I could check it out I suppose—call up the agencies and ask for the records—but I don't care about that sort of thing. I'm not proud because I have achieved these joint goals sooner than other people. I'm proud because I did it within 650 days of taking my first ever sip of wine.


CERTIFIED SPECIALIST OF WINE Arguably the more difficult exam, I went after my CSW first. While the CS is more geared toward sensory experience and table service, the CSW could be thought of as a test for wine dorks. Or cork dorks. Whatever it is that you call us behind our backs. The Certified Specialist of Wine exam is a 100-question multiple choice test focusing on obscure viticulture, winemaking, geography, etc. kind of questions. Four months of intense book study, coupled with sixteen months of wine-world experience, earned me my CSW.


Nine months later I sat for my Certified Sommelier, Level II exam. Before being allowed to take the exam, I was required to fly to Atlanta for a three-day course, which culminated with its own test. Upon passing that test, and only then, was I allowed to actually register to take the CS exam.


The exam, which takes the better half of a morning and early afternoon, is given in three stages: Sensory Analysis, Theory, and Service.


BLIND TASTIN' I'm seated at a table with two glasses in front of me: one white and one red. Through visual clues (color hue, density, viscosity, rim variation), aromatic characteristics (fruits, herbs, minerals, wood, etc.), mouthfeel perceptions (tannin, acid balance, sweetness) and a whole bunch of other components, I tell the Master Sommeliers what the white wine is.


It has a faint aroma of wet wool. It's a dry Chennin Blanc from the Loire Valley in France. Probably from the commune of Savennieres. It has about 3-5 years of age on it. She's of medium to high quality. In fact, I'm quite confident that Baumard is the producer.


I turn to the glass of red and go through all of the motions again. It's a huge toss up between a high-alcohol Californian Zinfandel and a Australian Shiraz. The wine painted a gorgeous red-purple hue on the glass as I sloshed it around.


Onto the Theory part of the exam. After answering some 70-odd multiple choice, fill-in the blank, and matching questions, I go upstairs for the Service portion.


POPPING THE CORK I button my suit jacket and approach the Master Sommelier, who's seated alone at a table, from his right side. He informs me that his wife, business partner and his business parters' wife are all seated at the table. See, not only am I serving the Master Som—his three imaginary friends are there as well. The rulebook for gender-based service order is thrown into the exam, for good measure.


Champagne service, wine-pairing questions, cocktail and spirit questions. The hardest part? You simply can't BS a master.