WWS Master of Wine course

(by peter & Susie)

One hundred and forty-four bottles of wine. Twenty-eight Master of Wine students. Three tasting papers and feedback sessions over three consecutive days. A total of 900 available marks.

Such were the gruelling numbers from this year’s Winchester Wine School Master of Wine course, now an annual event in our calendar and one we relish more and more with each passing year.

This year the students, who made the pilgrimage from as far afield as Spain, Italy and the USA, demonstrated the quite remarkable powers of concentration, resilience and brilliance demanded of those taking the MW exams, which happen in June in London, Napa and Sydney.

This is the most technical and specialised course that we run and we had been six months in devising, planning and then executing the event.

This involved analysing past exam papers, painstakingly tasting and assembling wines – all of which had to be classic examples of their style (more difficult than it sounds) – sifting through examiners’ reports, producing exam questions and answer papers and compiling mountains of information on all the wines featured.

In the end, it all went off very well. (See below both for feedback we have gratefully received as well as a full list of the wines, question papers and answer papers featured.)

For those unfamiliar with the Master of Wine qualification, it is a notoriously arduous course, at least three years in duration.

There are three main hurdles.

The initial one is a First Year Assessment, which evaluates a student’s readiness to sit the proper exams. The ‘second-year’ exams constitute perhaps the most significant challenge – seven papers in all (three ‘practical’, or tasting papers and four theory papers).

The tasting papers each feature 12 wines, served blind (ie no information is provided on the wines, which are served from anonymous bottles) on which the candidates are asked a series of questions. An example of questions include: ‘Identify the origins of this wine as closely as possible’; ‘Identify the vintage, giving reasons’; or ‘Comment on style and commercial potential’.

While it’s often difficult to convey to people how any exam featuring lots of wine can be a bad thing, Susie and I can personally attest to the fact that these exams are in equal measure exhausting, terrifying and exceptionally testing.

When – and if – a student successfully negotiates these trials, the final hurdle is a 10,000-word dissertation on a wine-related topic (Susie’s was on champagne, mine on Chilean Syrah).

The pass rate is positively miserly and there are currently only 289 Masters of Wine in the world. (Two – Liz Thach MW and Anthony Moss MW – qualified as recently as this month. Many congratulations to them.)

In this context, it was heartening to witness the generally very high standard among those present on our course. We wish them all the very best of luck with their studies and the exams and we look forward to welcoming them into the MW fold in the near future.

For anyone wishing to know more about the Master of Wine course, qualification and studies, please see the Master of Wine website. The institute also runs various Open Days for those interested in learning more; the next one is in Sydney on 9th June 2011.


Wines, question and answer papers (files open in pdf format)

Question Sheet Paper One

Answer sheet Paper One

Wines Paper One

Question Sheet Paper Two

Answer sheet Paper Two

Wines Paper Two

Question Sheet Paper Three

Answer sheet Paper Three

Wines Paper Three


Feedback from the Winchester Wine School Master of Wine course, May 2011

‘Fab day @wineschools. Thx Susie + Peter, both superstars!’ (tweet by Jenny)

‘This course is a must for anyone on the Master of Wine program. What a weight of worry has been lifted from my shoulders before the exam after spending the weekend on your course. I can’t imagine how I would have passed if I didn’t have the tools I learned this weekend. Not only did I really enjoy it but I found it so beneficial. I left Winchester feeling far more confident and better prepared.’ (Ray)

‘A wonderful weekend of learning. Please include me for next year.’ (Elisa)

‘Wonderfully informative… To have an MW style tasting exam like that, with individualised feedback from those so ‘close to the action,’ was incredibly valuable. Well worth flying in from other continents, as some of us did. I feel so much better prepared.’ (Brendan)

‘I have arrived back from the three days with a new found enthusiasm for the MW course. You made us all feel so welcome; I think that really helped create the right atmosphere for us to be able to share the learning experience in what can be quite an intimidating atmosphere.’ (Emma)

‘Loved how you handled the feedback sessions: quick, useful, not bogged down at any point, relevant. The strength of the weekend definitely comes from the research and prep that you and Susie did. I really felt the benefit of such carefully thought out wines and materials.’ (Richard)

‘@wineschools You guys rock! Thank you so much! (tweet by Anne)

‘Really excellent: I learnt a lot and it has given me more confidence. The feedback was really constructive and I picked up loads of tips from what you were saying. The questions were really good, as they reflect the sort of questions the examiners seem to be asking, and the wines were also great and a good mix.’ (Tim)

‘Worth the trip – from near and far – to @wineschools 3-day MW tasting exam prep workshop! Susie & Peter excellent at coaching & motivating!’ (tweet by Claudia)

‘Great course: I certainly learnt heaps, and it was confidence building. Your presentation was very well planned and clearly delivered. The wines were excellent and very clear and correct examples of what they should be. If I get through my first year I will certainly come back next year.’ (Lindsay)

‘Your friendly welcoming approach made the whole thing much less intimidating than the course days. The care you took in selecting really excellent wines was very evident and your detailed feedback, particularly in terms of structuring answers and style, was very helpful. Before the weekend I had very little confidence in even being able to complete the papers but feel much more positive about the whole thing now. (Kieron)

‘A great weekend of really helpful practice. The 3 days provided fantastic exam standard questions and wines with brilliant feedback.’ (Barry)

‘Such a great course. I could tell how much careful thought you had put into the wine choices and questions, and really appreciated it. Brilliant way to get into the right mode for the final lead-up to the exams.’ (Anne)

‘I have come back home with greater insights into my own strengths and weaknesses. I have gained inspiration from the course, some solid ideas of what to do next. The papers felt very fresh and current, very relevant to how the exam is now and not 5 years ago. It is very clear to me how much time, effort and thought you both must have put into them.’ (Barbara)

‘Really good weekend: the wines you chose were an excellent selection. It was extra useful as the quality of attendees was so good, I learnt a lot from listening to the language and sentence structure used by others and punctuated by your apt comments. I actually managed to feel like I had had a weekend away, as well as the study. (Mimi)

‘An excellent course. Very well organised and excellent wine choices. I have personally benefitted immensely and feel more confident in my approach now…and motivated! I particularly liked your style – very unintimidating. I would definitely consider again next year.’ (Gill)

Already feel I learned a lot about strategy and technique at @wineschools MW tasting w/end. Perfect execution Peter+Susie.’ (tweet by Ray)

‘An incredible weekend! I had fun and learned a lot. The last day was my best as I felt more confident about timing which helped me calm my nerves and taste better. There is less than a month until the exam but I will use what I learned in Winchester to the best of my abilities!’ (Ana)

‘Great weekend: awesome teaching, can’t thank you both enough.’ (Jenny)

‘This is my second time attending the MW tasting workshop and I can definitely say that it was as great as I expected it to be! You are both encouraging and motivating coaches with loads of constructive criticism. I’m amazed at how you’re able to take such quick notes and go into each and every part of an answer with helpful tips for improvement as well as praise! The mock exam wines were excellently chosen and the questions and wine groupings had enormous educational worth. Thank you again for running this fantastic course!’ (Claudia)

‘Another fantastic course.  Great wines and great feedback.’ (Jon)

‘It was very evident how much work had gone into the preparation of the tastings:  I felt that the papers you presented could have come straight from the MW tasting committee, reflecting all the new emphasis on commercial potential and style rather than solely the dogged pursuit of variety or origin.  You really made it as relevant and up-to-date as possible and that is what made it such invaluable practice!’ (Anne)