Phantom Creek is thrilled to share that both Winemaker Ross Wise and Marketing Manager Geoffrey Moss have passed Stage 2 of the Masters of Wine study program, and are now one step away from becoming Masters of Wine.

What does it take to pass the MW practical exam? The short answer: a lot of work.

The practical exam features three 12-wine blind tastings, in which candidates provide written answers to questions on grape variety, origin, winemaking, quality, style, and more. This year’s exam featured a diverse selection of wines that ranged from 1999 Dom Pérignon to Yellowtail Chardonnay.

To state the obvious, it is necessary to taste broadly. This means not only tasting often, but also drawing from a range of price points and styles. Any wine that is commercially available is fair game, from everyday sippers to classics like top shelf Bordeaux and Burgundy. It is important to understand and recognize quality – and that means being able to differentiate the exceptional from the ordinary.

The practical exam is about more than just your palate. There is also the “theory of the practical.” You have to know the world of wine inside and out. At a rudimentary level, this means knowing your regions and appellations. You do not want to place Pouilly-Fumé in Burgundy or Pouilly-Fuissé in the Loire. That would be a howler – or a particularly outrageous mistake that would undermine the examiner’s confidence that you are indeed a “master.”

You must also be able to accurately describe the differences between appellations. For example, what are the sensory differences between the communes of the Medoc, from St. Julien to St. Estephe to Pauillac to Margaux? Similar to a lawyer proving their case, you must prove why that 2005 Chateau Rauzan-Segla could only come from Margaux and no other commune. And, of course, you have to know your vintages. How is the 2005 vintage tasting? Is it ready to drink or will it continue to improve in bottle?

It is not essential to get every detail correct every time, but rather to demonstrate that you have tasted the wine accurately. The expectation for wines from less common regions or varieties is to show an understanding of what is in the glass and its place in the larger world of wine. So, you don’t have to zero-in on that Xinomavro from Naoussa, Greece (although it is a nice feather in your cap if you do). But you should be able to describe its quality, style, and commercial potential. For example, where could it be sold and who would buy it?

In the 6+ months leading up to the exam, Ross and I would taste 4-5 days per week. We would each bring a flight of wines, taste, and write full answers under timed conditions (just over 11 minutes per wine). The answers would then go up on a TV screen to review and critique. There was no hiding; if we couldn’t convince one another, then we weren’t going to convince the examiner. It required a substantial amount of time – and wine.

But it’s all worth it now. Now, we’ll move onto the third and final stage of the MW program, the research paper.