Manzoni Syrah – 2009 – Tasting Notes

I reviewed the excellent 2009 Manzoni Syrah from California.  It was delicious.


You can buy the wine direct from me if you are in Hong Kong at .

Sunday Wine Tasting With Zin Diva

So my friend Zin Diva came by to taste some wines today for an upcoming event.  Unfortunately, since I am in Hong Kong at the moment promoting our Hong Kong wine offerings for our company there Open 3 Wines, Cody stepped up to the plate to lead the tasting.  Here is what we tasted:

Corralillo – Sauvignon Blanc – 2010 

2013-01-27 11.49.49

This is a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile and who doesn’t love Chilean Sauvignon Blancs?  When I first started drinking wine, I pretty much only drank red.  I didn’t care what it paired with, I just wanted a Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec and I was not open to much more.  Then I started drinking some whites that were either oaked Chardonnays or something on the sweeter side like a Riesling.  Living in San Francisco, where it’s almost never hot, there are few times where something crisp and refreshing was necessary.  It was not until my friends threw a picnic in Marin on a  hot day and people brought Sauvignon Blanc and Rose and I fell in love.  I have been drinking refreshing whites ever since.  This 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from San Antonio Valley, a small wine region on the coast of Chile west of Santiago, is ready to drink now.  Because of the influence of the Pacific Ocean there is a cooling quality which gives the wine a wonderful acidity and produces very aromatic whites. In Chile and Argentina there are more Organic vineyards than other countries due to the high elevation and locations that naturally have fewer pests.  This wine is 100% organic sauvignon blanc grapes which gives it a very clean taste.  I taste tropical fruit, great acidity and it has a long elegant finish. This wine pairs will with fish, shellfish or a warm day or evening.

Gustave Lorentz – Cremant D’Alsace

Cremant DAlsace

I think bubbles are confusing for a lot of people. There are so many different types and so many different attitudes towards bubbles.  Some people just love anything with bubbles in it, whether it’s a Cava – bubbles from Spain, Prosecco – bubbles from Italy, Sparkling – bubbles from anywhere or Champagne – only bubbles from the region in France called Champagne.  Bubbles can be made in different methods resulting in different bubble sizes and amount of bubbles per glass and bottle.  They are typically made into white wines; however, there are sparkling Rose’s and even a few sparkling reds, think Lambrusco from Italy, a fun treat that Morgan Braxton Wine Society Members will have soon.  There are different quality levels of making bubbles: the traditional Champagne method, the Charmat/ Transfer method, and the Carbonation method  – in that order.  Essentially, the traditional Champagne method is just as it sounds and based on France’s elite sense of pride on everything.  This is the original way it is made, it’s the most costly, and arguably produces the best version of bubbles.  There is a whole system of how to make and blend wines in batches, only blending them later, have them ferment with yeast in the bottle versus a vat which gives wines made in this method a nuttiness or complexity not found when using the other methods, adding a “dosage” (blend of wine and sugar) later after the spent yeast is removed by hand and so on. It’s labor intensive even though today, machines mostly do this, but it still requires many more steps.  Next is the Charmat/ Transfer method, a more simple method where all of these steps are done in a vat and transferred to bottles later.  Last is carbonation, simply put the wine is carbonated.  Gustave Lorentz is from Alsace, a region in France that borders the upper Rhine region near Germany and Switzerland.  What does this mean?  It can get really cold in the winter! It has hot dry summers and cold dry winters creating a unique climate for wine.  Also this region has gone back and forth between France and Germany four times so it’s a complicated region, but since 1945 its has been a part of France.

This balanced, clean and zesty wine is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir.  There is lemon rind on the nose and red fruit on the palate.  This wine is made in the traditional champagne method; so when you look at it and taste it, pay attention to the amount of bubbles and the size. Drink to start an evening, indulge at a party, or pair with soft cheese or shellfish.

Koyle Royale – Cab – 2009Koyle Royale

This Cabernet Sauvignon is from the Colchugua Valley, one of the three provinces of the central Chilean region.  Colchugua Valley is home to the ‘Huaso’ or the Chilean cowboy.  This region was also named the worlds best wine region in 2005 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.  It is  is a big red wine and you should decant it for 30 minutes prior to drinking.

