to see the change in focus from a country still very much in awe of the Old World of European wines, to a more confident and assured wine industry today.

Some of the facts and stats are hilarious – in 1985 for example, there were only 5 Chardonnays made in South Africa - one of those was made by Chardonnay-gurus Hamilton Russell, but was labelled only as Grand Vin Blanc! On the other hand, 39 cellars made a Rhine Riesling (including Pinotage and red wine specialists Kanonkop) whilst a further 55 made a Cape Riesling. Interestingly enough, Cinsaut was made by more than 30 cellars, something which has sadly dwindled down to 6 in the current guide, and the number of Steens (aka Chenin Blanc) of all styles covers a full two pages of the listings, far too numerous to count.

As Platter has expanded over the years, so has the need for additional tasters and a mammoth web of people and technology in order to produce the guide on time. All tasters are asked to declare any interests in wineries allocated to them for tasting – I couldn’t taste for wineries who had sent students on my WSET wine courses, as well as ones who employ my husband as a consultant – and there are strict controls about getting second opinions if the rating you feel a wine deserves differs too widely from previous scores. Every time I sat down to taste, I had to ‘re-calibrate my palate’ using the little control sample bottles we were supplied with – a highly useful exercise to remind yourself where you are on the scale on any particular day – and all my notes and opinions had to be recorded in a huge amount of detail on an intranet database, something which was always going to be a struggle for Luddites like me.

Did I do a good job? It’s hard to tell because the Platter is a guide and not an absolute dictat as to taste and quality, so it is impossible to say if my ratings are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I certainly had a good strike rate of 5 star nominations with 5 out of my 8 suggestions getting the nod when blind-tasted by the rest of the tasters, but I am equally sure that there are plenty who will argue for and against lots of the other wines on my list. But here are a few of the things I’ve learnt from my first year tasting for Platter. Firstly, that you fixate on the Five Stars and ignore the value category at your peril – there are some stonkingly-good wines out there with smiley faces indicating ‘Exceptionally drinkable and well-priced.’ Secondly, that the team behind the scenes deserve huge respect for painstakingly recording every single skipped vintage, every screwcapped wine, every sustainable certification to help make the guide the comprehensive document that it is. And lastly that however comprehensive and painstaking it may be, it’s still just a guide. Read it, enjoy it, use it for phone numbers, wedge the back door open with it, smack a mozzie against the wall with it – whatever. Just remember that every time you slavishly treat it as a Bible and don’t trust your own taste in wine-drinking and wine-buying, you do yourself, and the Platter team, a huge disservice. Trust your tastebuds – they’re the best guide you’re ever going to get!

© Cape Times Friday 4th May 2012 I think it is fair to say that, by and large, people...

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 www.capewineacademy.co.za