This past weekend, I got to experience the WSET 1 course in Toronto with the company Fine Vintages Ltd. For some people, this starter course is just for hobby. For me, this course is giving me the basic entrance into the deep and complicated world of wine for a future career as a Sommelier.
There are 3 WSET courses available to pursue, and if you’re still loving the wine industry and want to go further, George Brown College (in Toronto) and Institut de Tourisme et D’Hôtellerie du Quebec (ITHQ) (in Montreal) offer a Sommelier program (as I’m sure several other schools do as well).
After completing the WSET 1 this past weekend, I realized how interesting and profound wine can be in terms of geography and environment (not just the tasting aspect). This course was held at 1 King West (a luxurious hotel in downtown Toronto) and went from 9:30AM to 5:30PM on Saturday.
When I first got there, I received all of my tasting glasses and a study guide for the day. I sat down at a table and enjoyed meeting the various careers and personalities around me. I figured that we probably wouldn’t start tasting until 10:30 or 11:00AM, but apparently, they like to start their drinking early! Our instructor introduced herself as well as her qualifications and said “I don’t know about you guys, but I like to get my first drink in around 10AM” and off we went toasting with a vintage Veuve Clicquot to start the day. I really enjoyed her methods of teaching and appreciated that she was not pretentious or snobby, she was very down-to-earth and a lot of fun.
We started by learning about white wines. Everything being poured was covered with a velvet bag to hide the label. The blind tastings truly allowed us to detect notes on the nose and flavours on the palate without a biased or pre judged conclusion. We were taught the proper way of smelling, tasting, and serving wine. Our study guide included grids to go along with our tastings. These grids contain boxes asking for the colour, condition (clean or sediment), sweetness (dry, off-dry, or sweet), body (light, medium or full), flavour characteristics (ex: green apple), and other (tannin, alcohol percentage, etc) to help us narrow down our conclusion of the wine and what our guess might be for the grape.
After tasting 7 whites (including the Veuve) and being told “you can drink them if you’d like, or you can use your spittoon…whatever you prefer”, most of us were feeling a little ‘loopy’ by lunch. I only drank a full glass of two whites that I couldn’t get enough of (an oaky, buttery Chardonnay from California (go figure, my forever favourite) and a Spätlese (late harvest wine) from Germany that was very sweet). We all left for lunch and stuffed our faces with pasta (some serious substance) and once we came back, we were ready to move onto the reds.
Do you ever get extremely sleepy after a few glasses of red? That was the definition of the afternoon for me (and I’m assuming others as well). We tasted 8 reds and used our grids to make our guesses while learning about more grapes in between.
We wrapped up the day with our examination, which consisted of 30 multiple choice (no tasting element to the test until WSET 2). Our exams are mailed back to London, England for marking and we will hear within 6-8 weeks if we’ve passed. According to Fine Vintages, there is such a high success rate for this course that we can sign up for WSET 2 without even hearing back–phewf! On to WSET 2 next and the future Sommelier program I go!
Below I have attached a price list for the wines we enjoyed and photos of each individual bottle.
Visit Fine Vintages Ltd. for more course information for WSET levels in various cities: