The Master of Wine (MW) qualification stands alongside the Master Sommelier (MS) badge as one of the most coveted and hard-to-obtain in the industry. In recent years, the Institute of Masters of Wine has sought to attract candidates from a broader range of countries and to remove some of the mystique that has surrounded the ‘Practical’ – tasting – and ‘Theory’ - written - exams. Part of this process has involved the online publication of the essay questions the most recent candidates have had to answer, and the list of wines they were expected to analyse and comment on.
Successful examinees who sat the exam in July this year will have had to study and learn about viticultural topics ranging from the most threatening vine diseases in the world to the use of glyphosate and cover crops, and the way geology influences vineyard management.
Mastering Mouse Taint
In winemaking, questions covered the role of malolactic fermentation and yeast lees and tricky areas such as handling mouse taint and Brettanomyces, and avoiding premature oxidation in Chardonnay.
If this last issue still seems to stump some Burgundy producers, so might another question about “the main technical issues a wine producer should consider when evaluating a change from bottling still wines at source to shipping them in bulk for bottling in the destination market.”
But even these might seem straightforward compared to the choice between answering
- How has the global coronavirus pandemic impacted consumer wine purchasing behaviours? Use examples from at least three significant markets to illustrate your answer.
- What measures determine the strength of a wine brand? How can brand managers most effectively influence their brand's long-term performance?
Other topics that might as easily be the stuff of a lengthy discussion between wine professionals as the content of an examination essay, included
- Which emerging wine-producing countries or regions have the best chance of establishing themselves as a significant force on the international wine market, and why?
- 'Natural wine does not need a legal definition.' Discuss.
- Assess the main challenges and opportunities for the wine education industry around the globe in the next ten years.
- How is artificial intelligence being used within the wine industry and what might its impact be in the coming decades?
- Are biodynamic practices the key to more sustainable wine production?
- Does anyone still need wine writers?
Candidates who have got over these hurdles also have to taste and answer questions about three sets of 12 wines. When the 21 pioneers sat the first exams in 1953, the range of places and styles they were expected to know about was more or less restricted to the classic regions of Europe. In 2022, as the list of the first dozen wines reveals their successors are expected to be familiar with Australian Marsanne, Carricante from Etna, Spanish Albariño, Austrian Grüner Veltliner, Argentine Torrontes and Alto Adige Gewurztraminer.
But being able to say that an anonymous sample is a Cabernet from the Médoc rather than an example from Maipo or Mendocino is not the main aim of this test.
In fact, while identifying origin and grape variety may represent 10 of a possible 25 marks, the other 15 are earned by skilfully and insightfully commenting on the quality, maturity and winemaking techniques used. So, mistaking the grape variety might not be a disaster – for a candidate who is capable of analysing the wine’s characteristics.
The way candidates are asked to consider the wines has changed too.
In earlier years, while candidates might, as this year, have been invited to comment on the differences in quality and character between the first two wines on this list,
- Meursault Les Chevalieres, Domaine Xavier Monnot, 2019. Burgundy, France. (13.0%)
- Corton Charlemagne, Domaine Xavier Monnot, 2019. Burgundy, France. (13.5%)
- Riesling Springvale, Grosset, 2021. Clare Valley, Australia. (12.9%)
- Chardonnay, Pierro Vineyards, 2019. Margaret River, Australia. (13.5%)
- Marsanne Museum Release, Tahbilk, 2014. Nagambie Lakes, Victoria, Australia. (13.0%)
- Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, Gianni Tessari, 2020. Veneta, Italy. (12.0%)
- Gewurztraminer, Erste+Neue, 2020. Alto Adige, Italy. (14.0%)
- Etna Bianco di Sei, Palmento Costanzo, 2018. Sicily, Italy. (12.0%)
- Torrontes, Colome Estate, 2021. Salta, Argentina. (13.0%)
- Albariño, 'La Trucha', Bodegas Notas Frutales, 2020. Rias Baixas, Spain. (13.0%)
- Gruner Veltliner, Loimer, 2020. Kamptal, Austria. (12.0%)
- Roussanne, Domaine de Tunnel, 2020. Saint-Peray, Rhone, France. (14.0%)
But they would not have had to
- Consider which markets this wine would be successful in
- Comment on quality and market position
Or, when given a trio wines of made from different single grape varieties from different countries and a fourth that combines all three, being asked to consider possible reasons for blending or not blending them “with reference to balance and quality”.
Many wine professionals reading these questions may simply feel fortunate in not having had to devote the countless hours of work, and thousands of dollars almost every candidate will have had to put into their attempt on this vinous peak. Many will similarly have decided that they have no professional or personal need to add MW to their name.
But for any serious member of the industry, perhaps there is another way to look at the annual publication of these papers.
Maybe it is worth them – and their colleagues, if they work in a larger company – taking the time to, at the very least, give some thought to how they would answer the Theory questions. And to focusing their attention on why some of their – and their competitors’ - wines might be more successful in some markets than others.
The intellectual exercise might be worthwhile in itself and, of course, it might place their business in a stronger position against competitors that have hired people who’ve taken and passed the exams.