Koyle Royal is dark purple with round and velvety tannins and a long finish.  There are underlying notes of dark chocolate, black pepper and an earthiness with some baking spices.  Cody drank this bottle with a steak and loved it.



La Tunella – Friulano 



Friulano is a less common varietal as well.  To clarify, La Tunella is the brand or producer and Friulano is the grape or varietal.  It comes from Colli Orientali DelFriuli up in the northeast part of Italy near Venice.  I know this does not mean much since Italy is the most complicated wine country in the world, with the most amount of wines and regions.   Adding to this, we haven’t heard of most of the varietals or the places they are from so it really seems like its in a different language.  A great fact to take from this is Colli Oriental del Friuli is a sub region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and is an important wine-producing region in Italy located near Venice.

La Tunella is all hand picked and pressed.  Yeast is added to the first fermentation process and then the wine spends time again on the yeast. When this happens its called “sur-lie” aging aka aging on yeast.  The wine is stirred to mix around the yeast,which is called “battonage”.  This process is similar to the Champagne method we discussed, which adds nuttiness and in this case you should smell and taste a little almond.  It’s a beautiful wine with a brilliant straw-yellow color.  On the nose there will be almond, pear and wild flowers.  The balance of floral and fruity characteristics with a smooth, velvety, moderately acidic, dry palate results in a well-structured, delicious wine, drinkable for many occasions.

Don Valentin Bianchi – Lacrado – 2010 Don Valentino

Lacrado is a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from San Rafael, Mendoza in Argentina.   The Mendoza region is considered the heart of the wine making industry in Argentina, producing two-thirds of the all the wine made in Argentina. Mendoza is located in the Eastern foothills of the Andes Mountains spreading into San Rafael in the Southern region.  Don Valentin Bianchi Lacrado comes primarily from two estates situated at 2400-2500 feet above sea level, making it one of the coolest areas in San Rafael.  Enough geography, lets move onto the wine.


Lacrado has an intense color or ruby red, robust intensity and a perfume like nose.  Its velvety smooth, complex with an array of flavors and has a medium-long finish.  Pair it with meat, turkey, chicken and strong cheeses to fully enjoy everything this wine has to offer.



Luca Bosio – Barbera d’Asti D.O.C.G. – 2011 Luca Barbera

Barbera is the varietal produced in Asti, a region in Piedmont residing in the Northwest part of Italy.  The DOC and DOCG labeling means it passed another level of certification from the government so it is considered more exclusive and regulated.  There are acronyms all over Europe: the more letters the labeling has indicates increased importance.  In case you were wondering, D.O.C.G. stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita and it just so happens to be the most important DOCG for Barbera D’Asti in Piedmont, which is where this wine comes from!  Barbera is the third most widely planted Italian red grape.   Some places in California are making Barbera as well, but its popularity has yet to blossom in the states.

Luca Bosio is 100% Barbera from vineyards located in Castagnole Lanze and Costigliole d’Asti, which are 200-330 ft. above sea level.  These grapes come from very specific regions and in this instance they happen to be in amazing locations.  This wine is a great representation of a typical Barbera from D’Asti.  When you figure out its subtle nuances, your palette should taste ample red fruit, cherry, tar, mild chocolate flavors.  Its silky tannins make it a smooth easy drinking red.


Real Compañía – Tempranillo – 2009 Real Campania Tempranillo

A lot of people have not heard of Tempranillo or don’t drink it much, and I think we should put an end to that nonsense.  Tempranillo is to Spain as Cabernet Sauvignon is to Napa, but you can stretch your dollar much further with this grape.  It is possible to spend a fortune, but for every day wines, this grape contains great value.  Tempranillo, coming from the word temprano, defined as “early” in Spanish.  It inherited its name because it ripens several weeks earlier than other Spanish grapes.  The varietal is native to Spain, considered the Nobel grape of the region, and is the main grape used in Rioja.

Real Compañía is from the Manchuela region located in mid-central Spain 2300 ft above sea level.  The area has cold winters, warm summers and the soil is red, calcareous and stony.  The vines range from 30-70 years old, harvested and hand selected.  This wine was made in stainless steal achieving an optimum aroma, color and tannin extraction.  You will get an intense red cherry color with bluish hints, vivid and very fruity aromas of blackberries, red currants, cherries and black licorice.

