Wine Tasting Video Series
Andrea Morgan, CSW, FWS
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Anyone who has signed up for the Certified Sommelier exam, with Court of Master Sommeliers, knows how daunting and formidable the task at hand can feel. My own choice to pursue the Certified exam emerged from a desire to improve my service and tasting skills. My experience in the industry ranged from working in a wine retail and academy setting, to restaurant beverage consultation & menu development. I had previously completed my French Wine Scholar, and Certified Specialist of Wine exams, and felt fairly confident from a theory perspective.
Once I registered for the exam, I used GuildSomm to e-mail other members in SLC, Utah, USA, to see if there was anyone else in my area taking the Intro or Certified exams. I was unsuccessful in my attempts to connect with a support/tasting group. I engaged my regular wine tasting group to assist me. My colleagues were generous with their support, and were relieved it was me, not them, under pressure! We had been tasting together for three years through our previous two exams. In addition to regular group tastings, I made it a point to taste daily on my own. I used the Proimb Pump Preserver with Vacuum Bottle Stoppers, but in hindsite, could have benefited from a Coravin.
Unfortunately, my Introductory/Level 1 examination (required) had given me a false sense of security when it came to theory. I scored 100 % on the Intro exam and felt it was super easy; consequently, I studied very little for the theory portion prior to my Certified exam. There is so much to cover that you simply have to order your priorities! The one step I did take was to sign up for a GuildSomm Deductive Tasting workshop. This proved to be highly beneficial.
tensive list of apertifs, digestifs, cordials, liquers and dessert/fortified wines. Of course the list must stay in your head! In short, you REALLY do have to know all of this-even if you only get a question or two from each category of beverages. If, at your job, your restaurant/bar offers most of these beverages, you are golden! In terms of the actual Service componenet, make sure you can guage pours at various ounce sizes and review Bobby Stuckey's Proper Champagne Service video on YouTube published by GuildSomm (easy to google and the PERFECT example of how to approach Champagne service).
My Certified Exam happen to be in my howmetown of SLC, UT. On exam day I felt my Blind Tasting went really well. If you've practiced using the Red and White Varietal practice exam sheets provided on the GuildSomm Resource List, you will know exactly what to expect. I was timing myself at 4 minutes per blind wine, but in the actual exam we had close to 7 plus minutes per blind wine.
On to the Theory portion. Total nightmare. A significant leap up from the Intro Exam. One girl taking the exam put it perfectly, after the fact, when she said "I feel like I've just had an outer body experience.” I felt the same. I was concerned I hadn't passed, and it really affected my Service component; it had shaken my confidence.
My service was a mixed bag of sorts. I missed a cocktail question, a champagne question, and struggled somewhat with my wine and food pairing recommendations; mainly due to nerves. My exam service station was quite wet (someone must have had a spill) and I was missing a glass I needed. I told myself to stay composed under pressure and go with what I had. Other components of my service went quite smoothly; there were lots of questions I handled with ease.
That being said, I struggled to remove the cork during my Champagne service. I've had difficult to remove corks, but not at this level. I found out later I wasn't the only one. This set me back from finishing my service component on time and was ultimately what sunk my exam. In the end I passed my Blind Tasting and Theory components, but failed my Service portion. Only three candidates passed that day.
My results felt devestating. I was scheduled for a surgery the next day and I knew I'd be down for a month. I was leaving for Europe in four months for a long stint. I had to wait three months to reexam and there was only one exam slot that would possibly work given this equation; It was full. Defeat. My husband suggested I get on the waiting list for the one exam date that would fit our schedule before heading to Europe. I was not sure I could put myself through it again. He convinced me I'd worked too hard to just walk away. I knew he was right. I was wait listed at number three. Several weeks after my surgery I got the news I was in! My excitement over this was immediate. I knew at that stage what I needed to do to feel better about my theory, and to improve my service.
Having done the exam once was a huge asset because I knew what to expect and was no longer confused about how it would be structured or set up. BTW In my first exam I was not asked to present my mis en place, checklisted items, but in my second exam I was. The checklist I had received, pre-exam, said to bring one pen. I hadn't brought an extra pen and was told I should have. Another candidate forgot his pad. Having a pad to write down any instructions/orders can be helpful given the pressure you will be under.
One change I made the second time I took the Certified Exam was to wear my polished, black riding style boots, under my dress pant. These boots had a small flat heel as opposed to higher type of heel I had worn previously. The boots looked smart, and I felt much steadier carrying my tray.
I was signed up to exam in San Diego. I developed a cold one week before I was to leave. I was having difficulty smelling and knew I would have to work off site and palate. On exam day I was so focused on filling out my sheet, during the Blind Tasting, that I spit one of my white wines back into the wine gass, instead of the spit cup. UGH. Gross! It really threw me. The things you do under pressure. I felt my overall assment of the wines went well but was a little worried about my final calls due to my congestion.
My cork, although difficult to remove, released fairly smoothy and I finished on time.
This time during the Service portion there were only one or two questions I couldn't answer. I apologized and politely told my MS I would have to confer with the bartender. I walked out thinking "that's an exam I can live with, even if I didn't pass." My husband, who had spent three hours going over flashcards with me in between the Theory and Service portions of my exam, was waiting for me in the lobby. We had hours until the results were announced and needed to decompress. We changed and hit the streets of San Diego in search of some food.
I returned to the award ceremony with apprehension. I was concerned about my Blind Tasting component, but felt confident about my Theroy and Service. I sipped on my Champagne as the results were announced. A few people down the list my name was announced. I had passed! It was admittedly an ecstatic moment. There was another female that received a special award for having received the highest score. She told me later it was her fourth time taking the exam.
After securing my pin on the lapel of my jacket, I went to find my husband. We went to San Diego's Rabbit Volcano, which I would highly recommend. We got a flight of the best margaritas I've had anywhere; try the white peach basil. The Carne Asada was also exceptional.
I'm now getting ready to head to Europe for three months. I've decided to continue my education through some vineyard treks around Europe. Sign up for my BLOG to follow my wine tasting through France, Sicily, Greece, Spain and Portugal! I will be doing some amateur videos. If you are considering taking any of the exams I have mentioned in this blog post FEEL FREE to reach out! Hoping this helps someone out there.
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Andrea Morgan is a wine enthusiast and Certified Sommelier. You can refer to her Wine Consultation page to view her other credentials and services.