Tag Archives: Wine Tasting

Life After the MW Exam: Hindsight’s Look at My Past 4 Years

Three weeks ago I was one of the 98 students to attempt to pass the rigorous Master of Wine exam. Full details of the exam questions are posted here.  However unlike the majority of other students (in Napa at least), I was taking the full exam for what will be my last time.  I originally went over the possible exam outcomes in detail in an earlier post but the short version is I fail both sections again, pass one or the other, or pass both.  Naturally, I’m hoping for the latter but only time will tell. I think very few people outside of the program truly understand the level of dedication and commitment it takes to even attempt to sit the exam, much less actually pass it.  I was reminded of this while reading the comments generated by a blog from Dr. Vino last week. 

 There seems to be a great misunderstanding about the purpose of the tasting portion of the exam particularly.  The Practical exam (as it is called) is not a parlor game where one has to name the wine, vintage, variety, and producer but a logical deduction based on what is tasted in the glass and clues given by the questions themselves.  Case in point, one particularly popular question format in the past has been 4 wines in a flight, same variety but from 4 different countries.  Initially this could mean any number of potential varieties however students are generally discouraged from chasing “flying zebras”.  Thus while Gruner Veltliner may be found growing in 4 different countries it is highly unlikely that you are actually dealing with Gruner in this question.  If it is Practical Paper 1, the white wine paper, the odds are that it is Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, or Pinot Gris since those are more internationally used varieties and incidentally the varieties that show up the most over the past 13 years of exams.

 How do I know that?

 Like any good MW student, I’ve studied the past 13 years of exams in great detail of course!  They are available on the MW website in the student section and are really like manna from heaven to people interested enough to take the time to really get to know them.  The exam is not a fixed thing however and changes can happen in the design from year to year.  Imagine my surprise when this year’s Theory paper 4, Contemporary Issues, after 4 years of being pick 2 of 5 questions switched back to the 2005-2007 format of the “pre-fix menu” (Pick one from section A and one from section B) similar to that of the rest of the exam (Theory Papers 1-3 require 2 questions from section B).  Of course that format only came into existence in 2005 where before that there was one compulsory question and then 4-5 options for the additional essays needed.  Personally, I liked the 2008-2011 formats but not being an examiner I have no control over it.  Also, since I did not pass my attempts in 2010 and 2011 perhaps this minor change will yield better results.

 For myself, part of the fun of the exam (yes, I know, I’m crazy to think it is fun on some level) is seeing how the examiners are able to never ask the same question twice but cover the same material regardless.  Take the following two questions from Paper 2 for example…

 In order of priority, what quality assurance procedures should a producer have in place to avoid contaminated or defective wine? (Paper 2, 2011)

 As the Quality Assurance manager of a contract bottling operation, what actions will you take when microbial contamination is found in routine samples taken off the bottling line? (Paper 2, 2009)

 Both cover QA but each question needs to be answered in a very unique way.  The first asks for an order of priority of QA procedures while the second asks for actions that will be taken once contamination is found. If one had written a practice essay for the 2009 question and then answered the 2011 question in the same way one would likely fail. Not because of lack of knowledge about QA but because you didn’t answer in the question that was asked.  This is a common theme on the examiner’s report which is released after results are announced and goes over the common pitfalls and what the examiners were hoping to see in the answer to each question.  It is another invaluable resource for the MW student and I think I can safely say that any student that does not read it is setting themselves up for failure.

 Now, after 4 years (6 if you count the WSET programs) of all my free time being spent studying, tasting, analyzing, and compiling information in an effort to mentally “master” the wine industry, I find myself with some down time.  Time that I’m sure will come to a swift and fast end around the middle of October when my husband and I are expecting our first child. I know I didn’t mention that but, yes, I did just sit the MW exam 5 months pregnant! It definitely added an extra dimension of challenge to the whole thing, if it wasn’t challenging enough.  Regardless of the outcome of this exam, I’m happy.  I’m happy with the level of knowledge that I’ve reached and skills I’ve developed through the program to constantly seek new knowledge which I know I will continue long after the stress of the program is forgotten.  I’m happy to have met all the wonderful people that are in the program or involved with the institute in some way.  I’m very blessed to have been given opportunities to travel and speak with some of the top experts in the industry worldwide.  Most of all, I’m happy that I did not give up, ever, regardless of how depressing or challenging the program was.  I’ve always been serious about getting the MW certification and I would have always regretted it if I hadn’t gone for it, 100%. I know that even if I fail this third time, I tried my best, studied my hardest, and worked tirelessly towards that goal.  That is all anyone can be expected to do and it gives me peace to close this chapter of my life and move on, either through the rest of the program or not.  I’m excited to see what the next phase of life brings with a more personal distinction…Mother.      