This Tempranillo has good structure, is well rounded, very fruity with a long finish.  Pair it with rice dishes, paella, pasta, meats, or enjoy it with light appetizers.

Valentín Bianchi – Malbec – 2010 Valentin Malbec

This winery is a 3rd generation, family owned winery originating in 1928.  It is notorious throughout Argentina for producing outstanding wines.  This grape also comes from Mendoza, which is located in the Eastern foothills of the Andes Mountain and San Rafael in the Southern part. Malbec originated in France and is one of the six blending grapes used in Bordeaux.  It is grown in regions other than Bordeaux, France, but with only a few exceptions is always blended in France.  Contrarily in Argentina, it stands alone and is their most famous grape to date.  It is a thin-skinned grape that requires more heat and sun than many other reds do in order to ripen properly.  Malbecs are usually an inky red or violet intense wine and pair well with food since they inhabit a big bold nature.

Valentín Bianchi is all estate grown coming from the Doña Elsa Estate in Ram Caída, San Rafael, Mendoza at 750 meters above sea level with sandy calcareous soil of alluvial origins.  The grapes were handpicked and fermented with the skins.  The juice was drained, pressed and went through auto clarifying racks and then spent 6 months in French and American Oak barrels.  The end product has a deep purple color with aromas of ripe plums, cherries, hints of vanilla and coffee.  The flavors simulate the aromas with a powerful yet elegant mouth feel followed by a long finish.  This wine has endless options for pairing, but make sure its something with a lot of flavor (think rich meats and cheeses).

Tasting wine

Sniffing Wine


There is a huge difference between drinking and academically tasting.  I find both immensely enjoyable; however,  it’s much easier to just drink wine than it is to really taste, process and deductively reason what and why a wine tastes the way it does.

Today I was sitting in one of my tasting groups and I was more silent then normal.  In my tasting groups everyone brings a bottle of wine and we all blind taste the wine and try and deduce what it is.  Everyone in my group believes that this is the best method for preparing for the second level Sommelier Exam.  You can check out how to start your own tasting group here.

I watched each person taste and give their best possible educated guess while everyone else was silent.  We have a rule that unless the person who has the stage asks for help we all keep our guesses and thoughts to ourselves.  This made me realize how lucky I am to have such a great group.  Everyone is polite, respectful and knowledgeable and it utterly impressed me.  I think that is the key to a great tasting group – mutual respect as well as patience and passion.

Each person took their five or so minutes in the spot light where  they turned everything off in their head and solely focused on what was in their glass.  They named off so many things; the wine is clear, bright, yellow fading into a watery rim, medium viscosity, sound, clean, aromatic, youthful, young, under ripe green apple, meyer lemon, slight stone fruit, a hint of under ripe white nectarine, crushed rock, wet slate, limestone that has just been rained on for the first time in the season, white lilly and possibly some other white flower, no oak – it must be a sancerre  (Don’t worry if you don’t understand all these terms yet I will explain them to you over the coming months).  I loved listening to the members of my group being able to rattle of the descriptors like they are reading a poem, I am always impressed.  These people are not always serious though; I have seen many of them get drunk on wine without thinking about what it was.  Drinking to taste and learn is different than drinking to become intoxicated and it takes some effort but is also a lot of fun.

I know that when we are not doing blind tastings, where the pressure is on to get the wine varietal right and not miss the obvious characteristics of the nose or the palate, my tasting group members (who can smell the difference between stewed fruit, ripe fruit or dried fruit) drink like anyone else who can hold their own over an evening.  I guess thinking about that makes me less intimidated.  I like knowing that they also just drink to enjoy or get a buzz going.

