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Q&A: Preparing for Sommelier Certification

I love hearing y'alls' questions and one I get SO often is about the process of becoming a certified sommelier. I wrote a post that gives an overview of process and a bit about my personal journey. For those who have already decided to go after your certification, I wanted to share some of the things I did to prepare for the exam.

For the certified exam (level 2), there are three parts: deductive tasting, theory, and service practical.

Preparing for deductive tasting:

  • Download the examination tasting grid from the Court of Master Sommeliers' website

  • These are great for practicing! I printed multiple copies off and used them each time I blind tasted while preparing for my exam. Here is the link for the red wine and white wine.

  • Reach out to local sommeliers in you community

  • Most people who love wine, love helping other people who love wine! The Tulsa sommelier community is pretty small, but I had so many reach out to me while I was studying and would pour wines for me to blind taste. It can get pretty expensive blind tasting, so having a friend that is willing to pour tastes from their wine list is a BIG help!

  • Attend a deductive tasting workshop

  • I did not do this, but know people who went and had amazing things to say about the workshop. I have seen some of the workbook that is given during the course and can only imagine how beneficial it would be to attend!

Preparing for theory:

  • Read all the books!

  • Just kidding, I really only read one, The Wine Bible. There are tons of books out there, but this one really did the trick. Very condensed, but has everything you need for this exam. Anytime I hear someone is preparing for the test, reading this book is always my first piece of advice.

  • Make flash cards

  • I am normally not big on flash cards, but with so many facts to memorize, I found that flash cards were necessary. I color coded mine by region and brought them everywhere with me in a gallon ziploc bag #nerdalert

  • Use the workbook you receive during the introductory course

  • If you are taking your certification exam, you have probably already taken your intro exam and you have the awesome workbook they give you for that course. Some brave souls will take their intro and certified in the same weekend, so if that is your plan, see if you can find someone who has a workbook you could borrow.

Preparing for the service practical:

  • Practice, practice, practice!

  • Since you have already made a bunch of somm friends to help you with blind tasting, see if they can also help you with service! Before my exam, I did a full run-through of the service portion and it was very helpful. During this portion they will ask for pairing suggestions, classic cocktail ingredients, and, of course, the opening of the sparkling wine. Funny story...during my exam, I had a bottle of sparkling that WOULD NOT open. I still have never found a bottle so difficult to open! The Master somm tried to open it, she passed it to another Master, and finally someone aimed it at the wall and popped the top. I thought I was for sure going to fail after that!

  • Make a fake wine list

  • I knew they would ask for pairings, so I made a list of traditional varietals, with an old and new world option for each. That way, when the Master somm asked what I would suggest with her lamb burger, I was able to quickly come up with a wine to offer.

  • Don't forget to go over cocktails and beet

  • It is a small portion of the exam, but you have to know your stuff. There is a list on the website of cocktails they test over. Get familiar with this list!

When I took the test, it was just under 1 month from my intro exam and I had been non-stop studying for the certification exam. I was taking my exam in Dallas, so I decided to make a girls' trip out of it. Best decision ever. This way, even if I didn't pass, it would still be a good weekend! On the drive down, my girls quizzed me with my flashcards and helped me relax (I was SO nervous)! They went shopping while I took my exams, and after I got the good news that I had passed the exam, we had the best night on the town celebrating!

Anyone preparing for level 1 or 2?


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