Tuesday, November 04, 2008

More WSET Success

Wed 29 October 2008

Back in April I sat my WSET Advanced exam and at the beginning of July the results arrived. I was stoked to have received a distinction overall and relieved that the study and bad moods had not only been worth it but were also well and truly over.

Good things only last so long ...

Mid September I received a letter from the WSET inviting me to participate in the Advanced Scholarship Exam. Every year the top 30 students (this year, out of over 5000) are invited to take part in a viva voce exam, at the end of which a selection of very nice prizes are handed out. This year's exam took place last Wednesday at the WSET's headquarters in London.

So ... that was another six weeks of stress! In many respects, preparation for the viva was less stressful than preparation for the written exam, mainly because I had NO idea what to expect.

I was in the final group of 10, so midday last Wednesday saw me arrive at the WSET, collect my number (22) and wait to be shown into the room where the examiners had spent the morning examining the 30 candidates (an hour+ per group). The questions weren't questions are such: more like topics for discussion. At each table we had a minute to choose between two questions (they were in themed piles, and the examiners flipped over the top card, so they had no idea what was coming either) and then 5 minutes to answer. We had 8 of those, a blind tasting of two wines, and an interview.

Very briefly, I answered questions (in order) on: Chablis v vendange tardive, Fino Sherry, noble rot, European wine labelling legislation, Italian grape varieties (2 red, 2 white), Cognac, German labelling, and the white wines of Bordeaux and South West France. Most of my answers I was pretty happy with: the first wasn't great because I was nervous, no idea what to expect, and no idea how 5 minutes can be! I susprised myself by being able to talk non-stop about Sherry! And while I felt I made a few small factual errors overall I was pleased that I'd not made myself look like an idiot.

I wasn't thrilled with my tasting (2 wines in 5 minutes is tricky indeed) as I was worried I hadn't ticked off enough of the aspects of the systematic tasting, but I was pleased to subsequently discover that not only had I picked the region correctly but also the grapes (not as impressive as it sounds, as I got the grapes in the wrong order - though I suspect with a little more time I might have sorted that out too).

The examiners were all very kind and did a great job of maintaining interest and enthusiasm after three hours. By the end I was actually rather enjoying the experience - I know that sounds a bit perverse, but don't forget that I got to spend all that time talking about wine!

After the exam a fellow candidate and I had time for a glass of wine at the Wine Wharf. I had a 2006 Loimer Riesling from Austria's Kamptal. A hefty £8.65 for a large glass although this wine does look to retail around the £20 a bottle mark, so WW's £33.25 bottle price tag doesn't look too outrageous. It was very good - my mood wasn't quite right for serious tasting, but while I think that retail this might be a little rich, the relatively modest markup in WW makes this a better buy here than many whites you'll find in less wine focussed establishments.

Anyway, drink over and done with it was back to Leeds and time to settle down and wait for results.

Fortunately - I didn't have to wait long and I've found out already that I've won the Cálem Port Award! At this stage, I don't know any further details but at some point I'll be heading to the Douro as a guest of A A Cálem and I'll be learning all about Port! Fortifieds are probably my main weakness (hmm, should I be disclosing that here?) so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to strengthen both my technical knowledge and my palate.

I feel very privileged to have won this - I won't say lucky because I did study bloody hard and I do take my wine very seriously! However, I doubt that I'd have done as well without Andy's endless, patient quizzing and the classes with Karen, at the Northern Wine Academy, so a big thank you to both!

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Blogger Andrew said...

Hearty congratulations to you! I know just how hard you must have studied. Looking forward to reading all about your Calem adventures.

6:04 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

Thank you! I'm sure my trip will provide plenty of interesting material!

9:19 pm  

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