Wine Spilling

Either way, my point is that there is a huge difference in tasting and drinking.  I will go more into depth with this later.  For now, if you want to learn more about wine, pay attention and take your time.  Look at the wine, see what you can gather from the sight alone.  Is it murky, are there bubbles, is there a rim variation because this can tell you how youthful the wine is (more rim variation, where the color changes from the outside to the middle) which can mean that the wine is older.  Smell the wine, what stands out, what is hidden, how does is change in the glass?  Take a long sniff in and a few short ones, figure out the best spot for you the hold the wine glass in relation to your nose.  The more you practice this, the better you get.  Also, start paying attention to smells that happen around you, go on a hike and smell the woods, smell herbs, produce and flowers – this will increase your wine vocabulary.  Smells will be easily recognizable and instead of being on the tip of your tongue – the descriptors will be out in the open impressing people.  Then, taste the wine, hold it in your mouth, try and breath some air in to let more flavor disperse.  Here you are trying to confirm what you smelled and see what else you may get or not.

This is a complicated process and I just quickly summed it up.  More to come but there is a difference between tasting and drinking.  Some days a quick cheers and bottoms up is all you want and thats great too.

Old World vs New World


What are “Old World Wines or New World Wines?”

People often talk about old and new world as both a classification and a style; its helpful to know what people mean.  The best and easiest explanation of Old World vs New World wine was told to me by a wine salesperson in Sonoma.

“Old World is everything in the soil.  New World is everything above the soil.”

Essentially “old world” is Europe and “new world” is everything else.  Once you start reading more about it and discover South Africa has been making wine since the 1600’s and almost all of Europe is making wine now, some starting fairly recently, it can seem a little confusing but just stick to the simple rule that “old world” refers to Europe and “new world” is everything else.

As for flavor profile, it’s hard to describe all wines from a region with the same adjectives.  Over and over again I hear people say they like new world wines, “because they are more fruit forward.”  This means that when you smell and taste the wine, the first descriptors that come to your mind are fruit and could be anything from boysenberry all the way to grapefruit.  On the contrary, people often say they like old world, “because they are earthy, rustic, and musty wines.”  This doesn’t mean that old world wines are lacking fruit or new world wines are missing earthy notes.  It merely means that fruit or earth are their most prominent characteristic.

The explanation I was given has painted a pretty picture in my head where the sun is shining, there are rolling hills, a red clay type soil, a picket fence and perfectly placed oak tree sitting in the center surrounded by perfect rows of vines.  Anyway, he said that old world wines are everything below the soil and new world wines are everything above it.  So, old world wines take everything from the earth, soil, minerality, dirt, fossils etc and those characteristic will show through in the wine.  Many of these wines let the terrior make the wines.  Terrior according to Wikipdia “is the special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place bestow upon particular produce such as wine, coffee or tea.  Agricultural sites in the same region share similar soil, weather conditions, and farming techniques, which all contribute to the unique qualities of the crop. It can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product.”  New world wines are everything above the earth, the sun, the irrigation, modern technology, the wine maker. Since the new world has started making wine more recently then then old world, there is more modern techniques that can be used.  As a result, we borrow this word in English since there is no direct translation and in French there is no word for wine maker.  They have something called a vigneron or someone who cultivates a vineyard since they place less importance on the wine maker and more on the terrior.

Thus, old and new world wines have very different flavor profiles.  I love drinking wines from all over; there is a perfect wine for every occasion.  Often I like old world wines with food and new world wines without, but that isn’t even always true.  I prefer drinking whites during the day as opposed to reds, but again there are plenty of exceptions.  I think the key is to be able to categorize wines so you can have a better idea of what you like and why.  Being able to articulate descriptors in order to get help from your server at a restaurant, someone at a wine shop or being at a friends house can enhance the occasion where the wine will be consumed. The most important part is liking the wine so whatever your preference may be, that is the right choice.

Taking the Sommellier Level 2 Exam

Inspecting a Wine Glass

There are fewer people who have taken this test versus the Level One Sommellier Exam, that’s for sure.  With each test the success rate goes down exponentially.  A side effect of this is that there are less people you can use as a good reference for any questions you may have.  I was lucky and able to tap into the network of  people I used to work with.  In addition to that I was able to tap into a group of people I met through the Guild of Sommeliers website.  We formed a few tasting and study groups which were immensely helpful.  Check out my guide to setting up a tasting group to help get you started. I was able to ask my network some questions; however, I  always got mixed messages on what to expect.

