WSET VS CMS: Wine Certification Programs

Wine education programs: comparing the Court of Master Sommelier program to the Wine and Spirit Education Trust program

I have taken and passed WSET courses 1, 2 and 3 and am a current diploma (level 4 ) student have also taken CMS courses 1 and 2 and received the Walter Clore Scholarship for having the highest score in my group of the Certified Sommelier exam.

Both are great programs, however, there are some major differences you should be aware of when choosing which path you want to take when continuing (or starting) your wine education.


Click here to find courses near you

Get 5% off WSET classes at the Napa Valley Wine Academy when you use this link to register!!

*Also note, during the pandemic in person courses may be limited and lots of places are offering online programs.

WSET 1: This is a one day course with an exam at the end. When you pass, you receive a pin and certificate. It is a fairly easy course if you have some basic knowledge of wine and the majority of the class passes. The focus of the course is on food and wine pairing and learning what works and why.

There is also a focus on learning about the noble grape varieties and learning where they come from. If you have a decent amount of wine knowledge, I’d recommend skipping ahead to WSET 2 as WSET 1 is not a requirement. This course is approximately $300.

WSET 2: This one is a big jump from level 1. This is an 8 week course with an in-person class once a week for 8 weeks and the last week being the written exam. Each class covers different regions and you get to taste different wines. This also includes a course book and work book. Once you receive your passing results, you receive a pin and certificate. This course is approximately $800.

WSET 3 is 30 hours of coursework and recommended 80 hours study time outside of the course. The exam is multiple choice and short answer as well as a blind assessment of 2 wines. At the completion, students receive a certificate and pin. This course cost is approximately $1300.

WSET 4: is the diploma level. This is 6 unit and exam program and is 500+ hours of study time (116 hours in course and the remainder self study). This takes 18 months to 3 years to complete. This exam consists of multiple written exams, 12 wines to blind taste and minimum 3000 word essay. As you can see, this is quite the accomplishment! Cost of this level is approximately $1200 per course plus wines

The WSET program is based in London, therefore results may take up to 12 weeks. WSET also offers awards/courses in Sake and Spirits.


Click here to find a course near you.

CMS 1: Introductory Sommelier – This is a two day course. It is a fast paced and intense course. It is really just a review of the information and students are expected to come prepared with a prior understanding of the material. During the course, there is also a tasting component where students are exposed to the deductive tasting method for blind tasting. With my experience, the Master Sommeliers are fairly intense and expect the students to have some experience with blind tasting. However, blind tasting is not on the final exam. There is also a service demonstration so students can begin to learn the proper techniques. There are service questions in the exam, but not demonstration. At the end of the 2nd day, a written-multiple choice exam is given. Shortly after the exam, is an awards ceremony where students receive their results. It is only a pass or fail score and not everyone passes, but majority do. Passing students receive a certificate and pin. I prepared 6 months prior to the exam. Level 1 expires after 3 years and is required to continue to level 2. Approximate cost of the course is $700.

CMS Level 2: Certified Sommelier- (click here to read my post about my entire experience of the CMS 2 exam) There is no course work for this exam, it is all self study, unless you pursue a program such as the Culinary Institute of America. It is a 3 part exam of blind tasting, theory and service. Only at the completion and passing of this exam are students allowed to call themselves a Sommelier. It is recommended 3 years of working in the wine industry and preferably the service/hospitality side of wine before attempting this exam. This is a very difficult exam of 50-60% passing rate and a lot of preparation required. Not only should applicants have some service experience, I recommend joining or creating a blind tasting study group to build tasting skills. (Check out my post on how to create your own blind tasting group here) CMS offers an additional deductive tasting course as well (learn more). There are many recommended resources for self study. (See here). After the exam, there is an awards ceremony where students immediately receive results and names are called out one by one. Upon success students are given a certificate and pin. Results are only pass or fail, however, they do give you papers with feedback and areas that could use improvement. The course cost is approximately $600.

Level 3 is Advanced Sommelier which first students must take a qualifying exam offered once a year. If selected from the qualifying exam, then students may take the official Advanced Sommelier course and exam, which is a very difficult exam with a low passing rate and usually requires the recommendation of a master sommelier. The application fee is $100. If accepted, the course fee is $1500 and the exam fee is $1200.

