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.
Earlier this month I was invited to attend the Society of Wine Educators CWE (Certified Wine Educator) preview which was held at The Camelback Inn in Arizona. The day long course is a preview to the actual CWE exam.
The Society of Wine Educators was founded in 1978 by people with a background in education. Over the next few years they developed the curriculum and testing process that has been in place since 1983.
New for 2010 are some changes designed to make attaining the CWE certification more prestigious and meaningful, not that it isn’t already. The testing processes starts out with 85 multiple choice questions with a one hour time limit. Many of the questions require knowledge across multiple subjects. For example a question like “Name the first locale north of Bordeaux which contains a Classified 1st growth”. You would need to know your geography and your list of 1st growths. In addition many of the questions have more than one potential answer, and you must select the most correct answer.
Next, candidates must complete an essay in one hour. Essay questions typically involve general knowledge plus making and defending a position.
Both these tests are conducted in the morning, after lunch the tasting portion begins. First is the tasting rationale segment. 4 white wines and 4 red wines are poured for the candidates who must then write a detailed tasting rationale for one pre-determined wine, as well as assign from a list of 10 wines the correct names, appellations and varietals to the remaining wines. There are more wines on the list than actual wines which is an added level of trickiness and candidates must correctly identify 6 out of the 8 wines.
Finally candidates must complete the “Components and flaws’ segment. 9 glasses of wines are arranged in front of the candidate, one of them is labeled “Control” Candidates must correctly identify the identical wine from the other 8. Among the other 7 are wines with added alcohol, sugar, tannin, Sulphur Dioxide, Tartaric acid, vinegar and oxidation, candidates must correctly identify 7 out of the 9 wines.
There are just over 300 people world wide who have passed the CWE since its inception in 1983 and only 12% of them passed all 3 components on their first try. Most people study for 1-2 years before attempting and make an average of 2 attempts before passing.
Most people who take this route to certification do so because it is much less expensive and quicker than the Sommelier route, but make no mistake it is not an easy alternative.