Perhaps one of the best friends to have is a sommelier, or one who has traveled through the ranks of the Court of Master Sommeliers.
If you are lucky enough to have befriended a sommelier, then kudos to you for knowing an industry insider who is in the know about what's trending or esoteric in the world of wine.
There are several institutions in the beverage industry, all with their own mission statement and forte. The Court of Master Sommeliers, often referred to as “The Court,” is the pinnacle and most prestigious institution for beverage service in the world. While other institutions focus on education, the Court's emphasis is guided toward the hospitality industry: restaurants, bars and hotels.
There are four tiers or certifications in the program. The Introductory Sommelier course is step one, with a general overview of the world of wine, wine service standards and the very important deductive tasting method. This is a great start to a wine career for restaurant servers, managers and bartenders, and the pass rate is about 90%. This tier gets students excited about seeking additional accreditation.
The Certified Sommelier exam, or level two, is far more difficult to pass. This exam comes with three sections: theory, service and blind tasting. The theory part is self-explanatory, but just knowing the regions of France and California isn't going to be enough. This is where knowing the soil differences of the regions, producers and vintages is paramount. The service exam could be one of several options: champagne and or decanting service, for example. The candidate should be prepared to answer questions about cocktails, food and wine pairing, vintages, all while attempting to not let that bottle of bubbles explode. Lastly, the blind tasting portion of the exam requires the candidate to deduce the grape variety, where it comes from and the vintage for four wines, all while the 30-minute clock is ticking.
The Advanced Certified exam is the next step. As one would think, it is exponentially more difficult than the previous: higher standards for service, deeper knowledge of theory and wider options for blind tasting.
Finally, I could outline the master exam process, but it's best to watch an entertaining and terrifyingly fun movie: “Somm.” The documentary shares the lives of several advanced certified somms studying for the pinnacle Master Sommelier certification. The movie goes into the depths of what it takes to pass the world's most difficult wine exam. Since the Court's inception in 1969, only 240 candidates have passed this exam worldwide. This exam is by invitation only; not all have what it takes.
Why do we need sommeliers? The world of wine is overwhelming for most and the rigorous training undertaken by these wine professionals can help simplify it when you're dining or shopping for the perfect bottle. In addition, the Court of Master Sommeliers is dedicated to enriching service, educating and preserving ancient grape varietals and unique wines.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at email@example.com.