HOW TO PASS UNIT 3 OF THE WSET DIPLOMA

Facing down the Unit 3 exam? I’ve polled my Diploma Prep students who’ve recently been successful in their exams, to see what they found helpful as they prepared.

Here are the most popular suggestions:

1) Start At The End

This is a big exam, and the curriculum is massive. Sometimes, it helps to orient yourself at the end before beginning your studies. That means, reading the Candidate Assessment Guide, and reviewing past exams to look at exactly what is being asked of you in the exam. That way, as you complete the readings and take your notes, you will be doing it with an eye to the exam.

Action Step: Review the CAG and past exams. Make a list of past exam questions by question type.

2) Use Your ‘Spare’ Time

Having a regular study schedule, and ideally a dedicated study space, is very important. But there is also time in your day that you can fill with studies. That means, downloading podcasts for the train, having youtube videos playing while you cook dinner, and flashcards while waiting for just about anything. This ‘found’ time adds up. One app suggested as a time filler by several students is Voice Dream (you can add all kinds of documents and have the app read them out loud to you - such as chapters of the OCW. Bonus: you get to choose the voice!).

Action Step: Add podcasts, videos, and apps to your weekly study list. For some ideas, see Resources.

3) Cut Out TV, Internet Browse Time & Most Social Media

This won’t be very popular, but cutting these out, or reducing them, will add significantly to your study time. Social Media can be a time suck, try sticking to focused and topical browsing (think tasting events and wine critics, not pictures of your cousin’s new boat).

Action Step: Choose your ‘can’t miss’ media, and cut out the rest.

4) Low & Slow, or Cram Plan

There are two main paths to the Unit 3 Diploma exam, slow and steady, or desperately and all at once (hands up, all procrastinators!). The students who’ve performed the best overwhelmingly come from the Low & Slow group. Yes, you can cram for a few weeks before the exam and might pass, especially if you have a strong wine background. However, studying a little each day, consistently each week, several months in advance is the way to succeed.

Action Step: Create a weekly study calendar and stick with it.

5) Positive Mindset

A student had tried several times to pass their exam but been unsuccessful. Maybe they should give up? Never! My advice, write on your mirror, on your fridge, put it on your wallpaper: I passed the Unit 3 exam with Distinction. WSET students have to adopt this type of positive thinking, visualizing their success regularly, in order to keep up the motivation necessary for all the studying. Yes, it’s a little unorthodox, but it works.

Action Step: Write positive statements about your success, everywhere!


If you want some extra help preparing for your exam, be sure to check out the Unit 3 Prep Course. It’s a system designed to guide students through their students with the goal of passing their exam successfully.

Q&A: HOW TO STUDY FOR LEVEL 3 WSET EXAM?

WSET Level 3 Review

Q: Hi Rachel, I've got my Level 3 WSET exam coming up in three weeks and don't feel ready for the theory portion. We tasted a lot in class and I feel good about my tasting ability. After procrastinating for so long on theory maybe I should just reschedule the exam. What do you think, can I still pass?

A: Thanks for your question! I can definitely relate to your situation. When I was studying for Level 3, it was while I was on a summer contract as a yacht chef. I stayed up late to get an hour or two of reading and flashcards each night, but the exam was coming up fast. 

If you can devote a solid block of time each day to your studies, and even more for the week prior to the exam, here's an intensive, fast track plan for your studies.

The #1 challenge here will be to maintain a consistent study practice. This schedule is rigorous but doable, if you are doing a bit each day. If you miss a few days, it will be very difficult to catch up without losing sleep. 


Reading & Note Schedule (WSET Understanding Wines textbook)

Below is the full schedule, but before you jump in, I wanted to share a sample of my notes from the latest WSET textbook for Level 3. I allow myself 5 minutes per page, and that means writing fast! I jot down only the key information from each page.

For this note on Beaujolais, I spent less than 5 minutes for the two pages. Yes, that's really quick but you'll need to be going at a pace like this to get through the ~200 pages of material. 

