In my last post I mentioned that I recently passed the certified sommelier exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers; this post is intended to give you insight as to how I prepared as well as advice for those pursuing certification.
Preparing for this exam was an intense journey filled with ups and downs of self doubt, desire, self belief, and faith. Even though these past three months were ugly (as was my hair 99.9% of the time), I made it through and would do it all over again if I had to. The sleep deprivation, stress, and disgusting commitment to my goal was all worth it. I gained so much satisfaction and fulfillment from this and felt myself growing more confident each day. Passing was the definite goal but the process was even more satisfying. I discovered so much about myself and what I was capable of achieving. This exam is no small feat and it is not uncommon for candidates to test 1-2 times before actually passing. If you are unfamiliar with this exam and are intrigued by the madness you must watch SOMM to see what the Court of Master Sommeliers exams are all about at the highest level. The documentary can be found on netflix and itunes.
I started casually studying in November when I first signed up for the exam. I started off reading through The Certified Sommelier Prep Course only to realize that it wasn't detailed enough or up to date with the questions I'd be asked on the exam.
Thankfully I had a friend who recently passed that led me to the Guild Somm site which has tons of information that is directly used on the exam. I used the study guides as my main study source, took notes, and made flash cards based on that information. I also studied with my friends old flashcards as well as my own to fill in any missing pieces. I watched every video on the Guild Somm site, studied the maps provided, and listened to all theory focused podcasts from the Guild. After every section I completed the beginning and intermediate practice quizzes to see how well I understood what I just covered.
Although it is highly encouraged to draw your own maps instead of just staring at one hoping you memorize it I only made one map due to lack of time. If I were to do this again I would make map drawing a priority and do it early on and use it as a break from reading!
Service & Tasting
For the service portion of the exam I practiced the service routine with a group of friends at our weekly tasting meeting. They all asked me possible questions I might be asked and created different scenarios that could be tricky so I could practice problem solving and handling stress gracefully.
I opened sparkling wine bottles as often as possible; the goal was one bottle a day but in reality I did this every two days. I spent about $200 a month on sparkling wine just for the purpose of practicing opening the bottle silently. In addition I met with a tasting group once a week to do a blind tasting focused on the list of testable varietals and also attended blind tastings at a local wine shop.
One of the benefits of living in Napa is that I was surrounded by many people who have passed this exam and are willing to help. Fortunately I was able to practice with Master Sommelier and star of the SOMM film, DLynn Proctor. Training with him helped tremendously and made my service more polished and fluid.
For more specifics or any questions about the exam or how to prepare email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading!