It is billed as the toughest wine exam in the world.
However, the 2016 exam for budding MWs in Australia became even tougher after a major error in one question sent students – who had each paid A$5,000.00 ($3,590.00) to sit the exam - into panic.
The exam was sat in early June 2016 in Sydney. On the first practical paper, one of three papers to be completed over three days, two white wines were placed before students. It was indicated that the wines were both from the same country and, it was claimed, they were both blends.
According to one Spanish wine importer contacted by Meininger’s Wine Business International, that last statement was wrong. One wine was indeed a blend, Acodo White Rioja in Spain from Basilio Izquierdo, but the second wine was an Albarino from Bodegas de Fefinanes in Rias Baixas.
Minutes ticked by as some students considered whether they were being asked a trick question. Or was it a test of their knowledge? One student, who has been training for years and spent thousands of dollars on wine in readiness for the exam, claims to have gone into “meltdown” trying to work it out. Tears are said to have followed the exam as one student broke down.
Time was wasted on something that turned out not to be a trick but rather a mistake that had occurred when two questions – it was later admitted - were copied and pasted at the same time. The error was discovered and MW students in London and San Francisco, who sat the exam later, weren’t affected.
However, Australian MW students were clearly disadvantaged. How the Institute addressed the problem and the judging of the papers has raised the ire of some students. Students, who were charged A$5,000.00 to sit the exam, will not be reimbursed and those who failed will be required to sit the exam again at a cost of A$5,000.00.
“The Institute sets a high standard and, in this, they have come up short,” says one disgruntled MW student.
The exam judges, all MWs, marked other exam papers from around the world first before turning their attention to the Australian papers. Executive director of the Institute, Penny Richards, said it was to gain a benchmark for how others had tackled the question.
“They (the judges) then looked at the candidates from Sydney,” she said. “They marked it as if the question was accurate and by the way it could have been accurate,” she says. “We know so, absolutely. The people who sat the paper were given extra marks for that question and then their entire paper was reviewed. If a candidate was borderline they were looked at very carefully. Some candidates did pass practical this year.”
That the exam question’s introductory statement could be considered correct would appear to run counter to the Denominacion de Origen (DO) rules for the Rias Baixas region, home to the Albarino grape. “Fefinanes is labelled as albarino do Vale do Salnes,” says one Australian-based Spanish wine importer, “so not only is it varietally labelled, meaning it is 85% or more and it is in error to discuss such wines as blends, but as a Salnes varietal it must be 100% Albarino. They [the Institute] have completely stuffed up.”
The Institute of Masters of Wine website contains a corrected version of the question.