COVID Wine Life: Fine Vintage Ltd. Food & Wine Pairing Online Course

5 06 2020

By Peter Vetsch

Living pandemic life feels strangely like becoming a new parent for the first time.  You rarely leave your house.  There are places you suddenly just can’t go.  At times you feel like your very will to persist is being sucked from your body.  And you need to find other ways to pursue your interests, in those slices of time not taken up by survival interest and existential pondering.  When my first son was born back in 2011, he was a less-than-ideal sleeper, and there were only so many late evenings that I could spend watching bad TV, waiting for the next wake-up, so that my wife could get a few uninterrupted hours of unconsciousness.  My need to find a better way to spend that time led to this blog, which is now 9 years old and over 600 posts strong.  Now my kids sleep fine (except when they don’t), but during our current times of COVID-19 distancing, that same feeling of isolation weariness started to arise.  It was promptly banished, and my similar hope of avoiding stagnation was satisfied, by a virtual trek through the online Food & Wine Pairing certification course offered by Fine Vintage Ltd.

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Photo Credit/Copyright: Fine Vintage Ltd.

I was highly familiar with Fine Vintage already, having already taken my WSET 2 and 3 classes through their excellent Calgary-based school, one of 18 locations they have across Canada and the US.  Founded by Master of Wine James Cluer (who memorably was a substitute teacher for one of my WSET 3 class days), Fine Vintage has enlisted some of the most respected names in the Calgary wine industry, Matt Leslie and Jennifer Book, as course instructors.  But what if you can’t currently sit in a classroom and share wine with 30-odd strangers in the name of wine education?  Fear not – they now have COVID-friendly solutions too.

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Photo Credit/Copyright: Fine Vintage Ltd.

Fine Vintage has assembled a series of online wine certification courses to help fill the void while the in-person sessions are on pandemic hiatus.  Compiled by James Cluer himself, along with fellow MW Phillip Goodband, they do not result in any formal WSET classification (the WSET, or Wine & Spirits Education Trust, is an independent education and qualification body based in London that only governs over its own licensed courses) but do culminate in a final exam and a Fine Vintage certification.  There are three ascending levels of wine courses, an introductory course on spirits, and the course in which I have been immersed over the past few days, the Food & Wine Pairing Online Certification Course.  This is a 4-6 hour crash course (including the exam, it took me just shy of 5 hours total to complete) about the basic principles and some of the more advanced concepts behind properly matching food and wine.  It costs $99 USD to register and consists of 8 different modules that can be completed in stages at your leisure, from the sanitized comfort of your own home; from my experience, the collective content is easily worth the registration fee. Read the rest of this entry »

WSET Celebratory Wine Review: 2007 Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Syrah

6 02 2012

When people ask me what kind of wine I like, I'm going to pull out this pic.

Ever since I found out that I passed my WSET Advanced course last week, I’ve been wanting to break open something truly special to celebrate.  However, sickness intervened, so rather than crack a $100+ bottle and write stuff like “smells like nothing” and “my throat hurts” in a review, I decided to wait until the congestion clouds had cleared.  This weekend I pronounced myself fit to taste and rummaged through my cellar to find a suitable victory bottle, and as soon as I came to this one, I stopped thinking about any other.  However, it’s a bottle built for the long haul, so I was faced with the quandary that every wine lover about to pull the cork on an expensive bottle has had to face:  should I open the wine now so I can try it, or will I be undercutting its long-term potential by having it too early?  After getting some savvy advice from the amazingly-informed wine community on Twitter (thanks, @peterzachar and @nwtomlee!), I turned to Cayuse’s website for the final verdict.  On their FAQ page, there was a question that said:  “How soon can I open my wines?”  Cayuse’s answer?  “A Latin saying insists, ‘There are four reasons for drinking wine: the arrival of a friend; one’s present or future thirst; the excellence of the wine; or any other reason.'”  I opened the wine.

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WSET: Officially Advanced!!!

23 01 2012

Ten weeks and a day (but who’s counting) after I tasted and wrote my way through the Wine & Spirits Education Trust’s Advanced Exam, I officially got my results from WSET headquarters in London.  Thankfully, they were worth waiting for, on both the theory side and the tasting side:


I now have a fancy certificate (which I’m not allowed to reproduce in any form, hence the substitute pic of the boring accompanying letter above) to hang in my not-yet-built wine cellar, a somewhat-less-fancy green pin and a heck of a load off my mind…I think I was more nervous about this exam than I was when I wrote the LSAT.

An anticlimactic but hard-fought pin.

According to the WSET website, I can now work “in the drinks and hospitality industries in a supervisory capacity” (who’s hiring?  🙂 ) and, more importantly, apply to the WSET to use the “WSET Certified Advanced” logo on my letterhead and business cards!  I am totally doing this.  This has completely made my week.  I will crack and write about a suitable celebration bottle shortly, but for now I’m just going to sit back, savour the moment and thank my lucky stars that my tuition money didn’t go to waste.  Cheers!!



WSET Advanced Complete!

14 11 2011

This logo and I have had a good 2011 together.

So how many different wines did you drink over the last three weekends?  I had about 100.  From White Zinfandel to Barolo, Tokaji to Pinotage, Sherry to Port — if it was from a recognizable world wine region, I probably tasted it over 50ish classroom hours in WSET Advanced class.  The wines we tasted in the course retailed for anywhere from $10 to $100, came from 15 different countries and ran the gamut of styles, preparations and flavours.  To top it off, the WSET threw in some spirits for good measure:  in the span of an afternoon this past Saturday, I had Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados (apple-based spirit), Irish Whiskey, Single Malt Scotch, Bourbon, Dark Rum and Tequila (it would have been like a Vegas weekend were it not for the spit cups).

