Some of the country’s top sommeliers will descend upon Aspen, Co., from May 15-18, to take on one of the most grueling assessments in the beverage industry: the master sommelier tasting and practical service examination. The tests span glassware preparation, wine recommendations and vintage identification, and are the final two in a series of three to be passed in order to achieve coveted acceptance into the Court of Master Sommeliers. Montage Laguna Beach sommelier Gary Sullivan will be one of the participants; Laguna Uncorked (a wine blog on Laguna Beach magazine’s website) caught up with him to discuss his studying regimen and outlook.
Laguna Uncorked: What will your studying regimen look like over these next few weeks?
Gary Sullivan: As you can imagine, preparation in the final months can be overwhelming. It is very difficult to articulate the preparation involved. “If you have taken the exam, no explanation is necessary; if you have not taken the test, no explanation is possible,” [advanced sommelier] Chris Coon said this after my first attempt, and that sums up the test. The first challenge is believing you can recall pertinent information on cue. The second challenge is learning how to put the information into context so recall comes naturally, like having an easy conversation with a good friend. I spend a great deal of time reading, creating outlines, mind mapping, drawing maps, [writing] notecards [on] Brainscape and working on the mental approach. For the upcoming exam, I am working on engaging my right and left brain functions during preparation.
Laguna Uncorked: Which exam do you consider most difficult, and why?
GS: I think they are equally difficult for different reasons. The service portion of the test is the most nerve-racking for me. I enjoy the challenge of the blind tasting. I focus on three things: evaluate each wine in the same format, taste each wine deductively without jumping to conclusions and maintain focus for all six wines. I could write pages about the difficulty of each section of the test. Being succinct does not do the process justice.
Laguna Uncorked: What would it mean to you to earn your master sommelier diploma?
GS: An incredible honor that comes with immense sacrifice.
Laguna Uncorked: What will you do if you pass?
GS: I am looking forward to spending more time with my friends and family. Additionally, I am looking forward to mentoring [master sommelier] candidates.
Written by Kristin Scharkey