Sunday, July 6, 2014

Taste of London review

I went to Taste of London for the first time this year and I LOVED it! We were booked in for Champagne tasting tickets which included lounge access, 20 crowns each and a free glass of bubbles on arrival. Of course we needed double the Crowns for all the food and wine we wanted to try!

We read the menus in advance and headed round the park to seek out our bite-sized feast. One thing I really liked was most stalls having their dishes on show so you could see what it looks like before ordering. The dishes I loved the most were the Pudhina chops from Tamarind of Mayfair (Welsh lamb cutlets, ginger, mint, crushed peppercorns) and the Pannacotta from Barbecoa (Amedei white chocolate panna cotta with wild strawberries, champagne and basil). Absolutely delicious and I will definitely be visiting their restaurants soon.

We saw Michel Roux Jnr in the Taste Theatre (tip: get there 15 mins early with food and drink so you get a seat), and I met David Hesketh, the MD of Laurent Perrier, at the Champagne blind tasting. It's a great place to meet some of your foodie heroes, we saw one woman who was getting all the chefs to sign her apron.

After eating our weight in mini-food and enjoying the delights that Laurent Perrier had to offer (Ultra Brut, Brut NV and Le Grand Siecle), we sat down in the Gaucho wine tent and had a flight of Malbec, which included the deliciously violet Colome Terruno from the highest vineyard in the world.

Needless to say I will be going back next year.

WSET Advanced wine exam tips

Last Saturday I took my WSET Advanced exam. Phew! It was pretty intense and I was completely exhausted afterwards, I didn't realise how stressed I had been.

The exam is 50 multiple choice questions, a short answer paper, and a blind tasting of two wines.

You could say it was easier than I was expecting it to be, because I thought there would be more drill down in each of the regions for the short answer questions. But I think that made it harder, because I had spent so much time learning the regions, geology and geography, and not enough time on wine service!

Since the exam I have been dreaming about taking it again but as is the way with dreams in much different circumstance - in a hall with a hundred other students, one a cliff as a one-on-one interview... but soon my brain will realise its over. I have another five weeks to wait for the results.

There were some very tough questions, so here are my top tips:

  1. For each region don't forget to learn the sweet and fortified wines as well as the main red and white wines made in that region. 
  2. Keep studying all the way up to the exam, you never know what final piece of information you might learn.
  3. Read the question twice (a tip given to me before going in), because although they ask you about Chenin Blanc, they are asking you a particular question about it, so focus on the actual question.
  4. If English is your first language, don't worry too much about your grammar, they are marking your knowledge, although full sentences is preferred.
  5. Write SOMETHING for every short answer question, you will get marks even by saying its a white or red wine for example. You do know something, so write something!
  6. For the blind tasting, get on with it. Time ran out for me, I think I spent too much time writing elaborate sentences. Although it might impress the examiner, you don't extra marks for that and there's not much room on the paper anyway. I'd recommend doing timed practice tests at home.
  7. Practice short answer questions by picking a region and thinking about which four wines you can talk about in that region.
  8. Spend time making sure you know each wine-making method (red, white, rose, sparkling, sweet, fortified) and the variations of each.
  9. Remember to read about wine-service and social responsibility chapters, they may seem like common sense, but you may need to answer short answer questions on these.
  10. Draw your own maps if you have a visual memory. I found these very useful to consolidate knowledge on the varieties, geography, geology and climate.
The way I answered the exam is to answer the short answer questions that you know, make a note of the ones you don't know, then answer the multiple response questions you know, marking those you don't know. Then go back to the short answer, then go back to multiple choice. The reason I felt this was a good way is because you get some hard questions out the way, you will have read all the short-answer questions so when you go through the multiple choice it might trigger a memory that helps with the ones you thought you don't know. I'd leave the multiple choice you don't know to the end, because these will be down to (educated) chance if you get them right and if you run out of time are the least likely to have got you extra marks.

One things I wasn't sure about was for the blind tasting, identifying the wine, do I go with my heart (what I think it is) or my head (what my tasting notes say)? I went with my heart and I'm pretty sure I got the red wrong!

I'm happy its over and waiting in anticipation to get my results. If you have any other questions about the WSET Advanced exam, or want to share your experience, please do comment on this post.