WSET Diploma Unit 5: Opting for the Sparkly Object

After successfully completing Unit 2, I started thinking about the next Unit I was going to tackle in my WSET Diploma pursuit.  (Ok, let’s be honest, I started thinking about this months before actually completing Unit 2).   So without further ado, here were my options, my thought process, and my decision (Spoiler Alert:  Bubbles.  Always Bubbles).

Unit 1 – Global Business of Alcoholic Beverages.

There are two parts to Unit 1: a 3,000 word research paper and an in-class case study exam.  Candidates can do either of these at any time during the Diploma process.  Both involve a fair amount of research and writing, which as a former lawyer, I was actually pretty damn good at once upon a time.  So, I’m looking forward to tackling these writing assignments – assuming I’m assigned a topic that I enjoy writing about.

The research paper topics are established by WSET and are released each academic year.  This year’s were released in early August, and neither one particularly spoke to me: “The short and long term implications of the 2017 vintage“, or “The Rum Revival.”  The 2017 vintage question seems incredibly broad and I’m not all that excited about spending a lot of time researching spirits – particularly since spirits will no longer be a required Unit of the Diploma beginning in August, 2019.  I’m optimistic that when I get around to doing the paper that both options will be more wine related . . . and hopefully one will be “why Washington state is the future for the United States wine industry.”  A gal can dream, can’t she?

The case study exam is offered three times a year. This is a complete grab bag of alcohol business topics – past case studies have ranged from “social media and the wine industry” to “the négotiant system in Burgundy” to “the wines of South Africa.” I think any of these would’ve been fascinating to explore in detail, which of course means that when I register for the case study (likely in March 2019) my topic will be something like “what sulfur dioxide means to me” or “why mass produced New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is the most awesomest wine in the world.”

Unit 3 – Light Wines of the World.

This is the behemoth of the Diploma – covering all wines of the world that don’t fit into the Fortified or Sparkling categories.  I don’t know if the tales of its difficulty are greatly exaggerated or not, but I’m not planning to find out any sooner than I need to.  Unit 3 will be my last Diploma Unit.

Unit 4 – Spirits of the World.

My wine school is doing one last offering of the Spirits Unit and exam. I originally had this all worked out before we moved down to SoCal – my father-in-law (the infamous T-Bone) was going to be my spirits study-buddy and Hubs and Mom-in-Law (aka Authorista) were going to foot the (bar) bill. T-bone and I would frequent local watering holes to sip and study and then head back to our respective homes for our daily nap.  Win-win for everyone. Well, two of us anyways.

However, since Spirits soon won’t be part of the Diploma program, I struggled with whether to try and tackle this Unit or not. I eventually opted for not.  Sorry, T-Bone. Sidenote: don’t actually feel sorry for him.  I’ve been stocking his wine “cabinet” (underneath his bathroom sink) with Oregon Pinot and Washington Syrah since we moved down here.  He’s fine.

Unit 5 – Sparkling Wines of the World.

See Below.

Unit 6 – Fortified Wines of the World.

Unit 6 is being offered in early September and the exam is on the same date as Unit 5.  I know several candidates that are tackling both Units together – and I considered this for about 5 seconds . . .

Bottom line is – I’m not in a huge rush to finish the Diploma.  And, like much of what I do in life, would prefer to methodically and systematically go through my studies as opposed to frantically cramming it all in.  I am a true ISTJ.  So, I opted for the Unit that interested me the most – the shiny object of the Diploma – Sparkling Wines of the World!

Champagne books
Unit 5 – In-Class Experience.

After registering for Unit 5 the day after my Unit 2 exam (seriously – I am Tracy Frickin’ Flick!) I did a little prep work by starting in on some of the suggested readings.  Class itself was one very intensive, very full day in early August.  Other WSET providers spread Unit 5 in-class time over two days (Napa Valley Wine Academy), or three weeks plus a practice exam (Capital Wine School).  WSET Unit 5 manual

My class was a broad overview of sparkling wines – from different production methods, to Champagne sub-regions, to common labeling terminology.  We also tasted through 11 different sparkling wines in class.  Although, unlike Unit 2, this wasn’t blind and there was quite a bit less class discussion on them as well.  Maybe this was because there were more students in class (10 compared to my 3 in my Unit 2).  Or because it was a sunny summer Saturday and people wanted to skedaddle. Although, this is SoCal, almost every Saturday is sunny.

