There are several ways to go about becoming well-versed in the world of wine. The most effective is time, truly.  No matter how well-studied one is, it is obvious to me that those who get wine best are the individuals who have been tasting it, loving and experiencing it for years.  Certification can jump-start that a bit and lay a quality foundation of wine knowledge, hence my journey to gaining certification as a Somm.

There are a couple of different programs that offer Sommelier certification.  I have opted to go through the International Sommelier Guild (ISG) which requires about one year of classroom time all-together and a rigorous set of exams at the end of the course.  I faced my first day of final testing about two weeks ago.

It was, um interesting.  Read on.

At 11am I introduced my acting self as Sommelier to a table of two distinguished judges (current Somms in Seattle.) They had in hand, a copy of my made-up restaurant’s food menu and wine list that I had created over the previous eight months of class.  I set about serving them in traditional, fancy Russian service method.  I was prepared to discuss and decide upon a bottle of bubbly, then open and serve the bottle.  Then to discuss and decide upon a bottle of red, to open, decant and serve properly, meeting all sorts of criteria such as examining the foils for flaws, never touching the mirror of the cork, priming the decanter, confirming the quality of each wine, offering tastes to confirm soundness, never dripping, never pointing the bottle of sparkling even slightly in the direction of anyone so as to not injure them, should the cork come flying out unexpectedly, oh! – and do all this with calm and grace… Ok!

I approach the table with confidence and ease, “Hello, welcome to Yoke, we are honored to have–,” “Soooo we’re here for the first time, please explain the inspiration and theme of your restaurant; the goals and organization of your wine program.”  “Oh, uh, I, uh… (breathe…) Yes, certainly.”  It takes me a moment, but I get on track and describe the inspiration and goals of my food and wine program.  I have described things more acutely before, but it could’ve been worse.  It takes some back and forth before deciding upon a bottle of sparkling wine, I am relieved to escape table side for a moment to retrieve it.  I take several deep breaths while I prepare the gueridon (table on wheels, more or less) for service.

I return ready to pop open the bubbles without so much as a sigh of a noise. Little did I know that in the midst of following my finely tuned steps of service would I be bombarded with endless inquires about EVERYTHING  that I mentioned in my menu.  “Oh, though you are just now preparing our first course bubbles so carefully, I want to know about the winemaking process of each dessert style wine you have listed on your menu, can you tell me about them?  Also, what countries are all of the listed cheeses from?”  In my head: “Oh good gawd….”  I manage to pour the bubbles in seamless stream, decant and pour the red with ease but it is all-together difficult to answer the unrealistic continuum of specific questions throughout.  I now know that Halloumi cheese (which I included on my cheese list) is indeed a mix of goat’s and sheep’s milk, and yes sometimes cow’s milk…  All I knew when she asked me is that is that it’s originally from Cyprus.  I got the impression that THAT was NOT good enough!  Did I say “whew” already?  I shall say it again… “WHEW!”  At another point in service, I recommended a wine that I didn’t have on my list, I mis-spoke about the vintage of the red they had ordered, and at the end, I began walking away, gueridon and all, with their wine.  Luckily, I managed to keep the smile on my face, laugh at myself and return it with a tiny bit of grace.  My instructor for class had told us that the service portion would be tough and that there would be questions, but it wasn’t until being tested myself that I really understood what he meant.

I think that was all a bit much.  But it’s the way of the game, so be it.

The day was all but over after the service portion.  My classmates and I downed a glass of sparkling wine, took a breather, then reconvened for the food and wine pairing challenge and essay questions.  Those aren’t near as entertaining to read about as the service, so I’ll spare you.

That pretty much sums up day one of exams.  Tomorrow?  Day two: three hours and 22 wines to taste blind followed by multiple choice questions.  Here goes nothin’!