The test seems to be constantly changing, or at least people’s memories of what to expect keep changing.  What I experienced and I took the test in Campbell, CA on June 20th was a three part test: tasting, theory ( the written portion) and service.  The whole test really doesn’t take that long.  You have one hour to complete together both the tasting section first and the theory section second.  I completed the test at the culinary institute which was a very nice facility in the middle of nowhere, and perfect for this test.  Each seat had its own water fountain and an area for glasses waiting to be analyzed with great lighting.  It was the standard tasting grid that you can get on the website and you are tested on their standard wines (the wines on the list I cover in my how to set up a tasting group post).  For the tasting part, having formed a tasting group and practicing a lot over the last month was helpful.  Use the skills you have hopefully learned and don’t second guess yourself, your first instinct is usually correct. (I passed the tasting section!)

Then, as soon as you finish the tasting section, raise your hand and a master sommelier takes your two pieces of paper with your best guess of what the wines are.  Its time to quickly move on to the theory portion.  So, forget what just happened, hope for the best and start remembering everything that used to be so esoteric but now comes second nature (You know your third growth Bordeaux like the back of your hand, right?)    Also remember: you must pass each section with 60% or better.  It’s not 60% overall, it’s on each section.  There are no grades but they do call out the person who did the best and reward them.

The theory section is when it’s time to show what you know and quickly (remember you only have one hour to do both tasting and written exam).  It is mostly multiple choice but there is a significant part of fill in the blank and matching.  They tell you not to tell anyone what was on it and I don’t want to abuse their secrecy by any means.  I am merely going to lay out what to expect so you can mentally prepare for it.  There are some matching sections where you can use an answer twice so process of elimination goes out the window!  The multiple choice wasn’t hard (I think: I did pass this section, but who knows what I missed).   You do not get a grade, or a list of what you got right and wrong or anything really; which is why people are not able to help you much on what is going to be on the exam. The second I walked out of the room, everything was erased from memory and I had to work hard to recall what was on the test.  It’s a bunch of random questions, some seem incredibly easy, some require a bit of thinking and others are merely an shot in the dark since I had never heard of the terms in some of the questions (luckily that was only a couple of questions).

The next section of the test is service.  I felt  inept in this area ahead of time and while I was taking it I was pretty sure this was the section that could keep me from passing.  I felt pretty confident in the other sections, maybe even a little too much.  There is a long gap between the first part of the test and the service part.  I had my Tasting and Theory test at 8:20 am though they request arrival at 8am.  That part lasts from 8:20-9:20 and then is following by a one to two hour gap which maybe changes based on your class size.  After sitting outside and talking with peers about what the test was about, what the wines were,  some last minute totally not beneficial cramming, you are then required to meet in a room where a master sommelier will summon you onward.  You stand in a hallway for a few minutes, a master sommelier tells you what restaurant you are pretending to be in, what wine you are serving, and then it’s ready set go!  Five of us, five master sommeliers and just like that you are waiting tables at a 5 star restaurant, no joke.  You prepare the wine, practice the right levels of what is in the glass, remember to line your tray with a linen, put the glasses in the right order, walk with a tray of glasses, don’t bump the invisible guests and always walk clockwise!  It seems ridiculous since there is only one person sitting there, but that’s what is expected.  Know your cocktails, know your spirits, know food pairings and why, and sell everything you recommend.  I found this part difficult since I have been on the sales side of wines and not service.  As wine sales reps, we open bottles and pour – thats it!  No fine dining, no linens, no order of putting down glasses and picking them up, carrying trays, having an extensive wine list of different price points in the back of your mind ready to regurgitate with a perfect pairing.  Now I know…. I don’t want to stress anyone out at all as the other parts for me were not that difficult.  If you have restaurant experience – it really is an extreme advantage on this section.  The people in my class who had a service background passed this section.  After completing your service there is a long gap of waiting and stressing.  It was about five hours after the test when I  came back to hear the result.  The test on the website says its from 8-5:30, that is not the case.  It is a lot of waiting. until your fate is called out in front of everyone.  Unfortunately, I did not get to celebrate with the small group of people who passed.  You receive a feedback card and mine highlighted my lack of serving experience.

