11.40AM: 'LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, ' begins the invigilator. 'Exam conditions are now in force for the 2003 WSET [Wine and Spirit Education Trust] Diploma blind-tasting paper. You will shortly be handed six unidentified bottles of wine. Please pour yourself a tasting portion and remember that these wines have been decanted. The bottle shape offers no clue as to a wine's identity.' I pour the wine, a slight sweat beginning to form. Six wines, each to have its appearance, nose and palate described and appraised in only 10 minutes each. Actually, eight minutes is more correct. The last two minutes should be spent writing down other 'expected to knows' such as the grape varietal, geographical origin, age and price. 11.50am: 'Ladies and gentlemen, please begin. You have 60 minutes to complete this paper.' Action stations. Three reds and three whites. I'll begin with the whites, leaving the golden yellow one to last. It looks suspiciously sweet. I'm not ruining my taste buds with that. I pick up the first wine and begin writing. 'Clear and bright, pale intensity, green to lemon at the core, leading to a narrow watery rim. No discernible legs.' Next the nose. Damn, it's not obvious. Okay, here goes. 'Clean nose of medium intensity showing youthful aromas of apples, pears, gooseberries and hints of lemon. Fresh and unoaked.' I hope the palate gives more clues. I take a large swig, roll it around my tongue, allow the wine to touch every sensory part of my mouth and spit it out. No flashing beacons as to the wine's identity appear. What is this blasted wine? 11.55: I'm running late already. I should be writing the quality assessment by now instead of describing the palate. I pick up my pen. 'Dry wine with balanced to crisp acidity, light to medium body, medium fruit intensity with flavours as per nose. Medium alcohol and length.' 11.57: Time to attempt my quality assessment. 'Good Appellation Controlee wine as indicated by intensity of fruit on nose and palate together with reasonable length. Drinking now with enough fruit and acidity to last another 12 to 18 months before peaking and beginning to decline. Year of vintage - 2001.' 11.59: One minute to decide on the country, region of origin and the grape varietal. Don't panic; use the process of elimination. I just wish I could nail the grape. That would give me a good clue as to origin. Fruit is not ripe enough for New World - has to be Old World. It's not steely or citrus enough for riesling, wrong colour for chardonnay. Could be sauvignon blanc but where's the typical grassiness and over-the-top gooseberries of a Cloudy Bay or even a Sancerre. Stay calm. It doesn't remind me of anything I've tasted from Italy. Definitely not German. Has to be cool-climate France. I'm plumping for the Loire. Now I've got to make a decision. It's not overt enough to be a sauvignon blanc so that rules out Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. It's either chenin blanc from Anjou-Saumur or muscadet from Nantais. I haven't tasted enough chenin blanc to know. I'm out of time. Just write it down: 'Muscadet from Nantais.' 12.00: Pick up the next glass and quicken the pace. That was too close for comfort. Five more wines to go. 12.50pm: 'Exam finished, please put down your pens,' says our invigilator with a smile. 'Place your papers in the brown envelope, collect your glasses and spittoon and kindly leave the room. A sheet identifying the wines you have just tasted will be available for you in the hallway.' 12.55: I'm a wreck. Too much to do and too much panic in 60 minutes. To think I have another tasting paper tomorrow. I pick up the list and read about the first wine. Damn. It was a sauvignon blanc from Sancerre after all.