Sunday the Master Class for aspiring Masters of Wine kicked off at Graham’s offices in Vila Nova de Gaia. Twenty four Portuguese wine professionals, including winemakers, sommeliers, restaurateurs, journalists, distributors and wine marketing specialists convened to begin an intensive 3-day introduction to the Master of Wine qualification.
Lynne Sherriff MW, Chairman of the Institute, welcomed the students and introduced the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) and the value of the Master of Wine qualification for wine professionals. The emphasis at the IMW is on knowledge and integrity, and the value of the Master of Wine self-study programme goes well beyond the obvious “learning more about wine” to mastering specific skills of methodical analysis, problem solving, and clear communication. Lynne also emphasised that the candidates will learn discipline and sheer perseverance – the entire program is founded on a rigorous self-study scheme and almost no one passes every exam paper the first time; it takes real dedication to study independently, learn from your exam results and carry on to try again.
Lynn also spoke of the fact there are nearly 300 Masters of Wine and another 300 students currently studying for their MW, and not one is Portuguese. Symington Family Estates have always been supportive of the IMW and recently Paul Symington has been working with the Institute to find a way to encourage Portuguese wine professionals to study for and achieve this qualification. The result is this Master Class, the first to be held in Portugal, and the Symington Scholarship which will be offered to one candidate who is accepted to the Study Programme this autumn.
Philip Tuck MW and Mai Tjemsland MW then reviewed the exam syllabus and got down to the first and most fundamental of skill sets: wine tasting.
Interestingly, they began by re-arranging the participants to work in three groups – one of the sommeliers and journalists, another of the wine makers, and the third of those on the commercial side of the trade. They were asked to evaluate two white wines as they do now, and report to the larger group their assessment. The sommelier table described the first wine in very expressive, almost poetic terms, emphasising the elegance and aromas. They focussed on the qualities – and used language – that make a wine appealing. The winemakers, describing the same wine, were far more technical in their assessment, speaking of the development of the wine, the phenolics, oxidation, and alcohol levels. The commercial team were very pragmatic: their first observation was that this was an entry level wine and they focussed on the “style” of the wine.
Philip and Mai then introduced the approach used in the MW papers, which teaches the student to analyse what is in the glass by its appearance, nose, palate and finish. In addition, students should be prepared to discuss the winemaking techniques, origin and quality of the wine based on their blind tasting sample. Whilst all the observations made during the first round were valid, Philip and Mai went on to explain how to present those observations in a succinct and systematic way that supports the student’s conclusion identifying the wine.
The group have an intensive programme ahead, which will include one broad tasting of Bordeaux and Burgundies, and another of sparkling, sweet and fortified wines. Several sessions will focus on wine topics such as grape varieties, wine making and markets, and a round table discussion of wine industry trends, whilst other sessions will concentrate on the skills of critical thinking, planning and writing, which are vital not only for the MW exam papers, but for the ongoing communication and education role of a Master of Wine. Monday evening Paul Symington will host the group at dinner at The Factory House in Porto. Finally, Tuesday afternoon, those who wish to apply for the Study Programme this autumn will have the opportunity to take the entry exam.
Behind the scenes, Graham’s own staff are providing logistical support for the program: Júlia Furtado, one of our management assistants, has been the key liaison in the planning and organisation of the three day event, and Nuno Moreira of our Tasting Room is assisting the IMW team to set up and serve the tasting flights.
Graham’s wishes all the attendees good luck over these three days, and with their exam and studies if they decide to pursue their Master of Wine beginning this autumn.
Update: Keep an eye on the IMW Facebook page to keep up with more news and photos from the session in Porto, as well as year round news of IMW activities.