Becoming a Wine Expert

Yay! Another one of our group has taken and passed the Introductory Sommelier Course, with plans to prepare and take the Certified by February. Here’s her take on her experiences in Reno.


My experience in taking the Introductory Sommelier Exam was worth my time.

New Pin!
New Pin!

Deciding to become a sommelier was a careful decision made after being an educator for eleven years and cultivating good relationships with people and considering how or if that would transfer to becoming a wine expert and leave behind the piles of grading papers.

The exam was in Reno, Nevada, on June 19th and 20th. I had started studying in January to discover over twelve countries, each with its unique geography, climate, soils, grape varietals, and wine appellations. When June rolled in with green foliage and blooming flowers, I packed my suitcase and flew to Reno, Nevada, and arrived there June 18th to survey and locate and review the requirements on what materials to bring.

The course and exam took place at the Peppermill Hotel and Casino. The hotel was beautiful, and the service was above standard. When my room was taken for another customer, they immediately upgraded me to a large suite with all the amenities. The whirlpool tub was my favorite.

Upon entering the conference in the Naples Conference room at 8:00 a.m., there were approximately sixty people dressed in business casual attire. The Court of Master Sommeliers website gives you detailed instructions on how one should dress, time to arrive, break times, topics covered per day, and concluded session times. One of the Master Sommeliers greeted us and checked for photo I.D. from each person to check for authenticity; who can blame them when this is a highly prestigious organization, and they don’t need some slick rick paying someone else to take the course and test for him or her. NO recorders or cell phone usages during the entire two-day session. Bring writing materials in order to jot down notes. Laptops or tablets are not necessary because there is little to no elbow room on the tables. Besides, the Master Sommeliers do a fantastic job in covering the materials and answering questions. Less is more.

They Will Lie to You

Everybody in the room, except for the four Master Sommeliers, were extremely tense and nervous. The somms noticed it immediately and tried to calm our nerves by stating that these sessions are a general overview of the understanding the aspects of what a sommelier needs to comprehend the basics. They also mentioned that they would not have us do wine taste deductions like the last year’s participants. Some of us gave a sigh of relief and thought this session would go smoothly.

They lied.

Shannon and one of the Master Somms
Shannon and one of the Master Somms

No person(s) with common sense would have set up a flight (four wine glasses) for sixty people unless they were going to test his/her knowledge of white and red wines. They like playing little pranks so as to keep you sharp. And it worked! So, every hour or two after covering a country that grows grapes and cultivates wines, a Master Sommelier would ask five people to deduce the five components of the first wine. By the end of the second day, the last table was able to distinguish how to taste wine and infer if it is New World or Old World, region, grape varietal, type of wine, and year.

From this point now, I will share what I learned in becoming an initial sommelier.

Don’t be Cocky, but be Confident.
The Master Sommeliers reminded everyone of the four basic rules of being a sommelier: Professionalism, Hospitality, Knowledgeable, Humility. They emphasize humility because this profession is not for people who want to boast or exaggerate how great he or she is as a sommelier. This job is the act of “service.” Act accordingly by checking your ego at the door.

Highlight, Circle, or Write down when a Master Somm who is lecturing declares, “It is important.”
They truly want you to pass and when they emphasize that key regions or villages will be on the exam, take note! All four Master Sommeliers took turns in covering the eleven wine countries, fortified wines, sweet wines, beer, sake, cider, and spirits.

Ask Questions.
They noticed the more questions people asked, the higher the comprehension level emerged. The four Master Sommeliers were highly engaging to interact in helping people know the difference in how each wine villages make their wines and challenges they face to make his or her grapes grow the best.

The best part was when they answered questions, they tied an analogy to life’s events and everyone would laugh because it was hilarious and true. So, ask questions to help you do better on the test.

Study beyond what’s in the Introductory Sommelier Course Workbook.
Although the lecturers did an excellent job in covering the PowerPoint presentation on what may be on the test, I found in my exam that I needed to know the different types of aperitifs and digestifs and the measurement of bitterness in beer, which is International Bitter Units (IBU). If you like IPAs, you know what they are!

Of course, I read different wine books and study online topics of wines, spirits, and wine countries, but I overlooked the herbs and bitters that can stimulate and/or promote digestion and the details of how hops are measured in bitterness in beers.

Study for more than 3 months for this test.
This exam is no joke. Yes, it’s multiple choice of 70 questions, and yet it can cover a plethora of genres in wines, grape varietals, spirits, the process in aging wines, wine laws, geographical locations, etc, etc. One would think everyone would pass since the minimum score is 60%. In contrast, a surprisingly large percentage of people did fail.

Shannon - One week later, new haircut and relaxed!
Shannon – One week later, new haircut and relaxed!

Trust yourself and find great mentors.
If you studied 2 hours every day for 6 months, take 2 personal days off to allow your brain to compartmentalize and synthesize the vast amount of information correctly, and you can pass the exam. I did this and with the help of my mentors, Irene, Andras, Carmine and Cecelia, Richard and Jarlene, Tex and Gidget, Thomas and Shawanda, and Cathy, I might have hesitated on beginning the journey to becoming a sommelier. Great mentors will constantly push you to find your hidden talents and urge you to follow your dreams.

Shannon B.
Shannon B.
The newest Sommelier in our tasting group, Shannon's passion for wine has her focused on making wine her new career. She loves wine, the wine industry, and the wine lifestyle.


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