The Life of an MW Student – Twelve

In addition to the four exam papers on viticulture, vinification, the handling of wine and the business of wine, I now have another to get to grips with.

Paper five is not examined at stage one, and I have spent the last eighteen months happily ignoring its existence. But now, eight months from the week when I actually have to do the thing, it’s time to start thinking about it. Rather enigmatically called ‘Contemporary Issues’, this exam is both exciting and terrifying. Where the first four papers are quite technical in nature, paper five is altogether philosophical. ‘Do wine consumers need wine experts?’ ‘Does great wine need a great story?’ or, my favourite: ‘If a global disease were destroying all known grape varieties and you had a chance to preserve only two varieties – one white and one black – for humanity, which would you choose to save, and why?’

Let’s delve into this final question a bit. If I were answering this question in an exam, my white grape of choice would be Chardonnay. With Chardonnay, you can make a whole host of wine styles. It is responsible for light, steely Chablis, rich, intense and buttery wines from California, and let’s not forget Blanc de Blancs Champagne. It is a chameleon variety, changing its expression dramatically based on the different soils in which it is planted. It is also a winemaker’s dream – responding well to all manner of vinification techniques to create a huge breadth of flavours and textures.

My first thought for a red was rather selfish. Pinot Noir. Pinot is delicious. It makes ethereally perfumed wines and is responsible for some of the world’s most revered reds. You can also make Champagne with it! (I like champagne). However, there is one big problem with Pinot Noir, and that is climate change. Pinot needs a cool climate – and if it were suddenly the only grape variety available to humanity, a huge majority of the world’s vineyards would be eliminated.

So – which variety to choose? I spoke to my mentor, Lydia, who passed the exam relatively recently with an answer to this question. She picked Malbec. At first I was surprised. But as she spoke, I understood her logic. Malbec can be used to make light, bright reds. You can make rosé with it. It is easy to grow (unlike Pinot Noir which is famously finnicky). And, for the rich red wine lovers in the world – of which there are many – you can make the kind of bottle you’d like to pour while curled up in front of the fire on a cold winter evening. On that note, I will leave you for this month – and probably pick up a bottle of Malbec for tonight!