 

 

Harvest 2011 – Week 5 – Things REALLY get moving…

This week we’ve started seeing far more grapes than the previous week.  Our Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc were joined by our first Chardonnay of the season!  Fruit quality looks really nice and acids are still staying put thanks to the more moderate day time temperatures as well as the cool nights.  The Alexander Valley reds are showing signs of the same incredible color that 2010 brought us and we should start seeing Lodi Cabernet and Merlot being harvested over the next two weeks.  For Asti it seems after a crazy end to last week, Week 6 will come in like a lion and go out like a lamb as we enter the first slump of the season.  This will give us a chance to catch our breath and take stock of how things are going.  The weather for week 6, however is forecasted to be a good deal warmer than week 5 with several days topping out around 100 degrees!  Hopefully they won’t go much above that so we can avoid the September heat spike that we saw last year. 

 

I’m playing with the first Alexander Valley fruit from this season which is a Gewurztraminer from a vineyard in Geyserville which was harvested last Wednesday.  It’s packed with flavor and did retain some acid which is fantastic for the variety that is famous for losing acid like a woman loses last season’s out of style shoes.  I’ve set it up for a long, cool fermentation so the yeast can form the beautiful terpene compounds that make up the fruit and spice notes in the final wine.  I’m also playing with some Pinot Gris from Lodi with a couple of different yeast strains so that should be interesting to see how it goes.

 

As promised here is the red variety group from Week 4’s interesting varietal tasting!

 

Latitude 50 N Sekt Trocken Rose  Germany  $14.99

Light and Bubbly

With amazing aromas of strawberries and cotton candy this wine offered fantastic quality for the price.  A medium- dry style balanced with crisp acid and intense citrus flavors.  It’s a blend of Portugeser, Dornfelder, and Pinot Noir.  A perfect bubbly for everyday drinking at a great price, all of us decided to go in on a case!

 

Studert- Prum Wehlener Nonnenberg 2008 Dornfelder  Germany ~$25.00

Elegant and Floral

I have a soft spot for this variety because it’s one of the first reds I ever worked with in Pennsylvania, of all places.  However this also showed to be the hardest variety to find in the tasting. It’s known for intense aromas of Strawberries and cherries and this wine did not disappoint.  It was dry with moderate acid, medium alcohol and smooth tannins.  It’s worth the search as this was one of the best Dornfelders that I’ve ever had!

 

E. Pira Chiara Boschis Dolcetto d’Alba 2009 Italy    $19.99    

Elegant and Floral

This variety makes a light and easy to drink red which is perfect for lighter fare.  Moderate aromas of cherries, bramble fruits, red plum, and figs introduce the wine which has a dry palate with medium + acid and moderate alcohol.  The tannins are firm and structured but ripe.  This is a great food wine. 

Umathum 2008 Zweigelt Burgenland Austria    $16.99

Spicy and Smoky

This was a dark brooding wine with smoky gamey notes complemented by black cherry and plum.  The palate is dry with medium + acid, moderate alcohol and strong structured tannins.  Zweigelt may be a good alternative to Merlot or Syrah for those seeking something different.  This one was really nice.

 

Montebuena Rioja 2009   $9.99

Power Punch

Made with 100% Tempranillo this wine is true to form with aromas of cherries, raisins, lemon zest and vanilla.  The palate is dry with medium acid, moderately high alcohol, and strong, textured tannins.  Right now Spain is offering some great value for the money.  Anywhere else this would easily be an $18-20 quality wine.

 

Quinta das Maias Tinto 2004 Dao   $11.99

Power Punch

Another value to be had currently is dry reds made from Port varieties.  This wine is a blend of 60% Jaen, 25% Touriga Nacional, 10% Alfrocheiro and 5% Tinta Roriz.  The nose is intense with aromas of coconut, almonds, vanilla, and cherries.  American oak is clearly a favorite with this producer.  The palate is dry with moderate acid, medium + alcohol, and a full body filled with flavors of cherries, dried dates and raisins.

