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Nittany Lion Inn Wine Director Achieves Sommelier Certification

Sean Caviston
Thursday, August 25, 2016

Sean Caviston, restaurant operations manager and wine director at The Nittany Lion Inn, has earned the title of Certified Sommelier from the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers.

The Certified Sommelier credential is awarded to candidates who demonstrate proficiency in wine service skills, have a general understanding of wine, beer, spirits, and cocktails, and can articulate that information on demand during a three-part exam.

Blind tasting, the first part of the exam, uses the Master Sommelier Deductive Tasting Method, which employs a written tasting grid. Candidates are given 15 minutes to evaluate two wines—one white and one red—and asked to identify each wine.

“The grid gives you all the clues you need about what you are tasting,” Caviston says. “We determine first whether the wine is an old world wine or a new world wine. We evaluate color, clarity, acidity, alcohol content, and so on, following the grid. It’s not magic—the grid works if you trust it. And the Master Sommeliers want to see that you’re using and understanding the grid.”

The key to mastering deductive tasting is lots of practice, Caviston says. “The only way to develop that palate and understanding of a French pinot noir from Burgundy compared to a pinot noir from Oregon is to taste them side by side and develop a ‘mental rolodex’ of their characteristics and what separates them from each other.”

Part two of the exam is a theory component that covers fundamental questions about wine, spirits, beer, and service. Candidates have 30 minutes to complete the 40-question written exam. “You don’t know in advance what will be covered,” Caviston says. “It’s all in play.”

The third and final segment—and for Caviston, the most stressful—is the Service Practical, in which candidates must demonstrate wine service to a Master Sommelier in a mock restaurant setting. “This is 13 minutes of pure pressure,” Caviston says. “Every detail of your service is being evaluated—from wine pairing suggestions to opening the bottle of wine to the direction in which you go around the table as you serve. But before I walked in I told myself, ‘I’ve opened thousands of bottles of wine. This is what I do at the Inn all the time.’

“Needless to say, I’m thrilled to hold the title of Sommelier,” Caviston continues. “And I’m grateful to have a boss like Tom Neely, who has been so supportive as I continue to expand my knowledge of wine.”

According to The Court of Master Sommeliers’ website, the organization was established in 1977 “to promote excellence in hotel and restaurant beverage service. Though its members worldwide come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, they share a proven mastery of the art, science, and history that informs a sommelier's work.”

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