Notes on the WSET Diploma, Week 3: First feedback tasting test

Posted By Chris Kaplonski on Oct 27, 2015

Week three. This was our first ‘feedback tasting test,’ a practice tasting exam. It wasn’t the only thing on the schedule, of course. The other parts of the day, walking through the various decisions involved in making different styles of wine – will destemming help here? Oak or not? – as well as a tasting workshop, where we wrote and swapped tasting notes were great. Both were incredibly useful in their respective ways. But here I’m going to focus on the tasting test.

The feedback test actually took only 30 minutes at the end of a long and instructive day, but I’m pretty sure it was uppermost on most people’s minds when the day started. How would we do? Would it show me to know as little about wine and varieties of grapes as I was beginning to suspect? It was the first. It didn’t count, except to provide a baseline. But still, I think we were all at least a little apprehensive.

It will take a few weeks until we get the marks and feedback. I’m pretty sure I managed a Pass, even with only getting one of the three varieties correct. It is, as we keep being told, about the reasoning and argument. So I hope my analysis and reasoning on the other two are good enough. What variety did I get correct? A Riesling. A spätlese to be more precise, although, given we were asked for grape variety, I didn’t think to note that on the tasting note. Whoops. Still – on the first sip of the Riesling, I was pretty sure I knew what it was. Then comes the hard part – trying to put aside your reaction and try to analyse what you are actually tasting and observing, not what you expect to find now that you think it is Wine X. It was also harder to justify my reasoning than on other grapes. My inclination was to simply write ‘How could this NOT be a Riesling?’ But I suspect that wouldn’t have gone down well. So I wrote about typicity, high but not overpowering acidity, and so forth.

What did I learn as a result of the tasting test? That I did manage to get the tasting notes written in the allotted 10 minutes each. We were warned that would be the hard part. I managed it, but just. That, especially with the time constraints, there isn’t much room for doubt. (I think here, my tendency to stress before events, but then just get on with things during the actual process helped.) I also learned I need to start tasting much more widely. One of the wines I misidentified in terms of variety – but still recognised as outstanding – was a wine I would never have thought of: Brunello. (Which is, of course, actually the same grape as Sangiovese, but obviously I didn’t say that, either.) There are something like 29 (if I counted correctly) varieties we are responsible for knowing. Alas, none of the Austrians. Right now, I’d probably fall back on about eight or ten varieties. That needs to change before the Big Exam.

Also, I learned that I break a lot of wine glasses. I’ve now broken two tasting glasses in two weeks, and one wineglass at home in between. Sigh.

So, yes – I know as little about grape varieties as I suspected. But I think I know a bit more about tasting than I thought I might. I can settle for that, for now.

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