Tomorrow, I\u2019m heading out to Napa for a week-long education seminar for MW candidates put on by the\u00a0Institute of Masters of Wine.\u00a0With less than 300 members, the institute may be among the most exclusive private clubs in the world\u2013membership is restricted to those who pass the group\u2019s notoriously difficult three-and-a-half-day written exam and successfully complete a dissertation. (Having sat the exam unsuccessfully last June, I can sheepishly testify to its challenging nature.)\r\n\r\nFolks who join the institute are entitled to use the initials MW (Master of Wine; sometimes derogatorily referred to by nonmembers as master wanker) after their names, to signal membership in this elite club. But because of the stringent requirements and high caliber of current members, the initials MW are an international badge of honor that garners the holder instant respect in the wine business.\r\n\r\nThe MW was originally conceived as a trade credential, although its scope has broadened over the years to include members of the press (Jancis Robinson, for example) and even enthusiastic amateurs. Numerous other certifications exist in the wine industry, and I am often asked about many of them. \u201cWhat is the difference between MS and MW?\u201d is probably the most common one.\r\n\r\nAn MS (Master Sommelier) is someone who has passed the rigorous tests to join that club, much like an MW passes exams to become an MW. The difference is in the substance of the exams. An MS might be expected to memorize Bordeaux\u2019s classification of 1855, while an MW might be expected to write an essay examining the economic consequences of that classification and analyzing its relevance in today\u2019s wine market. Although both require tremendous wine knowledge, the MS must also answer questions about service (including wine-and-food pairings), spirits and cigars. Both sets of exams include a blind-tasting component.\r\n\r\nAside from the big Ms, you\u2019ll occasionally see other sets of initials after names, such as DWS and CWE. The\u00a0Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET)\u00a0offers courses that culminate in the granting of a Diploma in Wine & Spirits (DWS). In recent years, this has become a prerequisite for applicants to the MW education program, and even by itself requires a substantial commitment of time and money. A quick look at theInternational Wine Center\u2019s Web site\u00a0suggests a rough estimate of $9,000 and several years to go through the complete WSET program from start to finish. Ouch!\r\n\r\nThe\u00a0Society of Wine Educators (SWE)\u00a0has its own curriculum and exams that lead to someone becoming a Certified Wine Specialist (CWS) or Certified Wine Educator (CWE). The\u00a0American Sommelier Association (ASA)offers a three-tiered series of courses that roughly parallels the MS curriculum.\r\n\r\nAside from the alphabet-soup organizations, there are zillions of wine classes offered by other individuals and groups, ranging from general introductions offered by experienced educators (Kevin Zraly\u2019s Windows on the World Wine Course, Professor Stephen Mutkowski\u2019s\u00a0Introduction to Wines class at Cornell University) to high-end tastings tied to retailers or auction houses (The Wine Workshop, for example) and everything in between.\r\n\r\nAll of these can be great, but they don\u2019t add letters to the end of your name. If you\u2019re just interested in learning more about wine, it probably doesn\u2019t matter much. Ask around at your local retailers, or search online for wine classes in your area. See if you can get the names of some people who have taken the classes and ask them if the classes met their expectations.\r\n\r\nIf you are in the trade (or want to be), you may want to explore the formal education programs that provide some level of certification. Above all, keep tasting and reading\u2014classroom learning is no substitute for experience.