For those of you who might not be familiar with the world of wine certifications, the Master of Wine MW Exam is one of the most rigorous wine certifications in the world. While the Master Sommelier exam Court of Master Sommeliers is catered to those in the sales and service industry, the Master of Wine Exam Institute of Masters of Wine is targeted to those in the education industry. According to the Institute of Masters of Wine Website, people from wine industry fields such as winemakers, buyers, consultants, academics and educators will take on the long-term challenge of making their way up the certification ladder to this achievement, which has just over 350 Masters of Wine since 1953.

The structure of the testing has evolved since the first exam in 1953; however, it remains one of the most difficult exams in the world. The great thing about the organization is that after the exams, the exam questions and wine list are released to the public, allowing current and future students to review historical exams. Currently, the MW exam is composed of three stages. Each stage is a prerequisite to progress to the next stage. The following is a summary of each stage, each with its own set of challenges.

Stage 1 - Assessment

The first stage is a single day examination with a 12-wine blind tasting exam and theory exam. This year, nearly a hundred students in three locations around the world sat through the first stage. The exam is not a rote memorization-based form of testing. Students are expected to not only know wine theory and practical tasting aspects, they are expected to know and understand the wine business historically as well as with current events. For example, one of the questions from this year’s Stage 1 assessment was, “As a brand owner, what do you feel are the major strategic issues facing today’s wine industry?” There is no specific criteria or requirements, but students are expected to prove their expertise through their writing. The practical paper, which is centered around the blind tasting portion of the assessment, expects students to not only identify the varieties and origins, but also critique the style and/or quality, characteristics, winemaking, etc.

Stage 2 - Theory and Practical Papers

The second stage is also made up of theory and practical papers. For the theory portion, students are given a bank of questions to select from in 6 categories, covering the production of wine viticulture, vinification/pre-bottling procedures, and handling of wines, business of wines and contemporary issues. The practical paper portion asks students open-ended questions focusing on areas like commercial potential, market positioning, quality, maturity, capacity to improve in bottle, etc. This particular type of blind tasting is especially challenging because it does not test your knowledge, but your critical thinking skills. An example would be from this year’s exam, where students were asked, “Discuss the wine’s style and quality; in which area of the trade would this wine be most successful?” Not only would the students need to identify the wine and its origins, style, and quality, they would also need to have an understanding of the wine trade to be able to speak on the wine’s ability to be successful in a particular trade.

Stage 3 - Research Paper

Finally, after passing Stage 1 and 2, students can advance to the third stage of the MW exam. Prior to 2013, students had to write a dissertation; however, it has since been replaced with the Research Paper. Again, the MW exam expects full understanding of the wine industry rather than just exercising your rote knowledge, but about having a true and complete understanding of all aspects of wine. Candidates are able to choose their own wine-related topics from practically any discipline, and go in any direction of their choosing, “as long as it enables them to provide a rigorous interpretation of the subject” and of course, contribute to the existing body of knowledge

To view the full list of questions and wine list from this year’s exam, go to

This exam is such a high achievement, I wish the recent MW exam candidates and future students the best of luck and rigorous studies to become the latest members of this world-renowned organization! Until next month, Cheers~!