Sommelier and wine buyer Andrea Alonso is a native of Uruguay but spent 15 years in Argentina before settling in Spain where she now works for multinational wholesaler Makro. What made you decide to start your career as a sommelier? It wasn’t by choice but by necessity – I needed a job when I was 22 years old. I initially worked as a supervisor in a restaurant/bar in a 5-star hotel and I had no idea about wines. Over time I became passionate about being a sommelier and the world of wines. How did you move from sommelierie to wine buying? Being responsible for wines in the restaurant meant that I also had to source and assess new wines for the wine list, working closely with wineries. Buying wines and negotiating on price was part of my job as a sommelier so it was a natural progression to move in to a buying role. Having the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines and Spirits is, without doubt, something positive, not only in increasing your knowledge of wine, but also, having a wider perspective of wines from around the world. What are the key differences in looking at wine from a buyer’s as opposed to sommelier’s perspective? In a restaurant, a sommelier sells direct to the customer who will consume the wine. At Makro I am selling wines to the entire on-trade channel and I have to be much more commercial. I need to source wines that can cover the demands of customers in all types of catering - wines at all price and quality levels that can work for venues ranging from bars to Michelin starred restaurants. What is also very different is the volume of wine I am buying – I currently buy around 20 million bottles a year! But I still have the same objectives - to meet the needs of my customers and make the business profitable. What are the main changes you have made since becoming wine buyer at Makro, Spain? Since I started working at Makro, the main change I have made is the development of a range of own and exclusive label brands for the group, which has given us differentiation in the sector. From a personal perspective, I have had the opportunity to buy wines from all over the world at every price point. What are the current wine trends in Spain and how do you manage to find quality at an affordable price? Wine consumption in Spain is very regionalised. This is a plus for a wine buyer as it allows you to work with a wide range of DOs in your quest to buy the best value for money wines for each region. There is currently a great demand for organic and biodynamic wines as consumers are aware of their health benefits. On the other hand, the consumer is also looking for something new - attractive labels, wines with a history - that are easy to drink and affordable. How has your WSET qualification helped you in your career development? Having the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines and Spirits * is, without doubt, something positive, not only in increasing your knowledge of wine, but also, having a wider perspective of wines from around the world. It is also an internationally accepted certification that provides a point of difference and supports you in your career development. I am looking to start studying for my WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines next year. You have won some impressive awards. Tell us which ones you are most proud of? Winning Spain’s ¨La Nariz de Oro” (“Golden Nose”) award, organised by Wine & Gastronomy magazine, in 2010 made a huge difference to my professional career. I went from being an anonymous sommelier to being more recognised and valued among my colleagues. Of the 400 sommeliers who entered the contest, there was only one winner. I am very proud of this achievement. * Replaced with the Level 3 Award in Wines
We address the commonly asked questions about what a sommelier is and what certifications and sommelier levels are available for those seeking to develop their wine knowledge. If you’re interested in learning about wine and developing expertise in the subject, you may be curious to know more about studying to become a sommelier. Before embarking on this path, it’s first important to answer the question – what is a sommelier? A sommelier is a wine waiter or steward; a trained and knowledgeable professional providing the service of wines, usually in a restaurant setting. If this definition fits your aims - read on! If, however, you seek wine knowledge without an emphasis on service, don’t worry, we’ve also got you covered. Not sure if being a sommelier is for you? Read our detailed guide on How to Become a Sommelier Training to be a Sommelier and the Sommelier Levels There is no ‘one way’ to gain the skills needed to be a competent and successful sommelier. While many sommeliers have no formal training, increasing numbers are turning to accredited qualifications as part of their development. The two main providers of certifications for sommeliers are the Court Master Sommeliers and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust , with sommeliers often choosing to pursue both paths of study. The Court Master Sommeliers (CMS) is the main educational organisation for wine service professionals, established in 1977 to encourage quality standards for beverage service in hotels and restaurants. Their programmes place an emphasis on technical service skills, significant producers and vintage ratings in addition to product and tasting knowledge. For CMS programmes students mostly self-study with some face-to-face instruction for selected levels prior to examination. The Sommelier Levels Sommelier Levels refer to the four sommelier certifications which can be completed with the Court Master Sommeliers. The four certifications must be completed sequentially. Level numbers don’t form part of the certification names, but rather denote the sequence in which they are completed. We break them down for you: Introductory Sommelier Certificate (CMS I) A 3-day course with an examination comprising multiple choice questions and a practical wine service test. Certified Sommelier Examination (CMS II) A three-part examination consisting of a theory paper, blind tasting and practical wine service test. Candidates who have passed the Introductory Sommelier Certificate usually need a further period of self-study before they are ready for this assessment. Advanced Sommelier Certificate (CMS III) A 5-day programme with the final two and a half days devoted to examinations. The exam consists of a theory paper, blind tasting and practical wine service test. Master Sommelier Diploma (CMS IV) The ‘final exam’ consisting of three parts: Theory, practical tasting, and practical service. Successful completion of all three parts can take around three years of study. As of early 2019, only 249 