Level 4 is Master Sommelier
. There are only 270 (and counting) Master Sommeliers in the world and has been rated by Forbes Magazine as potentially the worlds hardest exam. There are some really fascinating documentaries called “Somm” that show a deeper look into the lives of students studying for Master Level of Sommelier. In total this one costs about $3000 as well (not including travel).

Hopefully this is helpful for you! Please drop any questions below! Happy to help!


Casleah-Certified Sommelier and WSET Diploma Student

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100 wines a sommelier would buy from the grocery store for less than $20!

You asked for it and you will receive!! Everyone is always looking for the highest quality wine for the cheapest price. And unfortunately it does take a little bit of wine knowledge to accomplish this goal. There are many over priced wines and many underpriced wines out there and I’m here to show you some wines that I believe to be a good value for the cost.

** Disclaimer- I always recommend to #shoplocal and #shopsmall when shopping for wine. The best plan is to go to your local wine boutique shop and ask them for recs on their selection.

But if you happen to find yourself shopping for wine in a chain market, here’s some that I think are worth the money!

Sparkling Wines:

1. Chandon brut $17

2. La Marca Prosecco $15

3. Segura Viudas Brut Cava $14

4. Mionetto Prosecco Brut $14

5. Saint Hilaire Limoux $13

6. Borrasca Cava brut $10

7. Gruet Brut $15

8. Mionetto Prosecco DOC $14


9. La Vieille Ferme $9

10. Black Girl Magic Rosé $16

11. Berne Côtes de Provence $18

12. AIX Provence $18

13. Fleurs de Prairie Provence $18

Light-Bodied Whites

24. Sea glass Sauvignon Blanc $11

25. Oyster bay Sauvignon Blanc $12

26. Cupcake Pinot Grigio DOC $9

27. Kung Fu Girl Riesling $19

28. Napa Cellars Sauvignon Blanc $18

29. The Pinot Project Pinot Grigio $15

30. Broadbent Vinho Verde $10

31. La Caña Albariño $15

32. White haven Sauvignon Blanc $20

33. Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc $13

34. Stemmari Grillo $8

35. Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc $20

36. The Seeker Sauvignon Blanc $13

37. Kysela Pere Et Fils, Ltd. Picpoul de Pinet $10 

38. Columna Albarino $18

39. J Vineyards Pinot Gris $20

40. Inama Vin Soave Classico $17

41. Hall Sauvignon Blanc $20

42. Trimbach Riesling $18

43. Dr Loosen Blue Slate Kabinett Riesling  $15 

44. Kung Estate Pinot Gris $15

45. Decoy Sauvignon Blanc $16

46. Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc $20

47. Lapis Luna Sauvignon Blanc $13

48. Marques de Caceres Rueda Verdejo $8

49. Marques de Riscal Rueda Verdejo $8

Full Bodied Whites

14. Bonterra Chardonnay $12

15. La Crema Chardonnay $17

16. Joseph Drouhin Macon-Villages $16

17. Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier $15

18. E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône blanc $15

19. San Simeon Monterey Chardonnay $17

20. Famille Bougrier Vouvray Chenin Blanc $15

21. Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse $20 

22. Louis Jadot Macon- Villages $13

23. Knotty Vines Chardonnay $16

Light Bodied Reds

50. La Crema Pinot Noir $20

51. Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages $16

52. George Dubeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau $12

53. J Vineyards Pinot Noir $20

54. A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir $20

55. Carmel Road Monterey Pinot Noir $16

56. Argyle Pinot Noir $20

57. Belles Grives Morgon Beaujolais $17

58. Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir $20

Medium to Full Bodied Reds

59. Marques de Caceres Rioja Crianza $16

60. Alamos Malbec $10

61. Seven Deadly Zins Zinfandel $15

62. Francis Coppola Claret $17

63. J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon $19

64. Sterling Cabernet Sauvignon $11

65. Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon $19

66. Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon $18

67. Benziger Cabernet Sauvignon $20

68. Bonterra Merlot $15

69. Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhône reserve $10

70. Penfolds Max’s Cabernet Sauvignon $20

71. Juggernaut Cabernet Sauvignon $20

72. Montes Classic Series Cabernet Sauvignon $10

73. Casillero del Diablo Carmenere $10

