- Level I is the Introductory Course & Exam
- Level II is the Certified Sommelier Exam
- Level III is the Advanced Sommelier Course & Exam
- Level IV is the Master Sommelier Diploma Exam.
Every year the Court of Master Sommeliers holding courses and exams one or two times in Europe but also in America and Asia. One has to hurry because there is a high demand and they are always fully booked. There was availability in Athens, Greece but there was also one in Gumpoltskirchen, Austria which is much closer for me (3 hours car drive), but this was fully booked long time ago. And for Athens I had to wait until somebody cancels or not pays the fee for the courses. I was lucky that somebody didn’t pay before the dead line and I got space, that happened to be in September 2015, and the course was between 24 and the 26 of November 2015. So I went for it and started to get prepared. I got mails from the W.S.P.C. The Place To Study Wine, which was the host and location in Athens for the Court of Master Sommelier, which recommended Hotels, schedules, and confirmation that the fee has reached their account I booked a hotel close by and a flight ticket from Munich to Athens on Monday the 23.11 and back on the 27.11.2015.
Then it was time to study, I went to a print shop with a memory stick with all the Important wine countries and regions like Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Loire, Spain, Champagne and many more printed them out and hung them up in my room, to get this pictures into my head. I took all the books and information and researches I did out and I knew I got about two month time to study all of it.
But then I realized at one point, it is so much!!! What is it I exactly should study?
If somebody ever studied Wine, knows that the wine world is so much bigger then France, Italy, Spain no it is Australia, Chile, Argentina, Grecce, Bulgaria, New Zealand, Hungary and not to forget Germany and many many others. I thought that it is the lowest category of the course, so I focused on the “old world” was we call it, or simply just Europe.
On the website of the Court of Master Sommelier and the mails I received it was mentioned that the exams for the Introduction level a 60 questions multiple choice theory test will be hold in 45 minutes and to pass this test 60 percent has to be correct and then a practical service with wine service has to be done. However to qualify for the Certified Sommelier Exams one has to have 70 percent correct.
The Certified Sommelier exams contains of blind tasting two wines one white and one red, and 40 multiple choice and short answers theory all together in 45 Minutes, followed buy a practical test. In all three subjects more than 60 percent has to be reached.
With having this in mind I got swallow into my books, I even bought knew books and recommend everyone who want to do this exams to buy them, Oxford Companion to Wine from Jancis Robinson and the Wold Atlas of Wine from Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. Then i asked my parents to buy wine so I can blind taste them at the same time I held wine tasting for my family, which they were not angry about, and they asked me a lot of questions which answered and if I didn’t know, I checked on the web or my books. For two month I was chained to my books, but I studied for one or two days but in between I went fishing to give myself time let it sink in and not stress my brain to much. You need also to relax otherwise you will not be able to remember anything.
Then the time had come, Monday the 23.11.2015. After receiving mail from that office in Athens, Greece with a dress code, Business Suit and schedule that every evening will be a winemakers dinner with Greek winemakers, except the evening before the exams, I quickly realized: It is going to be a busy week! Monday evening winemakers dinner, Tuesday class from 9:00 until 19:00 with following winemakers dinner, Wednesday class 9:00 until 19:00, Tuesday whole day Exams and winemakers dinner, Friday flight at 15:55.
I arrived at the Hotel Nestorion, which was recommended from the office and is about 15 minutes walking distance away from the office, but hold a map prepared. The hotel was good, clean, very helpful staff and about 45 Euro per night with breakfast. That is all you need, because you are not going to spend a lot of time in their anyway.
On Monday the dinner was great the wines from Crete, LYRARAKIS WINES, which had a white wine called Dafne, which turns out to be a grape variety and will perhaps never forget it. But as one can assume you are more busy of making contacts with colleagues and the two Master Sommeliers which are holding the classes. In our case it was Matt Wilkin and Brian K. Julyan. The candidates for the class are from all around the world, Austria, Spain, Singapore, Dubai, Canada, Italy, Greece, Japan, Norway, Sweden, England, France and Turkey. My table neighbour turned out to be Eugen F.V. Lamprecht, Head Sommelier at the Hotel Fuschl in Austria, which is Italian, Südtirol spoke German and we started to hang out during our trip.
The dinner was quickly over at 23:00 and you can imagine that everybody is over exited to attend the class to get it over with.
The classes on Tuesday and Wednesday are quite the same, going thru important wine regions a bit viticulture and about the Court of Master Sommelier. Also they explained that only classical wines are blind tasted. During the coffee breaks they poor wines for blind tasting experience and how they want to have it, and they will involve everbody to speak out loud, the Master Sommeliers help you a lot.
All in all a good experience and the tutors are always said during the lectures that by now should know this or you should take notes of that.
On Wednesday evening the day before the exams I decided to look thru my notes I made during these two days and let it go, because on that point studying new thing is hopeless. So I watched a football/Soccer game and fell asleep.
Then the day has come for the exams, since we where so many we started at 8:00 instead of 9:00. Fully focused and nervous I woke up at 6:00 and had breakfast and went to the office, where everybody was waiting and looking in their books and silence was in the room. Then the door opened and we where split into two groups, everybody could sit everywhere. Matt Wilkin explained us on how to work our selfs thru theoretical test with reading first all the questions and the mark the difficult ones and fill in the ones we know for sure and come back to the ones we do marked before. And this was a really good idea, because based on the ones you made which you are sure off you can count them together and see how any percentage you have and remember you need 60 percent. So from 60 questions more than 36 questions have to be right. After filling in all the ones I know, I realized that 10 questions are market and did not know the questions, so I worked on instinct and logical thinking. Some of the questions were standard knowledge of a Sommelier, but some where quite tricky and you could only know if you work in high end Restaurants.
