I just returned from the cellar, where I extracted a bottle of Malbec from one of my favorite producers, curiously made from fruit grown in the Suisun Valley, and poured myself a Coke sans whiskey. We’re doing it again. As you know, dear and faithful reader, last year for Christmas my parents paid for my WSET I class and exam, which I took (and passed) in July while in the Napa Valley. This year, for my birthday, they paid for (most of) my level II. My friend Zach and I both registered for the test, to be administered in Minneapolis (far more drivable than Napa) this coming June, and cleared time in our schedules to study.
I’ve been reading over a borrowed copy of the level II guide, that is, until my own arrives. The focus on varietals I find curious, a notably American way of looking at wine which doesn’t totally jive with WSET’s English lineage. I’m sure I’ll understand in time. The Level I exam I didn’t find especially challenging, though admittedly I did learn things along the way. The level II, however, has me slightly more anxious. I could draw a relatively accurate map of California wine country, in particular Napa and Sonoma, with only a pencil and paper. France, Italy, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, Greece, and other notable national producers are, however, another matter. Like every other nation, I can find Spain on a map (do I get a gold star?) but if you ask me to put a pin in Toro, I’m going to struggle.
One of the things that attracts me to wine is the endless layers of complexity, history, and knowledge that can be obtained. Each wine varies from vintage to vintage, every winemaker, producer, winery, region, varietal has its own unique characteristics. A wine is like a fingerprint, a snowflake, a human being. Many are similar, but no two are alike. This both attracts me to the field and makes me wonder how successful I can be within it. I guess we’ll see. My motivation to study, for the first time ever in my life, is but for the acquisition of knowledge for personal edification. I have a career, have more degrees than I need, and because of this wine is but a hobby. That realization admittedly does help to take some of the pressure off.
Today we’re studying the varietal Malbec. Zach is coming over, along with a few other sommeliers and aspiring oenophiles, and together we’ll taste, talk, and learn. My offering, as I mentioned, comes from a Sonoma producer who, in my experience, doesn’t miss. I expect Argentina to be well-represented, and of course as one of the five “noble” varietals, we might expect something French to turn up, though to be honest I don’t know if anyone in France uses Malbec as a base, or if instead it’s just a favored blending grape in Bordeaux. I guess that’s why we study.
Clearly, I haven’t gotten enough of wine; at times I find myself wondering why I’m so fixated on this field, and I’ve attempted at times to articulate that (here is one example: https://itheewine.com/2016/05/21/why-wine/ ). I once feared that when I began to study wine formally, I’d start to lose interest, but so far this has not been the case. Instead, if anything, the more I learn the more gasoline gets dumped on the fire of my zealotry, until I consider career changes, relocation, and other drastic moves because, as it would appear, I simply cannot get enough of viticulture.
So thank you, dear reader, for indulging me. Thank you for providing me with an outlet where I can share these thoughts from time to time. Thank you for your support and for your understanding of this bizarre obsession to which I can only assume that on some level you relate. I’ll be sure to keep you updated as I study for the next of my WSET examinations, ever on the quest of greater knowledge and, of course, another shiny lapel pin. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find a decanter for my Malbec.