Tag Archives: wine

Gareth Edwards and the Court of Master Sommeliers

Sounds like a Harry Potter novel.

But in actual fact it is my next, and what I feel, the greatest challenge. One that I expect to take between 5 to 10 years to achieve.

“What?” I hear you ask, “Are you heading off to Hogwarts?”

No, dear reader. It is nothing as simple as that.

I have a goal to become a Master Sommelier. It’s known as the toughest test in the world – it’s easier to become a brain surgeon. Check out the movie “Somm”, to understand what a Master Sommelier is if you are too lazy to continue reading.



I don’t actually intend to be employed as a Sommelier, this is simply a challenge I’ve set for myself, in line with my love and appreciation of fine wine. A bucket list item, if you will. Or perhaps a “spittoon list”, so as to keep on trend.


The Court of Master Sommeliers was established to “encourage improved standards of beverage knowledge and service in hotels and restaurants”. Since 1977, the Court of Master Sommeliers has been widely regarded as the premier international examining body.

There are four examination stages to attain the top qualifications of Master Sommelier:

  • Level I is the Introductory Course and Exam
  • Level II is the Certified Sommelier Exam
  • Level III is the Advanced Sommelier Course and Exam.
  • Level IV is the pièce de résistance – The Master Sommelier Diploma Exam.

Each level must be successfully completed before attempting the next. Since 1977, only 219 candidates have earned the Master Sommelier Diploma. I intend to be number 250-ish. I believe there are fewer than 5 that were born in Australia. I would very much like to be a “single digit”.

The final Master Sommelier Diploma exam is broken down into three main sections: Theory, Service and Blind Tasting.

You might pass the first two, only to stumble on the third, which means returning a year later to be re-tested on the missed section. You have three years to pass all three parts. If you don’t succeed within three years you have to start over again with all three sections. Apparently you need to achieve 75% or higher to pass each section. Where I will likely struggle, is the service component, ostensibly due to my well-known, and well-held hatred of people. The Court of Master Sommelier’s mantra is “Integrity, Hospitality, Humility”. If I can fake that, I’ll be sitting pretty…

I know you’re thinking to yourself “surely this can’t be too hard”. I assure you, it is no walk in the park.

In terms of theory, it’s not just enough to know every wine region, village and district in the world. You also need to know which years were better than others for each region. The blind tasting of six wines requires not only identifying the grape varietal, but the region it came from and the year it was made. So basically, you need to know 400,000+ wines by TASTE and SMELL! During the service portion you also have to recall facts about sake, spirits, distilling methods, aperitifs – and of course ideal food pairings.

While this may sound daunting to your average punter, I really dig this shit, so I am confident I will enjoy the study component. While “hitting the books” is a common study term, it is rare in academic circles to sanction “hitting the bottle”. I look forward to undertaking extensive field work, although I may need to carry a Dictaphone with me at all times and make observations as I go, because I daresay there is a high chance that any key learnings could easily be lost in a post-study stupor.

I also relish the chance to own a tastevin – a “tasse de dégustation”, or “tasting cup” if you will.



I may never use it, but it will allow me to reach Level 7 Nerd. I intend to wear it on a silver chain around my neck, Snoop Doggy-style. Wait. That didn’t come out quite right…

Until then good people, I welcome the opportunity for you to join me as study buddies. Only one caveat.

Must like wine.

The Grapes of Wrath

BrO_l5NCUAANy-yOkay, okay, so I’m a little bit of a wine snob.

In the same way that Miranda Kerr is a “little bit” of alright.

I constantly travel the world, among elite circles, so I’ve been fortunate to try my hand at many (arguably far too many) a tipple here and there.

That being said, while I am an ultra-mega wine snob, I don’t belittle those who aren’t (well, those who know me will know that I could be stretching a truth a little). For those who aren’t fine wine connoisseurs, I’ve put together some tips for defusing some potentially awkward situations.

Don’t Say “Whatever”

It is great to try new things, but not to be blasé about it. It is better to have an opinion, and appear confident, than to have no opinion at all. When someone asks you what kind of wine you would like, at the very least, pick a colour.

If that is too much pressure, simply turn it back on the asker with “what would you suggest?”

You’ll likely get to try something you’ve never tried before. And if you like it, keep it in the memory bank for next time. Baby steps, my little wine noob. Baby steps.

