An Unforgettable Graduation Wine List

A sleek and alluring Pinot Noir PHOTO FROM ROBERTO VIERNES

A sleek and alluring Pinot Noir

Graduation day is here for many, and so begin the celebrations across the country. Sure, I could rec- ommend a dozen different wines for your beloved gradu- ate (of legal drinking age) to enjoy, but that would be too easy (maybe even too commercial).

Let me instead recount my own graduation, of sorts. Actually, let me reminisce about the day that I passed the grueling Master Sommelier’s Examination in February 2005 — barely a decade ago.

I still can remember the suit, shirt and tie I wore for the final day of the exams; it also is the same day that they give you the results. It was my black three- button suit, white shirt and blue- and-yellow-gold flowered tie. I still have them all in my closet, and I still fit into and wear them — ha ha, imagine that!

Earlier that morning I had taken the final portion of the examination, which was theory, and I was exhausted after the roller coaster of the tasting exam the day before, then studying all night before the theory portion. I arrived in the waiting room at the appointed time, and like the other 40 or so candidates, I waited until my name was called by one of the examining Masters. The anxi- ety and stress were palpable in the room, with everyone exchanging nervous smiles and lots of handshakes and patting on the back for just arriving to this point.

Richard Betts emerged from an adjacent room and called my name with a serious affect. I followed him into a room and we sat down in two chairs fac- ing each other. He asked me how I thought I did. I told him that I thought I did enough to pass the tasting, but I was unsure of my performance in the theory section. The theory was filled with so many questions, all of them given orally by a panel of MS’s so I could not even remember half of them after I had left the room, much less remember exactly how many I felt confident that I answered correctly. His face was still quite serious, so I just stared at him as I listened to his response: “Well, you crushed the tasting and you passed theory. You passed.”

He said it so evenly that I had to repeat his words in my head.

“I passed?!” I asked.

With a broadening and joyful smile, “Yeah, buddy! You passed!”

I don’t know what my face must have looked like, but I remember getting up out of my chair, hugging him and saying “Thank you!” at least a dozen times. Then, for some reason, I felt like just swinging both my arms in a combined motion of swinging a bat and hitting a home run, as well as throwing a huge weight over a fence. YES!!!! I had passed.

I immediately ran up to my hotel room to call my wife to give her the great news and thank her for all her support. Then I called my boss, friends and family before heading back downstairs to celebrate my (and 10 other sommeliers’) passing and receive the physical diplo- ma we had worked so hard to attain.

That night we drank a lot and we drank in style. My favorites of the night began with MV Krug Grande Cuvee Champagne, which we couldn’t get enough of. I remember once the Krug bot- tles were empty we bounced to another restaurant, where we saw Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne on the list. We could not decide if we wanted the 1995 or the 1996 — so we had them both. We closed down the restaurant, and the somme- lier came to sit with us to enjoy these two stunningly beautiful (and expensive) wines.

It was a night I will never forget.

So, to all of you graduates and to the ones who have supported these graduates for however long it has taken you to accomplish this goal, I raise a toast to you. I know how hard t is to get there and you made it. A hearty congratulation to you all!

Recommendations: 2012 Twomey Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($45) Wow, I’ve had this twice now in the past three weeks and it continues to impress me with hugely explo- sive waves of violets, sweet cherries, sandalwood and bak- ing spices. It is sleek and alluring in the mouth and brimming with sweet berry flavors. This is really delicious Pinot Noir. NV Scharffenberger Brut ($20) This wine completely over-delivers for the money. It has such a pure and resonant fruit but with a luxuriating mousse — it would be hard to think this costs a mere $20 bill.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.