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  • Writer's pictureAllison Sheardy

Tasting practice, MW style

Updated: Jul 29, 2023

The Master of Wine Stage 1 assessment is less than six weeks to go, so I thought I'd give some insight on how I'm preparing. As a reminder, this is a one day exam, split into tasting (i.e. practical) and theory. I have a dynamic approach to studying with a mix of outline writing, online study group sessions, flashcards, dry tasting notes, podcasts, and more, but today I'll focus on timed tasting practice.

The tasting exam is a 12 wine flight -- a mixed bag of whites, red, sparkling, fortifieds, you name it -- to be completed in two hours and fifteen minutes (about 12 minutes per wine). The exam is often divided into mini-flights of three or four wines, and questions might ask you to identify grape variety, origin, winemaking techniques, quality, commercial potential, and so on. The course days I attending in Napa, along with the residential seminar in Seattle, provided a lot of opportunity to get comfortable with the questions and how best to approach them.

I joined blackpoolmatt's wine club when I was studying for the last exam of my WSET Diploma and have continued to received shipments. I belong to the 'Headmaster Ritual' club; he gears these towards those studying for wine certifications, so the bottles arrive in brown bags and the tech sheets are in an envelope. He'll often include a WSET/MW style question, or at least a jumping off point.

So, the other day I sat down to practice a three wine flight from blackpoolmatt. I knew this much about the wines: "These three wines are from the same variety and country."

My practice set up.

We are allowed to type our exam, so I try to practice that way (huge time saver). I also try to limit myself to 10 minutes per wine, purposely building in a cushion for when I'm running over or need extra time to proof at the end. I took the info I had and made up a few questions that might come up on an exam: 1. Identify the variety and country. 2. For each wine, discuss the method of production. 3. For each wine, discuss the style, maturity, and commercial position.


Here are my initial tasting notes for each (I try to do this part in under 3 minutes per wine):


Wine 1

Pale lemon color

Sparkling

Fresh (no autolysis) – tank

Aggressive mousse

Lemon, peach, apple, white blossom, wet stone, honey

Screaming high acidity

Brut style (10 g/L) – acidity possibly hiding R/S

Low to moderate alcohol – 11%

Wine 2

Medium lemon color, some gold

Nutty, honey – oxidative – age?

Lemon

Medium+ acidity

Dry

Some phenolic bitterness

Medium body – lees

12.5%


Wine 3

Medium lemon color

Dry

Tart lemon, lime, white blossom, wet stone

Petrol

Light body

11.5%


And here are my practice questions -- read through for the grand reveal of the wines!


Identify the variety and country.


Riesling from Germany. All three wines display elevated acidity (high, zesty acidity in w1 and w3, medium+ fresh acidity in w2), light (w3) to medium body (w1 and w2), and just ripe fruit character (lemon, lime, green apple) indicating a cool climate. Moderate alcohols – 11% wine 1, 12.5% wine 2, and 11.5% wine 3 – further confirm a cool climate. The distinct mineral finish on all three wines points to the Old World. Austria/Gruner Veltliner, Germany/Riesling considered. Wine 2 displays phenolic bitterness that would be associated with gruner, but the inclusion of a sparkling wine points more to Riesling. Petrol aromas on wine 3 are also indicative of Riesling.

The range of styles and quality levels is also consistent with riesling from Germany. The sparkling (w1) is made in a fresh style with moderate aroma and flavor concentration, indicating a sekt tank style wine made from grapes throughout the region. The high quality of w3 is consistent with a GG level Riesling from Germany.


For each wine, discuss the method of production.


Wine 1

Just ripe grapes received – tart lemon, green apple notes and high acidity

Direct press with some press wine inclusion – pale lemon color, slight phenolic grip

Cool fermentation (14C) in stainless steel – absence of oak spice, retention of primary fruit and floral

Malolactic fermentation blocked – crisp acidity, absence of dairy notes from MLF

Second fermentation in pressurized tank – aggressive mouse, absence of autolytic notes

Final dosage 10g/L

Short maturation before bottling – retention of primary fruit

Wine 2

Grapes harvested at ripeness (lemon, peach notes and medium+ acidity)

Direct press with some press wine inclusion – slight phenolic grip

Cool fermentation (14C) in stainless steel – absence of oak spice, retention of primary fruit and floral

Fermented to dryness – absence of residual sugar

Malolactic fermentation blocked – crisp acidity, absence of dairy notes from MLF

Maturation on the lees in neutral barrel for 8 months – subtle yogurt and cheese rind aromas, creamy texture, slight oxidative notes of nuts and honey


Wine 3

Just ripe grapes received – tart lemon, green apple notes and high acidity

Gentle direct press (pale lemon color, absence of phenolic bitterness)

Cool fermentation (14C) in stainless steel – absence of oak spice, retention of primary fruit and floral

Fermented to dryness – absence of residual sugar

Malolactic fermentation blocked – crisp acidity, absence of dairy notes from MLF

Short maturation before bottling – retention of primary fruit


For each wine, discuss the style, maturity, and commercial position.


Wine 1

Wine 1 is a fresh fruit forward brut style sparkling wine made in the tank method. High acidity complements notes of lemon, peach, apple, white blossom, and wet stone.

Wine 1 is young (2-4 years), indicated by the pale lemon color and primary fruit.

Wine 1 is a great entry level sparkling wine ($15) that would do well among the brunch crowd. However, as a lesser known style of sparkling, it may require more consumer education and will likely not thrive left on its own on a grocery store shelf – it would do best in specialty wine shops and by the glass at casual, fun restaurants.

Wine 2

Wine 2 is a serious dry white wine with some oxidative notes (nuts and honey) and medium+ fresh acidity.

Wine 2 is 4-6 years old, indicated by the deeper lemon color with hints of gold, as well as notes of nuts and honey.

Wine 2 is a mid-priced ($30) wine that may not be widely appealing due to its oxidized nature. Hand selling at a specialty wine shop or bistro style restaurant would be beneficial. It will also benefit from cellar doors sales via wine tourism, and when paired with regional cuisine.


Wine 3

Wine 3 is a dry white wine featuring crisp acidity and notes of apple, lemon, and petrol.

Wine 3 is 3-5 years old, indicated by a slightly deeper lemon color and the emerging petrol notes.

Wine 3 is a classic style at premium ($45) pricing. Lovers of high quality, high acid wines will gravitate to this style, although it will require some consumer education as many consumers expect this variety to be sweet.


Ad now, the reveal...


Three Rieslings from the US!


How did I do? Well, I got the grape correct, which is a great start. I was off on the country (called Germany; it was the United States). The minerality of the wines threw me to the Old World, and I didn't even consider the US. However, I would have picked up some points for my reasoning about the cool climate.

I did really, really well on the method of production section and assessing the alcohol levels (within .5%) and residual sugar. I did pretty well at judging quality, age (mostly) and guessing at the price point, too. I could have elaborated more on a few things in my answers, but overall, I was really pleased with the result. I clocked in at 32 minutes, which is spot on, too.


For reference, here are some tech sheets and other info about the wines:

Wine 1:

EE+Blanc+de+Blancs+Tech+Sheet+07-09-20
.pdf
Download PDF • 306KB

Wine 3 (off by a vintage):

Empire+Estate+2018+Dry+Riesling+PR+Tech+Sheet+08-11-20
.pdf
Download PDF • 235KB

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