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Wine Review: 2009 Paolo Conterno Barbera d’Alba

9 11 2011

Not to reinforce any improper stereotypes, but I totally dig the Mafia lighting in this photo.

Well, another week, another lone post on Pop & Pour — there’s no doubt that my brief foray back into academics has taken its toll on my blogging productivity.  Thankfully, my WSET Advanced exam is this Sunday, after which my writing schedule will get back to normal (provided I haven’t given up on wine entirely by then, something I might just do if I have to read my textbook one more time).  After two weekends of boot-camp-esque Advanced training and 30+ hours of class time logged, we’ve tasted and evaluated close to 80 wines and covered off every major world wine region except Spain and Portugal (which are coming up this Saturday), as a result of which everyone’s brain is in varying degrees of pain.  My head is so WSET-laden that I have random wine words like Trincadeira (Portuguese grape variety) and bocksbeutel (odd-shaped wine bottle used in Franken, Germany) floating around the edges of my consciousness at night as I’m trying to go to sleep, and I can’t pour a straightforward glass of vino with dinner without mulling over whether it has a medium or medium-plus body or a ruby-with-some-garnet or garnet-with-some-ruby appearance.  Tonight I poured one of my favourite kinds of inexpensive wine, Barbera d’Alba from northwest Italy, and even though I was fairly familiar with the grape and the region, I still felt compelled to dive into my text to find out what my new vinous Bible had to say about them.

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Goals & Milestones

27 10 2011

Once more into the breach!

One of the things I wanted to do in 2011 (other than making sure I muddled through figuring out how to keep our first child alive — so far so good!) is get some formal wine education.  I had read a ton of books and articles, gone to tastings, talked to shop owners and, of course, drank a lot of vino, but I wanted to take things a step farther and actually get into the classroom, which prompted me to enrol in the WSET Intermediate program a few months ago.  Thankfully, I successfully completed and passed the course, coming out of the summer with my Intermediate Certificate, and I enjoyed the experience so much that I immediately signed up for the WSET Advanced class later in the year.  Well, “later in the year” is now two days away — for the next three weekends I will be shut away in a conference room downtown with other like-minded wine die-hards, trying desperately to absorb reams of technical and geographical information while simultaneously tasting 20-30 wines a day.  If my course materials are any indication, the Advanced course will be WAY more, well, advanced than the Intermediate, so if you don’t see as many PnP posts as normal until mid-November, you can assume it’s because I’m studying.  The blog will be back up to full throttle once my exam (which includes a blind tasting this time) is blissfully behind me.

Thankfully, this blog continues to get amazing support even when I’m a bit lax about regular posting.  Sometime in the next two days Pop & Pour will clock over the 10,000 (!!!) hit mark, which is both gratifying and astonishing to me.  In each month of its operation, PnP has attracted more views than the month before, and I have all of you to thank for your interest in this site.  Once the WSET is done I’ll crack and review a suitable tribute bottle to celebrate both this latest round-number hit target and the fact that school’s officially out for winter.  Cheers!

WSET: Officially Intermediate!!

2 08 2011

I’m back from a long weekend trip to the splendours of northern Alberta (note to all those who live in Grande Prairie:  buy your wine from the Costco there, and only from Costco…some crazy good deals even beyond the big labels!) and I’m ready to make up for lost blogging time.  I had planned to dive right into a new wine review tonight, but that all changed when I got a special delivery in the mail this afternoon from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust — my Intermediate exam results!  I am pleased to report that my registration for the Advanced course this October was not in vain…for some reason I’m officially forbidden from posting any image of my actual WSET certificate on the Internet, but I can post this:

Booya! Tuition money not wasted!

Admittedly, the Intermediate exam was just a multiple-choice test without a tasting component, but still, I’m pretty psyched about this.  Now all future reviews will be backed by that sliver of moral authority you get when you’re moderately qualified at something!

Actual wine talk will return tomorrow, when Oregon will have its PnP debut…I’m amazed I haven’t written it up yet, but that will soon be remedied.  Until then!

WSET Intermediate Complete!

4 06 2011

I came, I tasted 65 wines & spirits in a 3 day period, I wrote a test, and I think I passed.  I have a couple months to wait before I get my official confirmation, but WSET Intermediate is now in the books, and I cracked a special wine tonight to mark the occasion which I’ll write about tomorrow (hint:  it’s German, it’s Riesling, and it’s awesome).  In the meantime, I will again encourage anyone with a deep interest in wine to consider taking a course like this, because it really solidifies your base of knowledge and broadens your horizons (he says as he immediately goes back to his favourite region and grape right after class is over).  Until tomorrow!


25 05 2011

With any luck, in a couple of weeks I’ll be removing all of your lingering doubts about reading a wine blog written by an uninitiated hack; if everything goes according to plan, by then I’ll be at least a semi-initiated hack.  Starting this weekend I’m taking my first ever formal wine education course:  I’m signed up for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s Intermediate Certificate in Wines and Spirits course here in Calgary.  I’m extremely excited, not only to lend some much-needed legitimacy to this poor site, but to learn a more systemic approach to tasting and evaluating wine that should improve both my analytical skills and my appreciation for what I’m drinking.  Even better:  we get to practice this tasting method in class by trying over 50 wines in a 3 day period!  Now THAT’s what I call a weekend. Read the rest of this entry »

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