We are incredibly proud of our Assistant Head Sommelier Bea, who, after enormous amounts of hard work and dedication passed the Advanced Sommelier exam. Please do congratulate Bea should you see her in the Club. Bea is pictured here with Matt Wilkin MS and Brian Julyan MS – President of the Court of MS. This is her story…
The preparation for this exam started two years ago. I passed the Certified exam, the level below, exactly 2 years ago before applying for a place to take the Advanced exam in September 2017. It was very daunting at first; how am I going to find the time to study? Am I ready? How am I going to remember everything?
So I started asking a lot of questions to the sommeliers around me that have already passed the exam, and ended up absorbing many different approaches, techniques and ideas. Perhaps asking so many people wasn’t the best idea as I was then overloaded with methods, questions I needed to answer, and aware that I needed to filter through the words of wisdom and begin embarking on my studies.
I must admit, I was scared to face such a big challenge again – I had to quit my degree in Computer Science Engineering because I couldn’t keep up with studying, whilst doing this job that I love so much. I felt the challenge this time was even bigger – balancing a job with studies and a 9-year-old is not an easy task…!
I tried to find some guidance and started to read a book about how to memorise, aptly named “The Memory Book” and I also began to read more in depth writing about particular regions across the world. At the same time, I developed my skills for blind tasting. I think I wrote down, read and repeated all the vocabulary and the “tasting grid” about 10 times a day!
A year ago, I finally received a place to be able to take the exam. I planned a very tight and rigid schedule, where every week I had to study a different subject and a different region. As well as this, I orchestrated weekly blind tastings.
For each region I had to memorise, I created hundreds of flashcards with drawn maps and the names of all the sub regions, north to south. Every day off was spent studying; reading flashcards and practising tasting. I bought all the wines associated with my studies – this was mandatory to be able to recognise the regions and grapes, and I also purchased a Coravin, to do blind tastings from home.
It was a very long process – some days you feel incredibly pressured, and other times you feel you are so much closer to the result. Some days you feel positive, other days negative. It’s a fight to keep the focus and organise yourself to be able to juggle all your commitments that run alongside the exam.
Eventually the day of the exam came, and I felt confident but still very nervous – especially with the tasting section of the exam, as I had failed this module the first time I took the test in the February before my second attempt…
For the theory paper, 90 questions are listed, spanning all wine regions of the world. The practical section is divided into three tables where you are examined on the service side of a sommelier role, handling guests and answering their questions as we do in the Club, including decanting. For blind tastings, you must describe and guess 6 wines, three whites and three reds, in 25 minutes.
At the end of the exam I finally received the result that I had been working incredibly hard to reach – I passed! I felt completely overwhelmed. So relieved, so happy and so excited.
It was wonderful to be able to come back to 67 Pall Mall and share the good news with colleagues and Members. It felt like a hero’s welcome! Looking ahead, I am excited to share my experience with sommeliers and friends who are about to go on their own journey to passing their Advanced Sommelier exam.
Please do come and find me when you are next in the Club, so I can either pass on some newly acquired knowledge or answer any questions you may have!