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01 September 2022

Studying Wines of the World for the WSET Diploma

By Olga Antoniadou

I can’t help but think of the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen's “I’m on Fire”.

At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
And a freight train running through the middle of my head….
I’m on Fire
Woooh, wooh, wooh….

Don’t get me wrong; I’m on fire for a completely different reason, albeit with the same desire. I fervently try to shove things into my brain that utterly refuse to stick there. The one minute I’m reading something and thinking, “Yeah, I’ve got it”, and two seconds away, it’s gone. Never enscribed. 

“Hey, Olga, what do you think about going to a movie tonight? Says Nick.

“Are you kidding me? Can’t you see the state I’m in? I’m in deep sh…! There’s no way I’m gonna manage this. I’m sorry. I can’t”. Don’t imagine I’ll be studying or cramming extra info into my head instead of going to the movies. No, no, no. That’s my guilt-ridden conscience there, walloping me for not having studied when I did have some time to do so, but I was so damned tired after work. It’s not about missing the film. I won’t enjoy it. I’ll be trying to remember where I saw Savennière, Savagnin, Similkameen. 

I know I’m pathetic, but in all honesty, up until I decided I was infatuated with wine, I probably couldn’t point to countries on a map, let alone mountains, rivers, valleys, and God knows what else. Now I dream of maps. I dream of rivers. I dream of aspects. I dream of loess, gneiss, Kimmeridgian, limestone and clay. I dream of winds, the Föhn, Mistral, Pacific. Yields, I haven’t managed to dream yet. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking Pendelbogen. Pendelbogen. What the H... is Pendelbogen?

My poor husband, Nick, is really being a dear. He puts up with my tantrums; he tries to support me, asks me the most ridiculous wine questions I fail to answer, coaxes me, and in the end, says something like: “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll do fine”. I smile condescendingly and think to myself, “Oh, please”.

The truth is there is an immense amount of information there, and that is only what is in the e-book. The tutors encourage you to research for more details. I cringe at the thought that I will have to retain more from history to climate, topography, regions, sub-regions, villages, varieties, styles, producers, etc., etc. It makes one’s head spin. 

But, to be truthful, whether I pass the exam or not, I’m amazed at how many things I’ve learned. Suddenly, things make more sense. I write about wine, and now I see myself describing vineyards and procedures in a completely different way. I visit a vineyard and notice completely different details. I taste a wine and seem to acknowledge components I didn’t before. And, one may ask me. Is there that much difference from Level 3? Yes, there is. Not because of the detail one goes into. The perspective is what changes completely. Up to Level 3, one is memorising information. In Level 4, one should be able to explain why the information is the way it is. That is a world of difference. I don’t care if I never ever remember a river or mountain or the degrees of latitude in my life again. But reasoning is something no one can take away from me. 

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