Are you a wine enthusiast who is thinking about taking your knowledge of wine to the next level to eventually become a sommelier? The process of becoming a sommelier requires arduous work and years of experience, but the knowledge obtained can lead to a rewarding career in top restaurants and hotels.
The Court of Master Sommeliers
The sommelier role has a history going back hundreds of years. Their expertise in beverage service is rooted in a broad knowledge of various types of wine, beer, spirts, and saké, as well as the etiquette required when serving each type of beverage. Sommeliers undertake years of rigorous study and practical experience to prepare for examination with the Court of Master Sommeliers, which held its first Master Sommelier Exam in 1969 in the United Kingdom.
Due to the low pass rate for the exam, which covers service, theory, and tasting, the organization has added several preparation and exam/certification levels: 1) the Introductory Sommelier Course & Exam, 2) the Certified Sommelier Exam, 3) the Advanced Sommelier Course & Exam, and 4) the Master Sommelier Diploma Exams.
The Introductory Course takes place over two days and provides students with an overview of the world’s most important wine regions as well as instruction on beverage service and the Deductive Tasting Method. After the course, students must take a multiple-choice exam with 70 questions and achieve a score of at least 60% to pass.
The Certified Sommelier Exam consists of three parts, the first of which is the Deductive Tasting Method test, which requires that candidates accurately identify and describe two red wines and two white wines. Candidates have 30 minutes to pass this part of the exam, and they can prepare ahead of time by studying a list of possible grape varietals provided by the Court of Master Sommeliers. Next, candidates take a 45-question test on theory, which covers the beverage industry and the sommelier trade. Finally, the Certified Sommelier Exam requires that candidates pass a service test, during which they must demonstrate skill in wine service and recommend wine and food pairings in a restaurant setting. Candidates must earn a 60% in each of the three exam areas to earn certification.
At the Advanced level, candidates must take a three-day course prior to the exam. Given the difficulty of this level of training, the Court of Master Sommeliers recommends that individuals wait until they have five years of beverage industry experience before applying to take the exam. When submitting their application, candidates must pass a timed, online knowledge survey, which ensures that they are prepared for the rigors of the Advanced Sommelier Course and Exam. The Advanced Sommelier Exam also consists of three parts, with the Deductive Tasting Method test requiring that candidates identify six wines instead of four. Candidates must also pass a test on theory and demonstrate skill in beverage service in a restaurant-like setting.
The Master Sommelier Exam begins with a 50-minute theoretical test in an oral format, as opposed to the written format in the other exams. Candidates must demonstrate knowledge of the world’s main wine regions, as well as the principal grape varieties. Further, the theoretical test requires that candidates understand international wine laws and the distillation process for wine, spirits, ciders, and beers. They even have to demonstrate knowledge of proper storage of various beverages, including fortified wines, in addition to answering questions about the production of cigars, especially Havanas.
Students must score a 75% on the theoretical exam instead of the 60% passing score for the exams at the lower levels. Candidates who pass the theoretical exam have three years to pass the other two parts of the test: the Practical Restaurant Wine Service and Salesmanship Test, and the Practical Tasting Test.
The Practical Restaurant Wine Service and Salesmanship Test assesses candidates’ knowledge and service of aperitifs, including their ingredients. Candidates also must demonstrate an ability to position all types of glassware correctly on the table and show that they can recommend wines that pair well with various foods, in addition to serving wines and spirits in appropriate portions. For this part of the exam, candidates must bring their own service tools and demonstrate strong social skills and an ability to serve beverages with charm and panache. Finally, the 25-minute Practical Tasting test requires that candidates describe six wines, identifying the grape variety, country of origin, district and appellation, and vintage.
As a testament to the rigor of the Master Sommelier Exam, only 249 individuals in the world have obtained the title of Master Sommelier since the exam was first held. Although the exam may seem daunting, for those committed to this career path, the benefits of earning the title outweigh the work involved in preparing for the exams. The title of Master Sommelier demonstrates that an individual is among the top wine and beverage experts in the world. Aside from the knowledge obtained during preparation for the exam, the prestige that comes with the title can lead to sommelier positions in some of the top hotels and restaurants around the world.