Sunday, March 30, 2008

Spanish Wine Educator's Course: Completed

I completed the Spanish Wine Educator's course today. I took the two tests and now must wait for 3-4 weeks to learn the results, though I am confident that I passed.

The Wine Academy of Spain held the course at the Norwood offices of the Martignetti Companies this weekend, March 28-30. They have already held numerous courses in North America and will hold three more into April, including in Chicago, Victoria (B.C. Canada) and Vancouver (B.C. Canada). After that, courses will be held in other countries around the world.

I arrived Friday morning a bit early for the class, partially due to the fact that the schedule listed in my paperwork was different than the schedule listed on the website. Prior to the class, I received numerous pdf. files for the course, a 200+ page course book. Those documents included a schedule for the class but it is different than the one listed on the website. I relied on the documents so showed up earlier than the 9:30am start time. Not a big deal.

There were about eighteen students in the class, eleven who were women. There were many people who were involved in some aspect of wine sales, whether working for a distributor, in a wine store or at a restaurant. I was the only wine blogger present though there was one woman who was a wine writer and had previously published a book on culinary terms. Only fifteen of the students though chose to take the certification tests.

As part of the course, we did receive a little swag, including a cloth briefcase, t-shirt, CD on Sherry, nicely bound notebook, pen, and the 2008 Wines From Spain Far From Ordinary Wine Guide. The wine guide is very good and I recommend you order them from Wines of Spain, especially as it is free.

Our instructors were a husband and wife team, Javier Arauz and Wendy Vallaster. Javier did most of the basic lecturing and Wendy did most of the wine tasting, though they assisted each other. Javier did an excellent job and he was very personable as well as very knowledgeable. He answered our numerous questions to the best of his ability, offering to find the answer when he did not know it. Wendy also did a good job leading the tastings, answering our questions as well. Javier stated that Wendy brought a New World view to the Wine Academy. Our numerous questions did cause a little havoc with the schedule but Javier and Wendy helped to keep the course schedule on track and we only ran a little bit over on Saturday.

The course basically followed much of what was in our course materials, though the order of the various D.O.s varied, but that was not a problem. We began with a history of wine in Spain and then moved onto the current Spanish wine market. Next, we covered some generalities about the climate and soil of Spain, and then learned about the rules and laws of their wine industry. After this foundation, the rest of the course dealt with the various wine regions of Spain.

For most of the wine regions, we learned a bit of history about them, their climate and soils, the primary grapes they grow, types of wines they produce, the names of some producers and more. For a few of the smaller wine regions, we did not really go into much detail as there is not much going on in those regions currently. For example, we did not cover all of the various Canary Island D.O.'s in detail as not all are significant. The course materials did occasionally differ from the slide presentation so you did need to pay attention to the slides in case there was some additional information there.

I think the course provided a thorough explanation of the Spanish wine industry and certainly would be a good foundation for anyone who wants to learn about Spanish wine. Plus, we were free to ask many questions which helped supplement the course information. For example, we learned about food pairings with numerous types of Spanish wine though that was not a part of the course materials. Plus, we learned some details about how climate change is affecting the Spanish wine industry, more information that was generally not in the course materials. In fact, we probably could have easiuly spent another day learning more about different Spanish wine topics. I certainly learned numerous new things about Spanish wine and my fellow students seemed to feel the same as well.

Though there might be some topics that could have used more extensive teaching, such as food pairings and climate change, that would have required a longer class. Our schedule was already very full with everything from the course book. It would be difficult to add any more topics without expanding the length of the course to another day or two. Maybe they could do a more advanced Spanish wine course, to touch on specific topics not covered by the basic course.

Within all of this course work, we also fit in wine tastings. We only tasted 10 wines on Friday but had about 34 wines on Saturday. The list of wines was not the same as in the course schedule, but then they have to adjust to the wines that are available at each teaching location. We certainly had plenty of variety though, including Cavas, whites, roses, reds, Sherries and dessert wine. The tasting helped to indicate some of the differences in Spanish wines, especially of those grapes and wines which can seem similar.

