Examiner’s feedback for WSET Diploma D5 – Fortified Wines (previous Unit 6)

Before you start reading, take into account that I took my Fortified Wines exam in November 2017 so some of the information about might be outdated.

When I was preparing for my Diploma exams, one of the things that I disliked the most, were the open questions. They did not have many details about the expected content of the answer. It was almost as if the examiners were hoping that you can read their minds and will be able to write everything there is available on the given topic. Deciding what to include, and what to leave out, was pretty hard. It is especially difficult as you don’t get comments on your exams so you can’t really learn from your previous mistakes (or successes).

Let me help you out a bit. In this post, and in subsequent ones, I will share some of my mock exam answers, together with the examiners notes. I submitted these answers as part of my on-line Diploma studies. And after about two weeks I was getting comments and evaluations from the potential examiners. This was the only way for me to calibrate my answers, and to better understand what was expected.

We will start with my answers to the D5 – Fortified Wines questions (it used to be Unit 6 at the time when I was taking this exam). Below you can see the question, my answer, the number of points I was given (out of 25), and the comments from the examiners. If you are interested in the exam itself, how it looked like and how I did, you can check out this blog post.

Question #1: Pale Cream Sherry

My answer: Pale Cream Sherry is a style of Sherry wine made in the DO Sherry in the Andalucia region, south of Spain. Pale Cream Sherry is made by blending fino style Sherry (Fino or Manzanilla), which is dry, with a concentrated rectified must, which adds sweetness to the blend. The wine is fortified and can vary in alcohol content from about 15% (level to which fino can be fortified) to 20%. The wines combine the dryness and finesse of a fino, the aromas and flavour of flor typical for fino (bread though, linseed oil) with the sweetness and the body from the concentrated rectified must.
It is one of the newest styles of Sherry, it was officially recognised in the 1960s.
One of the most popular examples of Pale Cream Sherry is Croft Original Sherry produced by Gonzales Byass.

Points: 14/25

Examiner’s comments: You mention some good comments here but a more complete answer would have included the following:

  • Pale Cream is a style of Sherry pioneered by Croft in the 1970s with ‘Croft Original’. It was designed to combine the perceived sophisticated appearance of dry sherry with a more palatable sweetness. 
  • Most Pale Cream is essentially the same as Cream – a blend of (not necessarily very distinguished) Sherries with sweetening wines. However, the colour has been removed by activated charcoal or other treatments. 
  • It may also be a sweetened Fino. 
  • Wines should have an aroma of biological ageing but they rarely have a pronounced flor character and there are no minimum requirements for the duration of biological ageing. 
  • They are typically sweetened with RCGM, to between 45-115g/L of sugar. T
  • Typical tasting note: Pale lemon in colour, similar in appearance to Fino. Medium intensity aromas, slightly fruity with notes of almond, citrus, apple peel and hints of hazelnut and dough from the flor. Low acidity but a pronounced tangy character, typically medium alcohol and despite being medium-sweet it may have a dry finish. 
  • Best served chilled. 

Question #2: Duoro Valley districts

My answer: Duoro Valley is an important Portugal region where Port is produced. The valley is divided into 3 main districts: the most western is Baixo Corgo, in the middle is Cimo Corgo and in the East there is Duoro Superior. Going from west to east the climate changes a lot, hence the grapes and the wine change as well. Baixo Corgo is the most wet and the coldest of all 3 districts. It is protected from the Atlantic inflences by the Sierra de Marao mountains, but still it gets fair amount of rain. It has 14000 ha of vineyards owned by about 1400 growers. This is the place where grapes for the most basic styles of port are grown. Cima Corgo is much drier and warmer than Baixo Corgo, this is where the weather is more stable and the yields are more predictable. It has about 21000 ha of vineyards owned by about 14000 owners. Grapes from Cima Corgo usually go to the premium ports incluing aged tawnies and vintage ports. Duoro Superior is the newest district as for long time the access was restricted. Duoro Superior is the driest (400 mm per year of rain) and warmes of the districts. Duoro Superior has about 10000 ha owned by about 6500 growers. This is where good grapes are grown, most of which go to the premium ports.

Points: 15/25

Examiner’s comments: Some good comments here but you could have expanded on a few of your sections.

  • You could have included much more detail about each district, eg where they are, climatic and soil influences and what type of ports they produce, you could also include some notable estates.  As you travel east the climate becomes hotter and drier, this is because the region is sheltered from the rain and winds coming off the Atlantic by the Serra do Marao mountain range.  You could mention annual rainfall eg around 900mm around Regua, averaging 700ml in Pinhao and near the Spanish border around 400ml
  • You could have gone into more detail about each region a more complete answer would have included all of the following: Baixo (‘lower’) Corgo – situated in the west, downriver of the River Corgo. The smallest, coolest and wettest of the 3 regions due to its close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. It is the most fertile, and tends to produce the lightest wines, mostly Ruby and cheaper tawnies. It produces almost 50% of all port made. Cima (‘higher’) Corgo is situated near to the small town of Pinhão, this is the central vineyard region and generally regarded as the best region with a high proportion of schistous soil. Much larger than Baixo Corgo but lower yields. It produces about 35% of Port including most Vintage, LBV and fine Tawnies. 
  • Notable estates include Quinta do Noval and Quinta do Bonfim, always mention examples where possible.
  • Douro Superior is situated to the east, going up to the Spanish border. This is the largest district but is also very hot and arid; not as extensively planted as Cima and Baixo Corgo but increasingly important. It is flatter and therefore some mechanization is possible. Schist and granite soils. There are some top quality vineyards here but production is very small, yields are low and at their best, the wines are deep and concentrated. 
  • Notable estates include Quinta do Vesuvio and Dow’s Quinta da Senhora de Ribeira. 

