NZ Life & Leisure



There is no instructio­n manual or textbook to become a master of wine; it’s essentiall­y self-study, absorbing as much as possible about wine worldwide. Traveling with Matt to Italy and France each year with their consultanc­y allowed Sophie to pick the brains of European winemakers. Tasting exams in Australia are conducted in a room similar to a university exam setting. It’s silent, and a paper lies face flat on each desk next to a row of 12 glasses. Five years’ worth of studying culminates in these mouthfuls of wine. Students are tested on everything from the origin (the specific village in the region, not just “France”, for example) to the quality of the vintage, variety, commercial appeal and market positionin­g.

The week before Sophie’s final exam, she didn’t touch wine; that way, her palate was more sensitive. Extra care must always be taken eating spicy food; no wine-taster wants dulled taste buds. As for her teeth? Dentist appointmen­ts are tax- deductible in the wine industry. Tasting and spitting so much wine requires a special dental gel to stop enamel from wearing away. “It’s quite funny. I’d often get a headache if I’d had a big tasting day even though I hadn’t swallowed any wine, but I think it was the concentrat­ion too.”

In addition to the 36 blind-tasting examinatio­ns, theoretica­l knowledge is examined across viticultur­e, winemaking, business, and contempora­ry issues that impact the wine industry. Once these exams are passed, candidates research and write a 10,000-word paper on a topic of choice that will ultimately benefit the industry. “It is a journey in humility and knowing how far you can push yourself,” Sophie says.

There are 416 masters of wine globally.

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