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This year's MW exam

17 Jun 2013 by Richard Hemming

Last week, the fiendishly challenging Master of Wine examinations were held in three locations around the world: London, Sydney and Napa. As tradition dictates, the exam papers were made public not long after the last student's pen was laid down, and are reproduced below.

Having taken the exams myself in 2011 (practical and theory) and 2012 (practical only), I have every sympathy with the students who have the devotion and aptitude to reach this stage. It is the highest level of learning for a subject that gets more complicated every year. My sympathy increased upon reading the papers. They maintain the Institute's exacting reputation.

Several students I spoke with found the tasting paper on white wines, which is the very first exam of the week, especially tough. It is certainly not a kind paper, with precious few clues to glean from the structure of the questions. For example, when a pair of wines is introduced as from the 'same country and region but different single grape varieties' virtually no region can be ruled out.

In this case, the wines look distinctive, on paper at least - they were a Riesling and a Chardonnay from Marlborough - but I know too well how difficult it can be to remain calm and identify wines effectively, especially without the safety net of a more specific stipulation within the question. Dry Riesling is easily mistaken for Sauvignon Blanc or Grüner Veltliner, for instance, and Chardonnay is notoriously shapeshifting. 

The rest of the paper was similarly tricky, including an Assyrtiko and a Gavi - both brave choices for an examinee to make when all you are told is they are from different countries and varieties.

Perhaps this is only to be expected from an examination with such a tough reputation. Furthermore, the examiners are quick to point out that identification is only one part of the exam, and that many points can be gained by answering the questions on quality and style.

John Hoskins MW, who plays an important part in organising the exams, points out about the practical papers, 'Please note that with some of the less "obvious" wines, the emphasis of the question is not necessarily on origin and varietal. This obviously applies to Paper 1 wines 9-12 (although 11 and 12 might be considered "bankers"); and Paper 2 Wines 10-12 (with 10 again fairly straightforward). And for the toughest section (Paper 3 wines 7-12) a pass mark could easily be achieved on each wine if the attempt at origin was incorrect but logical enough to pick up points, as long as the other answers were fairly accurate.

'I say this because the natural tendency is for everyone to focus on the difficulty of nailing the wines, whilst in fact the exam now has much more emphasis on quality and winemaking assessments than in the past. As I have said in several exam reports, we haven't made the exam harder, but the wines get harder to spot as the wine world becomes more complex and winemakers more clever. So we have shifted our focus a little, as stated.'

However, picking up points on quality and style is not easily done if a candidate has misidentified the wine, nor does it account for the shaken confidence that can result from being faced with a flight of wines with so few clues.

At least the other two tasting papers were less punishing, as you can see below. I'd be amazed to hear how anyone can specifically identify a red Rully (any thoughts, Alex H?) but otherwise the red paper seems reasonable. In paper three, the Franciacorta would have been widely taken for champagne, I expect - but here the question restricted the three sparkling wines to one country, and the Prosecco and Lambrusco should have been enough to eliminate France.

Six different, non-fortified sweet wines from different countries were not easy, but probably had enough ringers in the line-up to allow for logical elimination and thus conclusions.

As for the theory papers, they largely conform to type. I passed my theory exam in 2011, and don't mind saying that I would not now be able to write such essays without significant revision. However, the questions do seem fair and comprehensible (typos notwithstanding, tut tut!), and all fall within the field of study as I remember it.

The results will be released in early September. Please do add your own thoughts about the exam using the comments field at the bottom of this article.


Section A
1. What are the most relevant pests and diseases today? Describe their effects and how they should be combated.
2. Many factors can affect flowering and fruit set. Examine what effect these might have on quality and yield.

Section B
3. Why, when and how do enzymes work in the winemaking process?
4. You are tasked with establishing new vineyard sites to produce Chardonnay in Casablanca in Chile and Champagne in France. What would be your major concerns?
5. Critically assess the role of oxygen during vinification up to the completion of the malolactic conversion.
6. Define the effects Botrytis Cineria [sic] can have on wine quality and explain the measures a winery should carry out when both white and red grapes have extensive botrytis infection on entering the winery.


Section A
1. What would be the main quality control considerations when considering a change from bottling at source to shipping in bulk and bottling elsewhere?
2. To what extent, following the malolactic conversion, can clarity and stability in wine be controlled?

