Grape & Grain

Master of Wine? I doubt it, when I can make a mistake like this in an exam

Missing a Bordeaux in an MW exam is like missing Groucho’s lines in a Marx Brothers’ movie, or failing to find “x” in a quadratic equation – but it happens

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 June, 2016, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 June, 2016, 4:58pm

I should have sensed that something was amiss. The sun was shining, Master of Wine exams over, and I was feeling, if not quite like I was walking on air (something I suspect is impossible after three days of punishing exams), like all was reasonably well in a decent version of all possible worlds.

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Then, with the thudding inevitability of death and hangovers, came the blow. I was waiting for a taxi to whisk me away for an afternoon of blissful wine-free leisure, when one of my friends who took the exam broke our pre-agreed silence.

“I’m embarrassed to admit it,” said friend, “but I just didn’t spot those two Bordeaux.”

“Bordeaux plural?” I chuckled in slight disbelief, for I remembered the single (delicious) white Bordeaux from paper 1, but nowhere did I have two Bordeaux. And then suddenly it clicked; all was plunged into gloom.

For the record, missing a classic like Bordeaux in an MW exam is like missing Groucho’s lines in a Marx Brothers’ movie, or failing to find “x” in a quadratic equation. Such an extreme effort is made to flag the Bordeaux with very specific questions rarely asked of less familiar regions, like the vintage, individual villages, etc, that it takes a unique feat of imaginative scepticism – something at which I apparently excel – to miss them. Though even before tasting the wines I’d initially guessed Bordeaux based purely on the question structure, in the crunch of the last 15 minutes I’d convinced myself the wines came from two separate regions and so plummeted off in another direction.

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“Don’t worry, it was only two wines, so only 50 marks out of 300 between them,” I heard myself assure my study buddy, from behind the safety of my opaque sunglasses. Meanwhile, the brain was frantically calculating just how right I would need to be elsewhere to compensate for this hideous error. I spent the following 24 hours with “if you can’t spot the classics you have no business being an MW” ringing through my skull.

I decided at this stage that despite my commitment to this column, which would surely require checking the answer list when it was released a few days later, I wasn’t up for frittering away my last shreds of hope on something that at best wouldn’t give me a definitive answer and at worst would crush me. I informed all my family and friends of my decision and vowed to eschew Facebook until September lest somebody spill the beans, revealing for example that all three fortified wines had been sherry. (They weren’t in fact, but I did have a vicious anxiety dream to that effect. And that there were eight of them.)

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But eventually, common sense or maybe just perverse curiosity prevailed. Perhaps it was the frantic 4am chat with my husband in which he assured me that, given the pass mark of 65 per cent, however much my Bordeaux mishap cost me I could still in theory recover; perhaps the discussion with another MW student friend who helped me frame the whole thing philosophically (“even if we fail, we’re tough enough now that failure can’t take away our sense of self-worth”, although at the time I wasn’t wholly convinced); or maybe it was just that after a few days on business in Spain ingesting prodigious amounts of cava, I was sufficiently anaesthetised that I felt equal to the task.

And so? Much as I would like to report that angels descended from on high and miraculously made the wines not Bordeaux, sadly that did not come to pass. However, I do feel somewhat better, the shadow monster in the wardrobe having been yanked out into the light and revealed as a rack of old hats.

There was even some relief in the form of a number of my answers that were almost bull’s-eyes and a handful that were close enough, though also the inevitable niggling few that were entirely wrong in a way almost as infuriating as the Bordeaux abomination. It’s all stuff I can live with. Or anyway I’ll have to – there are three months to wait until the results are announced. I will be doing my very best to go about my business and not dwell on it (though I may keep my fingers permanently crossed until September).