n TASTE Wine professionals participate in a biweekly tasting group hosted by Elizabeth-Rose Man- dalou at Allora. 50 comstocksmag.com | March 2019 both studying for the Master Sommelier exam at the time. Both the Advanced and the final-level Master Sommelier exams consist of service and theory sections, as well as the blind tasting portion. Fergel and Reed both failed the Master Somme- lier exam, which boasts a failure rate of 90 percent, in 2015, 2016 and 2017, forc- ing them to sit out the 2018 test. “At this highest level of examination, you are studying the minutiae of wine,” Reed says. “Anything that you could pos- sibly see on a wine label from every ma- jor wine-producing country in the world, you should know what it means.” In other words, you don’t just need to know about soil content at various elevations, you need to know it in multi- ple languages. The exam isn’t limited to wine either, as every test features a few questions about spirits, cocktails and miscellaneous beverages like coffee, tea and even bottled water. While Fergel is already immersed in studying for the 2019 exam, Reed isn’t ready to put himself through that “hell- ish study” again. Mandalou is preparing to take the exam in 2020. “Through the Court of Master Som- meliers, you have to be driven because there’s no syllabus, there’s no class that you can take to learn everything,” she says. Only nine people have ever passed it on their first attempt, but the 30-year- old Mandalou believes she’s up to the task. “A lot of people say that I over- study,” she says. “I’m never satisfied with the knowledge that I have, I’m always wanting more.” n Daniel Barnes is a freelance writer and member of the San Francisco Film Crit- ics Circle. His work has appeared in the Sacramento Bee, Sacramento News & Review, East Bay Express, Philadel- phia Weekly and San Antonio Current, among others.