Tim Atkin | Master of Wine

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2nd Jul 2018

The HoseMaster of Wine™ Sits for the Master of Wine Exam

by Ron Washam

 

I recently sat for the Master of Wine exam. I was in my own apartment, alone, and I was wearing only a bath robe and a Donald Trump merkin, which is how I imagined an insane person would take the test. I aced it. Insane people always do.

I’m not sure why people imagine it to be a difficult exam. Have you met any MWs? How hard could it be? I found it rather simple. Wine isn’t particularly challenging to understand. It’s made from grapes, rather like steaks are made from cows. Both are meant to be delicious. And, coincidentally, recent studies have shown that a large contributor to climate change is the methane produced by the belching of WSET candidates. It’s neat when things start to add up.

In the interests of wine education, I thought it would be interesting for MW students to read my answers to a few of 2018’s rather elementary exam questions. These are real questions from the real exam! Yeah, I know. Who are these people?

THEORY PAPER 1 - Viticulture

Old vines have a mystique to them. What are the practical challenges and solutions to maintaining vineyards of old vines?

Old vines don’t have a mystique to them. Who told you that? They’re just old. That’s not mystique, that’s just thickness — rather like a Clive Coates book. This is some sort of a trick question. It’s common for consumers, and even some wine experts, to believe that old vines make better wine. There’s no evidence to support this assertion. It doesn’t even make any sense. Just think about it. Name one living thing that does its best work when its damned near dead. A suicide bomber at the Napa Valley Auction is an unfair response.

If you are farming an old vineyard, the best way to maintain it is to completely ignore it. Don’t waste your time working on it, it’s gonna die soon. Save your energy for your new vineyard. This solves pretty much all of the practical challenges of old vines, most of which have to do with disease and pests, also common to internet dating. Many of the problems in viticulture would vanish if all the old vines just up and died. The same can be said for wine critics, though we’d miss their mystique.

Is the use of cover crops worthwhile in viticulture?

It is if it’s marijuana. It covers your house payment.

THEORY PAPER 2 - Vinification and Pre-bottling Procedures

Which winemaking decisions affect the ageing potential of a finished wine?

Oh, I think you know the obvious answer: the age of the vines you use. You just told me a minute ago! Duh. Nothing ages like mystique! Think Sir Elton John, and Prince Charles. After that, one of the biggest decisions is the weight of the bottle you use for the finished wine. Wines in heavy bottles age longer because stupid people think better wines come in heavier bottles, so they keep them longer. That helps with ageing.

Now ask yourself… What is the role of pH in ageability? And what about tannins? Do I go with cork or a Stelvin closure? How much residual sugar will help? How about I just tell everyone it will age for decades, they’ll believe me, I’m a damn winemaker! These are questions the savvy winemaker asks herself. And don’t forget stem inclusion, and, also, um, pruning. Yeah, pruning. Didn’t think I’d get that one, did you? The answers to those questions all affect the ageing potential, but if you think I’m just going to give those answers away, you’ve got another thing coming. Hey, here’s a word for you, micro-oxygenation. BANG! Yup, I said it. Micro-oxygenation! Every 100 point wine has had micro-goddam-oxygenation, and those wines live forever, guaranteed!

This was almost too easy.

What are the critical winemaking considerations for a producer of inexpensive off-dry still white wines?

In this situation, there is only one consideration for the producer of cheap white wine: Wouldn’t I be better off dead?

THEORY PAPER 3 - Handling of Wines

How does a laboratory analysis of a wine help the quality control manager make decisions at bottling?

Wait, wineries have quality control managers? Didn’t see that coming. Do these people ever show up for work?

So do natural wineries have quality control managers? If so, why? Isn’t that intervention? This is harder than I thought. I should have chosen a different question to answer. This one seems to be about sulfites. So here’s what I know about sulfites. They’re a preservative, like embalming fluid. You add it to dead wine to keep it from smelling bad, like that rat in your wall.

OK, nailed it!

Detail the advantages and disadvantages of the following methods of clarifying a wine:

a. Earth filtration

b. Pad filtration

c. Membrane filtration

d. Crossflow filtration

  1. Wine filtered on Earth is much easier to sell. Moon filtration really slows down the gravity flow.
  2. One word: Depends. Don’t wear them, filter wine through them.
  3. Filtering wine through membranes is very effective. I find the membranes in my nose the most useful.
  4. Crossflow filtration is good for reverse osmosis, also known as sisomso.

THEORY PAPER 4 - The Business of Wine

How important are environmental credentials in marketing wine?

Environmental credentials are incredibly important in marketing wine because they are the easiest credentials to lie about. And this is what marketing people do! They lie about. For example, many wineries today brag about being “sustainable,” much like Viagra is for your erection. Consumers haven’t the vaguest idea what “sustainable” means. It’s wine marketing speak for “New and Improved!” You don’t believe it’s either, but you buy it anyway.

It’s also wonderful marketing to own several hundred acres of vineyards, farm ten of those acres organically, then constantly imply that all of your grapes are farmed that way. Wine consumers want to believe that the wines they drink are farmed conscientiously, even when those wines are inexpensive. What harm can it do to mislead them a teeny-weeny bit? You don’t need environmental credentials for ALL of your wines! Has everyone at a law firm passed the bar exam? No. There you go.

“Biodynamic” is a whole different game. In order to brag that you’re Biodynamic, you have to be certified by the Demeter association, which isn’t easy. You have to know the secret handshake, safe words, and all the various Satanic rituals involved in Biodynamics. Only then are you allowed to note the “use of human sacrifice in the making of this wine” on your wine label, which certainly moves product. It’s a marketing dream.

Where are direct to consumer sales increasing and why?

I’d think mostly in Oklahoma because what else do they have for wine sales besides Howdy, Partner! Markets?

THEORY PAPER 5 - Contemporary Issues

Do wine consumers need wine experts?

I guess so. Though it would be nice to find out for sure. Maybe if tomorrow all the “wine experts” in the world vanished in some kind of Snob Rapture, we’d find out if consumers needed them. Would wine stop selling? Definitely not. Would wine consumers make mistakes and drink only crappy wine? How would that be different? Who would wineries quote on their websites if there were no wine experts distributing points here and there, like oenophile dung beetles? Would anyone miss points, like Lionel Messi in the World Cup? I doubt it.

Maybe one should ask, Do wine experts need wine consumers? And, how does one define “wine expert?” Anybody with letters after their name? MW, MS, CSW, WSET, C3PO? Are you a wine expert because you say you’re a wine expert? Or because you wrote a pretty book with lots of graphs and illustrations but not a whisper of insight? Perhaps you have the blog to prove it, does that make you a wine expert? The answer to all of those questions is, apparently, yes.

So it’s another trick question. Just as all wine experts are also wine consumers, these days, it seems, all wine consumers are also wine experts. I think I’ve proven that.

When do I receive my Master of Wine Decoder Ring?

How can the wine industry attract new consumers?

Lower the legal drinking age to “puberty.”

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