Title your sheet with the region name, and reference the page numbers.

Give your notes headings so you can easily review later on. Also, draw graphics, such as the hierarchy for Beaujolais. Making sketches like this help you to retain the information.

 Drawings and sketches in your notes help you to retain the information 

Drawings and sketches in your notes help you to retain the information 


Week 1 - Read Section 3: Still Wines of the World & Take Notes

This week, you'll cover the still wines of the world from Understanding Wines.

Day 1: pg 77-89 (Introduction to France, Bordeaux, Dordogne & SW France, Burgundy)
Day 2: pg 90-107 (Beaujolais, Alsace, Loire, Rhône, Southern France)
Day 3: pg 108-119 (Germany, Austria, Tokaj, Greece)
Day 4: pg 120-138 (Italy, Spain)
Day 5: pg 139-155 (Portugal, USA, Canada, Chile)
Day 6: pg 156-172 (Argentina, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand)
Day 7: Flex Day - Take a break or review your notes!

Week 2 - Read Sections: 4, 5, 1, 2 & Take NOTES

This week, you'll work through the remaining sections from Understanding Wines.

Day 1: pg 173-183 (Sparkling Wine)
Day 2: pg 184-195 (Sherry, Port, Fortified Muscats)
Day 3: pg 1-18 (Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine, Wine with Food, Storage & Service of Wine)
Day 4: pg 19-32 (Vine, Growing Environment)
Day 5: pg 33-54 (Vineyard Management, Common Elements in Winemaking & Maturation)
Day 6: pg 55-70 (White & Sweet Winemaking, Red & Rosé Winemaking)
Day 7:  pg 71-76 (Factors that Affect the Price of Wine, Wine & the Law)

Week 3 - ReVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW

Devote as much time as possible to your review this week. Remember to get up from your chair each hour to stretch and drink water. Most importantly, get proper sleep each night to be in your best form for exam day.

Below is a sample of how I review before an exam. Taking the WSET Level 3 Specification, open it to the topic you are reviewing. Take a blank page of paper and brainstorm what you can remember for the given subject. Check against your syllabus, and review your notes from weeks 1 & 2 to refresh your memory.

 Refer to the Level 3 Specification as you review

Refer to the Level 3 Specification as you review

Day 1: Review Section 3 - France, Germany, Austria, Tokaj, Greece
Day 2: Review Section 3 - Italy, Spain, Portugal, USA, Canada, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand
Day 3: Review Sections 4, 5, 1 - Sparkling, Sherry, Port, Fortified Muscats, Wine & the Consumer 
Day 4: Review Section 2 - Factors Affecting the Style, Quality & Price of Wine
Day 5: Review Sections 3 & 2
Day 6: Review Sections 3 & 2
Day 7:  Exam Day

EXAM WEIGHTING BY LEARNING OUTCOME

Some of the WSET material reads like a stereo manual, so I've parsed through it to decipher what exactly they'll be focusing on in the exam. The five major topics (aka 'Learning Outcomes') are:

Learning Outcome 1: {VINEYARD/WINEMAKING} ID the principal natural and human factors in the vineyard and winery that are involved in the production of still wines of the world, and explain how they can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.
Learning Outcome 2: {STILL WINES OF THE WORLD} ID & describe the characteristics of the still wines produced in the principal wine producing regions of the world and explain how the key natural and human factors in the vineyard, winery, law and commerce can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.
Learning Outcome 3: {SPARKLING WINES} ID & describe the characteristics of the principal sparkling wines of the world and explain how the key natural and human factors in the vineyard, winery, law and commerce can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.
Learning Outcome 4: {PORT/SHERRY/MUSCATS} ID & describe the characteristics of the principal fortified wines of the world and explain how the key natural and human factors in the vineyard, winery and law can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.
Learning Outcome 5: {WINE RECOMMENDATIONS/WINE FAULTS/FOOD & WINE PAIRING/SOCIAL & HEALTH ISSUES} Demonstrate the ability to provide information and advice to customers and staff about wines.

