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Soaring wine prices spawn specialist course

Vienna has just played host to a specialist course designed to help sommeliers experience the wines they can no longer afford to taste.

Called Fine and Rare Specialist, the week-long course from 28 June to 3 July was held at the Palais Coburg, and generously supported by the hotel’s owner Peter Pühringer.

Organisers of the tutored tastings and lectures were Frank Smulders MW, wine director at the Palais Coburg, and Dr Josef Schuller MW, managing director of the Austrian Wine Academy, who worked together to gather some of the wine world’s most respected figures to present truly fine and rare bottles.

The course was first held last November but this year was moved to late June and extended by half a day following feedback from the attendees of the inaugural week of wine education.

The extra time was used to allow for an extensive tasting of Italian fine wines as well as a food and wine pairing masterclass, alongside the detailed analyses of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Napa Valley and classic fortified wine regions.

Due to the course’s location in Vienna, Austrian wines also featured, and a day trip to Kamptal and Wachau included tastings of aged Rieslings and Gruner Veltliners, including a Mantlerhof Gruner Veltliner from 1961.

Speaking of the motivation for founding the course in late last year, Frank explained, “Mr Pühringer is very generous and said, ‘we’ve got a great cellar but how many young sommeliers have ever had the chance to taste these wines because they are so expensive, so why not do a course to give them the possiblity to learn about the wine we handle, and I will support it.’”

Frank added that although the course is engineered to suit sommeliers, it is also suitable for anyone from collectors, enthusiasts, wine educators, retailers and commentators.

At the end of the course there is the chance to gain a certificate for those that pass an optional exam which comprises a blind tasting paper and an oral exam on a fine wine region of your choice.

The course costs €5,900 although discounts are available for applicants, and bursaries of €4,000 were awarded this year for sommeliers who had persuaded Frank and Joseph that they were deserving of a subsidy following a 500-word written motivation for attending the series of tastings and classes.

Highlights of the seven-day course included the chance to taste a 1907 d’Oliveiras Madeira, a 1974 Punotto Barolo, several vintages of Gaja Barbaresco and Tignanello, a 1969 Domäne Wachau Riesling Spatlese, an 1990 Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner, 1990 Lafite-Rothschild, 1962 Haut-Brion, 1981 Cheval Blanc and 1962 d’Yquem.

Also poured during the course were 2002 Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Françaises, 1998 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche, 1962 Vega Sicilia Unico, 1983 Chave Hermitage, 1919 Huet Vouvray Haut Lieu and 1973 Dom Pérignon among many other fine and rare wines.

Attending the course were a mixture of sommeliers, wine writers and members of the trade from a range of countries, including China, Russia, Italy, the UK and The Netherlands.

The course is undoubtedly unique in its ability to show such a range of extremely rare fine wines over a short period – and at such a price – made possible by both the generous support of the hotel’s owner, but also the fact the tastings are held above one of the world’s most incredible cellars, which contains over 60,000 bottles.

Patrick Schmitt attended the course and will be bringing reports from the tastings over the next few days.

Next year’s Fine and Rare Specialist will be held in late June/early July and will follow a similar format.

The course programme can be viewed below.


Thursday June 28th:

10.30 hrs            Arrival and registration of students, Palais Coburg

11.00 hrs            Welcome and introduction by Dr Josef Schuller MW and Frank Smulders MW, followed by a tour through the five wine cellars of Palais Coburg by the Palais Coburg sommelier team.

12.00 hrs            Buffet lunch in the cellars

13.00 hrs            Panel presentation and discussion on Fine and Rare Wines with Gerard Basset MS MW, Jean-Michel Valette MW, Frank Smulders MW and Dr Josef Schuller MW

15.00 hrs            Tasting of red and white wines from California, presented by Jean-Michel Valette MW

18.30 hrs            Dinner in the Basteigarten Restaurant of Palais Coburg with “The best wines from Austria”, presented by Willi Klinger.

Friday June 29th:

09.00 hrs            Presentation by Jean-Michel Valette MW about the market for fine and rare wines, worldwide and specifically in the United States.

11.00 hrs            Tasting of fortified wines, especially Madeira and Port, presented by Gerard Basset MS MW.

12.30 hrs            Lunch in the Basteigarten

14.00 hrs            Presentation and tasting: ‘Italy, Innovation and Tradition’. Presented by Lynne Sherriff MW, Gaia Gaja and Albiera Antinori.

18.00 hrs            Italian dinner in Restaurant Fabios, with Lynne Sherriff MW, Gaia Gaja and Alessia Antinori.

Saturday June 30th:

09.00 hrs            Tasting of great sweet wines of the world: Sauternes, Ruster Ausbruch and Tokaji. Presented by Bill Blatch, Kurt Feiler and Izabella Zwack.

11.30 hrs            Vineyard trip to Kamptal and Wachau. Visit of the Loimer winery. Vineyard lunch with Fred Loimer, including a viticulture workshop. Tasting with winegrowers Fred Loimer, Sepp Mantler and Markus Huber. Then drive to Wachau to visit F.X. Pichler winery, vineyard tour of Wachau, and tasting with Lukas Pichler, Emmerich Knoll and Roman Horvath MW (of Domäne Wachau). Dinner in Loibnerhof (Knoll).

Sunday July 1st:

10.00 hrs            Theoretical and practical presentation on food and wine pairing by Dr. Peter Klosse.

14.00 hrs            Bordeaux First Growths tasting with Serena Suthcliffe MW and David Peppercorn MW

18.00 hrs            Free evening / chance to watch European Football Championship Final and have a hamburger with Pol Roger in the Palais Coburg wine bar.

Monday July 2nd:

09.00 hrs            Presentation on wine auctions and the worldwide market for fine and rare wines by Anthony Hanson MW

11.00 hrs            Burgundy tasting with Anthony Hanson MW

12.30 hrs            Viennese lunch in Restaurant Die Drei Hacken

14.00 hrs            Champagne presentation and tasting with Mathieu Kaufmann, chef de cave at Champagne Bollinger

19.00 hrs            BBQ in the Basteigarten with two Austrian winegrowers, Leo Alzinger and Christian Tschida

Tuesday July 3rd:

09.00 hrs            Presentation and tasting of Hospices de Beaune by Anthony Hanson MW

11.30 hrs            Winery visit and lunch in the typical Viennese Heuriger: Mayer Am Pfarrplatz

15.00 hrs            Vertical tasting of Les Forts de Latour with Jean Garandeau, commercial director of Château Latour.

19.00 hrs            Farewell dinner in Silvio Nickol, the two Michelin star gourmet restaurant in Palais Coburg

Wednesday July 4th:

09.00 hrs            FRWS Examinations

13.00 hrs            Champagne lunch

15.00 hrs            Champagne Dom Pérignon tasting and presentation with Richard Geoffroy, technical director of Moët & Chandon

18.00 hrs            End of FRWS course


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