I know that the tasting portion of the D3 WSET Diploma Exam can be one of the most intimidating. Indeed, when I took my Level 3, my nerves overtook my tastebuds, and I found myself second guessing my tasting notes the whole time. To help me gain more skill and confidence in those skills, I’ve been taking some tasting classes geared toward WSET Diploma with a Master in Wine in preparation for my exam. And I recently had my partner help me with a blind tasting mock exam, which I’d like to share here.
The goal is to help those of us who are preparing the WSET exams key in on wine evaluation (following the SAT guidelines) as well as how to correctly draw conclusions about the wines tasted and communicate the justification for those conclusions.
Following the WSET taste testing format:
Wines 1–3 relate to Unit D3 of the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines All are made from the same region. Describe them under the headings below.
Follow along on my tasting notes and see if you can figure out what the common region of origin is. Note: This exam also, for two points, asks examiners to determine the grape variety (but not qualify that determination). I’ve included my deduction in each tasting note below. However, I’ll leave the wine reveals to the very end of the post. Good luck and have fun!
I’ve gotten some feedback that many folks studying for the D3 WSET Diploma Exam are interested in calibrating their palates and practicing their tasting and note-taking techniques. Those of you who are preparing (or have taken) the WSET exams know that there are very strict criteria about how how to evaluate the wines (following the SAT guidelines) but also about how to correctly draw conclusions about the wines you’re tasting and how to communicate those conclusions.
I’ve been taking some tasting classes geared toward WSET Diploma with a Master in Wine in preparation for my exam. Over the holiday, I thought it would be fun to have my partner help me with a blind tasting mock exam.
Following the WSET taste testing format:
Wines 1–3 relate to Unit D3 of the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines All are made from the same or predominantly the same grape variety. Describe them under the headings below.
Follow along on my tasting notes and see if you can figure out what the common grape variety is. Note: This exam also, for two points, asks examiners to determine the country of origin for the wine (but not qualify that determination). I’ve included my deduction in each tasting note below. However, I’ll leave the wine reveals to the very end of the post. Good luck and have fun!
Here comes the fun part of every regional focus—the tasting. As always, make sure to read through the Rhone Valley Overview, Northern Rhone, and Southern Rhone articles before jumping in here. It’ll help put all the tasting and technical notes into perspective.
Larger and more spread out than the Northern Rhone, there’s no denying that we’re going to cover a good bit of detail here. With its varied terroir, the Southern Rhone comes with a larger variety of grapes grown and wine produced—good news if you want a diversified tasting experience. Indeed, most wines here are blends—red, white, and rosé, though red undeniably dominates. And, as The Oxford Companion to Wine (Fourth Edition) notes, though some winemakers do experiment with Syrah (the dominant grape of the Northern Rhone), here in the south, it’s far too warm for the grape to “ripen gracefully.” Thus, it is Grenache—at over double the planting—that is the Southern Rhone‘s most planted red wine grape.
Welcome to the Northern Rhone. If you’ve not yet read through the Rhone Overview, please do so as there are quite a few key terms—not to mention grape varieties—you’ll want to learn before moving forward.
Here we’re diving into the Northern Rhone. Located further inland and away from the influence of the Mediterranean, it has an overall continental climate. Winters are cold, summers are warm, and rain falls predominantly in the autumn and winter months.
It’s noted that the Mistral wind, which flows throughout the Rhone Valley, both north and south, is a bit more fierce in these parts due to the fact that the valley is quite narrow and sandwiched between steep slopes, acting like a funnel for the cold wind current. The good news is that this decreases fungal disease pressure as well as reduces vine vigor and, thus, yields, resulting in the highly concentrated red wines for which the Northern Rhone is most famous. The bad news is that the Northern Rhone‘s claim-to-fame grape, Syrah, is quite susceptible to wind, so you’ll find most of these vines tied to poles for extra protection.
INTERESTING GEOGRAPHICAL NOTE: the distance between the most northern and most southern vineyards of the Northern Rhone is about 40 miles, which means there is a bit better ripening in the warmer, southern regions.
Of course, just like almost anywhere else, the best vineyards are those located on the steep, here often terraced, slopes overlooking the Rhone River. The altitude and aspect increase sunlight exposure, influence (like light reflection and heat retention) from the river water and better drainage. But this also means that most vineyards are worked by hand—a contributing factor to the overall pricey prices of the wines produced. “Their produce is aimed in the main at the fine wine connoisseur rather than at the mass market.” (The Oxford Companion to Wine [4th Edition])