A Tea Drinker Steps Into the Court of Master Sommeliers

After sixteen hours of intensive wine education under the guidance of three Master Sommeliers, I am proud (and relieved) to announce that I have passed the Introductory Sommelier Course offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers!

It wasn't easy.

The company I work for has been very generous in providing training opportunities, and this time, there was an application for the Introductory Sommelier Course (the first of a series of four levels). Of course, I went for it!

I'm nowhere close to being a wine aficionado. A wine enthusiast? Maybe. I drink wine, and I appreciate the art that goes into the wine, but the world of wine is BIG, and my experience is small.

However, I do love a challenge, and going down a rabbit hole is always tempting. And fortunately, my application letter was convincing enough, because I was in!

Once my confirmation came in, the pressure hit. I was sent a 300 page PDF that outlined all the major wine regions and their appellations, varietals, classifications, wine laws, production methods, vintage factors, etc... and that was just touching the surface. I had less than two weeks to study all of this information and prepare for my exam!

It's recommended that students have at least three years wine experience before taking this course... which meant, I was really going to have to buckle down and study!

My game plan? Knock out the easy stuff first. The sections on viticulture and vinification were easy to understand - my background in horticulture certainly helped. The sections on beer, cider, sake, and spirits were also a breeze -- earlier this year I passed both the Cicerone Certified Beer Server exam, as well as the BarSmarts exam.

From there, I would spend each day studying 25-50 pages at a time, manually writing out every sentence that I read. I filled three notebooks. I printed maps and drew all over them. I drank wine.

Finally, our course dates arrived. Over a period of two days, our teachers (three Master Sommeliers!) gave us a quick-paced tour of the wine world. We practiced pronouncing the names of wine regions and grape varietals, and we tasted a lot of wine. But we didn't just taste the wine, we practiced the deductive tasting method. The purpose of tasting with this method is to increase our ability to taste and describe wine, which, with theoretical knowledge, would lead to logical conclusions when blind tasting.

The different stages of the tasting process were very similar to tasting teas: the process began first with sight, then nose, and taste. Then an initial conclusion, where one determines the possible variety (or blend), country and region, and vintage. Lastly, a final conclusion, where one finally decides what the wine is. The initial and final conclusions should be supported by the sensory analysis: a couple of major clues would be the color and clarity of the wine, the minerals and earthiness, new or old oak, the style of fruit found in the aroma and flavor (is it fresh? ripe? dried? stewed?), the acidity, sweetness, and alcohol.

A Master should be able to do this in under 4 minutes. 

We practiced the deductive tasting method in groups of five. In the first round, I was the one who determined the final conclusion. I boldly steered away from the initial conclusion, and explained my reasoning, but was interrupted with, "she's wrong, for all the right reasons". Oopsies! Knowing the growing climate of the regions is just as important as accurately knowing what your tasting! And in embarrassment, I avoided naming the correct varietal because I wasn't quite sure how to pronounce it. The Master knew what I was doing and exposed me. A humbling and valuable experience, for sure!

In the second round, I was the one to describe the taste of the wine -- this time, my answer was sufficient (all those years working with and tasting hundreds of teas, spices, and herbs really paid off).

The tasting wasn't going to be part of our examination, but would be a mandatory skill if we chose to pursue the next level (Certified Sommelier). We tasted and analyzed 24 different wines.

After the exam, the names of those who passed were announced, and we got a certificate, a pin, and a glass of champagne!

We didn't get our graded exams back, but I already knew which questions I answered incorrectly (nervousness clouded my judgement, and I made last-minute answer changes that I later realized were mistakes!)

There is still so much to learn, and so much more wine information to absorb! My wine journey is certainly not over. I've already found some really cool Youtube channels and books for my kindle, a wine app for my phone, and my Wine Spectator subscription just arrived.

Will I be taking the Certified Sommelier exam? Maybe, or maybe not. I have three years to figure that out (three years is the time limit). In the meantime, I'm just having fun, I'm still new to the wine world.

We will see!


My celebratory wine!

My celebratory wine!