SHORT ANSWER QUESTIONS

There are four short answer questions on the exam, at 25 marks a piece. Below, you'll see the possible topics.

Takeaways:

-Short answer questions relating to Sparkling and Fortified can appear on only one of the four questions (Weighting 20%)

-Vineyard/Winemaking topics will come up on all four questions (Weighting not specified, assume 100%)

-Still Wines of the World topics can come up on three of the questions (Weighting 70%)

-Wine Recommendations/Wine Faults/Food & Wine Pairing/Social & Health Issues can come up on two of the questions (Weighting 10%)

 These are the materials being tested for the short paragraph questions in WSET LEVEL 3 exams

These are the materials being tested for the short paragraph questions in WSET LEVEL 3 exams

MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTIONS

Remember, you only need 55% to pass, and a third of your theory mark will be made up of multiple choice questions. This means that if you have a familiarity with the textbook, this section should be straightforward (and yes, you should go with your first instinct for multiple choice, unless you are sure you should not change your answer). 

There are 50 multiple choice questions on the exam. Below you'll see WSET's breakdown of the exam topics.

Takeaways:

Outcome 1: {VINEYARD/WINEMAKING} 16% or 8/50 questions

Outcome 2: {STILL WINES OF THE WORLD} 56% or 28/50 questions

Outcome 3: {SPARKLING WINES} 10% or 5/50 questions

Outcome 4: {PORT/SHERRY/MUSCATS} 10% or 5/50 questions

Outcome 5: {WINE RECOMMENDATIONS/WINE FAULTS/FOOD & WINE PAIRING/SOCIAL & HEALTH ISSUES} 8% or 4/50 questions

 These are the weightings for the multiple choice questions in the WSET LEVEL 3 exams

These are the weightings for the multiple choice questions in the WSET LEVEL 3 exams

The lesson here if you are very short on study time, is to cover everything, but in particular give focus to Outcome 1: {VINEYARD/WINEMAKING} & Outcome 2: {STILL WINES OF THE WORLD}.

If you would like more help with your studies, be sure to check out my Level 3 Theory Prep course, which is chock full of flashcards and review quizzes for the curriculum.

Best of luck with your studies and let me know how it goes!

Cheers & Cin Cin,

Rachel

WINE & SPIRIT REGION WEBSITES

wine region websites

This is a regularly updated list of regional wine & spirit websites. Please submit your suggestions or changes in the comments section.

WINE

ARGENTINA

Wines of Argentina

AUSTRALIA

Wine Australia

Barossa

Clare Valley Rocks

Coonawarra

Margaret River

McLaren Vale

New South Wales

Queensland

Tasmania

Western Australia

AUSTRIA

Austrian Wine

BRAZIL

Wines of Brasil

CANADA

BC

Nova Scotia

Ontario

CHILE

Wines of Chile

FRANCE

INAO

Vin de France

Anivins de France

Alsace

Beaujolais

Bordeaux

Blaye

Bordeaux & Bordeaux Supérieur

Cadillac

Castillon

Côtes de Bordeaux

Côtes de Bourg

Entre-Deux-Mers

Francs Côtes de Bordeaux

Lalande de Pomerol

Loupiac

Margaux

Médoc

Montagne Saint-Émilion

Pessac-Léognan

Saint-Émilion

Sainte-Croix-de-Mont

Saint-Macaire

Sauternes-Barsac

Sweet Bordeaux

Burgundy

Chablis

Pouilly-Fuissé

Champagne

Corsica

Languedoc

Loire Valley Wines

Chinon

Provence

Rhône Valley

Roussillon

South West

Cahors

Gaillac

Madiran

GERMANY

VDP

Wines of Germany

GREECE

New Wines of Greece

ITALY

Abruzzo

Alto Adige

Campania

Emilia-Romagna

Emilia-Romagna (Lambrusco)

Franciacorta

Lazio

Lazio (Frascati)

Marche

Orvieto

Piedmont

Piedmont - Consorzio Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe e Dogliani

