Sommelier School – The Test on France

9 Dec

          It’s week 7 of my ISG Sommelier Class.  We completed our study of Europe and studied and tasted the wines of Spain, Germany, Austria and Hungary.   We also took the first part of our final exam – an essay on the wines of France.  We are in Part II of our Fundamentals of Wine class and our final has three parts: 100 multiple choice questions, six essays and four blind tastings.  Two of the essays are taken mid-course: one on the wines of France and a second on the wines of Europe.  The remaining four will be part of the overall test on the last day of class.

            I find the amount of information on French wines, even in our introductory level class, staggering.  I made detailed spreadsheets, comparing regions and sub-regions which totaled more than twenty pages.  All in all, I spent fifteen to twenty hours preparing and felt as though I had reached a high level of mastery, if I add the caveat that I’m only talking about the material we actually covered in our textbook and class .  It turned out that the essay question was easy and that my zealous preparation actually hurt me.  I was so focused on the minutia that I made a careless error regarding material I knew well which cost me 1-2 points out of ten.  I’m a bit of an over-achiever by personality and I was so frustrated with myself!!!!  I had worked so hard and with the time limit, just didn’t catch my error in time.  Still, I don’t regret all the studying.  If I’m serious about my quest to become a “wine-expert” it was work that had to be done.

            I like the two-phase approach to the exam.  After experiencing the multiple choice test for Fundamentals of Wine I, and the essay on the most complex region, I feel very confident about the academic portion.  The only uncertainty that remains is those blind tastings….  We had a blind tasting for Fundamentals I, but it was a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that has strong, distinctive flavors and aromas.  On top of that, I enjoy Sauvignon Blanc and in our hot Texas summers drink it often and  and know it well.  I’m very concerned about my ability to identify many of the other varieties we have tasted.  Most of the time, my tasting notes seem to be largely on point when we discuss the wines in class.  I’d tend to put myself somewhere in the middle of the group in terms of what I am generally able to distinguish in a particular wine.  My brother-in-law, Matt, who’s one of my buddies in the class, and I enviously joke about one of our classmates, Stephen.  We call him “the Savant” because he nails the tastings, with humble eloquence, each and every time.  Stephen’s a great guy.  We just wish we had his educated and perceptive nose.  Our teacher has mentioned that the blind tastings are graded on a point by point basis and that if we correctly note appearance, aroma and palate descriptors, that we can still pass, even if we’re clueless in identifying the grape, country or region, at least for this class.

            So while I’m not yet a savant like Stephen, I’m confident in my ability to do well and qualify to advance.  Better yet, I love what I’m learning and that’s the real point now, isn’t it?


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