Section B
3. Write concise notes on FOUR of the following;
a) Hydrogen Sulphide
b) Volatile Acidity
c) Oak chips
d) Carboxy Methyl Cellulose
e) Isinglass
4. Consider the implications of reducing levels of sulphur dioxide in the post malolactic conversion handling and bulk storage of still wine.
5. “Blending can be an art or a science”. What are the main considerations a winemaker must take into account when blending: a) A middle price point red wine AND b) A good quality non-vintage champagne.
6. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of non oak maturation vessels.


Section A
1. What matters more to consumers in today’s wine market: brand, varietal or appellation?
2. How can the role of the intermediaries between producer and on and off-trade retailers be justified? How is it changing?

Section B
3. Assess the role and importance of generic bodies (such as Wine Australia and Wines of Portugal).
4. As a large corporation taking over a family wine business, should you keep the family values alive and, if so, how?
5. How have the recent fluctuations in grape harvest size changed the global supply and demand of wine? How do you see this affecting the wine market in the next 24 months?
6. As an export manager for a medium sized wine estate, what strategies would you employ in the USA, Europe and China?

1. How important is climate change to the global wine market?
2. Is the global wine market too fragmented?
3. Is the golden age for fine wine investment over?
4. How important is it for countries and wine producing regions to have “signature wines”?
5. To what extent is wine consumption healthy? How much is too much?


Question 1.
Wines 1 and 2 are from the same country, but from different regions and different single grape varieties.
For each wine:
a) Identify the origin, as closely as possible, and grape variety. (15 marks)
For both wines:
b) Compare and contrast quality and style, with reference to winemaking. (20 marks)

Question 2.
Wines 3 and 4 are from the same country, but from different regions and different single grape varieties.
For each wine:
a) Identify the origin, as closely as possible, and grape variety. (15 marks)
For both wines:
b) Compare and contrast quality and style, with reference to winemaking. (20 marks)

Question 3.
Wines 5 and 6 are from the same country and region, but from different single grape varieties.
For both wines:
a) Identify the origin, as closely as possible, and grape varieties. (30 marks)
b) Compare and contrast quality and style, with reference to winemaking. (20 marks)

Question 4.
Wines 7 and 8 are from the same country and are made from the same single grape variety.
For both wines:
a) Identify the country of origin and grape variety. (25 marks)
b) Compare and contrast quality and style, with reference to winemaking. (25 marks)

Question 5.
Wines 9 -12 are from four different countries. Each wine is made from a different single grape variety.
For each wine:
a) Consider quality and style, with reference to winemaking. (15 marks per wine)
b) Identify the origin, as closely as possible, and grape variety. (10 marks per wine)

1. Vina Gravonia, Lopez de Heredia. 2003, Rioja, Spain
2. Albarino, Granbazan. 2011, Rias Baixas, Spain
3. Gruner Veltliner, Gobelsburger. 2011, Kamptal, Austria
4. Riesling Wachstum Bodenstein Smaragd, Prager. 2011, Wachau, Austria
5. Riesling ‘D’, Te Whare Ra. 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand
6. Omaka Reserve Chardonnay, Saint Clair. 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand
7. Chenin Blanc, Man Vintners. 2012, Coastal, South Africa
8. Chenin Blanc, De Morgenzon. 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa
9. Gavi di Gavi, Rovereto, Ernesto Picollo. 2011, Piedmont, Italy
10. Assyrtiko, Sigalas. 2011, Santorini, Greece
11.Gewurztraminer Reserve, Gustave Lorentz. 2011, Alsace, France
12.Chardonnay, Cuvée Sauvage, Franciscan. 2010, Carneros, California


Question 1.
Wines 1-2 are from the same region of origin.
For each wine:
a) Identify the specific origin as closely as possible. (15 marks)
For both wines:
b) Compare the quality of the two wines, within the context of the region of origin. (10 marks)
c) Compare the state of maturity, stating the vintage for each wine. (10 marks)

Question 2.
Wines 3-5 are all from the same country of origin, but from different grape variety(ies).
For all three wines:
a) Identify the country of origin. (15 marks)
For each wine:
b) Identify the region of origin and grape variety(ies). (10 marks)
c) Comment on quality in an international context. (10 marks)

Question 3.
Wines 6-9 are all made from the same predominant grape variety, but from four different countries.
For all four wines:
a) Identify the predominant grape variety. (20 marks)
For each wine:
b) Identify the region of origin as closely as possible. (10 marks)
c) Comment on quality within the context of the region of origin, and commercial appeal. (10 marks)

Question 4.
Wines 10-12 are all from different countries.
For each wine:
a) Comment on the most relevant aspects of the method of production. (15 marks)
b) Identify the grape variety(ies) and region of origin, as closely as possible. (10 marks)

1. Rully, Jean-Baptiste Ponsot. 2009, Burgundy, France
2. Vosne Romanée, En Orveaux, Sylvain Cathiard. 2006, Burgundy, France
3. Pinot Noir, Peregrine. 2010, Central Otago, New Zealand
4. Te Kahu, Craggy Range. 2010, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
5. Syrah, Elephant Hill. 2010, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
6. Priorat Gratallops, Alvaro Palacios. 2010, Priorat, Spain
7. Grenache Besson Vineyard, Birichino. 2010, Central Coast, USA
8. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Le Vieux Donjon. 2009, Rhône Valley, France (our wine of the week last Friday)
9. Bush Vine Grenache, Yalumba. 2011, Barossa Valley, Australia
10. Beaujolais Villages, Jacques Dépagneux. 2011, Beaujolais, France
11. Valpolicella Ripasso, Fabiano. 2010, Veneto, Italy
12. Gran Corte, Pulenta. 2008, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina


Question 1
Wines 1-3 are all from the same country.
For all three wines
a) Identify the country and regions of origin. (24 marks)
For each wine
c) Comment on the method of production. (7 marks)
d) Discuss the quality with particular reference to commercial potential. (10 marks)

Question 2.
Wines 4-6 are from two different countries. One grape variety is common to all three wines, but in varying proportions.
For each wine
a) Identify the region of origin and grape variety(ies). (10 marks)
b) Comment on the method of production. (7 marks)
c) Comment on quality and maturity. (8 marks)

Question 3.
Wines 7-12 are from six different countries; none are fortified.
For each wine
a) Identify the origin as closely as possible, with reference to the grape variety(ies) used. (10 marks)
b) Comment on the method of production. (9 marks)
c) State the residual sugar level. (3 marks)
d) State the alcohol level. (3 marks)

1. Prosecco Superiore ‘Oro Puro’, Valdo. NV, Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy
2. Lambrusco, Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Villa Cialdini. 2011, Emilia Romagna, Italy
3. Franciacorta Gran Cuvée Brut, Bellavista . 2007, Lombardy, Italy
4. Vat 1 Semillon, Tyrrell’s. 2006, Hunter Valley, Australia
5. Château Villa Bel Air Blanc. 2010, Graves, Bordeaux, France
6. Castelnau de Suduiraut. 2007, Sauternes, France
7. Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett, Dr Loosen. 2009, Mosel, Germany
8. Jurancon, Château Jolys, Cuvée Jean. 2010, Jurancon, South West France
9. Tokaji 5 Puttonyos Aszu, Royal Tokaji. 2008, Tokaj, Hungary
10. Cuvée Beerenauslese, Alois Kracher.2010, Burgenland, Austria
11. Vidal Ice Wine, Peller Estate. 2010, Niagara Peninsula, Canada
12. Vin Santo, Capezzana. 2006, Tuscany, Italy

Tags:  MW


Hi Roeland,

These are the 'proper' MW exams, usually sat at the end of the second year. There is another examination called the 'First Year Assessment' which must be passed in the first year in order to proceed. However, this result does not count towards your final qualification.

The exams are sat on consecutive days - tasting in the morning, theory in the afternoon.

Good luck with your studies!

18 Jun 2013 07:54 by Richard Hemming

Very interesting Richard!  Reading this, three questions came up: - are these the exams of the first year MW or of the second year (or isn't there such a thing as a first and second year (and third dissertation) year ?) ? I always believed there was. - reading the questions, it reminds me of the WSET Diploma I finished last year: same content / learning outcomes but then in greater depth and detail. Is this consideration correct? - how many days are in between all four theory papers ? Anyway, I'm more determined than ever to wait with the MW till after 2016. WSET Diploma last year (and Weinakademiker in Austria this year) took time enough... At least 4 years of mental rest is necessary now... Best regards, ROELAND.

17 Jun 2013 21:01 by Roeland Verbist

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