Thursday, September 7, 2017

Nurse the Hate: WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam

When I received the email, frankly I was afraid to open it.   The WSET Level 4 Unit 3 exam was a beast of a thing.  An exam which could theoretically cover anything involved in the topic of “wine” is difficult to study for effectively.  Any real guidance from the WSET is essentially useless.  “I only have three months to learn EVERYTHING about wine.  What is most important?  Should I know Greek wine techniques?”  Yes.  “What about the history of Bulgarian wine production?”  Yes.  “Godammit.  What about emerging Chilean wine districts?”  Yes.  

Allow me to be frank.  I gambled on this thing.  I spent five nights a week reading until I fell asleep reading about wine for months.  It quickly became evident I would run out of time before I ran out of pages.  I made the decision to do incredible deep dives in certain targeted regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Alsace, Rioja, Barolo, Chianti, Veneto, and Mosel.  Everything else I would rely exclusively on what I absorbed by chance.  If I opened the four hour essay exam portions and saw questions like “Discuss the major wine regions of Austria and the key climactic and soil differences impact on the wines.”, I would need to calmly stand up and walk back to Ohio shrouded in shame.  It seemed not only a reasonable strategy but my only chance of survival.  In full transparency, it is how I got through college.  

The tasting portion of the exam I prepared for the best I could.  For months I would stop in at wine bars and demand three half glasses of anything, but don’t tell me what it is until I ask.  I had bottles of wine everywhere in my home.  Obscure wines from regions like Alto Adige, Bierzo, Hawkes Bay, Puglia, Faugeres, and the Ahr became immediately recognizable.  I felt really good leading up to the exam.  I was seeing the ball, hitting the ball.  When I flew to San Francisco, I thought that despite the fact I was the only person sitting for that exam not professionally in the world of wine, that I belonged.

When I took the exam, I noticed everyone seemed more prepared than me.  I wasn’t sure how that was possible as I had spent roughly 20 hours a week immersed in wine texts.  Then it hit me that they had all spent ALL of their time involved in wine.  Fuck.  I don’t belong here.  We started with tasting.  12 wines are served blind.  The task is to provide complete tasting notes and identify the wines.  Everything was moving too fast.  It reminded me of being a teenager and having sex for the first time.  Whereas on Cinemax everything moved in slow motion and in complete control, I was fumbling around making a mess of everything.  I was probably as embarrassed as my first few sexual encounters as I was after the first flight.  Were my cheeks flushed with shame?  Got to get it under control…  There was no doubt in my mind I had “shit the bed”.  I had failed this part.  

The essays lasted for hours.  With luck maybe I could pass this portion.  I wrote 18 pages about all of the topics I had studied intently.  I got lucky.  I have spent most of my life winning exactly these type of gambles.  At the end of the marathon writing session, I stepped away with my cramped hand hoping for the best.  I think I did OK.  Right?  I mean, I knew how amarone was made.  I knew the oak barrel regiment of rioja.  I knew who Michel Rolland was.  Hell, I could even prattle on about the Ahr in Germany.  The question was would those fucking Rogers in London agree with me?  Roger has had it in for me for quite some time.  Roger grades the test, and Roger is not real down with me. 

Now it was three months later.  The grade had arrived.  80% of all of these wine professionals fail this exam.  I clicked on the email.  I braced myself for the bad news.  I was standing at a gas station across from a girl in yoga pants eating Fritos.  It wasn’t how I pictured it.  I was hoping to be in a serene white bedroom with a curtain breathing back and forth in the wind with an opera playing distantly as I calmly opened a certified letter.  Gas station and chick with Fritos?  Oh well...  “Greg, I have the results of the Unit 3 exam for the WSET Diploma you took on June 14th.  Tasting:  Pass.  Theory:  Pass.  Overall:  Pass.  Congratulations!”  I re-read it.  There must have been some mistake.  Holy shit.  I passed.  I fucking passed.  I am now one sparkling wine class away from getting the WSET Diploma.  Two years ago I sat on my sofa and watched a documentary about how difficult this was and shot my mouth off to say, “I bet I could pass that!”.  It’s been way tougher than I thought, but I will tell you what…  Just sparkling to go for the diploma?

I’m going to pass that.


At September 8, 2017 at 6:53:00 AM EDT , Blogger Frank said...

Bad ass. Congratulations.

At September 8, 2017 at 7:12:00 AM EDT , Blogger Matt said...

Congratulations! Keep up the good work and keep posting!

At September 8, 2017 at 7:19:00 AM EDT , Blogger Bobdontgiveaf#ck said...

I thought about leaving a snide or sarcastic comment here but, this one time, I'm not going to. Outstanding job. ("You've got a big......")

At September 8, 2017 at 8:06:00 AM EDT , Blogger Greg Miller said...

...and so do I! Now get back to work!

At September 9, 2017 at 6:49:00 PM EDT , Blogger j said...

congrats on passing. I do have a question though. whats your opinion on these vineyards in like NC etc? hot garbage or pretty good? I don't know much about wine so I'm curious.

At September 10, 2017 at 10:02:00 AM EDT , Blogger Greg Miller said...

I've never had any of the wines in NC, and the only ones I have even heard of are from that joint in Asheville. Biltmore? That place seems like a tourist trap more than a place to make serious wine. I would think they have issues there with molds/mildews and keeping acidity with ripeness. Great wine growing regions have warmth with diurnal temperature shifts whereas I think of North Carolina as being hot/humid. There are probably some slopes on mountains that can fit some of the bill for a good site, but you'd have to get lucky with soil as well.
Conclusion? I will try anything, but NC wines don't have a great reputation.


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