Jill Zimorski is the host of SOMM TV’s Reading & Drinking Podcast, where she reviews the best and worst wine books (and everything in between). She also hosts Study Hall on SOMM TV, a series dedicated to helping people prepare for their wine certifications. As a master sommelier who has worked incredibly hard to earn the title, having her as part of the team is a privilege.
Jill’s Journey to Wine
While an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, Jill Zimorski began working in hospitality at a boutique hotel with a fancy restaurant. With no experience or knowledge of food and beverage, her duties primarily consisted of polishing glasses and cutlery. However, she could participate in menu and wine tastings and classes. Thus organically developing her appreciation and knowledge of food and wine.
Jill’s plan after graduating from college was to go to Law School. But after a 10-week bike ride across the country, she changed her mind the summer before she would have matriculated.
After her trip, Jill stayed in her hometown of Charlottesville, VA, as a server at a small French restaurant. Her wine knowledge proved helpful, and her managers took notice. They became close friends, and she found the job was fun and the lifestyle suited her. It strayed from the usual 9 to 5, but, being a night owl, it was perfect for her.
Jill soon moved to Washington, DC, a bigger city with more prominent restaurants and was quickly hired for a management position at Charlie Palmer Steak on Capitol Hill. She befriended Nadine Brown, the restaurant’s wine director and the first sommelier she’d ever met. Through Nadine’s job, she was introduced to the world of wine, and they took a trip to Napa and Sonoma. After two years at Charlie Palmer Steak, Jill applied for her first dedicated sommelier position, working for Jose Andres’s ThinkFoodGroup.
In 2006 and 2007, she took her Introductory and Certified Sommelier exams with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Following this, she took a brief break from the CMS to take the Level 3 Award and begin the Diploma with WSET. Jill went on to take her Advanced Sommelier Exam with the CMS and passed on her first attempt in 2012.
Jill explains that “knowledge breeds confidence.” With initial certifications under her belt, she felt more comfortable and confident in her knowledge and skills, which she thought she lacked when she began her job as a sommelier.
The Master Sommelier Experience
In 2014, Jill began her journey towards becoming a master sommelier. She passed the service and Theory portions of the exam on her first attempt but failed the tasting section. The Court allows three years to pass all three parts, so she could take the tasting exam in 2015 and again in 2016. Unfortunately, she was not successful. “As humans, our ability to second guess and self-doubt is pretty impressive, and it’s really hard to be in a place where not only are you skilled enough to assess the wine, but you’re confident enough to believe and choose which wine it is.” Out of all the wines in the world, the six in front of the test-taker have to be narrowed down to the region, winery, vintage, and variety.
After 2016, she ‘reset’; in 2017, she retook all three parts. She was successful again in service and theory but tasting still eluded her. In 2018, she passed the tasting section on her fifth attempt and was officially awarded the prestigious Master Sommelier title.
Five weeks later, her success was invalidated. A cheating scandal erupted after the 2018 exam, leaving 23 innocent, successful passers with their master sommelier status revoked. All candidates were given the option to retake the exam in 2019, despite having already been successful.
“I thought the worst thing was having to reset, but the worst thing is to pass and get told you have to do it again.”
Retaking the Exam
Jill retook the tasting portion in 2019 without telling any friends or family. Having her exam results invalidated and her certification revoked was one of the most demoralizing things she’d ever encountered. Without staying for the ceremony, Jill took the test and returned to Chicago, receiving a phone call notifying her of her success the following day. To her, it wasn’t an achievement as she had already passed the exams and had already become a master sommelier the previous year. The process was just a formality to have her certification rightfully returned and recognized.
The Introduction to SOMM TV
Jill met Emily Wines after attempting the tasting portion of the exam in 2017. She felt she needed to change how she practised and approached the exam. After Jill’s ‘cold call’ style message on Instagram, Emily was happy to help. The two met at restaurants and ordered half glasses of wine for Jill to fine-tune her process, which Emily critiqued.
“I think the wines in the exam are fair. You have to taste good wines to get good at identifying good wines.” Purchasing a Coravin was part of her new tasting regime, allowing her to open quality bottles and revisit them days or even months later.
For Sauvignon Blanc Day in 2020, Emily was collaborating with SOMM TV. Jill was invited and introduced to Jason Wise, thus beginning her relationship with SOMM TV.
Jill’s Features in SOMM TV
SOMM TV’s Study Hall came about during the pandemic when Jill was furloughed from work for five months. Looking for ways to be productive and to stay engaged, she wanted to pass on her knowledge. All exams had been put on hold, so she wanted to help those stuck in limbo waiting for their exam. It only made sense to pay it forward, so Study Hall was born.
After checking with the education director of the Court, she was able to plan out her ‘lessons’ for each episode, providing study processes and tips, but no answers. She ensures no one’s experience will be jeopardized – as hers had been.
The Reading & Drinking Podcast came about similarly. With plenty of time on her hands to read, it made sense to be a resource for those looking for wine books to study or simply enjoy. Ironically, after reading a terrible wine book, the idea of the podcast came to her. She thought a book review podcast would be the perfect plan to ensure that no one would take the erroneous information in the book as fact. (You’ll know which book she’s talking about if you’ve listened to Season 1).
Despite the unexpected twist in her career to talking about wine exams on camera and explaining the pros and cons of books behind a microphone, it’s been a very appropriate transition for Jill. As someone who isn’t nervous talking to crowds or cameras, she’s felt at ease from day one.
Continuing the appreciation of mentoring and passing on what she’s learnt, Jill teaches WSET courses. Teaching keeps her brain sharp and involved with those going through the certification so that she can be of support. “I always want to keep learning and to be able to use my knowledge and experience to help other people and keep growing.”
Her full-time job is working for an agency called Strategic Group. Jill represents the Moët Hennessy portfolio. The portfolio includes five Champagne houses, including Krug, Dom Pérignon, Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon, and some still wine producers and spirits distilleries.
Between Strategic Group, her WSET courses and SOMM TV, it makes for a busy lifestyle. But after such a quiet year, Jill maintains it’s been a good change for her, and it’s a joy to be busy.
Future in Wine
One day she would love to work for herself, potentially involving education. But she’s still unsure at this stage what lies ahead. The wine world is the place for her, and a path will become clear soon enough. “I’ve managed to combine something that I love, a passion for wine and learning about wine with my career.”