Tag Archives: Master of Wine

Twas the Day Before the MW Exam…Again

Here we are again.  I am getting ready to sit the Master of Wine examination for the 6th time.  It’s interesting because it now seems like just another day in the life of an MW student.  I can look back to my first exam and I was so excited and slightly nervous driving to the exam, my thoughts of almost certain passing scores running through my mind with the blind optimism that I had at the time.  That was 7 years ago and with each attempt my mindset has changed from excitement to dread and everywhere in between.  The positive aspect of having to sit multiple times is there is no longer an uncertainty of what to expect. I have a routine of sorts.  Today, my task is to see how long it takes to walk from my friend’s house to the exam site and to procure lunch for the next four days.  I usually scope out a place for food and order the same thing for all four days and pay up front with a specific pick up time each day so that I can pack up from the morning exam and calmly walk out of the building to my pre-determined lunch spot, walk in, grab my package and walk calmly out.  On these challenging days, it helps to not be panicked about “Where am I going to eat? What am I going to eat? Will it be ready in time? Will I have to wait anywhere?”  Any level of stress removal that can be done will be done.

Tomorrow, I’ll get up and try to arrive with plenty of time to the exam site.  I hope I can walk with no issues however hauling glasses and my computer up and down the quite steep streets of San Francisco may prove to be too much in the mornings. We’ll see on my explorations today.  I know exactly what the room looks like because I’ve been there before just like I knew what to expect when the exam was held at Opus One in Napa.  In 2012, when I passed my theory section, the winemaking position had just been posted for Robert Mondavi Winery and there I was sitting in Opus One getting ready for the first day of the exam, 5 months pregnant with Nathaniel doing somersaults in my womb, staring at photographs of Mr. Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild feeling like fate was laughing at me in some way, daring me to try for more.  This time with the exam being held at the Constellation Office in San Francisco, I can’t help but feeling a little bit of the relaxing feeling of playing on your home court even though I’ve never had an office there.

This time I’m sitting the entire exam again; both the tasting and the theory sections.  It is a marathon.  Four full days of doing nothing but thinking solely about wine and typing for hours on end.  I am not the only lunatic in the world doing it either!  According to Penny Richards, Executive Director of the Institute of the Masters of Wine, 138 students of the 310 total in the program are sitting this year.  It is a record number of people sitting the exam at the three locations around the globe; London, San Francisco, and Sidney.

If you are interested to see what my fellow students and I went through this week, look for the exam details to be released on June 13th, a week from today.  I find out results on September 5th which is Labor Day in the US so I’ve decided that must be a good sign that I will already be off of work and celebrating on the day that I get them.

Best of luck to all my fellow exam takers! Here we go again…

 

 

 

Bordeaux 2011: Vintage Review

This past week, at the culmination of the Master of Wine seminar, the Institute of the Masters of Wine held their annual Bordeaux tasting.  This year focused on the 2011 vintage.  After the spectacular back to back successes of 2009 and 2010, 2011 brought a challenging year but also a year where the individual communes could show their classic styles.

  
Weather Recap
The spring started off a bit on the early side and rapidly warmed up to the second warmest April on record.  May followed suit and also was quite dry causing an early flowering.  Drought conditions early in the year can cause difficulties later in the season if enough water is not available to the vine during the time just after flowering.  This period of the year is called the “cell division and expansion phase” and allows the vine to set the number of cells that will make up the grape later in the season.  If not enough water is available during this phase the berries can remain quite small which, if water becomes available later in the season can cause splitting and exacerbate rot.  Drought conditions during this phase can also affect shoot growth and leaf development which may result in the vine being out of balance.

June of 2011 in Bordeaux was equally problematic due to a severe heat spike which resulted in early sunburn on many vineyards.  Sunburn damages the cells of the grape skins and results in reduced color and flavor formation.  Late season sunburn can also result in cooked flavors however this was not the case since July rapidly cooled and the rains returned leading some estates to worry about rot.  Additional large rainstorms in September caused many estates to pick earlier than usual further exacerbating an already difficult year.  As always, those producers willing to make the rigorous cuts in fruit selection were able to make good wines.  Here are my impressions from the various regions.

Graves

Still quite a ripe style of wines over the producers I tasted.  Not as intense as 2009 or 2010 however some black fruit is evident, more so than most of the other communes.  The tannins were characteristically gravelly over all and the mid palate was missing some of the generosity of the previous two vintages.  Overall a classic representation of the area.

St. Emillion

St. Emillion was showing its very structured, slightly blocky tannins and quite a bit more cassis and dry herb notes than the past two years, clearly reflecting the cool season post veraison.  For my tastes, I definitely preferred its neighbor Pomerol for the 2011 vintage.

