Becoming a Certified Sommelier

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I should start by saying that I failed this examination once.  The first time I gave this exam a go was right after I took the WSET Advanced exam which I passed! There was a couple of days in between to cram for the Certified Exam.  I figured (WRONGLY), everything would be fresh in my mind… NOPE. I was sleep deprived and needed to memorize a lot more things to pass this exam.  A couple of weeks in between would have done it, NOT two days.  I passed service and tasting, then failed theory.

So after the misery of failure, I dusted myself off, had a cry on the way home and reapplied for the next exam in 100 days.  I knew what I had to do, I would not be met with failure again.

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I studied the Court of Masters Introductory Sommelier Workbook and The Sommelier Prep Course ($30 on Amazon). I found the Sommelier Prep Course to be especially helpful since the style of writing was more pleasant to follow than the CMS Workbook.  I recommend making flashcards out of every chapter after reading the chapter in full.  The questions at the end of each chapter are helpful review but won’t be enough.  What this exam requires is flashcard work and sheer memorization.  Not fun, but necessary.  Don’t blow off Spirits, Beer and Sake.

The tasting all comes down to chance.  I took courses in Costa Mesa at the Neptune School of wine and had the benefit of tasting with a Master Sommelier before I took this. But those of you that have not, find a tasting group with people you trust will pour wines that show typicity of the varietal.  I believe the Wine and Spirit Trust courses are an excellent way of learning how to taste well and would recommend them to anyone.  The tasting grid has become more involved over the last year and having some experience with it will help tremendously in getting it done in a timely manner come test time.  I also used a wine aroma kit to help me with some of the descriptors called Le Nez du Vin but you can make your own for cheap by getting small jars and inserting herbs and other items that relate to wine.

A good example of a DIY aroma kit can be found here: http://winefolly.com/tutorial/make-wine-aroma-kit-30/

Then came prepping for the service exam.  It went ok last time so I spent more time memorizing classic cocktails, styles of beer and champagne.  I work in a fine dining restaurant and I’m accustomed to carrying trays with drinks so this portion of the exam was not going to present an obstacle. If you don’t carry trays often, I recommend buying a tray at a restaurant supply store (or Amazon) and practice practice practice!  You will be nervous and having this become second nature will take some pressure off and let you focus on answering the master sommeliers questions.  Carry drinks around the house, practice putting drinks on and placing them on a table while making sure to not move the tray over to the “pretend guest”.  The Guild of Sommeliers has a video of exactly how this should go, watch it, take notes and practice at home. Google “GuildSomm Champagne Service” and the video should pop right up!  I did blank out on a few questions, couldn’t name another IPA.  But I successfully silent opened my champagne and got both of my cocktails!  This was pure luck and practice. I opened and gave away a bunch of sparkling wine bottles getting ready for this.  Champagne to parents, neighbors etc…

I was finished with all three sections of my exam before lunch and had to wait until 4:30pm for my results.  So the time in between is usually spent torturing yourself.  Many of the other candidates where calling different wines from mine so of course I’m thinking I completely blew the tasting.  This is the worst part of the exam… the waiting!  And then after a pep talk from the masters they proceed to giving out the certificates…

Success!!!

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Having failed this once before made this victory all the more sweet!  So if there’s one thing I came away with from this whole experience is that even if you fail the first time, don’t become discouraged! Work harder and come back and get it done!  Good luck in your efforts! Now on to the French Wine Scholar Exam!

5 Comments

  1. Greg Massani says:

    And this site is looking good for a rookie blog.

    From before (Webpage crashed), I get it’s age old and it has to do with evaluating several characteristics in the fluid but couldn’t one do this for anything? Like, prune juice or even bottled water? I just see useless dollars spent, people thinking their pallet is more sophisticated than others and from my experience with 25 years in Fine Dining, it’s inaccurate. I can pair 5 to 10 different fruit juices (or soft drinks even- sometimes) versus 3 or 4 wines from an average cellar…but then again- I can’t charge $12.00 for a serving of Coca Cola.

    I was offered a promotion (really just a raise) if I could learn more about wine as we begin to hire Som’s for our facility and I’ve concluded it’s all inflated but we’re going to move forward. Between the owner and I, we determined it’s trendy and wine ‘enthusiasts’ tend to buy higher priced menu items.

    Good luck and maybe though our experience as I work with Som’s I’ll see a new light.

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    • Greg, I work in a restaurant where every single server is required to be a sommelier and we have 5 advanced sommelier on our floor. Not trying to show off or anything by mentioning that, but for me the culture of my restaurant revolves around wine. I think it adds a lot of value to the guest experience but I don’t believe that having certification makes you better than say someone having as much experience as you. Though I’ll say that going through this process will make you better, it’s a tough exam and serving a master sommelier under this kind of pressure is hard! It’s not about how sophisticated someone’s palate is over someone else, to me it’s about knowing the wines so well that I can pick something out of an enormous wine list that someone will love and can share something cool about it. Trendy? Yes, but the general public is becoming more interested in wine and is starting to expect a high level of knowledge and Court of Masters provides that. Best of luck with the new Somms! Hopefully you work with some passionate ones that will change your mind!

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  2. Dear Wendy:

    Thank you for sharing! If you are not offended, I would love to put your photo on my iPhone to give me inspiration. I am sadly, a two time bridesmaid at this level (Service is my weakest link). I may try again this summer, but I want to moonlight at a restaurant first to get more practice. Please keep me in your prayers when I go for #Certified again! – Douglas

    Like

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