It’s been two years since I successfully passed my introductory sommelier (level 1) exam. In that time, I’ve patiently waited for the organization I began my studies with, the Court of Masters Sommeliers, to offer their level 2 exam somewhere in the Pacific Northwest at a time that fits my schedule. I’m willing to travel to Portland, Seattle or Vancouver, B.C., to sit for the exam.

I held off from hitting the books and the wine tastings waiting for the Level 2 exam to be offered close to home. Frustration was setting in. Then, I read about another sommelier certification program based in London called WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) and was glad to learn they have regularly scheduled courses in Portland, Newberg and Seattle. After looking at the program’s syllabus, WSET seems to be a better fit for me as I won’t have to demonstrate a wine decanting, wine service or champagne service as part of my examination. While those skills are definitely required for a sommelier working in a restaurant, they aren’t something I ever do or expect to do at The Wine Shack. Time to get my somm studies going again, WSET here I come!

I registered for a weekend intensive study class in Seattle which focused on major wine regions, their main varietals and styles of production. WSET’s course also digs into the winemaking process a bit deeper, so we reviewed winemaking and how a wine’s final flavor and style are impacted by each of the winemaker’s decisions. This section was a refresher for me as I’ve already taken two years of enology (winemaking) classes.

One of the topics I am most interested in learning more about is wine-food pairing. Every day, customers ask me to recommend a wine that will pair well with their meal. I have the classic pairings down cold … pinot noir goes with salmon, cab sauv goes with a steak, chianti goes with pizza and chardonnay goes with chicken.

But I’d really like to take my wine-food pairing recommendations to the next level and offer some suggestions that are more experimental, but equally excellent.

Because we carry a variety of cheeses in Provisions 124, I am eager to share more about complex wine-cheese recommendations to customers.

I enjoyed the wine evaluation and identification component of the class. We tasted and analyzed approximately 40 iconic wines from around the world.

Our focus in this part of the course is to properly evaluate a wine and make a determination of what grape it is, it’s vintage and what region of the world the wine is from.

If you’ve seen the movie “Somm,” then you have an idea of what the process looks like. But, in “Somm,” those candidates are preparing for a master’s level examination which is way beyond the scope of this level. WSET doesn’t include a “blind” wine evaluation as part of their level 2 wine certification, so this part of the program is to get your ready for the advanced level 3 studies.

During the weekend class, WSET Instructor, Mimi Martin offered a discount on the Level 3 study course to anyone who aced the level 2 exam. Challenge accepted. I studied diligently for a month and was ready for the exam. During the exam, my confidence grew with each question.

I was flying through the test, quickly answering each question and then it happened. There they were, two questions on a fairly nondescript Italian white wine called “Gavi.” Uh oh. I didn’t have Gavi on my study sheet and I surely didn’t know the wine’s grape (Cortese), primary growing region (Piedmonte) or flavor profile (citrus). To make a long story short, I’m paying the full tuition for WSET’s advanced sommelier program, but I passed the certified sommelier examination “with merit.”

Level 3 studies begin immediately and I plan to take the exam in the spring. Time to start hitting the books. But I may need some help with the wine evaluation. Who’s in?


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