The Sommelier’s Test


By Charles Fredy

wine advice by Charles FredyThis past spring, I visited some of the most important wine regions of Italy, Germany and France. During the trip, I had the good fortune to join wine writers at tastings of all the classified 2009 Bordeaux at the region’s chateaus.

Unlike my colleagues, I wasn’t gathering research for articles or a book. My trip was preparation for the advanced sommelier exam that’s administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers. It can take years to join their ranks, to move from introductory, to certified, to advanced, to master sommelier. The knowledge required is immense—the equivalent of twenty textbooks, each four inches thick. No wonder there are only 170 master sommeliers worldwide.

The first part of the exam is a written test on the theory of wine and the wine regions of the world, including viticulture, winemaking, varietals, spirits, and wine-and-food pairings. Typical questions: “What are the third-growth classifications of Bordeaux?” “What are the DOCGs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita; governmental quality controls) of Sicily or Piedmont?” “Name the grape varietals used in the obscure region of Seyssel.”

The service exam is a practical test. You must demonstrate being able to safely open a bottle of champagne, and properly present other wines while answering questions about a particular vintage or recommending pairings with food, cocktails and aperitifs. You must prove that you have the knowledge to expertly discuss the world of wine and enhance the guest’s experience in a restaurant setting.

The blind taste test is the most fun. Going from sight to nose to palate, you explore six unidentified wines in twenty-five minutes: observing the color and clarity of each, smelling it for soundness of quality and intensity of aroma, tasting the fruit and nonfruit—the earth, minerals and other components that give the wine its distinctive flavor. Analyzing some thirty points about each wine, you deduce whether it’s Old World or New World, the climate, the grape varietal, the region, the vineyard, the age range. You describe the components as accurately as possible. It’s not enough to come to the right conclusions; you have to show how you got there.

Some favorite wines from my recent trip:

+ Domaine Dujac, Morey St.-Denis, 1er Cru, 2005
+ Domaine de Triennes, Rosé, Var, 2009
+ Chateau Kirwan, Margaux, Third Growth, 2005
+ Bata Siolo, Barolo, Bofani, 2001
+ Robert Weil, Kiedrich Grafenberg, Rheingau, 2007


Charles Fredy is an advanced sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, and a certified wine specialist with the Society of Wine Educators. A thirty-two-year veteran of the wine-and-spirits industry, he is director of sales and marketing for Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants Hawai’i.


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