On the first morning of the 2023 MW practical exams I found it difficult to get up. Fitful sleep the night before and my ‘revision dungeon’ (actually a reasonably nice hotel room but without any windows) made me feel confused and groggy. A strong coffee and thoughts of what was waiting for me that morning quickly set the adrenaline running, and nerves forced me out of bed.
Once up and dressed I began the most important prep work: tasting five or six samples of white wine, to acclimatise my palate for the exam. You need to do this to avoid alcohols or acidities appearing overly pronounced on your first wine sample of the day.
I packed up my twelve wine glasses and read through a heartening set of good luck messages from family and friends. Water bottle (sparkling – I find it helpful in cleansing the palate), crackers, computer, far more pens than I needed, and my timer all went into my backpack.
On the journey from hotel to exam I read over notes. Paper One focuses on white wines, so I looked up vintage characteristics for white Burgundy and Bordeaux and typical sugar levels for various styles of off-dry wines.
I was nervous, excited and strangely elated. Arriving at the venue with all the other students was an affirming, happy experience. Many are close friends and we greeted each other quick, tight hugs and whispers of good luck.
The exam hall is an enormous ballroom with around 70 tables, each covered with a white tablecloth. You find your name and lay out twelve wine glasses. If you’re like me you also write a number on each glass to make sure you don’t confuse the samples in the heat of the moment.
Last year’s white wine paper was a frenzied, panicked affair for me. This year I felt calm and collected. I opened the question paper and put my nose in the first glass. Sauvignon Blanc. I breathed a sigh of relief, and started to type.