Whatever the case, to me – this portion felt rushed.  Actually – the entire day did.  Covering all sparkling wines of the world in one day is not my ideal way to learn. It’s just way too much information all at once. But on the bright side, I suppose this is good practice for the MW if I’m able to pursue that in the future since that program is practically all self-study. So until Unit 5 exam day – November 7th – I’m on my own.

Unit 5 – My Study Plan.

I started out with a detailed study plan (I realize this is not shocking).  But then with all my travel in August – I quickly had to revise it. I got wrapped up with visiting my beloved Washington state and attending the fabulous Auction of Washington Wines.  And then visiting my awesome Bestie and travelling to New York’s Finger Lakes region.  In my defense – both were wine related travels, so some degree of “research” was done.

So – here’s my revised Unit 5 study schedule.  As I did with Unit 2 – I’m aiming to do some degree of studying daily.  I think of my brain like a balloon – I’ll add a little bit more information each day, not too much so that it explodes, and not too little (or too much time off) so it deflates.

Unit 5 – Exam.

Unlike Unit 2, the Unit 5 exam is not multiple choice.  It consists of a tasting portion and a theory portion.  Both of which must be completed within 65 minutes.  I think it’s 30 minutes per section, and then a 5 minute freak out session in between.

Tasting.  Candidates are poured three sparkling wines from anywhere in the world and have to write tasting notes on each one in the approved WSET format.  Past exams have included a trio of Cava/Vintage Champagne/Prosecco and a NV Champagne/Sekt/Vintage Champagne.  After describing the wines, candidates are then asked a “conclusion” question like “discuss the quality/readiness for drinking/country of origin” of the wines.

Theory.  Here candidates are asked to write about 3 topics related to sparkling wine.  These questions can be ANYTHING!  Past exam topics have been: Tank Method, Franciacorta, Pinot Noir, Côtes des Blancs and Prestige Cuvées.  So, basically, you’re asked to regurgitate everything you know about these subjects.  And quickly – you’ve got about 10 minutes per question.  I’m going to need to work on my timing here because at times I can be a bit verbose.  True story.

And on that note – I’ll quit writing about the exam and get to studying! 😉

WSET Diploma Unit 2: The Results Are In!

Well, I have officially cleared my first hurdle in my WSET Diploma pursuit!  Now there’s just four more exams and a research paper.   :-/  As I mentioned in my previous post on the Diploma, Unit 2 is required to be taken before any of the other five Units are attempted.  But, once you pass Unit 2, you’re free to move onto whichever Unit(s) you choose.  (Editorial Note by Hubs:  Ms. Noelle passed “with Distinction” – a designation akin to summa cum laude for this particular Unit – the highest honor awarded.  The dogs and I simply couldn’t be more proud of her!!)

As I look back at my studies for Unit 2, there are definitely some habits that I will continue as I move forward with my Diploma pursuit (the “dos”) – and others that I absolutely will not (the “don’ts”).  Now, anyone who grew up reading Glamour back in the day probably recalls their fabulous back page of DOs and DON’Ts.  Although it wasn’t particularly PC – it was absolutely my favorite part of the magazine (admit it, yours too!).  So, without further ado (and with a similar lack of PC) here are my WSET Diploma Unit 2 DOs and DON’Ts:

Glamour2

 

Unit 2 DOs

DO read the suggested readings.  Even though all questions on the exam come from the actual Unit 2 textbook, I found the supplemental readings invaluable.  Specifically, Viticulture by Stephen Skelton MW and Understanding Wine Technology by David Bird MW (future book review/blog post forthcoming!)  BooksBoth of these books cover similar information as the Unit 2 text, but they go into more depth and detail.  Being able to read about concepts such as the effects of nutrient deficiencies in a vineyard, or SO2 limitations in wine, in plain English helped me get a more fundamental understanding of the subject matter.  As I might’ve mentioned before – I don’t “science” very well.   😉

DO study every day – even if it’s just a little bit.  Some days I dove into the text for a few hours, and others I just reviewed my outlines and flashcards.  But I honestly don’t think there was a single day in between when I had my first Unit 2 class and when I took my exam that I didn’t study for at least a short while.  I wanted to keep what I learned at the forefront of my brain so it was easy to recall, because believe me, at 45 I have amassed a lot of useless crap in there. (If anyone wants to know the lyrics to any song on The Smiths “Louder Than Bombs” album, or the chronological order of deaths on The Walking Dead, I’m your gal).

