I'm an artist and musician and always search for the beauty in things. A few years ago, I became intrigued by the world of wine. Much like art and music, it is always changing and evolving. Tasting a new wine is also a lot like sight reading in music. You start with identifying familiar elements and expand your knowledge and skills every time. Winemaking is truly an artistic expression, and I wanted to learn more about it.
The Court of Master Sommeliers was created to promote beverage service excellence. There are four examination stages to attain the top qualification to become a Master Sommelier. Only 140 people have earned this title in North America. Worldwide, there are only 219 Master Sommeliers. Two years ago, I completed the Introductory Sommelier Exam, the first exam on the path to becoming a Master Sommelier.
Almost one year ago, I joined the opening team for The Capital Grille that was coming to Houston, Texas, in CityCentre as a server. I was already in the fine dining industry and was excited for the opportunity to work for a company that had such a strong reputation and to be part of a restaurant opening team. To this day, I’ve formed great bonds with my fellow opening team members, which is part of why I love working at The Capital Grille so much. I also love working for such a guest-focused restaurant company. The restaurant culture and my leadership are great.
After I began working at The Capital Grille, I started talking to George Miliotes. George is one of those few Master Sommeliers and architects The Capital Grille’s acclaimed wine list. He encouraged me to take the second step in the Master Sommelier journey, which was to take the Certified Sommelier Exam. To study, I read books, looked at maps of different wine regions and practiced blind tastings. I feared I wasn’t ready, but George gave me the confidence and reassurance to give it a try.
The exam consists of a blind tasting of multiple wines. I had to identify the aromas and flavors (stone fruit, floral, minerals, new oak, etc.), the structure of the wine (level of dryness, acidity level, alcohol level and finish) and many other observations, such as climate of where the grapes were from, old world or new world, type of grapes, country of origin and year produced. There is also a theory portion of the exam with questions about the world of wine. Finally, there is a service component, where I had to demonstrate the service standards for wine service, champagne service or decanting service.
I was very excited and proud to pass the exam and to be the only Certified Sommelier at our restaurant location. Recently, I had the opportunity to compete in and volunteer at the annual Texas Best Sommelier competition. This was my first time at the competition, and I was nervous. The competition is only open to Introductory and Certified Sommeliers who had not yet received the next designation of Advanced Sommelier, and you have to apply to compete. This year, there were 25 competitors. The competition was more difficult than any Sommelier exam I had completed. I had to answer questions about wine theory, blind taste and actually serve two Master Sommeliers. Many of the Certified Sommeliers in the competition were not servers, so my experience at The Capital Grille was very helpful. Even though I didn’t win, I was excited to be part of such a well-respected group.
Next up for me is the Advanced Sommelier Exam. I plan to keep studying and tasting in preparation. I hope to keep learning, gaining more experience, and helping and teaching others who are interested in becoming Master Sommeliers. I’ve learned a lot about business from my restaurant leadership, and I have thought about trying to be a winemaker one day. George has also been a tremendous mentor, and I’m eager to keep learning from him as I continue my journey to becoming a Master Sommelier.
By: Jarrett Buffington, Certified Sommelier & Server, The Capital Grille