How much do you know about wine? Could you list every grape varietal grown in southeastern France or name every major wine village along the Rhine? Eric Crane can—and on Monday, he passed the first segment of a three-part test in his quest to become a master sommelier, a coveted certification that only 147 people currently claim in the United States.
“It was relief and intense delight,” Crane says when he found out that he had passed. “I’m a huge fan of the Walking Dead, and I haven’t seen any of the recent episodes. I think tonight I’m going to start watching them.”
Crane, who works at Empire Distributors and recently told us what wines to drink while watching Star Wars, was the only advanced level sommelier from Atlanta to pass the theory portion of the exam and just one of 27 who passed nationwide (117 took the test). He heads to Aspen in May to take the service and a blind tasting portions of the exam. To practice, Crane says he’s turning his basement into a restaurant, decanting every bottle of wine he opens, and traveling across the country to taste with sommeliers at restaurants from Vegas to Florida to New York.
Georgia currently has two master sommeliers: James Trevor Wright, who earned his certification in 1971, and Michael McNeill, who passed in 1993. The rigors of the test, known as the hardest in the world, were documented extensively in the 2012 documentary Somm, which traced the tumultuous, hair-pulling lives of four sommeliers studying for their masters. Only 229 have passed world-wide since the exam debuted in 1969. “The chances of knocking out both parts are very slim,” Crane says. “You just have to have faith in yourself. If I don’t pass, I’m not stopping. I’ll go see a lot of Phish concerts this summer regardless.”