Read the rather inconsequential Week 7 on my blog, if you feel the need.
Right – exam time. All those many weeks of immersing myself in wine (not literally of course) are finally put to the test.
All those minutes spent idly flicking through pages and pages of the WSET textbook in the final minutes while drinking a bottle of Speckled Hen (which isn’t even a wine) in Bournemouth’s student union bar (which isn’t even a wine bar) thinking ‘Why didn’t I read any of this before today? Why? I’ve had literally months in which to do so. Why didn’t I pick it up just once? Why, God, why? Why didn’t you intervene even though it’s really probably not on one of your highest priorities right now, or even admittedly on your radar. Why?’ – all of that, too, would be put to the test. All those tedious, tedious facts that ultimately make up the WSET knowledge base – they would presumably make up the test.
I know I know a bit about wine, but I know I don’t know all the bits WSET want me to know as an intermediate level certificate holder.
So I actually don’t know how I’ve done.
I have no idea.
You see, after 7 protracted two hour lessons and the occasional glances at the indefinably dull sub-GCSE textbook I can’t really quantify how much I’ve learned, but, of course, the WSET Intermediate exam can quantify it: that’s what it does. I will get a mark out of 50, and if it’s anything less than30 (I think) I will fail. And if I want to retake I’ll have to pay some sixty odd quid again and face the ignominy of seeing my teacher again knowing full well he said he’s never had anyone from any of his classes fail.
The thing is – well, one of the things – I never really did revision at school. I never took to it. I could re-read all the text feverishly inbetween bouts of UFO: Enemy Unknown (GCSE) or X-Com: Terror From The Deep (A-Level) but ultimately little if any of that revised information ever stuck. I wasn’t a stupid kid or even especially lazy, but like – I suspect – a lot of people, my learning method does not include reading and rereading stale text in a stale textbook and magically remembering it word for word, fact by fact.
In the end, after the weeks of drinking Tesco’s Finest this-that-and-the-other and delighting in the anecdotes of our well-traveled wine tutor, and even occasionally feeling smug that I already knew (or thought I knew) a great deal of what was being taught, the WSET Intermediate exam was like a peculiarly dull pub quiz: but without the drinks, or the friends, or the prize money.
I’m not saying I can think of a better way to quantify or otherwise certify wine knowledge at this lowly level, but by golly it was dull. I almost didn’t care if I was right or wrong. The four-choice answers made immediate sense if you knew them and no sense whatsoever if you didn’t; there’s no room for any imagination or any interpretation.
Q: Have you ever had a Viognier or a Chardonnay that tasted of asparagus? If you thought you had, you were wrong! 0 marks for you.
I understand the advanced levels employ more complex and involved teaching, learning and assessment methods, but to get to that level – I am quite sure – you have to pass this one, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if this put a lot of people off.
It bears no resemblance to real life. In real life if you need to know what grape grows in Pouilly-Fumé you look on Wikipedia. Even if you are in a restaurant or on a bus or something.
Everyone thought it was more difficult than they expected, except the Aussie guy who seemed pretty confident – he seemed to know his stuff anyway, so he’ll probably be fine.
Some of us went for a drink in a nearby pub afterwards and people talked about the questions, and where they worked, and rugby.
We might get together some time for a tasting: we might hire the services of the universally popular teacher; he’s a nice chap. After a pint of something bitter I wrote my email address on a sheet of A4 paper, wished them good luck, and left.
I reckon I’ve got about a 50% chance of passing, and I will be annoyed if I don’t, but not with my teacher or even myself, or even with WSET, really, but with the ridiculously antiquated system of “learning” that persists in many of our educational institutions, that treats knowledge as some precious or sacred or mysterious thing: like a commodity. It’s not a commodity; it’s oxygen. And it’s not a bloody pub quiz.
Will I take the Advanced course? Well, maybe. One day. If I a) pass this and b) have about £500 and a couple of weeks to spare. Then again maybe I’ll just carry on drinking wine, reading Wikipedia, talking to other wine-nerds and reading other people’s blogs and reviews. That’s what I enjoy doing, anyway.
This morning I passed a chap on the way to work who was sitting on the steps down to the underpass with a fairly serene expression on his face. He was halfway through a bottle of Blossom Hill Rosé.
If he took the WSET Intermediate exam, I thought, chances are, he would get at least 25% of it right.
He might even do better: he might even know what flavour American oak barrels impart on Chardonnay:
- a) empathy
- b) apathy
- c) curiosity
- d) telepathy
Wish me luck.