Studying
Studying in between flights at SeaTac’s Vino Volo!

DO practice the sample questions in the Unit 2 textbook.  I won’t go into too much detail as to specific questions on the exam, but let’s just say that some of them were eerily similar to the sample questions in the textbook.  Review these.  You won’t regret it.

Unit 2 DON’Ts

DON’T get stuck in the minutiae.  When studying, I have a habit of trying to learn – and memorize – everything.  I tend to get bogged down in the details . . . sometimes at the expense of moving forward.

With Unit 2, I spent a lot of time memorizing types of vineyard pests and learning which rootstocks do best in which types of soil.  And no, this wasn’t because I was fascinated with grapevine yellows or Vitis rupestris.  I was just totally struggling with these areas and thought that if I memorized as much as I possibly could about them that I’d do better on the exam.  So, I spent an exorbitant amount of time on these topics and, while there were a couple exam questions on them, there were more questions on quality control and herbicides – areas that I hadn’t spend much time on because I’d been so in the weeds (pun intended) with others.

DON’T overthink the exam questions.  This advice came to me courtesy of Spitbucket.net after her experience with the exam, and it was spot-on.  Come exam time, you’ve learned so much that you’re likely to overanalyze the test questions and wonder if the examiners are actually asking you something else or trying to trick you.  (Answers: they’re not, and they’re not.)  The Brits might be strict and reserved, but they’re a fair lot.  Feel free to remind me of this quote when I don’t do well on one of my upcoming exams.

And finally, DON’T overdo it. Although I mention above that studying every day is a DO, it is possible to go overboard. Like accessories, sometimes less is more. So if you’re practicing flashcards while getting a bikini wax – you’ve probably taken this too far. Purely hypothetically, of course. :-/

My next WSET class is in a few weeks – I’m tackling Unit 5: Sparkling Wines of the World.  And yes, I’m already making my way through the recommended reading.  But, lesson learned, I’m leaving the book at home before my next appointment at OC Wax.

Becoming a Certified Sherry Wine Specialist

“Isn’t that the shit you use for cooking?”

-Hubs on Sherry (did I mention he’s a beer guy?)

As if there weren’t already enough post-nominals in the wine world (WSET, CMS, FWS, etc.), last week I learned about one more: Certified Sherry Wine Specialist – CSWS.

The CSWS course is a 2.5 hour seminar sponsored by The House of Lustau – one of the most revered Sherry producers in the world.  The course has recently been making industry rounds in California from the Napa Valley Wine Academy to Neptune Wine School (where I’ll be taking my upcoming WSET Diploma classes!).

There’s quite a lot of information covered in this brief 150 minutes including the history of Sherry, its grapes and growing environment, and the famous (and fascinating) solera system shown below.

sherry-solera-system

In addition to a broad overview, class participants taste 6 different styles of Sherry – 2 Finos, a Manzanilla, an Amontillado, an Oloroso and a Pedro Ximénez.  This alone was worth the price of admission in my mind (a very reasonable $40).  It’s one thing to read about how Manzanilla Sherry has a briny/salty edge to it or that Pedro Ximénez is SO lusciously sweet, often tasting of dried fruit and coffee.  For me, the knowledge really sinks in when I can smell and taste these things for myself.  I’m no longer just memorizing facts, I’m having my own experiences – which are a helluva lot easier to recall if I need to for an exam!  Speaking of which…..the 2 hour seminar concludes with a 28 question exam (most of it multiple choice) and those achieving a score of 20 or higher will receive a CSWS certification.

Sherries

Although it’s advertised as an intermediate level course – I wouldn’t let this scare off any wine newbies out there.  Compared to some of the other wine classes I’ve attended, I found the CSWS to be completely welcoming (read: nonthreatening).  Nobody is put on the spot unless you want to be. 🙂  Our seminar was led by Lucas Payà who, along with being incredibly knowledgeable and patient with questions, also had a gorgeous accent that I could listen to all day.

I’d highly recommend this seminar to anyone interested in learning more about Sherry – no matter what your current wine knowledge level.  And for those other wine bloggers out there – the CSWS course is going to be offered at The Wine Bloggers Conference in October (and is a total steal at $15!)

Here’s my outline on Sherry which will provide you with a great overview, but just isn’t the same as tasting an amazing Pedro Ximénez!!