Prosecco

Puglia

Sardinia

Sicily

Trentino

Tuscany - Brunello

Tuscany - Chianti

Tuscany - Chianti Classico

Tuscany - Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Valpolicella

JAPAN

Koshu of Japan 

LEBANON

Lebanon Wines

MEXICO

Consejo Mexicano

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand Wine

Auckland

Canterbury

Central Otago

Gimblett Gravels

Gisborne

Hawke's Bay

Marlborough

Martinborough/Wellington

Nelson

PORTUGAL

Wines of Portugal

Alentejo

Dão

Douro

Vinho Verde

ROMANIA

Wine Romania

SOUTH AFRICA

Wines of South Africa

Cap Classique

SPAIN

Wines from Spain

Cava

Priorat

Rias Baixas

Ribera Del Duero

Rioja

Rueda

Somontano

Toro

TURKEY

Wines of Turkey

UK

Wine GB

USA

California Wine Institute

Discover California Wines

Lodi

Mendocino

Napa Valley

Paso Robles

Russian River Valley

Sonoma Valley

New York Wines

Oregon Wine

Willamette Valley

Washington State Wine

Yakima Valley 

FORTIFIED

Madeira

Moscatel de Setúbal

Port

Rutherglen Muscat

Sherry

VDN - Rasteau

VDN - Muscat de Beaumes de Venise

VDN - Muscat de St Jean de Minervois

SPIRIT

Armagnac

Bourbon - Kentucky Distillers' Association

Brandy de Jerez

Cognac

Irish Whiskey Association

Scotch Whisky Association

West Indies Rum

 

ONLINE BIDDING FOR AUCTION NAPA VALLEY

Bidding is now open, closing on Sunday June 3 at noon, for the E-Auction Napa Valley. You can check out the lots here: https://auctionnapavalley.org/auction_lots/eauction

Here are some highlights from the 150+ lots in the e-auction that I'm putting a bid in for:

520 Decant with Elegance - 24 bottles of wine and a fancy Riedel decanter

551 A Stags Leap Experience - 15 bottles of Napa wine & 4 tickets to the 2019 Vineyard to Vitner weekend 

436 Discover Los Carneros - 13 bottles of Napa wine & a luxury weekend for 2 in Carneros

 

Barrel lots open for bidding tomorrow, June 2nd, from 11am PST to 3pm. You can take a peek at the barrel lot goodness (110 to peruse) here: https://auctionnapavalley.org/auction_lots/barrel

Proceeds support community health and children’s education non-profits in Napa, including the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund. Since 1981, wine lovers from around the world have raised more than $180 million for local nonprofit associations. To browse the lots and register as an online bidder, visit https://auctionnapavalley.org/event/ebidder_guide 

Happy bidding!

Cheers,

Rachel

FINDING A WINE TASTING STUDY GROUP

start a wine study group

Hello fellow student of wine! I've had several requests to help peeps find a local wine study group. I thought you may find it helpful to have a place to leave a comment if you're seeking study partners or tasting groups.

Be sure to mention your study level (ie Diploma, WSET Level 3...) and your region.

Cheers, Rachel

CHANGES TO WSET: LEVEL 2 WINE, LEVEL 3 SPIRITS, & LEVEL 4 (DIPLOMA) WINE IN 2019

changes to wset diploma 2019

WSET have announced substantial changes to their Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4 programs. 

They're separating courses into three different streams: Wine, Spirits, and Sake. Here's a summary of what will be changing and when.

Changes to the WSET Diploma:

-The new Diploma program starts as of August 2019, focuses exclusively on wines, and includes 5 units. They are: D1, D2, D3, D4, & D5.

-Students currently in the Diploma have until the June 2019 exams to finish using the existing program structure. Those who have already passed Unit 4 and are transferred into the new program will still receive a Diploma in Wines & Spirits, as opposed to a Diploma in Wines. The June 2019 exams will be the last using the existing curriculum (for the Diploma Spirits unit, there will be a resit exam in March 2020 for those who failed in June 2018 to still achieve the Diploma of Wines & Spirits, see the notes at the bottom of this section). Those who are part way through the Diploma program after the June 2019 exams will be automatically transferred over to the new program, and will have credit for their units applied to the new curriculum units which launch in August 2019.

