Culture Review: Balham Wine School
If you don’t yet know your Claret from your Beaujolais, then here’s your chance to learn the intricacies of wine tasting in relaxed and un-pretentious surroundings. The newly-established Balham Wine School, hosted in the Crush private dining room at The Exhibit bar in Balham, offers a unique learning experience for seasoned wine drinkers and beginners alike.
The Introduction to Wine class takes us away from the stuffy, snobbish stereotype and makes the world of wine accessible to all. Our delightful host and teacher, Cherie, brings her expertise in the grape to us with enthusiasm and humour, giving the class a friendly atmosphere that makes it easy to engage. Starting at 11am, we begin by learning how to taste wine like a professional by examining the colour, smell and taste of each product. Throughout the course of the day we test seven different white wines, three sparkling wines and five types of red.
The morning focuses on the white wines, and we learn facts about grapes; wine production; and the factors that influence taste – from climate, weather and soil to the types of grape used. Then we test the whites, from those termed ‘aromatic’ to the light, crisp ones and the full, round wines. The blood-alcohol content of the class rises quickly, and any initial fears about asking questions succumb to a growing confidence in our new wine tasting skills.
A hearty two-course meal for lunch is included, before the afternoon session starts with a guest speaker introducing the sparkling wines. Cherie then takes us through wine labelling and the differences between Old and New World wines. Some interesting facts emerge when we talk about navigating a wine list (the second cheapest wine on the list is usually the least valuable but restaurants increase the retail price to get a better return, on the basis that everyone chooses this one). Then it’s onwards to taste some light and full reds, before discussing some common wine faults to look out for.
As we test more wines it becomes steadily more difficult to maintain concentration, and the music from the main bar is occasionally too loud, but the informal structure of the class allows your brain to dip in and out of the lesson and engage with other participants. At the end, you may not remember the specifics about tannins (which make your mouth dry) or the peculiarities of different fermentation processes, but you’ll certainly be a lot more confident the next time you face a bank of wine bottles at the supermarket. You will also, of course, have had a thoroughly enjoyable day, resulting in a new appreciation for wine – and, perhaps, an uncomfortable but educational hangover.