However after 25 Minutes I was done, with a good feeling but you are not aloud to leave the room to not disturb others.
After about one 30 minutes people got called into a room and the Master Sommeliers calls up your name. I was first on the list and Brian K. Julyan said: Matthias would you wish to proceed further to the Certified Level? And was really happy but in professional way and said Yes,Sir! Then it was clear I had over seventy percent correct.
Great I thought, then we had to wait because they had to prepare for the Certified level. Eugen did not want to proceed further, because he did not have time to study enough but passed the Introduction level. At ten o clock it was time they called us in for the exam. You come into the room where two turned over papers and the two wines, red and white. He recommended us to do the tasting first and then the theory and we have 45 minutes and starts now. So I took the white wine and the minerality smacked into my face, medium acidity, dry, a bit grass, no oak, floral, lime, lemons and a long finish. Chablis it has to be, so filled in all the boxes. The red wine light colour a bit brownish, the nose, ripe, cherries, blueberries, complex and burned rubber, tobacco, medium minus bodied, medium acid, dry, medium minus tannins and a long finish. Pinot Noir, Bourgogne maybe premier cru a bit unsure there but Pinot Noir I am certain. With the confidence of the tasting I turned the theoretical exam. And my confidence disappeared like a Ferrari on a German Autobahn. I did the same strategy, leaving the difficult ones out and fill in the ones I know. Doing this and realizing: Shit you need 15 more, makes you wanna throw up. Collecting yourself and get the thinking and analysing on. But questions of wine region and appellations you never heard of like Moses Lake, Mount Vernon or Thracian Valley in your life does not make it better and one starts to guess. After giving in my paper and leaving the room I thought no never going to pass that one.
Like they told us before, there is a list with names at which time we have the practical test. My time was at four, I looked at my clock and it was 11:00, o my good I have to wait five hours now!!
So went and left the building to get myself a sandwich and a water, waiting with the other ones which are convulsive reading books or papers makes me only nervous. With thoughts of not passing the theory to be realistic, I said to my self that it is fine and I know now that I have to study more and I will come back and do it again. On my way back I met some others who made practical already and of cause I asked them how it went. And they told me that they ask a lot of questions like which wine would you serve to which dish, and a alternative to that from a new/old world but with vintage grape varieties and producer, what is the base spirit of cocktails and much more. So I went back and started studying, producers, liquors and started panicking.
At 15:30 Brian came and said I should do it now since one didn’t show up. So I went into the room together with one more and I had to serve for Matt, he told me to open the bottle of sparkling wine no need to present the bottle and poor 8 glasses, but when you are finished with one glass you are not allowed to go back. Ok. I cut the foil, open the cache and started to twist the bottle. But the cork did not go out, it was impossible, it felt like ages, I looked at him and said it wont come out, he said how far you are? I said maybe half! I continued to twist and twist. After I think 5 minutes I finally got the cork with a silent blob out. My arm hurt I was shaking. I have served Queens and Kings from around the world but I was never so nervous of pouring a glass of sparkle. When I was done he told me to serve three glasse on his table which was set up with three covers and on one was a white paper with Lady written on. Well fine did that he said go and pick up the other five and go towards the wall and back, just see if you can carry a trey. So I did that and went fine. Then he said put it down and come to me, I am going to ask you some question. He asked me what I would serve to grilled Salmon, so I asked back grilled as you mean barbequed? He said yes. And I asked him what is coming with it, he said I could choose. I picked a Chardonnay, California, Napa, Stags Leep Winey. He asked which vintage? I said 2011! He said why? I said because of the acidity and it is oak barrel aged and this fits well together with the smokey flavours of the fish but I amended that only if there is no sauce to it. He said give an old world alternative. I gave him a Mersault, Bourgonge, Bouchard Pere et Fils 2009
Then he asked me for sweet wine outside of France, and the choice was easy: Ruster Ausbruch, Kracher, 2009. And he said great wine. Then he asked me for the base spirit of White Lady and Negroni. Liquor with nut flavour and a Armagnac producer, etc.
Leaving this room feeling good and satisfied with my self, i got hit back hard from my theory exam.
After waiting an hour we got called all together to the room were Matt came and said goodbye to everyone, he had to catch a plain.
Brian came with the results and said the good news is that everybody passed the Introduction level. Everybody got their hands together, and every single person came forward to pick up their diploma.
AND IT HAPPENED, HE SAID MY NAME!!!!!!!
I said no f***ing way, I was screaming my lungs out. It is impossible to describe on what you feel. This was the best day of my life. All this patience, mental stress, pain, money and studying paid out, this day is going into history. Everybody who has done it knows that feeling, it is as you are flying and are the king for that moment. It is unbelievable....
The next day I woke up had breakfast relaxed and couldn’t believe what happened the day before, but the pin was still there!!
Now it is time to relax until after Christmas and New Year, then starting the preparations for the Advanced Sommelier and starting working somewhere.
However at this point I would like to say my very special thanks to:
My Parents for believing and never doubted it:
Mathilde and Josef Voglreiter,
My brother and sister for supporting and motivating:
Monika Breitsameter and Diego Ordonez,
Franz, Martina, Gabriel and Magdalena Breitsameter
(And sorry if caused for any liver damage/ high alcohol consumption)
To all the wineries at the wine maker’s dinners for their generous invitations:
Organisations and People behind it for making it possible
Court of Master Sommelier
- Matt Wilkins MS
- Brian K. Julyan MS
W.S.P.C. The Place to Study Wine
- Konstantinos Lazarakis
My Friends for believing in me:
Eugen F.V. Lamprecht
And all the People i met during the trip and i am sorry if i didn’t mention your name, they all got replaced by grape varieties