WSET Diploma: The theory of everything

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This week saw me sitting my final exam for the Wines & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 4 Diploma. After 3 years and 7 exams, I’m within touching distance of completing this notoriously hard course. The exam that I sat was the feared Unit 3 ‘Light Wines of the World’ Theory exam. The description ‘Light wines of the world’ means the exam can be about any aspect of winemaking in the vineyard or in the winery, of any number of different wine styles, produced anywhere in the world.

Ergo, it’s HUGE.

There’s several textbooks (not least the massive Oxford Companion to Wine which runs to nearly 800 pages), but not only that, when you dip in to these textbooks it also tells you to check out a further selection of other books. And then to go online. And don’t forget to keep up with the trade magazines.

I will admit that this isn’t my first time sitting the exam (it is my 3rd attempt) but unlike, say, a driving test where people are fairly protective of whether they passed first time, there’s no shame in admitting that you didn’t pass this one. Indeed, many of the people I spoke to on exam day were re-sit students. On the first attempt of this final exam you are expected to do a 3 hour written exam straight after a 2.5 hour tasting exam. No small task in itself.  Frustratingly my first re-sit came mere points away from a pass and, because of a silly misunderstanding when reading the question which cost me the pass, I will never ever think of New Zealand Pinot Noir in the same way again!

Anyway, here I was, giving it what I currently view as perhaps my last shot at this final test. They only do one sitting of the exam every six months, and so attempting it just 3 times can eat up nearly 2 years of your life (it takes 10 weeks for the final results to come through).  You’re given seven questions, of which you must answer five of them. A standard pass for each question requires you to write circa 3 sides of A4 of concise information, in just half an hour, and of course you have no idea which questions will come up.  Questions this time ranged from comparing three different wines from France in respect of the difference in grapes, styles, quality and price, to being able to articulate the advantages and disadvantages of making bulk and premium wine in South Africa.

Time will tell how well I’ve done, so roll on August.

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