people have earned the title Master Sommelier. Please note there are some variations to delivery in the Americas, for details visit www.mastersommeliers.org Not interested in wine service? For many people, the desire to learn about wines does not extend to wanting to master service techniques. Rather they seek the knowledge and confidence to communicate with the people they buy their wines from, be it a sommelier, wine merchant, producer or distributor. If this sounds like you then a WSET qualification could be the answer. The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is the largest and most recognised organisation providing formal education in wines (sake and spirits) for professionals and enthusiasts. WSET programmes focus on developing systematic tasting skills and product knowledge of the significant wines and wine producing regions of the world. The skills learnt through WSET programmes can be applied to understand and evaluate all wines, regardless of region. For this reason, many sommeliers choose to study for WSET qualifications to gain their product knowledge, opting to develop their service skills on the job. Like the CMS, WSET also offers 4 levels of progressive study. While WSET levels are designed and recommended to be studied sequentially, students can enrol on to Levels 1-3 without having completed any prior WSET study, it is however recommended they possess equivalent knowledge. Uniquely, WSET programmes are accredited by the UK government. For all WSET programmes, students complete a course, either online or in the classroom, before sitting an examination. WSET Level 1 Award in Wines 6 hours of study online or in a classroom course with an examination comprising a multiple-choice paper WSET Level 2 Award in Wines 28 hours of study, including educator-guided online or classroom time and personal study, with an examination comprising a multiple-choice paper WSET Level 3 Award in Wines 84 hours of study, including educator-guided online or classroom time and personal study, with an examination comprising a theory paper and practical tasting WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines 500 hours of study time, including educator-guided online or classroom study and personal study, over 6 units ranging from viticulture to the business of wine. Examinations vary by unit. Not ready for a wine course? If you want to gain wine knowledge but are not looking to commit to a wine course (just yet!) you can take advantage of our extensive range of free educational content in our Knowledge Centre . From wine pronunciation tools to jargon busting guides , there’s a wealth of information to help you learn more about wines and become more wine confident. Whatever your path, there is no shortage of options for building your wine knowledge. Happy learning.
After a very varied career in the wine trade, Brazilian Luiz Andre Batistello now runs a wine tourism business based in Paris. He shares his career path and his future aspirations with us. You started your career as a lawyer - how did you end up in the wine industry? Both my grandfathers had vineyards and from my teenage years I loved wine - so I don’t know how I ended up studying law! After qualifying, I worked as a lawyer in Brazil for three years, but in 2007 I decided to follow my true passion and went to Italy to learn more about wine. I never looked back! Your job roles in the wine industry have included sommelier, brand ambassador and wine educator – was it a natural progression from one role to another? Working as a sommelier in restaurants and hotels is the best way to get experience, interact with customers and learn about wine service and food pairings. Then, as a brand ambassador you develop a stronger commercial attitude and can access the business side of the industry. Both of these roles helped me to become a good wine educator, as I am able to share insights into all areas of the wine Industry in a clear and easy manner. Dedication, commitment and constant study are the key for a good wine educator. The WSET Diploma gave me a whole new level of understanding of the wine trade and, without doubt, was crucial to my future career development. How have WSET qualifications helped you on this career path? After finishing the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines & Spirits in 2011, I started working for a large wine importer in South America. This job opportunity only came about because my WSET qualification was highly regarded and opened doors for me. At that time there were fewer than five WSET Diploma graduates in Brazil, so I decided to carry on with my WSET studies. The WSET Diploma gave me a whole new level of understanding of the wine trade and, without doubt, was crucial to my future career development. For the last four years you have been running a wine tourism business based in Paris. Can you tell us why you decided to focus on this area of the wine trade? For me, wine tourism is an extension of wine education. You are sharing knowledge as well as culture, gastronomy, history and sightseeing. You also have the added element of personal interaction, meeting wine producers and visiting vineyards. Wine tourism is a sector that has developed enormously in France in the last few years and demands qualified professionals who can deliver exclusive experiences. I passed the very challenging Vinitaly International Academy Ambassador programme (VIA) in April 2019 and became only the second VIA Italian Ambassador in France. I am enormously proud of this achievement and now have wine tourism projects for Italy coming up too. Speaking five languages has enabled you to work with and for wine lovers all over the world. Have you noticed any major differences globally in attitudes to wine and wine education? I am very fortunate to have lived in five countries - Brazil, Italy, Spain, England and France – which has given me the chance to learn about their culture, gastronomy and wine. A good wine professional can translate a country´s culture and history into the context of its wine. Knowing the language not only helps you to immerse yourself in the local culture, but also to understand the meaning of vineyard names, local expressions, labelling etc. What do you see as your next career challenge? I have two major challenges for 2019. The first is starting to study for my Master of Wine qualification – the biggest challenge for sure! Secondly, I am working on creating a wine hotel combined with wine tourism experiences in Champagne – in the historic Dom Pérignon village of Hautvillers. The hotel will offer ‘Art de Vivre’ experiences for enthusiastic wine consumers in the heart of the Champagne region, as well as hosting blind tastings for WSET Diploma and MW students.