74. Beringer Bros Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Blend $13

75. Honoro Vera Garnacha $9

76. Palazzo Della Torre $18

77. Stemmari Nero d’Avola $9

78. Silk & Spice red blend $8

79. Frey Organic Cabernet Sauvignon $17

80. Catena Malbec $16

81. Cecilia Bereta Amarone Della Valpolicella $20

82. Casamatta Toscana $15

83. Nero Oro Nero d’Avola $13

84. McBride Sisters Red Blend $19

85. Upshot Red Blend $20

86. Black Stallion Cabernet Sauvignon $20

87. Lapis Luna Cabernet Sauvignon $13

88. Napa Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon $20

89. Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon $19

90. Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva $13

91. Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva $14

92. Decoy Merlot $18

Dessert Wines

93. Dow’s Fine Tawny Porto Port $14

94. Dow’s Fine Ruby Porto Port $14

95. Honey Bubbles Sparkling Moscato $15

96. Chateau St Michelle harvest select sweet Riesling $8

97. Risata Moscato d’Asti DOCG $11

98. Porto Valdouro Ruby Port $17

99. Quintas das Carbalhas 10 year tawny 375ml $19

100. Osborne Cream Sherry $14

Thanks for reading! Check out my other grocery store guide for some fun food pairings! Cheers!

Love, Casleah- your personal sommelier

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10 things you must know before you visit California Wine Country.

  1. Most wine regions are pretty spread out, be sure to map out your trip and plan your route accordingly 
  2. Hire a driver! The last thing you want to worry about is a DD. Hire a driver to ensure your safety, full enjoyment and support local businesses 

3. Don’t plan more then 3 wineries per day. It’s important to not feel rushed and to fully enjoy each stop 

4. Call ahead and make appointments at each spot. To guarantee the perfect day, set up appointments ahead of time to avoid disappointment of being turned away from a full tasting room. (Plus with the current pandemic, most places are appointments only anyways) 

5. Book the proper time slots. The best wine tasting day includes a 10 am slot, a 12:30 wine and food pairing for lunch and a 3:30 to end the day. (Followed by dinner at a local restaurant) 

6. Be sure to either buy wine or leave a tip! For a simple tasting, I usually leave a $10 tip and for a tasting and tour I leave $20, but the best way to support is to buy wine and it’s a win win! 

7. Never tell the people pouring the wine that you don’t like the wine! This is their beloved sweat and tears you’re tasting! If you don’t like it, quietly dump and move to the next one. No need to express your disgust. 

8. Expect to spend a minimum of $35/ guest for a tasting. It’s definitely worth the splurge to book a tasting and tour, this can be up to $150/person. 

9. If you get the chance take your glass and stroll the vines. There’s nothing more magical then walking through the vineyards. 

10. Bring water! As amazing as wine is, it’s a dehydrator. Be sure to bring plenty of water so you are good to go the next day! 


If you’re planning a trip and not sure where to go, please don’t hesitate to reach out for recommendations! 


Check out my previous posts:

Solvang/ Santa Barbara

Paso Robles




Cheers! Cas- your personal Sommelier 

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A fresh look at classic Italian wines

Let’s talk about two of the most common Italian wines, but also two of the most interesting! You’ve probably all tried a Chianti and Pinot Grigio, but let’s dive a little deeper into these two wines from Caposaldo shall we??

Pinot Grigio-love it or hate. It may have gotten a bad rep from the mass produced, bottom shelved and boxed displays, but I invite you to reconsider! Did you know that in 2017 Pinot Grigio was promoted for IGT level to DOC? Indeed, a vineyard area covering the Veneto, Friuli and Trentino-Alto Adige is now called Pinot Grigio delle Venezie DOC. This is the second highest ranking level in Italy and guarantees quality and eliminates the possibly of poor quality when sporting the fancy DOC label. You can expect beautiful citrus and stone fruit notes, minerality and mouth watering freshness. It’s easy-drinking and pairs perfectly with a poolside day of sunshine as well as a divine plate of seafood. See the photo below to know how to identify the DOC quality level on the label.

