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July 10, 2017

Holy Exam Batman!

On mornings like today, I find myself waking up, having a Nespresso, checking the news (translation: scrolling through Facebook), and cuddling with the kids (translation: Zoe, my dog and Ziggy, my cat). Next up, I go to the gym and work my tail off, then put in a full day at work. Around 6:30pm I come home to the kids (see earlier reference) and look around. I can see the walls. There are no stacks of notes, books, and maps everywhere. I almost feel guilty. Even bored. Do I really not need to read that Alsace flip chart for the 10,000th time? I took my FINAL exam on June 14th and since then I haven’t known what to do with myself. Ironically, I’m missing the process. Is this what Empty Nest Syndrome feels like? The kids are all gone and mamma’s got nothing to do. I used to wake up on work days at 6am and get in 2 hours of studying before work, work all day, and come home and study until bedtime. Wash, rinse, repeat.

It’s been 6 months and I am just now coming up from the dungeon called the WSET Diploma Unit 3 exam. For those of you who have experienced this exam, you know exactly what I mean. To give context to those not familiar with the program, from the month of February through the exam in June, I logged 300 hours of study. That counts study only, and does not include class time, tasting groups, and theory study groups. To say that I am mentally pooped is an understatement.

Let’s recap. In June of 2015 I embarked on a 2-year adventure known as the WSET Diploma program. This program consisted of 20 in-person classes, 6 exams, and 1 research paper on topics including the wine business, viticulture (grape growing), vinification (winemaking), spirits, fortified wines, sparkling wines, and still wines of the world. Leading up to the last exam on June 14 I passed all 5 exams I attempted and passed the research paper. Only 1 exam separated me from my WSET Diploma certification: the dreaded Unit 3 exam. This exam is (roughly) 4x the size of the other exams. It consists of 12 blind tastings and 5 essay questions. However hard you think this exam is, I’d say to multiply that by about 5. It’s an unreasonable amount of information to prepare for and to retain for this one exam.

With that being said, the exam is over! June 14 came and went. That day was a whirlwind of emotions. Waking up anxious and ready to go. Arriving onsite and making sure I had my pens, white out, and ID. We started with the first half of the tasting exam: 6 wines to blind taste in 1 hour. It was stressful. Opening the exam book and getting my bearings. Not feeling like there was enough time. When time was up, my heart was racing and I felt like I had an out of body experience. How did I prepare so much and yet feel so unprepared? I stepped outside with my classmates and many of them felt the same way; we got a bit tripped up and flustered. The group stayed positive and vowed to do better for the 2nd half of the tasting exam. What a difference an hour makes. We went in there and killed it. Not killed it in the sense that we all called the wines correctly. But we killed it because we went into that room, took a collective deep breath, and wrote those tasting notes with confidence and purpose. This time we were not in as much of a time crunch, and many of us felt more confident walking out of the exam room. The difference is that we knew what to expect after having completed the first tasting exam. We were calm and in control. Next was our lunch break and then the theory exam, which is the toughest part of the day.

The theory exam is 3 hours of essay writing with only 5 minutes to plan each essay. This part of the exam is a test of strength. Your hand feels like it’s going to fall off from fervently writing for such a long amount of time and your brain feels like it’s about to explode from the endless facts you need to pull out of it. It is certainly a marathon. A wine marathon (hmmmm……there’s an idea). The topics of the exam included: the Pinot Noir grape in Germany and Australia, the wine region of Alsace in France, climates in Chile, red wines of Valpolicella in Italy, and winemaking in Spain. Surprisingly enough there were NO questions on Burgundy, which is crazy. Also, there was only a small mention of Bordeaux. I figured we’d have to write in depth on both regions, but the thing about WSET is that you never know what they’re going to ask.

After the exam I was a flurry of emotions. Relieved (it was over), happy (that I did it!), sad (it was over), and frustrated (of the things I forgot to write that I remembered immediately after the exam). My husband (and my dog) picked me up when I was done. We were packed and hightailed it to Palm Springs for a couple days of R&R in the desert. Both nights, I kid you not, I woke up in the middle of the night frustrated with some error I made on the exam. I am still beside myself that I wrongly called 3 of the wines. My gut upon initially smelling the wines was that they were all from the Loire. As I got through my notes I doubted myself and talked myself out of it. Moral of the story: trust your gut.

I am close to 1 month post-exam and am still struggling a bit with what my life looks like now. Coming home from work with a clean slate: no studying to do, no reading, no flash cards, no map study. I can come home, cook dinner, do a load of laundry, or just watch TV. I’m back to normal! For those who know me, this is a far cry for how I have existed since January. No social time, no going out. Only work and study.

I’ve got 2 more months to go until our results come from London. Every person who attempted the Unit 3 exam in the world, took it on the same day. Exams, which are all handwritten, are sent to London (where WSET is based) to be graded. We should hear back sometime in mid-September.

That’s all I’ve got for you now! I am looking forward to getting back into the writing groove. You can expect to hear a lot more from me in the coming months.


I hope you enjoyed this post. If you’re looking to Up Your Wine Game and Drink Better, consider booking a private in-person or virtual wine tasting experience.
Brianne Cohen Wine Educator
Brianne Cohen is a Los Angeles-based certified sommelier, wine educator, consultant, and writer.

Brianne has educated and entertained over 10,000 people through her in-person and virtual wine tasting experiences.

Brianne holds the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) Diploma certificate, one of the most coveted wine certifications in the world. When she’s not helping people Up Their Wine Game, she can be found judging at international wine competitions

Brianne aims to make wine approachable and conversational, to surprise and delight with unexpected wine finds, and to give people knowledge (and confidence) about wine in their everyday lives.

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Sample Policy

As a wine writer, I frequently accept samples for review on my  website and on my social media channels. Please contact me at to discuss sending samples for review. I promise to always be honorable with the samples. I will evaluate all wines in good tasting settings and with no distractions.

All reviews are my opinions, and mine only. Because of the volume of samples I receive, I cannot promise that all samples received will be reviewed, but I will do my best.

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