By The Glass
Tough tests ensure rarity of masters
A SOMMELIER is a wine steward -- someone who serves wine in a restaurant. But a master sommelier is someone who has passed a series of increasingly arduous examinations.
The Court of Master Sommeliers, established in 1977 to encourage improved standards of beverage knowledge and service, has set four levels that must be climbed to reach master status.
The first stage is a two-day Introductory Sommelier Course. Attendees are given an overview of wine law and international production, covering the classic wine-growing regions and including the production of spirits and liqueurs. Master's service standards are introduced, along with the master's method of blind tasting -- the art of deciphering clues to identify a wine's origin, the grape it's made of, its age and its level of quality. This is no parlor trick; there is a method to our madness.
The next step is the Certificate Examination, for candidates who pass the introductory class. They are tested in three areas: a written theory portion, a blind-tasting portion, also written, and a service section where the candidate is asked to perform several tasks typical of a fine-dining restaurant. Those who pass are officially certified sommeliers.
THE THIRD level is the five-day Advanced Course and Examination. The first three days comprise in-depth seminars on wine law and production of wines from all over the world. Also covered are spirits, liqueurs, beer and sake, in depth. Blind-tasting skills are honed through group tastings. Service standards are again taught and refined in depth.
Three exams fill the last two days: a theory exam that is fill-in-the-blank and short-answer. In the tasting portion, the candidate is asked to identify six wines by vintage, varietal, origin/appellation and quality -- verbally, before a panel of masters, in 25 minutes.
The practical or service portion involves a restaurant full of masters, with each candidate asked to perform many tasks and answer questions within an allotted amount of time. This exam is a quantum leap in difficulty from the exam at the certificate level. Those holding advanced certificates are already some of the best sommeliers in the business.
THE LAST and highest level is the Master's Examination. It consists of the same three portions of examination, another quantum leap in difficulty. The theory portion is verbal, the blind tasting requires a higher level of proficiency and the service exam is a sommelier's worst nightmare! The master's certificate is the highest professional accreditation.
This week, two of my fellow masters and I administered a Certification Examination, and I am happy to report that Hawaii now has 10 more certified sommeliers. I hope their success will encourage more to enroll in the program and become the state's next masters. After all, there are only two of us in Hawaii -- only 74 in the country. Could you be the next?
Learn more about the program at our Web site, mastersommeliers.org,
Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier and wine educator with Southern Wine & Spirits.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org