A Week in Neustadt
MW Stage 2 Seminar Week, 2023.
I’ve had a pretty busy couple of weeks, of wine study and visits. I won’t bore you with tales of visits to Chateau Figeac, Ch Palmer and Ch Angludet in Bordeaux.
Instead we’re going to concentrate on a rip-roaring week of seminar sessions, terrible attempts at blind tasting, and feeling pumped up for my first crack at the super-mega exam Stage 2 coming up in June.
Interesting. Firstly it’s in Germany, an hour south of Frankfurt, and Frankfurt is another hour east of Frankfurt-Hahn Airport where I arrived.
Hahn is a frosty field with a small airport and a bus stop. As far removed from Frankfurt as London is to Dickleburgh.
Still, however complicated it was to get there, Neustadt was lovely. We were hosted by the Pfalz branch of the German VDP, and the German Wine Institute. We spent about 8 hours each day in the impressive, Casimirianum building, or the local Fire Station mess hall for a spot of lunch.
Oh God. Each morning, loads of blind tastings. Five days in a row.
Day 1 - 6 wines - “Calibration” Tasting
Day 2 - 12 wines - Mock Exam
Day 3 - 12 wines - Paper 1, White Wines
Day 4 - 12 wines - Paper 2, Red Wines
Day 5 - 12 wines - Paper 3, Anything Goes.
I’m not going to run through the specifics of each paper, but you are more than welcome to reach out if you want a bit more detail down the line.
Safe to say, as ever the Red Wine paper was the most difficult for me. All reds taste the same, except, they also taste totally different.
Day 2 was a mock paper, marked by an MW, and with one to one feedback the next day. Which is really valuable. I think my mock just about scraped a “not quite, but nearly’. It was pretty evident where to tighten up some justifications to tip that into a pass.
The marking structure is 12 wines, with 25 marks per wine = 300 total available. Like a perfect 10-pin game. With a pass grade of 65%, 195 marks from 300, required to pass.
I got 175 (ish), or 58%. I need to gather up 1 or 2 extra marks per wine to nudge it into pass territory. In that exam I could see where I’d do that.
Generally, I’m feeling much more up for the challenge than I was before the study week. If that’s one thing to take away, I’ll take it.
Trust The Grid
On the days where I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, the correct answers were usually on my tasting grid, but not on the answer paper.
I start my practical papers by tasting everything. I have a grid system1:
The grid above is for the P2, Red Wine paper. The grid is pretty much spot on, but the answers I deduced from the grid are pretty much the opposite.
When we were looking back through wines, and working through group feedback with the MWs, I genuinely noticed that I’d have probably done better in the exam if I’d have just turned in the grid as is2.
In this Paper 2, for example, question one was something along the line of:
“Wines 1 - 4 come from four different countries. Three wines are a single grape variety, and one wine is a blend of all three”.
It’s a question I’ve seen before in past papers, and if you think through common blended wines, where the individual varieties are also commonly used for single variety wines, you end up in, the Rhone or Bordeaux. Maybe a super-Tuscan at a stretch.
I’d have done better on that question if I hadn’t even bothered tasting the wines if I’m truly honest with myself.
But, back to my point, the grid was correct. The answer paper was not. I need to fix that.
Red Wine Planning
My plan to fix that is to approach the red wine paper differently to the others.
I’m going to amend the headings on my grid to focus on, tannin nature, vinification/extraction, ferment vessel, oak use, body/structure and fruit nature.
Much more winemaking and structural elements, with focus on extraction and skin contact, as well as the nature of the tannins and their ripeness. Colour plays a much bigger part in red wine than with white, as does ripeness of fruit and intensity.
It’s not going to be a huge thing, the current grid probably ticks those boxes, but it’s more about what I focus on when I’m filling them in, to help me better trust the information on it.
The idea is that I can then answer the question with more detail from the grid, rather than writing down useful stuff, and ignoring it.
Every day is a learning day.
Some essential reading, as ever, from Tom Hewson on English Wines.
An interesting take on the data suggesting that ‘young’ people don’t drink wine, from Joe Fattorini. If we repeat a false idea enough… do we start to believe it, or are we just looking at the wrong data?
People of the IMW - If this crosses a line by posting potential answers to papers then let me know. But, I’m fairly sure that anyone who is going to sit this paper would have already sat it.
Anecdotally, one of the things I try hard to do is second guess the clues in the question, considering all available options that might fit the question before I taste them.