Greetings from the site of the Boston Tea Party, the first stirrings of the craft brew movement, and putative home of cream pies and baked beans. I am sipping a cold-brewed iced coffee in the really excellent Render Coffee Bar in South End, waiting for my three o’clock BoltBus to take me back down to New York. Though I spent only three days in this city, and most of those three days was spent in class, sleeping, or eating ridiculously-sized calzones, I can say that this city is absolutely awesome!
I came to Boston to take the Introductory Course offered through the Court of Master Sommeliers. This course is the first in a series of four “levels”, which increase exponentially in difficulty. To call oneself a “certified sommelier”, one must pass the the second level, the Certified Sommelier Examination. One may decide to get additional certifications, but attaining these become absurdly hard. For instance, the passage rate for the Master Sommelier examination is a bone-dry 5-10%. By comparison, the July 2011 California Bar Examination’s passage rate was 54.8%.
That being said, my good friend Alex very generously invested in my scheme, which allowed me to enroll in the Introductory Course in mid-June. I received an e-mail with the course manual in PDF format, and over the next few weeks I looked through the manual and made a few flash cards. There is a lot of material to cover, including the major wine regions and their appellations, varietals, and classifications (such as AOC/AOP, DOC, and premier cru, grand cru, etc.). There is also a bit of information on beer, spirits, and sake, as well as on food pairings and service.
The course spanned two days, starting at 8 am and going until around 5:30 pm. Most of the course is in lecture format. Three Master Sommeliers ran the show, delivering the lectures and running the blind tastings. The Hyatt Harborside, our venue, very generously provided coffee, tea, and pastries during the morning and breaks, as well as delicious lunches during the middle of the day. The Hyatt also provided a very nice outdoor seating area with a very nice view:
Although the lectures and manual were very helpful, they were intended as surveys. For the course, we did not have to identify key vintages and, with a few exceptions, did not have to know individual vineyards or producers. (We did have to know a few of the Medoc first and second growths, as well as a random vineyard in the Mosel, but the instructors generally hint at the ones you will need to know.) On the other hand, I now know much more about Australia and New Zealand than I once knew!