-Spirits is being carved out of the new Diploma, which will focus solely on wines (Level 3 Spirits will be a new, separate program, echoing the removal of spirits content from the Level 3 in Wine).

-Unit 3 Light Wines of the World will be of longer duration. I had asked WSET last year about whether they would split the curriculum into two shorter units, based on the low passing rates for Unit 3 Theory. They said it was a challenge in deciding how such a split would be organized, and have opted to keep the curriculum together but give students more time to study. The new unit will be called D3 Wines of the World. There will continue to be both a Theory and a Tasting exam, but these will be held over two consecutive days instead of on the same day. Students will now be given more time to complete the exams.

-Unit 5 Sparkling (new name D4) & Unit 6 Fortifieds (new name D5) unit exams will continue to have both a Theory (short answer open response) and a Tasting portion of exams. Students will be given more time to complete the exams than under current rules.

-A new 3,000 word research paper will be added, called the D6 Research Assignment, with subjects relating to current wine trends. Students mid-way through the Diploma who have passed their Unit 1 Coursework Assignment will receive credit for D6.

-The way the exam is structured will change for the Unit 2 Wine Production & Unit 1 Business of Alcohol units. These will become: D1 Wine Production, and D2 Wine Business. Both will have final exams based on short answer, open response questions. Students who are partway through the Diploma and have passed their Case Study will receive credit for D2, (as mentioned above, those who have passed their Coursework Assignment will get credit for D6).

-Students who completed the Diploma in Wines & Spirits will continue to use the nominal DipWSET, which will also be used by graduates of the new curriculum.

-From WSET's website: "The WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spirits will be permanently withdrawn on 31 July 2019, with the launch of the new WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines on 1 August 2019.  All students enrolled on the current Diploma will be automatically transferred to the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines in September 2019. 

Spirits will not be part of the new Diploma, but there will be one final Unit 4 Spirits examination for resit-only candidates in March 2020.  All students transferring with a pass in Unit 4 or who gain a pass in March 2020 will graduate with the WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits upon completion of all Units."  

See WSET's video on the new program and transition information for current Diploma students here.

Changes to WSET Spirits Programs:

-New is a WSET Level 3 Award in Spirits - launching Aug 1 2019. The new curriculum will include Asian spirits: Baijiu, Soju and Shochu. The final exam will include both a blind tasting of two spirits, and a written paper (which will include multiple-choice questions, plus a short answer section). The pre-req to get into Level 3 Spirits is the Level 2 Spirits course.

Changes to WSET Level 2:

-As of Aug 1 2019, WSET Level 2 will focus solely on wines; spirits content will have been separated out to a Level 2 Spirits course.

How will this effect Wine Prep Courses?

I love working with WSET students, and will continue to support you as you study for your WSET Level 4 Diploma exams, using the current curriculum until the June 2019 exams (and until March 2020 for the Unit 4 Spirits exam). Students who are freshly embarking on the Diploma and those who are already studying Level 4 are welcome to enroll in the Prep Courses for each unit, and will continue to have access to the updated Prep Course for their applicable unit as the materials are updated after the August 2019 relaunch at no additional cost (aka enroll in Fortifieds Unit 6 Prep and continue with Fortifieds D5 Prep after Aug 2019).

Wine Prep Students in Level 3 Wines can continue to study via the current Level 3 Wine Prep course which was recently created for those in the new WSET curriculum.

Cheers & Cin Cin,

Rachel

APPS FOR WINE STUDENTS

Wine_Apps

Here's a list of wine apps designed for wine students & serious enthusiasts to study with:

 

FRANCE

Bordeaux

iTunes / Google Play

Burgundy

iTunes / Google Play

Champagne

iTunes / Google Play

Rhône Valley

Desktop (music on opening)

ITALY

BRUNELLO

iTunes / Google Play

Chianti Classico

iTunes / Google Play

Valpolicella

iTunes / Google Play

South Africa

Desktop

USA

Napa Valley

iTunes / Google Play

Have a suggestion to add to this list? Send me a message or leave a comment below!

