The pinnacle of wine qualifications

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Graduating StudentsAbout three years ago, I embarked on a journey that has led to my having a constant headache and a nagging feeling that “I should be studying!” writes Harshal Shah, who reports for India’s premier wine magazine, Sommelier India from Australia, and was formerly SI contributing editor based in Delhi. Harshal entered the Master of Wine programme, while still in India, and calls it “an arduous, masochistic pilgrimage, leading to what some would regard as the pinnacle of wine qualifications.” Left: MW graduates pictured at Vintners’ Hall in London in early November 2013


There are just over 300 of these masochists in the world today and I would hazard the guess that most of them have had to forgo many of life’s pleasures over a period of years simply to gain those two letters after their names. But despite my headache and missing out on numerous great books, films and nights out, I wouldn’t change any of this for the world!
The Master of Wine programme is run by the Institute of Masters of Wine which is modelled on the trade guilds of the 19th and 20th centuries. The qualification was initially offered to the UK wine trade in the early 1950s, with the first Master of Wine examination being held in 1953. Its purpose was – and is – to improve the standard of wine knowledge in the wine trade. Whilst the programme and the syllabus have changed dramatically over the last 60 years, the standards required to enter the programme and to attain the MW remain painfully high.
It is now, of course, open to anyone from anywhere in the world who can support their reason for entering the programme by passing a written entrance examination as well as a theoretical tasting exercise. (There are officially three of us in the course from India).
Ideally, previous wine qualifications such as the WSET Diploma or winemaking or wine-related degrees should be held by potential candidates. Over the last decade, only eight, on average, have passed the final exams each year of the 300 or so candidates in the programme every year.
Read Harshal Shah’s article as he prepares to sit for the MW exam, in the April-May 2014 issue of Sommelier India, now distributed to subscribers and also available digitally via the App Store through Magzter.

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