Don’t Guess, if guessing is all you have

If someone at a wine tasting or cellar door asks you “Can you guess what grape this is?” – tread carefully.   And whatever you do, do not say “Bordeaux”? Bordeaux is a prolific (and important) wine region in Southwest France, not a grape variety.

And if you don’t know the colour of a wine based upon the grape name, do not partake in this guessing game at all. You’ll be a 50/50 chance of only getting the colour right.   A Pinot Noir is red. A Pino Grigio is white. It’s a slippery slope for the uninitiated.

I find it is often best to display a very slight, knowing smile and say nothing at all, waiting for others to play along first.

If put to task, I would then aim to distract. After ostentatiously sniffing and tasting the wine, simply say “ambitious, but never haughty.” If anyone is brave enough to ask you what you mean, glare at them with withering disdain and say nothing further. If pressed, utter a small “hurrumph” and start muttering about pigeons. Better to appear senile, than inept.

Don’t ramble

When someone asks what you think about a particular wine, quite often they are expecting a flowery answer, and one which really cannot be provided without extensive knowledge and experience.

Play it safe, and make deliberately vague, generic comments that you can easily get away with, like “robust”, or “smooth” or simply “good structure”. If all else fails, just say “I don’t know how to describe it, but I like it”.

Do not, under any circumstance, start suggesting which side of the slope the grapes were grown upon, or you’ll look like a pompous git.

Often times, it is simply more fun, and more endearing to your fellow guests, to make light, by peering at your wine with a raised eyebrow, and saying something like “hmmm… it does have an oaky afterbirth”.

Don’t be Grape-cist

Don’t be that guy who says “I only drink Red”. Or “I only drink White”. This is an immediate red flag to any discerning wine buff who is looking to sniff out a novice. Instead, if you truly do hate red wine, come up with a good reason, like “I just had my teeth whitened, so I’d prefer to stick with white tonight”.  Realise also that no two reds or whites are alike. It’s time to put those long-held grudges behind you and pick up a bottle of “the other colour” again. You will likely be pleasantly surprised.

Don’t sniff the cork

Many are aware of the phenomena known as “corking”. In a nutshell, “corked wine” is one that has developed a flaw caused by contamination from a chemical compound contained in cork called 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, or TCA for short. This is also known as cork taint. The reality is, a cork can be tainted, without the wine being tainted. If the wine is tainted, the wine itself will smell tainted. I assure you, you do not want to reject, or discard an expensive, vintage bottle of plonk based upon a cork sniff. And if you sniff a metal twist-off cap (or a cork-free cork), you are guaranteed to look like a twat.

Don’t overdo it

When a sommelier or a waiter proffers you a small sample before pouring for others, adhere to the ritual, but don’t overdo it. Let me cut to the chase here. The purpose of this ritual is not to determine whether you like the wine, it is solely to determine whether it has been tainted (see above). Do not ask to sniff the cork (see above). Do not over-swirl.   Do not over-sniff. And do not even taste it unless you suspect it might be tainted and you need to know for sure. And you will know then, I assure you.

Instead simply give the wine a quick couple of swirls. Have a quick sniff. And give the sommelier a brief, casual nod. This should take no more than 5 seconds.

Do not lean back in your chair, and make a big song and dance over it, swirling and sniffing and sampling, or else the sommelier will know you are full of shit – and the crafty ones may even seek to trip you up on something else later. It’s not worth the risk. Again, if it is a twist cap, just wave away the entire exercise, and simply tell them to “pour away, my good fellow/lady”.

Don’t imitate Hannibal Lecter every time Chianti is ordered

Maybe one day it will be hip and retro to throw out a Lecter impression. This is not yet that time. Right now, it is still a little bit try-hard. Wait until Silence of the Lambs is a true cult classic. Safe to safe that will be in around 2031. Make a note in your calendar for the year 2025 to start cellaring a nice Chianti Classico in anticipation.  Chances are no-one in the room will get the joke, but oh how you’ll giggle to yourself.

*Note, it is however perfectly acceptable to throw the quote out, whenever you are offered Fava Beans…

Don’t say you prefer a “dry”’ red

Why? I know that you mean to say that you prefer a wine that is less sweet.   The problem is, almost all reds are dry, by design. That means that the sugar has been fermented into alcohol. The sensation of sweetness in red wine is caused by the presence of super-ripe fruit, which tricks your palate into thinking “sweet”. Instead, say that you prefer reds that are “less fruity in style”, like your good self.

