Becoming a ‘wine dude’ takes a lot of knowledge about the world

Steven Sinkler's Level One Sommelier certificate.

Editor’s note: This is part two of columnist Steven Sinkler’s description of his pursuit of a Level One Sommelier’s certification. In part one, (Cannon Beach Gazette, Oct. 24) Sinkler, who owns The Wine Shack in Cannon Beach, described the months of research and study that he did to prepare for a 70-question wine theory exam conducted by The Court of Masters Sommeliers. The questions could cover any of 6,000 wine regions in the world. Sinkler drove to Vancouver, B.C. to take a two-day course and the exam.

Day Two flowed at an even more accelerated pace, beginning with a “blind tasting” of four wines, two white and two red. With no idea of what wines were in front of me, I had to visually assess each one, check out its aromas, taste it, then report my final conclusion, in which the grape, vintage, country and subregion had to be identified. Fortunately, one was, “This wine is a pinot noir, 2010 vintage, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.” Nailed that one.

Over the two days, we conducted 22 blind tastings — I did not nail them all, but will need to get to that point as the Level 1 certification doesn’t include a blind tasting exam, but the Level 2 testing does, and that’s what the instructors were prepping us for.

The master sommeliers also demonstrated how a professional wine and champagne service should be conducted, which is also part of the Level 2 exam. When the service demonstration concluded, it was time for the exam — this is what I came to accomplish.

The 70-question, multiple-choice, exam is designed to test a breadth, not a depth, of knowledge at this level. I was surprised that there were as many questions about Austrian wines as there were about Oregon, Washington and California, together. Yes, the Oregon question was about pinot noir. But the Washington question was about weather and the California question was about a river in wine country. Breadth, not depth. As I worked through the test, I knew it was going to be close. Why were there so many questions about Austria? There were some surprise questions about France and South Africa. I was a little worried. After turning in my exam and leaving the room, Maryann and Ringo (our dog, not one of the Beatles) were waiting in the hallway. “How’d it go?” she asked. I told her the test was tough and it was going to be close.

When the instructors were finished grading the exam, we each received a glass of champagne as we walked back into the classroom. The entire class let out a loud cheer and toasted the success as we learned that we all passed. One-by-one, each of our names were announced.

It’s official; I am a Level One Sommelier. My certificate and pin are my proof of my new “wine dude” status!

And now, on to the Level Two “Certified Sommelier” status. Wish me luck.

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