This last week, I joined a couple hundred other wine nerds on a sacred and brave pilgrimage to the Holy City of Dallas (in Jerry Jones’ name, we pray) for The Court of Master Sommelier’s Advanced Sommelier Course. Basically three intense days of in-depth lectures, blind tasting seminars, and humble brags disguised as questions posed to the Masters. This course is required before one is allowed to sit for the Advanced Exam, which is akin to a Master’s Degree in the world of wine and beverage service. Funny, huh? You would think that the Master Sommelier Certification would be like a Master’s Degree, but that’s more like a Supreme Omnipotent Being and Studies in Magic Degree. I’m pretty sure they get a scepter upon passing and just don’t tell anyone. I think they may be legally allowed to commandeer airplanes.
The Masters. These men and women are basically our rockstars. I don’t doubt there is a poster of a shirtless Geoff Kruth decanting a ’82 Château Margaux hanging in a wine room somewhere at this very moment. These are the absolute experts in our field, having successfully passed one of the most challenging tests on the planet. The only examinations I can even imagine being more difficult is whatever neurosurgeons have to do to be allowed to crack open skulls and those that involve one’s prostate.
As you can imagine, its absolutely terrifying to blind taste in front of these people. All you can think as you’re trying to conjure up descriptor of a wine’s minerality, the glass trembling in your hand, is them silently laughing at you, your weird face, and your gross hubris to think you will ever be able to properly appreciate a wine not from a cardboard box. Its basically like playing a game of HORSE with Larry Bird. Or participating in a wet t-shirt contest with Kate Upton. Just put away the ball and turn off the hose- its not worth it.
The truth is, despite their otherworldliness, these people are incredibly patient, encouraging, and gracious. This a testament to their true passion for wine. They absolutely want you to be able to taste what they taste. They want you to fully understand the wine, its terroir, its life as a grape, its time in the barrel and in the hands of its maker. All the minutia only enhances the experience of the wine. Its like a story in the glass. And they’re just so intent of making you listen to the damn story. “Listen to it! Hear it! Its telling you its a Premiere Cru Mersault. So what voice is telling you its a Sancerre?” There are so many voices, sir. So very many voices….
I won’t say the week was bittersweet because there is no bitterness. Rather, I would say it was enlightening. It was a barometer, a touchstone in my own studies. I was buoyed by my grasp on a lot of the theoretical material we covered, while I clearly have quite a bit work to do on my tasting. (Perhaps I need to actually taste more wine instead of pouring it down my throat post-shift.) It was fantastic to spend time with the only other people on Earth who think its a good idea to pursue a vocation that requires you to have a solid grasp of about 7 languages, genuinely be interested in rocks and dirt, and never have a Christmas Eve or New Years Eve off of work. Ever. And, unlike in years past, we now have at least 12 months to apply the level of breadth and depth we saw presented to the rest of our studies before we take the test. I now know I don’t just need to know how long a Rioja Reserva is required to age, I also need to know the name of the guy who racks the barrels at La Rioja Alta (Luis- he is an Aries and loves “Hart of Dixie”).
And the best part? We got to taste about 50+ of some of the most classic representations of fine wines in the world. None of which, I can pretty confidently deduce, came from a box.