Dr. Seuss in his book, Oh the Places You’ll Go – starts out…
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away”
But there is an intermediate period where he talks about waiting…
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting
This is where we have been with COVID confinement and in Chicago right now, waiting, waiting for more people on the streets, waiting to be called back to work, waiting.
So I love writing about places and wine regions, the wine world is a huge, amazing place to explore and learn about grapes, producers, places, wines. But during this intermediary period, I have been using it to hone my wine studying for the WSET Diploma. If you are going down the WSET path and planning out strategy, the biggest thing I have learned during this COVID confinement is you need to commit and have a plan. To pass Level 2 or 3, you can get away with strategic memorization but with the Diploma, it is so comprehensive there are no short cuts, trust me, I have learned the hard way.
If someone would pay me to study wine, I would love it. I was an liberal arts major in college and wine study is endlessly fascinating with millions of rabbit holes to wile away in. However, to pass the WSET test, you really need to be focused and practice and learn THEIR protocol of blind tasting, The Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT).
I have found the actual WSET classes in Chicago really helpful. When it comes to the Diploma, I’ve realized that a ton of practice and work has to be done outside of the formal classes. I’ve gone to the amazing, incredible, well-planned Sommcamps here in Chicago which are fantastic in terms of exposure to wines and networking but not focused on WSET protocol. At least in my experience, and in my way of learning, mixing in with students practicing Court of Sommelier protocols is confusing and not helpful when it comes to writing a well-thought out WSET tasting note. I have found it a challenge to find a study group to taste wines with besides the tastings during the formal WSET classes. Tasting wine in a retail environment is completely different compared to wine study tasting, Generally, we would taste the wines in 1 or 2 minutes, just brief comments, and then it is onto helping a customer and that is just the way of wine retail in a busy store, you are there to sell wine. Unit 3 of the WSET Diploma is incredibly comprehensive and it will be 12 wines blind to write tasting notes about.
I have had trouble passing Unit 6 the Fortified Wine unit. My issue pre-COVID was that I was working tons of hours in retail in 2 jobs with a long commute to and from the jobs. I just was exhausted and didn’t have enough time to study. I am in awe of all the WSET Diploma, MS, MW’s who have achieved their goals working long hours, long commute times, little sleep. What I have been able to do during COVID is find helpful podcasts and sites on the web that step you through writing a WSET tasting note and point out the pitfalls and the helpful items to keep in mind from really experienced instructors. COVID has given me the time to go through each item, line by line, and that is what Jim steps you through in the podcast below. I have reread the study guides and really just have broken down the entire tasting protocol. I did not have time to do that before. So without further ado, below are links to really, really helpful podcasts on blind tasting the WSET way.
A lot of times I find with wine studying and looking for resources, links are embedded within links.
- Spitbucket.net – Thank you Spitbucket, whose site has tons of great links and more links and information for any wine student, lover of wine. If you page down once you click on the link, you will find a section titled “Geek Notes – The Best Podcasts on Blind Tasting” This is a treasure trove of great links on blind tasting and within these links the one I found most helpful was:
- Interpreting Wine Podcast Ep 353 – Jim Gore, The Science of Taste, Blind Tasting Series 1 of 2– This one I will listen to over and over again because he really gives you so much great information to writing a great tasting note.
- This is not a podcast but a very helpful “to do” list for studying Unit 3 put together by The Armchair Sommelier.
- For an overview of the process, to specifics, to helpful hints, the webinars “Study Strategies: MS & MW Perspectives”by Chris Tanghe MS & Ashley Hausman MW motivated me in my pursuiit of the Diploma and they put wine study into perspective. I highly, highly recommend listening to these webinars as well. The Guildsomm site I have found invaluable, of all sites, memberships, for a wine student this in my opinion, particularly if you live in the US, is number 1. It is completely worth saving up, if you are an hourly employee, like me, to join.
- Here is one more helpful link – Outwines
It has been a gift to be able to spend the time organizing my wine study so I can go into the Unit 3 test next year confident and prepared as I can be. I understand that I still may not pass but I will at least feel that I gave the test my best shot and I will do the best that I can do on those specific days. I have found incredible resources like the 67 Pall Mall zoom seminars that I have found priceless. Many of the 67PM seminars are lead by Masters of Wine or sommeliers that are specialists in their areas and I have a long lists of wines that I would love to find in Chicago. I still need to retake the Fortified Exam Unit 6 which I feel so much more confident about in identifying the differences between the different types of fortified wines based on sweetness, sherries mostly dry, low acid, except for Cream and PX, Ruby ports harsh tannins, Vintage ports more complexity, specific fruit aromas/flavors from higher quality grapes, darker, madeiras higher acid with sweetness and carmelization of the sugars and amber to brown because of the white grapes. But I will listen to Jim Gore’s podcast on fortifieds again and again. Nothing is guaranteed.
There is a whole ancillary group of tutors like Jim Gore’s Wine Academy and more that if you have the funds is more help in retaining the information and learning the skills for Unit 3, kind of like going to golf camp for golf. But at the very least these podcasts links are fantastic and free. Seuss ends his book with these lines….
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!
Whether it be completing the Diploma, lots and lots of work to do or getting back to writing about Italian/French/Austrian wine regions things will eventually change and 98 3/4% (I think the pass rate for Unit 3 is between 60-70%)) maybe chance of succeeding. In the meantime, some delicious wines will be had by all! Cheers and good luck studying!