Full Contact Wine Tasting

Update: I passed my WSET Level 2 with Merit!

Well, my experience taking the WSET Level 2 intensive at the International Wine Center certainly ended with a bang. Sadly that bang was not the sound of me throwing down my pencil and fist pumping the air with a loud, “Booyah!” as I had fantasized. Nope. Not quite.


WSET Level 2 Intensive

When I decided to pursue my WSET certification I applied to be a TA. It drops the cost dramatically and it allows you to help out. I like to help and I’ve worked in the service industry so I figured this was a good fit. And it was. My co-RA, Katelyn, and I worked closely with our instructor, Mary John Baumann, and Paula from the IWC to learn how to set up, break down, etc. It was great when one of the wines was reductive – we got a crash course in a flaw I wasn’t familiar with.

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The class began Friday morning with about 25 of us jumping right in. Because this course is an intensive you are expected to read and learn the material prior to class and then work through it with the instructor. Mary was incredible – her knowledge of wines is incredibly deep.

The class starts with a lecture on two grapes and everything you could want to know about them, and then moves into a tasting of 6 wines using those grapes. Then there is an hour break for lunch followed by a second lecture and tasting, 15 minute break and then a final lecture and tasting. Yup, we spit out 18 wines per day. We also learned about grapes, climate, regions, methods, blends, labels and so much more.

You Don’t Know Anything About Wine

As with anything else, if you really want to be an expert, the first step is acknowledging and owning the fact that with all there is to know, you don’t know anything. And the more you learn, the more you realize just how much more there is that you never realized. I was constantly introduced to things I had never had a clue about which powered my incessant need to learn — that’s why the intensive is perfect for me. I love to be bombarded with information.

A Routine

I arrived at Penn around 2:30 pm the day before my class started and headed up town to grab the keys for my Airbnb (I did a roomshare on the UWS only a few stops on the 1/2/3 from the school). Being a lovely, old pre-war building I was reminded of my years in Brooklyn with zero control of the heat. And it was HOT. Sauna-like. It was definitely clocking more than 80° in my cozy little bedroom.

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I had planned out my few days in the city. I figured the first and third nights I would grab dinner and use the evenings to study. I could also study on the train since I would be missing the crush of rush hour. Eating out meant leftovers the second and fourth night – maximizing my efficiency. If you know me, you know that’s something I’m into. Smartly planning to have the most time where it’s needed. In this case: studying. (Note: the best laid plans of mice and men…)

I was going to go to Kashkaval Garden for night one’s dinner since I had some time. And it’s my favorite place. But I was hot and exhausted. I cracked the window, took a 30 minute nap and scrolled Yelp. I decided what I really wanted was Indian food and the place with the highest ratings nearby also had a lot of reviews (even great ones) that commented on how cold the restaurant always is. Needless to say, I headed over.

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My first night’s dinner at Ashoka was phenomenal; you can read about it here.

Everything went great the first day of class (second night in the city) and I enjoyed my leftovers and extra study time. I even woke up super early and got some morning studying done.

An Omen In The Morning

I should have known. My mother believes in signs and I’m turning into her more and more with each passing year. She listens to them. I laugh and say, “I should pay attention to this!” and then forge on with my routine. I studied in the morning and got sucked into something I was having difficulty remembering so I ended up being very late. I skipped the subway and hailed a cab.

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If you’ve never met me in person, I’m very short. Not even 5’2″. So I can’t generally see over the seat to my taxi driver. Which means I can’t say, “Hey, put on your seatbelt!” before the NYPD bangs on the window in the middle of Midtown to say it.

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Yup. Not only had I been running late. But now we were told to pull over. And, neither the officer nor my driver would let me out. Finally, after about 10 minutes I told my driver I was leaving, opened the door a little and said to the cop’s partner, “Hey, I’m super late for a wine class, I couldn’t see into the front.” to which he said, “Go ahead.” and I ran (RAN!) to the IWC luckily making it on time for my duties.

My Run In With The Law Was Only The Beginning

As I flew down the street as only a native New Yorker can (without running into anyone or even getting a second glance), I thought about the fact that it was insanely warm. And that it would be nice, post class, to walk back to the apartment from the subway and grab some dinner. Maybe even enjoy it al fresco (the last time I dined on a fire escape was probably 2002).

After class I got out at 72nd street and was met with a light but steady rain. So much for my dinner plans. But I was still starving and needed something to eat. There’s a little hummus place smack in the middle of the 5 block walk so I figured that would work.

As Father John Misty (my new celebrity boyfriend) crooned in my ear about my wedding dress that someone was probably murdered in I started down the half flight of stairs to the below street entrance and before I knew what was happening (read: had time to save myself) my left foot just kind of started to go down the stairs, barely skimming the tops on its way down. My right ankle turned and went under me. And there I was, at the bottom of the stairs, limbs akimbo, in tremendous pain but thankful the second I realized that I hadn’t hit my head.

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The pain was tremendous. I had to choke down the vomit and keep myself from sobbing for my mother (I did cry. A lot. For the next 36 hours). I was afraid to move, afraid to look; I knew it would be ugly. A couple commented on the ugliness of my fall after asking if my head was hit, telling me I had definitely just broken my leg and commenting on my cute shoes (vintage 1960’s bowling shoes that clearly should not be worn on a nyc staircase in the rain). The man tried to help me up but decided it was better for me to stay since it was clear I couldn’t move. A delivery man stepped over me. No one from the restaurant came out to help. It took over an hour to get back to my apartment and mostly consisted of me using scaffolding and hopping. I could not walk. At all.

Did I Mention I was Staying in a 4th Floor Walk Up?

Yeah. That^^. I ended up crawling up to the apartment to figure out what to do. And, being me, that was wait for several hours with a hugely swollen, nasty ankle because I didn’t want to let down my instructor, the wine school staff or my co-RA. Eventually I gave in and went to Urgent Care (if the building had cameras in those stairwells I don’t ever want to see the footage. I looked like a drunken crazy person but was in fact stone cold sober.

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The UC was closed because of a broken pipe but they were able to look at pictures remotely and then do a house call to get me started on steroids and stabilized as much as possible. They also told me to get to the ER asap and to stay off it.

It was heartbreaking to have to miss my final day and exam but IWC and WSET have been awesome about accommodating a very broken me. Amtrak was also great about it and got me home safely with red cap assistance and a wheel chair. Kris picked me up and we went straight to the ER and he has also been home for two weeks now dealing with an immobile me, the dogs and medical appointments which appear to have no end in site.

It’ll All Be Okay

As awful as my fall and subsequent injuries were and have been, I’m already looking forward to rescheduling the end of the course and taking my exam. I was pretty upset for 36 hours between a lack of sleep, tremendous pain and also not being able to complete the course and exam. I have been working really hard for this. But it will still happen; just on a different schedule.

In the meantime I’m keeping busy being insanely productive when it comes to things like writing for clients and planning wine tastings. Because, let’s face it, drinking makes it better!

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