Can you distinguish the difference between white wine and rosé? Or Sauterne and Sancerre? Well RPA member and Wasps’ back-rower, Sam Jones, recently had the opportunity to enhance his knowledge by attending an insight day at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET). The 23-year-old who was joined by a group of Wasps’ teammates, and their RPA Personal Development Manager, Ben McGregor, spent the day tasting a variety of wines before being put through one final examination. Here Sam provides a fascinating insight into the experience and explains exactly how the day panned out.
If there’s one thing a day at the WSET School taught me, it’s that drinking wine, and tasting it, are two very different things. Drinking is easy. Tasting isn’t. And there’s an exam at the end to prove it.
We arrived at the school on Monday morning to take our Level 1 Award in Wines and probably for our first ever nine-to-five day. I suppose there are worse ways to begin the week, but the thought of a proper exam with candidate numbers, sealed papers and pin-drop silence had us all a bit nervous.
Bill Page, a Restart Rugby Trustee, and former Chair of the WSET welcomed us to his old stomping ground concluding that even after a career in the industry, he is still learning about wine; such is the vastness and complexity of viniculture.
And learn is what we did. Some quicker than others. Midway through the day, all but one of us could tell a white from a rosé, and some, even, could pick a Sauterne from a Sancerre. We largely knew our grapes from our regions and had learnt the word ‘herbaceous’. We were all rather proud of ourselves. So much so that we bandied around jargon like scrambled jukeboxes, trying to answer our enduring teacher’s questions with a jumble of buzzwords until we got there by trial and error.
We learnt how to serve different wines: about chilling temperatures and bottle angles, corkscrews and glasses, units and social responsibility. By lunchtime we were practically sommeliers.
Half past 12 was deemed an acceptable time to uncork the bottles and taste all this theory. We sniffed, slurped, swilled and very occasionally spat our way to an improved understanding of everything we’d talked about previously. The art of tasting involved concentration and discernment, but harder still was verbalising what it was you tasted. Using a systematic approach we got to grips with each wine by labelling body, acidity and tannin. And, most importantly, whether we liked it or not.
The toughest session was the food and wine pairing. It was quite remarkable how different foods affected the taste of the wine so radically and added to the confusion of our untrained palates. A dummy’s guide would simplify it to this: lemon juice and salt enhanced the flavour, whilst umami and sweetness opposed it. It took a good hour for us to work out that much.
Then it was time for the test. Luckily our eyes were slightly more open and cheeks were slightly less red than earlier in the afternoon and we breezed through the mock exam with full marks across the board. Confidence was short-lived, however, as the real paper was far from easy. No one left the exam room convinced they’d made the grade but we hope that the marker is kind.
Proficient drinkers we may be, but the tasting part could do with more work. A big thanks to the RPA and WSET for organising a fantastic day.
If you are interested in supporting the players through the RPA Personal Development Programme please contact Richard Bryan on 020 3053 6670 or rbryan@theRPA.co.uk