One of the highlights was the 2005 Seguras Viudas Creu de Lavit, a 100% Xarello, a white grape that is usually used in the Cava blend. I have had only one 100% Xarello wine before, and that was in Spain last fall. I was pleasantly surprised to see that some are available in the U.S. It is a very striking grape, with a unique flavor that I very much enjoy. And this wine only costs around $14. I was also very impressed with a couple sherries, an Amontillado and an Oloroso (Vina AB Amontillado Seco & Alfonso Oloroso Seco). Most of my Sherry experience has been with Fino and Manzanilla. But both the Amontillado and Oloroso had intriguing flavors that appealed to me. I will definitely seek out more of those Sherry types to try.

Today were our two exams. The first exam consisted of 50 multiple-choice questions that dealt with everything we had learned in the course. If you had studied, the test was not too difficult though a few of the questions did challenge me. I feel confident I did well on that exam. Then came the blind tasting, which I thought would be difficult. We had six wines and for each wine we had to answer 5 multiple-choice questions. The most important questions dealt with the grape and region of the wine. I felt challenged by the blind tasting but felt fairly confident I had done well again.

After the exam, Wendy told us which wines we had tasted and I was very pleased to find that I had gotten all of them correct! The Cava and Fino Sherry had been relatively easy to identify. The Albarino was a little trickier as it can sometimes be confused with the Verdejo or Rueda. The three red wines also required a bit of consideration, to differentiate between what were the Priorat, Rioja and Monastrell. And not to confuse the Rioja with a Ribera Del Duero, or the Priorat with a Garnacha from another region.

Once Javier and Wendy finish the North American courses, and return to Spain, all of the tests will be scored and we will find out whether we passed or not. We were informed that we generally only needed a 50% or so to acquire your certification. This bothered me a little as I would prefer that a higher bar had been set for certification, to provide more meaning and credibility to the certification. To truly indicate that the student had assimilated the course information.

But then Javier began the course telling us that a primary aim of the Wine Academy of Spain was to create Spanish wine "ambassadors," people to help promote the wines of Spain. So, the test scores are probably not seen as important as finding people who are willing to be passionate about Spanish wine, passionate enough to take the course in the first place to learn. And before I took this course, I pondered over what the certification would mean to me and concluded that it would primarily make me more of an ambassador for Spanish wine. Which seems to have been the intent of the course in the first place.

There is a significant bonus though for a select few who do extremely well on the tests. The top 15 scorers on the test, during their North American leg, will win a free trip to Spain. This is supposed to be a ten day tour of Spain, with visits to Penedés, Priorat, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Rías Baixas and Jerez. The trip includes meals and winery visits. About the only thing you have to pay for is your airfare and general spending money. The trip will take place at the end of October. A pretty nice bonus for the high scorers.

Overall, I would recommend this course to anyone serious who wants to learn more about Spanish wine. It is an informative course with very good instructors. And you also have the opportunity to ask plenty of questions you might have about Spanish wine. I certainly felt this class benefited me and I would take other courses through Wine Academy of Spain. It was also fun and we got to taste lots of good wines. The course was also a good networking opportunity, to meet others in the wine industry that you might not meet elsewhere.

So now I wait for my results. And have a bit of hope that maybe I did well enough to win the trip to Spain. I certainly would love to return there.

Viva La Espana!


Anonymous said...

Way to go Richard! I'm afraid now that we have a bit of competition!! ;) Sounds like you learned a lot and had a good time. Good luck with the results!!

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks very much Ryan. Competition can be good as it makes the competitors strive to be better. :)

But you and Gabriella will continue to be the #1 Iberian wine blog out there. People can view me as a supplement, especially as I talk about all types of wines, and not just those of Spain. I just hope I can add some support to the Spanish wine industry.