When faced with a large wine list, or a shelf stacked high with bottles, the world of wine can seem overwhelmingly complex. It helps to start with the basics – here’s our simple guide to the types and styles of wine that you’re likely to come across in any given wine shop or restaurant. To start off, almost all wines can be grouped into one of three ‘types’ – still, fortified or sparkling. 1: Still wines Simply put, a still wine is any wine that is not sparkling. This is the largest category of wine by far – most wines you can think of are still wines, so we need to further categorise them into styles in order to understand them better. Colour – white, red or rosé? White wines are typically made from white grapes. Most have a pale lemon colour, but some look deeper in colour and more golden. Examples of white grapes: Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc Riesling Red wines must be made from black grapes. They gain their deeper red colour and mouth-drying ‘tannins’ from the grape skins, which are kept in contact with the juice during fermentation. Examples of black grapes: Malbec Pinot Noir Cabernet Sauvignon Most rosé wines also gain their colour from ‘skin contact’ with black grapes, but typically for a much shorter time than for red wines, hence their paler pink colour. Rosé wines are usually best served like white wines – chilled, in smaller glasses. Still wines come in a wide range of hues and styles. Body – light, medium or full? ‘Body’ refers to the overall feel of the wine – how mouth-filling it is. Light-bodied wines usually feel delicate and refreshing when tasted. They make great aperitifs but can sometimes be overpowered by powerfully-flavoured dishes. Examples of light-bodied wines: Italian Pinot Grigio Wines from the Beaujolais region of France Full-bodied wines typically have intense flavours and higher than average levels of alcohol. They tend to coat your mouth and feel viscous when tasted and can usually pair well rich and flavourful dishes. Examples of full-bodied wines: Oaked Chardonnay from warm, sunny climates like California Red wines made using the grape variety Cabernet Sauvignon You can learn more about ‘body’ with our busting wine industry jargon post. Sweetness – dry, medium or sweet? Sweetness refers to the amount of sugar in the wine. Most wines are dry , meaning that they don’t taste sweet at all. Some wines have a little sweetness when tasted – these are often referred to as medium . Sweet wines , often referred to as ‘dessert wines’, are wines where sweetness is the dominant taste. These wines often pair well with sugary desserts or salty cheeses. Examples of sweet wines: Sauternes from France Tokaji from Hungary Port (note – this is also a fortified wine, see below) Other key stylistic terms Aromatic – this term is usually used to refer to a wine which gives off intense aromas of flowers or herbs. These can be white or red, though most aromatic wines are white. The grape variety/ies used and the winemaking method are key to determining how ‘aromatic’ a wine is. Examples of aromatic grape varieties: Riesling Gewürztraminer Viognier Oaky/Oaked – this refers to a wine that has been made in contact with oak, traditionally by maturing it in an oak barrel. After some time, the wine takes on flavours from the toasted wood – think vanilla, toasted bread and spice. Oak ageing can also add body to a wine. Examples of oaky/oaked wines: Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva Rioja (Spain) Some styles of Chardonnay Most wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon While most sparkling wines are white, ros é and red styles are also produced. 2: Sparkling wines Sparkling wines are fizzy because they have carbon dioxide trapped within them. This extra sparkle is perfect for celebratory occasions and these wines make excellent gifts and aperitifs. Be sure to serve sparkling wines well chilled – this will help to keep them bubbly for longer once opened. There are many different sparkling wines to explore. Each has its own distinct flavours, determined by which grape variety/ies are used and where they’re grown, how the wine is made, and how it’s aged. Examples of sparkling wines: Champagne (France) Cava (Spain) Prosecco (Italy) Port is a common style of fortified wine, but did you know you can also get white port? 3: Fortified wines A fortified wine is a wine that has had extra alcohol added to it, in the form of a neutral high-strength grape spirit. They typically have between 15-22% alcohol by volume. One of the most important historic reasons for fortifying wine was to strengthen it (to ‘fortify’ means ‘to strengthen’) so that it stayed fresh for longer, back before antioxidants and antibacterials were well understood. A great number of different fortified wine styles exist. All ports are sweet, for example, while most styles of sherry are dry. Some fortified wines taste very fresh and fruity, while others have intense savoury and nutty flavours. The diversity of fortified wine styles is fascinating, and well worth exploring. Examples of fortified wines: Port (Portugal) Sherry (Spain) To learn more about the different types and styles of wine available, and to gain an understanding of the factors that affect them, why not book onto a WSET Level 1 Award in Wines course at your local WSET course provider – the perfect starting point for those wanting to make sense of the ever-expanding world of wine.
Leading sommelier Vincenzo Arnese tells us about his career path, how WSET qualifications have helped him pursue his goals and what it takes to be a great sommelier. He also shares some advice for aspiring sommeliers. What inspired you to enter the world of wine? Wine has always been a big part of my life and I have very fond memories of wine during my childhood. I remember very clearly when my grandfather gave me the first taste of his homemade wine at the age of five. I started to become actively interested in wine when I worked as a commis sommelier at the Waterside Inn in Bray. The General Manager, Diego Masciaga, decided to assign me to the sommelier team - which sparked my curiosity for the world of wine. The Head Sommelier there always challenged me with different questions, so researching and study became a pleasant routine. After sixteen years in hospitality, I'm still learning every day. What were the main challenges you had to overcome in starting out as a sommelier? It’s very hard to become a good sommelier. As soon as you start, you realise the world is vast. To learn on a daily basis, you have to compromise on other areas. To find the right balance between your personal life and your wine knowledge development requires a lot of organisation. But at the beginning, studying is not the only challenge. I remember spending a lot of time on understanding guest needs. The sommelier must be sensitive when he/she provides a recommendation. The guest’s budget and personal taste are important factors which need to be taken into consideration. Another challenge is learning how to talk positively about any wine. It's easy to be critical when we are not in front of a premium wine, but I think we should always be respectful of the hard work behind every wine - irrespective of its price. How have WSET qualifications helped you with your career progression? I took my first WSET course (Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits) in 2013 when I was in Australia working for the restaurant Vue de Monde. I was advised by the Wine Director to take the course and, in all honesty, I was a little bit sceptical because I was already an accredited sommelier with Associazione Italiana Sommelier. However, I was most definitely wrong! WSET qualifications changed the way I thought about wine and made me understand how to connect what I smell in a wine with winemaking techniques and a grape’s primary aromas. It was also important in developing my English wine vocabulary. The WSET Diploma was a real game changer. You have to invest a lot of effort and time to achieve a good result and working full time in a restaurant does not make that easy! I started tasting daily and I had a study group that met every week. All this was necessary for my growth as a sommelier, so that I could understand and clearly explain all aspects of the wine world. We plan to run WSET Levels 2 and 3 in Wines courses every year. We really believe that these courses benefit our colleagues by giving them more confidence in helping guests to make the most appropriate choices when selecting wines. Can you tell about your role as a WSET Certified Educator for Mandarin Oriental? Last year we decided to send some of our colleagues for wine training. We contacted WSET School London and discovered we could to run a course in-house. Since then I have become a WSET Certified Educator and have developed our wine education programme at the Mandarin Oriental. We plan to run WSET Levels 2 and 3 in Wines courses every year. We really believe that these courses benefit our colleagues by giving them more confidence in helping guests to make the most appropriate choices when selecting wines. Investing in our staff is one of the company’s priorities. We believe that hospitality is made by people and that they are the core part of any restaurant/hotel business. Behind the scenes of a WSET course there is a lot of work, but I have to admit that it’s a really great feeling when a group of people that you teach are succeeding in their goals. You won Bellavita Best UK Sommelier in 2015 and have just been runner up in the 2019 UK Ruinart Sommelier Challenge. Do you enjoy these competitions and how do they benefit your career? I began to compete in different sommelier competitions to challenge myself and to apply what I'm studying every day under pressure. I like meeting other professionals and learning something new and I enjoy the sense of competition and the opportunity to push your own boundaries to improve. I have met some amazing people during these events and developed some great friendships. What are the key trends you are currently noticing in diners’ wine preferences? Hospitality can be very sensitive to different trends, but I have noticed that preferences tend to vary by specific groups of guests. There are still many who prefer the classic regions but today there are more people open to trying wines from less well-known countries and grapes varieties with unpronounceable names! Wines from Greece and Portugal and even Georgia and Turkey are being requested more frequently! Lately I have also received a lot of requests for UK wines (not only sparkling) and for pink gin - the infused spirit, not the cocktail. I have noticed that generally guests have become more knowledgeable and willing to try something new. Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for anyone who is considering a career as a sommelier? The best advice that I can give to someone who wishes to start a career as a sommelier is that knowledge is important but not the priority. That will come with time and preparation. What is an absolute necessity is a positive attitude and the capacity to stay humble at all times. You need to be able to handle difficult situations sensitively, understanding that everyone has different opinions and tastes. Our primary job is to understand these tastes and to come up with the perfect solution for the guest. I always advise new starters to learn by watching others - listen and observe guests and your manager.