Harvest 2011 – Week 4 – Grapes, Pigs, and Fun Varieties at Asti Winery

Week 4 has come to a rather quiet close as we only processed a few hundred tons this week atAsti.  It’s a drop in the bucket for what is to come this season.  We were led by Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris from the Lodi area which both had perfect Brix, crisp acids, and really nice flavors for that region.  The weather has again proved to be wonderful for quality wine growing and is forecasted to continue for the next week as well. 

 

At Asti, we have a tradition of roasting a whole pig for the cellar crew (and whoever else happens to be at the winery at the time) on the Friday before things really get cranking around here.  Today was that day!  We enjoyed a moment of togetherness before the work really starts and grapes begin to roll in like an avalanche.  This year we celebrated the 11th Pig Roast and it was thoroughly enjoyed by all! 

 

This week I also wanted to write a bit about the fantastic tasting that we held last week.  The theme was “Unusual Varieties from Around the World”.  I set up this tasting to open our winemaking minds to different varieties than we normally would see on the everyday supermarket shelf.  They cover a wide range of personalities as well as offering great values for the money (I’ve listed what I paid for them below) and I highly recommend you check them out!  Here is the list below….

 

Adega cooperative Regional de Moncao “Trajarinho” Vinho Verde 2010 Portugal    $8.99

Zesty and Fruity

A bright blend of Trajadura and Alvarinho, this wine was crisp with a bit of residual CO2 spritzing up the glass.  A moderately intense nose of citrus and lime zest introduced a dry, high acid palate with a light body.  Refreshing and clean this is a perfect summer wine!

 

Cantine di Marzo Fiano d’Avellino 2009 Italy     $14.99

Stone and Chalk

Fiano is such a savory variety.  It lacks the zesty fruit notes that most new world consumers expect making it a bit of a hunt here in the states but if you want something different it’s worth it.  It leads with aromas of hazelnut skins, wet granite and chalk.  It has a waxy nature to the texture that lends to a fuller body balanced by moderate acid and a long dry finish.  Pair with more savory fatty foods such as cheese, nuts, and cream sauces.

 

Icardi L’aurora 2009 Piedmonte Italy    $14.99

Zesty and Fruity

Cortese is one of my favorite Italian whites and I generally prefer it over its more popular neighbor Pinot Grigio.  Primarily found in the small Piedmonte region of Gavi this particular offering was sourced from the wider regional designation.  Light aromas of citrus and white flowers delicately emerge and are followed by an off-dry palate with moderate acid and a medium-light body.  It is very well balanced and easy to drink.

 

Hetszolo Tokaji Furmint Sec      $9.99

Stone and Chalk

This is another of those wines that is a bit challenging to find at your everyday wine store.  While Tokaji typically is most well known for its sweet Botrytized dessert style, these dry styles can offer great value and interesting appeal.  It leans more towards hazelnuts, citrus, golden raisins, and mineral flavors with a dry palate and medium + acid.  It finishes with an almost citrus rind texture which keeps the wine interesting and a fun pairing with different foods.

 

Pazo Senorans Rias Baixas 2008 Spain     $17.99

Fresh and Grassy

I like to think of Albarino (the Spanish version of Alvarinho which made an appearance in our first wine of the flight) as a flowery Sauvignon Blanc with the volume turned down.  The clean primary aromas of jasmine, grapefruit, and peach skin carry through on to the palate which is dry with medium acid and body.  It’s a riper style of Albarino however it is very tasty and I love the floral element to it.

 

Dominio del Plata “Crios de Susana Balbo” 2010 Torrontes Salta Argentina    $11.99

Elegant and Floral

Torrontes is one of my favorite floral varieties and one that you can impress your friends with at parties as it’s not well known but is a Muscat cousin so it has an amazing spicy and fruity nose that is hard to mistake.  Intense aromas of flowers, citrus, and an interesting lime Jello note give way to a dry palate with high acid and light body. If you likeMuscataromas but want something dry, try this one out!

 

That’s all for the whites… I’ll write about the Red varieties tasted in my Week 5 wrap up!