So in the end, I passed two sections and failed one – therefore I did not pass.  I am signing up for the next one and have some practicing to do!  Next time I will get my Certified Sommelier Pin.  Good luck to everyone else! 🙂

How to Set Up a Tasting Group

Tasting groups are a great way to socialize, taste a bunch of wines for a small investment and learn a lot about wines in a laid back setting.  The hardest part about tasting groups is setting them up, but here are some ways to make it easier.


First, you need to have someone who is going to be responsible for putting the groups together.  Chances are, if you are reading this, it’s going to be you.


Second, you need to find a committed group of people.  Ask people who are really into learning more about wine.  The good news is more people than you think want an education in wine but don’t have the time or confidence to step out of their comfort zone to start the process.  Start by putting the word OUT.  Since there are so many avenues of social media, just start posting.  See who responds and put together an email list of those people.  Sending out a group email with everyone Cc’d on it gives people a sense of community and accountability.  Start on FaceBook, become a member of the Guild of Sommeliers , post in there, linkedin and whatever other group you are a member of and see who responds.  Put an email blast out and there you go.


Third, pick some days and times that work for most people then start.  Six or seven people is a great number to have at a tasting. That way everyone can bring a decent bottle and try 6 or 7 wines which is plenty for a night when you are really tasting for education.  Usually people cancel last minute so try aiming for eight or nine people.


Fourth, pick a theme.  The first one should be fun and yummy because it needs to get people hooked so they want to come back for more and commit to making it a weekly event.


If you want to study for the sommelier exam I recommend starting with these as they are what you will be blind tasted on for level II.  There is no blind tasting for level I.


The red grapes can be a) Gamay b) Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot c) Pinot Noir d) Syrah/Shiraz e) Sangiovese f) Zinfandel g) Malbec h) Nebbiolo


Whites a) Chardonnay b) Sauvignon Blanc c) Chenin Blanc d) Riesling e) Viognier f) Pinot Gris/ Grigio g) Gewurtztraminier


And they will be from a) France b) Italy c) US d) Australia e) Germany f) New Zealand g) Argentina


If you are NOT studying for an exam and just want to have fun tasting and learning more I think everyone bring one of their favorite wines that is single varietal (aka grape) just so you can learn what varietals should taste like and people can develop their palate from there.


Fifth, have someone bring paper bags for everyone. This way everyone can blind taste without being able to tell which one is your wine. Have everyone take off the cork and foil ahead of time, then place their own wine in a bag, put it on the table and walk away.  The host or someone else can number the wines 1 – however many people attend the tasting.


I find that blind tasting really makes you learn a lot and use your senses more so than knowing what you are tasting and training yourself by familiarizing each wine to your memory.


Look at the color, the viscosity, the clarity etc.  Pay attention to the nose and learn which wines have which characteristics.  Each wine and remember acidity levels, tannins, oak, fruit, earth etc and remember what each thing means.

Look for my upcoming guide on tasting to help with the actual tasting group!

This is a really fun process.  Enjoy and let me know what on here was helpful and what is missing.

Sommelier Level 1 Course and Exam


Being Put To The Test

On the afternoon of May 1st I found out I got into the heavily waitlisted Level 1 sommelier exam.  After about five minutes of being excited, the nerves overtook and I started to panic.  I really didn’t know what was on the test or if I needed more time to study.  I assumed and hoped that my method of last minute cramming that worked in college and my four years of experience in the wine world would suffice.  In addition, I had some time to study, so I opened up Karen MacNeils Wine Bible and started reading.  Also, when you sign up for the first test, the Guild of Sommeliers gives you access to their website (normally $100 per year) but is included in $525 to take the test.  I would say its pricey, but the website is pretty amazing and the cost includes the two days of classes which prepares you for the test as well as a lot of tasting.  The website also has tons of notes on the areas you are quizzed on so going back and forth is helpful.  I also had the Sothebys encyclopedia which I didn’t use as much for the first test but I am now for the second.

I did a bit of research and asked around how the test was and heard mixed reviews.  People who had a fair amount of wine experience said it was not too bad, people who just started studying (within the year) said it was hard, people who had already passed the first or second said is was a piece of cake.  I had mixed emotions about all three responses.  I thought I fell into the first group as I had a fair amount of wine experience but more on the sales side.  I was nervous for the people who just started studying and didn’t know much about wine, but good for them, there is no better way to learn.  As for the third group, this one freaked me out since I had no intention of stopping at level 1.

