So, I’ve covered the four flights of wines that were served blind during the exam, but I have yet to discuss the questions asked in the theory section of the WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam. I’ll do so now, almost two weeks after the fact, though it must be said my enthusiasm have waned somewhat. I guess I’ll just try to ease into it.
First off, my predictions from a few weeks back were not very close to the mark. I expected the obligatory question to be either Bordeaux or Burgundy. Right country, wrong regions – it was actually on the topic of Languedoc-Roussillon, with the question being to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of it as a wine producing region. There was nothing on Germany, but a question each on Italy and France. Nothing on California, but one on South America. There was a New Zealand question, but with Australia as well. There was no grape specific question, though the Italian and Spanish questions certainly required grape knowledge. Instead of Pinot Noir, there was a bit question about Merlot. And instead of a question about the Rhône, it was a Bordeaux question.
I think most students thought it was a reasonable paper, and I would not disagree with them. Unfortunately, my heart sank as I realized I could give possibly better than halfway decent answers for the compulsory question and three out of the four required other questions, but one of my answers was going to be weak from the get go.
So here’s the rough text of the exam questions:
Strengths/weaknesses of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region.
Pick four out of six:
Wax poetic about Merlot.
Write about five of these topics as they relate to Australia/New Zealand: Hawke’s Bay, Grenache, 2011 harvest in Australia, Tasmania, Screw Cap, Pinot Noir
Write about the classification systems in St-Emilion and Cru Bourgeois, and recent developments therein.
Write about five of these topics as they relate to South America: Carmenère, El Niño, Coquimbo, Bonarda, Joint Ventures, Brazil
Write about three wines of Piemonte.
Write about the white wines of Rioja, Rudea, and Rías Baixas.
So, I had to take the compulsory question, which was fine. I don’t actually know that many specific facts about the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region, but I think I had enough to have passed the question. Essentially it’s something akin to a New World region within an Old World country, meaning it has lots of different grapes, people trying new varieties and techniques, and making lots of wine with the name of the grape variety right on the bottle. On the other hand, if someone gives you a bottle from Languedoc-Roussillon you really have no idea what to expect.
I went for the Merlot essay, because essay questions are relatively easy. The point of them is to make a convincing argument, and while I’m not sure I did that, I think I was moving in that direction in terms of how successful it has been as a wine and how it’s great in the vineyard, blah, blah, blah. Not an amazing piece of work, but not bad I hope.
Australia/New Zealand – how could I resist? I didn’t write about Tasmania, largely because you risk the wrath of the examiners if you mention sparkling wine and that’s what I know best from Tassie. All the others were pretty straightforward. I even name checked some of my favourites in the Pinot Noir section, in particular Barratt Wines, Shaw + Smith, and Ashford Hills.
So, St-Emilion and Cru Bourgeois – skipped it. I was in St-Emilion in June and really all I remember is that their classification system get re-evaluated periodically, and the last few times they’ve tried to do so, it’s ended up in the courts. I am not a fan of a grading done in 1855 being pretty much set in stone, but on the other hand having classifications go to court every time one is changed is pretty silly as well.
South America – somewhat iffy. Carmenère – hero grape of Chile, Bonarda – mystery grape of Argentina, Joint Ventures – would have been more convincing if I had mentioned a few more actual companies, Brazil – big country, makes wine, consumes most domestically, too warm really. I wrote something down for El Niño but I don’t think it was worth any points and I’m too embarrassed to look it up.
Finally, Piemonte or Spanish whites – I went with Piemonte but it was an incredibly weak answer. A shame as well, because I do like a good Nebbiolo once in a while, but really I just didn’t have the knowledge in me. At least it was the question I did last so perhaps the examiners will think I ran out of time. Or maybe they’ll just laugh.
I could go through and make an estimate as to how many points I managed to pick up for each question and see if I think I’ll pass, but I’d rather just move on for now and hope for the best. If I have to retake the exam in June, so be it, but with any luck I’ll be through by the skin of my teeth (which are very thin skinned, a bit like Pinot Noir).
On an unrelated note, I’ve been practicing for the Certified Sommelier exam. As I mentioned, there is a service component, and I have it on good authority that typically candidates are asked to open a bottle of sparkling wine and serve it to six or eight guests without having to revisit any glasses. I picked up the cheapest case of bubbles I could find and am about halfway through it doing just that – practicing professional service. It’s harder than it looks, it must be said. Still, if I can pick up a pin and a professional certification this week, I’ll be happy. And it’s nice to have an excuse to brush up on cocktail recipes.