The Mountain Times

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The challenge of wine tasting, from casual observer to Master Sommelier

If you like wine, you might like the movie Somm. I recently enjoyed watching the story about a few guys preparing for the Master Sommelier test, arguably one of the hardest tests to pass. Only slightly more than 200 people worldwide have reached the level of wine expertise necessary to carry this title, issued by the Court of Master Sommeliers.
To become a Master Sommelier, one has to pass four levels of tests.
The first level requires more than just basic knowledge of wine and wine service. It requires familiarity with specific geographical origins of wines, typical flavor characteristics of most grapes used in wine making as well as the flaws, and enough restaurant experience to be proficient in general wine etiquette as well as matching wine with food.
Once you've passed the first level, you can go for level two, which (if passed) comes with the title Certified Sommelier. This level test is much more rigorous and includes a practical part. Passing level three with a good enough score is the requirement to be invited to the ultimate test: the Master Sommelier exam, by invitation only!
For most of us wine lovers it takes way too much professional commitment to even get started, but it makes for a good movie to watch. The guys go through all the wine tasting rituals.
There is another organization certifying wine expertise: The Society of Wine Educators. Here the basic test is more knowledge based and less practical. The test again requires extensive knowledge of grapes, their typical flavor profile, their origin with geographical, even geological situations, all aspects of wine making from vineyard locations to winery practices. One of the hardest parts is identifying minute flaws in wine, which most people do not even notice. Such flawed bottles are often consumed, but usually only once as most people blame that bad bottle on bad wine and buy a different wine next time, explaining why wineries have such a big interest in educating people about wine.
Passing the first level from this organization makes you a Certified Specialist of Wine, which entitles you to add a 'CSW' to your business card. Level two again is for the really dedicated wine professional, an even harder and more detailed test including blind tastings. There is no study guide, just practice your wine tasting and try to pass!
Even if you are not poised for a wine exam, tasting wine is a lot of fun. It doesn't necessarily have to be what we call a "blind tasting" where the taster does not know which wine is poured and tries to guess the wine, from grape and region to specific wineries and vintages.
Even when knowing which wine is in the glass, it can be challenging to come up with good descriptions and assessments, but it's always fun especially in a group trying different wines together and discussing the flavors. And each person will probably come up with different associations, which can lead to good-humored and cheerful arguments with plenty of fun.