Most of us love the idea of learning more about wine.
Even the smallest bit of wine knowledge impresses; it enables party tricks such as tackling a restaurant wine list with confidence or recommending a suitable wine pairing to match to your meal with your friends.
The question is where to start this educational process?
You can learn a lot online, reading wine magazines, websites, blogs and watching YouTube.
For many, however, it’s worth investing in a recognised and structured wine course.
That’s where the London-based Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) comes in. Long the industry standard, the series of course offered by the WSET are becoming just as popular with non-industry types – wine lovers simply looking to improve their wine knowledge and tasting skills. Pippa Middleton is a notable and recent graduate of their courses. We are now qualified to the same level in the wine world (Level 3). I’m still not sure how I feel about that!
The WSET offers a one day Level One “introduction” course, a three-day Level Two “intermediate” course and a five-day Level Three “advanced” course in wines and spirits, before students can choose to attempt to tackle their Level Four Diploma, which takes a minimum of 18 months to complete. The Diploma is a pre-requisite for the arduous Master of Wine Program.
The WSET have been able to achieve a sort of world domination in wine education since they offer accreditation as an APP, or Approved Program Provider, to wine companies around the globe who meet their strict requirements.
Which means that you can sit one of their courses in classrooms from China to Brazil, Australia to Sweden.
Here on the French Riviera and in Provence, we have our fair share of APP’s to choose from, who offer WSET courses in English. There is one, however, which stands heads and shoulders above the crowd, offering amateurs of the grape the chance to undertake a wine bootcamp in one of the most spectacular (and secluded) corners of Provence.
Extreme Wine @ La Verrière
It’s hard to imagine a more stunning setting than that of La Verrière. High on a plateau above the village of Crestet, in the foothills of Mont Ventoux, this restored medieval priory sits majestically overlooking the plains of the Côtes du Rhône vineyards. A labour of love, having being painstakingly restored over the last two decades, the bastide is now a treasured family home, which is available to rent as a luxury retreat, complete with personal chef, tennis courts and swimming pool.
La Verrière is also home to the vineyard Chêne Bleu, named for the giant blue oak in the heart of the property that has come to symbolise the values of this ambitious project. Making wine was the last thing on the mind when the property was purchased by the Rolet family, however they soon realised that they had some rather unique terroir on their hands and have set about making the best wines to reflect this, even if that meant straying from convention and bottling as IGP rather than AOC. The vineyard follows organic and biodynamic principles.
Their three reds, two whites and one rosé are now established as firm critic’s darlings and have achieved something akin to cult status, hailed as the first ‘Super Rhône’ wines (a reference to the Super Tuscans which also bucked traditional appellation rules on their way to creating such iconic wines as Masseto and Sassicaia). I’ve had the pleasure of doing some work with Chêne Bleu over the past few months, and believe me, these wines are something special, each with an incredible richness and depth that scream quality and excellence. If you get a chance, try them!
La Verrière also offers Extreme Wine and Beyond Extreme Wine, the WSET Level 2 and Level 3 courses – but with a twist. A complete immersion, students are surrounded by wine, where coursework is complemented through visiting the vineyard, the state of the art winery and the tasting room. There’s no other WSET classroom quite like it in the world.
The Level Two course is suitable for beginners with an interest in wine, introducing students to the major grape varieties and wine regions of the world. Along the way you taste a lot and you’re taught to interpret a wine label – handy stuff. Level Three is much more intense (trust me, I’ve been there) and delves into all aspects of wine making in countries you didn’t even know made wine. But you taste even more wines than in Level 2 and it’s great fun!
At La Verrière you’re in great hands – the courses are taught by Master of Wine Clive Barlow and renowned wine educator Nick Dumergue.
I’m not going to delve into prices, but I’ll be honest, you can find your WSET wine courses for cheaper than this. But they don’t do things by halves at La Verrière and the whole aim is to offer you a complete, once in a lifetime, luxury wine experience – from the setting, to accommodation, education, field trips, fine wines and meals to match, prepared by a private chef. It’s worth every penny!
The next Extreme Wine is scheduled for June 20 – 26th and Beyond Extreme Wine for September 5th -11th.
Photos: Chêne Bleu/La Verrière