Next Generation Of Master Sommeliers

I think the wine service in Hawaii just got better over the past three days.

Yes, almost overnight, the knowledge, service standards and abilities of many of Hawaii’s finest in the hospitality industry took a step upward. I can say that because along with three other Master Sommeliers I have just finished conducting the introductory course and examination as well as the certified examination for the Court of Master Sommeliers here on Oahu.


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A hearty Napa Valley Cab Photos from Roberto Viernes

The introductory course was given over two days, culminating in a written examination. A total of 57 professionals and individuals from around the state, including Hawaii Island, Maui and Kauai, were in attendance. There were even attendees from Hong Kong and Boston. During the introductory course, Ron Edwards from Charlevoix, Mich., Wayne Belding from Boulder, Colo., local boy Patrick Okubo and myself gave lectures on all things wine, beer, spirits, sake and service standards.

We covered subjects from European wine law to Geographical Indications in Australia, from Port to Champagne, Daiginjo to Whiskey and almost everything in between. We also taught the deductive blind-tasting method.

This is not just some parlor trick, but it is a cohesive and direct process by which a taster can practice and develop their palate to be more attuned to what they taste. It also codifies and standardizes the evaluation process by which the court identifies candidates’ ability to taste wine.

Last and certainly not least, we taught, explained and actually showed all the attendees the Master Sommelier service standards. These are the highest standards in the industry and ones that I certainly try to live by example and not by critiquing every restaurant I enter.

After all those hours of tasting, listening, taking notes and stressing, the attendees were treated to a written examination and 50 out of 55 people passed the test. And I am sure that 57 out of the 57 individuals took something away with them to improve themselves, their restaurants, our state and our industry as a whole. Most will put this knowledge to work every day as they serve their guests. Some even matriculated immediately into the certified examination.

Passing the introductory course does not give a person any “certification.” In order to become a Certified Sommelier within the court, one must take and pass the certified examination. This includes a written theoretical exam, a blind tasting of two wines and a service/practical portion, where a candidate is asked to perform duties associated with serving a table in a restaurant. These might include serving a bottle of sparkling wine, recommending a wine pairing for a specific dish, recommending some cocktails and knowing the origin and flavorings of spirits and liqueurs.

Twenty-eight brave people broached this exam this year and 20 became Certified Sommeliers.

This not only represents the next generation of food and beverage professionals but also the passion and fervor for excellence in the industry that exists in our state of Hawaii.

Congratulations to all who passed.

I also congratulate those who challenged themselves but did not pass. I know that this will only fan the fire of your desire to better yourselves. I encourage … no, I implore all of you to make your work-place a better place, to make Hawaii a better place for all of us in the food and beverage industry and to share the knowledge and fire you have with others.

Recommendations: 2010Antica Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($59) Impressive wine, to say the least. It has plenty of guts and umph that we all expect from a hearty Napa Valley Cab, but it never goes over the top into the jammy spectrum. For anyone who enjoys a rich, dark and deep red, this is a no-brainer. NV Margaine Brut Cuvee Traditionelle ($45) It is never too early or too late to think about Champagne. This Grower Champagne has an iconic elegance married with beautiful intensity. There are hawthorn blossoms, cured citrus and a lovely and lingering aftertaste.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. Email or follow him on Twitter @Pinotpusher.