WSET II: An Aussie State of Mind

I continue to work on my wine knowledge in preparation for taking my next WSET exam. I take somewhere between one and three 50-question practice exams a day, and, for now, I continue to improve. My first week, I averaged just over 35 correct answers. My second the number improved to 39. Last week the number again increased to 43, and currently this week I’m averaging 44, though I have plenty of time left to screw that up. While I’d love a perfect score, I’ll settle for “with distinction” if I must. Learning because you want to, and not because you have to, is fantastic fun.

The best thing the practice exams do, as I’ve pointed out in the past, is to reveal the gaps in my knowledge. I know squat about Madeira, and even less about the winemaking process. I don’t know what most obscure liquors taste like, and I disagree that Riesling grown in a warm climate can’t take on a mango flavor (though of course that sounds unlikely; I just disagree that it can’t — Riesling can do anything, including pair with steak). I also struggle mightily with wine regions outside the US.

Knowing this about myself, I’ve started to study other regions. There are so many that even figuring out where to begin is a challenge. How about Australia? Sounds easy enough, right?  Below is the most useful map I found of Australia, from the Wine Society of the University of Bath.


There are a hell of a lot more regions than I realized. I sat down at one of my usual happy hour haunts armed with this map and ordered a “flight” (in this case, a term I used to mean “all of your differing shiraz, in one-ounce pours, thank you”). I tasted through the three wines, nonplussed but able, I thought, to distinguish what makes them different from, say, my favorite Syrah from Sonoma, or from a Pinot Noir.  Vivino tells me I’ve only rated 16 Aussie Shiraz, which might explain, compared to well over 500 Cali Cabs, why my knowledge level is comparatively poor. I told myself I have a lot of work to do. Better keep tasting.

One of the most useful things I found was on, in their area on Australia. In addition to the map, here is some very testable, very learnable knowledge that I will attempt soon to commit to memory:

The most renowned australian wine regions from west to south-east:

– Margaret River (Western Australia) (Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc, Chenin blanc, Chardonnay, Shiraz)

– Barossa (South Australia) (Shiraz)

– Coonawara (South Australia) (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot)

– Adelaide Hills (South Australia)

– McLaren Vale (South Australia) (Shiraz, Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay)

– Clare Valley (South Austrlia) (CHardonnay, Sémillon, Riesling)

– Hunter Valley (New South Wales) (Sémillon, Chardonnay, Cabernet sauvignon)

– Yarra Valley (Victoria) (Chardonnay, Pinot noir)

– Rutherglen (Victoria) (Shiraz, Durif)

– Heathcode (Victoria) (Shiraz, Cabernet sauvignon)

– Mornington Peninsula (Victoria) (Pinot gris, Pinot noir, Chardonnay)

– Tasmania (Riesling, Pinot noir)

The WSET II practice exams love to ask where regions and sub-regions are located, and what varietals are grown there. When I think of the continent of Australia, I think Shiraz and Cabernet, and outside of Coonawarra, I’d struggle to name a region. The data above, committed to memory, will surely help me on my path. I hope it will help you too. Now, please excuse me, but I need to get back to my studies.




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