By Sasha Smith, New York City Correspondent
So, it's been a while. No, I haven't been trapped under a large, heavy object, nor was I so discouraged by my performance on the exam (although I don't think I did super well…more on that later) that I decided to never again speak of the subject.
Mostly, since June 10 I've been really, really sick of wine and the idea of writing about it makes me want to put my head down on my desk and cry. (Do you see what you're making me do, Lenn?!)
The same thing happened to me after I took my advanced certificate test and after I finished the first two units of the diploma, although this time my post-exam ennui has been particularly severe. All of a sudden, I went from reading 15 wine blogs a day and writing test practice paragraphs on topics like the Lenz Moser training system to just not caring anymore. I'm sure I'll snap out of it by the end of the summer, but at the moment, it's a little disconcerting.
OK, the exam. It was a full-day extravaganza. The morning was the tasting portion, with four flights consisting of three wines each. The afternoon was the “theory” part of the test, i.e., five essay questions. Each is graded separately, so that if you fail one portion of the exam you only have to retake that section. Results come back in September, and the next exam date is in January.
The good news is, I'm pretty sure I passed the essay portion of the test. The first mandatory question asked us to compare and contrast two wines, Mouton Cadet and Chave Hermitage. They might as well have tied a bow around this one. I was glad that my obsessive reading and re-reading The Wines of the Northern Rhone paid off – I was actually able to name specific climats, which I have to believe will win me some serious brownie points. As for the rest of the questions – we had a choice of four out of six – it was pretty easy for me to decide which ones to answer: yes to examining terroir in the Loire, the future of New World chardonnay, recent innovations in Rioja, and comparing/contrasting Nuits-St-Georges and New World pinot noir…and no to a multi-part question on Germany and another on the role of brands in South Africa.
Given the number of off-the-beaten path wine regions we had to study (Bulgaria, Switzerland, Thailand etc.), I was surprised to see that you could complete the exam – and do well – without venturing outside Western Europe and California. My advice to future Unit 3 test-takers: get the classic wine regions down cold, stay abreast of what’s going on in California, and, for good measure, make sure you’re well-versed in a few obscure wine regions. (Of course, take that advice with a grain of salt considering my results haven’t come back yet.)
On to the bad news: I'm 99% sure that I failed the tasting portion. I choked, big time. To give you but one pathetic example, I identified a Carneros pinot noir as a saumur champigny. Seriously. Remember those exam period anxiety nightmares you had in college where you found yourself taking a test in a subject you never studied or giving an oral report in a language you didn't speak? It was like that, except real. Whatever store of knowledge I had accumulated over six months of intensive tasting suddenly evaporated. I've never experienced anything like it.
While it was painful at the time, right now I’m not too broken up about failing the tasting portion – there are worse things than committing to a few more months of serious wine tasting in preparation for the next exam. I’m also trying to think of it as a learning experience. My ultimate goal with all this high-falutin’ wine education is to develop a series of smart, fun, and intuitive classes for people who are new to wine. If nothing else, my tasting botch was a good reminder of how perplexing wine can be.
Right now I’m focused on fine-tuning my curriculum and my business plan. (If you have any ideas for a good name for my company that doesn’t involve a wine-based pun – no “Grape Expectations” please – I’m all ears.) I also need to cure my wine malaise. If the past is any guide, one day soon I’ll stumble upon a random bottle that will make me deeply, inexplicably happy and I’ll remember why I decided to do all of this in the first place.