Tell your friends! You are now a Pinot Grigio pro. Now, let’s talk about Chianti.

Chianti is a region in Tuscany, Italy. The land of spaghetti, lasagna and Sangiovese! Chianti DOCG must be at least 70% Sangiovese. We can expect red fruit notes of cherries, cranberries and strawberries, dried herbs, spice and earthiness. These wines are refreshingly lighter in weight on the palate with a full bodied tannin (dryness) structure. Chianti typically has quite a bit of acidity (mouth-watering sensation) which makes it the perfect partner for tomato based dishes. They pair with Italian dishes like this Tuscan chicken pictured above and even pizza! You should know that in 1996 Chianti DOCG became official, which is even higher ranked than DOC. There’s many sub-regions, categories and aging requirements in Chianti, but what’s most important is that you enjoy the wine! Next time you cook up an Italian dish or order a pizza from your favorite local spot, open up a Chianti. You won’t be disappointed!

Cheers to discovering Italian wines with Caposaldo Chianti and Pinot Grigio!

-Casleah Herwaldt, Certified Sommelier

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Wine Shows to Binge Watch During Quarantine

We are spoiled with so much good wine TV out there! Check out some of my favorites!


  1. Somm: this is a fascinating documentary following the lives of students studying for the very challenging Master Sommelier exam. Length: 1hr 33min
  2. Uncorked: A heartwarming movie following a man’s sommelier journey. Length 1hr 44min
  3. Sour Grapes: an eye opening documentary of a label falsifying scandal. Length: 1hr 26 min
  4. Parks and Rec Season 6 Episode 18- Watch the crew go wine tasting for a good laugh! Length: 21 min


  1. Somm: Into the Bottle-sommelier perspective looking into cult wineries. Length 1hr 30min

Amazon Prime

  1. A Year in Champagne: a deep dive into Champagne houses. Any Champagne lovers dream. Length 1hr 22min
  2. V is for Vino: An entertaining wine series with a good mix of wine discovery and education. Length: 2 seasons
  3. Bottle Shock: is an exciting movie exploring the historic news of the Judgement of Paris of 1976. Length: 1hr 48min
  4. Somm III: Master Sommeliers and top wine critics compare Burgundy Pinot Noir to Santa Barbara Pinot Noir- the next Judgement of Paris? Length 1hr 18min


Somm Tv

Still can’t get enough? Check out this streaming program to get a deep dive look into food, wine, blind tasting and hospitality. Start your free trial here.


Let me know your favs! Love, Cas- your personal Sommelier

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Plan a Perfect Getaway to Paso Robles

Paso Robles is located in central California, just a 3.5 hour drive north of Los Angeles. You can expect to find outstanding wine, beautiful sights, and hospitality that instantly makes you feel like family. See below for some of my winery recommendations and where to stay!

My first recommendation is Cass Winery. Not only is it an absolutely stunning property, but incredible wines! Here you can enjoy a Marsanne and Roussanne side by side, or sip on an estate Backbone Syrah and see with your own eyes where the name “Backbone” comes from.

They are always hosting a variety of events including Wednesday night dinners. I had the luxury of attending a Spanish themed wine dinner presented by Chef Charlie and owner Ted. If you get the chance, add one of these dinners to the top of your list!

And just when you thought Cass Winery couldn’t get any better… introducing the GENESEO INN. These modern villas are situated right in the middle of the vineyards and include a full breakfast served to your room every morning. Nothing like waking up with sun and a steaming cup of coffee in the middle of the vineyard!! If you are looking for a place to stay in Paso Robles, look no further than the Geneseo Inn for pure luxury and comfort.

Here’s a few more wineries to consider on your trip:

Chateau Margene is an adorable family owned winery with high quality wines. They do vineyard weddings on this stunning property. It’s the perfect place to sit and relax with a glass of wine. Visits are by appointment only, so be sure to call ahead to set something up!

