A rich golden fluid swirls around 14 glasses as tutor Quentin Sadler invites students on the Wine Education Service’s beginners course to release the aromas of an Urziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 1993. Quentin has helpfully written this long name on the board of our room at the LSE. Even better, he’s explained what it means. What he hasn’t done is prepare us for the wine’s smell.
To me, it reeks of petrol, although I’m sure everyone else will suggest “ripe persimmons”. When several people say petrol — one man even likens it to outboard engine diesel — I feel relieved. Quizzed by Quentin, we all agree there’s a hint of apple and lime, too.
Then we take a sip. The correct way to do this is to suck in air with the wine to release its flavours. Think Hannibal Lecter, liver, fava beans and a nice Chianti and you have the action. The riesling tastes honeyed, though Quentin suggests it also has a mineral quality. “Have any of you ever licked slate?” he asks. Some unusual homework beckons.
If, like me, your thirst for knowledge and thirst are aligned, structured courses are the logical place to start. Comprehensive ones are run by the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (www.wset.co.uk; 020 7236 3551), which can take you from amateur enthusiast to wine professional. The courses of the Wine Education Service (www.wine- education-service.co.uk; 020 8992 8212) are more sociable, perhaps because the wines are swallowed rather than spat out.
The WES runs courses in Aberdeen, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester and London. Over 8 weeks, students on the £185 course taste 48 wines. Along the way, they grow more confident talking about taste and smell, senses I soon realised I had taken for granted for far too long.