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.
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.
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.
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.
• 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
I am looking forward to hearing about your tasting groups and happy to answer any questions! Cheers!!
Cas- Certified Sommelier