I absolutely loved the estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Then we topped it off by walking through the vines and seeing the sustainable and biodynamic vineyards that the fruit came from.

If you’re looking for comfortable, urban tasting spot with incredible wines with a French influence, look no further than SEVEN OXEN.

Another amazing spot to add to your list is ONX WINES. This amazing vineyard grow so many unique wines and classic Paso GSMs.

Throughout the property, are many different “oasis” spots where you can sip among the vines with your crew. You can call ahead and reserve one of these stunning oasis spots to ensure the most relaxing and enjoyable sipping experience.

Paso Robles has so much to offer, it needs to move to the top of your list!!

Here’s a few more of my favorite spots to visit while you’re there!!

Daou Vineyards

Tablas Creek Vineyards

Adelaida Vineyards

Le Cuvier Winery

Pelletiere Estate

But, there’s more than 200 wineries in Paso Robles, so there’s many many more to explore!! Tell me if you visit any of my suggestions or comment your favorites below!!

Love, Cas- your personal Sommelier

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How to shop for grocery store wines-and bonus food pairings!

It can be overwhelming when you don’t know what to look for! Here are some of my favorite wines that easily available almost everywhere! I’ve also added some pairing suggestions to make dinner planning easy! Cheers!


Saver wine:

This is a classic Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand for ~$13/bottle. You can expect it to be crisp, refreshing with notes of lemon, lime and fresh cut grass.

Splurge wine:

One of my favorite producers in Napa. If you get a chance to visit the winery, I highly recommend it! This SB is from a warmer climate so you can still expect fresh citrus notes as well as tangerine and pineapple. I found this bottle for $20.


SB is a very acidic wine, meaning it makes your mouth water! It pairs very well with acidic foods such as lemon, tomato and vinegar. It is important to keep the dish light as this is a pretty light wine-I’d recommend chicken or white fish.


Saver Wine:

This beautiful organic wine is a steal for $11! This wine has notes of green apple, pear, and pineapple. It’s partially oaked so it will have notes of toasted almonds and a creamy texture while still maintaining the fresh crispness.

Splurge wine:

Another stunning Napa producer! I love every wine from Duckhorn! You can expect nice tropical notes of pineapple and star fruit. A creamy, rounded texture with notes of Creme brûlée! I found this for $30.


Since this wine is a little bit fuller bodied and richer, it does well with a little richer dishes. My favorite pairing is with Salmon. It would also do really well with a creamy sauce such as Alfredo.


I’m a big fan of this producer from the Languedoc region in France. It’s light and floral with notes of strawberry and white peach. And of course the stunning bottle! This one goes for approximately $12/ bottle!


This wine would pair perfectly with a strawberry and goat cheese salad, And light cheeses such as mozzarella, Swiss and havarti.


Saver Wine:

I love this Pinot from Monterey! Biodynamically farmed, killer price for $15. Notes of cherry, strawberry and cranberry. It’s light bodied with medium tannin (dryness on the finish).

Splurge Wine:

Stunning producer! And beautiful bright and fruit forward Pinot from the Santa Lucia Highlands. You can expect notes of cherry, cola, and vanilla. It’s silky smooth and I found it for $20.


Some of my favorite pairings with Pinot Noir include: Salmon, Pork Loin, Pizza, and Carnitas tacos.


Saver wine:

Love this Cab from Paso Robles. With notes of blackberry, plum, black cherry, vanilla, cedar and baking spices. Very well balanced with a fuller body and nice tannin structure. I found this beauty for $14.

Splurge Wine:

This classic producer makes some lovely Cabernets! You can expect notes of black berry, black plum and sage. Stunning structure with a long finish! Found this one for $30.


My favorite pairing with Cabernet is a big, juicy steak! It goes well with red meats such as ribs, beef tenderloin and bacon.


Saver Wine:

These delicious Napa made bubbles are created in the traditional champagne method so you can expect smooth bubbles with nice citrus notes and a slight yeasty note. Fun fact: this winery was established by the famed Möet and Chandon who produces the highly esteemed Dom Perignon! You can find this one for only $18/bottle!

