Featured Sommelier: Sam Kawa
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I remember a saying from my youth that every adult needs three professionals as trusted friends: mechanic, lawyer, and doctor. In today’s world, a fourth person belongs on that list. Someone who can help make life better on a more frequent (daily?) basis: a sommelier.
Therefore, Wesam (Sam) Kawa is a great choice for that fourth friend. Sam was first introduced to us during the video review of Monarch in Old Town Scottsdale, where he was the server for the evening.
The boys were blown away by Sam’s wine knowledge, the pairings he delivered with each course and his personality. Every server at Monarch has at least an introductory – aka level one – sommelier certification, but Sam is a level two (certified) sommelier.
There are four different levels of sommeliers, and each level is increasingly difficult to reach. “You start out at level one, which entails two days in the classroom,” explained Sam. “From there, the second day concludes with a 70-question exam.” The passing rate for the introductory course is 90 percent, but when it comes to the Certified Sommelier Exam (level two), that passing percentage drops to about 60.
“For the certified sommelier, there’s no classroom involved.” The test is in three portions, beginning with a service for a Master Sommelier. “They put us through the wringer as far as understanding cocktails, spirits, digestifs, aperitifs. Anything that can affect the guest’s service. They want to know how deep your level of knowledge is.” After a 40-question exam and further testing, the day concludes with a blind tasting of two wines. And not just guessing that it’s a California cabernet sauvignon or a French Bordeaux. Your understanding needs to be deeper. “[You must] know where the wine is from, how it should taste, & what kind of climate should this wine comes from.”
“Less than one percent passes.”
It takes a passion and dedication far beyond the norm to continue past the level two exam. Then the next step is the Advanced Sommelier Exam – the last stop before attempting to become a Master Sommelier. Only 30 percent of test-takers pass the advanced exam and the Master Sommelier? Less than ONE PERCENT passes. This explains why there aren’t any master sommeliers yet in Arizona and, according to the Court of Master Sommeliers, there are only 240 candidates who have earned the prestigious title since 1969. The daunting task ahead is not going to scare our new friend, Sam, however. “For me, the reason I’m in this industry is to – someday – have my own restaurant. But in my heart of hearts, to tell you that I’ll stop studying, that won’t happen. I will never stop pursuing. I intend on taking the Advanced Sommelier Exam this year.”
In addition to having a vast wealth of knowledge about wines, Sam has a fascinating background. He spent time in Amman, Jordan as a child and numerous states growing up and also served in the military. Not to mention, Sam is also quite humble and wildly generous. After our interview, he surprised me with an invitation to join him in opening a bottle of wine from his personal collection. It was a dry Riesling from Alsace (France, just outside of Germany). Rieslings are Sam’s favorite – “It’s like my catnip.” It was – of course – incredible. See? Being friends with Sam pays off fast. Make sure to visit Sam at Monarch and get acquainted with him yourself. You may not get to break bread with him over a spectacular Riesling, but he’ll make sure you have the perfect wines with your dinner. And what more can you ask from a friend?
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Find Tony Pontecorvo online at @disguyyy