WSET II: “Never bring a knife to a gun fight.”

My father gave me that advice when I was a child. Or maybe it was Clint Eastwood. Either way, I wish I would have taken it on Sunday.

I was with my WSET II study group again. Honestly, these guys are just taking II to entertain themselves before taking III; I’m the only one who will be challenged by II. I learn  lot from them.  Last time, we were studying Malbec. I knew the Argentines were known for it, and I knew they were capable of making the varietal into quaffable juice in California as well. I learned that Cahors is a region of France devoted to the varietal as their red, and I tasted several, which were decisively old world, and undeniably enjoyable.

This week, I thought we were studying Burgundy. I went to one of my favorite wine shops, had lunch with Titus at their deli, and bought a nice bottle of entry-level Burgundy with what little of my wine money remained for the month of February. I got to Zach’s about 2pm. He had requested we blind the wines first, so foils were removed and wines were decked out in all array of costumes, from brown bags to aluminum foil, making sure the aliens couldn’t read their labels.

We’d tasted for a bit before I was overwhelmed by the flavors that, to me, were in no way reminiscent of Burgundian wines, and I had to ask: “We are tasting Burgundy, right?”

“Ha ha, right,” Zach scoffed at me.

I sipped at my wine.  We hadn’t even gotten to the one I’d brought.

“Yeah,” I replied weakly, “ha ha…”

Finally it was time to taste my wine. The Pinot Noir nose, the candy and lilacs and cherries and funk, were overwhelming. I looked around at my companions.

“Burgundy, right?” I smiled, trying again, more for my own benefit than that of anyone else.

“Rhone!” came the reply. I’d brought a knife to a gun fight, and a Pinot Noir to a Syrah/GSM tasting. Mea culpa.


My Pinot didn’t get much attention that afternoon, but our study of the Rhone Valley was fruitful all the same, and my friends were tolerant of my mistake.

Here’s a bit of what I learned about Rhone this week (from memory, to demonstrate actual learning — feel free to correct me or to add to my knowledge in the comments section):

  • The Northern Rhone is predominately Syrah for reds, Viognier for whites. Cotes Rotie is 80-20 of the two, blended, which explains why I like it so much.
  • Southern Rhone is mostly GSM blends for reds, and some whites I can barely pronounce and that we don’t grow much of here. I think they start with “M” but I’m not sure. Marsanne maybe?
  • Gigondas is an AOC in Southern Rhone. We tasted some of their stuff. Me likey.
  • Chateauneuf du Pape is in the Southern Rhone as well. It means “New Castle of the Pope,” and was established by Pope John XII. They make mostly GSM blends, but using 13 varietals to do so. Recently, the whites and reds of the same varietal have been delineated, taking the number of varietals used in CdP up to 18.
  • Rhone wines are expected to give aromas and flavors of smoked meat, herbaceous qualities, cedar, and more, but in reality, each wine is crafted by someone different, somewhere different, with different grapes. Each wine is unique, which is what makes me love wine so much.

So, that’s it, and afternoon of study in a nutshell. I don’t think I’m likely to encounter a ton of that on the WSET II exam, but it’s good to know all the same, and I enjoyed imbibing with my friends. Oh, one more thing I learned:

  • I really enjoy chicken liver pate’.  Who would’ve guessed?

As the study continues, I realize I need to continue to eat this up and enjoy every moment of it. The guys who tolerate my company are knowledgeable, and together we drink some great stuff. I also realize I may need to dig a bit deeper into the books, and that my knowledge of French wine is not strong, while my knowledge of Spanish and Italian wine is, well, almost too weak to call it knowledge at all. I have a lot of work to do, darn it anyway. But I am learning and that’s the goal. Oh, and the next time there’s a gun fight, I’ll be sure to bring a gun.





7 responses to “WSET II: “Never bring a knife to a gun fight.”

  1. If something of the sort ever happens again, you can tell them the story of Harry Waugh, the “grand old man” of the English wine trade who once said that wine’s first duty was to be red and its second duty was to be Burgundy. Someone asked him once when the last time he’d mistaken Burgundy for Bordeaux was and he said “At lunch.”


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