Many students and fellow Master Sommeliers (including me) consider the tasting exam to be by far the most challenging of the three segments of the overall examination. With that I’ve coached an untold number of students taking the tasting exams at both the Advanced and Master’s level over the years. Here’s a summary of advice and suggestions I’ve commonly given to those preparing for the exams. I hope you’ll find it useful.
Using the grid:
Practicing tasting: associative memory and rehearsal
It goes without saying that any student must practice individually and also be part of a tasting group to be successful in the tasting exams. Both are invaluable and irreplaceable. However, after many years of coaching a lot of students I’ve come to believe that associative rehearsal, especially for those experienced students taking the Master’s Exam, can be just as useful as physically tasting wine. That’s simply because once a student gets beyond the Advanced Exam odds are they’ve tasted a great deal of wine and have a considerable, and sometimes remarkable, database of memories from previous wines.
For these students—and all students for that matter—the exam is all about memory, specifically olfactory and palate memory. Improving memory does not require having a glass of wine in hand. I strongly believe that someone at the Master’s Exam level needs to be able to mentally call up the complete experience of a classic wine—as in how it looks, smells, tastes and feels on the palate—almost on command.
With that I recommend students preparing for an exam regularly make time to mentally mock up a flight of six classic wines in an exam-type setting (again, all of this in terms of visualization) and then talk through the wines out loud using the MS grid just like they would during an examination. During this rehearsal the student needs to remember and experience each wine as completely and intensely as possible; seeing the wine clearly in their mind’s eye, smelling it completely and accurately, tasting it fully and noting the flavors and structural elements accurately, and then concluding the wine perfectly while feeling really confident.
Practicing tasting using associative rehearsal accomplishes several things simultaneously: it connects one to their previous memories of various specific components found in wine as well as their overall impressions and memories of classic wines as a package of sight, smell and taste; it also builds recognition in terms of describing a wine perfectly through auditory cognition and recognition. Finally, practicing talking through wines out loud helps to build an inner comfort zone for students in terms of having confidence using the language of the grid and speaking aloud in front of examiners.
I can’t recommend practicing with associative rehearsal strongly enough. So much of the tasting exam is about having confidence with one’s own internal experience, sensitivity, calibration and memory. This is a great way to improve it all.
Thank you for the clarity of what is expected and how to prepare.
Thank you for taking the time to post this. I am preparing for an Advanced in the future and I appreciate straight forward guidance from those who have already been there.
Thank You.. really relate to the philosophy.. great insight.
As usual, great feedback Master Gaiser!!!
Thank you very much for spending the time and effort to put this all down for us. As one starting to study for the Advanced it's great to be reminded of how important starting from a structured standpoint is in tasting(s). I still use the grid in my head every time I taste a new wine or spirit- you and your fellow Masters hammered this home constantly during our instruction. But for those who haven't had the luxury of your tutelage this is fundemental. Thanks again...hoping this finds you well..! Salut!