Splurge Wine:

This is the real stuff from Champagne! This is such a crowd pleasing bottle of bubbles and you can’t go wrong with this producer. You can find this one for $30.


Champagne goes really well with fried food! Try it with fried chicken or French fries! Also a very classic pairing is with oysters.



This was the first wine I ever loved and I still love it! Beautiful Riesling from Washington. Notes of lemon, lime, white flowers, slate and petrol.


Riesling is such a foodie wine because of of its fresh acidity. But it’s special power is that it goes well with spicy food!


This is a fun one! Not only will you impress your friends when you pronounce it correctly- (bow-zhuh-lay) it’s a nice light red with notes of cherry, strawberry and sometime hints of banana or bubblegum! It is good served chilled too! Find this one for $13!


BoJo pairs really nicely with chicken, pork and fish.


There’s some really great value in Argentina Malbec! If you like rich, full bodied wines with notes of blackberry and black pepper, but yet silky and smooth, this is your wine! You can find this beauty for $20!


Malbec pairs really well with any beef dish. Pair it with something rich and heart like beef stew.

I hope you enjoyed this guide! Of course there are many more enjoyable grocery store wines! Feel free to reach out with any questions! Cheers!

Love, Cas

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How to start a Blind Tasting Group

Having a hard time finding a study group? Start your own!

I just recently passed the Certified Sommelier exam through Court of Master Sommelier and plan to continue my wine education. I study wine a lot and a big part of that is studying blind tasting. I started to look for a good blind tasting group and found it difficult to find, so I decided to start my own. Here’s some tips and advice I’ve learned along the way.

First, you need to establish a location. You need a space with plenty of seating, a table and good lighting.

Next, establish the type of group you want to have. Is it just for fun and to expand your palate, or are you studying for an exam such as CMS or WSET? If you are planning to have a more serious group to focus on studying, I recommend only inviting serious wine students to keep the group focused. Invite the people you know that are studying for an exam. And if you don’t know anyone, I recommend reaching out to local wine instructors to see if they can connect you to other wine students. The best way I have found and has worked well is through Instagram. Look for other somms in your area and see if they would be interested in joining your tasting group.

Once you have members of your group you need to establish a schedule. I recommend finding a date that works for the majority of the group, however, it is near impossible to find a date that will work for everyone. I also recommend keeping a consistent schedule whether that will be weekly, monthly or quarterly. For example, my group meets every other Tuesday evening.

The wines:

CMS and WSET tasting methods are slightly different so you will need to decide which method you want to follow. CMS tastes traditional wines from classic wine making regions. Below are the testable varietals.

Click here for the testable white wines

Click here for the testable red wines

If you are following a more WSET approach or more just for fun approach, there are many more wines that could be tested, but the focus is more on describing the wine then calling the varietal and location. You will need to inform the group which type of wines you would like them to bring. I suggest having each member of the group bring a wine that is covered in a paper bag. If it is a smaller group, you may want to have everyone bring 2 wines.

Tasting Methods:

There are 3 methods I have found that work well.

1. Have one per person per wine. Everyone takes a turn calling a wine, this works well when studying for advanced level CMS and wanting to practice the grid verbally. Everyone else in the group silently tastes along while making their own judgments. After a call is made, then the group discusses the wine.

2. Go around the table. This is my favorite method. It starts with one person describing the “sight” part of the wine so color and viscosity. The next person describes the nose of the wine. The next person describes the palate. The next person makes an initial conclusion listing all possible varietals and countries. The last person makes the final conclusion of varietal, country, region and vintage.

3. Tasting grids. This method works great for those studying for level 2 CMS. Print off the following tasting grids and everyone fills them out individually. In the actual exam, you have 30 minutes to call 4 wines which is approximately 7 minutes for each wine. So for this exercise, I set the timer for 7 minutes and everyone starts filling out the sheet for the first wine. Once the 7 minutes is up, discuss the wine with the group and reveal the wine. Then reset the timer for 7 more minutes and fill out the sheet for the next wine and so on.

