We’ve had several requests for tips on passing the sommelier certification. There are several organizations that host certified sommelier exams and if you’d like to choose one, check out our guide on wine education courses.
The tips below are based on the certified exam with the Court of Masters Sommeliers, however the format is similar across all of the best programs.
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Most sommelier certifications include three parts.
- Tasting – to prove your sensory acuteness and ability to make connections between where a wine is from and its basic characteristics
- Theory – to prove the depth of your understanding of classic wines, regions, history and geography
- Service – to prove your physical abilities to communicate, sell and serve still or sparkling wine
The tasting portion of the sommelier certification is designed to show your ability to correlate an unknown wine to a region, variety (or blend) and vintage.
While this doesn’t seem like a useful skill to know, the test proves that you have real experience with the taste of different wines.
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Info: If you hope to pass the certified exam and beyond, you should get familiar with this list of classic wines. As the list does change over time, use it as a baseline.
Learn the professional tasting evaluation technique
Be sure to be able to taste and fill out the ‘grid’ confidently for these wines. You can find the tasting grid on the Court of Masters website.
If you find it difficult to find or afford to taste these wines, start a tasting group with other wine-passionate friends to share the cost. Check out the wine tasting placemats for group tastings.
Read more books about wine. Check out the top wine books recommended by pros.
Geography: What is the primary river that runs through the Piemonte wine region? What are the mountains named in-between Sonoma and Napa? Get to know the wine regions not just by the wines they make, but also by the cities, the mountains, the rivers and the lakes in the regions. These details help tell the story of why a classic wine is the way it is.
Pro Tip: For theory, emphasize breadth over depth; classic regions, grapes and label terms. – Geoff Kruth, Master Sommelier
Foreign language: What do the French call the Alsacian table wine? What do the Germans call their vineyard areas? Learn the foreign language terms used to describe wine.
How frequently do you pour/serve wine? If you don’t, try to volunteer or work 1-2 times a week pouring at a tasting room or wine bar. You need to practice opening and serving wine. The best way to convince a MS that you’re a natural is to actually be one.
Pro Tip: Build yourself a small but diverse wine list in your head that you feel comfortable making suggestions from and know a few details about each wine. -Geoff Kruth, Master Sommelier
What’s a Pink Lady? What’s the base alcohol in a Liberal Cocktail? Get to know your classic drinks. Check out the Savoy Cocktail book or the Ultimate Guide to Spirits and Cocktails and cozy up with a Boulevardier.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to smile and BREATHE… – Thomas Price, Master Sommelier
Being a Sommelier is all about dining How’s your food and wine pairing knowledge? Can you recommend wine pairings with different entrees with ease? Use that wine list you develop (mentioned above) to pair with dinner ideas.
Study the advanced food and wine pairing chart
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