Pomerol

Pomerol still showed the lush mid-palate weight that it is known for relative to St. Emillion however 2011 was a more classic vintage for the region than the previous two.  The minerality of the old world is back and was something I had found missing in the uber ripe previous two vintages.  The texture of tannin was chunky and the Merlot dominant blends were clearly apparent when compared to the more fine grained tannins of the Left bank.

Haut Medoc

Granitic minerality with focused cassis and dry herb characters but only modest mid-palate weight and structure.

St. Estephe

Quite lean mid palate and high, fine grained tannins.  Lots of cassis but some black cherry and wet granite as well.  These definitely need time to soften.

  
St. Jullien

This commune was my favorite for the vintage.  The elegance of the styles complemented the classic beauty of this vintage and the wines showed very well integrated oak balanced with beautifully textured, fine grained tannins.  These wines stood out as having the most affinity for the cool end of the season and the lovely texture of the wines reflected winemaking that embraced the vintage rather than working against it.

 
Paulliac

The most surprising of the communes I tasted since there seemed to have been little regard for what 100% new oak would taste like over the natural flavors of such a classic and restrained vintage.  In many of the producers I tasted, the oak was dominant and overpowered the more delicate fruit.  Maybe with time, this will integrate further however I am not convinced it will resolve.

Margaux

A lovely showing for Margaux.  Although the perfume of the commune was not as apparent in this vintage, the tannins were powerful and refined with a velvety texture which complemented the highly concentrated mid-palate.  Of all the communes, Margaux seemed to have retained the most concentration on the palate and the ripest fruit profile showing blueberries and black cherries.  The elegant style and mineral notes still clearly said old world however, which is a welcome change from the riper styles of the previous two vintages.  These wines are evolving beautifully and should show classic complexity in the years to come.

Of course, much of the wines that were tasted are classed growths with the means to handle a challenging vintage and come out on the other side with a classically elegant wine.  This means that the widespread deliciousness of the 2009 and 2010 vintages will be restricted to those estates with the means to be very selective and I would choose from the non-classed wineries very selectively.  It’s a good year to know the history of the producers.  If they were able to make a good or great wine in 2007, it is likely that they would be able to repeat the performance from the 2011 vintage.

MW Studies: First Assignment Results

I find myself once again looking at MW assignment results.  This is a part of the program that did not exist when I started back in the 2008-2009 academic year.  Back then you had to pay a single MW to grade a set number of theory papers and you received somewhat cryptic guidance back.  I remember vividly an early theory essay where I received a “D” and there was the comment “It is unclear if the author is a native English speaker.” Having graduated from Cornell only a few years before, that one stung quite a bit.  Now the process is far more formalized and is included in the yearly tuition.  It covers all aspects of the exam from Theory to Practical and also begins the process of the Research Paper.  This year I have submitted one of all three parts and received my feed back on all of them.  Funny enough I seem to have reverted to the dreaded “C” grade on my theory essays.  For those who have followed this blog for a while you’ll know that “C” is the grade I absolutely despise.  A “B” is a passing grade so a “C” is a thanks for sending something and you didn’t make a total fool of yourself grade but not good enough to pass.  My practical paper, which is the part of the exam that I got hung up on after I passed theory and the entire reason I’m doing all of this over again, was a passing paper.  The Research Paper feed back was positive overall with a few minor comments to some additions I could make.  Which brings me back to the theory section.

When I passed theory back in 2012, I was all over it.  I had it down to a science.  It would seem now that I have forgotten what it was that got me over the line based on the single essay that I’ve had graded.  It makes sense though if one thinks that holistically, I studied for the practical far longer than I did the theory so one could assume that it would be harder to get back in the saddle on that one than the practical portion of the exam.  However, the theory is the one section I did actually pass so I have to believe that somewhere in my brain is the key to unlocking the theory mystery again.  In January, I go back to San Francisco, to attend the North American course days once again.  I hope by the time I get there I will have figured out once again how to write a stellar theory essay and can continue my good trend with the practical exam.

If nothing else, this program is humbling.  One can be an expert in one small facet of the industry but a baby in others and the MW is designed to be the great equalizer in those aspects.  It is the sand storm that wears down the fluff knowledge to the hard core foundation then rebuilds that knowledge slowly, brick by brick, until your understanding is unshakeable and your entire way of thinking has been altered to always ask “Why?” “How?” and “What is that used for?”, never to assume you know the answer.  My aim this year, as it has been all the other years I have prepped for the exam, is to pass.  This year, however, I am relaxed about it because I’ve already failed it more times than most people attempt it so there is really nothing left to worry about that I haven’t already experienced.  As always, I’ll keep my readers posted as I go through the year culminating with my results notice next September.  Wish me luck!