WSET DIPLOMA DIARY: FORTIFIED & SPARKLING

I save my peach flounced pen just for diary writing...

I save my peach flounced pen just for diary writing...

The past few weeks have been so busy, that while I still feel it’s nice to wish people Happy New Year, somehow it’s almost Spring.

Off on a plane I went, to an intensive weekend of preparing for both the Sparkling and Fortified WSET Diploma unit exams in Calgary. The days consist of sitting in quite a nice lecture hall with 20 other students, while a Master of Wine candidate reviews the study materials (fascinating, but an intimidating amount of information {memorize the villages of Champagne, the grapes they grow, the soil types etc}) and pours us many wines. The trick is that they are poured from a black sack, which handily obscures what the heck they are! Yes, if you want to cheat, you can peek to see the type of bottle, but I am steadfast in looking at only the wine as it pours into my ISO tasting glasses. I am a woman of principle. 

If you like port and sherry, you would have loved day two: tawny port, Amontillado sherry, old Madeira, vintage port, Rutherford muscat from Australia, and lots of Vins Doux Naturels (VDNs) from France. Personally, I love fortified wines and think they are some of the tastiest and most interesting wines to be had. The Sparkling unit, unfortunately, has reduced Champagne from an occasional luxurious delight, to “wine with bubbles” that I must taste repeatedly and pragmatically (LOL don't worry Champagne, I still love you). 

Don't tell the wine makers, but after a long day, one Non-Vintage Champagne can taste remarkably like a chardonnay-based Cava, and even like a NZ sparkling made with chardonnay and pinot noir. They’re all made using the same method, and feature similar grapes. It does lead to a bit of second guessing as the timer winds down, and I know I’m not alone in the class. Thank goodness for sparkling shiraz and Lambrusco, at least I can tell what they are right away! The shiraz tastes like sparkly jam, and the Lambrusco, gritty sour cherries (caveat emptor: I've had lovely Lambrusco’s, but not all are created equal). At least the vintage Champagne does taste distinctly of toasty, nutty goodness. I can’t wait till the exams are done, when I can celebrate and truly enjoy downing a glass of bubbly!

I was recently at a tasting in Seattle for Walla Walla wines, what a fun group of grapes to be drinking. The Walla Walla specialties are Syrah and Merlot, and there’s also some great Chardonnay and Riesling, but there are many, many types of grapes being grown. There were about 50 wineries pouring for an eager crowd of people “in the trade” (writers, bloggers, restaurant owners), and of course people that just wanted to drink for free. My favourites were easily Sleight of Hand Cellars, L’Ecole 41, and Watermill Winery (from the Oregon side).

One of the hazards of a tasting event is the spit buckets. Yes, spit buckets. You were probably taught as a child, like me, that spitting in a public place is not only rude, but disgusting. Against this conditioning, I am expected to spit a bright red substance a substantial distance into buckets sitting on a table, that are already quite full of other’s efforts. Yuck. Yet, if you don’t spit out the wine, you are looked at like a heathen that knows nothing about wine. And, you stand quite a chance of getting drunk (quelle horreur). Plus, people are crowding around you, sometimes jostling, and watching your technique… no pressure!

Despite the presence of spit-bucket hogs (the peeps that sidle up to the bucket, and block others access through various means), I was making a valiant effort with an inky syrah, trying in vain to keep my long locks from impeding the process, and feeling quite suave about it, when some wine splashed back up from the bucket to spray on my face. Yuck times 1000. Would it be chic or déclassé to bring my own personal spit solo-cup to the next event, I wonder?

Coming up this soon is the Vancouver Wine Fest, the largest wine festival in North America, and this year’s theme is Australian Shiraz/Syrah, where I hope to taste some delish Aussie sparkling and fortifieds too. Then, the big WSET exams loom closer. Very exciting stuff!

PS: The next enrollment for the Diploma Prep courses will begin in January 2017!