This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on September 16, 2015. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

by Peter Marks, MW

Last week the Institute of Masters of Wine announced the results of the annual MW exam and 19 new Masters of Wine have joined the ranks, bringing the total number of MWs worldwide to 340 from 24 different countries. Congratulations to all!

People often confuse Masters of Wine (MW) with Master Sommelier (MS) and vice versa. Both are recognized as the highest credential in the world of wine, sort of like getting your PhD. As a MW, I’m often mistaken for a MS. My response is that I can never pour wine without spilling it somewhere. My tablecloths at home are littered with red wine stains.

Master Sommelier Logo

The fact is, the Master Sommelier exam is geared towards individuals working in hotel and restaurant beverage service. The MS exam comprises three parts: candidates must first pass the theory section (done orally) where you must demonstrate intimate knowledge of the world’s grape varieties and regions, wine laws and production, as well as knowledge about spirits, beers and cigars; a practical or restaurant service section (that’s where you have to pour wine without spilling!); and finally, a blind tasting of 6 wines (done orally) where you must identify the grape variety(ies), appellation and vintage.

The purpose of the Institute of Masters of Wine is to promote excellence, interaction and learning, across all sectors of the global wine community. Its membership encompasses winemakers, buyers, shippers, business owners, retailers, academics, sommeliers, wine educators, writers, journalists and more.

The MW exam is also three-fold. Candidates must first pass the theory and the tasting exam. The theory exam comprises five 3-hour written papers covering viticulture, vinification and pre-bottling procedures, the handling of wine, the business of wine, and contemporary issues. The tasting exam is also written and includes three 12-wine blind tastings, each lasting two and a quarter hours, in which wines must be assessed for variety, origin, winemaking, quality and style. Lastly, once a pass has been achieved in both the theory and tasting, the candidate must write a research paper. The research paper is an individual project on a topic chosen by the candidate, resulting in a piece of work of between 6,000 and 10,000 words.

I frequently tell interested MW students that in order to be successful in the MW exam, you need to follow the 10,000-hour rule. This rule, as articulated by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, claims that the key to achieving world class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing for a total of around 10,000 hours. In other words, neither the MS program nor the MW program should be taken lightly.

Brain of Wine

I’m often asked, “Which is harder, the MW or the MS?” That’s impossible for me to answer, because I’ve never attempted the MS title. However, I believe the MS exam would be harder for someone not working in the restaurant beverage industry. Likewise, the MW exam would be more challenging for someone who doesn’t have experience or exposure to all aspects of the wine industry, from grower to general consumer.

Personally, I have no desire or intention of tackling the MS exam. I’m much happier when I can enjoy great wine service at a restaurant with a MS or MS student at the helm. There, I can also appreciate the perfectly clean white table cloths.

Here’s how you can find out more about both of these programs: Choosing the right certification.


:: Offered at the Napa Valley Wine Academy ::


The WSET is considered the ideal pre-requisite for any student of wine seeking either the MW or MS credential.


SommDay School

These day-long intensive workshops were developed by Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser and Napa Valley Wine Academy.




Peter Marks MWPeter Marks, Vice President of Education for Constellation Brands, is responsible for all wine education programs at Constellation and manages the wine education team – Constellation Academy of Wine.

Marks is one of only 32 Masters of Wine residing in America. He received his MW in 1995, and in that year he also became the first American to receive the Madame Bollinger Foundation Award, which is bestowed annually to the MW candidate with the highest blind tasting score.

Before joining CWUS, Marks was the Senior Vice President of Wine at Copia:  He has also held positions with and Draeger’s Supermarkets located in Northern California.

Marks graduated from the University of California at Davis in 1976 with a B.S. degree with highest honors in Food Service Management. He held positions as a chef and manager with restaurants upon graduation until he entered the retail wine trade in 1981.

Marks is a member of the Society of Wine Educators, and he teaches wine classes independently.  He is the Education Coordinator for the Institute of Masters of Wine tasting exam in the United States, is on the Wine Education Committee of the Napa Valley Vintners, judges at many international wine competitions and he also assists with many charitable fundraisers throughout the year.