By New York City Correspondent Sasha Smith
I am about to start the most demanding — and exciting — phase of attaining the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) diploma, a hardcore wine qualification that’s held by about 100 people in the U.S. and is the stepping stone to the hardest-core wine qualification of them all, the Master of Wine.
On January, 15 I start Unit 3, Light Wines of the World. (There are 6 units in all, with the others covering the wine business, viticulture, vinification, sparkling and fortified wine, and spirits.) As the extremely vague title would indicate, this 5-month session is going to cover a lot of ground. Basically, if it’s made from grapes and isn’t fortified, distilled or sparkling, it’s on the syllabus. By June 10, the day of the exam, I’ll be expected to write an intelligent paragraph on the Xynomavro grape and craft an essay comparing and contrasting the production and style of Barossa old vine Grenache, Châteauneuf du Pape and a Navarra Rosado. (And yes, these are actual questions. Unlike your 10th grade American History teacher, the WSET examiners publish old tests to help you study, although in my case all they’ve helped me do so far is identify and lament the Mack truck-sized holes in my wine knowledge.) I’ll also have to taste and assess 12 wines either completely blind or with very limited information.
To get ready, I’ll be spending at least 15 hours a week in class, studying, reading, and, best of all, tasting. I’ll also be writing about my experiences weekly here so you can benefit from my studies without having to do any of the heavy lifting yourselves. (Or without having to pay the $2800. Don’t even get me started.) I’m really looking forward to the class and sharing what I learn with all of you. Plus blogging here should keep me motivated, because if I were to fail exam, all of you would find out and I'd be completely mortified. So wish me luck — and watch this space for my Diploma Dispatches.