The Sideways “Fucking Merlot” Caveat

Don’t hate on fucking Merlot because Paul Giamatti told you so in “Sideways”. Hate on fucking Merlot because it tastes like the fucking Merlot grape has drunk its own pee, after eating a bowl of asparagus soup, just before it was sent to the crusher. It is a varietal meant for blending, and blending only. So don’t go all “Sideways” because a wine contains a blend of Merlot.   But if it’s a straight up fucking Merlot, all gloves are off.

Don’t fear the wine list

They can be lengthy. They can (often) be written in foreign languages. But don’t let that hold you back.

If all else fails, ask your waiter for a recommendation, along the lines of “I’m having the duck, and my friend/spouse/bit-on-the-side is having the Mahi Mahi, what would you recommend to best accompany them?”

If all else fails, select the second or third least-expensive bottle in your grape of choice. But never say “I’ll have a bottle of your second cheapest wine, thanks!”, or you will have foregone all of your previous hard work.

Don’t get into Bubble Trouble

This is another slippery slope. Most wine noobs are at least aware that Champagne is not an arbitrary term for all sparkling wines. If you make this mistake in the presence of anyone who works in the beverage industry, you’ll likely get the age-old lecture that unless the bubbly was made in Champagne (a region in the Northeast of France), it ain’t Champers – it’s sparkling wine. Best to play it safe, and simply talk about the “bubbly” or the “sparkling”.

Dealing with the Arsehole Wine Snob

Aka, the Wine Snoot. A Wine Snoot tends to make the subject of wine appear to be more complicated, more difficult, and more mysterious than it needs to be. Granted, there is an awful lot that can be learned about wine, but the basics one needs to learn in order to improve their appreciation of wine really aren’t that difficult. Wine isn’t rocket science and no one needs to be made to feel stupid around wine by someone making it out to be more complicated than it really is.

All in all, good readers, drinking wine should be enjoyable. There are no firm and fast rules. Wine enjoyment is highly subjective. And it’s truly a personal experience.

So if some over-pompous tosspot starts ruining your experience, wait for them to describe a wine, smile and while shaking your head discouragingly say “no, no, no, that’s not what you’re tasting at all”. And then turn away, and never speak to him again.

And if all else fails, pilfer his car keys and flush them down the toilet.

My First Blog


My name is Gareth Edwards.  Welcome to my blog.


a.k.a. “Gaz”

a.k.a. “The Wolf”, because I’m a fixer.  I solve problems.

That might sound cocky, but I’m a straight shooter, and I wouldn’t lay claim if I didn’t have the results to back myself.

I’ve worn some hats over the years – software engineer, marketer, director at 888.com, chief technical officer, consultant, deerstalker.

Right now, I’ve decided it’s time to work for myself. Got a lot of ideas I always wanted to execute, and to have some adventures. And write a fucking blog.  I’m kind of like Bilbo, only taller.

I’m a consultant to the gaming, gambling, music and sport industries, investor, CEO, agent and entrepreneur.  For those that don’t know, entrepreneur is French, for entrepreneur. Will be talking about a few cool projects I am doing here.

So before we get started, you should know more about me:

I currently live in London.

I am an online gambling/gaming industry veteran.

I like good food, fine wine and any other pair of words with interchangeable first letters.

I love Smurfs. They are Smurfy. And everyone needs some Smurfiness in their lives.

I think lasagne is like cake made from spaghetti.

I love travel.  I hate travel.  Depends on the day.  And depends on whether I’m in 1A. But truth be told I am travelling at least 3 weeks a month, and I don’t really know why.

I wish I’d jumped on bitcoins when I had the chance.

I hate raindrops on roses, but whiskers on kittens are a must.

I hate fucking Merlot.

Every single day, I get the last song I hear, stuck in my head.  This is rarely a good thing.

I’m kind of big “Down Under”.

I’m not the Welsh Rugby legend.  Although I used to think I was.

I’m a TV series bingewatcher.

I like the smell of napalm in the morning.  No wait, I love it.

I hate bad beat stories.  My worst bad beat story was the time I got stuck listening to a bad beat story.

I played chess and rugby at school.  A schoolyard paradox, I was a jocknerd.

I hate green eggs and ham.  Seuss, you haven’t heard of salmonella?  And you call yourself a Doctor…

I’m an early adopter, and am always on the lookout for the next big thing.  If you think you know what that is, we should talk.

I hope my blog will be as interesting as I am fucking hoping. If there is suddenly a redirect from this domain to youporn, you know why.