Tuesday, 9 April 2013

WSET Diploma Semester 2, day 1

We're back! The second half of the diploma (now referred to as WSET Level 4, but I'll continue as I've started) is now in full swing, bringing with it a mix of emotions:
The good: it is great to be studying again. Sure, there's some hard work, but you get out of life what you put into it, so bring it on. Semester two also contains spirits, my natural environment, so that will make for pleasant study time.

Another positive is that I will (hopefully) get back in the habit of regular blogging. Now I've got a fancy new iPad I can type up my notes on then train. No excuses now!
The bad: good grief I'm busy at the moment! Unit three alone represents 300 hours of study. Given that we're less than 60 days from the exam, I'll let you do the maths. If this gets overbearing, I shall refer myself to the statement above. On with the show...

Our class is notably small this time around, with only eight if us there at the beginning if the day, slowly increasing to 12 as the various train and traffic problems allowed others to arrive.

What you need:

Glassware (12), pen, paper, your SAT (systematic approach to tasting). No need to bring the study guide this time.

What to expect:

The day starts with a (re)introduction to the course, the building, and the various internet resources available, but the real business of the day is tasting.
If you treat this day as an opportunity to taste through lots (20+) of sparkling wines and discuss their merits (or lack of) with your peers, guided by an enormously entertaining MW (in my case Peter McCombie, MW) then you won't be disappointed. Go expecting a lecture on sparkling wine production and you'll feel short changed.

My advice, as ever: do your reading beforehand. I really can't stress this enough - it has become my mantra for the entire course. Use the lectures as group tasting sessions hosted by world-class experts to consolidate your knowledge, since there really isn't time for the subject to be 'taught' directly.

The day with Peter was extremely enlightening - the quality of some of the New World sparkling wines (California, I'm looking at you) left me questioning how much longer France can really expect to maintain its position at the top of the prestige ladder. It is certainly no longer unchallenged.

Another useful element of the day was a particularly clear explanation of the 'grey areas' of the SAT. For example: a wine lacking complexity is generally accepted to be of lower quality. But does this mean a stunning Prosecco is of a lower quality than an average Champagne? Can intentionally light wines ever achieve greatness? These philosophical questions are probably beyond the reach of a tasting note (especially during an exam), but the advice in how to tackle it in this scenario was most useful, so I'll share.

When arriving at your quality conclusion, decide on four aspects of the wine to comment on. If all four are positive, your wine is outstanding. Three positive, one negative: very good. Two of each, good. One positive, three negative: acceptable. Nothing good to say? Poor or faulty. Finally, a logical, algorithmic approach. You may or may not agree with the system, but knowing what the examiners are looking for is a huge improvement in what has previously been a rather wooly definition. Well done WSET!

On to day two: spirits.

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