Chris Dillman discusses the trials and tribulations of the exam.
Columbus' own, and our very fine Wine Wisdom author, Chris Dillman did not succeed in passing his Master Sommelier exam last month. That does not diminish the talent of Dillman or his ability to write. The bartender at Sage American Bistro is a valued asset and a pretty nice, unpretentious guy.
Here is his recent journey, in his own words (with careful, but minimal, editing):
"During the third week of August, 48 wine professionals from around the country gathered in the Dallas suburb of Las Colinas to take a shot at the Master Sommelier exam. All had to successfully pass three previous exams to even qualify for an invitation to the Master Exam. Like the previous exam, the Master consists of three portions: Theory, Tasting and Service. However, the difficulty of the testable information and the score needed to pass increase markedly. To offset the increased challenge the candidates need not pass all three sections at once. They have three successive tries to pass the three sections. After that the count resets.
"The Theory portion of the exam is oral and the candidate is responsible for not only wine but spirits, sake, oenology, viticulture and the laws that apply to all of them. Questions can range from 'What is the most planted varietal of Cyprus?' to 'Name the four appellations for Peruvian Pisco.' Although not every candidate took the theory section, only two passed.
"The Tasting portion consists of the blind tasting of six wines in 25 minutes. In addition to the region, country and varietal a full structural analysis (percentage of alcohol by volume, oak use, acid levels, fruit character) is needed to pass. Given the capricious nature of blind-tasting the majority of the candidates did take it. Only three passed.
"The Service portion involves Champagne service, red wine decanting and spirit tasting. In addition, extensive knowledge of spirits, vintages and the world's iconic wines and the ability to recommend them is essential. Again, not all of the candidates sat for the Service portion but the majority did. Between 12 and 20 examinees passed the Service portion and I was amongst them.
"To put these numbers and the severity of the exam in perspective, of the 48 candidates one new Master, Kathryn Morgan of D.C., emerged after her sixth try. Although not passing the exam was disappointing, I do feel that passing one section and coming very close on a second was quite an accomplishment."