Passing Level One Sommelier
I’ve worked in wine for over five years at this point, and I remember when I first got started I had no clue what wine was really about. Like many, I believed in the stigma of wine being overpriced and, well, for only affordable to the wealthy. I also didn’t drink white wine, a bad bottle of Chardonnay and I was done with all whites!
When I started in wine it was on the marketing side and so I picked up a few books and read through them from a marketing standpoint and what marketability and opportunities I could glean from these resources. When I started in the tasting room, I discovered that, lo and behold, not all whites are a) Chardonnay b) terrible…boy did that open doors. Then after years of tasting and discovering the various intricacies of wine, how it starts with terroir and climate, then becomes an expression of a time and place, I truly appreciated wine and understood why certain bottles can fetch the prices they do, except there are exceptional wines that don’t cost an arm and a leg to enjoy.
What Happens When You Taste a Lot of Wine
While working in the tasting room and tasting wines from various vendors and the ever changing inventory, I’ve developed a palate, and in order to attempt to educate people about wines they’re tasting I have to learn a thing or two along the way. Over time that knowledge grew, until, after a friend passed Level One and Two of the Court of Master Sommeliers (there are four levels) that I actually decided to do it myself. I want to continue wine marketing and I thought that achieving Certified Sommelier would round out my wine knowledge (though with wine there is always something to learn) and help me better serve those I market for.
About the Court of Master Sommeliers Level One
Level One of the Court Master of Sommeliers, for those who do not know, is an Intro Course that is taught by up to four Master Sommeliers (Level Four Sommeliers) over the course of two days, concluding in a 70 question written test. The course itself is a whirlwind, the Master Sommeliers (Master Somms) covered all major wine regions, explained viticulture, viniculture, food pairing, structures of wine, beer and spirits, in addition to leading tasting flights throughout the day to guide candidates on how to taste wine. There are countless encyclopedias and reference guides written on the subject of wine, the very best the Master Somms could do was to give a brief overview.
I was actually warned? Recommended? To go through some of the reference materials before class, because absorbing that much information in such a short amount of time is near impossible. I’m a list maker so knowing that I would have that much information to absorb meant my studying needed to happen a lot sooner rather than later, so I read pretty much front to back two books: Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible (second addition) and Michael Gibson’s Sommelier Prep Course. Also, since I’m a visual learner, I picked up/pre-ordered Madeleine Puckett’s Wine Folly’s Essential Guide to Wine (her blog is a great resource for easily digestible wine reads).
Did I mention the amount of information you can be expected to know? I’m talking like down to cities and types of soil, and that’s just the Intro Course/Level One. Each level gets exponentially harder, the Second Level requires blind tasting of wines, written examination, and a service portion where you will open a bottle of wine and serve Master Somms who will ask for pairing suggestions for specific dishes…so candidates need to know basic wine and food pairings, labels, regions, years, and restaurant price points.
A Little Perspective
To put it all into perspective there are less than 240 Master Sommeliers in the world and less than 150 Master Sommeliers in the United States, as opposed to about 8,000 who have passed Level Two.
What's in a Name?
I’ve had various people ask if I was a “Sommelier” and I reply simply with a “no, I’m a Level One” out of respect for the amount of time studying, tasting, and dedication those who have achieved Level Two put forward. I may be trying to join one of the 8,000+ Level Two/ Certified Sommeliers, but it’s a goal of mine for 2017. This blog is part of my studies and documenting the journey in a sense. I’m treating the process like a winemaker would when making wine: through arduous study, passion, dedication, trial and error, tasting, and a little bit of faith it will all turn out in my favor.
Cheers to an adventure in wine!