QUESTION 17: Arrange the following wines in proper order of service, by number, for a formal dinner. California pinot noir Champagne brut Ockfener Bockstein, beerenauslese Chateau Lafite Rothschild Pouilly Fume

Many dinners in Washington can readily answer that question; on the other hand, many waiters who are serving wine can't, or don't know the difference between the two Pouillys, or a beerenauslese and a kabinett. The Sommelier Society of Washington, open to members of the restaurant, hotel and bar industry, is doing something about that, being committed to the belief that a waiter should be informed about the wines on his restaurant's list and be able to serve them correctly.

Last fall the Society introduced a Wine Captains Seminar course to improve the knowledge and appreciation of fine wines.

Said Sommelier Society member Jim Hutton, "Education is at the heart of our Society. We are committed to bringing greater professionalism and integrity into the service of wine. If our members are better-educated, they can enhance the appreciation of wine by their customers, the public."

Forty-four students from restaurants and bars in the Washington area enrolled in the 12-lecture series. They heard speakers from the wine industry discuss the winemaking and labeling regulations of all major producing areas, and tasted samples from each area. Hutton said that an emphasis was placed on the handling and service of those wines in restaurants. "Wine captains need a business sense about wine: how to match wine and food."

For the students, however, it wasn't all wine and play. At the end of the course, they were expected to answer Question 17 (see above) and 69 others on a final exam paper, plus write an evaluation of a blind-tasted wine.

The culmination was last Sunday evening's graduation reception and dinner for the Society's Wine Captains Seminar at Maxine's restaurant on Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The evening began when 70 members and guests of the Sommelier Society watched top student Jim Guzel of the Angler's Inn, smoothly ease the cork from a salmanazar (equal to 12 regular bottles) of '78 Beringer Private Reserve Napa Chardonnay.

Second-place among the 27 graduates of the Seminar's final exam was 25-year-old Dalilah Condon, formerly of Coleman's, the Carlton Wine Bar and now with Suzanne's Wine Pub.

A zoology graduate, Condon had had no intention of learning about wine until she worked at Coleman's. The enthusiasm of Jim Hutton, her manager, caught her interest. "But I was frustrated. I know I had to learn more, but it was impossible to get enough knowledge." Now, with the seminar completed, she says she has more confidence behind the bar and, referring to it as a profession, wants to make a career in wine.

Doug Carver, chairman of the Sommelier Society of America, whose office is in New York, was at Sunday's presentation and dinner. Hoping for closer links between the New York and Washington chapters, he spoke of the need to expand the Society to other American cities.

The American Society is a member of the World Sommelier Society, a Paris-based organization. Of the thousands of wine waiters throughout the world, less than 100 are qualified sommeliers. Defining a sommelier as "a person exclusively involved in the service of wine, floating in the restaurant, whereas a wine captain serves both wine and food," Carver pointed out that the World Society sets rigorous standards for its qualified sommeliers. Proficiency in blind tastings is required, in addition to detailed knowledge of technical and regulatory information on the wines of all major producing areas.

Final honors of the evening went to Jim Rice, owner of Maxine's, and his Swiss chief, Anton Leuenberger. Before a critical audience of their own peers, the staff of Maxine's served poached sole provencal and venison schnitzel BadenBaden that were awarded high ratings from the tasters. And, of course, careful attention was given to the wine service.

Results of the exam and the response from industry members have been so positive that the Society will be running the Wine Captains Seminar on a regular basis. "From 1981," said Hutton, "it will be compulsory for all new members."