Sensory perception is such an intangible thing. There are so many variables at play when we evaluate a spirit, from the emotional and environmental factors to our own inherent biases, that it is a wonder that there is any kind of consensus at all. How do we take what is a very personal translation of a spirit and successfully portray it as something that is meaningful and measurable to others? There are many tasting methodologies around, but like the globally recognised Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s (WSET) trademark Systematic Approach to Tasting , most tend to adhere to the same fundamental principles of assessing the appearance, aroma and taste of a spirit. Clarity and condition are considered; intensity, length and complexity are scrutinised, and a broad vocabulary of commonly used terms is employed to describe the vast array of aromas and flavours that bombard our senses. We strive to minimise the distractions of the world around us, eliminating extraneous factors and endeavour to deliver an honest, impartial assessment of the liquid before us. We spend inordinate amounts of time, energy and money improving our technique and honing our skills but how much attention do we pay to the glass and how much impact, if any, does it have on our perceptions of aroma and flavour? Types of glassware In times past things were simple. You had a copita for the serious analyst, a snifter for the connoisseur and the rest of us made do with a rocks glass. Times have changed and the last decade or so has seen an outpouring of glassware to maximise the enjoyment of a spirit and enhance its organoleptic attributes. Some are more aesthetically pleasing, designed for style over performance. Others claim to be ergonomically and scientifically designed to bring out the best of what is in the glass. Angus Winchester, Director of Education at Bar Convent Berlin, explains, "While personally I would use a sherry copita when tasting and learning about fine spirits as long as I am tasting and learning about fine spirits and the glass is clean and consistent I am a happy camper." The array of glassware available is overwhelming. It seems that every spirit category now has its own specially designed glass. Herein lies part of the problem. Each of us has our own idea of what the perfect glass is. Our own partiality to a particular idea of form and function can sway our opinion before we even pick up the glass. If the shape of the glass is too far removed from our pre-conceived notions of what is correct then we are already stacking the deck unfairly, regardless of its merits. Likewise, if the glass doesn’t feel right in our hand or the glass is too thick, it can be difficult to get beyond this and give the spirit a fair assessment. Once someone has decided upon what they think is the best glass it is very difficult to change that opinion. As much as we like to believe that we make these decisions impartially we generally pick a glass based on a recommendation or endorsement and we rarely have the time or inclination to compare various glasses side by side. Liquor companies and glass manufacturers have slick marketing machines and lots of shiny bells and whistles to coerce and cajole us into believing that their glass is best. But is this merely hype and hyperbole or is there some rhyme and reason to this shift? Did more choice suddenly make us all better tasters? What do we want from a glass? When teaching WSET classes I use an ISO glass, but then my objective is to taste spirits comparatively, where it is more important to be as consistent as possible with as many variables as possible in order to evaluate each sample fairly. Matt Pomeroy, Global Director of Education for Belvedere Vodka, says, “The shape of a tasting glass is of course essential to being able to evaluate spirits. A recent Japanese study demonstrated this by showing how each different shaped vessel affected the position and density of the spirit’s aromas being moved around the glass and more specifically how they arrived at the glasses rim. This journey is key to the aromatic compounds arriving at your nose for first contact so to speak, thus a lot of the key flavours.” In recent years, the general consensus of the industry at large seems to be that the most effective glass to use for spirit tasting has a basic tulip–like design. These glasses vary in looks but all tend to share several commonalities. A relatively wide bowl for easy swirling and maximum evaporation and a convergent rim to capture as many of the aroma compounds as possible. As most of what we consider to be flavour is actually aroma, rather than taste or texture, it makes sense that so many of the glasses available focus on increasing our perception of volatile aroma compounds. If the glass is too narrow, then all that we are likely to be smelling is ethanol as it tends to be more volatile than some of the heavier congeners. Matt Pomeroy agrees, “For tasting vodka, I believe a standard ISO tasting glass is the best. It slows evaporation, condenses and elevates flavour, optimises balance and is perfect for recognising character in high quality spirits in a category where we are often fighting the preconception of all vodkas being neutral.” In terms of the preferred type of rim there seems to be two schools of thought; those who want to capture as many of the aroma compounds as possible and those who want to be able to lessen the impact of ethanol on the nose. If you choose to dilute your spirit, then the convergent rim stands out as a great way to maximise your ability to perceive a fuller range of aromas, particularly in a high congener spirit or one that has a lot of botanicals present. However, with the prevalence of high proof and cask strength offerings in the last few years, having a glass with a flared or divergent rim is certainly going to help lessen the risk of overwhelming or anaesthetising the olfactory bulb with a big hit of ethanol. Nose vs. Palate Whilst many glasses focus on maximising olfaction, several others focus more on liquid dynamics and how the spirit flows from the glass over the tongue. Unfortunately a lot of the logic here is based on the outdated idea of the tongue map, whereby we are sensitive to sweetness on the tip of our tongue, bitterness at the back, acidity along the sides and thus to get a full appreciation of the flavours it is necessary to have a wider flow of liquid from the glass and therefore a flared rim is far more effective. A convergent rim would simply deliver a narrow beam of liquid to a very localised part of the tongue and therefore you would be getting a one-dimensional profile. The idea of a “one tongue map fits all” has long been disproved. Everyone’s palate is different, some of us with more or less papillae that make up our taste buds and some of us more or less sensitive to various textural stimuli (fats, oils, tannins, etc.). Perception of flavour is individual, as is where on our tongue and throughout our palate we are most sensitive to bitterness, acidity and sweetness (although we can detect all basic tastes to some degree throughout our tongue). To compound things further our sensitivities can change over time, especially as we become more familiar with and tolerant to various spirits. Therefore, there is still a good deal of merit to the idea of getting as broad a flow of liquid onto the palate as possible to ensure that we get the full spectrum of flavours and to this end a glass with a divergent rim seems the most likely to be able to achieve this. However, the same results could likely be accomplished by simply swirling the liquid in our mouth. For me the biggest flaw with the idea of a perfect glass is that we are all imperfect. Our perceptions of aroma and flavour are as distinct from one another as our preferred tipple. What one person may find enjoyable another may find unbearable. Personal preference will always surpass anything that a glass may be able to hide or enhance. Whilst the shape, size and design of the vessel can all certainly impact how a spirit is initially perceived, it will ultimately be our own notions of the good, bad and indifferent that will dictate our appreciation of or ambivalence toward any particular dram. Matt Pomeroy concludes, “There are of course many kinds of glass and its worth taking the time to see what works for you, your spirit and your palate.” Now where did I leave that rocks glass... This feature piece is written by Rob McCaughey, WSET Certified Educator and USA Business Development Manager - Spirits.
