How to Become a Master Sommelier

Since the last few webisodes of Wine Time TV have covered Sommelier James King, I thought it appropriate to share a little information I originally found (by accident) at Good stuff and should give everyone yet another understanding of the role a Sommelier might play on the ‘wine stage’.

What is a sommelier, let alone a Master Sommelier, and how do you become one? The dictionary’s definition of a sommelier is a bit lame. However the the job of a sommelier is no secret within the industry; To manage the wine selection, purchasing, receiving, storage, sales and service for a restaurant, club, hotel or other institution. Did you know there is no legal requirement in the U.S. to be certified for this position? However, there is one internationally recognized organization for certification; The Court of Master Sommeliers which was founded in London in 1977. The organization conducts general education and testing for restaurant wine professionals. There are at least 3 levels of certification within the organization: introductory, advanced and Master Sommelier Diploma (MS).

The Introductory Course is a two day educational seminar. It covers wine regions of the world, viticulture, viniculture, appellation rules for various countries and regions, production methods for beers and spirits, cigars, food and wine pairing, service and blind tasting techniques. At the end of the seminar is a multiple choice exam for which a score of 60% is required.

The Advanced Course is a big step up from the Introductory. It covers all of the same material but with far greater detail. The pace is also faster as it is expected that you are prepared for the exam before you get there. The seminar is also one day longer than the Introductory Course. The biggest difference is the test itself. It is a two day test split in to three sections.

The first section is theory. It is an 82 question test with 20 multiple choice and 62 short answer questions. One hour is allowed for completion.

The second section is blind tasting. Which personally I would suck at beyond differentiating between a Chard and a Merlot! The candidate enters a room with a table with six glasses of wine on it and two Master Sommeliers sitting on the opposite side of the table. They listen as you swirl, sniff, taste and comment about each wine. You have 25 minutes total to identify all the varieties set before you. These wines may be from anywhere in the world thogh sticking to classic examples. Points are given for your analysis and deductive reasoning as well as your identification of the wines.

The final section is the toughest of all; Restaurant service. Master Sommeliers judge your skills at opening still and sparkling wines, decanting, cigar service, freehand pouring, wine and food pairing, proof reading of wine lists, setting tables for a variety of menus, conversing with the guests and even complaint resolution. You can also expect test questions which need to be answered correctly during all of this. A passing score of 60% is required on all three sections.

The final test is by invitation only. You are also required to wait at least one year between passing the Advanced and your first attempt at the Master. The test is the same as the advanced but the theory portion is verbal instead of written, with far more detailed answers needed as well as a 75% passing score. An example of the difference between an Advanced question and a Master question might be: name six of the Anbaugebiet (high quality wine regions) in Germany for the Advanced versus name all 13 Anbaugebiet for the Master.

Though very few people pass it on their first attempt the pass rate for this exam is approximately 4%. As of the first 29 years of testing, only 142 people in the world had completed the Master Sommelier (MS) level. It’s likely safe to assume that 2 years later (now) there are still less than 150 Master Sommeliers on the planet.

Thanks for reading!

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