Cheers, Rachel

WHAT DO TEXT NOTIFICATIONS HAVE TO DO WITH STUDYING WINE?

studying wine

Have you noticed your ability to concentrate is dimishing lately?

I'm an inveterate book reader. Or at least, I thought so.

One day, I started to notice all the books I bought were piling up in stacks - the bedside table. The coffee table. Beside the coffee table. But I wasn't really reading them.

I'd start and a few pages in, pick up my phone to look something up. Or, I'd get a text and then realize I'd stopped reading half an hour ago, and was down a rabbit hole of links. 

 

What does this have to do with studying wine...

If you're in WSET Level 3 or the WSET Diploma, then you've probably got a copy of the Oxford Companion to Wine. A key resource for us wine students, but not exactly a thrilling read.

If I could barely make it through a long form article, what hope was there for memorizing the information needed to study for tough wine exams? Or to be able to focus in an exam?

 

Our ability to concentrate & notifications

I've been driving back and forth between Vancouver and our vineyard in the Similkameen Valley, four hours each way, regularly for the last two years. Recently, I've become a huge fan of audiobooks. I'd download a couple to listen to during the drive. One that captured my attention is Bored and Brilliant - How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self, the story of how a podcast became a movement for thousands of people to examine their relationship with technology, and regain productivity and creativity.

 A surprisingly helpful book for wine students

A surprisingly helpful book for wine students

I recommend this to students of wine who have a few hours to spare. The audiobook medium is helpful, especially if fitting in more reading has become a challenge.

 

Here are the top lessons from the book, and how I incorporated them into my life:

 

#1 Turn off all non-essential notifications

This includes: text messages, WhatsApp messages, Instagram notifications, email notifications etc. If there's an emergency, family can still reach me by calling.

The book explains how these notifications were developed by experts in human psychology to create a dopamine response. Effectively, they are engineered to capture our attention and reward us for noticing them. 

Within a week of turning them off, I had a much greater ability to focus on the present. Time spent on tasks became more absorbing. I think these notifications were the major contributor to a dampened ability to focus.

 

#2 Limit time on social media (sorry, Mark Z)

I'm not a prolific social media user, but definitely like to check in on IG, FB, and Twitter. However, the book delved into the negative effect these platforms can have on us with too much time invested. I now limit myself to 15 minutes a day on these platforms.

Effect: less time scrolling, more time reading, creating, and enjoying real life. 

 

#3 Have a phone free space

In the book, the author describes a woman who takes daily walks without her phone, and the feelings of boredom she encounters. Then the boredom starts to transform into curiosity, observations, and ruminating about challenges and solutions in her head.

The advice I took is having technology free spaces. The dining table is a phone/laptop free zone. Restaurants too. Sometimes, it's fun to go out and leave the phone at home. One last rule for myself: no using the phone while walking.

 

The result? 

I'm making headway on the piles of books, and can focus more effectively for much longer. Keeping phone free spaces means less distractions and more quality time. This is not a skill, but a practice that resulted in enjoying life more, and yielded concrete results in wine studies and while blind tasting.

So, with these regained skills, I'm off to savour a glass of wine with a pleasant meal, and later on, read the OCW entry on Prädikatswein.

Cheers & Cin Cin,

Rachel

THE IMPORTANCE OF TASTING 'OPEN LABEL'

blind tasting vs open tasting

I talk a lot about blind tasting here, but wanted to cover something that's important to do when your goal is building up tasting memory, and that is tasting 'open label'.

AKA tasting while knowing what you are tasting.

 

Here's why this is so important:

You can assess a wine blindly, for acidity, tannins, body, etc, but until you've tasted a broad range of wines, you have no context.

