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  • Writer's pictureAllison Sheardy

The MW Exam Experience

Well, now that I have had a little over a week to process, I am finally ready to revisit and share my MW exam experience.

First, a reminder of what exactly the MW exam is: over four days, students will sit three blind wine tasting exams, each comprised of 12 wines. Day 1 is white wines, day 2 is red wines, and day 3 is a 'mixed bag' -- sparkling, fortified, orange, anything goes. The tasting exams are in the morning, and afternoon is for theory. Each day, students tackle a different paper -- viticulture, winemaking, handling of wine, business of wine, and contemporary issues. This is the Master of Wine exam -- pass both parts, and you become a stage 3 student. Stage 3 consists of writing an original research paper and is very similar to a graduate thesis process -- select a topic, get it approved, submit a paper proposal, and have the final paper approved. Do that, and you become an MW. Phew.

Earlier this month (June 4-7) I sat the MW exam for the first time. Very few students pass both the theory and tasting portions of the exam on their first try, although it does happen. In most circumstances, you have a total of five attempts over seven years to pass both parts of the exam. So, how did it go? It was intense and very challenging, and often a roller coaster -- I'd leave one part feeling good, and then the next section would be rough. I can't say I feel confident about passing, but I do feel really proud to have made the attempt. Readers may recall that I was very close to deferring the exam this year, after the challenges with COVID and the death in my family, but I decided to give it a go, and I'm glad I did. I proved to myself that I can manage four days of grueling exams, and I had something to say for each part. I didn't give up and walk out, although there were times I was tempted to, for sure.

Overall, I feel better than I thought I would. The IMW posted the list of wines and questions yesterday (available here), so I have an idea of whether I was on the right track with the tasting. I got several right or very close...and a few pretty wrong, too. But after months of not tasting properly, and then struggling during the seminar and practice tastings, I did better than I expected, and I finally feel like I have some confidence in my tasting abilities back. Theory was a real struggle, and not on the papers I expected it to be. However, the whole process helped me better understand my own strengths and weaknesses, and the gaps in my knowledge that I need to work on. Results are out mid-September, and until then, I hope to keep up some of the momentum I feel now, and not dwell too much (I'm working on it...). I'm obsessing a little bit right now, I think because the wines were released and I keep rehashing that, plus that's led to several discussions with other students, and of course this blog post...but after I hit 'publish' here, I need to mentally move on.

The actual experience throughout the week went really well, too. I did a good job of doing a mental reset each night and not focusing on what couldn't be changed. It was nice to have a few days away, without having to take care of anyone else, and affording me the opportunity to focus on my own health and wellbeing for a bit. I spent time going on walks, doing yoga, meditating, enjoying fresh California produce, and of course, breathing in some sea air. It was great to see the members of my study group in person instead of over zoom for a change. We went out to eat several times, went hiking, and explored an amazing independent bookstore -- all some of my favorite things. I've been working to maintain some of those healthy habits back at home. Also, I remember feeling really burnt out after the stage 1 exam last year -- I didn't want to think about wine, never mind drink any or study at all. Surprisingly, I don't feel that way now -- instead, I feel somewhat reinvigorated and motivated. I think maybe because even though I don't think I passed this time around, this experience showed me that I really can do it, that this impossible dream may be attainable, and I have a better understanding now of how to get there.


The Pacific Ocean always energizes me, even on a foggy day. I also enjoyed a visit to Frog's Leap Winery, which is always a favorite of mine. Lastly, about 5 minutes after finishing the exam on the last day -- a look of pure joy.


Currently listening to: I'm Still Standing by Elton John

Currently drinking: a mezcal margarita


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