ST. LOUIS – Sitting, sipping, and studying. For Alisha Blackwell-Calvert and Anthony Geary, wine is their work; and their hard work recently landed them Advanced Sommelier status from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

“The Advanced Sommelier examination is three parts,” Blackwell-Calvert said. “There is a theory examination. And if you pass the theory examination, you get invited to take the service exam and the tasting examination.”

“It’s just like training for a marathon or any sort of study where it’s almost like religious commitment to the task,” Geary added.

The pair began studying in February 2022. They passed the theory exam in May. In October, they took the service and tasting test.

“Presentation. Decanting a bottle. Doing a champagne service. Can you pour a calvados? Can you make a cocktail? Can you make four cocktails? Can you do beer service? Do you know your vintages for port?” Blackwell-Calvert said.

“It’s very easy to kind of throw up your hands in this whole process and say, ‘I’m done,’” Geary said. “I just want to go back to watching movies when I get off work, and I want to drink some Busch Light from time-to-time, but having another person definitely really helps.”

Only 31 of the 225 candidates who took the test passed. Blackwell-Calvert and Geary were the only Missourians to pass the exam. The pair, who makeup two-thirds of the sommelier team at Cinder House inside the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis, now wear prestigious pins as a sign of their certification.

“You want that authority. It’s like, I’ve earned this. I’ve earned the right to be here, and no one can take that away from me,” Blackwell-Calvert said.

Blackwell-Calvert hopes her professional accomplishments will keep the door open for other women of color to enter the world of wine.

“People take their stereotypes that they have in their head when they look at me and then think that I’ll preform a certain way or recommend a certain bottle because of the way I look,” she said. “It’s part of who I am. I do enjoy being on this journey that a lot of people haven’t traveled already. I like to be a part of that. I’m proud of who I am and what I represent.”

With two local experts at the ready, we wanted to know where they’d recommend someone new to wine start their journey in this new year.

“I would recommend Italy. I think Italy is a great place. Sangiovese is a great grape. It’s diverse and you can pick up a great bottle of Chianti for $10-15 still,” Geary said.

“If you’re just getting into wine, I’d say start with Pinot Noir,” Blackwell-Calvert said. “It’s soft. Lighthearted. Velvety textured. It’s definitely not offensive. I would start there.”

And if their bubbling passion for their profession ignited your thirst to learn more, set foot into Cinder House to be wined and dined.