What is the best thing to do after a long day of blind tasting? Anyone who works in the wine trade will tell you that the correct answer to this question is ‘have a pint of lager.’ And that is what we, a group of fifty or so MW students, did in the evening after our first day of classes at the Austrian Wine Academy. Repeatedly.

So, when I woke up the next morning to a 6:00 alarm, I cannot say I felt entirely enthusiastic about the day’s activities. There’s nothing quite like being faced with a line up of twelve glasses of wine when you’re feeling a little ‘worse for wear’. No excuses, though! We would all soon get used to the 8:30am tasting exams which happened every day that week

As I am now something of a veteran of these blind tasting exams, I thought I’d offer some insight into how you go about tackling one.

The first thing I do when the clock starts (2 hours and 15 minutes) is to draw a grid on some scrap paper. This grid has spaces for all the important elements of a wine such as acidity, alcohol, flavours and aromas. The purpose of the grid is to make sure that I don’t forget to record any of this vital information. The next thing I do is to draw a picture of a globe. This is so I don’t forget that any countries exist. It may sound mad, but there is so much to concentrate on during these exams that I have been known to forget entirely about the whole of, say, South America or Spain. Finally, I write the number of each wine on the base of the glass using a chalk marker. There’s nothing more stressful than worrying you’ve mixed two wines up!

That done, it’s time to look at the question paper. I divide the wines into mini-flights depending on how the questions are organised, and then stick my nose in each of them and jot down some initial observations. This also helps to determine whether any of the wines may be particularly sweet, and thus should be left until the end.

If I’m particularly confident about any of the wines in the line-up, those will be the questions I’ll attempt first. Writing furiously, I’ll consult the detailed notes I have now made, and combine all the information I have about the wines into a convincing argument for a particular origin, grape variety, or vintage. Some questions won’t ask any of this and instead ask you to decipher how the wine has been made or who might drink it or sell it (that’s when you know you’ve got something weird!).

As an MW student you get used to failing these exams. It’s only now, eighteen months in, that I have started getting close to passing them. I’m not alone in this, I might add! It looks like there’s a reason why only 500 or so people have ever done it.