Since the first sip.
Wine and I are in a long term relationship. I have always appreciated wine, but I feel a little guilty for not taking the time to understand the complexity of it. In all honesty, it overwhelms me and I find it a bit intimidating. I know what types of wine I like and I know certain varieties that I do not like, but didn’t really understand why or have the proper wine vocabulary to describe my instinctual likes and dislikes. I unquestioningly accept the recommendations of people more expert than me as they described what was in my glass using that poetic language particular to the wine world. Yet, I increasingly felt the need to have a better understanding of those pours and dive a bit deeper into the world of wine. Or at least get my toes wet.
I met Fintan Kerr a few years back when he guided a wine and tapas tour that I attended in the El Born neighborhood. His enthusiasm for- and knowledge of wine and the history of El Born stayed with me. When people live and breathe their passion for a particular subject, it makes a lasting impression. Three years later, I found myself on the L4 metro at 8:30 am on a gloomy Saturday morning sleepily struggling to get over to a cozy studio space in Poble Sec to take an eight-hour wine course…with Fintan. Clearly, it was fated that the first person who guided me through my first official wine tasting in Barcelona was now going to be my teacher at an official WSET wine course.
Fintan started Rack & Return with Michael Salverda, but his love affair with wine began much earlier during a wine tasting at the venerable Bodega Maestrazgo. He was working an everyday sales job at the time and the wine tasting happened to be one of those social events Fintan organized for some friends.
The entire evening was just a wonderful blur of new tastes, new information and new ideas. I went home in a slight daze (and not just from the alcohol) and when I woke up, I’d caught the wine bug!
Less than 3 months later, Fintan quit his job and started to study with the WSET in London. Along the way, he met his now business partner, Michael Salverda. The friends both studied through all four levels of the WSET and received their diplomas, after which they planned to create a wine school focused on offering WSET Courses in both English and Spanish, as well as other high-end wine qualifications.
In 2019, the duo followed through on their plans, opening up Rack and Return. What started as a shared love of wine has now become a dynamic wine school in Barcelona, with over 20 wine courses lined up for 2020. Fintan and Michael intend for Rack and Return to become Barcelona’s most accessible and informative wine school.
The WSET Wine Course
Understanding the fundamentals of wine is not that difficult, as long as there’s a good teacher who actually takes the time to explain it to me. Fortunately, Rack and Return’s wine course did just that. We were given a reference booklet, which included space to take notes and later use as a study guide. In the first half of the day, we learned about the basics of wine-making and a general overview of the types of wine. Fintan carefully walked us through the material and gave some personal stories and real-world examples. Later, we swirled, smelled, sipped, and spit. Turns out, a wine education is not about drinking a lot of wine (although, yes, we did drink a lot of wine). It’s about taking the time to fully engage your senses by analyzing the color, then smelling the aroma, and finally tasting the wine. Rack and Return’s course focused beyond just teaching facts, and statistics, and really taught me how to think about wine.
For Fintan, teaching the course has its own rewards.
I always enjoy watching their personal growth and their “Aha!” moments when pieces of the puzzle fall into place. I hope my students leave our classes with a sense of wonder and curiosity; the most important elements for any wine student. We want our students to take what they’ve learnt and then build on it as they explore the amazing world of wine.
Fintan’s natural teaching methods guided us through the entire course material and the entire class felt like a conversation with a friend.
Poble Sec restaurant Denassus provided lunch, which was a special addition not included in the regular course price. You would think that food from a local bar on the touristy Carrer de Blai in Poble Sec would be unremarkable, but thanks to the affable owners Sergi and Alejo, this wine and tapas place is truly remarkable! It helps that they are sommeliers with an expertly curated wine list and a gorgeous, little restaurant space.
When asked if he could share a bottle of wine with anyone (dead or alive) who would it be – and more importantly, what bottle would it be – Fintan responded without hesitation,
…a mature bottle (magnum!) of Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses with the late Christopher Hitchens. [He’s] not someone I always agreed with, but a truly brilliant mind, and someone who I suspect would open up and share his thoughts after some good wine. He was notoriously fond of a good bottle.
After lunch, Fintan gave us a nice overview of the course material and we were given some time to study our notes independently. Michael administered the test and then our tests were officially sealed and sent to London to be scored. Despite the casual and fun nature of the day, the WSET courses are serious and graded objectively. A few weeks later, Fintan called to share the results.
People with a Passion
Taking the class helped me to better appreciate and understand the entire winemaking process. At the end of the day though, it’s engaging with the winemakers and people who speak with passion about the topic who make me care about the final product poured into my glass. Anytime I can spend a day with someone that cares so deeply about a subject, I will jump at the opportunity.
Besides having a basic understanding of wine, the WSET 1 class finally gave me the confidence to order a decent glass of wine and pick up an impressive bottle for a gift or dinner party. There is a whole lot more to learn about wine, but this was a good way to dip my toes in on what would have been an otherwise dreary Saturday morning. Oh, if you are wondering if I passed the wine test, I did indeed.
Now it’s your turn!
Use our special 10% discount code “thebarcelonaedit10″ for any of the wine courses offered from Rack and Return.
You’re already drinking wine while wearing pajamas. Now learn something from it. Due to Covid-19, Rack and Return is offering an online version of this WSET wine course with the same material, content, and exam, and at a reduced price. The amount of wine tasting may be less…or perhaps more, depending on your independent study habits at home.
Disclosure: I was invited by Rack and Return to experience their wine course for the purpose of this article. All my thoughts and opinions are my own.