Materials needed:

Glasses: I picked up 24 affordable glasses from Ikea and store them in the boxes in a closet and I pull them out for the tasting group. They’re dishwasher safe and easy to clean.

spit cups/spit bucket: of course this will depend on the goals of your group, but for my study groups we spit out the wine so we can stay focused.

• water and water cups: for cleansing the palate but also rinsing glasses in between wines

white sheets of paper: if not tasting on a white surface , this is necessary to properly assess color

wine key

serviettes: for spillage. and drips

extra brown bags

grids if you chose this method

Click here for the white wine tasting grid

Click here for the red wine tasting grid

I am looking forward to hearing about your tasting groups and happy to answer any questions! Cheers!!

Cas- Certified Sommelier

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Test Day: My experience with the Court of Master level 2 (Certified Sommelier) exam

I woke up at 2:00am in my hotel room just 6 minutes from the Laguna Montage where the exam would be held that day. I looked at my phone to check the time and it was in the middle of Apple update! I was so nervous it would clear my alarms so I waited until it was done and reset my alarms for 4:00am, 4:15 am and 4:30am. Finally I hopped out of bed at 4:30 am to get ready, get a cram study sesh in and swish my mouth with some Sauvignon Blanc before heading to the Montage.

One by one, men and women dressed in black blazers with introductory sommelier pins entered the hotel. The tension was high. After what felt like a lifetime, it was finally time to check in. I’m first to enter the room and in true Casleah fashion, I grab my usual seat in the front row. Wines are all poured, two reds and two whites. It’s almost time to begin. The Master Sommeliers introduce themselves and explain the format of the exam.

part 1:

First up, blind tasting. We have 30 minutes to blind taste these 4 wines. Through the deductive tasting method, we should be able to not only describe the wine but tell what type of grape it is and which country it comes from. I taste the first wine and it is fresh, crisp with citrus fruit notes with ripping acid. I call New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The next wine has the beautiful familiar and aromatic smell of terpenes and lychee! Oh happy day!! Hello Gerwurztraminer from Alsace!! Now for reds- the 3rd wine was fruit driven on the nose with red fruit notes of strawberry, cherry and cranberry. Moderate tannins and moderate acid, however there was a slight earthiness to it. Because to me the alcohol seemed slightly elevated and a hint of residual sugar I called Pinot Noir from the USA. I still wonder if it was from Burgundy though. And the last wine has familiar aromas of blackberry and black currant. Then it hit me, pyrazines!!! Thank God! I called the last wine a Napa Cabernet and I’m still pleased with that call, but I will never know if I called right!! I finished just in time as the Master Sommelier called out “time”.

part 2:

Next up, is the theory part of the exam. It’s a packet of 4 pieces of paper, front and back. 45 questions of multiple choice, matching, fill in the blank, short answer and math questions. We have 35 minutes to finish the exam. Some of the questions I knew without a doubt, other questions I had no clue what they were talking about. After I completed, I added it up and there were 19 questions I wasn’t 100% confident in. I could miss 18 to pass. I was fairly confident that I did it, but there was still a thought of not passing theory. I sat there in the front row, knowing I did the best I could do and smiling. The Master Sommelier whispered to me, “are you finished?” I nodded. He said “you can go”. So I got up and that was that. I looked at the sheet in the back of the room for my service time- 1:00pm.

I had 3 hours in between theory and service! That is a long time to think about how the Sauvignon Blanc could have been from Sancerre instead and maybe I misread the 2nd wine, maybe it was a Riesling!! But I tried to remain positive and confident. I mean as much as you can in this crazy situation!

part 3:

It was almost time for service! There were 4 of us for the 1:00 time slot. The beverage director of the Montage asked to check our pockets. He needed to see that we had a pen, a notepad, a corkscrew and a lighter (for decanting). I also brought my ah-so because ya know it doesn’t hurt!

We went inside and he says we are at “Hear the Sear” steakhouse and we all have tables of 6 guests. Full glasses are poured by 6oz and half glass poured by 3oz. Every guest is welcomed with a glass of Prosecco.