Mary Ewing-Mulligan is a leading American wine educator and the first woman in North America to become a Master of Wine. Mary began her career at the Italian Trade Commission, educating consumers about Italy's wines, and then worked in the private sector, holding a senior position at PepsiCo Wines & Spirit, before focusing on wine education. She joined International Wine Center (IWC) in New York in 1984 and, in 1994, introduced the first WSET programs in the USA. In 2003 she was appointed Executive Director for WSET Programs in the USA, laying the foundations for WSET’s success in the region. Winner of WSET’s Lifetime Achievement Award 2018, Mary Ewing-Mulligan explains how wine education has evolved in the USA and how she has spearheaded WSET’s growth here. What inspired you to focus your career on wine education? I had worked in sales and promotion and realised that the scope of those jobs is limited to the portfolio that you represent. I wanted a portfolio as large as the whole world of wine and I wanted the freedom to approve or disapprove of any wine without adhering to pre-determined allegiances. Only writing and education offered that scope and freedom. Opportunities in education and writing were less common and less remunerative, but I decided that the risk was worth taking. When did you first come across WSET in the USA? For the early years of my career, WSET did not exist in the USA, nor was the pursuit of a MW qualification an option for Americans. In 1988 the IMW relaxed its requirement that candidates hold the WSET Diploma, thereby opening its doors to US candidates. Six of us Americans sat the exam in London in 1989 and I became a MW in 1993. Shortly thereafter WSET authorised my school, International Wine Center, to offer WSET programs in New York. Since then more than 350 students have become WSET Level 4 Diploma graduates through studying at International Wine Center. Now WSET is the gold standard for wine education in the US and it will continue to prosper. The US is a huge country and it holds plenty of growth opportunity for WSET. What influenced you to work with WSET in the USA? Education geared to the wine trade was rare in the early 1990s. After years of offering tasting seminars, wine classes and various other programmes at my school, I was eager to make formal wine education available to wine professionals. The programs I wanted to offer needed to be recognised and reputable enough to motivate wine professionals to try their hands at them. WSET’s reputation, including its association with the IMW, fitted the bill. What are the major changes have you seen in wine education since you started with IWC? In the 1980s wine education encompassed imparting straightforward information (which was less accessible before the internet) and enabling experience. Many students were already wine enthusiasts and came to classes with some wine knowledge that they had acquired through reading or through peer learning in wine-tasting clubs and they were interested in tasting opportunities. The concept of learning about wine to promote one’s career was non-existent, apart from university programs in viticulture and enology. Aspirational learning was limited to the desire to taste finer, more elite wines. That motivation changed with the emergence of post-nominals, particularly The Certified Wine Educator credential (CWE) of the Society of Wine Educators, which gave individuals an opportunity to prove what they know. But WSET, from 1994 in New York, was the first to provide a structure of learning and that was a dramatic change. How do you see the future for wine education/WSET in the USA? WSET achieved critical mass in the USA around 2013 when three large distributors signed on to teach the programmes in-house, along with all the private wine schools already teaching. Now WSET is the gold standard for wine education in the US and it will continue to prosper. The US is a huge country and it holds plenty of growth opportunity for WSET.