Question #3: Key Madeira shippers 

My answer:

  • Madeira Wine Company is the most famous shipper on the island, started in 1913, operated by the Blandy’s family and owning 4 brands. Cossart Gordon si the oldest shipper, established in 1747, they were very big during the 19th century, however, US prohibition and WWII made them suffer. They joined Madeira Wine Company in 1953.
  • Henriques & Henriques, established in 1950, almost always owned vineyards from which they made their wines. In 1993 they planted 10h of Verdelho, this was the first vineyard on the island that was mechanised. They are part of Justino’s, however, they produce their wines independently.
  • Justino is the biggest shipper on the island producing around 1.6 million litres per year
  • Barbeito is one of the youngest shippers. They are the ones bringing modernisation to the island. They replaced concrete estufas with stainless steel tanks with external jackets and temperature control.

Points: 14/25

Examiner’s comments: Some good comments here but much more detail is required, a more complete answer would include the following:

  • Madeira Wine Company (owns Blandys, Cossart, Leacock and Miles). Blandy’s joined the Madeira Wine Association in the 1920s, eventually acquiring a controlling interest. The group is now known as the Madeira Wine Company, and is one of the largest producers on the island. The Symington family, a major force in the port wine trade, acquired a controlling interest in the MWC in 1988 and invested considerably in the company, improving both winemaking and marketing. In 2011, marking the bicentennial of the company, the Blandys reacquired a controlling interest from the Symingtons and are now actively engaged in reviving the Madeira category.  They are based in the centre of Funchal where the Blandy Wine Lodge houses 8,000hl of premium wines aging in the canteiro process. They also store wines at their Mercês site (14,000hl in wooden casks and vats). All wines from 5 years and above are produced from traditional white varieties and canteiro-aged. Single harvest/colheita wines remain for 6-8 years in oak casks in lofts in Funchal before being bottled. Alvada is a commercially successful blend of Malvasia and Boal which has benefitted from contemporary design. Duke of Clarence is a well-known commercial blend. 
  • Barbeito. Vinhos Barbeito was founded in 1946 by Mário Barbeito de Vasconcelos and is still family-owned, though engaged in a joint venture with Kinoshita of Japan. The company took advantage of EU grants to move out of Funchal to Câmara de Lobos. The high altitude of the adega at 580m means cool ambient temperatures and lower rates of evaporation from canteiro. It was the first company to use stainless steel estufas with digitally controlled jacket heating. Known for its single-cask, colheita (‘harvest’) offerings and blends, including ‘VB’ a blend of Verdelho and Boal. Barbeito makes a point of not using caramel to colour any of its wines. 
  • Henriques & Henriques. Est. 1850 and now owned by French import and distribution group La Martiniquaise. In 1994 using EU funds they invested in a new winery at Câmara de Lobos. In 1995 the company decided to plant a new 10 hectare vineyard at Quinta Grande. Henriques & Henriques is one of two companies owning vineyards (the other being MWC). Produces 3- and 5- y.o. blends from Tinta Negra using estufagem; 10-, 15- and 20-y.o. wines made from the traditional varieties are canteiro wines. Recently launched an award-winning 50 year-old Tinta Negra blend. 
  • Justino’s. The largest single shipper of Madeira, botting under a variety of names including Cruz, the largest single brand of Madeira in France. 80% of production is bulk. Established in Funchal in 1870, Justino’s operates from modern industrial premises outside the city. The company was formerly known as Justino Henriques but was renamed to avoid confusion with H&H which is now also controlled by La Martiniquaise. Justino’s has the largest inventory of potential colheitas on the island; they are planning to increase their ageing capacity in wood by another 2 million litres.
  • Pereira D’Oliveira. Smaller operation. Est. 1850. Acquired Artur Barros e Sousa in 2013. 70-80% of production is estufagem; wines above 15 y.o. are canteiro.
  • H. M. Borges – another smaller operation.Est. 1877. Noted in the past for its old vintage wines but most of these have now been sold. Makes single harvest wines – recently a 40-year-old Malmsey to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the city of Funchal.


As you can see I did not do great but well enough to get a pass from this mock exam – 45 points out of 75.

One thing that was always interesting for me when I was reading these comments was the amount of information that was expected from the examiners. It was especially interesting, taking into account that there were about 35 minutes to write the answers for all 3 questions (back then, the whole exam took 65 minutes, and this included tasting 3 wines). And if we look at comments from question #3, the examiner expected to write 567 words, and this gives us writing about 1 word per second – this requires some bloody fast handwriting!

Anyway, I hope it is useful for you. It was definitely handy for me when I was preparing for my exams.

Let me know in the comment if you’d like to get more post like this one.

Cheers! ?

1 thought on “Examiner’s feedback for WSET Diploma D5 – Fortified Wines (previous Unit 6)”

  1. Pingback: Examiner’s feedback for WSET Diploma D4 – Sparkling Wines (previous Unit 5) – WineUni

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