I approach my giraudon table and there’s a very full tray of Prosecco glasses already poured. Here. We. Go. I welcome the Master Sommelier to “Hear the Sear” and present the Prosecco. She says it’s corked!! I apologize and remove the Prosecco. She orders 2 still glasses of “Dönhoff Riesling” for her “sisters”. I bring those and she asks a ton of questions on beer and cocktails. Next, she proceeds to order a bottle of 2006 Cuvée de something something. I had never heard of this tête de cuvée!!! (Later found out that it’s from Henriot) I confirmed the wine and vintage with her but she knew that I knew I didn’t recognize the cuvée, so I decided to have a little fun with it. I brought the flutes and coasters and repeated. “I’m so sorry I want to make sure I have the right champagne. It was the 2006 which one?” She smiled and repeated it again. I returned to my giraudon and pulled the “champagne” from the ice bucket. And you bet I wiped that baby super super dry!! I present the wine and she confirms. I proceed to open.

As I am in the middle of a life and death situation with this cork, she orders a rabbit with thyme and white wine reduction sauce, something else that was super complicated and salmon with something else. Then she asked which wine I would pair with all 3 dishes. Then magic to my ears: the tiniest little hiss you ever did hear!! The. Best. Feeling. I poured her a taste while I suggested a burgundy Pinot Noir to go with all the crazy dishes. She liked my suggestion. I realized I forgot to present the cork!! I pulled it out of pocket and stated, “I am so so sorry ma’am I forgot to give you the cork of that champagne,” She said she didn’t want it. She asked more questions to which a lot of them I didn’t have solid answers for, but I was floating because that cork came out perfectly and was my best friend today. We finished and she asked me to stand facing the wall until time. 30 seconds later-“time”.

2.5 hours later…

part 4: the awards ceremony.

The Masters stand at the front of the room holding the pins and certificates as we sip on Laurent Pierre Champagne. He says, “ we want you to know, that only 56% of you have passed so do not feel bad if you didn’t pass this time. This is a really hard exam.” Then another Master asks those who are taking it for the second or third time to raise their hands, and at least 8 raised their hands. There is approximately 30 of us anxiously awaiting the news. He shuffles the certificates and says “these are in no particular order” and begins to call them out one by one. The pile is dwindling. I’m getting nervous. He is down to one certificate left. He says “ and now for the top scorer and recipient of the $500 Walter Clore Scholarship for continued wine education…..” I look at my colleague and friend in sadness. I didn’t do it. “Casleah Herwaldt” HE CALLED MY NAME!!!!!! I couldn’t believe it and I’m still so shook!! What an absolutely unbelievable accomplishment!!! So so much hard work has paid off!!!

now: I am Casleah Herwaldt, Certified Sommelier. Look out world I have some big things coming your way!!!!

Huge thank you to the countless people who sent me study guides, study tips, advice, met with me to practice service, joined my blind tasting group and tasted with me. And to my amazing husband who so patiently lived with me while flashcards, notebooks, wine bottles and champagne flutes took over our apartment. I couldn’t be more humbled or more grateful for all of the support I received!! Thank you!!!

Love you all, Cas.

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Golden Bordeaux

Discover the world of sweet wines of Bordeaux!

The process:

Did you know that these wines don’t become sweet because of added sugar (chaptalization) ?? They become sweet because of a process called noble rot (or Botrytis Cinerea). Which is a special fungus that certain grapes can develop in the right conditions. The grapes develop this grey mold as well as becoming partial raisins. And this increases the sugar concentration in the grapes and in turn makes the wines sweeter!

The flavor profile:

The beauty of wines that have botrytis is they usually are high acidity which means they make your mouth water. The combination of acidity and sweetness in your mouth is pure perfection. One wines like these, you can expect flavors of candied ginger, orange marmalade, pineapple, honey, saffron, apricots, peaches and nuts.

Food Pairing:

These wines traditionally pair wonderfully with bleu cheese, (The salty/sweet combo is insane!) foie gras, vanilla ice cream and grilled pineapple. Also, you can serve them alone for dessert.

Learn More:

I recently discovered these amazing wines from Snooth Media. They send you all the wines and food pairings and guide you through a virtual tasting with a master of wine! It was a very educational and fun course and I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about Sweet Bordeaux wine!!



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