Englishman Stephen Webber takes us on his wine journey from working in a high street off-licence in the UK to running a large biodynamic, organic winery in Oregon. He shares with us how he has fallen in love with Oregon and its wines and what it’s like to work in a biodynamic winery. When you decided to embark on a career in wine, how and where did you gain the knowledge and experience you needed? My first job in wine was with a chain of high street wine merchants called Augustus Barnett. I started there in 1989 and stayed for almost 6 years, taking my WSET qualifications along the way and graduating with my WSET Diploma in 1996. WSET helped teach me the core business of wine and, most importantly, the decorum and etiquette of becoming a professional in the world of wine. It is something I have never forgotten. I was then enticed to go out to Australia to work a vintage. I felt that I needed to improve my knowledge of oenology and viticulture, so I headed off to the heart of the Barossa Valley to work for Orlando Wines. I intended to return and join the London wine trade, but I was so enthralled with the combination of wine, travel and sunny climes, that I decided to do another vintage. This time I headed to little-known Oregon to work with one of the pioneers of the Oregon industry - Myron Redford of Amity Vineyards. I completed three vintages with Amity, interspersing that with some time at Cape Jaffa winery in South Australia. Cape Jaffa was one of the early Australian wineries implementing a biodynamic programme, as they had strong links with biodynamic producer Chapoutier in the Rhône Valley. Little did I know that this experience would prove key to my future career! Tell us about how you came into your role as Head Winemaker at a winery in Oregon, a region increasingly gaining the spotlight on an international stage. I started working at Montinore in 2006, first as Assistant Winemaker, and then as White Winemaker. I've been Head Winemaker since 2016. My experiences at Amity Vineyards in Oregon, working with industry pioneer Myron Redford, were the foundation of my future love for Oregon and the wines it produces. He taught me some fundamentals of making good wine, the history and culture of Oregon grape growing, how wines can age so gracefully with the right balance of acid, tannin and flavour, and most importantly, how to have fun while making wine! Oregon has come a long way since I completed my first vintage in 1997, both the industry and the wines are truly on the world stage now. There is an honesty in the wines and the people who craft them and our understanding of the terroir is ever improving. Why has the winery chosen to specialise in Organic and Biodynamic wines? The implementation of organic and biodynamic agriculture at Montinore coincided with Rudy Marchesi becoming involved with Montinore operations. Rudy was owner and president of the company from 2005 until 2016 and he is now a partner in the business. Inspired by the ideas and writings of Rudolph Steiner, he developed a passion for biodynamics and started the certification process for all 200+ acres of our vineyards. Official approval was granted in 2008, following three years in transition. The health and vitality of the vineyard and its grapes have improved greatly over the last 14 years, and Montinore is currently one of the largest producers of biodynamically grown wine grapes in the USA. WSET helped teach me the core business of wine and, most importantly, the decorum and etiquette of becoming a professional in the world of wine. Why do you think these wines are growing in popularity? I think more and more people are looking for uncomplicated food and drink options, partly because of health concerns about unnatural ingredients being used in conventional farming, and also an awareness of wanting better stewardship over the land that is farmed. Overall, I would say that organic and biodynamic wines exhibit great flavour and texture, and show good characteristics of the land from which they are grown. For those thinking about a career in winemaking, what are the low points and highlights of working in a winery? Good question! Working in a winery is generally quite hard physically, and often unglamorous - with cleaning, more cleaning and even more cleaning being the most common duties! You are on your feet for many hours of the day, particularly during harvest, and conditions can be cold and wet. The best things include the reality of making something that’s really cool, and helping create a pleasurable, fun experience for a consumer. Working in both an outdoor and indoor environment, learning all kinds of new skills and machinery, and never running out of things to learn are certainly some of the highlights, as well as having the pride and sense of achievement that you have helped create great wines. Learn more about Stephen and the wines he makes at Montinore here . For more information about embarking on or progressing your WSET qualifications visit our qualifications page here .
