Tag Archives: sommelier

Becoming a Certified Sommelier


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.


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…



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!

Riesling: The Oktoberfest Friendly Wine

10728992_10152361362576975_1048692775_nOktoberfest is in full swing and it’s not just about the beer. Riesling is delicious with that bratwurst as well! It’s a wine I like to have year round as it goes well with just about anything from salads to spicy food. Even on its own it’s delicious with its citrus, apricot and honey notes complimented by high acidity. Here’s a short guide to this amazing varietal!

Riesling is the dominant wine grape of Germany and its greatest achievement to the world of wine. It is known for the sweeter style that this varietal produces. There are various levels of sweetness so if you’re in the store and you’re a little lost, here’s a chart to help:


Kabinett is made from grapes that are picked at normal harvest and can be produced in a dry style, though typically you will see these in an off dry or semi-sweet style.

Spatlese is the term that the Germans use to indicate that the berries were picked at late harvest.  The grapes picked for Spatlese style Rieslings are picked two weeks after Kabinett wines are harvested.  Waiting to harvest makes the favors of the wine become more concentrated.  This also means that the grapes will have more body and alcohol.  Probably the best food wine in the world.

Auslese wines are from very ripe grapes.  These ripe bunches are selected by hand.  Overripe bunches used to make this style wine will contain botrytis infected grapes that are individually selected and used to make Beerenauslese style wine.

Beerenauslese (BA) are made from Auslese bunches though the grapes selected are overripe and botrytis infected (noble rot).  This is a very rare style of wine and has incredible aging potential.

Eiswein is made with grapes that are the same ripeness level as Beerenauslese.  However, Eiswein grapes are partially frozen and do not contain noble rot.

Tip: Pour a little Eiswein on your vanilla ice cream.  It’s AWESOME!

Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) are Beernauslese grapes that are allowed to stay on the vine to dry.  These wines have the highest sugar concentration and produce some of the sweetest wines on the planet. The berries are not picked until they have dried out to the point of almost being raisins.


Noble Rot is a fungus (Botrytis) that grows on grapes in moist conditions. It sounds disgusting but it’s makes for some awesome wine! When grapes are picked at the right time during the infestation it creates sweet, concentrated and delicious wine. In the case of Riesling, noble rot is GOOD.

Trocken refers to the grapes being dried on the vine making the wine even more concentrated.

Best German Riesling:

Some of the best vineyards for Riesling in Germany are along the Mosel River. The vineyards here are on steep slopes and some of the best Riesling vineyards grow on slaty ground in the middle Mosel. This slaty ground gives classic German Riesling its mineral character. So when you think of a Riesling from Mosel, keep in mind that someone had to climb those steep slopes in order to hand harvest all of those grapes! Additionally, styles of wine made with botrytis infected grapes have to be hand sorted to only include the grapes that are affected. The remaining unaffected grapes will be used to make the other sweet styles. 

A few other outstanding places to buy Riesling from Germany are Pflaz, where rich Rieslings are produced, Rheingau, which produces some of the best Rieslings in Germany, and Nahe that is home to what many believe is the greatest winemaker in Germany (Dönnhoff).

Culture + Wine:

Wine was brought to Germany by the Romans, additionally a Roman garrison was situated along the Mosel River and there is even archeological evidence of German pruning knives found around these garrisons.   Dacimus Magnus Ausonius a Roman poet, and tutor to future emperor Gratian was best known for his longest poem, Mosella, which describes the Mosel River and the sloping vineyards.

Now go get that glass of German Riesling! Cheers!