I passed my Intro exam back in 2017. Life has happened since including a new baby, a couple of job changes and more. I feel finally able to double down on my study for the certified exam in July. I have 7 years of experience serving wine, so I'm not too worried about the mechanics. But what keeps me up at night is the tasting and especially the broad knowledge expected in the certified.
I'm working on developing a tasting group in my area of Southern Utah, but it seems that the most regular groups will be in Las Vegas- two hours away. I'll make the travel if necessary so as to work at developing my palate further?
Does anyone have any pointers with regards to study materials, flashcards, and more importantly a regimen that worked for you? I've read plenty of books and study materials, but I just feel like I'm spinning my wheels. How can I make my study for fruitful and efficient?
I am extremely grateful for anyone who takes the time to help a fellow wine geek out.
I'm sure you've read by now that blind tasting is refined through practice. I would say you can do it on you own. What worked for me was openly tasting first, say a new world chardonnay vs an old world chardonnay and taking notes on those, from sight, nose, palate, thoughts, and finally writing about why one tasted the way it did and how it compared to the other. You can do this for any varietal really. Once you've ran through most of the testable varietals, then you can begin blind tasting. I spent a lot of money amassing a significant amount of wine of all types and prices, I would then ask my wife to pick three whites and three reds, cover them, and serve them for me, then I would go through the process of blind tasting them, obviously following the grid. I signed up for Caubles blind six a couple of times as well, those are difficult because you are really putting yourself through the process of blind tasting.
Hope that helps.
I passed Certified in December after studying with a weekly service/theory group in Seattle for several months prior, as well as tasting with 2 groups/week over the last year.
Here are a few semi-concise pointers for each portion of the exam...
Tasting: Memorize the Paradigms.
You’ll find these on the GuildSomm site; you can blind taste and blind taste, but they want to see that you know the classic markers for each testable grape and its provenance — which is to say, typical fruit set (types of fruit and ripeness), structure (acid, tannin, body), telltale winemaking techniques like lees contact or malo, etc.
You may call the right grape, but if you don’t accurately describe it (eg, calling a Gewurtz high-acid, or a Zin low-alcohol), you won’t get the points. Which leads to the other important strategy: check every box, don’t leave anything blank, and only say YES to characteristics that determine your final call. If you’re struggling to find florals in a white or inorganic earth in a red, don’t check that box. Again — focus on the 3-4 telltale markers, based on the paradigms.
Service: Practice Mock Service Again and Again.
We all regularly open bottles, but rarely do we go through mechanics exactly as they’re laid out on GuildSomm — meaning, always moving clockwise around the table, having 2 serviettes (opening the bottle with a serviette is alone worth practicing several times), and all of the the other particularities in their guide.
Watch the Bobby Stuckey video, practice with friends who can rapid-fire theory and producer questions at you while you’re timed (12-15 minutes) and trying to open and serve as gracefully and noiselessly as possible. Memorize classic cocktails and 2-3 producers for every base spirit, each type of beer, and testable wines. Always have a few classic pairings at the ready with producer, wine name and vintage, and why it would pair best with X or Y.
And know your tete de cuvees.
Theory: Read all of the GuildSomm Study Guides and Take all the Online Practice Quizzes.
The consensus among my study group was that everything you need to know is in the guides. Don’t waste time and $$ on expensive books. You should be getting 100% consistently on the beginner quizzes and at least 70% on Intermediate. These will help you find your holes and where to go back and study further.
Look to online sources for the best recent vintages (Piedmont, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Rhone), as you will get at least 1 question on one of these. GuildSomm has also started adding material on vintages.
I also wrote quizzes for myself and friends, which forced me to look up stuff I didn’t already know.
Memorize maps — The Society for Wine Educators has good ones — as a way to memorize subappellations, and premier and grand crus. (You should also know any major rivers / mtns / winds etc for an area.)
Finally, don’t overlook the “Business of Wine” study guide — you will likely get 3 business questions, and the Greece chapter (you’ll get probably 1 ? on Greece).
Hope this helps; good luck!
Thank you for the tasting advice!
Thank you for the insight! And for taking the time for the detailed reply.
Tasting is more about you being able to understand the characteristic's of the wine that lead you to your final conclusion and less about getting the wine 100% right. Theory- If you know the information of the introductory workbook like the back of your hand and with a little more research into the major regions (Burgundy , Champagne, Napa, Germany...ect) you'll do just fine. Drawing maps and understanding the terroir of the regions is very important. Service- Know 3-4 producers from major wine regions to recommend on command. Cocktail's you just need to know main ingredients. Practice opening Sparking wine and know the major players in Champagne. Don't be afraid to show some salesmanship with your food and wine pairings. The examiner will force you into questions you do not know !!! Don't panic and don't BS. All the info you need is in the textbook, on the web site and in the study guides. Lastly, if you're killing the beginner questions in review and getting some of the advanced questions you'll be fine. Hope this is helpful and good luck.
Thank you for taking the time to reply. I appreciate the insight. What specifically should I be researching when I'm looking into the major regions? Just so I'm not wasting my time.
Look at Shayne Bjornholm’s 12 Areas of Study for a Wine Region; this encompasses everything already mentioned in this thread (terroir + geography, major producers, appellations and subappellations, regional classifications) and more.
Will do. Thanks for all the help!