Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
November 5, 2010
Ten candidates tasted, responded and served their way to passing the rigorous Advanced Exam of the Court of Master Sommeliers last week in Aspen, to come within range of their ultimate goal, achieving the title of master sommelier.
Among those who are just a final exam away from being able to wear the coveted master’s pin on their lapel, as well as add the letters “MS” to their resume and title, are Vilma Mazaite of the Little Nell Hotel in Aspen and fellow Coloradoan Frank Seidl of Littleton wine distributor Trinity Fine Wines. Mazaite is studying to become the fourth person to achieve master sommelier status while at the Little Nell and further add to the property’s reputation as a “cradle” of master sommeliers.
Mazaite hopes to follow Bobby Stuckey, Richard Betts, and Jonathan Pullis, the current director of wine at the Nell’s Montagna restaurant, as those who have passed the master’s exam while working at the five-star Aspen hotel. Globally there are just 171 wine professionals, including 106 in North America, who have attained the master status since the first master sommelier diploma was conferred to an American in 1973, Eddie Osterland of La Jolla, Calif. The cluster of masters from one location and one wine program is unprecedented.
Other candidates who passed the advanced exam in Aspen include Yuchi Angie An of Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino, Calif.; Jason Castle of Merriman’s Restaurants Hawaii, from Lahaina, Maui; Ted Glennon of the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego; Roxanne Shafee-Moghadam of The Breakers in West Palm Beach, Fla.; Mark Warren of Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Miss., and Kevin Riley from Cyrus Restaurant in Healdsburg, Calif.
Rounding out the class were the appropriately named Lisa Redwine of The Shores Restaurant in La Jolla, and David Kristiansen of the Pebble Beach Company in Pacific Grove.
Kristiansen, a bartender at The Lodge at Pebble Beach, studied for 11 months prior to the exam and his perseverance was rewarded with the Rudd Scholarship, which is awarded to the highest scoring candidate at each exam. The scholarship, provided by Rudd Winery in Napa Valley and its founder, food and wine entrepreneur Leslie Rudd, provides funding for the recipient’s coursework in preparation for the Master Sommelier Diploma Exam and extends an invitation to participate in future events at the Rudd Masters Round Table.
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The advanced exam is the third of a four-stage process that must be completed in order for a wine professional to achieve the master sommelier designation. It is a vigorous five-day course that includes, in addition to the exams themselves, three days of intensive lectures that focus on wine education and knowledge.
To qualify for an advanced exam, an applicant must have already completed the Introductory Sommeliers Exam and the Level 2 Certified Sommeliers Exam. Both require an applicant to have a working knowledge of wine, but those who progress to the advanced level see the bar raised significantly. In addition, the advanced exam candidates must have at least five years experience in the wine/service industry and must be selected by the Court of Master Sommeliers Examination Committee to participate.
Once in, they are required to complete a three-part process that includes a written examination on wine theory, a participatory exam on restaurant wine service and salesmanship, and a blind tasting of six wines that require the use of a specified deductive tasting format to determine origin, varietal, vintage and maker. To pass they have to achieve a 60 percent success rate in each of the categories. Only then will they be eligible to be invited by the Court to take the Master Sommelier Diploma Exam.
There are currently 398 people who have passed the advanced exam who are studying, tasting and waiting to be included in the next phase. After passing the advanced exam, there is a mandatory year of study before one can sit for the masters diploma. Fifty people can take the masters exam at any one time. The next one will be administered later this month in London, while the next test in the U.S. will be in Dallas at the Four Seasons Hotel in February.
Aspen resident Jay Fletcher, a master himself and the current chairman of the board of the Court of Master Sommeliers, has been instrumental in bringing the aspiring sommeliers to Aspen on an annual basis. It only serves to cement our growing reputation as one of America’s best wine towns.