When I was just getting started learning about wine, I found it helpful to taste the flights open label first (i.e.: knowing what they were). Then, our tasting group would repeat the tasting of the same wines, but this time the wines would be bagged so we could taste blind. This helps to develop palate memory. Moreover, even when you're a relatively advanced taster, this technique is helpful to revisit.

When tasting a particular type of wine (i.e. McLaren Vale Grenache, GC Chablis, etc), note to yourself as you taste: what are the key markers or characteristics of this wine? On your tasting notes, {circle} items that jump out at you.

After tasting several Chablis for example, do you have any flavours or characteristics that you particularly notice about these wines (here are some of mine: green apple peel on Chablis, burnt toast and lime curd on Hunter Valley Sem, grapefruit pith on Pinot Gris).

 

Once you ‘get’ a particular flavour or aroma, it’s like learning a new verb in another language, and as you add more and more to your lexicon, you will become fluent in your new language.

These are the tells which will later help you when you are narrowing down your list of likely wines in a blind tasting or exam. 

 

Should I watch the grid?

I’d also recommend open tasting while looking at your WSET grid and descriptors, and asking yourself if you sense each category while you taste.

It takes a little practice, but you will naturally memorize the different flavour camps, and eventually, will be able to run through them in your head by rote as you taste: ‘do I taste citrus, stone fruit, oak? etc.

 

PS: When you write your notes, be methodical about writing out the categories in the order of the tasting grid. It will help organize your thoughts as you taste (and will be helpful for the exam, because you won't miss any point categories).

LEARNING FROM MW STUDENTS

tasting with MW students.jpg

Lessons from a weekend of mock MW exams:

1) Set up mock exams using past exams

Scan old exams for questions and wine flights. Look for what the examiners are trying to test on, and find comparable wines, or wine styles. Really figuring out what the test is about helps you as a student: often, it's about winemaking techniques and quality.

We did a flight of 12 white wines on day one and a flight of 12 reds on day two, all under real exam conditions: totally blind, timed to 2 hrs 15 mins, no talking. A good exercise, as I felt tasting all one colour at a time made it more challenging on the palate (there are pictures on my Instagram if you want to see what we tasted).

Where you learn the most won't be during the exam, it will be after when everyone shares their thought processes, which wines or regions they considered and/or rejected. Did several students think something was something else, and why?

2) When blind tasting, if you don't consider an option, you can't choose that option

After the first mock exam, I recognized where I had gotten some wines wrong because I had not considered the correct answer as an option. This can happen when you feel stressed or rushed. After assessing and writing my notes on acidity/alc/body etc, I'd note a list of potential grapes. It was a real face palm moment when the wine was revealed and it wasn't on that list! How was I supposed to get it right if I hadn't thought of it? The second day, I made sure to be more considered in listing out potential candidates as I 'funnelled', which resulted in better logical thinking.

3) Assume the default position of learning from others

Blind tastings in a group setting can sometimes feel competitive or intimidating. Taking the position of being determined to learn from every person present takes the pressure off being correct, or feeling embarrassed at getting something wrong, and puts the focus on improving. How did the person who nailed a wine perfectly get to that answer? How did they funnel? What other grapes did they consider? 

4) It always comes back to knowing theory

As talented as any taster can be, accuracy is underpinned by knowing the theory solidly. In an exam, there's no time to be second guessing the components of regional blends, or winemaking techniques in a certain type of wine. These facts need to become intuitive, so they can be accessed with ease while tasting.

5) Blind tasting talent = hard work + experience + opportunity

Getting better at blind tasting is all about practice. Take every opportunity you can to taste, especially with students at a level above you. The MW students I tasted with were not always as good as they are now, they were once WSET Level 3, then 4 students. There is no substitute for experience, whether that is trying wines, meeting with producers, attending seminars, or travelling to wine regions.

Sometimes, I have to remind myself to be patient with my current level of understanding. The Diploma is all about breadth of knowledge, and those in the MW program are working with that plus depth.

I'd love to hear about your experiences as you worked to improve on blind tasting, please leave a note in the comments below.

Cheers & Cin Cin,

Rachel