Rachel started her career as a mixologist before moving to recruitment where she found her natural niche in the drinks industry with ForceBrands. Perfectly placed to understand the industry from both employee and employer perspective, Rachel shares with us her take on finding candidates with the right professional and cultural fit and the value of drinks qualifications. What are the key challenges in recruiting for the food and beverage industry? ForceBrands works in an industry that is constantly evolving and creating innovative trends, which makes things incredibly exciting and always very challenging. In 2010, when I first started working in the industry, the economic recession had forced many companies to downsize their teams so there were many talented candidates looking for new career opportunities. Today in the US, it's a candidate-driven job market, and similar to real estate where you see buyers outbidding each other on homes, candidates are receiving multiple offers that are the most competitive I've ever seen in my career. Additionally, unemployment rates are at an all-time low, so it’s become more difficult than ever to convince candidates to move from their relatively stable positions to other companies. The key to attracting the right talent, outside of compensation is having a strong employer brand, high retention rates, competitive brand positioning, and a powerful long-term business plan. Regardless of the market and how challenging it can be, the industry will continue to innovate in order to keep up with consumer trends and demands. ForceBrands, as ever, will adapt and evolve as the industry shifts and continue to identify incredible talent that builds amazing brands. How important are WSET certifications (or similar) to you when reviewing applications? At the surface level, WSET certifications or similar on applications are differentiators. Any type of certification as it relates to spirits, wine, or beer helps set apart highly educated candidates from those who only have professional experience. Any candidate who takes the initiative to become further educated in the space stands out in the talent pool. Any candidate who takes the initiative to become further educated in the space stands out in the talent pool. What inspired you to take the WSET Level 2 Wines and Spirits exam? I started my career working as a mixologist in sports bars and in high-end restaurants, so I had a solid foundation of knowledge in the spirits, wine, and beer space. When I saw ‘WSET certified’ on résumés of candidates, I was always curious to understand the training they went through and depth of knowledge they now had. After speaking to WSET, I understood how critical it was for me to go through the process of becoming certified. Having a WSET qualification allows me to be an effective resource for my clients. I now understand the depth of brands in a portfolio and can truly gauge what types of candidates, based on background, will be the best fit to grow the business. It's always been clear to me how the consumer thinks but understanding how winemakers and distillers think and operate paints the full picture. As the Director of Sales for our Beverage Alcohol division, I'm able to provide consultative advice by understanding how a brand is created, how it gets to the consumer, and why consumers decide to purchase the product. The education I've received from the WSET classes has helped me to understand the global wine and spirits environment, production process, and a brand's quality, which ultimately determines whether a brand will be successful. As a professional trainer yourself, how did you find the WSET’s approach to education? The WSET educators are great. They’re highly educated and well-travelled, which you need to be in order to describe the wine regions and the history behind them. I'm an experiential learner so the structure of each class with the added tasting component was impactful to me. You are also a certified mixologist trainer – do you ever find time in your busy schedule to use this skill? I love seeing consumers’ eyes light up when they experience a great cocktail , so I'll always find the time to mix cocktails for friends, family, and colleagues.
As such a broad category, understanding the difference between certain bottles of spirits can be a minefield for aspiring bartenders and enthusiasts, as the technical language on the label doesn’t always offer a clear explanation to the liquid inside. With an ever-growing choice of spirits coming to the market and more and more people choosing to enjoy distilled drinks, there is a growing need for education to help increase consumers’ and staff’s understanding of what they are drinking. As a first step, here, we decrypt some common spirits labelling terminology to help decipher the differences between each bottle: ABV/Proof This refers to the strength of an alcoholic liquid. ABV stands for Alcohol by Volume and is measured as a percentage, indicating what percentage of the total volume is alcohol. Proof is generally used in North America and is twice the ABV e.g. 50% ABV = 100 proof. The term dates back to when alcohol had its strength proven through the use of gunpowder and a match. Botanicals Although not legally defined, this term is most commonly associated with the production of gin and other flavoured spirits. A botanical is a natural ingredient – herb, spice, berry, root or citrus peel – used to add flavour to a spirit, commonly through re-distillation. A recipe of botanicals is added to a pot including a diluted spirit, this spirit is then re-distilled, and the newly distilled spirit will retain aromas and flavours of the botanicals. Cask Strength Sometimes known as barrel proof, this refers to a whisk(e)y that has not been diluted with water before bottling. While not a standard production choice, when employed these higher strength spirits showcase the unique texture and character of the spirit. Most spirits that are bottled at cask strength will state this term on the label. Ex-Bourbon/Ex-Sherry This refers to a cask’s previous contents. Aged spirits of all kinds often use “old” barrels that have previously contained another alcoholic liquid, some of this liquid will remain in the wood and ultimately influence the flavours of the new aged spirits. Ex-bourbon barrels are associated with vanilla, coconut and sweet spice flavours. Ex-Sherry can provide a fruitcake character, as well as some sulphur and nuttiness. Malt This refers to the sole grain used to create Malt whiskies in the likes of Scotland, Ireland and Japan. Malt is an abbreviated version of Malted barley, barley grains that have been processed in preparation for milling, mashing and fermentation. Single Malt Whisk(e)y is made from 100% malted barley. New Make Spirit/Eau du Vie These refer to a new spirit, straight from the still and unaged or unchanged by anything post distillation. Commonly from anywhere between 60% and 80% ABV, New Make is the term used in Scotch whisky while Eau du Vie is used in Cognac and Armagnac production. 1st fill – 4th fill Casks are often used a number of times for the maturation of different types of alcohol, and with the right treatment they can have a lifespan of 100 years or more. 1st fill would mean it is the first fill since the cask’s original contents, 2nd fill would indicate the second since the original and so on. The more the cask is used and emptied, the less of the original contents will remain, the older the wood becomes, and the intensity of its influences diminishes. However, very old 4th or 5th fill casks can allow for delicate nuanced flavours to develop, adding to the complexity and intrigue of well-aged spirits. If you’re still stumped by spirits terminology, a WSET qualification will equip you with the knowledge to decrypt any bottle. On a WSET course you’ll not only learn how to taste and describe spirits professionally using the universal language of the WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting , but you’ll also learn to understand the common production techniques that lead spirits to taste the way they do. To find a spirits WSET course provider near you visit the Where to Study page.