Knowledgeable staff are at the heart of Majestic, so from day one I embarked on tasting our range at the in-store tasting counter, guided through the WSET systematic approach to tasting by my manager and assistant manager. As some of my customers have observed, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it! Vital preparation, though, for the blind tasting which forms a part of the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 3 Advanced Certificate.
I thought I’d put exams behind me a while ago, but the other part of the certificate is a written paper covering wine production from growing grapes through to marketing the finished bottle, wine styles, spirits, and all of the major wine regions of the world. So there was no getting away from some major book bashing, livened up by pop-quizzes at work from my colleagues as we put away the latest pallets of new stock.
Pouilly-Fuissé (Burgundy) versus Pouilly-Fumé (Loire)? Montepulciano (grape variety of Abruzzo fame) versus Vino Nobile de Montepulciano (not made from Montepulciano grapes)? The named villages of the Beaujolais appellation? Just some of the details revealed by the course. My favourite gem, though, was a mnemonic to remember the hierarchy of German quality levels: “Kebab Shops Are Bad To Enter” for Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trokenbeerenauslese and Eiswein.
Two study days at head office brought me together with a dozen of my fellow trainee managers from around the country. A chance to revise and explore the trickier areas of the syllabus, and to sample and taste some of the (rather few) wine styles and regions which we don’t stock in store. Our trainers were all Majestic staff and their enthusiasm for wine – and for making wine fun – really shone through.
Some three months after embarking on the certificate, it was back to head office and back to school for the WSET exam itself: a dozen nervous candidates exchanging small-talk and eschewing much-desired coffee for the sake of our taste-buds. Twenty minutes for the blind tasting, a short break, and then the longer written paper.
The final well-remembered torture from school and university exams was the six week wait for the results, since this is an international qualification administered and marked by the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.
So how did I do? Brilliant news: distinction in both papers, so I was over the moon! Not unusual for Majestic, though. Between us my cohort of 16 achieved seven passes with distinction and eight with merit.
Majestic staff are now sharing our knowledge and enthusiasm with our customers via our free Wine Uncorked sessions. A relaxed two-hour introduction and tasting, and don’t worry, no questions on Pouilly-Fuissé or Spätlese – unless it’s you asking them!
My next decision: whether to embark on the two-year WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spirits. Watch this space…