The course started at the bright and early hour of 8am where they served coffee and tea which was a nice touch and was hosted at the hotel Monaco right in the Tenderloin of SF (not the best neighborhood) but the inside was cozy, comfortable, clean and perfect for the large group of eager and excited soon to be level 1 sommeliers.

The course is led by two different sets of Master Sommeliers, one for the first day and one for the second.  There was the course director who was there both days, but each Master Sommelier led different topics.  Breaking each subject up with a different person kept it pretty interesting.

I think its important to know how specialized and talented these people are.  Each one of them are the top Sommeliers in the world.  There have been less than 200 people to ever achieve this status.  It is quite an experience to have four or five in the room at the same time both days.  There are four levels; Level 1, Level 2 – a certified sommelier, Level 3 an advanced sommelier and Level 4 – the master sommelier.  Each test gets exponentially harder.  In order to even get to Level 3, you have to be invited as well as have a sponsor.  Level 4 means they are pretty much wine gods.

You also will receive a 207 page introductory course workbook which outlines the course so you don’t have to take violently aggressive notes that hurt your hand and are illegible, so that part worked well for me.  You can still highlight, doodle and underline all you want since you get your very own workbook to keep.

They start with a welcome introduction and move right into a flight so it’s a good idea to drink coffee ahead of time so as to not destroy your taste buds and have a chance at guessing what the wines are.  They talk about winemaking and move right into France which is probably the most important country to know a lot about.  This was and is my problem; I have never sold French wines nor spent a lot of time reading about them, I just know I love them.  It made me a little bummed to think about how much French wine I have drunk in my life yet still couldn’t name most of the regions or the varietals grown in them or even be able to ramble off the names of villages and chateaus that some serious wine snobs are able to do so effortlessly.  My coping mechanism as to not feel regret is to know that I have a lot more tasting to do!  They divide up the regions and break it up with flights of wine.  The nice thing is the tasting flights are solely for your benefit to educate you and prepare you for the second exam as there is no blind tasting on the first exam.  The course covers France, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, North America, Italy, Germany, Austria/ Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, Beer, Spirits, some food and wine pairing and some wine service.

It sounds like too much to cover in two days and it is!  That’s why it’s just an introductory course.  They give you an overview of everything.  It is helpful and you learn a lot, but it goes by really fast.  If you have no wine knowledge and go into the two-day course expecting it to be enough to get you to pass, I would think again.  If you have a pretty solid background of wine, this should be enough to help you pass.  The passing rate is 60% so that should make you feel a bit less intimidated and the master Sommeliers want you to pass this test!

Its multiple choice questions that you don’t get to take home, nor do you find out how many right or wrong or which ones they were.  It makes cheating pretty hard.  I would say study regions, the main grape varietals, basic wine geography, history of wine laws in France, Italy, the U.S., AVA info, some beer/ spirits/ sake (though this is a very small portion), apertif/ digestiv (also a really small portion) and some overall history.  It sounds pretty vast but really focus on France, Italy, U.S., Spain and then some Australia/ New Zealand.  You will have some questions on Germany, Chile, Argentine, South Africa and Austria but these are by far outweighed by the first bunch.

At the end of day two they read off the people who passed because the Master Sommeliers grade this 75 multiple-choice question on the spot.  It looked like most of the class passed and you are rewarded with a glass of bubbles, a hand shake, a pin, a certificate and the ability to sign up for the next course.

After I was done, I drank some champagne, had a wonderful dinner and signed up for Level 2!

Italian Wine Culture in a Single Paragraph

Food and Wine at the Golf Course

I love the Italian approach to drinking and eating; it’s what made me fall in love with wine.  Right now I am studying for my Level II Somelier Exam and I am going back and forth between books.  In The Wine Bible Karen McNeil quoted one of her Italian friends explaining the Italian affinity between food and wine:

“If someone drinks a little too much wine, the Italians do not say he has drunk too much.  Instead they say he has not eaten enough food yet.”

I Love This!

I think this sums my attitude towards wine and food.