Rigorous entrance examinations, hour-long graded essays, and spiked drinks. While you might think I was describing typical Fraternity life at a big U.S. university, it’s actually all part of the Certified Wine Educator (CWE) exam. I was lucky enough to sit in on the exam, administered by the Society of Wine Educators as a guest.
The class typically runs for at about a cool $300, with the actual CWE exam costing $450. The CWE program may be slightly less entailed than both the Court of Master Sommelier and Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) programs, but make no mistake about it… passing the CWE exam is no easy task, I quickly learned.
The program was developed in the late 70’s with a mission to advance wine education through professional development and certification. 1983 saw the introduction of a CWE examination, and has since grown to an organization that recognizes just more than 3,000 worldwide members, only 319 of which have passed all portions of the exam. If that wasn’t enough to showcase its difficulty, this statistic surely will. Only 12% of all applicants pass the CWE on their first attempt, the majority of which spend 1-2 years preparing for. What’s more, in 2010 the CWE has stepped it up a notch, making their exam that much more difficult.
The exam consists of 3 major segments; written, wine identification and a components/imbalances portion. The written part consists of 85 multiple choice questions, covering a range of all wine regions and grapes. This is followed by an essay, which students are given one hour to complete. A sample question for the essay:
Compare and contrast the major production techniques used to make sparkling wine and Champagne and their relative potential for quality and what factors make Champagne unique compared to other sparkling wines?
It’s no wonder why a staggeringly low 22% of students pass this portion on their first attempt.
The second component concerns wine identification. You are given 4 white wines and 4 red wines in a blind tasting. You must deduce the provenance of each wine from a list of 10 wines, meaning that there are more potential choices given than wines, requiring exam takers to nail 6 of the 8 wines correctly, with detailed written rationale, to pass.
The third, final, and trickiest portion of the exam is “wine components and imbalances”. This proved brutally difficult, with only one person in my class passing. Nine samples of wine are provided, one labeled “control”. Amongst the other 8 glasses is an unadulterated wine identical to the “control” wine, which you must identify.
But wait… there’s more! The exam also required us to correctly identify the wines with added sugar, sulfur dioxide, vinegar, tannin, oxidation, acid and alcohol. These modifications are far from obvious. To give an idea, the alcohol added to one of the wine was a 200 proof neutral spirit, at only 114 parts per million.
The CWE exam provided me a lucky sneak peak at their rigorous exam, providing me with a new found realization and appreciation of its difficulty. With the increased difficulty of the testing process, added prestige should come to the certification. Fingers crossed, I hope to be one of the 12% that passes on their first attempt. If not, I’ll at least I’ll have the company of the other 88%.
Edited by Jon Troutman