I know I’ve been a little distant from blog world lately and the reason is because I was spending most of my time studying for the Introductory Sommelier Exam. While I took two wine classes recently in college that cover almost exactly the same material, I really needed a refresher. From what I’d read the class is fast paced and intense. The Court of Master Sommeliers website mentions you should have about 3 years of relevant experience in the wine industry before taking the class… which I definitely don’t have. While yes, there is a 90% pass rate and you only need a 60% to pass (a D-), my confidence wasn’t as high as I’d have liked. I have a great benefit at work that allows for reimbursement of outside educational pursuits up to a certain amount each year, but of course you have to pass to actually get the refund, so I was even more nervous! I didn’t want to have paid a big chunk of change only to fail because I didn’t study hard enough.
Luckily….. I passed!
Even for something relatively small and low key like this exam, I felt accomplished and proud of myself. From my observations, everyone was older than me, almost everyone worked in a restaurant, and I felt like such a newbie. My motivation for taking the class was purely for fun and because I thought it would be good career experience, but I was still so intimidated. The two day class was held at a local hotel and split up between lectures, wine tastings (22 wines total!), breaks and lunch. I guessed there were about 80 people in the class sardined into little rows of thin tables covered in 4 tasting glasses each, notebooks, coffees, spit buckets, water, etc. It was a tad cramped, but the lectures came straight from the workbooks they hand out so the most extensive notes you took were a few highlighting marks.
During the wine tastings there is a specific guide to follow, starting with the visuals, tasting notes, and then final conclusion on what the wine is. In my college class I used a similar, yet different format so it was a whole new process. We weren’t tested on a blind tasting, but the information was so helpful in general and if you want to continue to the Certified Sommelier Exam. It’s almost worth taking the class to learn their tasting method! The masters really help you out but you still need to know your stuff. At one part of the tasting you have to identify the grape the wine could be made from, the country, region and year! The masters were good at giving big hints and letting you come to a conclusion before very nicely telling you you’re totally wrong. Or for some people, exactly right! The worst part is they make everyone stand up with a microphone and go over a section of the tasting grid. I’m talking instant fear on my part. There I am blanking that Merlot is a red grape when other students talked about vague foreign grapes like it was “so obvious” and then got the wine correct down to the sub region and year! Let’s say I kind of fumbled when I was forced to speak about the palate of a wine, but thankfully only had to do it once.
At the end of the second day was the exam, so if you didn’t already know most of the material in the workbook you’re definitely short on study time. This is why I spent so much time reviewing beforehand. Especially for the material we went over on the second day, you have no time to retain the information before getting tested on it. One of the masters was really good at saying “you should probably know this…” so you knew to highlight a paragraph but the others weren’t so much. The exam itself was a little bit what I expected. Some questions I could definitely answer, and some I swear we never mentioned once in class. I felt more confident after turning my exam in, but had to endure about an hour of anxious wait time while it was graded, surrounded by students who engaged in my biggest pet peeve; people who open their books and loudly go over each question after an exam. I seriously hate this; it comes close if not ties with people who walk too slowly. I went and sat in a quiet area of the hotel lobby to escape and played Candy Crush in an unfocused daze as I counted down the minutes. It was such torture. At 4:30, all students gathered outside the conference room for the champagne celebration (everyone got champagne even if you didn’t pass). The masters came out and then read off the names of everyone that passed, who then received a small certificate and a Guild of Sommeliers pin. I am extremely grateful that my name was read 3rd, and not 78th like the girl next to me who slowly went into total panic mode before the very end.
I then skipped on home, utterly relieved that it was over, booked myself a massage and had some delicious Thanksgiving leftovers…. and a beer. I was completely wined out!